Gupta Empire/Gupta Administration

Gupta Empire

Gupta Empire

• Both Satvahana and Kushan empires came to an end in the middle of the third century A D and on the ruins of the Kushan empire arose a new empire, which established its sway over a good part of the former dominions of both the Kushans and Satavahanas.
• Although the Gupta empire was not as large as the Maurya empire, it kept north India politically united for more than a century, from 335 to 455 A.D.
• The original kingdom of the Guptas comprised Uttar Pradesh and Bihar at the end of the third century A.D.
• Uttar Pradesh seems to have been a more important province for the Guptas than Bihar, because early Gupta coins and inscriptions have been mainly found in that state.
• The Guptas enjoyed certain material advantages. The centre of their operations lay in the fertile land of Madhyadesa covering Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. They could exploit the iron ores of central India and south Bihar.
• Further, they took advantage of their proximity to the areas in north India which carried on silk trade with the Eastern Roman empire, also known as the Byzantine empire.
• On account above mentioned favourable factors the Guptas set up their rule over Anuganga (the middle Gangetic basin), Prayag (modern Allahabad), Saketa (modern Ayodhya) and Magadha.


• There source materials to reconstruct the history of the Gupta period include literary, epigraphical and numismatic sources.
• The Puranas throw light on the royal genealogy of the Gupta kings.
• Contemporary literary works like the Devichandraguptam and the Mudhrakshasam written by Visakadatta provide information regarding the rise of the Guptas.
• The Chinese traveler Fahien, who visited India during the reign of Chandragupta II, has left a valuable account of the social, economic and religious conditions of the Gupta empire.
• Apart from these literary sources, there are inscriptions like the Meherauli Iron Pillar Inscription and the Allahabad Pillar inscription. Meherauli Iron Pillar Inscription refers to the achievements of Chandragupta II.
• The most important source for the reign of Samudragupta is the Allahabad Pillar inscription. It describes his personality and achievements. This inscription is engraved on an Asokan pillar. It is written in classical Sanskrit, using the Nagari script. It consists of 33 lines composed by Harisena. It describes the circumstances of Samudragupta’s accession, his military campaigns in north India and the Deccan, his relationship with other contemporary rulers, and his accomplishments as a poet and scholar.
• The coins issued by Gupta kings contain legends and figures. These coins provide interesting details about the titles and sacrifices performed by the Gupta monarchs.


Chandragupta I (320 – 330 A.D.)

• The founder of the Gupta dynasty was Sri Gupta.
• The first important king of the Gupta dynasty was Chandragupta I.
• He married a Lichchhavi princess from Nepal, which strengthened his position.
• The Guptas were possibly vaisyas, and hence marriage in a kshatriya family gave them prestige. Chandragupta I can be regarded as a ruler of considerable importance because he started the Gupta era in A.D. 319-20, which marked the date of his accession.
• Later many inscriptions came to be dated in the Gupta era.

Samudragupta (330-380 A.D.)

• Samudragupta called the ‘Napoleon of India’ by Vincent Smith, was the greatest of the rulers of the Gupta dynasty.
• The Gupta kingdom was enlarged enormously by Chandragupta I’s son and successor Samudragupta.
• His court poet Harishena wrote a glowing account of the military exploits of his patron.
• The inscription is engraved at Allahabad on the same pillar as carries an inscription of the peace-loving Asoka.
• The Allahabad Pillar inscription contains a long list of states, kings and tribes which were conquered and brought under various degrees of subjugation.
• This list can be divided into four categories.

– The first one includes the 12 states of Dakshinapaths with the names of their kings, who were captured and then liberated and reinstated. They were Kosala, Pistapura, Kanchi, Vengi, Erandapalli, Devarashtra, Avamukta, Dusthalapura, Mahakantara, Kurala, Kothura and Palakka.
– The second one contains the names of the eight kings of Aryavarta who were exterminated.
– The third one consists of the rulers of forest states who were reduced to servitude and the chiefs of the five pratyantas or border states, and also nine tribal republics, that were forced to pay all kinds of taxes, obey his orders and come to perform obeisance. The five border states were Samtata (East Bengal), Davaka (Assam), Kamarupa (Assam), Nepal, and Kartipura (Kashmir). The nine tribal republics were the Malavas, Arjunayanas, Yaudheyas, Madrakas, Abhiras, Prarjunas, Sarakinakas, Kavas, and Kharaparikas.
– The fourth one includes the Daivaputra Shahanushahs (Kushanas), Saka Murundas and the dwellers of Sinhala and all other islands who offered their own person for service to Samudragupta.

• After these military victories, Samudragupta performed the asvamedha sacrifice.
• He issued gold and silver coins with the legend ‘restorer of the asvamedha’.
• It is because of his military achievements Samudragupta was hailed as ‘Indian Napoleon’.

