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Day 15: History - History (Day 13 to 23)

From Mauryan Era to Guptas’ era

The Rise of Magadha

  • The political fight among these mahajanapadas led ultimately to one of them namely Magadh to emerge as the most powerful state and the centre of a vast empire. The earliest important ruler of Magadh was the king Bimbisara of Haryanka Dynasty, who ruled for 52 years from 544 BC to 492 BC. He pursued a three-pronged policy, namely, matrimonial alliances, friendship with strong rulers and conquest of weak neighbours to expand the empire. He was a contemporary of both Buddha and Mahavira and paid equal respect to them. It seems that he was either killed or forced to commit suicide by his son Ajatasatru, who was eager to take over the throne himself.
  • Ajatasatru was an aggressive person and first came into conflict with his maternal uncle Prasenajit, who was defeated. Similarly he fought with his maternal grandfather Chetak, the chief of Vaishali and after 16 long years of war Ajatasatru succeeded in breaking the might of Vaishali.
  • Ajatasatru was succeeded by Udayin and his main contribution was building a fort on the confluence of river Ganga and river Son at Pataliputra or Patna. It was strategically a significant step as this site was not only centrally located but also allowed easy movement of merchant and soldiers.
  • Udayin was succeeded by the dynasty of Shishunaga. The most important achievement of Shishunaga was to defeat Avanti(Malwa) and make it a part of Magadh. The successor of Sisunaga was his son Kalashoka. It was during his rule the second Buddhist council was held.
  • The Shisunaga dynasty was succeeded by the kings of the Nanda dynasty. Mahapadma Nanda was its most important ruler. According to the Brahmanical texts he belonged to a low caste or at least a non-kshatriya caste. He possessed a large army and added Kalinga to his empire. The last Nanda king was Dhannanand. He is believed to be an arrogant and oppressive ruler who imposed heavy taxes on the common man. It made them quite unpopular among the masses and ultimately Chandragupta took advantage of this public resentment and uprooted the Nanda rule and set up the Mauryan Empire.
  • The question is how Magadh could establish gradually its dominance over all other states of the period. Magadh certainly benefited from numerous able and ambitious rulers, but its strength was based primarily on certain geographical factors. Its earlier capital Girivraja or Rajagir was surrounded by five hills, which helped it to provide natural fortification. Secondly, its fertile river plain provided a vast amount of agricultural surplus, which was essential for raising a vast standing army. Forests in southern areas gave it timber and elephants. Magadh had another advantage in its control over iron deposits found very near south Bihar. Such access to iron made Magadhan weapons far superior and agriculture tools more productive. It was this material background which helped Magadh to become more powerful than other mahajanapadas.

Mauryan dynasty

  • The establishment of Mauryan dynasty by Chandragupta Maurya in 321 B.C. marks a turning point in the history of early India. The edicts issued by Ashoka are the most important source of information and there are at least 44 such edicts which have been found inscribed on rocks and pillars. These are composed mostly in Prakrit language and are written in Brahmi script in most of the areas. These inscriptions are also the first evidence of writing in ancient India. As far as archaeological sources are concerned, punch-marked coins, remains of the palace of Ashoka at Kumharar and several pieces of sculptures are important. The most important literary sources are Arthasastra of Kautilya and Indica of Megasthenes.
  • The founder of the Mauryan dynasty, Chandragupta Maurya (321–297 BC) inherited a large army of the Nandas, which he used to conquer almost whole of north, the northwest, and a large part of the peninsular India.
  • His son Bindusara (297–269BC) succeeded him. He promoted trade and cultural interaction with Greeks, but not much is known about him.
  • Ashoka (269–232BC) succeeded his father Bindusara. Ashoka fought a major war with Kalinga around 261 BC in which large number of people were killed or imprisoned. Perhaps this bloodshed moved his heart and he decided to abandon thepolicy of military expansion and declared that he would in future favour dhammaghosha (drum of dhamma) than bherighosha (war drum).
  • He spent the rest of his life in promoting and spreading the policy of Dhamma. However, his successors could not keep the empire integrated and it completely disappeared after the last king Brihadaratha was assassinated by his military chief PushyamitraSunga around 187 BC.

