Decline of Gupta empire

1. Introduction

The Gupta age in ancient India has been called the ‘Golden Age of India’ because of the many achievements in the field of arts, science, and literature that Indians made under the Guptas. The prosperity under the Guptas initiated a period of splendid accomplishments in arts and sciences. The Gupta Empire lasted from 320 CE to 550 CE.

Why Gupta period is called Golden Age?

At its peak, the Gupta Empire ruled almost the entire Indian subcontinent. Historians regard it as India\’s golden age. The empire was established by King Sri Gupta, but the lineage\’s most notable and famous leaders are Chandragupta I, Samudragupta, and Chandragupta II. The empire\’s size ranged from 35,00,000 km2 to 17,00,000 km2. Pataliputra was the capital of the Gupta Empire.

The Gupta Empire flourished, in military and territorial conquests as well as cultural and scholastic advancements, during the reign of Emperor Chandragupta II. Yet the succeeding rulers, beginning with Kumaragupta I and then Skandagupta, oversaw the eventual end of the Gupta Empire through military defeats, devalued money and withering leadership.

\"\"2. Legacy of the Gupta Empire

2.1. Literature

  • Sanskrit literature flourished under the Guptas. Kalidasa, the great poet, and playwright were in the court of Chandragupta Vikramaditya. He composed great epics such as Abhijnanashaakuntalam, Kumarasambhavam, Malavikagnimitram, Ritusamharam, Meghadootam, Vikramorvashiyam, and Raghuvamsham.

The Gupta period produced scholars such as Kalidas famously know for his famous plays such as Shankuntala.

  • The celebrated Sanskrit drama Mṛcchakatika was composed during this time. It is attributed to Shudraka.
  • Poet Harisena also adorned the court of Chandragupta Vikramaditya. He wrote the Allahabad Prashasti (inscription).
  • Vishnu Sharma of Panchatantra fame lived during this era.
  • Amarasimha (grammarian and poet) composed a lexicon of Sanskrit, Amarakosha.
  • Vishakhadatta composed Mudrarakshasa. Other grammarians who contributed to the Sanskrit language include Vararuchi and Bhartrihari.

2.2. Sciences

In the fields of science, mathematics and astronomy also, the Gupta age saw a lot of interesting advancements.

  • Aryabhatta, the great Indian mathematician and astronomer wrote Surya Siddhanta and Aryabhattiya. Aryabhatta is believed to have conceptualized ‘zero’. He also gave the value of Pi. He postulated that the earth is not flat and it rotated around its own axis and also that it revolved around the sun. He also gave the distance between earth and sun which is remarkably close to the actual value. He wrote on geometry, astronomy, mathematics and trigonometry.

The astronomical system of Aryabhatta is known as the “audAyaka system”. 

  • The Indian number system with a base of 10 which is the present numeral system evolved from scholars of this era.
  • Varahamihira wrote Brihatsamhita. He was an astronomer and an astrologer.
  • Nalanda University, a center of Buddhist and other learning attracted students from abroad. The Guptas patronised this ancient seat of learning.

The Nalanda University 

2.3. Art & Architecture

Many magnificent temples, palaces, paintings, and sculptures were created.

  • Dashavatara Temple in Deogarh UP is one of the earliest surviving Hindu temples. It is a fine example of Gupta architecture.
  • Mural paintings of Ajanta depicting the life of the Buddha as told in the Jataka tales were created in this period. Places like Ajanta, Ellora, Mathura, Sarnath; and Anuradhapura and Sigiriya in Sri Lanka bear examples of Gupta art and architecture.
  • Classical Indian music and dance took shape at this time.
  • The Gupta legacy in arts can be seen in Southeast Asia also today.
  • The Bronze Buddha which is 7.5 feet high and found at Sultanganj is a product of the Gupta age.
  • The iron pillar at Mehrauli, Delhi is a marvellous creation of this period. It is a 7 m long pillar and it is made up of a composition of metals such that it is rust-free. This is a testimony to the metallurgical skills of Indians of that time.

2.4. Social Culture & Religion

  • The Hindu epics were given their final touches during this time. The Hindu religion also received an impetus under the Guptas and it flourished and expanded throughout India.

