Ancient India

Gupta Culture

Arts and Architecture

By evolving the Nagara and Dravida styles the Gupta art ushers in the history of Indian architecture a formative and creative age. The rock-cut caves continue the old forms to a large extent but possess striking novelty by bringing about extensive changes in the ornamentation of the facade and in the designs of the pillars in the interior. The most notable groups of rock-cut caves are found at Ajanta and Ellora and Bagh.The Udayagiri caves also belong to this category.

Main features of the temple architecture:

  • Flat roofed square temple
  • Flat roofed square temple with a second storey above.
  • Square temple with a curvilinear tower above
  • Rectangular temple
  • Circular temple.

The second group of temples shows many of the characteristic features of the Dravida style. The importance of third group lies in the innovation of a sikhara that caps the sanctum sanctorium, the main feature of the Nagara style. Stupas were also built in large numbers but the best are found at Samath, Ratnagiri and Mirpur Khan.


A good example of stone sculpture is the well-known erect Buddha from Sarnath. Of the Brahmanical images the most impressive is the Great Boar at the entrance of a cave at Udayagiri. The art of casting statues on a large scale by the cire process was practised by Gupta craftsmen with conspicuous success. Two outstanding examples metal sculpture are copper image of the Buddha about eighteen feet high at Nalanda in Bihar and Sultanganj Buddha of seven and half feet.


The art of painting seems to have developed in Gupta age. Remains of paintings of this period are found at Ajanta, Bagh, Badami and other places. The surface of the paintings was done in a simple way. The art of Ajanta and Bagh shows the Madhyadesa School of Painting at its best.

Terracottas and Pottery

Clay figurines were used both for religious and secular purposes. There are figurines of Vishnu, Kartikeya, Surya, Durga, Kubera, Nagas and other gods and goddesses. Gupta pottery remains found at Ahichchhatra, Rajgarh, Hastinapur and Bashar afford an outstanding proof of the excellence of pottery. The most distinctive class of pottery of this period is the red ware.

They can be divided into two groups. Firstly those incised by private individuals and secondly those engraved on behalf of the ruling king. The private records mentioned the donations in favour of religious establishments or installation of images for worship. The official records are either in the nature of Prasastis or charters recording land grants known as tamra sasanas. The Prasastis and the tamrasasanas usually provide us information on the genealogy of the kings mentioned in them. A large number of seals have been found from Vaisali in the Muzzaffarpur district. They give an insight into the provincial and local administration. A lot of useful information for the history of Guptas is found in the coins of the Gupta Emperor. The legends on the coins possess great poetic merit. The fabric and style of a coin helps to form an idea of the political conditions determining the sequence of events and ideas. Both gold and silver coins were issued by these rulers.

Literary Activities

The popularity of Sanskrit is seen in the inscriptions composed in the language. It was not merely the language of the learned classes but became the spoken language of the country. Sanskirt had a decided superiority over Pali and Prakrit in the richness of its vocabulary, compactness of its form and expressiveness of its idoms. The poetry and prose in Sanskrit were encouraged on a lavish scale through royal patronage. Kalidasa was the outstanding writer who wrote famous works of Shakuntalam, Meghadutam etc. The biography of Harsha written by Bana was held as an excellent example of best Sanskrit prose. During the Gupta age -Bhasa, Sudraka, Kalidasa, Visakhadatta and Bharavi flourished. Literature in Prakrit also had its patronage outside the court circle.

Prakrit literature written by Jainas tended to be more didactic in style with a substantial religious content. The period saw the last phase of the Smriti literature. The Mahabharata and the Ramayana also got their final touchup and received their present shape during this age. The Gupta period also saw the development of Sanskrit grammar based on Panini (Ashtadhyayi) and Patanjali(Mahabhashya). This period is memorable for the compilation of the Amarakosa by Amarasimha. A Buddhist scholar from Bengal, Chandragomia composed a book on grammar named Chandravyakaranam.

Gupta Sciences

The Gupta period saw the development of mathematics, astronomy, medicine, chemistry, physics and metallurgy. The science of mathematics was cultivated with success. Numerals had been in use for some time. They were later introduced to the European world as Arabic numerals. In the field of mathematics Aryabhatta wrote Aryabhatiya. This mathematician was well versed in various kinds of calculations. The Aryabhatiya refers to some of the important properties of circles and triangles. The most epoch making achievement of this age in the realm of arithmetic was the discovery of the decimal system of notation. The Bakshali manuscripts give us a fairly comprehensive idea of the state of mathematics during Gupta period. It deals with varied topics like fractions, square roots, arithmetical and geometric progressions, summation of complex series, simultaneous linear equations and indeterminate equations of the second degree. The first major expositions of Indian astronomy in the last few centuries BC are recorded in two works, the Jyotisha-Vedanga and the Surya Prajnapti. Vasishtha Siddhanta marked a further progress in astronomy.

Paulisa Siddhanta was another important work. It laid down a rough rule for calculating the lunar and solar eclipses. The Surya Sidhanta was most popular before the time of Aryabhatta. It had formulated some rules for calculating eclipses and discovered solutions for some of the problems in spherical astronomy. Another important writer on astronomy was Varahamihira. His work the study of Astronomy is divided into three branches each of equal importance-astronomy and mathematics and astrology. The most interesting work of Varahamihira is the Pancha Sidhantika a concise account of the five currently used schools of which two reflect a close knowledge of Greek astronomy. Medicine also progressed during this period. The famous Buddhist scholar Nagarjuna was a student of chemistry, metallurgy and medicine. Dhanavantari was a renowned Ayurvedic physician. Hastyaurveda or the veterinary science authored by Palakapya attests to the advances made in medical science during the Gupta period.

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