Origin of the Gupta dynasty

Origin of the Gupta dynasty

The history of the Gupta dynasty (Sanskrit: गुप्त राजवंश) begins with its founding by Sri-Gupta around 240 CE, although dates are not well established. The empire covered most of Northern India and Eastern Pakistan, parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan and what is now western India and Bangladesh. The capital of the Guptas was Pataliputra, present day Patna, in the north Indian state of Bihar.

When the Gupta dynasty ascended the throne around 320 CE, continuing until 550 CE, they consolidated northern India by subjugating the local and provincial powers that had become independent after the downfall of the Kushans. The period during the Gupta Empire is referred to as the Golden Age of India, embracing art, architecture, literature, sculpture and education.

Ancestry of the Guptas

Furthermore it is not yet discovered whether the term Gupta indicated a surname of a specific family or referred to a clan. However Gupta Empire records and Chinese records provided by the later I-Tsing, furnished the names of the first three rulers of the Gupta Dynasty, Maharaja Sri Gupta, Maharaja Sri Ghatotkacha and Ghatotokacha's son, Maharajadhiraja Sri Chandragupta, considered the first Gupta emperor. Historian K. P. Jaiswal suggested that the Guptas belonged to the Jat tribe. But his theory lacked conclusive proofs, and it was discarded.[1] A.S. Altekar, a historian and archaeologist, who has written and several books on Gupta coinage,[2] regarded the caste of the Guptas as Vaishya on the basis of the ancient Indian texts on law, which prescribe the name-ending with Gupta for a member of the Vaishya caste. In opinion of famous art historian Dr. R. A. Agarawala, "Guptas" are said to be of Agrawal community, as their Dharana Gotra is one of the gotras among the seventeen and half gotras of Agrawals. The historian H.C. Raychaudhuri, also holds that the Guptas belonged to the Dharana Gotra. According to Raichaudhuri, the Guptas were related to queen Dharini of Agnimitra, wife of the son of king Pushyamitra Shunga. Raychoudhuri drew this theory about the pedigree of the Guptas based on the Riddhapura copper-plate inscription of Prabhabati Gupta, daughter of Chandragupta II. In her records she claimed herself to be a descendant of the Dharana Gotra. Recently, a historian, Ashvini Agarwal, on the basis of the matrimonial alliances of the Guptas with the Vakataka, assumed that they belong to the Brahman caste.[3] Another modern historian, S. Chattopaddhyaya, has put forth a different theory about the ancestry of the Guptas. According to him, in the Panchobh Copper Plate, some kings bearing the title Guptas and related to the imperial Gupta Dynasty, claimed themselves as Kshatriyas. Historian D. R. Regmi, says Imperial Guptas were descendants of Abhira-Guptas of Nepal.[4][5]

The controversy about whether the term "Gupta" was originally a family surname or a full or clan name is still unresolved. This is so because the name of the first king was Sri Gupta, where the term "Gupta" seemed to be a title, but the second Gupta ruler, Ghatotkacha did not use it in the same manner. However the expression "Gupta" had been systematically used by all the Gupta rulers from Chandragupta I onwards, which had led to the acceptance of the term "Imperial Gupta dynasty," with Chandragupta I considered the first emperor of the dynasty.

Theories apart, in present day India, Gupta title is exclusively used by Vaishya community like Agrawal, who claim Kshtriya origin.

Original homeland of the Guptas

There is controversy among scholars about the original homeland of the Guptas. Jayaswal has pointed out that the Guptas were originally inhabitants of Prayaga (Allahabad), Uttar Pradesh, in north India, as the vassal of the Nagas or Bhaarshivas. Thereafter they rose in prominence. Another scholar, Gayal supported the theory of Jaiswal, suggesting that the original home of the Guptas was Antarvedi , embracing the regions of Oudh and Prayag. These historians have derived their theory from several Gupta Dynasty coins found in those regions, and this study of numismatic evidences led to the theory that the Guptas were the original inhabitants of that region of northeastern India. However another historian of this time in Indian history, Ganguli, has offered a different view about the original Gupta homeland. According to him the Guptas homeland is further south, the Murshidabad region of Bengal, and not Magadha in Bihar. He based his theory on the statement of I-Tsing, who had visited India during 675 and 695 CE. Fleet and other historians however criticize Ganguli's theory because Sri Gupta ruled during the end of the third century, but I-Tsing placed him at the end of the second century. Hence the theory of historians, who have provided their views based on the accounts of I-Tsing, are considered less valid than theories based on other sources such as coinage.

The extent of the Gupta Empire and when they ascended the throne after the lapse of the prolonged Dark Age, is also subject of intense controversy among the scholars. Dr. R.C. Majumdar has pointed out that the picture of a stupa has been found in Nepal with the label "Mrigasthapana" Stupa of Varendri. This "Mrigasthapana" is the same as "Mrigashivana" of I-Tsing. As Sri Gupta built a temple in Mrigashivana and as the place was in Varendri, so historians have pointed out that Varendri might have been under the sway of the Guptas, when they ascended the throne. According to Dr. Ganguli, Bengal and parts of Bihar was also included in the Gupta Empire, when they were ruling from the seat of power.

Another theory about the origins of the Guptas is that the Guptas originated from Bengal. The mention of "Varendra Mrigashihavan Stupa" on a mound in Nepal is a strong evidence that the Guptas originated from Bengal. Maharaja Sri-Gupta probably ruled a portion of Northern/Southern Bengal. Later Chandragupta I established his dominion over Magadha through marital policy with the Licchavis..

From these theories, several conflicting opinions about the original homeland and the Empire of the Guptas are available. According to Allan and some other scholars, the Guptas were originally concentrated in the region of Magadha and from there they extended their sway to Bengal. According to other groups, the original homeland of the Guptas was Varendri or the Varendra Bhumi in Bengal, wherefrom they extended their Empire to Magadha. Whatever the theory is, the Imperial fabric of the Guptas initiated the Golden Age in history of ancient India and with passage of time they became the sole authority of entire Northern India.


  1. ^ Mittl, J.P.. History of Ancient India (A New Version): From 4250 BB to 637 AD, Vol. 2. Atlantic Publishers & Distributors (P) Ltd.. ISBN 8126906162. 
  2. ^ List of Altekar's publications in the Open Library.
  3. ^ Agarwal, Ashvini (1989). Rise and Fall of the Imperial Guptas, Delhi:Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 81-208-0592-5, pp.82-4
  4. ^ Human rights in the Hindu-Buddhist tradition By Lal Deosa Rai, Page no.155[1]
  5. ^ Inscriptions of ancient Nepal, Volume 1 By D. R. Regmi, Page no.74[2]

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