Extent of Samudragupta’s Empire

• After these conquests, Samudragupta’s rule extended over the upper Gangetic valley, the greater part of modern U.P., a portion of central India and the south-western part of Bengal.
• Above mentioned territories were directly administered by him.
• In the south there were tributary states.
• The Saka and Kushana principalities on the west and north-west were within the sphere of his influence.
• The kingdoms on the east coast of the Deccan, as far as the Pallava Kingdom, acknowledged his suzerainty.

Estimate of Samudragupta

• Samudragupta’s military achievements remain remarkable in the annals of history and was equally great in his other personal accomplishments.
• The Allahabad Pillar inscription speaks of his magnanimity to his foes, his polished intellect, his poetic skill and his proficiency in music. It calls him Kaviraja because of his ability in composing verses.
• His image depicting him with Veena is found in the coins issued by him. It is the proof of his proficiency and interest in music.
• He was also a patron of many poets and scholars, one of whom was Harisena.
• Thus he must be credited with a share in the promotion of Sanskrit literature and learning, characteristic of his dynasty.
• He was an ardent follower of Vaishnavism but was tolerant of other creeds.
• He evinced keen interest in Buddhism and was the patron of the great Buddhist scholar Vasubandu.
• He granted permission to Buddhist king of Cylon, Meghavarman to build a monastry at Bodh Gaya; so, he was called ‘Anukampavav’.

Chandragupta II (380-415 A.D.)

• Samudragupta was succeeded by his son Chandragupta II Vikramaditya.
• But according to some scholars, the immediate successor of Samudragupta was Ramagupta, the elder brother of Chandragupta II, but there is little historical proof for this.
• The reign of Chandragupta II saw the high watermark of the Gupta empire.
• Chandragupta II inherited the military genius of his father and extended the Gupta Empire by a judicious combination of the policy of diplomacy and warfare.
• Through matrimonial alliances he strengthened his political power. He married Kuberanaga, a Naga princess of central India.
• He gave his daughter Prabhavati in marriage to the Vakataka prince Rudrasena II. The political importance of this marriage lies in the fact that the Vakatakas occupied a geographically strategic position in the Deccan.
• When the Vatakas prince died, then he was succeeded by his young son. So Prabhavati became the virtual ruler. As shown by some of her land charters, she managed the affairs of her kingdom with the help of an official sent by her father Chandragupta. Thus Chandragupta exercised indirect control over the Vakataka kingdom in central India. This afforded a great advantage to him.
• Passing through this area Chandragupta II conquered western Malwa and Gujarat, which had been under the rule of the Sakas for about four centuries by that time.

Conquest of Chandragupta II in Western India

• The greatest of the military achievements of Chandragupta II was his war against the Saka satraps of western India.
• Rudrasimha III, the last ruler of the Saka satrap was defeated, dethroned and killed. His territories in western Malwa and the Kathiawar Peninsula were annexed into the Gupta Empire.
• After victory over Rudrasimha III, Chandragupta II performed the horse sacrifice and assumed the title Sakari, meaning, ‘destroyer of Sakas’.
• He also took the title of Vikramaditya.
• As a result of the conquest of western India, the western boundary of the Empire reached to the Arabian Sea gaining access to Broach, Sopara, Cambay and other sea ports which enabled the Gupta empire to control trade with the western countries.
• Ujjain became an important commercial city and soon became the alternative capital of the Guptas.
• The fine cotton clothes of Bengal, Indigo from Bihar, silk from Banaras, the scents of the Himalayas and the sandal and species from the south were brought to the ports without any interference.
• The western traders poured Roman gold into India in return for Indian products.
• The great wealth of the Gupta Empire was manifest in the variety of gold coins issued by Chandragupta II.

Other Conquests

• Chandragupta II defeated a confederacy of enemy chiefs in Vanga.
• In the northwest Chandragupta II kingdom extended beyond the Hindukush up to Bactria. He crossed the river Sindh and conquered Bactria and the Kushanas ruling in this region were subdued by him.
• The Gupta empire extended in the west as far as western Malwa, Gujarat and Kathiawar.
• In the east, it included even eastern Bengal and in the south the Narmada river formed the boundary.
• The exploits of a king called Chandra are glorified in an iron pillar inscription fixed near Qutb Minar in Delhi. If Chandra is considered to be identical with Chandragupta II, it appears that he established Gupta authority in north-western India and in a good portion of Bengal.
• Chandragupta II adopted the title of Vikramaditya, which had been first used by an Ujjain ruler in 58 B.C. as a mark of victory over the Sakas.
• The court of Chandragupta II at Ujjain was adorned by numerous scholars including Kalidasa and Amarashnha.