Ashoka and his Dhamma

  • Ashoka is considered as one of the greatest kings in Indian history. He is praised not so much for his militaristic activity as for his policy of Dhamma.
  • According to some of scholars Ashoka was a follower of Buddhism and through Dhamma he tried to propagate the principles of Buddhism. But this does not seem to be true as Dhamma had nothing to do with the propagation of Buddhism. It was a code of conduct or ideal social behaviour common to all religions of the world, which he appealed to his subjects to follow.
  • Although Ashoka himself believed in Buddhism, he never discriminated against other faiths or religions. A closer look at Asokan edicts illustrates that basic attributes of Dhamma included compassion (daya), charity (dana), truthfulness, purity and gentleness.
  • Pillar Edict III asks subjects to control violence, cruelty, anger and envy. Rock edict I call for a ban on animal sacrifice and social gatherings like samaj.
  • The Rock Edict II declares measures to be taken for the construction of hospitals, roads, inns, wells and planting of shade giving trees.
  • Third, Fourth and Twelfth rock edicts ask people to respect parents, relatives, brahmanas and shramanas(monks).
  • He also appointed a special type of officials called dhamma mahamatras. Their main function was to oversee and supervises the peaceful function of the principles of Dhamma.
  • Twelfth rock edict is especially important since it says “the king Piyadassi, the beloved of the gods, respected all sects whether ascetics or householders, and he honours them with gifts and honours of various kinds…let an alien sect also be respected on every occasion.” It shows clearly that neither Dhamma was Buddhism nor Ashoka was trying to convert people to Buddhism.

India under the Mauryas


  • The Mauryas established an elaborate system of administration in which king played the chief role. He was assisted by a council of ministers but the king himself took all final decisions regarding revenue, law and order, war or any other matter related to administration.
  • The king appointed a council of ministers called mantriparishad. There were various other officials, who helped him perform his duties. These officials were known as amatyas, mahamatras and adhayakshas.
  • Arthasastra gives a list of 27 adhayakshas or superintendents who were responsible for running various economic departments like agriculture, mining, weaving, trade, etc.
  • Among all the executive officials samaharta was the most important. His responsibility was to supervise collection of taxes from all types of sources. Most of the superintendents mentioned above, functioned on his orders.
  • The Mauryas also employed a large number of spies and maintained a huge army. Megasthenes reports that administration of different branches of army was carried out through six committees of five members each. An officer called antahpala was responsible for the security of frontier forts.
  • As far as the judicial administration is concerned the king was the supreme authority, but various civil, as well as criminal courts, functioned at the local level right from village to province.
  • Apart from Magadh with its capital at Patliputra, the Mauryan Empire was divided into four other provinces with capitals at Taxila (northwestern India), Suvarnagiri (southern India), Tosali (eastern India) and Ujjain (western India). These were put under the control of royal princes called kumara.
  • The city administration of Patliputra, according to Megasthenes, was conducted by six committees of five members each. Each committee was assigned different subjects such as industry, foreigners, birth and death registration, trade and market regulations and tax collection to look after.

Economy, Society and Art

  • The Mauryas as mentioned above maintained a huge standing army and employed a large number of state officials. These soldiers and officials were paid in cash.
  • As the normal taxes were not considered sufficient to meet all the needs of the state hence the state undertook and regulated numerous economic activities to generate more and more resources.
  • The mainstay of economy in this period was agriculture. The Mauryan state founded new agricultural settlements to bring virgin land under cultivation. People from overpopulated areas and prisoners of war were brought to these new settlements to work on the fields. These villages belonged to king and were looked after by government official called sitadhyaksha or superintendent of agriculture. Besides state farms there were individual land holders who paid a variety of taxes to the state.
  • The importance of irrigation was fully realised and peasants had to pay more tax on irrigated land. The bali or land tax was the main item of revenue, levied at the rate of one sixth of the produce. Peasants had to pay many other taxes like pindakara, hiranya, bhaga, bhoga etc.
  • Principal crops were various varieties of rice, barley, millet, wheat, sugarcane and most of the pulses, peas and oilseeds, which we know today.
  • Trade and urban economy received great impetus under the Mauryas and influenced almost all parts of the empire. The main centres of textile manufacturing were Varanasi, Mathura, Bengal, Gandhara and Ujjain.
  • Mining and metallurgy was another important economic activity.
  • Trade was conducted through land and river routes. Patliputra was also connected through various trade routes with all parts of the subcontinent. The main centre of trade in the northwest was Taxila, which was further connected with central Asian markets. Tamralipti (Tamluk in west Bengal) in the east and Broach in the west were important seaports.
  • Craft activities were also a major source of revenue to the state. Artisans living in towns had to pay taxes either in cash or kind or work free for the king. Traders and artisans were organised in associations called srenis or guilds.
  • The Mauryas were responsible for introduction of iron on a large scale in different parts of the subcontinent. They maintained a monopoly over production of iron, which was in great demand by the army, industry and agriculture. It was done through the official called loha-adyaksha.
  • As far as society is concerned, despite the challenge posed by Buddhism and Jainism the varna system continued to exist and brahmanas and kshatriyas dominated the social hierarchy. However, as a result of greater trade and commerce, there was improvement in the social status of vaisyas or trading communities and shudras. Now shudras could be involved in the agricultural and artisanal activities. This period also saw increase in the number of untouchables.
  • The Mauryan period provides the earliest examples of ancient Indian art and architercture. Megasthenes has described the grandeur of the Mauryan palace at Pataliputra. Some remains of this palace have been found at Kumrhar near Patna. Ashokan pillars at Rampurva, LauriyaNandangarh and Sarnath present excellent examples of stone sculptures which developed in this period. Our national emblem comes from the Asokan pillar at Sarnath near Benaras. All these pillars are circular and monolithic, and are made of sand stone found at Chunar, near Mirzapur in U.P. We also find some rock cut architecture like LomasaRisi cave in the Barabara hills near Gaya belonging to the Mauryan period. Among several stone and terracotta sculptures of this period, polished stone sculpture of a chauri-bearing female known as DidarganjYakshini is most famous.

