Spanning around 300 years from late 3rd century CE to 543 CE, Gupta Empire, at its zenith, was the fourth largest political entity that has existed in the Indian subcontinent. It was preceded by provincial powers like Nagas of Padmavati & Western Satraps; and was succeeded by the Maukhari dynasty. The Gupta Dynasty was founded by Sri Gupta and turned into an empire by his grandson Chandragupta I. It was then further extended by Samudragupta and reached its greatest territorial extent under Chandragupta Vikramaditya. The Gupta Empire unified most of the Indian subcontinent; and its reign was marked by economic prosperity and stable governance. Moreover, the Gupta Era saw numerous advances being made in the fields of science, technology, engineering, art, dialectic, literature, logic, mathematics, astronomy, religion and philosophy. Know more about the contribution of Gupta Dynasty to Indian history through its 10 major achievements.

 

#1 It is the fourth largest political entity to have ever ruled India

After the fall of the Maurya Empire in 187 BCE, India entered an age of fragmentation where regional rulers began to take charge of smaller regions and there was warfare among rival kingdoms. In second half of 3rd century CE, Sri Gupta founded the Gupta Dynasty. It was Chandragupta I, the grandson of Sri Gupta, who turned his small ancestral kingdom into an empire, which ruled large parts of North India. His son Samudragupta further expanded the Gupta empire and greatly increased his dynasty’s political power. He defeated several kings of northern India and annexed their territories. He also marched along the south-eastern coast of India, advancing as far as the Pallava kingdom. Moreover, he subjugated several frontier kingdoms and tribal oligarchies. His son, Chandragupta II or Chandragupta Vikramaditya, is regarded as one of the greatest rulers in history and the Gupta empire reached its zenith during his reign. Under him, the Gupta empire stretched from the Indus River in the west to the Bengal region in the east; and from the Himalayan foothills in the north to the Narmada River in the south. At its greatest extent, the Gupta Empire is the 4th largest political entity to have ruled the Indian sub-continent. It encompassed an area of over 3.5 million sq km (1.4 million sq miles) with its capital city at Pataliputra, near modern Patna, Bihar.

Gupta Empire Map
Maximum extent of the Gupta Empire during Chandragupta Vikramaditya

 

#2 It followed an efficient method of decentralized administration

Gupta Emperors followed a model of decentralized administration. They organized a hierarchy of officials exercising imperial authority in different parts of the country to help them systematically control their territories. There was a five tiered administration system in the regions which were under the direct control of the Gupta Empire. The hierarchy began at the imperial level with the Emperor and his Mantriparishad, or Council of Ministers; led by a Pradhan Mantri, or Prime Minister. The second layer dealt with the administration of the provinces headed by a group of officials called Kumaramatyas. The provinces were called Bhukti or Desa. Each province was divided into various districts called Pradesha or Pattana. A district was headed by Ayuktas or Vishyapatis. The fourth layer dealt with the administration of the villages (Vithi) and towns. Each village had a Village Assembly consisting of the elders of the village. It was guided by a head called Gramapati. The city administration was headed by a Chairman or Nagara Sreshtis. It consisted of representatives of various occupations including Sarthavaha, representing the trading communities; Prathamakulika, representing the artisans; and Prathamakayastha, representing the community of Government officials.

Chandragupta Vikramaditya gold coin
An 8 gm gold coin featuring Chandragupta Vikramaditya

 

#3 The Gupta Era is regarded as the Golden Age of India

The Gupta Period, among other things, was marked by economic prosperity and stable governance. There was abundant food with crops harvested twice a year. Several industries flourished and goods were exchanged within the empire as well as exported to other regions around the world. Urban centres; like Ujjian, Prayaga, Banaras, Gaya, Pataliputra and Ayodhya; experienced bustling trade and prosperity with people maintaining a high standard of living. Law and order was maintained through the empire. The Gupta Judicial System was considered well ahead of its time with clear demarcation between civil and criminal laws. Among other things, capital punishments were rare and there was no needless interference of the government in the lives of people. The Gupta Era also saw numerous achievements in the fields of science, technology, engineering, art, dialectic, literature, logic, mathematics, astronomy, religion and philosophy. This was possible due to an environment of peace and prosperity provided by the Gupta Emperors, who valued art and science. For example, the great writer Kalidasa was probably a court poet of Chandragupta Vikramaditya. Thus, the period under the Gupta Dynasty, roughly from 4th century to 6th century CE, is regarded as the Golden Age of India.

