Hailed as the Golden Age or as the Age of Renaissance, Gupta Empire contributed a lot to India.
In this article on Gupta Empire, we are going to take a quick peek into the various aspects of the Guptas including their art and architecture, paintings, music, languages, society, religion, science and technology etc.
Please note that this article on Gupta Empire doesn’t provide a comprehensive list of facts. The major ones are included. So, let us begin.
Art and Architecture of Gupta Empire | 1-6
1. Three major deities were worshiped – Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva, and Goddess Shakti.
2. Guptas continued the development of caves but addition of mural paintings was a new feature. Some of the caves that boast such beautiful mural paintings are:
Location: Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India.
Time: 200 BCE to 650 CE
Patron: Vakataka Kings
Other important features: It was actually built for Buddhist monks. Of 29 caves, 25 caves were used as Viharas or for residential purpose and the remaining four were prayer halls.
Noteworthy art or architecture: Mahaparinirvana of Buddha in the 26th cave.
Location: Sahyadri ranges, Maharashtra, India.
Time: 5th to 11th CE
Patron: Many kingdoms
Other important features: Of 34 caves, 17 were Brahmanical, 12 Buddhist and 5 belonged to Jains.
Noteworthy art or architecture: Kailash Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is, in simple words, stunning. Present in the 16th cave, the Kailash Temple is an awe-inspiring rock cut temple architecture.
Location: River Bagh, Madhya Pradesh, India.
Time: 6th century CE.
Other important features: There are a total of 9 Buddhist caves. They are similar to Ajanta caves.
Location: Junagadh, Gujarat, India.
Time: Not clear.
Patron: Not clear.
Other important features: In reality there are no caves there. There are three sites which are Khapra Kodiya, Baba Pyare and Uparkot.
Noteworthy art or architecture: Uparkot is a 30 to 50 feet high citadel present in front of the prayer hall which is quite unusual.
Location: Nasik, Maharashtra, India.
Time: 1st CE.
Patron: Not clear
Other important features: total of 24 Buddhist caves are present which are also known as Pandav Leni.
Noteworthy art or architecture: Depiction of excellent water management system which are indicated by the presence of water tanks made out of solid rocks.
Location: Borivalli, Maharashtra, India.
Other important features: It was actually a Brahmanical cave but was converted into a Christian cave.
Noteworthy art or architecture: Though church and graveyard are present, remains of Ardhanarishwara, Sada Shiva and Nataraja can be still seen.
Location: Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh, India.
Time: 5th CE.
Patron: Chandragupta II of Gupta Empire.
Other important features: These caves are Brahmanical ones. They are dedicated to Shiva, Narayana, Narasimha and Skanda.
Noteworthy art or architecture: Sculpture of Boar or Varaha (incarnation of Lord Vishnu) is amazing.
Note: It is to be noted that though for some caves, the patron is not clearly mentioned these caves were developed during the Gupta Empire and hence, their contribution to these caves should be understood though not explicitly mentioned.
3. Stupas were not developed with earlier vigor but Dhamek Stupa at Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh, India is a fine example of stupa development during the rule of the Gupta Empire.
4. A new school of sculpture was developed at Sarnath. They abandoned any type of nakedness in sculptures and used cream colored sandstone and metals. A fine example is Sultanganj Buddha.
5. Some of the famous inscriptions from the Gupta Empire are:
Prayaga-Prashasti – Four inscriptions are present. One of them is written by Harisena in Sanskrit language describing the conquests of Samudragupta and the boundaries of the empire.
Mehrauli – The Mehrauli Iron Pillar (in Qutub Minar Complex) was established by Chandragupta II as Vishnupada in the honor of Lord Vishnu. It describes the conquests of Chandragupta against the Vanga (present day West Bengal, Bihar and Bangladesh) rulers.
6. Temple architecture took a major haul during the Gupta period. The developments in temple architecture can be broadly divided into five stages:
First Stage – Temples had shallow pillars, low platform, and they were square shaped. The temples had flat roof.