Decline of the Mauryas

  • Some historians believe that Ashoka under the influence of Buddhism became a pacifist and weakened his army. It is also said that the religious policy of Ashoka antagonised the brahmanas as he banned the animal sacrifice, which affected the economic and religious activities of the brahmanas. Therefore, Pusyamitra, the brahmana chief of the army, killed the last Mauryan king.
  • But this does not seem to be correct as the study of Ashokan inscriptions reveals that Ashoka paid full respect to brahmanas. Moreover it is true that Ashoka followed a policy of peace and harmony, but he did not disband his army and was always prepared to face any eventuality.
  • One of the main reasons for decline could be the succession of weak rulers who could not keep under check those, ministers and officials of far-flung regions, who had become oppressive and acted against the interest of the centre.
  • It is also possible that Mauryan rule may have suffered some kind of economic crisis. It is reflected in the debasement of some coins of that period. This crisis might have developed either due to massive donations and charity or overspending on the imperial administrative system. Mauryan dynasty
  • In fact, the reason of decline was inherent in the structure of the vast centralized empire itself. The successors of Ashoka could not maintain the balance between the centre and the various provincial governors of the empire, and at the first possible opportunity, they made an effort to separate themselves from the centre.
  • However, Mauryanempire though declined had a positive effect of spreading agriculture and iron technology in the different parts of the subcontinent. It facilitated the rise of several regional kingdoms in the post-Mauryan period.

Gupta Era

  • After the break-up of the Maurya Empire the Satavahanas and the Kushans emerged as two large political powers. The Satavahanas acted as a stabilizing factor In the Deccan and south, to which they gave political unity and economic prosperity on the strength of their trade with the Roman Empire.
  • On the ruins of the Kushan empire arose a new empire, which established its sway over a good part of the former dominions of both the Kushans and Satavahanas. This was the power of the Guptas, who may have been of vaisya origin. Although the Gupta Empire was not as large as the Maurya Empire, it kept north India politically united for more than a century, from 335 to 455.
  • The original kingdom of the Guptas comprised Uttar Pradesh and Bihar at the end of the third century A.D. Uttar Pradesh seems to have been a. more important province for the Guptas than 'Bihar, because early Gupta coins and inscriptions have been mainly found in that .state.
  • It is likely that the Guptas learnt the use of saddle, reins, buttoned-; coats, trousers and boots from the Kushans. All these gave them mobility and made them excellent horsemen.
  • In the Kushan scheme of things chariots and elephants had ceased to be important. Horses played the main part.
  • This also seems to have been the case with the Guptas on whose coins horsemen are represented. Although some Gupta kings are described as excellent and unrivalled chariot warriors, their basic strength lay in the use of horses.
  • The Guptas enjoyed certain material advantages. The centre of their operations lay in the fertile land ofMadhyadesa covering Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. They could exploit the Iron ore of central India and south Bihar. Further they took advantage of their proximity to the areas in north India which carried on silk trade With the Eastern Roman empire, also known as the Byzantine Empire. On account of these favourable factors the Guptas set up their rule over Anuganga (the middle Gangetic basin), Prayag (modem Allahabad), Saketa (modern Ayodhya) and Magadha. In course of time this kingdom became an all-India empire.
  • The first important king of the Gupta dynasty was Chandragupta I. He married a Lichchhavi princess from Nepal, which strengthened his position. The Guptas were possibly vaisyas, and hence marriage to a kshatriya family gave them prestige. Chandragupta, I seem to have been a ruler of considerable Importance because he started the Gupta era In A.D. 319-20, which marked the date of his accession. The Gupta kingdom was enlarged enormously by Chandragupta I's son and successor, Samudragupta (A.D. 335-380). He was the opposite of Asoka. Asoka believed in a policy of peace and non-aggression, but Samudragupta delighted in Violence and conquest. His court poet Harishena wrote a glowing account of the military exploits of his patron.
  • The reign of Chandragupta II saw the high watermark of the Gupta Empire. He extended the Limits of the empire by marriage alliance and conquests.

