During the Gupta era India reached a high level of civilization and culture and the period from 320 A.D. to 480 A.D. is considered as a glorious epoch in the Indian History. The mighty Gupta rulers had established political unity in India and brought economic prosperity to the nation. The peace that prevailed in the kingdom and the vast resources those were available under the Guptas led to unprecedented growth and progress in all spheres of life. Under the patronage of the Gupta rulers India witnessed a great revival of the Brahmanical religion and also phenomenal growth and development in the fields of literature, art and science. The Hindu religion and culture had reached the zenith of its glory and the period came to be known as the Classical or Golden Age of Indian Culture.
Revival of Hinduism
The Gupta is considered as the era of the Brahmanical revival. The Brahmanical religion had been eclipsed by the dominance of Buddhism and Jainism since the days of the Mauryas. It regained much of its splendor under the Imperial Guptas. The Gupta monarchs were staunch supporters of Brahmanism and they gave a strong impetus to the restoration and enhancement of their religion. Sanskrit, the sacred language of the Hindus, was revived and the Guptas liberally encouraged its use. The old forms of worship gave place to the worship of images placed in beautiful temples which were built in large numbers. Temples were dedicated to the various deities of the Hindus, such as Vishnu and Shiva. Worship of the images of these Gods, with its elaborate ritual, became popular. The followers of the Brahmanical faith or Hinduism were divided into two main sects – Vaishnavas and Shaivas – the worshippers of Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. Brahma was another deity worshipped by both the Vaishnavas and Shaivas. Importance was given to Devi worship also.The most distinguishing feature of the religion of the Gupta period was the emergence of the Bhakti cult which gave importance to intense devotion and love for a personal God. Worship of God became an individual concern. Worship gained importance in religion, whilst sacrifice was not considered an essential part of the religious rites. Man is linked with the Absolute by intense devotion.Under the Gupta rulers there was religious freedom. Fahien, the Chinese pilgrim, in his writings has mentioned the religious toleration of the Gupta rulers.
Classical Sanskrit Literature
The Gupta era witnessed the blossoming of the best literary talents as well as unprecedented intellectual progress. The revival of Hinduism, combined with the encouragement extended to Sanskrit, resulted in all round development of Sanskrit literature. The Imperial Guptas were such zealous supporters of Sanskrit that they made it the official language. Even the Gupta inscriptions and documents were written in Sanskrit. The Gupta monarchs liberally patronized literature, and a number of world-renowned writers came into prominence in this period. The Gupta age has been aptly called the Golden Age of Sanskrit Literature because of the outstanding quality of its classical literary works –epics, drama, lyrics and prose, besides works on philosophy and various sciences.
During the Gupta period great progress was made in the field of education. There were a number of famous universities which became centres of advanced learning. Nalanda, Taxila, Vikramashila and Vallabhi were some of the renowned universities of that period.
It was the most famous of the educational institutions of ancient India. Situated near Rajgir in Bihar, it was founded by Kumara Gupta in the middle of the fifth century A.D. It developed into a famous centre of learning under the patronage of the Gupta rulers and of Harsha who generously made rich endowments in its favour.Admission to the university was restricted to difficult entrance examinations and only two or three out of ten succeeded in getting admission. Tuition fees were not charged. The students were provided with free board and lodging. Sanskrit was used as the medium of instruction. Buddhist and Brahmanical literature, logic, grammar, medicine, astronomy, philosophy, tantra and art were the important subjects included in the curriculum. In addition to regular lectures, debates and discussions formed an important part of the teaching process. Strict discipline was maintained in the University which had an enrolment of about 10000 students with 1500 teachers. There were 300 classrooms and the university library was housed in three big buildings. The University became so famous that it attracted students from al over India and from neighbouring countries as well. Hiuen-Tsang, the Chinese pilgrim studied here for about five years.This great centre of learning flourished till the end of the 12th century A.D., when it was destroyed by Muhammad Bin Bakhtiyar Khilji, one of the generals of Muhammad Ghori. The ruins of the Nalanda University, recently unearthed by excavation, testify to its grandeur as recorded by Hiuen-Tsang.
Taxila University was situated near Rawalpindi (now in Pakistan). From references to it in the Jataka stories, we come to learn that it was the earliest university of ancient India. Owing to its fame as a centre of advanced religious and secular studies, it attracted scholars from various places. It specialized in the teachings of medicine, surgery, astronomy, astrology, military arts, law etc. Though rich students paid fees, poor students were given scholarships by the state and by rich philanthropists. The distinguished alumni of this university include Jivaka, Panini, the great grammarian and Kautilya the author of Arthashastra.
The Gupta Art and Architecture
The Gupta age was an important period in the history of Indian art. Art attained a high level of excellence in all its branches such as painting, sculpture, metallurgy and architecture.