Great epics like Mahabharat and Ramayana were written during the Gupta Dynasty. 

  • Although the Gupta kings were Vaishnavas they were tolerant of Buddhism and Jainism. They patronized Buddhist art.
  • The Shakti cult rose up around this time.
  • Sacrifice was being replaced by Bhakti and Pooja.
  • Occult practices like tantrism also emerged during this time.
  • The game of chess is said to have originated from this time. It was called Chaturanga meaning the four divisions (of the military such as infantry (pawn), cavalry (knight), elephantry (bishop), and chariots (rook).

3. Foreign Accounts of the Gupta Empire

3.1. Fa-Hien

Fa-Hien, the Chinese pilgrim with four other monks, came to India during the reign of Chandragupta II. Fa-Hien came to India through land route via central Asia and Kashmir and traveled across north India. Fa-Hien stayed three years at Patliputra and here he learned the Sanskrit language. Fa-Hien was interested only in Buddhism; however, he gave an idea of general peace and welfare during Gupta’s court.

3.2. Hiuen-Tsang

Hiuen-Tsang, another Chinese traveler, visited India during Harsha\’s reign. He spent thirteen years in India, in which eight years, he stayed in Harsha\’s kingdom. Hiuen-Tsang had studied at Nalanda University. He visited various Indian kingdoms and mentioned about their condition. His book “Si-yu-ki” is a precious source of ancient Indian history. Hiuen-Tsang was honoured by Harshavardhana of Kanauj and Bhaskarvarma of Assam.

3.3. I-tsing

\"\"I-tsing, a Chinese traveler, came to India via sea route. He spent many years in Sumatra and Sri Vijaya and learned Buddhism. I-tsing stayed at Nalanda for ten years and studied and translated Buddhist texts. I-tsing compiled a Sanskrit Chinese dictionary and translated a number of Sanskrit texts. I-tsing mentioned about Buddhist Religion as Practised in India. He gave a detailed account of Buddhism and the general conditions of India and Malaya.

4. Decline of the Gupta Empire

4.1. Political Factors Responsible for the Decline of the Gupta Empire

The last great king of the Gupta was Skanda Gupta was ascended the throne about 455 A.D. Even during the later years of Kumar Gupta\’s reign, the empire was attacked by a tribe called Pushyamitra but it was repulsed, And immediately after the accession of Skanda Gupta, Hunas made inroads, but they too were repelled.

Coin of Kumaragupta I. A silver coin from the reign of Gupta Emperor Kumaragupta I, c. 415-455 CE.

Coin of Skandagupta. A coin emblazoned with the image of Gupta Dynasty Emperor Skandagupta, who ruled c. 455-467 CE.

However, fresh waves of Invaders arrived and shattered the fabric of the Gupta Empire. Although in the beginning the Gupta king Skanda Gupta tried effectively to stem the march of the Hunas into India, his successors proved to be weak and could not cope with the Huna invaders, who excelled in horsemanship and who possibly used stirrups made of metal, Although the Huna power was soon overthrown by Yasodharman of Malwa, the Malwa prince successfully challenged the authority of the Guptas and set up Pillars of victory commorating his conquest (AD 532) of almost the whole of northern India. Indeed Yasodharman\’s rule was short lived, but he dealt a severe blow to the Gupta empire.

The Gupta empire was further undermined by the rise of the feudatories. The governors appointed by the Gupta kings in north Bengal and their feudatories in Samatata or south-east Bengal broke away from the Gupta control. The later Gutpas of Magadha established their power in Bihar. Besides, the Maukharis rose to power in Bihar and Uttar Pradeshand had their capital at Kanauj. Proabably by AD 550 Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and passed out of gupta hands. And the rulers of Valabhi established their authority in Guajarat and Western Malwaa.

4.2. Economic reasons for the fall of the Gupta Empire

After the reign of Skanda Gupta (467 AD) any Gupta coin or inscription has been found in western Malwa and Saurashtra. The migration of guild of Silk weavers from Gujarata to Malwa in AD 473 and their adoption of non-productive professions show that there was not much demand for cloth produced by them. The advantages from Gujarat trade gradually disappeared. After the middle of the fifth century the Gupta kings made desperate attempts to maintain their gold currency by reducing the content of pure gold in it. The loss of western India complete by the end of the fifth century, must have deprived the Gutpas of the rich revenues from trade and commerce and crippled them economically, and the princes of Thaneswar established their power in Haryana and then gradually moved on to Kanauj.