Social and economic conditions

  • For a reconstruction of social conditions under the Guptas, we depend heavily on the contemporary legal texts, or smritis. A number of such texts, most of which took the Dharmasastra of Manu as their basis, were written during this period, the best-known being the Yajnavalkya, the Narada , the Brhaspati and the Katyayana . These smritis provide an ideal representation of society from the brahmanical point of view. Contemporary Sanskrit plays and prose literature, however, do not always corroborate this ideal and it may be safely assumed that the injunctions of the smrtis were not necessarily strictly enforced. This conclusion is supported by the inscriptions of the period and by the accounts of the Chinese pilgrims Fa-hsien and Hsüan-tsang. In the Gupta period, brahmanical reaction against Buddhism and Jainism became stronger. As a result, varna- (i.e. caste-) based social stratification and the supremacy of the brahmans (the highest caste) received much greater emphasis. It is difficult to ascertain the caste of the Guptas, but they were, in all probability, brahmans themselves and strongly supported the brahmanical social order. The brahmans were given land on a large scale and they claimed many privileges which are listed in the Narada.
  • The degeneration of the vaisyas (the third, or trader, caste), which had begun earlier, intensified during this period. Because of advanced agricultural techniques and developments in handicrafts, the condition of the sudras (the fourth, or menial, caste) improved and there was no great difference between a poor vaisya and a prosperous sudra. The vaisyas, however, retained their supremacy in industry and commerce and held important positions on the municipal boards. There are repeated references to the sudra peasantry in the contemporary sources as opposed to their status as agricultural labourers in earlier times. The smritis of the Gupta period make a clear distinction between the sudras and the slaves. This period saw the emergence of the untouchables, who were beyond the pale of the caste structure and lived outside the city boundaries.
  • From this cumulative evidence it appears that the significance of the traditional varna structure, based on colour and race, was being seriously undermined and the jati structure, based on occupational status, was becoming increasingly important. Like the varnas, the jati system was hereditary and the number of jatis gradually proliferated.
  • Although women were idealized in literature and art, in practice they had a distinctly subordinate social position. Education of a limited kind was permitted to upper-class women but they were not allowed to participate in public life. Early marriage was advocated and strict celibacy was recommended for widows. The attitude of the contemporary smritis towards women was one of contempt. Women were described as almost a consumer commodity, exclusively owned by their husbands. But there were exceptions to this norm in real life.
  • The social supremacy of the brahmans is also reflected in the economy of the period, as attested by the frequency of tax-free land-grants made to them. This was a period of partial decline in trade and consequently a greater concentration on land. There were four categories of land – fallow and waste land, state-owned land and privately owned land. Agriculture expanded with the reclamation of new land for cultivation. Contemporary texts reveal a more liberal and practical attitude towards waste land, with the state encouraging the peasantry to bring uncultivated and forest land under the plough. Those who reclaimed land on their own initiative and made arrangements for its irrigation were exempted from paying taxes until they started earning an income of twice their original investment.
  • Agricultural implements remained much the same, although iron was more widely used for their manufacture. Varhamihira, in his astrological work, the Brhat-samihita, refers to an instrument for measuring rainfall. Crops were grown twice a year. According to Hsüantsang, sugar cane and wheat were grown in the north-west and rice in Magadha and further east. Southern India was known for black pepper and spices. The Amarakosa, the Sanskrit lexicon belonging to this period, also refers to a large variety of fruit and vegetables. Despite overall growth, however, brahmanical and Buddhist religious injunctions were not conducive to the expansion of agriculture. The Brahaspati was unwilling to respect the income derived from agriculture and cultivation was prohibited for the Buddhist monks.
