Middle Kingdoms of India, Part 25

BY: SUN STAFF

Gold dinar, Samudragupta, Gupta Dynasty, c. 335-380 A.D.
The Skanda Collection, ACSAA


May 10, 2015 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of India's great history, religious movements and temple architecture.

The Guptas

In our last segment we gave a brief outline of the great Gupta Empire (320 - 550 A.D.), one of the main dynasties to rule during ancient India's Middle Kingdom period. The Guptas also played a key role in both Bengal and Orissa.

'During the early centuries of the Christian era the whole of deltaic Bengal was organized into a powerful kingdom. From the fourth century A.D. onwards the epigraphic records show chronological periods such as the Gupta, early post-Gupta, Pala and Sena ages, which give us some idea. The Brihat-Samhita of Varahamigira from the sixth century A.D. distinguishes North, Central and Eastern Bengal. It was the establishment of the Gupta empire that marked the end of independence of various states that flourished in Bengal at the beginning of the 4th Century A.D.

When the Mauryas ruled over the greater part of India, the upper region of Bengal also came under their rule. Chandra Gupta Maurya established his rule in 321 B.C. After the Mauryas the Guptas ruled India as well as the upper part of Bengal, which was identified as Pundrabardhan. The Gupta kingdom was founded by Chandra Gupta in 321A.D. A stone inscription from the period of a Gupta king, Samudra Gupta, refers to Samatat and Pushkaran as two independent states. While Samatat referred to East Bengal, Pushkaran meant West Bengal.

At the end of the Gupta reign two independent kingdoms were established in Bengal: Samatat and Gaura. Around 606 A.D. Shasanka became the ruler of Gaura and succeeded in uniting many parts of Bengal into one kingdom. During his reign Bengal became known as an independent country, but after his death it disintegrated into smaller states.' [46a]

The Guptas were follower of Vaishnavism, and helped advance its popularity in several parts of India. During the second half of the Gupta Empire's rule, their influence spread south from Bengal into Orissa. Eventually it also found its way to South India, through Sanskrit Vaisnava texts that helped root the Bhakti movement in the south.

In Orissa, the Gupta influence took the form of the very popular Narayana cult. The earliest records of this line of Vaisnavism are those issued by the Mathara dynasty, who began to rule after Maharaja Samudragupta's southern expedition. We will discuss this era of history further in our next segment.


FOOTNOTES:

[46a] The History of Ancient Bengal by H.J. Moudud


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