Estimate of Chandragupta II

• The power and glory of Gupta empire reached its peak under the rule of Chandragupta II Vikramaditya.
• He also contributed to the general cultural progress of the age and patronized great literary figures like Kalidasa.
• He promoted artistic activity.
• Because of the high level of cultural progress that was achieved during this period, the Gupta period is generally referred to as a golden age.

Successors of Chandragupta II

• Kumaragupta was the son and successor of Chandragupta II and his reign was marked by general peace and prosperity.
• He issued a number of coins and his inscriptions are found all over the Gupta empire.
• He also performed an asvamedha sacrifice.
• Most importantly, he laid the foundation of the Nalanda University which emerged as an institution of international reputation.
• At the end of his reign, a powerful wealthy tribe called the ‘Pushyamitras’ defeated the Gupta army.
• A branch of the Huns from Central Asia made attempts to cross the Hindukush mountains and invade India.
• But it was his successor Skandagupta who really faced the Hun invasion. He fought successfully against the Huns and saved the empire. The war with Huns must have been a great strain on the government’s resources.
• After Skandagupta’s death, many of his successors like Purugupta, Narasimhagupta, Buddhagupta and Baladitya could not save the Gupta empire from the Huns.
• Ultimately, the Gupta power totally disappeared due to the Hun invasions and later by the rise of Yasodharman in Malwa.

Gupta Administration

Gupta Administration

• The various inscriptions mention the following titles as usual for Guptas: Paraniadvaita, Pararnabhattaraka, Maharajadhiraja, Prithvipala, Paramesvara, Samrat, Ekadhiraja and Chakravartin.
• The king was assisted in his administration by a chief minister called mantri or sachiva.
• Pratiharas and Mahapratihart’s were important officers in the royal court, though they did not participate in the administration.
• Among the important military officers are mentioned Senapati, Mahasenapati, Baladhyaksha; Mahabaladhyaksha, Baladhikrita and Mahabaladhikrita who perhaps represented different grades.
• There were two other high military officers – the Bhatasvapati, commander of the infantry and cavalry and the Katuka, commander of the elephant corps.
• Another important official mentioned in the Basarh seals was Ranabhandagaradhikarana, chief of the treasury of the war office.
• One more high officer, mentioned for the first time in the Gupta records, was Sandhivigrahika or Mahasandhivigrahika, a sort of foreign minister.
• One of the inscriptions mentions Sarvadhyakshas, superintendents of all, but it is not clear whether they were central or provincial officers.
• Numerous inscriptions mention Dutaka or Duty who communicated royal commands to officers and people concerned.
• Dandapasadhikarana represented the chief of the police.
• Ordinary police officials were known as Dandapasika, Chatas, Bhatas, Dandika (chastiser), and Chauroddharanika (officer apprehending thieves).
• The king maintained a close contact with the provincial administration through a class of officials called Kumaramatyas and Ayuktas.
• Provinces in the Gupta Empire were known as Bhuktis and provincial governors as Uparikas. They were mostly chosen from among the princes.
• Bhuktis were subdivided into Vishyas or districts. They were governed by Vishyapatis.
• Nagara Sreshtis were the officers looking after the city administration.
• The villages in the district were under the control of Gramikas.
• Fahien’s account characterises the Gupta administration as mild and benevolent. There were no restrictions on people’s movements and they enjoyed a large degree of personal freedom. There was no state interference in the individual’s life. Punishments were not severe. Imposing a fine was a common punishment. The administration was so efficient that the roads were kept safe for travelers, and there was no fear of thieves. He mentioned that people were generally prosperous and the crimes were negligible.
• Fahien had also appreciated the efficiency of the Gupta administration as he was able to travel without any fear throughout the Gangetic valley.
• On the whole the administration was more liberal than that of the Mauryas.

Central Administration

• Maha Mantri (Chief minister) : stood at the head of civil administration.
• Maha-baladhikrta : commander-in-chief
• Sandhivgrahika : the foreign minister
• Maha-dandanayaka : Chief justice
• Maha-asvapati : commander of the calvalry
• Maha-pilupati : commander of elephant
• Maja-ranabhandagarika : Master general of military stores