  • The manufacture of textiles of various kinds was one of the more important industries at this time. There was a vast domestic market, since textiles were a prime item of trade between northern and southern India. There was also a considerable demand in foreign markets.
  • Silk, muslin, calico, linen, wool and cotton were produced in great quantity. The production of silk decreased towards the end of the Gupta period since many members of an important guild of silver-weavers in western India abandoned their traditional occupation and took to other professions. This might have been due to the increasing use of the Silk Route and the Sea Route to China, which brought a large amount of Chinese silk to India or, more generally, to the decline in trade with the West.
  • Metalwork, particularly in copper, iron and lead, continued as one of the essential industries. The use of bronze increased and gold and silver ornaments were in constant demand. We have little clue as to the sources of the abundant supply of metals in the Gupta period and it seems that copper, lead and tin had to be imported from abroad. Gold may have been obtained from the Byzantine Empire in exchange for Indian products, although Hsüan-tsang mentions that it was also produced indigenously in huge quantities. The working of precious stones continued to maintain its high standard. Pottery remained a basic part of industrial production, although the elegant black polished ware of earlier times was now replaced by an ordinary red ware with a brownish slip.
  • The guild was the major institution in the manufacture of goods and in commercial enterprise. Some historians believe that the importance of the guilds declined in the Gupta period. India no longer participated in the long-distance trade in luxury goods. Instead a new kind of commercial network emerged on regional lines, based on the exchange of articles in daily use. In these changed circumstances, the powerful guilds of the earlier times disintegrated. Contemporary sources, particularly the seals found at Vaisali and Bhita, suggest nevertheless that both the activities and the significance of the guild remained during this period. Guilds sometimes acted as bankers and loaned money on interest, as did some of the Buddhist sanghas (communities). The rate of interest varied according to the purpose for which money was required.
  • The export of spices, pepper, sandalwood, pearls, precious stones, perfumes, indigo and herbs continued as before. Pepper was exported from the ports of the Malabar coast and sesame, copper and cotton garments from Kalyana. The Pandya area had an important role to play in the pearl trade. The commodities that were now being imported to India, however, differed from those in earlier times. Chinese silk came in greater quantity, as did ivory from Ethiopia. Imports of horses from Arabia, Iran and Tokharistan also increased. Copper came from the western Mediterranean region and sapphire from Simhala.
  • The Gupta king issued special charters to merchants’ organizations which relieved them of government interference. Since this was the time when the law-makers declared it a great sin for a brahman to travel by sea, this may have resulted in reduced Indian participation in maritime trade.
  • The literary records of this period suggest an overall economic prosperity at least among the upper classes. Fa-hsien describes the people of Madhyadesha (the ‘middle country’) as prosperous and happy towards the beginning of the fifth century. Evidence of material conditions obtained from excavations also points to a high standard of living. The prosperous urbandwellers lived in luxury; and comfort, in the urban centres at least, was not confined to the upper classes. Yet it was a culture with wide variations. The untouchables lived on the outskirts of the opulent cities and the peasantry were being gradually impoverished. The maintenance of an imperial façade was a purposeless expense which must have been a drain on the economy. Indeed, the debased Later Gupta coinage indicates an economic crisis.


