GOLDEN AGE OF GUPTAS: MYTH OR REALITY!
The Gupta Period is one of the important period and phase in the annals of Indian history. It is often referred as “Golden Age of Indian History”. This period is described as one of the most benevolent period in the most history books. The important contributions of this period in fields of science, technology, literature, mathematics, astronomy, art makes it paramount and places it at pinnacle of all other periods of ancient India. But as a coin has two sides, Gupta period also witnessed facts hidden and succumbed under the tags of advancement.
The period was marked with facts which could not come to forefront but they significantly place a question mark before all the positive traits associated with this period and makes us ponder and contemplate over the fact whether Gupta Empire was really a golden age or it’s just a myth which is being continued without some points being excavated from the pools of reality and asserting the statement that “APPERANCES ARE DECEPTIVE. Numerous facts could not come into spotlight which embarks a reason to doubt the assumption of golden age of Guptas.
GUPTAS DOMINANCE & NON POSSESION OF PROFESSIONAL ARMY:- During Samudragupta, “the Indian Napoleon”, the Gupta period reached heights of paramountcy but his successors were weak.His immediate successor Ramagupta was weak ruler and was defeated by Shaka ruler and had to surrender his wife Dhruvadevi. Gupta rulers were not of royal origin. In comparison to Mauryans they lacked a large professional army. Even great traveler like Fa Hein accounts are of vital importance but there was no direct reference of the army maintained by the Gupta rulers. Most historians opine that army comprised of soldiers of their feudal states. They even lacked the use of horses and elephants.
ANTAGONISM BETWEEN HIGHER AND LOWER VARNA: – Due to the increased political decentralization, tribes divided into caste system. Varna system modified owing to the proliferation of castes. A post Gupta puranic text mentions emergence of 100 new castes instead of 61 as notified by Manu in initial period, In other words Gupta era accelerated the detribalization of India.1 According to Varamihira, a Brahmana should have a house with five rooms, Kshatriya with four, Vaishya three and Shudra two, Colors were assigned to all the four varnas (WHITE-Brahmana RED-Kshatriya YELLOW-Vaishya BLACK-Shudra) indicating relative status of four orders.2
Brahmana were not supposed to accept food from the Shudras as it was believed taking food from them would defy their spiritual knowledge. Even they were not entitled to be witnesses. Even the texts of Mahabharata and Puranas mentions that Shudras can achieve salvation by devotion to god and good conduct. There was such degradation that even there was distinction between Chandala and Shudras. The untouchables including Chandals were assigned the most demeaning occupations. They were at the lowest stratus of Indian society. Fa-Hein had rightly admitted that a Chandal had to sound a clapper and strike a piece of wood to aware upper caste people of his presence and avoid them, The upper caste person need to take ritual bath in the event of close proximity.3
Hence all these points conclude that the society during gupta age was under the tentacles of oppression. Lower varnas were subjugated by the rules and dictates made by superiors.
EROSION OF PEASANTS RIGHTS: -The recipients of land grants in central and Western India were given the right to maintain law. These fiscal rights obviously led to the oppression of peasants. In Gujarat, Central India inscriptions mention that the peasants were often required to remain on their land even when it was granted to others. Thus the position of independent peasants was undermined and were reduced to semi-serfs.The position of tenants declined on account of the imposition of forced labour and several new taxes.4 It seems that during the Gupta and post-Gupta periods the inhabitants of villages had to pay forced-contribution of money.
Concept of Serfdom also emerges from various inscription which meant that peasants continued to be attached to their land when it was transferred to beneficiaries. Even the imposition of forced labour i.e. VISHTI undermined the position of peasants5. Inscriptions of Vatakas speaks out that the villagers were forced to offer food and shelter to troops. Such practices lead to exploitation of peasants resulting into social tension. Amidst such subjugation “golden age” lacks lusture. Hence the economic conditions of peasants during the time of Guptas also raises a question on the authenticity of this period being Golden age.
