Gupta Age Art and Culture

• The Gupta period witnessed a tremendous progress in the field of art, science and literature and on account of this it has been called “a golden age”.
• A few scholars even call this period a period of renaissance, but it should be remembered that there was no dark period before the Gupta rule.
• Therefore the cultural progress witnessed during the Gupta period may be called the culmination of Indian intellectual activities.

• By evolving the Nagara and Dravida styles, the Gupta art ushers in the history of Indian architecture a formative and creative age with unlimited scope for future development and elaboration.
• The rock-cut caves continue the old forms to a large extent, but possess striking novelty by bringing about extensive changes in the ornamentation of the facade and in the designs of the pillars in the interior.
• The Most notable groups of rock-cut caves are found at Ajanta and Ellora (Maharashtra) and Bagh (MP). The Udayagiri caves (Orissa) are also of this type.
Structural Temples: The following five groups may be distinguished among the structural temples:

1. Flat-roofed square temple;
2. Flat-roofed square temple with a second storey (vimana) above;
3. Square temple with a curvilinear tower (sikhara) above;
4. Rectangular temple; and
5. Circular temple.

– The second group of temples shows many of the characteristic features of the Dravida style.
– The importance of third group lies in the innovation of a sikhara that caps the sanctum sanctorum, the main feature of the Nagara style.

Stupas: They were also built in large numbers, but the best are found at Sarnath (UP), Ratnagiri (Orissa) and Mirpur Khan (Sind).

• A good specimen of stone sculpture is of Buddha from Sarnath.
• Of the Brahmanical images perhaps the most impressive is the Great Boar (Varaha), at the entrance of a cave at Udayagiri.

Metal Statues: The art of casting statues on a large scale by the cire process was practised by Guptan craftsmen with conspicuous success.
• Two remarkable examples of Gupta metal sculpture are:

– A copper image of the Buddha, about eighteen feet high at Nalanda in Bihar, and
– Sultanganj Buddha of seven and half feet.

• The art of painting seems to have been more in general practice and popular demand in the Gupta period than the art of stone sculpture.
• Remains of paintings of this period are found at Ajanta, Bagh, Badami and other places.
• From the point of technique, the surface of these paintings was perhaps done in a very simple way.
• Infact the mural paintings of Ajanta are not true frescoes, for a fresco is painted while the plaster is still damp and the murals of Ajanta were made after it had set.
• The art of Ajanta and Bagh shows the Madhyadesa School’ of painting at its best.

• The Sanskrit language became prominent during the Gupta period. Nagari script had evolved from the Brahmi script.
• Numerous works in classical Sanskrit came to be written in the forms of epic, lyrics, drama and prose. The best of the Sanskrit literature belonged to the Gupta age.
• Himself a great poet, Samudragupta patronized a number of scholars including Harisena.
• The court of Chandragupta II was adorned by the celebrated Navratnas.
Kalidasa remain the foremost among them. His master-piece was the Sanskrit drama Shakuntala. It is considered one among the ‘hundred best books of the world’. He wrote two other plays – the Malavikagnimitra and Vikramorvasiya. His two well-known epics are Raghuvamsa and Kumarasambhava. Ritusamhara and Meghaduta are his two lyrics.
Visakadatta was another celebrated author of this period. He was the author of two Sanskrit dramas, Mudrarakshasa and Devichandraguptam.
Sudraka was a renowned poet of this age and his book Mrichchakatika is rich in humour and pathos.
Bharavi’s Kritarjuniya is the story of the conflict between Arjuna and Siva.
Dandin was the author of Kavyadarsa and Dasakumaracharita.
• Another important work of this period was Vasavadatta written by Subhandhu.
• The Panchatantra stories were composed by Vishnusarma during the Gupta period.
• The Gupta period also saw the development of Sanskrit grammar based on Panini and Patanjali.
• This period is particularly memorable for the compilation of the Amarakosa by Buddhist author Amarasimha, who was a luminary in the court of Chandragupta II.
• The two great epics, namely the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, were finally compiled probably in the fourth century A. D.
• The Puranas in their present form were composed during this period. There are eighteen Puranas. The most important among them are the Bhagavatha, Vishnu, Vayu and Matsya Puranas. The Mahabharatha and the Ramayana were given final touches and written in the present form during this period.