  • In many respects, the Gupta administration constitutes the watershed between India’s past and future traditions of polity and government. The most noticeable feature of the post-Mauryan administrative development was the gradual erosion of the government’s centralized power.
  • First, the Satavahanas and the Kushans entered into feudatory relations with the smaller kingdoms. Second, land-grants, which began from this time, created administrative pockets in the countryside managed by the religious beneficiaries. A third factor which contributed to the process of decentralization was the existence of autonomous governments in several cities of northern India. Guilds of traders from these cities even issued coins, which was normally the prerogative of the sovereign power. At several points, however, the old centralized system of administration was continued and even strengthened by the accession of new elements.
  • The Guptas discarded the modest title of raja and adopted the high-sounding ones brought into vogue by the Kushans. The most typical example is maharajadhiraja which, along with its several variants, appears in Gupta inscriptions.
  • The Gupta kings also claimed superhuman qualities for themselves. They continued the traditional machinery of bureaucratic administration with nomenclature that was mostly borrowed or adopted from earlier times. Thus the mantri (prime minister) stood at the head of the civil administration.
  • Among other high officers were the mahabaladhikrta (commander-in-chief), mahadandanayaka (general)and mahapratihara (chief of the palace guards). A high ranking officer, encountered for the first time in the Gupta records but destined to have a long career, was the sandhivigrahika (foreign minister). The bhuktis (provinces) were usually governed by princes of royal blood and sometimes by a class of officers called uparikas. The link between the central and provincial administration was furnished by kumaramatyas and ayuktas who ruled over visayas (districts). The district officers were nominated by the provincial governors.
  • For the first time, the inscriptions give us an idea of systematic local administration in the Gupta period, which assumed many new dimensions. The series of northern Bengal epigraphs mentions the adhisthanadhikarana (municipal board), visayadhikarana (district office) and astakuladhikarana (possibly, rural board). The full adhisthanadhikarana is said to consist of four members, the nagarasresthi (guild president), the sarthavaha (chief merchant), the prathamakulika (chief artisan) and the prathamakayastha (chief scribe). The precise significance of the astakuladhikarana is unknown, but in one example it is said to be headed by the mahattaras (village elders) and also includes the gramika (village headman) and the kutumbins (householders).
  • The significant aspect of Gupta bureaucracy was that, since it was less organized and elaborate than the Mauryan administration of the third century b.c. (seen in Kautilya’sArthasastra), it allowed several offices to be combined in the hands of the same person and posts tended to become hereditary. In the absence of close supervision by the state, village affairs were now managed by leading local elements who conducted land transactions without consulting the government.
  • Similarly in urban administration, organized professional bodies enjoyed considerable autonomy. The law-codes of the Gupta period, which provide detailed information about the functioning of the guilds, even entrusted these corporate bodies with an important share in the administration of justice. With the innumerable jatis (which were systematized and legalized during this period) governing a large part of the activities of their members, very little was left for central government. Finally, the Gupta kings had to take account of the brahmandonees, who enjoyed absolute administrative privileges over the inhabitants of the donated villages. Thus in spite of the strength of the Gupta kings, institutional factors working for decentralization were far stronger during this period. This Gupta administration provided the model for the basic administrative structure, both in theory and in practice, throughout the early medieval period.

Religious life

  • The rise of the Guptas was analogous to the emergence of Puranic Hinduism. The vehicle for the propagation of this resurgent Hinduism was a set of texts called the Puranas, the earliest of which were composed in this period.
  • The Puranas, which began as the historical tradition recording the creation of the universe and detailed the genealogies of each dynasty, were originally composed by bards. During this period, however, they were rewritten by the brahmans in classical Sanskrit to include information on Hindu sects, rites and customs.
  • Before the coming of the Guptas, the ideal brahmanical social order had been disrupted to such an extent by rulers who patronized the heretical cults that we see an obsessive fear of the Kali, or Dark Age, in all the early Puranas.
  • All the major aspects of brahmanical religion, by which Puranic Hinduism came to be identified in later centuries, crystallized in this period.
  • The image of the deity emerged as the centre of worship and worship superceded sacrifice, although a sacrificial offering to the image remained central to the ritual. This in turn encouraged bhakti (devotionalism), which consisted of an intense personal attachment to the object of worship.
  • As a result, worship of a god became an individual concern and the priest ceased to be so dominant a figure as in the sacrifice.
  • Hindus became divided into two main sects, Vaishnava and Shaiva, claiming Vishnu and Shiva respectively as the supreme deity, just as each Purana extolled the superiority of one or the other. The worshippers of Vishnu were more prevalent in northern India, where they received active patronage from the Guptas; Chandragupta II called himself a paramabhagavata (devotee of Vishnu).
  • Shaivism took firm root in the south, although it was not confined to that region. The Huna king Mihirakula, Shashanka the ruler of Bengal, some kings of the Pushyabhutis of Kanauj and the Maitrakas of Valabhi were all followers of Shiva. Despite such sectarian preferences, at times expressed in acute rivalry, there was an underlying strain of monotheism in Puranic Hinduism which saw the various deities as manifestations of a unified whole. The social existence of a Hindu came to be defined in terms of a correct dharma (law), artha (economic well-being), kama (sensual pleasure) and moksa (salvation of the soul).
  • A notable feature of intellectual life in this period was provided by the lively philosophical disputations between the Buddhists and the brahmans, centring around six different schools of thought which came to be called the six systems of Hindu philosophy. Although their origin can be traced to the thinking of a much earlier period, some of their cardinal principles were enunciated at this time Vedanta is the most influential of the six systems.
  • The doctrines of Vedanta were based on the Upanisadas (books of the teaching of sages) and gave logical and organized form to their many mystical speculations. It postulated the existence of the ‘Absolute Soul’ and maintained that the final purpose of existence was the union of the individual and this ‘Absolute Soul’ after physical death.
  • Together these six systems constitute the core of Hindu philosophy and all subsequent developments are its ramifications. Although Buddhism was theoretically still a formidable rival of Hinduism, by the end of this period its influence was waning.

