Gupta Empire - Featured

Gupta Empire, among the literary sources, the Puranas occupy a very important place. A critical examination of the dynastic lists as given in the Puranas by scholars like Pargiter, K.P. Jayaswal, Kirfel and others has brought them to the definite conclusion that the accounts of the Puranas regarding the political history of the Guptas are trustworthy.

Gupta Empire

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  • The Puranas are 18 in number but for our purpose the Vayu Purana, Brahmanda Purana, Matsya Purana, Vishnu Purana and Bhagvat  Saketa (Ayodhya) and Magadha.
  • The Puranas give us a full account of the Gupta EMpire, its various provinces and their boundaries.
  • A distinction is made between those territories which formed an integral part of the Empire and those which were outside Jurisdiction.
  • The Puranas help us in locating  the names of kings and minor dynasties as well as in identifying them.
  • They help us in fixing up the period of the rise of some of the small states either as independent ones or within the Empire.
  • The Purans tell us the Chandragupta Ⅰ ruled over Prayaga, Saketa (Ayodhya) and Magadha.
  • The Puranas give us a full account of the contemporaries of Samudragupta in the first half of his reign such as the history of the Nagas and Vakatakas, the Sakas in Sindh and West Punjab.
  • The Dharmasastras also give us a lot of useful information. According to Jayaswal, Narad belonged to the early Gupta period.
  • Brihaspati also probably   belonged to the early Gupta period.
  • The Smritis of Vyas, Harita, Pitamaha and Pulastya were probably also written during the Gupta period. These works give us a lot of useful information.
  • The Kamandala Nitisara was probably written in the time of Chandragupta Ⅱ by Sikhara, Prime Minister of Chandragupta Ⅱ.
  • The object of the book was to give instructions to the king. The author defends the murder of Saka king by his sovereign.
  • The quote him : “Morality is not offended by a  murder of an energy through disguise.”
  • The Kavya-Nataka literature also is useful for our purpose. To this category belong the Setubandha Kavya or Setukavya, Kaumudi  Mahotsava, Devichandraguptam and Mudrarakshasa.
  • The Setu Bandha is a Prakrit poem dealing with the invasion of Ceylon by Ram and the killing of Ravana’s.
  • A lot of useful information is also available in the account of India left by Fahien. The account is known as Fo-kuo-ki or Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms.
  • This has been translated into English by Beal, Legege and Giles.
  • Although the main object of Fa Hien was to search out Buddhist books and legends, he has also given us many details of the social and religious condition of the country at that time.
  • Another Chinese traveller, I Tsing, travelled in India after the death of Harsha.
  • He refers to Maharaja Sri Gupta who created a shrine for the use of Chinese pilgrims near Mrigadayavan known as the Temple of China.
  • He saw the ruins of that temple. This Srigupta was probably the founder of the Gupta dynasty and reigned about 500 years before the visit of I Tsing.