• The Gupta period witnessed a brilliant activity in the sphere of mathematics, astronomy, astrology and medicine.
Aryabhatta, a great mathematician and astronomer, wrote the book Aryabhatiya in 499 A.D. It deals with mathematics and astronomy. It explains scientifically the occurrence of solar and lunar eclipses.
• Aryabhatta was the first to declare that the earth was spherical in shape and that it rotates on its own axis.
Varahamihira composed Pancha Siddhantika, the five astronomical systems. He was also a great authority on astrology. His work Brihadsamhita is a great work in Sanskrit literature. It deals with a variety of subjects like astronomy, astrology, geography, architecture, weather, animals, marriage and omens. His Brihadjataka is considered to be a standard work on astrology.
• A Gupta inscription from Allahabad district suggests that the decimal system was known in India at the beginning of the fifth century A. D.
• In the fields of astronomy a book called Romaka Sidhanta was compiled which was influenced by Greek ideas, as can be inferred from its name.
• In the field of medicine, Vagbhata lived during this period. He was the last of the great medical trio of ancient India.
• The other two scholars Charaka and Susruta lived before the Gupta age.
Vagbhata was the author Ashtangasamgraha (Summary of the eight branches of medicine).
• The Gupta craftsmen distinguished themselves by their work in iron and bronze.
• Several bronze images of the Buddha, which began to be produced on a considerable scale because of the knowledge of advanced iron technology.
• In the case of iron objects the best example is the iron pillar found at Delhi near Mehrauli. Manufactured in the fourth century A.D., the pillar’ has not gathered any rust in the subsequent 15 centuries, which is a great tribute to the technological skill of the craftsmen. It was impossible, to produce such pillar in any iron foundry in the West until about a century ago.