Second Stage – Temples were built on raised platforms, two-storied temples were also constructed. Pradakshina path was also introduced.
Third Stage – In this stage there was emergence of Shikharas instead of flat roofs. Panchayatan style was adopted for temple making. In this style there were four subsidiary shrines along with the shrine of the main deity.
Fourth Stage – Almost everything was same except the shrine of main deity became more rectangular.
Fifth Stage – Circular temples with shallow rectangular projections was the only change. Everything else remained the same as the fourth stage.
Paintings of Gupta Empire | 7-13
7. Though primitive form of painting can be seen from Indus Valley Civilization sites like Bhimbetaka, Panchmarhi, etc., the concept of painting as an art emerged during the Gupta period.
8. Vatsyayana (during Gupta Empire) in his book, Kamasutra, described about 6 forms of painting which are briefly described below:
Rupabheda – Diversity of form.
Bhava – Creating luster and glow with colors.
Pramanam – Proportion of the particular subject.
Sadrisyan – Portraying the likeliness of the particular subject.
Varnikabhanga – Mixing colors so that it resembles effects of modelling.
Lavanyayogam – Involvement of the emotions.
9. Visakadatta’s play Mudrarakshasa also depicts different styles of paintings like Cauka Pitaka (isolated framed drawings), Yama Pitaka (isolated paintings) etc.
10. It is a known fact that Ajanta, Ellora etc. caves are full of amazing paintings and most of them belonged to Gupta period.
11. The paintings are so vivid that one can see emotions even in animals and birds. Another surprising feature in these paintings is that each female figure in a painting has different hairstyle.
12. Some of the famous paintings are Jataka stories, stories of Lord Shiva and his devotees, story of Lord Vishnu with his consort Goddess Lakshmi flying on his vehicle Garuda, stories of beautiful apsaras, etc.
13. Pottery was one of the many things where Harappans were masters. In the similar fashion as paintings, Guptas also took pottery a step further with more decorative designs, and techniques like stamping, molding etc.
Music of Gupta Empire | 14-16
14. Coins of Samudragupta and Kumaragupta show them playing a musical instrument which is most probably a Veena.
15. Guptas were patrons of music. Music has developed quite a lot due to Gupta’s patronage.
16. Musical knowledge was generally categorized into four categories which are:
Swaragatam – Knowledge of the seven swaras.
Vadyam – Playing musical instruments.
Samatalam – Knowledge of rhythmic instruments like Pukharaj.
Pushkanagatam – Playing rhythmic instruments.
Languages of Gupta Empire | 17-22
17. Sanskrit language was revived like never before in the Gupta Empire. It was used for writing scriptures, used in academics and it was a major language for literature.
18. Common languages spoken were Sanskrit for literary purpose and Prakrit and Pali (a dialect of Prakrit) for vernacular usage.
19. Panini wrote a book on grammar (relating to Sanskrit language) called Panini Ashtadhyayi. Patanjali’s Mahabhashya also contributed a lot to Sanskrit language.
20. A Bengali Buddhist scholar, Chandragomia, also wrote a book called Chandravyakaranam on Sanskrit grammar.
21. It is important to note that Gupta scripts developed from Brahmi. The scripts of Gupta were mostly Nagari (Gujarati script, Devanagari Script – Hindi), Siddham (Bengali, Assamese, Tibetan), Sharada (Gurumukhi script – Punjabi) etc.
22. Hindi, one of the official languages of India, uses Devanagari script even today.
Literature During Gupta Empire | 23-36
23. It was during Gupta period that Mahabharata and Ramayana were compiled.
24. 18 puranas were committed to written texts during the Gupta period (as we see them today). Some of them are Mastya Purana, Vishnu Purana, Shiva Purana, Vayu Purana, Bhagavata Purana etc.
25. Guptas were patrons of education and literature too! Many eminent scholars and poets thrived in Gupta Empire and produced many masterpieces.