  • Inscriptions are also helpful in writing the history of the Gupta period. Dr. Fleet rendered a great service by publishing in 1888 the third volume of Corpus Inscriptions Indicarum or Inscriptions of the Early Gupta Kings and their successors.
  • Dr. Fleet brought together not only the Inscriptions of the Early Guptas but also of the later Guptas.
  • The first 16 inscriptions in the above-mentioned Corpus refer to the early Guptas. Their dates range from 360 A.D. to 466 A.D.
  • The direct line of the early Gupta dynasty is taken to end with Skandagupta.
  • Buddhagupta and Vishnugupta with their respective dates A.D. 484 and 510 are mentioned in Nos. 19 and 20 of the Corpus.
  • The Udayagiri Cave Inscription, the Mathura Stone Inscription, the Sanchi Stone Inscription and the Garhwa Stone Inscription of the time of Chandragupta Ⅱ give us a lot of information regarding the attitude of the State towards religion.
  • The Garhwa Stone Inscription, the Bilsad Stone Pillar Inscription and the Mankunwar Stone Image Inscription refer to Kumaragupta Ⅰ.
  • A large number of seals have been found from Vaisali in the Muzaffarpur District. We have the seal of Mahadevi Dhruvswamini, queen of Chandragupta Ⅱ.
  • She was the mother of Maharaj Govind Gupta. He was probably the younger brother of Kumaragupta Ⅰ.
  • He was Governor of Vaisali in the reign of his father Chandragupta Ⅱ. Many other seals of the officials at Vaisali have also been found there.
  • The monuments of the Gupta period are also a source of the history of that period.
  • Those monuments illustrate the different centres of art and architecture, viz., Mathura centre, Banaras School and Nalanda School.
  • The Gupta art was free from foreign influence. The image of the seated Buddha in the Sarnath museum belonging to the Banaras School is  a masterpiece of Indian art.
  • Illustrations of the Nalanda School are to be found at Nalanda and at Kurkihar. These have been assembled together at the Patna museum.
  • A lot of useful information for the history of the Guptas is to be found in the coins of Gupta emperor.
  • Allan published in 1914 “ Catalogue of the Coins of the Gupta Dynasties.”
  • This work contains a systematic study of the Gupta Coins. We have coins bearing the figures of Chandragupta Ⅰ and his queen Kumaradevi struck by their son Samudragupta.
  • We have various varieties of coins Samudragupta, viz., tiger type, lyrist type, Asvamedha type, standard type, Archer type, etc.
  • We have a large number of coins of Chandragupta Ⅱ of various varieties, viz., archer type, couch type, Chhatra type, lion-slayer type, horseman type.
  • We have various varieties of coins of Kumaragupta Ⅰ, viz., archer type, Asvamedha type, horseman type, lion-slayer type, tiger-slayer type, elephant-rider type etc.

Condition of Northern India before Rise of the Guptas

Monarchies : During the period between the fall of the Kushanas and the rise of the Guptas, there were a number of monarchical and republican states in Northern India. The important monarchical states were the kingdoms of the Nagas, kingdom of ahichhatra, ayodhya, Kausambi, kingdoms of the Vakatakas and Maukharis and the Guptas.

  • The Nagas had spread themselves in different parts of India. This fact is proved by the literary, epigraphic and numismatic evidence.
  • According to the Puranas, Vidisha, Kantipuri, Mathura and Padmavathi were the seats of Naga power.
  • The names of some of the Naga rulers of Vidisha were Shisha, Bhogin and Sadachandra Chandramsa. We learn from the Inscriptions that Maharaj Bhavnagar was the maternal grandfather  of Rudrasena Ⅰ whose grandson was a contemporary of Chandragupta Ⅱ.
  • Coins refer to the rulers of the kingdom of Ahichhatra during the first three centuries of the Christian era. Their names were Bhadra Ghosha, Suryamitra, Phalguni Mitra, Agnimitra, Brihat Vat Mitra, etc.
  • The name of Achyuta is aldo found on some coins and he was probably the same ruler who was defeated by Samudragupta.
  • The names of Dhandev and Visakha Devi, rulers of Ayodhya, are known from coins.
  • Dhandevi was probably the ruler of Kosala who has been described as a descendant of Pushyamitra.
  • Satyamitra, Sumithra, Sanghmitra were also the rulers of Ayodhya.
  • The names of Sudeva, Brihadisvara, Asvaghosha, Agnimitra, Deva Mitra, Varuna Mitra, Jyeshtha Mitra and Prajapati Mitra are mentioned in the coins as the rulers of Kausambi.
  • The founder of the Vakataka dynasty was Vindhya Shakti. He has been described as Vakataka-vaasankatu.
  • He increased his power by fighting many battles. He has been compared with Indra and Vishnu. He was succeeded by his son Pravarasena Ⅰ  who was the real founder of the dynasty. He extended his  territory up to the Narbada.
  • The Maukharis ruled in Oudh under Sunderraman. The Maukhari Senapati’s constructed sacrificial pillars.
  • The Guptas also were a local power. With the passage of time, they were able to subdue all others and succeeded in establishing their hegemony.
  • Probably Sri Gupta was the founder of the Gupta dynasty. He was succeeded by Chandragupta Ⅰ with whom the real glory of the Guptas started.


