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The most powerful Indian states rose to their north, about 500 years after the Mauryas were the Guptas, who united much of India. Gupta emperors organized a strong central government that promoted peace and prosperity. Under the Guptas, who ruled from A.D. 320 to about 540, India enjoyed a Golden age or period of great cultural achievement.
Gupta rulers were probably looser than that of the Mauryas. Much power was left in the hands of individual villages and city governments elected by merchants and artisans. Trade and farming flourished across the Gupta Empire. Farmers harvested crops of wheat, rice, and sugarcane in cities, artisans produced cotton cloth, pottery, and metalware for local markets and export to East Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. The prosperity of Gupta India contributed to a flowering in the arts and learning.
Under Gupta’s rule, students were educated in religious schools. However, in Hindus and Buddhist centers, learning was not limited to religion and philosophy. The large Buddhist monastery was the Nalanda, which attracted students from many parts of Asia, taught mathematics, medicine, physics, languages, literature, and other subjects.
Gupta artists may be best known for the magnificent sculpture that they carved on stone temples for the rajahs who sponsored an immense flowering in the arts. Such buildings were covered with carvings of mostly religious subjects. Besides, the Golden Age of the Gupta Dynasty encompassed other arts, including painting, music, dance, and literature. Regarded as highly now as they were when created, the Gupta arts influenced artistic styles in later Indian societies as well as in many other parts of Asia. Indian advances in mathematics had a wide impact on the rest of the world. Gupta mathematician devised the system of writing numbers (Arabic numerals) that we use today. Indian mathematicians also originated the concept of zero and developed the decimal system of numbers based on ten digits, which we still use today.
During Gupta times, many fine writers added to the rich heritage of Indian literature. They collected and recorded fables and folk tales in the Sanskrit language. In time, Indian fables were carried west to Persia, Egypt, and Greece. The greatest Gupta poet and playwright were Kalidasa. His most famous play, Shakuntala, tells the story of a king who marries the lovely orphan Shakuntala. Under an evil spell, the king forgets his bride. After many plot twists, he finally recovers his memory and is reunited with her.
Family and Village life
The vast majority were peasants who lived in the villages that dotted the Indian landscape. In Indian society, everyday life revolved around the rules and duties associated with caste, family, and village.
The ideal family was a joint family, in which parents, children, and their offspring shared a common dwelling. Indian families were patriarchal, the father or oldest male in a family headed the household. Adult sons continued to live with their parents even after they married and had children. Often only the wealthy could afford such large households. Still, even when they did not share the same house, close ties linked brothers, uncles, cousins, and nephews.
The family performed the essential function of training children in the traditions and duties of their castes. Thus family interests came before individual wishes. Children worked with older relatives in the fields or at a family trade. While still, a daughter learned that as a wife she would be expected to serve and obey her husband and his family. A son learned the rituals to honor the family’s ancestors. Such rites linked the living and dead, deepening family bonds across the generations.
For parents, an important duty was arranging good marriages for their children, based on caste and family interests. Marriage customs varied. In northern India, for example, a bride’s family commonly provides a dowry or payment to the bridegroom and financed the costly wedding festivities. After marriage, the daughter left her home and became part of her husband’s family.
The decline of the Gupta Empire
Eventually, Gupta Indians declined under the pressure of week rulers, civil war, and foreign invaders. From Central Asia came the white Huns, a nomadic people who overran the weekend Gupta Empire, destroying its cities and trade. Once again, India split into many kingdoms. It would see no other great empire like those of the Mauryas or Guptas for almost 1,000 years.
The Gupta period forms one of the brightest chapters in the history of ancient Indo-Pakistan. Some of the rulers of the Gupta Empire were of exceptional ability and the empire under them was well-governed and prosperous. The Guptas gave unity to the large portion of Indo-Pakistan for about two centuries, but when their political power declined under the pressure of foreign invasions, they continued to rule the greater portions of Northern Indo-Pakistan. Under their patronage arts, science and literature made a gigantic stride and Hinduism received a new impetus. In consideration of all-around peace, prosperity, and intellectual development the Gupta period may be rightly regarded as the Golden age of ancient Indo Pakistan.