5. What caused the Fall of the Gupta Empire?

The causes of the downfall of the disappearance of the Guptas were basically not different from those that brought the end of many ancient and medieval dynasties. Over and above the usual causes of administrative inefficiency, weak successors, and stagnant the fall of the Guptas: dynastic dissensions, foreign invasions and some internal rebellions.

5.1. Dynastic dissensions and weak rulers:

There is evidence to show that following the death of Kumaragupta and Skandagupta, there were civil wars and struggles for the throne. For instance, wehave the successors of Buddhagupta, highlighting the rule of more than just one king. Those were Vinayagupta in Bengal and Bhanugupta in Iran.

Absence of law of primogeniture along with strong centralized authority in ancient and medieval periods led to chaos. Thus we see that the resources of the empire were frittered away in petty squabbles and wars for the throne.

Besides circumstances weakening the Gupta monarchy, the very personalities of the later Gupta Kings contributed to the ultimate fall of this dynasty. They were not only men of weak character but also some of them followed pacifies that affected other spheres of administration, particularly that of military efficiency.

5.2. Foreign invasions:

Foreign invasions was the second major factor in the decline and disappearance of the Gutpas. The invasion of barbaric tribe Pushyamitra was not the decisive. A far more important invasion was that of the White Huns, who, after settling in the Oxus vally, invaded India. First appeared during the reign of Budhagupta. Again they reappeared under the command of Toramana who annexed a large portion of the north-western region including parts of Moder U.P. He followed by hisson, Mihirakula, who became the overlord of north India. Indeed he was defeated by Yashodharman of Malwa but the repercussions of these invasions were disastrous for the Gupta Empire.

5.3. Internal rebellions:

As a result of the weakning of Central Authoriy a number of feudal chieftans, principally those of the north-western region, assumed the status of independent rulers might more some names in this regard such as Maitrakas (of Kathiawar), Panivarajaks (of Budndhelkhand), Unchkalpas, Laxman in Allahabad. Etc.

After the reign of Buddhagupta, the status of certain, governors of North Bengal and Yamuna – Narmada area around Magadh too assumed independence and became to be known as the later Guptas.

By far one of the most important rebellions was that of Yashodharman of western Malwa who became independent and established his kingdom. He defeated Mihirakula and seams to have made extensive conquests from the Himalayas to Brahamputra. However, his empire did not last very long. Nevertheless, it set a pattern for other feudal cheiftans, who in due course, broke away from Central authority.

Last but not the least, we might note that the change in the Gupta polity from one of militancy to that of pacifism greatly affected the composition of the empire. We do have instances where some of the later Gupta kings who changed from Hinduism to Buddhism and this was reflected inmate total military inefficiency of the later Guptas.

6. Effects of the fall of the Gupta Empire

Apart from these three major groups of causes, that led to the final disappearance of the Gupta empire, it is to be borne in mind that no empire after the Mauryas was a reality. Very often they were total fictions. With the disappearance of the Mauryan empire no empire in its full connotation came into existence in India since we had no tradition like that of the Greeks where it is held that the State comes into existence for the necessities of life but continues to exist for the good of life, and man, by nature, is a political animal. Somehow, after the Mauryan era the thinking of India became apolitical. The first factor that contributed for this outlook of Indians was the emergence of feudalism about which evidence is there from the days of the Satavahanas. This tendency grew in the Christian ara and was firmly established by the seventh century AD.

Along with this development one more saboteur of political consciousness was the religious perception of ancient Indians. Beginning before the Christian are it came to be gradually established that the kingship has its own dharma known as rajya-dharma while the people had a handul of dharmas like varnashrama dharma and the grihadharma. All these dharmas led the individual loyalty or perception towards a non-political entity. This thinking is given religious sanction by the priestly order. This thinking is given religious sanction by the priestly order of the day. Thus the State never was the architectonic factor in the life of ancient Indian except during the Mauryan era. It is this perception of ancient India that made the emergence and disappearance of hundreds of States mere non-events.

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