After the disintegration of the Mauryan Empire the Satvahanas and the Kushanas emerged as two large political powers. The Satvahanas acted as stabilizing factor in the Deccan and South to which they gave political unity and economic prosperity. Kushanas did the same in the north India. In the middle of the third century AD both these empires came to an end. On the ruins of the Kushana Empire arose the empire of the Guptas in A D 319. Although the Gupta Empire was not as large as the Mauryan Empire, it kept north India politically united for more than a century from AD 335 to AD 455. The Guptas were initially a family of landowners who acquired political control in the region of Magadha and parts of eastern Uttar Pradesh. They enjoyed certain material advantages. The centre of their operations lay in fertile land of Madhyadesa covering Bihar and UttarPradesh.
They could exploit the iron ores of Central India and South Bihar. They took advantage of their proximity to the areas in north India which carried on silk trade with the Byzantine Empire. Due to these favourable factors the Guptas set up their rule over Anuganga (middle Gangetic basin), Prayag (modern Allahabad), Saket and Magadha. In course of this time this kingdom became an all India empire.
Sources of Gupta Rule
The Kamandaka Nitisara was written in the time of Chandragupta II by Sikhara, Prime Minister of Chandragupta II. It is equivalent to Kautilya’ s Arthasashtra. It gives us idea of polity and administration of the Guptas. The Devichandraguptam is a political drama attributed to Vishakhadatta, author of Mudrarakshas. It tells us about Ramagupta’s defeat by a Saka ruler, murder of the Saka ruler as well as of Ramagupta by Chandragupta II, his accession to the throne and his marriage to Dhruvadevi. The Mudrarakshas of Vishakhdatta is another useful source. It gives an account of establishment of the Mauryan dynasty by Chandragupta Maurya and Kautilya. It throws light on the religion of the king and the religious condition of the people in the Gupta period. The Kaumudi Mahotsava is a drama of five Acts. It gives political condition of Magadha of that time and also throws considerable light on the origin and the rise of Gupta dynasty. It has enabled scholars to solve many riddles of the early Gupta history. Puranas occupy a very important place as a religious source. They are 18 in number but only the Vayu Purana, Brahmanda Purana, Matysa Purana, Vishnu Purana and Bhagvat Puranas give a full account of the Gupta empire, its various provinces and their boundaries. The Dharmashastras also give us a lot of useful information of the Gupta period. Inscriptions are also helpful in writing the history of the Gupta period.
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.
The inscriptions mention the following titles as: paramadvaita, paramabhattaraka, maharajadhiraja, prithvipala, paramesvara, samrat, ekadhiraja and chakravartin. The king was assisted in his administration by a chief minister called mantra or sachiva. Pratiharas and mahapratiharas 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 sandhibigrahika or mahasandhivigrahika a 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 duta 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 and chauroddharanika. The king maintained a close liaison with the provincial administration through a class of officials called kumaramatyas and ayuktas.
The provinces called bhuktis were usually governed by officers called uparikas. The governor of a bhukti has various designations in the official records-bhogika, gopta, uparika-maharaja and rajasthaniya. Bhuktis were subdivided into vishayas. These were governed by vishayapatis. The headquarters of the district was known as adhishthana and the executive officers of the district as samvyavahari and ayuktakas. The district magistrate was helped in his administration in his administration by a large staff. They were maharattaras(village elders), ashtakuladhi-karanikas(officers in charge of groups of eight kulas or families in the local area), gramika(village headman), saulkika (collector of customs and tolls), gaulmika(incharge of forest and forts), agraharika(in charge of the agraharas, settlements dedicated to Brahmins).
The district records office called akshapatala was placed in charge of mahakshapatalika. There were also in the district office, sarbodhyakshas or general superintendents under whom were employed men of noble lineage called kulaputras to guard against corruption. The popular element played an important part in the district administration. The advisory district council consisted principally of four members namely the guild president, the chief merchant, the chief artisan and the chief scribe. The villages were under gramikas along with whom were associated mahattaras or the senior persons of different classes. The town administration was carried on by the mayor of the city called purapala who corresponded to nagaravyavaharakas of the Mauryan age.
During the reign of Chandragupta II the celebrated Chinese pilgrim Fahien visited India. The main objective of Fahien’s mission to India was to secure copies of Buddhist manuscripts. He visited Peshawar, Mathura, Kanauj, Sravasti, Kapilavastu, Kushinagara, Vaishali, Pataliputra, Kasi, Gaya, and Bodhgaya among other places. He spent three years at Pataliputra and two at Tamralipti. He gives interesting information about the life of the people and the general condition of the country.
Urban centres in Gupta period
The emergence of self-sufficient local units of production is also indicated by the gradual decay of urban centres in the Gupta period. Archaeology shows that Kushana layers belonging to the first-third centuries AD were very flourishing. On the other hand the Gupta layers belonging to the fourth-sixth centuries AD were in state of decline and in many cases Kushana bricks were used in Gupta structures. In many urban sites habitation disappeared after the 6th century AD.
The fourth one includes the Daivapura Shahanushahs, Saka Murundas and the dwellers of Sinhala and all other islands who offered their person for service to Samudragupta. Harisena the court poet of Samudragupta lays special emphasis upon Samudragupta’s learning and wisdom, sharp and polished intellect and above all his poetical and musical talents. He also refers to Samudragupta’s charity and kindness even to conquered kings. The variety of gold coins issued by Samudragupta not only indicate the power, wealth and grandeur of his empire but also give us some idea of his appearance and insight into his personal qualities. The Guptas were followers of the Brahmanical religion and Samudragupta fully maintained the tradition of religious toleration.