The names of the republican states were the Arjunayans, Malavas, Yaudheyas, Sibis, Kunindas, Kulutas and Audunbaras.

  • The Arjunayans ruled in the region formerly comprised in the states of Bharatpur and Alwar now in Rajasthan. We have come across a large number of their coins which bear the legend of Arjunayanam Jayah.
  • They came into prominence after the Indo-Greeks but they were subdued by the Sakas. They asserted themselves once again after the fall of the Kushanas but were ultimately subdued by the Guptas.
  • The Malavas were the contemporaries of Alexander. At that time they were in the Punjab. However, later on, they migrated to modern Rajasthan.
  • The name of their capital in Rajasthan was Malviya Nagar near Jaipur. They were the first to use the Vikrama era.
  • However, they also used the Krita era. It appears that they were successful against the Sakas. There is a reference to Maukhari Maha Senapati Bal as the Vassal of the Malava republic.
  • However, the Malvas were subdued by the Guptas. The Malava coins bear the legend Malarvanam Jayah.the Lichchhavis were another powerful republic at that time. That republic existed even in the time of the Buddha and its position before the emergence of the Guptas was so strong that a matrimonial alliance with a Lichchhavi princess brought strength and prestige to Chandragupta Ⅰ.
  • There is a reference to the republic of the Sibis in the time of Alexander.
  • We are told that they had a huge infantry.
  • Later on, they migrated to what is now Rajasthan. They  settled near about Chittor and set up their capital at Madhyamika.
  • Some of their coins bear the legend Majhamikaya Sibijanapadasa.
  • We come across a large number of the coins of the Republic of Kunindas. These coins bear the legend Bhagavata Chat Svara Maha Atmanah.
  • Chhatra was probably the name  of the capital of the Republic of the Kunindas.
  • The Kunindas were overthrown by Kulutas. The latter inhabited the Kabul Valley. Their coins refer to the names of King Vinyasas and Bhadra Yasas. The Kulutus were subdued by the Guptas.
  • We have a large number of  coins of the Audumbar. Those coins bear the legend of Bhagavato Mahadevaya Rajarajasya.
  • The names of some of the Audumbar rulers were Dharaghosha, Sivadas and Rudra Dasa.
  • Some of the coins have the figure of a Siva temple with a Dhvaja, a trident and a battle axe. It is also presumed that the rulers like Agnimitra, Mahimitra, Bhumitra, Mahabhumitra, whose names are mentioned on the coins also belonged to the Audumbar.

Origin and foundation of Gupta Dynasty

  • The origin of the imperial Gupta family is wrapped up in obscurity. The name Gupta occurs in ancient India records, particularly of the Sunga and Satavahana periods, but it is not possible to connect them with the imperial Gupta family of the 4th century A.D.
  • It has been suggested that the Guptas  were of Karaskara origin. However, the evidence on this point is no conclusive.
  • It is not desirable to identify Chandrasena of the Kaumudi Mahotsava whose family was uprooted with Chandragupta Ⅰ  whose dynasty ruled for many centuries.
  • It is not enough to argue that as the Lichchhavis helped Chandrasena, Chandrasena must be the same as Chandragupta Ⅰ.

Sri Gupta (c. 240-280 A.D)

sri gupta

  • The Poona copper plate inscription of Prabhavati Gupta describes Sri Gupta as the Adiraja of the Gupta dynasty.
  • In the Riddhapur copper plate inscription, it is stated that Sri Gupta belonged to the Dharana Gotra.
  • According to Dr. R.C.Majumdar, we can provisionally presume that Sri Gupta of the Gupta dynasty was the same who has been referred to by I Tsing in his account.
  • The temple mentioned by I Tsing was not situated in Magadha but in the western borders of Northern or Central Bengal.
  • The kingdom of Sri Gupta must have  comprised a portion of Bengal.
  • In the Gupta records the title Maharaja is used both for Sri Gupta and Ghatotkacha.
  • This title was often borne by feudatory chiefs. It is suggested that the early Guptas were subordinate rulers under the  Mundas. However, there is no definite proof about it.