The Gupta period witnessed the beginning of a new style of temple architecture. With the revival of Hinduism, worship of images became an important feature of the Hindu ritual. So a large number of temples were built of brick, stone and mortar. Many of the Gupta structures were destroyed during the Hun and Muslim invasion.The Dasavatara temple, also known as Vishnu Temple, at Deogarh near Jhansi, and the Bhitargaon Temple near Kanpur, are fine examples of Gupta architecture.The Dasavatara temple at Deogarh stands on a wide basement with a flight of steps in the middle of each side. The basement was decorated with superb sculptured panels. The temple marked a transition from the nearly flat roofed temples to the later style with high Shikharas. It had a spire and its roof was supported by pillars. The inner chamber was surrounded by four porticos. The temple had a main doorway with exquisite carving. The temple at Bhitargaon is another excellent specimen of Gupta architecture. It was built of bricks. The temple consisted of a square sanctum and a smaller entrance hall connected with a passage. The walls were decorated with statues and figures craved on terracotta panels.
The Gupta period witnessed the beginning of classical art in Indian Art, shown in the Gandhara and Mathura schools of art had completely disappeared during the Gupta period. The important features of the Gupta sculpture are as follows:
- The Gupta sculptures discarded foreign influence and adopted a style which was totally Indian in character. The techniques of carving and the subjects chosen were purely ofIndian origin.
- The Gupta artists made beautiful statues of Buddha with curly hair, in contrast to the Buddha statue with shaven head belonging to the Kushan School of Art.
- Another important feature was the transparency drapery, either plain or with folds clearly revealing human form.
- Several varieties of poses and gestures were used.
- The Buddha images present graceful poses and spiritual calmness in face and eyes. They also reveal the superb harmony of the external form with the inner spirit.
A large number of images of Buddha, Vishnu, Shiva and other Brahmanical Gods and Goddesses made of stone and bronze, have been discovered in Sarnath and Mathura.Image of the seated Buddha: Among the images of Buddha discovered at Sarnath near Varanasi (Benares) the most outstanding is the image of the Seated Buddha. It is popularly known as the preaching Buddha. Buddha is depicted as delivering his first sermon and his disciples are listening to him with folded hands. Buddha is seated in Yogic meditation with two celestial figures on either side. The image looks serene, showing a young face with half closed eyes and a calm smile. The statue was made of sandstone.Image of the Standing Buddha: The statue of the Standing Buddha discovered at Mathura is one of the outstanding specimens of the Gupta sculpture. The statue is made of red sandstone. The face has an expression of compassion and the artist has succeeded in blending the external form with the calm inner spirit.The Great Boar: Another impressive specimen of Gupta sculpture is the figure of the Great Boar done in relief at the entrance of the cave at Udaygiri. It depicts one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu, who transformed himself into a boar to rescue the earth from destruction.Such images reveal the high level of excellence that the artists had attained in the art of sculpture in the Gupta Period.
Development of Science, Medicine, Mathematics and Astronomy
During the Gupta period great progress was made in the field of scientific studies such as astronomy, mathematics and medicine. Many outstanding astronomers, scientists, mathematicians and physicians lived during this age.Aryabhatta: He was a great astronomer and mathematician. He wrote two famous works, the Aryabhattiya and Surya Siddhanta. Aryabhattiya deals with arithmetic, algebra, trigonometry and geometry. Surya Siddhanta explains scientifically the causes of the solar and lunar eclipses. He was the first Indian astronomer to declare that the earth is spherical in shape and he proved that the earth revolves round the sun and rotates on its own axis.Varahamihira: He was another great scientist of the Gupta Age. He wrote the Brihat Samhita which deals with astronomy, mathematics, botany, and physical geography.Brahmagupta: He was known for his contribution in the field of astronomy and mathematics. He carried on his research and investigations in the famous observatory in Ujjain.
Indian culture in South-East Asia
India’s geographical position was best suited to the development of her commercial relations with the countries of the South East Asia during the ancient period. With the expansion of maritime trade many Buddhist and Hindu missionaries and adventurous princes followed the merchants and founded settlements in many parts of South East Asia such as the islands of Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Bali and countries like Cambodia, Burma and Siam. They established colonies with their social and cultural institutions there. This led to the spread and growth of the Indian religion and culture in these countries. The Brahmanical religion and the Mahayana Buddhism flourished. Indian religion, literature and art made a great impact on the people of South East Asia. Some of the superb monuments of Indian art and culture which still remain there undoubted fully testify to the spread of theIndian Culture and Civilization in South East Asia.
The Parsis and the Jews in India
The word Parsi, is derived from the Arab word Farsi, which means belonging to Fars, a province of Persia. The Parsis were the original inhabitants of Iran or Persia. The members of the Parsi community have played a prominent role in the development of the economic and the industrial life of India.The Jews in India: There is no clear evidence to show when the Jews first came to India. It is believed that they came to India in the first century A.D. When the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 71, many Jews came to India and settled in the Coastal region of Malabar in South India. Some of them embraced Christianity when the early Christian missionaries came to India. The Indian rulers were tolerant of these settlers and so they followed their economic and religious life without any hindrance.