Science and Technology

  • In the field of mathematics we come across during this period a work called Aryabhathya Written by Aryabhata, who belonged to Pataliputra. It seems that this mathematician was well versed in various kinds of calculations.
  • A Gupta inscription of 448 from Allahabad district suggests that the decimal system was known in India at the beginning of the fifth century AD. In the fields of astronomy a book called RomakaSidhanta was compiled.
  • It was influenced by Greek ideas, as can be inferred from its name. The Gupta craftsmen distinguished themselves by their work in iron and bronze.
  • We know of 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 a pillar in any iron foundry in the West until about a century ago.


  • Chandragupta II was succeeded by his son Kumaragupta (AD 415–455). He was able to maintain the empire built up by his father but during the later part of his reign there was a threat from the Hunas of Central Asia.
  • After occupying Bactria the Hunas crossed the Hindukush Mountains and entered India. Their first attack during his reign was repulsed by prince Skandagupta.
  • The Guptas however could not protect their empire for long and the successive waves of Huna invasion made the Gupta’s very weak. This was one of the main factors which accelerated the disintegration of the Gupta empire.
  • The inscriptions issued by the Hunas show that by AD 485 they had occupied eastern Malwa and a large part of central India. Punjab and Rajasthan also passed into their hands.
  • The first important ruler of the Hunas in India was Toramana who conquered an area stretching up to Eran near Bhopal in central India. His son Mihirkula succeeded him in AD 515. He is described in texts as a tyrant and an iconoclast.
  • Both Yashodharman of Malwa and NarasimhaguptaBaladitya of the Gupta dynasty finally defeated Mihirkula. But this victory over the Hunas could not revive the Gupta Empire.
  • Besides the Huna invasion there was also a gradual decline in economic prosperity. It is indicated by the gold coins of later Gupta rulers, which have less of gold content and more of alloy. One can notice a gradual disappearance of coins in the post Gupta period. It led the kings to make payments in form of land rather than cash.
  • It is evident by the discovery of large-scale land grant charters donating land to brahmanas and officers. The practice of giving land for religious and secular purposes in lieu of services rendered to the State is normally termed as feudalism. Under this practice, the donee (the one who receives the grant) was given the right not only to collect the taxes but also to administer the donated land. This created small-small pockets of power trying ceaselessly to expand their sphere of influence at the cost of the ruling authority.
  • The decline of the Gupta empire resulted in the emergence of numerous ruling dynasties in different parts of northern India. The prominent among them were the Pushyabhutis of Thanesar, Maukharies of Kanauj and the Maitrakas of Valabhi. The political scene in the Peninsular India was no different. The Chalukyas and the Pallavas emerged as strong regional powers in Deccan and northern Tamil Nadu respectively.

Early History of South India

The Megalithic Cultures of South India

  • The neolithic phase of south India, which was highlighted by the use of polished stone axe and blade tools, was succeeded by the Megalithic cultures (1200 BC–300 BC) Megaliths were tomb spots consisting of burials or graves covered with huge (mega) stones. They were, in most cases, located outside the settlement area. These Megalith burials have yielded the first iron objects from south India. Besides these the use of Black and Red ware pottery was also a distinctive feature of the Megalithic people. These Megaliths have been found in large numbers from the Nagpur area in Maharashtra in north to the southern tip of the Indian Peninsula. Prominent sites that have yielded Megalith graves include Brahmagiri, Maski, (Karnataka), Adichallanur (Tamilnadu) and Junapani near Nagpur (Maharastra).
  • Identical iron tools have been found universally from all the Megalith graves. These tools which indicate their craft activities and include arrowheads, daggers, swords, spearheads, tridents, battle axe, hoes, ploughshares, sickles etc. These artifacts, alongwith the food grains such as wheat, rice etc., found at various megalithic sites indicate that the megalithic people followed for their livelihood agro-pastoral and hunting activities. The megalithic period in south India was followed by the Sangam age.

