|Fig.1: King Chandragupta I |
showing off the classic
"Quarter in the Ear" trick.
The greatest thing about the Guptas is that they weren't supposed to be rulers to begin with! In ancient Hindu society, people were broken up into four ranks, or varna:
- First were the Brahmins, who were the priests and scholars already pretentious enough without the label of being the top of society in their heads.
- Next came the Kshatriyas, who ruled as rulers, governed as governors, and warred as warriors.
- Then there's the Vaishyas, the average joes who farmed the land, sold goods, and pretty much did all the work so that the Brahmins and Kshatriyas could take all the credit.
- Finally the Shudras served and cleaned up after the three aforementioned groups, who could be pretty needy and messy sometimes (those Brahmins left their dirty underwear everywhere except the laundry basket).
|Fig.2: This is what happens when you |
don't stay in your assigned seat.
After a brief bout of suckiness with Samudragupta's son, Ramagupta, his brother Chandragupta II stepped in around 380 and returned the awesomeness back to the land. His conquests gave the Gupta Empire its greatest territorial extent (fig.2), which with India's population density meant they ruled approximately eight trillion people. Chandragupta II's reign is notable for the high level of religious freedom and prosperity; even though the Guptas were Hindu, other beliefs such as Buddhism and Jainism were actively promoted. This was because they followed the branch of Hinduism called Vaishnavism, which held that the god Vishnu took various forms. Therefore, it wouldn't be a stretch of the imagination for Vishnu to take the shape of other deities like the Buddha, or the Jainist propagators, or an Omastar (ヽ༼ຈلຈ༽ﾉPRAISE LORD HELIXヽ༼ຈلຈ༽ﾉ). As such, art, poetry, places of worship, as well as collectible action figures for all religions flourished under Gupta rule. Meanwhile in the Christian West, arguments about uber-specific details like the relationship between God and Jesus and whether the Holy Spirit actually was holy or a spirit had people condemning each other all over the bloody place! What barbarians...
But military conquests and religious freedom does not a golden age make. You need all that pansy stuff like art, literature, and advanced knitting techniques to truly flourish as a culture, and that's what the Guptas allowed India to do. Many of the Sanskrit classics that detail India's mythological past were composed and refined during this time, most notably the Ramayana and Mahabharata (fig.3), which are so longwinded they make the Odyssey read like a Judy Blume novel! India's greatest playwright, Kalidasa, most likely lived during the 5th century, as well as Bhartrhari, whose poems on social mores made Indians annoying prudes for centuries. The Sushruta Samhita, by author unknown, is one of the first medical textbooks in history, and contains an extensive list of diseases, injuries, medicines, surgical techniques, and all the exciting uses for phlegm. Finally, the famous Kama Sutra was composed early in the Gupta period. But yeah, I'm not touching that one. You kids at home can ask Mom and Dad all about it.
|Fig.3: Rare printings of the Mahabharata would include a color-by-number feature.|
|Fig.4: "We prefer the term 'Caucasian Huns', thank you."|
These three centuries of Gupta rule were definitely the best India had ever seen. Advances that came out of this period in nearly every field except cow-eating remain influential within modern society around the world. One can even argue that between the 4th and 6th centuries, with the Han Chinese Dyansty gone, the Roman Empire collapsing, the Islamic Caliphates yet to arrive, and the Galactic Civil War wreaking havoc in galaxies far far away, India possessed the most stable government and civilized culture in the universe during this time. It's a testament to what people can achieve if respected leaders give people the freedom to pursue their interests and make life easy and enjoyable for everyone else. Hopefully one day the entire world can experience a golden age like this! Except the Untouchables, of course. Sorry for bringing them up again; you should really clear out your cache now.