Prosperous India (320 to 750 AD)
About AD 320, Chandragupta I, the founder of the Gupta Empire revived the charavarti ideal in North India. His marriage probably resulted in the union of her principality with Magadha and launched him on a career of wide conquests in North India. Next was Samudra-gupta (335 to 380 AD) who laid the foundation of an irresistible military machine which probably included the navy. Politically, this was the age of integration of India. A farsighted statesmen, patron of arts, he became a symbol of a mighty creative urge among people, which drawing vitality from tradition and race memory, took on a new shape and power.
Next was Chandragupta II or Vikramaditya (376 to 414 AD) acclaimed as the greatest of the Gupta emperors. The country south of the Narmada was dominated by two friendly powers, the Pallavas and Vakatakahs who shared the Gupta’s enthusiasm for strengthening Dharma. In 1944, India, under Christian rule, held the second millenium celebrations of the great Emperor. Next were Kumara-gupta and grandson Skangupta (455 to 467 AD) who inflicted a heavy defeat on the Huns.
150 years of peace and prosperity under Gupta rule can be called the Gupta prime of India. They upheld Dharma, the powerful integrating force was the Dharma-sastras that provided the basis of Aryan society, mode of social adjustment, laws of inheritance and of civil and criminal justice. Of them all, Manusmriti was held in highest sanctity throughout the country, be it in North or South India. However, the Dharma-sastras were not thrust down upon people. Having said that, Dharma needs to be firmly enforced, yet the stress was always on making people appreciate the essence of Dharma & then live it. Even the backward and immigrant classes happily adopted them. Sanskrit, a living language, elastic in structure, rich in expression was the living embodiment of Dharma and a powerful integrating force. The works of Kalidasa, a contemporary of Vikramaditya, became the models of literary beauty throughout the country. The six systems of Indian philosophy took final shape during this period. There was Aryabhatta, Varahamihira and Brahmagupta whose works in mathematics, astronomy are reckoned as India’s contribution to the world.
The cultural upswing was based on Dharma. It predicated an unalterable faith in human behavior, self-restraint and self-discipline. Emphasis was laid on individual experience rather than on belief. Running through a diversity of religious beliefs and social outlook, it laid emphasis on non-violence, truth, non-stealing, continence and non-possession as essential steps in progress.
However, it must be understood that Religion always begins with belief & not experience. What we can experience is limited, but what we can believe is unlimited. When the infinite is the basis of any philosophy and culture then the start always has to be with a great belief. However, only those beliefs must be encouraged which culminate in the direct realization of the unknown, which have truth as their basis.
The age saw the perfect lyric and drama of Kalidasa, the astronomical discoveries of Varahamihira, the iron pillar of Delhi, the beauty of early Ajanta frescoes, the completion of the Mahabharat and the composition of Vayu, Matsya Puranas. Its strength lay in its integral outlook. Its strength was based as much on military strength as on internal order and economic plenty, the sap of its vitality was drawn from ancient tradition and race memory. The people, having discovered in their traditional way of life something noble and splendid, saw that it reflected the greatness of their rulers.
The Huns from their homeland on the northern shores of the Caspian Sea had brought the downfall of the powerful Roman empire began to enter India in 445 AD but were beaten back by Skanda-gupta. . After his death a war of succession followed weakening the empire in its hour of danger. 12 years later they came again, this time began to pour into India after defeating the Kushana rulers of the northwest. By 512 AD, they overran north India up to Eran in Madhya Pradesh. They spread terror wherever they went. By 525 they had become masters of a vast territory in North India.
However, India hit back. Yasosharman Vishnudharma fought the Huns grimly. His swift victories arrested the progress of the Hun Mihirakula (devotee of Lord Shiva). In the east too he met with heavy reverses thanks to Emperor Narasimha-gupta Baladitya. A series of kings followed. Now the Huns disappeared as they came. However, the Hun invasions had a devastating effect. The race of the Kshatriyas of Madhyadesha, lost its vigor, in perhaps trying to drive out the Huns.
Vast social and cultural changes followed. The caste-system became weak. The Caste system is basically a science to bring about genetic purity of any race, so it has its own science which has to be followed properly, however, whenever there is weakening of races then the lesson learnt is that some racial or genetic impurity crops up. Thanks to the foreign invasions, there was a weakening of the race. As a result, instead of being associated with the masses as its natural leaders, the Brahmanas and Kshatriyas became dominant minorities.
The Gupta empire had grown very weak, was dissolved, the virile Maukharis emerged victorious. A new phase emerged in Indian history. Kanauj emerged as the symbol of a new order. The Golden Rule was thing of the past, the military superiority of Magadha disappeared. Out of the welter a new set of dynasties emerged.
Next Sri Harsha has been given more than his share of importance by Hiuen Tsang but he suffered a serious defeat at the hands of Pulakesin II, did not take the empire or its people to the height under the Gupta empire. At the height of his career, Harsha was an ardent Buddhist. He could not restore the lifeblood of the old social organization, for he could not identify with their urges. The secret of establishing military power founded on traditional strength was not his. The internationalization, for which Buddhism stood, negatives the building of a compact unity rooted in the land. He could conquer but not build.
About the end of this period the Arabs appeared. The naval raids against Thane, Broach, Debal were repulsed. Attempts to reach through Khyber Pass failed, defended by the Hindu states of Kabul and Zabul. They tried to enter through the Bolan Pass but the Jats of Kikan did not allow the pass to fall into the hands of the invaders. The Arabs attempted to advance through the Makran coast. Sindh has just emerged from civil wars. Nehrun and Siwistan opened their gates to the invaders. The unpatriotic character of the Buddhists, the general superstition of the people and the want of loyalty towards the family of royal usurpers, left the issue in no doubt. Sindh was captured in 712 AD. In 725 AD, one Arab army sent to invade North India met a disastrous setback at the hands of Nagahata I, a Pratihara king. Inspite of unremitting pressure exerted for over 2 centuries, the Arabs were left with two petty states of Mansura and Multan in the 9th and 10th centuries. When compared with their dazzling victories over the contemporary states of Middle East, Europe, this loss was a tribute to the superior military strength and political organization of the Indians.
Comments - During the golden period of Gupta rule when peace prevailed, Dharma was upheld, India’s level of prosperity’s scaled new heights. Culture, philosophy, astronomy, literature and art blossomed like never before. Inspite of being weakened by the Huns, the followers of Dharma repulsed the Arabs everywhere except in Sindh.