THE GOLDEN AGE OF THE GUPTAS
There lived in Magadha a young man called Chandragupta. You may remember that this was also the name of Ashoka's grandfather, who had ruled Magadha five hundred years earlier. Young Chandragupta was not satisfied with just the name of a great king. He also wanted an empire as big as that of Chandragupta Maurya.
Chandragupta married a princess
called Kumaradevi who came from a very rich and powerful family and owned vast lands. Chandragupata added to his wifeís possessions and built up a small kingdom. This small kingdom later grew into a very large and wonderful empire. Chandragupta started a line of kings who ruled so well that their times are called the Golden Age of India.
Chandragupta's son, Samudragupta, was a great soldier. When he became king, he led his armies on long military adventures. First he marched west from his capital up to the river Chambal. Then he went eastwards as far as Kalinga; then southwards, through the thick forests of Central India, to Kanchipuram and Malabar.† Altogether, he led his armies for over 3,000 miles and not once was he defeated. He returned home, with plenty of gold and riches. He used the gold to make coin and the riches for the good of his people.
In ancient India, the kings
used to have an interesting custom. When they thought that they had conquered the whole land, they used to let loose a white horse. The horse would roam wherever it liked. If anybody tried to capture it, he would have to fight the king's army. If the horse returned home without being captured, it meant that everyone in the land recognized the power of the king. The horse was then offered as sacrifice and killed. The ceremony was called the Ashvamedha Yajna. Samudragupta sent out such a horse and no one dared to stop it. So he proclaimed himself emperor.
Samudragupta had a very big
empire now. The Kushans and Shakas, who had been such good fighters, were afraid of him. But Samudragupta was not just a good soldier. He was a learned man and liked scholars. He liked beautiful paintings and statues. He loved music and used to play the Veena very well. He also wrote poetry.
The greatest of the Gupta kings was Samudragupta's son. His name was also Chandragupta. Later on he gave himself another name Vikramaditya, which means the Son of power. This name turned out to be just right for him, because he made his fatherís empire even greater and stronger than it was. He conquered the lands to the west. This gave him control over the seaports on the western coast. From these ports, ships took gold, fine cloth and spices, which were sold in Egypt, Rome and other countries. This trade brought great wealth to India.
Many hundred years before, Ashoka had sent messengers to far-off countries to spread the teaching of Buddha. In China, millions of people had become Buddhists. One of them was named Fa-Hian. He came to India during the reign of Vikramaditya and has written about what he saw. Wherever he went, he found the people happy. They had all they needed and were kind to each other. They had very good manners and spoke politely. In Magadha there were rest houses where the poor people could eat and rest. There were hospitals where they were looked after when they were ill without having to pay anything. There were also hospitals for animals and very few people killed them for food.
At the court of Vikramaditya, musicians, poets, painters, and writers were very welcome. The king chose nine of the best, and called them his nine gems. Some people believe that the great poet Kalidasa, who wrote many famous plays in Sanskrit, was one of them. The most famous of Kalidasa's plays is Shakuntala. Raghuvamsa and Meghadoot are two of his famous poems. But it is still not known definitely when Kalidasa really lived.
The poets of the Gupta age wrote Sanskrit more beautifully than it had ever been written before. The Gupta kings helped Sanskrit writers and had holy books like the Puranas written down. Many lovely statues and buildings were made at this time. It was a good age for artists to be born in, for the kings were great patrons of art. We have already read about the Ajanta caves. Some of the more famous paintings of Ajanta belong to the Gupta age.
There were many Gupta kings after Vikramaditya. Altogether they ruled for 160 years. But no good thing lasts for ever After the Guptas something dreadful happened in our country. This was the coming of the Huns.