The Maukharis

• The Maukharis, as a political entity, have been mentioned in Patanjalis work and in other early documents.
• The Maukharis must have started gaining political power towards the end of 5th century AD as the Harsha inscription of 554 AD mentions the rise of Yagnavarman from Gaya during this period.
• There are names of three Maukhari kings mentioned in the Nagarjuna inscriptions who ruled in Gaya, about 150 years earlier than their successors at Kanauj.
• The first three Maukhari kings were Yagnavarman, Sardulavarman and Anantavarman. Some of these kings held simply the title of samanta which indicates that they were acting as kings under the overlordship of the Guptas.
• From the Asirgarh copper seal we get the names of (1) Harivarman, (2) Adityavarman, (3) Isvaravarman, (4) Isanavarman (5) Sarvavarman, who had ruled over Kanauj in UP. The first three kings had the title of maharaja whereas Saravarman is called maharajadhiraja.
• It was perhaps lsanavarman who set up an independent kingdom.
• The early Maukhari kings had established family ties with the later Guptas.
• However, Isanavarman’s declaration of his independence must have spoilt the relations between the Later Guptas and the Maukharis for the Apshad inscription tells of the victory of Kumaragupta, the fourth king of the later Gupta family of Maghadha, over Isanavarman. But the dynasty seems to have continued its rule.
• Sarvavarman, the second son of lsanavannan, was successful in retrieving the lost prestige of the Maukharis by defeating Damodaragupta of the Later Gupta dynasty.
• The last of the Maukhari kings was Grahavarman who was married to Rajyasri, the daughter of Prabhakaravardhan of Thaneshwar and sister of the famous ruler Harshavardharna.
• The Malaya king, Devagupta attacked Kanauj and killed Grahvarman bringing the Maukhari kingdom to an end.
• The Maukhari held sway over modern UP and parts of Magadha, however, the innumerable wars which they lost and won kept changing their boundaries.

Later Guptas

• From around the middle of sixth century AD, till about 675, the kings who ruled Magadha were known as Magadha Guptas or Later Guptas. However, it is not clear what connection they had with the Imperial GtIptas of the earlier period.
• The Aphsad inscription from Gaya gives the names of eight-Gupta Monarchs Krishnagupta, Harshagupta, Jivitagupta, Kumaragupta, Damodaragupta, Mahasenagupta, Madhavagupta.
• The Later Guptas entered into matrimonial alliances with other contemporary ruling families.
• For example, Harshagupta married his sister to a Maukhari king.
• Throughout this period, the Later Guptas remained engaged in battle with one enemy or the other.
• For example, Harashagupta had to fight the Hunas; his son Jivitagupta fought against Lichchhavis of Nepal and Gaudas of Bengal; and Jivitagupta’s successor Kumaragupta defeated Maukhari king Isanarvarman.
• The next king Damodaragupta, son of Kumaragupta, was defeated and killed by Maukhari king Sarvavannan and lost a portion of Magadha.
• For some time, the successors of Damodaragupta retreated to Malwa because of the Maukharis but they again established their supremacy in Magadha.
• Their most powerful ruler was Adityasena, who ruled in Magadha in 672, a date which seems to occur in one of his inscription.
• The Later Gupta power survived the empire of Harshavardhana and Adityasena signalised his accession to power by the performance of a horse sacrifice.
• According to the Aphsad inscription, Adityasena empire included Magadha, Anga and Bengal. It is just possible that his kingdom included a portion of eastern Uttar Pradesh.
• Adityasena was a Parama-Bhagavata and got a temple of Vishnu constructed.
• The Later Gupta line came to an end with the expansion of the power of the Gaudas of Bengal westward.
• But the Gaudas themselves were subdued by Yasovarman of Kanauj.

Social Life

• The pre-Gupta period in India witnessed a series of foreign invasions.
• Indian society had given way to those foreigners who had become permanent residents here.
• But during the Gupta period, the caste system became rigid.
• The Brahmins occupied the top ladder of the society.
• Land grants to the brahmanas on a large scale suggest that the brahmana supremacy continued in Gupta times.
• The Guptas who were originally vaisyas came to be looked upon as kshatriyas by the brahmanas.
• The brahmanas represented the Gupta kings as possessing the attributes of gods, and the Gupta princes became great supporters of the brahmanical order.
• The brahmanas accumulated wealth on account of numerous land grants and claimed many privileges, which are listed in the law-book of Narada.
• The practice of untouchability had slowly begun during this period.
• Fahien mentions that Chandalas were segregated from the society. Their miserable condition was elaborated by the Chinese traveler.
• The position of women had also become miserable during the Gupta period.
• Women were prohibited from studying the religious texts like the Puranas.
• The subjection of women to men was thoroughly regularized, but it was insisted that they should be protected and generously treated by men.
• The practice of Swyamvara was given up and the Manusmriti suggested the early marriage for girls.
• In the sphere of religion, Brahmanism reigned supreme during the Gupta period. It had two branches – Vaishnavism and Saivism.
• Most of the Gupta kings were Vaishnavaites.
• The worship of images and celebration of religious festivals with elaborate rituals made these two religions popular.
• Religious literature like the Puranas was composed during this period.
• The progress of Brahmanism led to the neglect of Buddhism and Jainism.
• Fahien refers to the decline of Buddhism in the Gangetic valley.
• But a few Buddhist scholars like Vasubandhu were patronized by Gupta kings.
• In western and southern India Jainism flourished.
• The great Jain Council was held at Valabhi during this period and the Jain Canon of the Swetambras was written.

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