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Gupta Dynasty | Gupta Empire
The Gupta Empire was an ancient Indian empire emerged glorious under the leadership of Chandra Gupta I in 320 AD. Other prominent rulers from this empire are Samudra Gupta, Chandra Gupta II, Kumara Gupta and Skanda Gupta. This is the second Greatest Empire in India after the Great Mauryan Empire.
Some historians call Guptan age as golden age because excellence has been achieved in different walks of life. Certain other historians maintain that it cannot be called as golden age as living conditions of Sudras (lower caste people in the Indian caste classified society) in general and the dalits (lower caste not even included in the caste classification) in particular were very bad, and feudal political system which was weak and oppressive took definite shape in this period. However, they emphasized that it can be called as a classical age as high standards were achieved in various fields of human activity like Sanskrit literature, sculpture, painting, science and technology, medicine, surgery and philosophy.
Guptan age is called as a classical age of Sanskrit literature as outstanding literary personalities like Kalidasa, Vishnu Sharrna, Amara Simha etc., belong to this period. Kalidasa was a prolific writer. He wrote plays like Abhignana Shakuntalam (the best of Indian dramas), Malavikagnimitra (his first work), and Vikramorvasi, poems like Meghaduta (cloud messenger), epic poems like Kumarasambhava (birth of Kumara), and Raghuvamsa. The subject matter of his works was man and his emotions poke joys and sorrows. He is superb in describing emotions. Many Kalidas' heroes were kings. He not only extolled their deeds, but also condemned their bad acts. He also vividly described nature. His poetry is famous for its similes. Vishnu Sharma wrote Panchatantra (a collection of tales) which was translated into many languages like Arabic, English, German, Spanish, Italian, etc. Amarasimha who was in Chandra Gupta II's court wrote Amarakosa (containing basic words).
Guptan age is known for unprecedented artistic activity. Sculpture, painting and terracota art made tremendous advancement. Guptan art shows simplicity of expression and spiritual purpose. It strikes a mean between the naturalism of the earlier period and symbolism of the medieval art. There is sobriety in the use of drapery, ornaments and other things of decoration. It is thoroughly Indian in spirit.
During the Guptan period the art of sculpture reached its zenith. The classic examples of the sculpture of this period are seated image of Buddha at Saranath, wherein we find Buddha in a serene contemplative mood, and standing Buddha wherein delineation of transparent drapery is superb. Two metre high bronze image of Buddha discovered in Sultangunz in Bihar is an another example. Image of Vishnu found in Mathura belonging to this period shows Vishnu in celestial contentment and spiritual contemplation. Ardhanarishwara form of Siva created by Guptan artists is an another good sculptural piece.
The art of painting reached its perfection in Guptan age. The most important examples of Guptan paintings are found on the walls of Ajanta caves (Maharashtra, India) and Bagh caves (Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, India). Guptan painters painted incidents from the life of Buddha and also secular scenes. Cave No. 17 contains pictures dealing with the incidents of Buddha's birth, life and death. Cave No. 16 has a marvellous painting of a dying princess. According to art critics Guptan paintings possess delicacy of lines, brilliancy of colors and richness of expression. Cave architecture developed further than from before ages. Stone temples concept emerged during this period.
Outstanding scientists belong to this period. Aryabhatta, the famous astronomer and mathematician of this period, is credited to have discovered that earth rotates on its own axis. He studied correctly lunar and solar eclipses. Vararrarnihir, an another astronomer wrote Pancha siddhanta (summary of five astronomical books of his times. Vagabhatta I wrote Ashtanga Samgraha (summary of former works of medicine and surgery). Palakapya wrote Hastayurveda dealing with diseases of elephants and medicinal cure and surgery.
Mehroli Iron pillar erected near Delhi in 4th century AD speaks volumes of metallurgical skills of metalurgists of this period which could not be matched by any other contemporary country. The paints used for Ajanta paintings show the advancement in chemical technology. Nalanda university patronised by Kumara Gupta I contributed great deal to the cause of the education.
In the field of religion, idol worship became popular. Pujas gained importance in place of sacrifices. Gods along with their wives Vishnu with Lakshmi, Siva with Parvathi, and Brahma with Saraswati were worshipped. Hindus got divided into two sects Vaishnavites and Saivites. Influence of Tantric beliefs on Hindu worship led to rise of Shakti cults.
This period saw the emergence of six systems of Hindu philosophy: Nyaya (analysis); Vaisheshika (particular characteristics); Samkhya (enumeration); Yoga (application based on physical control of body); Mimamsa (inquiry which emphasised supremacy of Vedas and decried post-Vedic thought); and Vedanta (end of Vedas which was decisive in refuting non-brahmanical schools and stated their existence of absolute soul and believed in the union of individual soul (atma) with absolute soul (paramaHhiaf. Mahabharat and Puranas (popular memories of the past) were revised during this period.