 

#4 It witnessed the pinnacle of Indian rock-cut architecture

Gupta Period witnessed the pinnacle of creativity in architecture. Rock-cut architecture is the practice of creating a structure by carving it out of solid natural rock. The rock-cut architecture of India is more various and found in greater abundance in the country than any other form of rock-cut architecture around the world. The Gupta Era is considered the pinnacle of Indian rock-cut architecture. The most prominent architectural marvels of the period are temples with standing figures of gods and goddesses. The best known temples of the period include the Dashavatara Temple at Deogarh, Uttar Pradesh. Dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu, this temple shows the ornate Gupta style architecture. According to archaeologist Percy Brown, “Few monuments can show such a high level of workmanship, combined with a ripeness and rich refinement in its sculptural effect as the Gupta temple at Deogarh”. Other famous temples constructed during the Gupta Era include the Bhumara Temple and Nachna Hindu temples in Madhya Pradesh. Udayagiri Caves near Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh is another architectural marvel of the Gupta Period. They contain some of the oldest surviving Hindu temples and are one of the most important archaeological sites in India.

Dashavatara Temple
Dashavatara Temple at Deogarh, Uttar Pradesh

 

#5 It is regarded as the Golden Age of North Indian art

The Gupta Empire under Samudragupta and Chandragupta II came to expand across large territory and this helped in expanding on earlier artistic traditions of the regions to develop a unique Gupta style, which has been said to be “to heights of sophistication, elegance and glory”. The Gupta period thus is generally regarded as a classic peak and golden age of North Indian art for all the major religious groups. The vast majority of surviving works from the period are religious sculpture; mostly in stone but some also in metal or terracotta. These sculptures include beautiful depictions of Hindu Gods and Goddesses; large scale depictions of Buddha; and Jain tirthankara figures. The traditional centre of sculpture during the Gupta era was Mathura. Gandhara, the centre of Greco-Buddhist art just beyond the boundaries of the Gupta Empire, also exerted its influence. The influence of Gupta art may also been seen in the mural paintings at the Ajanta Caves in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra. Four of these caves have large and relatively well-preserved mural paintings which have come to represent “the great glories not only of Gupta but of all Indian art”.

Seated Buddha - Gupta sculpture
Seated Buddha – Sculpture from Gupta Era at the Sarnath Museum

 

#6 Decimal Numeral System was invented

The most important mathematical achievement during the Gupta Era was the invention of the decimal system with zero as a placeholder. The Indian numerals, the first positional base 10 numeral system in the world, was transferred to China and back to the Middle East, and continued to migrate for another few centuries before finally reaching Europe. Much of the mathematical achievements in the world have come about due to the Indian numeral system and the concept of zero that it uses. Aryabhatta (or Aryabhata), a mathematician and astronomer active during the Gupta Period, is usually credited with this invention. Aryabhatta made numerous other contributions to mathematics. Among other things, he calculated the closest approximate value of pi till that time; was the first known person to solve Diophantine equations; was first to explain that moon and planets shine due to reflected sunlight; and made major contributions to the fields of Trigonometry and Algebra. The numerous mathematical discoveries made during the Gupta Era paved the way for many new scientific theories around the world in years to come.