DECLINE AND SLUMP IN TRADE: – Trade is one of the most important factor of economic development. Gupta period was marked by several professions such as carpenters, blacksmiths, craftsmen. Infact there was trade via both land and sea but during this period. Trade and commerce had lost its pre-eminent position. Indo-Roman trade of silk and cotton was affected. The inflow of roman coins stopped due to breaking of roman empire, Later Byzantine empire learnt art of rearing silk from Chinese which offered setback to India, Silk weavers in India start migrating and changed their profession which led to decline of many urban centres like Vaishali, Pataliputra, Sohagpur etc.6 Even the Kushanan period settlements such as Kaushambi, Hastinapur, Taxila showed signs of decay. Arikamedu the most important town ceased to be economically active. The monuments at Vaishali were less impressive than monuments build in the prior periods highlighting decay in urban centres. Even the reference of fall of urban centers can be witnessed in Hsuan Tsang writings where we find the mighty Pataliputra dwindled into village. Excavations show that several towns in East Punjab, PuranaQila (Delhi), Mathura, Hastinapur, Shravasti declined in the Gupta period. The Chinese pilgrim Hsuan Tsang visited several towns sacred due to association with the Buddha but found them virtually deserted. Due to restricted market for Indian exports, artisans and merchants living in these towns flocked to the countryside. Thus we see an another factor which raises question on authenticity of gupta period as Golden Age.7
RELEVATION OF STATUS OF WOMEN: – The condition of women in the Gupta Empire started declining and deteriorating. The women were regarded as secondary and subordinate the Gupta period. Her life was confined within the obeying of male section of society. The pre-puberty marriage was encouraged. Women were not entitled to education. For widows there was a harsh viewpoint of society. Widow remarriages were looked down upon. Inheritance rights were confined to male members of society. Evidence from inscriptions are found regarding Practice of sati during that period. First memorial of Sati was found at Eran, Madhya Pradesh dated 510 AD. In case a woman opposed to throw herself in the funeral pyre of her husband, she was eschewed by the society members. Thus, women were forced to commit the act of sati. No property rights were assigned to them. Inscription of temple prostitution is found at Ramgarh.8 Polygamy references are even found.
Therefore, how can a period be called as GOLDEN AGE where woman rights were such menial. They were not properly represented and their rights were not provided to them. There existed such detoriation in their status. Woman who are equally part of society were looked down upon and in such condition how can we adjudge a particular period as Golden age where woman was not provided her rights and she was merely a victim of Patriarchal society. During the Gupta period girls were married off at a tender age of six to seven years because it guaranteed the fact that they were chaste. All of this was a stigma to that period as women rights were completely downtrodden. Hence all such factors raise a question in mind how can a period facing such issues could be crippled under the tag of GOLDEN AGE.
CONCLUSION: – The period of imperial Gupta rulers is regarded in most standard books as one of Hindu renaissance but there is no mention and reference of such traits which could result into reassertion and pondering over whether Gupta age was a MYTH or Reality.It has even been rightly said that “far from Guptas reviving nationalism, nationalism has revived Guptas. ”
Many facts which we have covered in this assignment brings out the concealed facts regarding
Fallacy of Golden age. Hence it indicates that though there might be many advancements in the Gupta Empire yet these factors result in bringing out the fallacy and myth of Gupta Empire as Golden Age. The true golden age of people does not lie in the past, but in the future.9
1 Ancient India-in historical outline-DN Jha, pg 159
2 Ibid,pg 160
3 Caste System in Gupta Era, IASPOINT (2018), https://academy.gktoday.in/article/caste-system-in-gupta-era/
4Essay on the economic condition of the people in the Gupta period, Preservearticles.com (2018), http://www.preservearticles.com/2011081610829/essay-on-the-economic-condition-of-the-people-in-the-gupta-period.html
4 Ibid pg-153
5 The Condition of Common Man in the Gupta Period | Indian History, Your Article Library (2018), http://www.yourarticlelibrary.com/history/the-condition-of-common-man-in-the-gupta-period-indian-history/4424/
6 ANCIENT INDIA IN HISTORICAL OUTLINE-DN JHA, pg-156
7 Decline of Trade and Towns in India during Medieval Period, http://www.historydiscussion.net/history-of-india/decline-of-trade-and-towns-in-india-during-medieval-period/2259
8 ANCIENT INDIA-DN JHA, pg-159
9 Ibid, pg-173