The Gupta Empire rose in Magadha around 4th century AD and covered greater part of the Northern India (though smaller than the Mauryan empire). It is worth noting, the Gupta Dynasty ruled for more than about 200 years.
The Gupta Period is popularly known as the ‘Golden Age of India’. The lifestyle and culture of the Gupta empire is known to us through the availability of various ancient scriptures, coins, inscriptions, and texts, etc. belonging to the Gupta era.
The Sources for study of Gupta Period:
There are typically three types of sources for reconstructing the history of the Gupta period.
I. Literary Sources:
Vishakadutta had written Devichandraguptam and Mudrarakshasam, which provides details about rise of Guptas.
Social, economic and religious accounts left by the Chinese traveller Fa-hien, who had visited India during the reign of Chandragupta II.
II. Epigraphical Sources :
Meherauli Iron Pillar Inscription – achievements of Chandragupta I.
Allahabad Pillar inscription – About the reign of Samundragupta describing his personality and achievements. It is engraved on an Ashokan pillar, written in Sanskrit in Nagari script composed of 33 lines written by Harisena.
III. Numismatic Sources:
The coins issued by Gupta kings contain legends and figures.
These gold coins give insights about the titles and sacrifices that were performed by the Guptas.
The Gupta Dynasty :
The Gupta empire was founded by Sri Gupta. He was then succeeded by Ghatotkacha. Not much information is available about their rule of these two Maharajas. Thereafter, following significant rulers from Gupta dynasty ruled during this period.
Chandragupta I (320-330 A.D.)
Chandragupta was a powerful Gupta ruler who had waged many battles to attain his title of ‘Maharajadiraja’ (king of kings).
He married a Licchavi princess Kumardevi, which began the eminence of the Gupta empire.
The Mehrauli iron pillar inscriptions has mention of his extensive conquests.
He is considered as the founder of the Gupta era (began with his accession).
Samudragupta (330-380 A.D.)
He is also known as “Indian Napoleon”. He was the greatest of the rulers of Gupta dynasty.
The Allahabad Pillar inscription contains details of his military conquest in stages:- Against rulers of North India, Samundragupta’s Dakshinapatha expedition against South India, Another campaign against other rulers of North India.
It is little ironical that these military achievemnts are engraved on the same pillar which contains the inscriptions of the peace-loving Ashoka.
He also performed Ashwamedha sacrifices after his military victories. This is known by the coins issued by him commorating him as the “restorer of ashwamedha”.
His greatest achievemnt was political unification of India as a formidable force.
Also, a chinese source tells that, the ruler of Sri Lanka, Meghvarman sought permission of Samudragupta to build a Buddhist temple at Bodh Gaya.
Samudragupta was called by differen names, one of them was ‘Kaviraja’ because of his ability to compose verses. Certain coins show him with a Veena.
He patronised poets and scholars like Harisena, and hence played a part in promoting Sanskrit literature(which is a characterstic feature of Gupta dynasty).
Samudragupta was a follower of Vaishnavism. However, he also patronist the great buddhist scholar Vasubandhu.
Chandragupta II Vikramaditya of Gupta Dynasty (380-415 A.D.)
He is also known as Vikramaditya.
Chandragupta II extended the limits of this empire by conquest and matrimonial alliances. His capital city was Pataliputra.
He married his daughter Prabhavati to a Vakataka prince, who ruled the strategic lands of deccan. This later was highly useful to him when he proceeded towards his campaign against the Saka rulers of western India.
Chandragupta II conquered the western Malwa and Gujarat by defeating the Saka rulers who had ruled for about 4 centuries in the region. This earned him the title of ‘Sakari’ and ‘Vikramaditya’.
Gold Coin showing Chandragupta II
As a result the Gupta empire gained access to the Arabian sea and opened trade with the western countries. Ujjain became the commercial capital of the kingdom thereafter.
In his reign, the Chinese pilgrim Fa-hien visited India. his accounts tell of a flourishing Buddhist religion in Chandragupta II’s Reign. However, the Gangetic valley was a ‘land of Brahmanism’.
Chandragupta II also patronised art and literature. He has poets like Kalidasa in his court.
He also issued silver coins, first Gupta ruler to do so.
Kumaragupta (415-455 A.D.)
He succeeded Chandragupta II.
Kumargupta I was a worshipper of Kartikeya.
The coins of his time tell that he took titles like: Mahendraditya, Ashwamedha Mahendrah. Nalanada University
He laid the foundation of Nalanda University which later grew to become an international centre of learning.
Skandagupta (455-467 AD)
He was last great ruler of Gupta dynasty.
He saved the empire from Hun invasion coming from Central Asia. But these invasions weakened the empire.
Details about him are mentioned on the Bhitari Pillar inscription, proclaiming him the title of ‘Vikramaditya’.