Gupta Dynasty: Rise and Decline

By Naveen Singh|Updated : April 23rd, 2020

Ancient History is an important topic asked in General Awareness. It is asked in various Defence Exams such as CDS, AFCAT, Air Force Group X & Y etc.

Here we will enlighten you about the Gupta Dynasty, there formation and further give you a quiz to boost your exam preparation.

Gupta Dynasty: Rise and Decline

Rise of the Gupta Empire:

North India was ruled by several foreigners like the Yavanas, Kushans, Sakas, Parthians, etc. From the first century B.C. they began to settle in northwestern India. 

After the fall of the Mauryan empire, the Kushans in the North and Satavahanas in the south had held power. Gupta empire replaced the Kushans in the North with its centre of power at Prayag and gave political unity for more than a century (335AD-455AD).

It was founded by Sri Gupta. Gupta strength laid in the use of horses and material advantage of fertile land and natural resources abundant region.


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Important Rulers in the Gupta Dynasty

Chandragupta I (319-334 AD)

  • He was the first great ruler of the Gupta Dynasty. He succeeded his father Ghatootkacha.  
  • He assumed the title Maharajadhiraja. Married Licchhavi princess
  • Started the Gupta Era by 319-20 AD.
  • The original type of Gold coins Dinara was issued.
  • Samudragupta son of Chandragupta and Kumaradevi, in the inscription of Allahabad, proudly called himself Lichchhavis Dauhitra i.e. son of Lichchhavis's daughter.

Samudragupta (335-380 AD)

  • He followed a policy of violence and conquest which led to the enlargement of the Gupta empire
  • Harisena, his court poet, vividly mentions his military exploits in Allahabad inscriptions
  • He reached Kanchi in the south which was ruled by Pallavas
  • Meghavarman, the ruler of Srilanka, sent a missionary for permission to build a Buddhist temple at Gaya
  • Samudragupta is called as Napoleon of India.
  • Samudragupta was a versatile genius. He was called as ‘Kaviraja’ i.e. the king of poets.

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Chandragupta II (380-412 AD)

  • He adopted the title "Vikramaditya"
  • He conquered Malwa and Gujarat which provided him access to the sea which enabled trade and commerce. Ujjain was made the second capital
  • His court was adorned by the Navaratnas including Kalidasa and Amarasimha.
  • His exploits are glorified in Iron Pillar at Qutub Minar
  • Chinese pilgrim Fa-Hsien (399-414AD) visited India during his period.
  • In commemoration of his victory over Saka kshatrapas, Chandragupta II issued dated silver coins.
  • The great Sanskrit poet Kalidas was a member of the court of Chandragupta - II.
  • Fa-Hien, the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim visited India between 405 and 411 AD. He visited for collecting Buddhist manuscripts and text and studying at Indian monasteries.

Kumaragupta I

  • Kumaragupta issued Ashvamedha type of coins like his grandfather, Samudragupta.
  • The epigraphic records show that he organised the administration of the vast empire and maintained its peace, prosperity, and security for a long period of forty years.
  • The Gupta Empire was challenged by the Pushyamitras at the end of Kumaragupta's reign.


  • Skandagupta successfully defeated the Hunas. Hunas were a ferocious barbarian horde. They lived in central Asia.
  • The important event of Skandagupta's reign was the restoration and repair of the dam on Sudarsana Lake after 8 hundred years of construction. It was built during Chandragupta Maurya's reign.
  • Sudarsana Lake was also repaired previously during the reign of Saka kshatrapa Rudradaman I.

Life in the Gupta Age

System of Administration

  • They adopted Pompous titles such as Paeamabhattaraka and Maharajadhiraja.
  • The administration was highly decentralized with feudal lords ruling over minor provinces
  • Civil and criminal laws were highly demarcated
  • Kumaramatyas were the most important officers. But Guptas lacked elaborate bureaucracy like Mauryas. These offices also became hereditary in nature.
  • Grant of fiscal and administrative concessions to priests was also in practice. Agrahara grants and Devagraha grants were practised.

Trends in trade and agrarian economy

  • Guptas issued a large number of Gold coins which were called as Dinars
  • There was a decline in the long distance trade with Romans which led to lesser gold content in the Dinars.
  • Land grants made to the priests brought many virgin lands under cultivation

Social developments

  • Brahmana supremacy continued during the Gupta period
  • The Huns came to be recognized as one of the 36 clans of the Rajputs
  • The position of Shudras improved as they were permitted to hear Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas
  • The number of untouchables, the Chandalas, increased
  • The position of women improved as they were permitted to hear Ramayana, Mahabharata and worship Krishna. But the first example of Sati also appears in the Gupta period.

State of Buddhism

  • Buddhism did not receive royal patronage in the Gupta Period, still, stupas and Viharas were constructed and Nalanda became a centre for Buddhist learning

Origin and growth of Bhagavatism

  • Worship of Vishnu and Narayana merged to form Bhagavatism or Vaishnavism
  • It was marked by Bhakti (loving devotion) and Ahimsa
  • Religious teachings were mentioned in Bhagavadgita, Vishnu Purana and Vishnu Smriti
  • Idol worship became a common feature of Hinduism
  • Gupta rulers followed a principle of tolerance

Art and Culture during the Gupta Dynasty

Gupta period is called the Golden age of ancient India. Art was mostly inspired by Religions.

  • Rock cut caves – Ajanta, Ellora and Bagh caves
  • Structural temples – Dashavatar temple of Deogarh, Laxman temple of Sirpur, Vishnu temple and Varah temple of Eran. The growth of Nagara style also enabled the development of temple architecture in India.
  • Stupas – Dhammek stupa of Sarnath, Ratnagiri stupa of Orissa, Mirpur Khas in Sindh developed in this period.
  • Paintings – Ajanta paintings and Bagh caves paintings
  • Sculpture – the Bronze image of Buddha near Sultanganj, Sarnath and Mathura school flourished during this period which supports the growth of Mahayana Buddhism and Idol worship.
  • Images of Vishnu, Shiva and some other Hindu gods were also found.
  • Literature
  • Religious - Ramayana, Mahabharata, Vayu Purana etc were re-written. Dignaga and Buddhagosha were certain Buddhist literature written in this period
  • Secular
  • Mudrarakshasha by Vishakadatta
  • Malavikagnimitra, Vikramorvashiyam, AbhijanaShakuntalam – Dramas by Kalidasa
  • Ritusamhar, Megadoot, Raghuvamsam, Kumarasambhavam – Poetries by Kalidasa
  • Mricchakatika by Sudraka
  • Kamasutra by Vatsyayana
  • Panchatantra by Vishnu Sharma
  • Scientific
  • Aryabhatiya and Surya Siddhanta by Aryabhatta
  • Romaka Siddhanta
  • Mahabhaskarya and Laghubhaskarya by Bhaskara
  • Pancha Siddhanta, Vrihat Jataka, Vrihat Samhita by Vrahamihira

Fall of the empire

  1. Huns invasion during the reign of Skandagupta and his successors greatly weakened his empire
  2. Rule of Yashodharman dealt a severe blow to the Gupta empire.
  3. The rise of feudatories and Governors becoming independent led to the disintegration of the Gupta empire. Loss of western India had crippled them economically.

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