• The Gupta and post-Gupta period was characterized by certain changes in Indian economy.
• During the Gupta period there existed a flourishing trade abundant custom revenue from ports in west and east, flourishing robust guild system, flourishing manufacturing industries and a high standard of living.
• The Trade contacts developed during the Kushana Period continued and Chandragupta II’s conquest in western India further added to this trade.
• The important port towns which include Brigukachchaha, Kalyana & Sind, were bulk trade centres with Romans.
• Ujjain became a major commercial center and it was linked to southern and northern India. Nasik, Paithan, Pataliputra, Benares were other major trade centers.
• Silk, Leather goods, Fur, Iron Products, Ivory, pearl, Spices and Indigo were major export items.
• The Port of Tamralipti was used for trade with East Asia.
• Most of the commodities were taxed one-fifth of the value as a toll in international Trade.
• Agriculture was the main occupation in Gupta Empire and there was no governmental interference.
• Many cloth centers and silk industry witnessed a significant development during Gupta period.
• The Mandsor Inscriptions gives account of support for the growth of Silk Industry.
• Gold, silver and Copper was used in making ornaments and issuing coins.
• The Gold coins show the pomp, power and prosperity of the empire.
• The Coins of Samudragupta and Kumaragupta issued after the Ashvamedha depict the horse tied to a Yupastambha.
• The coins of Chandragupta bear Garuda preying a snake.
• In Gupta Era, the activities of Guilds were increased and these activities are recorded in various literature, inscription, clay seals etc.
• There is a mention of Guild of architects in Raghuvamsa.
• The Indore Copper plate inscription mentions about a guild of oilmen.
• The Mandsor Inscription mentions the guild of silk weavers.
• The guild system declined after the Gupta Period.
• During later phases of Gupta period trade and urban economy was badly affected due to Huna invasions and trade and urban settlements, which were so much prominent features of Indian society, started declining.
• There are many indications of these changes. Many important cities (such as Taxila, Kausambi, Pataliputra) ceased to exist after the Gupta period.
• This decline of urban settlements was not an isolated phenomenon and have been quite widespread.
• Trade activities also suffered a setback because of various reasons.
• This is perhaps most clear from the fact that minting and circulation of coins were on a much more limited scale than before.
• Many of these changes had begun in the Gupta period itself.
• The decline of towns did not mean the overall contraction of the economy. However, it can be admitted that the economy, instead of walking on two legs-agriculture and urban activities of crafts production and trade – began to walk on one leg.
• It was predominantly an agrarian economy.
• According to some historians, one of the crucial elements in the chain of developments was the system of land grants.
• Land grants grew in number in the Gupta and especially post-Gupta times and became widespread throughout the country.
• Land grants were made to Brahmanas and religious establishments like temples and monasteries on a large scale by kings, chiefs, members of the royal family and their feudatories.
• Earlier the Satavahanas in the Deccan had given away only revenue rights.
• From the fifth century onwards, not only were the revenues of the donated lands transferred to the donee but the mines and minerals in the said area were also trasferred.
• The donated land, village or villages were exempted from the interference of soldiers and royal officials.
• One of the conspicuous economic changes in the Gupta and post-Gupta period, was the decline of trade, both internal and external. Indian foreign trade registered a peak during the post-Mauryan period when India traded with the Roman empire, central Asia and south-east Asia.
• However, commercial decline set in during the Gupta period, and it became more pronounced by the middle of the sixth century.
• The inflow of Roman coins into India stopped after the early centuries of the Christian era. the Roman empire itself broke up at a later -date.
• The emergence of the Arabs and the Persians as competitors in trade did not augur well for Indian merchants.
• Decline of commerce is demonstrated by the paucity of coins in the post-Gupta period.
• Gold coins, which were so abundant during the periods of the Kushanas and the Guptas, went out of circulation after the sixth century.
• The absence of silver and copper coins also attracts attention.
• The percentage of gold in the Gupta gold coins was constantly falling and that the gold content of the later Gupta coins was only half of that of the Kushana coins.
• Decline in trade, paucity of coins and absence of coin moulds and commercial seals indicate economic decline and fall in demand for finished products.
• Towns, which were active centres of craft production in the post-Mauryan period, experienced decay and desertion.
• The pre-Kushana and Kushana towns in northern India and those associated with the Satavahanas in the Deccan began to decay from the middle of the third or the fourth century.
• The epigraphic evidence of the Gupta and post-Gupta times suggests agrarian growth and rural expansion on an unprecedented scale.
• The patronage extended by kings, princes and chiefs, to agriculture, improvement in irrigational facilities, increasing knowledge of agricultural sciences etc. were some of the causative factors which strengthened rural economy.
• Decline of towns may have led to the migration of a number of skilled artisans into the countryside and some of them even changed their vocations.
• The dispersal of technical skill along with artisans and craftsmen into the countryside stimulated agrarian growth.
• Land grants in tribal frontiers brought within land under cultivation.
• Numerous villages with Sanskrit and non-Sanskrit names came up in this period.
• Contemporary literature presents, a vivid account of village life and reflect and richness of rural settlements.
• The post-Gupta period also underwent a major change in the rural sector and that was land grants on a large-scale as donations.
• Land grant charters bestowed the beneficiary with superior right over those of the inhabitants in the donated village.
• The donee were entitled to collect all kinds of taxes. He could collect regular and irregular taxes and fixed and unfixed payments.
• The donees enjoyed these exceptional advantages in addition to such regular taxes as bhaga, bhoga, kara, uparikara, hiranya, udranga, halikakara, etc.
• In fact, the peasantry in early medieval India was subjected to an even increasing tax/rent burden.
• The donees were empowered with the right to evict the peasantry at will and to replace them with new peasants.
• From the seventh century onwards grants give away water resources, trees, bushed and pastures to the donee.
• The trend accelerated after the tenth century.
• The transfer of these resources to the donee not only affected peasantry of the donated villages adversely but also strengthened the power of the donees.
• Forced labour is referred to in the Skanda Purana.
• Inscriptions too suggest that by the fifth-sixth centuries, vishti was a well entrenched practice in western, central and southern India.
• In addition, the clause appeared in the landgrant charters asking the peasants to carry out the orders of the donee.
• In regions such as Chamba, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Eastern India, the condition of the peasants clearly suffered a decline.
• The earliest definite evidence of employment of forced labours in agriculture is in Bhagwat Purana (8th century).