Bronze bust of Aryabhatta
Bronze bust of Aryabhatta at UNESCO Headquarters, Paris

 

#7 Length of day and year were calculated to impressive accuracy

Gupta Era also saw unprecedented development in the field of astronomy. This field too was led by Aryabhatta. Aryabhata calculated the circumference of the Earth as 39,968 kilometers while the actual circumference is 40,075 kilometers. Thus Aryabhatta’s value of the size of the earth is only 0.2% smaller than the actual size. Aryabhata also put forth impressive calculations regarding the sidereal rotation (rotation calculated by referencing the position of the fixed stars) of the Earth. He calculated it as 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.1 seconds; this is unbelievably close to the modern-day calculated value of 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.091 seconds, an error of merely 0.09 seconds! Similarly, Aryabhata calculated the value of the sidereal year to be 365.25858 days, an error of just 3 minutes and 20 seconds as compared to the actual length, which comes out to be 365.25636 days. These calculations by Aryabhatta were one of the most accurate calculations in the world till that time. Moreover, Aryabhata explained how the Earth moves around its axis and he also explained how the apparent movement of stars in the night sky is, in fact, a relative motion that is caused by the rotation of the Earth. This bashed the popularly accepted view of the time that this was caused by the rotation of the sky.

#8 Gupta Era is regarded as the golden phase in Indian literature

Peace and prosperity during the Gupta Age led to the golden phase in Indian literature, where numerous impressive works in poetry and drama were composed. During this period, Sanskrit Literature was at its highest point because Gupta Emperors made Sanskrit their court language and wrote all their documents and inscriptions in the same. Kalidasa, widely regarded as one of the greatest poets and dramatists in world literary history, belonged primarily to the Gupta Era. His masterpiece, Abhijnashakuntalam, dramatizes the story of Shakuntala told in the epic Mahabharata. Other famous works by him include the epic poems Raghuvamsha and Kumarasambhavam; and the lyric poem Meghaduta. Panchatantra, written by Vishnu Sharma, is another famous and widely-translated work of the Gupta Period. It is a collection of fables featuring animals that play the parts of kings, princes, princesses, ministers and spies; usually containing a comedic lesson of wisdom. Visakhadutta, the renowned author of Mudra Rakshasa, was another great poet and dramatist of the era. His masterpiece, Devichandra Gupta, deals with the early life of Chandragupta II and his relations with his elder brother Ramgupta. Puranas, the influential ancient Hindu texts about a wide range of topics, are also thought to have been committed to written texts during the age of Gupta emperors.

Kalidasa
Modern depiction of Kalidasa

 

#9 Its medical system was perhaps the best in the world at the time

It is believed that India, during the Gupta era, had perhaps the best medical system, drugs and therapeutic methods in the world. Medical experimentation was common, and through studies, doctors learned to sterilize wounds and perform Caesarian delivers. Many other new developments were also brought about in the area of healthcare like the construction of hospitals, production of surgical instruments, invention of medicines and use of vaccinations. Significant medical achievements of the Gupta Era also include a smallpox vaccine, herbal remedies for all kinds of illnesses and even a type of reconstructive plastic surgery. Moreover, the Sushruta Samhita, which is a Sanskrit redaction text on all of the major concepts of Ayurvedic medicine with innovative chapters on surgery, dates to the Gupta period. Such medical texts were revolutionary and well ahead their time, broadening the knowledge of the procedure of lifesaving practices.

Sushruta statue
Statue dedicated to ancient Indian physician Sushruta at Haridwar, Uttarakhand

 

#10 Predecessor to Chess was invented and a book was written on sexuality

In sports and leisure, the game known as Chaturanga, is dated to the Gupta Age. Played between two players and similar to the modern game of Chess, Chaturanga is played with an objective is to checkmate the opponent’s king by placing it under an inescapable threat of capture. Apart from Chess; it is also regarded as the common ancestor of the board games Shogi, Japanese chess; Sittuyin, Burmese chess; and Makruk, Thai chess. Ancient Indian philosopher Vatsyayana is also believed to have lived during the Gupta Era. The best known work of Vatsyayana is Kama Sutra, the most ancient book in the world on human sexuality. Based on the rules about the art of love and marriage according to Hindu laws, Kama Sutra is about the “art-of-living well”, the nature of love, finding a life partner, maintaining one’s love life and other aspects pertaining to pleasure-oriented faculties of human life. A new concept in health and medicine, Kama Sutra went on to influence many secondary texts. Moreover, its content has been depicted in ancient Indian sculpture. Khajuraho, in Madhya Pradesh, houses Kamasutra inspired erotic sculptures and is currently a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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