26. Kalidasa is one of the most renowned poets and playwrights of India till date.
27. Some of his works of art are Raghuvamsam, Vikramorvashiyam, Ritusamhara, Kumarasambhava, Meghadutam, Abhigyanashakuntalam, Malvikagnimitram, etc.
28. Amarasimha, another great scholar, wrote Amarakosha, a dictionary of Sanskrit words.
29. The famed Panchatantra, written by Vishnu Sharma, belonged to the Gupta period.
30. Varahamihira, one of the greatest polymaths of the world, needs no introduction. He wrote Pancha-Siddhantika which included Surya Siddhanta, Paulisa Siddhanta, Vasishta Siddhanta, Paitamaha Siddhanta, and Romaka Siddhanta.
31. His other work, Brihat-samhita, includes various topics like astronomy, eclipses, planetary motions, gems, matrimony, pearls, domestic rituals etc.
32. He contributed to trigonometry (which is dead now because of the Bibhorr formula formulated by an Indian named Bibhorr), optics, and combinatorics.
33. Other works of Gupta period include Sudraka’s Mrichchakatika, Bharavi’s Kritarjuniya, Subhandhu’s Vasavadatta, and Dandin’s Dasamukacharitra and Kavyadarsa.
34. Buddhist and Jain literature also developed during Gupta’s time.
35. Buddhist scholars like Arya Deva, Vasubandhu etc. were very famous.
36. Siddhasena Divakara, a Jain scholar, paved way of logic and pragmatic reasoning in Delhi.
Science and Technology During Gupta Empire | 37-51
37. Aryabhatta formulated the area of a triangle. He was the one who discovered algebra.
38. Aryabhatta’s value for Pi is more accurate than the value given by Greeks.
39. Aryabhatta gave the place value system for ‘zero’. We generally say that he is the one who discovered zero but the truth is that he never gave the symbol of zero (0).
Please note that some say that the ‘true zero’ was developed by Brahmaguta (another another ancient Indian mathematician and astronomer) long after Aryabhatta. Brahmagupta gave rules of computation using zero.
40. Arabs actually called mathematics “Hidisat” which meant art of Indians. It is from Indians that Arabs learnt mathematics.
41. Indian number system was developed during Guptas’ time. This number system was adopted by Arabs. No due credit was given to the creators of the number system as the number system was popularly known as the Arabic numeral system.
42. However, some justice is done as it is now called Hindu-Arabic Number System.
43. Metallurgy was a specialty during the Gupta period. Iron and steel were extensively used. Mehrauli pillar in Qutub Minar Complex stands out as a brilliant example for the high advancement in iron technology.
44. The pillar is rust-free for nearly 16 centuries! Isn’t this enough?
45. Melting of metals was known as Dhatuveda. Science of testing gems was known as Ratna Pariksha. Maniragakarjanam meant technology of jewels.
46. During this time, many additions were made to Susruta Samhita. Many herbal medicines and medical instruments were created.
47. Palakava wrote a book on animal and their diseases which was known as Hastayurveda.
48. A treatise on horse, Asvasastra, was also written by sage Shalihotra.
49. Brihatsamhita and Amarakosha had chapters which dealt with study of herbs, plants, crops, gardens etc.
50. Varaha Mihira claimed in his book Brihatsamhita that presence of termites and plants can indicate the presence of water.
51. He listed six animals and around 36 plants that can indicate the presence of water.
Religion During Gupta Empire | 52-58
52. Royal family members were mostly Hindus. They were Vaishnavites (who pray to Lord Vishnu).
53. Lord Vishnu and his avatars gained prominence. Dasavatara concept emerged during this period.
54. Vishnu Sahasranamam (thousand names of Lord Vishnu), Bhagavat Puran etc. were added to the texts of Vaishnavism.
55. Bhakti and ahimsa concepts were given more importance. Hinduism in general was revived during this period.
56. Though the kings were Vaishnavites, other cults of Hinduism and other religions like Buddhism, Jainism, etc. were allowed to flourish equally. Subjects were given religious freedom.