  • Ghatotkacha has been described in the Gupta records as the son and successor of Sri Gupta.
  • However, in two records of Prabhavati Gupta, daughter of ChandraGupta Ⅱ, Ghatotkacha is described as the first Gupta king.
  • It is not possible to explain how Ghatotkacha came to be regarded as the founder of the dynasty.
  • However, it must be noted that Ghatotkacha of the imperial Gupta family must not be  confused with Ghatotkacha  Gupta  mentioned on some seals found at Vaisali.
  • Ghatotkacha Gupta of the seal was the chief officer of the province whose headquarters were at Vaisali under Chandragupta ⅠⅠ.
  • It is to be noted that he is not called a Maharaj but only a Kumar Amatya.

Chandragupta Ⅰ (319-335 A.D.)

Chandragupta maurya images

  • It is to be noted that while Sri Gupta and Ghatotkacha are described as Maharajas, Chandragupta Ⅰ  has been described as Maharajadhiraja or king of kings.
  • The title of Maharajadhiraja must been  acquired by him as a result of his conquests.
  • However, we do not possess any details regarding the conquests of Chandragupta.
  • According to Allan, the Puranas refer to the Gupta empire in the time of   Chandragupta Ⅰ  in these  words :
  • “Kings born of the Gupta family will enjoy all these territories, viz., Prayaga (Allahabad) on the Ganges, Saketa (Qudh) and Magadh (South Bihar).”
  • We have no details regarding the conquest of Prayaga or Saket.
  • Vaishali does not seem to have been part of Chandragupta Ⅰ.
  • Chandragupta’s task was no easy one. He was to liberate the country from alien domination and rid it of the tyranny of the Nanda king.
  • According to classical writers Chandragupta once visited Alexander in the Punjab and greatly offended him. Alexander in his anger gave orders to kill Chandragupta; but being swift of foot Chandragupta managed to escape.
  • We have no place for the various miracles which are said to have encouraged Chandragupta set out collecting a large army of the republican peoples of the Punjab. Justin describes these recruits by a term which may mean ‘robbers’.
  • This meant only the stubborn fighters of the republics of the Punjab.
  • Chandragupta took advantage of the growing difficulty of the Greek  position in the Punjab. There was a growing jealousy between the Greeks and the Macedonians which undermined the strength of the Greek rulers in North-west India.
  • The death of Alexander in 323 B.C. led to the disruption of his short-lived empire. And as Justin sums up, ‘India, after the death of Alexander, had shaken off the yoke of servitude and put his governors to death.
  • The author of this liberation was Sandracottus (Chandragupta)’.
  • Chandra succeeded in seizing the throne of Magdha and bringing the north- west under his sway.
  • The details of the conquest are lost. It is not even known if his conquest of the Punjab came before or after the Magadhan revolution.
  • The story as related in a Jaina book called Parishishta Parvan mentions Chanakya’s initial defeat in Magadha because he had not secured the surrounding the country before attacking the stronghold of the enemy.
  • According to the same text Chanakya made Chandragupta make a pact with Paravataka (king of Himavat Ikuta) and the allied armies surrounded Pataliputra and forced Nanda to capitulate.
  • Nanda was spared his life and permitted to leave pataliputra with his two wives and one daughter and as much treasure as he could carry off in a single chariot.


The Gupta Era

gupta art and architecture

  • When in 1887, Dr. Fleet put forward the thesis that Chandragupta Ⅰ was the founder of the Gupta Era which began in 319-20 A.D., there was a feeling of great relief among the students of ancient Indian history.
  • V.A. Smith observes thus : “A great  step in advance was gained by Fleet’s determination of the Gupta era which had been the subject of much wild conjecture.His demonstration that the year Ⅰ of that era is A.D. 319-20 fixed the chronological position of a most dynasty and reduced chaos to order.”
  • Fleet based his conclusion on the statement of Alberuni that the Gupta era was separated from the Saka era by an interval of 241 years.
  • The Saka era started in 78 A.D. and consequently the Gupta era must have started in 319-20 A.D.


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