CHAPTER-25 : Life in the Gupta Age

Ancient History of India
Short Notes or Revision Notes 

Gupta Administration

Central Rule:

  • Hereditary monarchy with titles like “parameshvara” (supreme lord).
  • Limited primogeniture (eldest son not guaranteed succession).

Taxes and Labor:

  • Increased focus on land taxes compared to trade.
  • Royal taxes ranged from 1/4th to 1/6th of produce.
  • Forced labor (vishti) existed in central and western India.


  • Less elaborate than the Mauryan system.
  • Kumaramatyas: Key officers appointed by the king.

Provincial and Local Administration:

  • Empire divided into bhuktis (provinces) led by uparikas.
  • Bhuktis further divided into vishayas (districts) under vishayapatis.
  • In eastern India, vishayas subdivided into vithis and villages.


  • Evidence suggests artisans, merchants, and guild heads formed governing bodies in towns.
  • Examples: Vaishali, Kotivarsha (Bangladesh), Mandasor (Malwa), Indore, Bulandshahar (UP).
  • Guilds, especially merchant guilds, likely had certain privileges.

Feudatory System:

  • Empire partly ruled by subjugated chiefs with obligations to the Gupta king.
  • Feudal chiefs on the borders had three main obligations (unspecified in excerpt).
  • Grants of fiscal and administrative power to priests and administrators became common.

Trade and Economy under the Guptas


  • Guptas issued most gold coins (dinaras) in ancient India.
  • Regular size and weight, depicting Gupta kings.
  • Increased silver coins after conquering Gujarat, for local trade.

Silk Trade:

  • India exported silk to the Eastern Roman Empire until 550 AD.
  • Romans learned silk production from China, hurting Indian exports.
  • Silk weavers’ guild in Gujarat migrated due to slackening demand.


  • Rise of priestly landlords in eastern and central Madhya Pradesh.
  • Land grants to Brahmanas increased their wealth and influence.

Social Developments:

  • Brahmanas claimed privileges based on landownership (listed in Narada Smriti).
  • Hunas eventually assimilated into Rajput clans.
  • First recorded instance of sati (widow self-immolation) in 510 AD.
  • Segregation of “untouchables” and certain professions outside cities.

Buddhism under the Guptas

  • Reduced Royal Support:
    • Buddhism didn’t receive significant royal patronage during the Gupta era.
    • Fa-hsien’s account may overstate its prominence compared to Ashoka and Kanishka’s reigns.
  • Continued Activity:
    • Some stupas and viharas (monasteries) were still constructed.
    • Nalanda emerged as a center of Buddhist education.
  • Iron Pillar of Mehrauli:
    • A remarkable monument showcasing Indian craftsmanship (7.2 meters high, 1500 years old).

Rise of Bhagavatism

  • Origin:
    • Developed after the Maurya Empire, centered around Vishnu worship.


  • Vishnu: Minor Vedic god (sun, fertility) merged with Narayana (tribal god).
  • By 200 BC, these merged into Bhagavatism (Vaishnavism).
  • Key Tenets:
    • Bhakti: Loving devotion, similar to loyalty to a leader.
    • Ahimsa: Non-killing of animals, suited agricultural society.
  • Surpassing Buddhism:
    • By Gupta times, Bhagavatism overshadowed Mahayana Buddhism.
    • Introduced the concept of avatars (incarnations) of Vishnu.
    • History seen as a cycle of Vishnu’s ten incarnations.

Gupta Art and Literature

  • Golden Age:
    • Gupta period considered a golden age for Indian art and literature.
    • Rulers like Samudragupta and Chandragupta II were patrons.
  • Sculpture:
    • Life-size copper Buddha statue (Sultanganj, 6+ feet).
    • Beautiful Buddha images at Sarnath and Mathura.
    • Ajanta paintings: Lifelike depictions of Buddha’s life and Jataka tales.
  • Architecture:
    • Limited architectural achievements compared to other art forms.
    • Brick temples in UP (Bhitargaon, Bhitari, Deogarh).
    • Nalanda University’s early brick structures.

Gupta Literature

  • Secular and Religious Works:
    • Increased focus on secular literature, including ornate court poetry.
  • Playwright Bhasa:
    • Early Gupta period, wrote 13 plays in Sanskrit and Prakrit.
    • Drama “Dradiracharudatta” (later adapted as “Mrichchhakatika”).
    • Used the term “yavanika” for curtain, suggesting Greek influence.
  • Kalidasa (4th-5th Century):
    • Considered the greatest classical Sanskrit poet.
    • Famous work: “Abhijnanashakuntalam” (love story of King Dushyanta and Shakuntala).
  • Religious Literature:
    • Growth in religious works, with epics and Puranas nearing completion by 4th century AD.
    • Ramayana, Mahabharata compiled by Brahmanas, reflect Kshatriya tradition.
  • Sanskrit Grammar and Lexicons:
    • Development of Sanskrit grammar based on Panini and Patanjali’s work.
    • Amarasimha’s “Amarakosha” – a lexicon for Sanskrit students.

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