We get information about the Gupta Empire mainly from literary and archaeological sources.
Literary Sources of the Gupta Empire
Dharmashastras, Puranas, Smritis, religious texts and travel accounts of Fa-hien, I-tsing and Hiuen Tsang form important literary sources of the period.
Accounts of Fa-hien
- Fa-hien was a Chinese pilgrim who visited India during the reign of Chandragupta II on a religious mission.
- During his stay in India, he went on pilgrimages to Mathura, Kannauj, Kapilavastu, Kushinagar, Vaishali, Patliputra, Kashi and Rajagriha.
- According to Fa-hien, Magadha was a prosperous country with large towns and wealthy people. Although people were wealthy, they led simple lives and observed the Buddhist rules of conduct.
- Fa-hien writes that Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Buddhism and Jainism peacefully coexisted in society. According to him, the penal code was mild and offences were ordinarily punished by mild fines only.
Accounts of Hiuen Tsang
- Hiuen Tsang was a Chinese Buddhist who visited India in AD 630 during the reign of king Harsha.
- According to Hiuen Tsang, king Harsha personally supervised every department of administration and introduced several measures for the welfare of the people.
- Land revenue was the main source of income and taxes were moderate.
- Hiuen Tsang says that the caste system was very rigid. Apart from four main castes, several subcastes also existed. The people followed simple habits and led a pure and chaste life.
- Women were free to move in society, and there was no purdah system. Child marriage was very common.
- Kalidasa is regarded as the greatest poet. He lived during the Gupta Period. His four poetic works are Ritusamhara, Raghuvamsa, Meghaduta and Kumarasambhava. His works have been translated into major languages of the world.
- Kalidasa’s works contain traces of political history and provide us with reliable information about government, society and religion.
Archaeological Sources of the Gupta Empire
Many archaeological sources such as the Allahabad Pillar inscription, Mathura stone inscription, Udayagiri cave inscription, temples, forts, stupas and coins give us important insights into the conditions prevailing during the Gupta Period.
The Allahabad Pillar Inscription
- The Allahabad Pillar Inscription contains a prashasti which is written in praise of Samudragupta. It is written by Harishena. It mentions the names of the kingdoms and tribal republics which were conquered by Samudragupta.
- The inscription also gives us the list of the kings which were ruling India in the first half of the 4th century AD.
The Vishnu Temple at Deogarh
- The Vishnu Temple at Deogarh is located about 112 km away from Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh. The temple is completely made of stone.
- While the outer walls of the temple are decorated with scenes from Ramayana, the entrance and the pillars are adorned with many paintings and carvings. This temple gives us a glimpse of the craftsmanship of the people belonging to the Gupta dynasty.
- Located at Rajagriha in Bihar, the Nalanda University was a famous educational institution in India. It was founded by Sakraditya in the 5th century AD during the reign of Kumaragupta-I.
- Students from countries such as Korea, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Japan, Mongolia, China and Tibet obtained education from the Nalanda University.
- Logic, grammar, medicine, samkya, yoga, Vedas, sciences and mathematics were some subjects which were offered in the university.
- This university was destroyed by Ikhtiyar Khalji in the 12th century AD. The university was a testament of the high educational level of India during the Gupta Period.
Also, Read The Age of the Guptas