Gupta Empire: the Golden Age of India

Throughout human history, notable empires peoples have obtained the status of having golden ages.  The Chinese Golden Age during the Tang Dynasty and the Muslim Golden Age both saw incredible and massive rises in the quality of life, from the evolution and growth of the various arts to the facilitation of the religion’s growing prominence.  

Shortly after the fall of the Mauryan Empire in the second century BC, India remained in a politically fragmented state with a decentralized center made up of several independent and powerful kingdoms. Around the late third century, the Gupta family began gaining local power in Magadha (Modern Day Eastern India and Bengal) [1].  This provided the catalyst for the Gupta families rise to power and influence . The Gupta Empire started around 320 AD with ChandraGupta the First.  His emergence to power from his small ancestral kingdom to a full blown empire is widely debate amongst historians; however, many state that his marriage to the Lichchhavi princess Kumaradevi assisted his spread of his influence and control.  Their son, Samudragupta, greatly expanded his dynasty’s authority on the Indian subcontinent through extensive military conquests.  Many different historical accounts credit him with defeating kings and then annexing their territories to his empire.  His seizure of power also came further with subjugation of frontier kingdoms and tribal oligarchies.  Samudgupta was a proponent of the arts as well being a poet and musician himself and having writers, philosophers, and artists to his court.  

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Despite being an advocate of the arts, it was Chandragupta II, Vikramaditya(the Sun of Power), who truly ushered in the golden age of India with flourishing arts and  a prosperous and peaceful reign.  His reign was marked by religious tolerance and cultural achievements that were unprecedented by both his father and grandfather.  Art, architecture, poetry, and drama all greatly proliferated.  He kept several unrivaled poets at court at all time with him, they were known as the Nine Gems, including  Kalidasa, one of the greatest authors of Sanskrit poetry and drama.  His plays were some of the most works of literature during his time and even in contemporary India his abilities and writing as a playwright are unparalleled and still discussed.  He also sponsored medicine, mathematics, and science.  One of the greatest minds of his era, Aryabhatta, made great contributions to mathematics and astronomy.  With developing the concept of zero worked on the approximation for pi (?), and may have come to the conclusion that ? is irrational.  Aryabhatta also fostered several basic principles of trigonometry, algebra, and equations.  He also described the earth accurately as a sphere that rotates on an Axis even though it wasn’t until around the 1600s that this was accepted by the general populace.  This cultural renaissance stills proves to be a source of inspiration in India even to modern times.  

In order to gain their hold and supremacy over their people’s, the necessity for a powerful martial system was eminent.  An interesting fact about their military is that the Gupta Empire themselves rarely described their own military and the tactics it employed; instead, Western and Chinese observers.  The Guptas’ military itself relied most heavily on infantry arches with the bow being the dominant weapon of the army’s choice.  The bow’s themselves were quite unique and distinctive to the Indian army with being composed of metal and a long bamboo cane arrow with a metal head.  This longbow had massive range and great piercing power even against exceptionally thick armor and provided a great defense mechanism against horse archers; additionally, the bow and arrows were less likely to warp in poor weather conditions.  India’s irrefutable militaristic reputation was for its utilization of steel weapons.  Also, the archers were frequently protected by steel shields, javelins, and longswords. What also assisted the Indian Army was their superior knowledge of sophisticated war weapons including the catapult.

Both Hinduism and Buddhism were widely prevalent in the Gupta Age of India.  As Hindu arts reached its peak, Chandragupta II,  patronized Buddhist arts as well with still widely renowned and admired depictions.  The most famous being the Ajanta Caves with illustrated the life of the Buddha with various depictions of art.  Despite, the Gupta themselves practicing Hinduism, Buddhism and Janism, a less practiced religion, remained its unharmed state.     

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