57. Puranas got their final form in this time. Hindu temples were constructed more or less in line with present-day temples.
58. Increase in idol worship and personification of gods and goddesses increased.
Society During the Gupta Empire | 59-69
59. Varna system or caste system was followed.
60. Kings had the ultimate power. Chandalas were seen low and untouchability was also common.
61. Inter-marriages and Inter-dining were not promoted but they were not prohibited as well.
62. Slavery existed but in a milder fashion. Slaves could be freed if they fulfilled certain conditions.
63. Prisoners of wars, drunkards, bankrupt gamblers, servants of royal family etc. were some of the categories of slaves.
64. Foreign tribes like Indo-Greeks, Shaka, Kushana, Hephthalite, etc. were taken into the folds of caste system.
65. Except for the Brahmins, other castes increased in numbers.
66. Patriarchal system was followed and joint families were prevalent. Child marriages were rare. All eight types of marriage like daiva vivaha, brahma vivaha, gandharva vivaha, rakshasa vivaha, paisachika vivaha etc. were common.
67. Status of women declined but they were allowed to be educated and some of the upper caste women participated in cultural and administrative activities also.
68. Upper caste women were allowed to choose life partner via swayamvara. Lower caste women were allowed to work and help in running their families.
69. Polygyny (one man marrying multiple women) was allowed but not polyandry (one woman marrying multiple men). Sati was first recorded in Eran, Madhya Pradesh, India at around 510 CE.
Lifestyle During Gupta Empire | 70-79
70. Most of the people were vegetarians. They avoided foods like potato, tomato, chili, corn, tea, coffee, etc.
71. It was during late Gupta period that chess was invented. It was called Chaturanga. It consisted of chaturangini sena (four arms of an army i.e., elephant, horseman, chariots, and infantryman).
72. This game was introduced to Persia, then to the Arabs and ultimately went to Europe and is now known as chess.
73. Chaturanga is considered as an ancestor of all the board games in the world.
74. Festivals were very important. Religious and agricultural festivals were celebrated with great vigor.
75. Dresses made of cotton, wool and silk were used. Stitched garments were mostly worn by upper caste and royal family.
76. Artificial hair, lipstick, powders etc. were used. Uttariya was worn to cover torso and antariya was worn to cover the lower parts of the body.
77. Many ornaments made of different materials were used.
78. People were very ethical and hence crime rate was very low. Many charitable institutions were in existence. Hospitals were also present.
79. Traveling overseas was considered a taboo and a sin.
Education During Gupta Empire | 80-82
80. Education was given a lot of importance in the society. Primary education was done at home and higher education was completed on agraharas (Vedic schools) or monasteries (Buddhist or Jain).
81. Sanskrit was an academic language and many subjects like astronomy, medicine, mathematics, science of warfare, itihasa, smritis etc. were taught.
82. Ujjain, Pataliputra (present-day Patna), Taxila, Kanchipuram, Varanasi, Nalanda etc. were centers of learning.
Calendars During Gupta Empire | 83-85
83. Many historians believe that Vikram Samvat era was named after Chandragupta Vikramaditya when he conquered Malwa at around 400 CE.
84. This era was actually instituted by Malawa Ganarajya and was known as Malawa Gana era.
85. The calendar used by the Gupta is 56.7 years ahead of Gregorian calendar and it is a lunar calendar. It has 354 days and is divided into 12 months. Some of those months are (Chaitra, Vaisakha, Kartika, Pausha, Magha etc.).
Coins During Gupta Empire | 86-87
86. On one side of the coin, one can see the king making oblations to an altar, or is playing veena etc.
87. The other side of the coin either had goddess Lakshmi on lotus or the queen herself. For the first time in the history of coins, Sanskrit (Brahmi script) was used.