The Sangam Age

  • The Sangam age refers to that period in the early history of south India when large numbers of poems in Tamil were composed by a number of authors. The term Sangam refers to an assembly or “meeting together” of Tamil poets.
  • Traditionally, three Sangamsor assemblies are believed to have been convened one after the other. All the three Sangams took place at different places under the patronage of the Pandya kings of Madurai.
  • Poems within the Sangam literature were composed on two broader themes of love and war. It was later put together in eight collections called Ettutogai. This literature is believed to have been composed between 300 BC and 300 AD.
  • A remarkable feature of the Sangam literature is its vivid portrayal of the contemporary society and culture of Tamilaham, or Tamil region and its peaceful and harmonious interaction with the northern (Aryan) culture.
  • Tamilaham stretches between the hills of Tirupati and the tip of Kanyakumari. It was divided amongst large number of chieftains and the chieftainship was hereditary. The important chieftains who dominated Tamil region during Sangam Age were the Cholas, with their capital at Uraiyur, the Cheras with their capital at Vanji, (near Karur) and Pandyas with their capital at Madurai.
  • The Cholas, Pandyas and Cheras had several subordinate chiefs. Tribute from subordinate chiefs along with plunder, were the main sources of revenue. There were frequent conflicts between the Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas. It gave large scope to the Sangam poets to compose poems on war.
  • The whole Tamilaham in this period was divided into five tinais or eco-zones, i.e., zones based on their economic resources. These were: kurinji (hilly region); palai (arid zone); mullai (pastoral tracts); marudam (wet lands); and neital (seacoast).
  • People were known on the basis of their occupation they followed, such as artisans, salt merchants, textile merchants, etc. The rich lived in well-decorated brick houses and wore costly clothes whereas the poor lived in mud huts and had scanty clothes to wear. War heroes occupied a special position in society, and memorial stones called nadukal or virukkal were raised in honour of those who died in fighting, and they were worshipped as godlings.
  • Women in the Sangam period appear to have been educated. This is testified by many poems contributed by women poets to the Sangam literature.
  • Women are also described as engaged in various economic activities such as paddy plantation, cattle rearing, basket-making, spinning, etc.
  • The people were engaged in various economic activities such as agriculture, crafts and trade. Paddy was the most important crop. It formed the main part of peoples’ diet and also served as a medium of barter exchange for inland trade.
  • Since Tamil region does not have perennial rivers, the chief, wherever possible, encouraged agricultural activities by making tanks and dams.
  • The most important feature of the Sangam economy was flourishing trade with the Roman world. It is confirmed by the recovery of a large number of Roman gold coins in south India.
  • The discovery of monsoons and the use of direct sea route between Indian coasts and the western world, as mentioned earlier, was the main reason for the growth of this trade. It led to rise of important towns and craft centres in the Tamil region.
  • Vanji, identified with the present day Karur in Tamil Nadu, was the capital of the Cheras and also an important centre of trade and craft. Muzris, i.e., Cranganore on the south-west coast, was the foremost port of the Cheras.
  • Madurai, the capital of the Pandyas, is described in the Sangam poems as a large cityenclosed by a wall. It was an important centre of fine textile and ivory working. Korkai, in the Tirunnelveli district of Tamil Nadu, was an important Pandya port. It was famous for its pearls. Uraiyur (Tiruchirapalli in Tamil Nadu), the capital of the Cholas, was a grand city with magnificent buildings. Kaveripattinam or Puhar was the main Chola port. The Sangam poems refer to the busy markets guarded by soldiers.
  • In the field of religion, Sangam period witnessed a close and peaceful interaction between north Indian and south Indian traditions. The Brahmanas who performed religious ceremonies popularized the worship of Indra, Visnu, Siva etc., in south India. There are also references to the presence of Buddhists and Jainas in Tamil region. The local people, particularly those of the hills, worshipped a deity called Murugan, which in northern India come to be identified with Kartikeya, a war god.
  • In short, the Sangam literature through its poems on love and emotion (aham) and warfare and social behaviour (puram) on the whole present a picture of political conflict, social inequality and economic prosperity of early Tamil region during 300 BC–300 AD.

GK through MAP (Snippets)

Hydro Power Project in Utter Pradesh

Hydro Power Project in Utter Pradesh


90 Days Planner (Day 15 History-Mauryan Era)

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