Social Changes

• The social changes in the Gupta and post-Gupta times can be related to the economic changes.
• The major economic forces of the period were large-scale landgrants, decline of trade, commerce and urban life, paucity of money, agrarian expansion and growing agarian character of society, and the emergence of relatively closed local units of production and consumption.
• On above mentioned basis evolved a social structure broadly characterised by a sizable ruling landed aristocracy, intermediaries and a large body of impoverished peasantry.
• The unequal distribution of landed property and power led to the emergence of new social groups and ranks which cut across varna divisions like Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Sudra.
• The other important changes in the social structure involved the emergence and proliferation of new castes, the hardening of caste relations and the acculturation of the tribes.
• The acculturation of tribes was not simply the result of movement of Brahmanas into tribal areas as a result of land grants. This was caused by the emergence of local royal families in remote areas, and the Brahmanas were patronised mostly by these royal families with gifts of land, with employment at royal courts and other offers.
• This implies that where tribes lived, there emerged a much more complex society in which social differentiation, represented by different groups like peasants, Brahmanas, craftsmen, merchants, rulers etc., was present.
• The scribe or the kayastha community was product of the socio-economic forces of the times. Land grants involved the transfer of land revenues and land to Brahmanas, religious establishments and officials. This and other complex administrative functions created the need for a body of scribes and record keepers who were employed to draft assignment of land and keep details of land transfer, including various items of revenue.
• The Gupta period witnessed the beginning of fragmentation of land.
• There were laws of partition and rural boundary disputes, which constitute a part of the Dharmasastras.
• The maintenance of proper records of individual plots was very much necessary for settling such disputes.
• The existence of different types of rights in the same plot or village(s) made the land system quite complex. Therefore, land records had to be maintained with all necessary details.
• This difficult job was carried out by a class of writers who were known variously as kayastha, karana, karanika, puslapala, chitragupta, aksapatalika, etc.
• The kayasthas were only one group of the community of scribes. However, gradually the scribes and record-keepers as a community came to be known as kayasthas.
• The ‘impure’ castes or the untouchables had assumed a definite shape by the early Christian centuries. Nevertheless, they were numerically small.
• From around the 3rd century AD onwards, the practice of untouchability appears to have intensified and the number of untouchables registered a rise Katyayana, a Dharmasastra writer of the Gupta period, was the first to use the empression asprsya in the sense of untouchables.
• Several new castes were included in the category of the untouchables in the Gupta and post-Gupta times.
• Not only hunters and some groups of artisans became untouchables but backward agriculturists were also condemned to that status.
• By the turn of the first millennium AD, hunters, fishermen, butchers, executioners and scavengers appeared as untouchables.
• Kalidasa, Virahamihira, Fahsien, Bana and others have given a vivid account of the social disabilities imposed on them.
• The Chandalas were only one section of the untouchables, although the lowest in the social ladder.
• Interestingly, a caste hierarchy emerged among the untouchables as well. Contemporary literature describes them in very disparaging terms.
• Brahmanical and Buddhist sources suggest that most untouchable castes were originally backward tribes. Their backwardness and resistance to the process of acculturation and brahmanisation may have prevented them from being absorbed within the society and pushed them to the position of untouchables. They may have been dispossessed of their lands and made to settle outside the villages.
• The contempt for the backward people, at times in inhospitable tracts, on the part of the Brahmanas and ruling elite and on occasions the former’s opposition to the Brahmancial order, thus, to explain the numerical growth of the untouchables and the practices of untouchability.
• In the context of the growing demand for labour, the presence of the untouchables as a pressed, dispossessed group of people was an enormous advantage to all other sections of society.
• The untouchables did not normally hold land, settle outside the villages.
• They were condemned to menial jobs during slack periods of the year and were available for work during peak periods of agricultural activity.
• The untouchables thus, provided labour which the society required but were socially condemned and segregated.
• During this period, several groups of artisans and craftsmen lost their earlier status and many even came to be regarded as untouchables.
• To some extent, this may have resulted from the decline of urban centres where craftsmen were in great demand.
• Craft guilds became transformed into castes and thus transformation effectively sums up the changes in the nature and organisation of craft production.
• Various castes such as the svarnakara (goldsmith), malakara (garland maker), chitrakara (painter), napita (barber), etc. emerged out of the numerous crafts (practised by different groups).
• Some categories of artisans were rendered untouchable. Weavers, dyers, tailers, barbers, shoemakers, ironsmiths, washermen and others were reduced to the position of untouchables by the turn of the millennium.



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