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The Classical Age: The History and Culture of the Indian People Volume III

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Item Code: NAI193
Author: R. C. Majumdar
Publisher: Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan
Language: English
Edition: 2018
ISBN: 9788172765217
Pages: 818 (105 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.5 inch x 6.5 inch
Weight 1.40 kg
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There has been some delay in publishing this volume because of the heavy demand for Volume H, the second edition of which had to be published soon after the first. It is now planned to publish Volumes IV and V simultaneously, and the Bhavan hopes to put them on the market by June 1954.


This Volume covers the period of Indian History from A.D. 320, when the Gupta Empire was founded, to about A.D. 740, when Yasovarman of Kanauj died. The period can suitably be divided into two; one, from A.D. 320 to c. A.D. 467 when Emperor Skanda gupta died, and the other, from A.D. 467 to c.A.D. 740.



Rightly called the 'Classical Age' of India, this period saw a springtime efflorescence in all spheres of life. The creative urge of the time has contributed both character and richness to the evolution of the national mind in every succeeding century. With the rise of the Imperial Pratiharas in the West, the Palas in the East and the Rashtrakutas in the South about the middle of the eighth century, there began the next distinctive period dealt with in the next volume, Empires rise, decline and fall; communities and nations integrate or disintegrate; the latter either develop a collective mind, outlook and will, or lose one or the other only to lose them all eventually. In the one case they evolve an articulate personality; in the other they cast it off and disappear.


The integration and disintegration of human aggregates form the basic patterns of history as viewed through continuous time, To study them, however, they must be viewed in sections, as in this volume. If such a study is to have any meaning, the volume and direction of the flowing stream must be constantly borne in mind.


As I stated in my Foreword to the First Volume, "It is not enough to conserve, record and understand what has happened: it is necessary also to assess the nature and direction of the momentous forces working through the life of India in order to appreciate the fulfilment which they seek."


Throughout the history of India, the process of integration comprises two simultaneous movements: one owes its origin to. Aryan Culture and operates by virtue of the momentum which the from the way of life of the Early Dravidian and other non-Aryan cultures in the country into the framework of the Aryan Culture modifying its form and content, though not the fundamentals, weaving a harmonious pattern continuously. The first movement provides vitality and synthesis; the second contributes vigour and variety. But it is the harmonious adjustment of both that gives to India, age after age, her strength, tenacity and sense of mission.


The adjustment made against the background of racial fusion is symbolised by the sacredness accorded both to the Nigama, the Vedic tradition, and the Agama, the Dravidian tradition; by the equal ritualistic importance of the Vedic horna. and the Dravidian puja to the inseverable Godhood of the Aryan Vishnu and the non-Aryan Siva. It must never be forgotten that Vyasa, the founder and prophet of Arya-dharma, and Sri Krishna, the World Teacher, whose message is its fundamental scripture, are both sons by high-browed Aryans of non-Aryan mothers.


Vedic culture, the culture of the Vedic Aryans, brought an increasing number of people within its fold as it spread through the country. Sweeping changes were made in the religious, social and cultural outlook and institutions of each successive age. But the vitality of the central ideas and fundamental values was never so lost as to bring about complete disintegration. In some periods, however, the two movements produced adjustments at many, if not all, levels; the vitality was converted into irresistible vigour; full nourishment was drawn from the soil of race memory and tradition. At such times a great Age, like the Age of the Guptas, would dawn in India. On the other hand, when the two movements failed either by external or internal maladjustments to support each other, conflict between the two became inevitable; growth ceased to be vigorous; disintegration began as in the beginning of the eleventh century, when the raids of Mahmud of Ghazni overwhelmed parts of north India, the Age of Expansion ended, the Age of Resistance began.


The evolution of India, during the period of the Magadhan supremacy, dealt with in the Second Volume of this series, began with the dawn of history in India in the seventh century before Christ. But long before this, Indians, who had adopted the Aryan way of life, had developed a common way of life; and their sense of unity preserved by tradition and activated by race-memory, recaptured in each generation, was expressed through common action. By vitalising the fundamental values of their culture, they had created vigorous adjustments necessitated by the conditions of each age During this process, the best elements in the society had, from the earliest times, developed a ruling purpose the fulfilment of Rita or Dharma-which gave them the capacity to will themselves into a well-defined and vigorous social organism.


The Magadhan Period closed with the invasion of the Yueh-chis. Disintegration followed in northern and western India and was accentuated by the break up of the Kushana Empire which they had founded. The process of integration was also hindered by Buddhism which was not organically rooted in race memory and race tradition, and stood, in many respects, in antagonism to them. But it was an expansive movement and naturally attracted foreigners; in India, it stimulated the national mind and culture by impact rather than by inspiration. The Sungas and the Satavahana conquerors however drew strength from its roots.


The third century after Christ is still shrouded in obscurity. But, according to the Bhagavata purana, northern India was undergoing a period of disintegration. Nagas ruled in Champavati and Mathura; Abhiras ruled in Saurashtra and Avanti; in the region of Abu and Malava the rulers were devoid of culture 'like unto the mlechchha'. In Sindh, on the banks of the Chandrabhaga, in the land of Kunti in Kashmir, the Sudras, Vratyas and the mlechchhas ruled. These rulers, the author says, lacked the power of the Spirit, disregarded Dharma and Truth, and were 'contemptible and irascible'—phalgudah tivramanyavah. His only hope lay in the new rulers, Visvasphani in Magadha and Vindhyasakti, a Brahmana, ruling on the banks of the Narmada.


But there is little doubt that by the beginning of the fourth century, the forces of disintegration had lost their momentum. In Southern India the old forces were being given new forms and directions.




The period of history described in the preceding volume drew to a close amid chaos and confusion. The great empire of the Mauryas and the political unity of India which it brought about vanished, and the hordes of foreign invaders who dominated over large parts of India gradually lost their political power. A number of new peoples and states emerge out of the political chaos, but dislocation rather than settlement seems to be the order of the day. The abundant records of the Maurya age give place to the scantiest historical materials, so much so that the third century A.D., with which Volume II closes, has been described by some historians as "one of the darkest in the whole range of Indian history."


With the present volume we enter upon a period which offers a striking contrast to the one immediately preceding in almost all these features. The main theme of its political history is the foundation of the Gupta Empire which, at full maturity, once more brings unity, peace and prosperity over nearly the whole of Northern India. It was far less extensive than the Maurya Empire, but was more enduring, and we can study its gradual growth in much fuller detail. The historical records grow larger in number and more varied in character. The darkness of the third century passes away and we are brought into a fuller light. What is more, for the first time we get a clear outline of the political history of India in a definite chronological setting which has continued unbroken to the present day.


The volume starts with the story how the descendants of a petty chieftain named Gupta acquired and maintained and then lost an empire which was bigger than any that flourished since in Ancient India. It covers the first six chapters.


During their rule of more than two centuries the Guptas established their sway over nearly the whole of Northern India and the Imperial writ was obeyed from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea. The dynasty produced a succession of able 'monarchs who were both capable administrators and successful generals. One of them, Samudra-gupta, carried his victorious arms as far as Madras in the south, if not further beyond, and has been deservedly styled 'Indian Napoleon' by an eminent European historian. His son Chandra-gupta advanced probably beyond the Sindhu river, as far as Balkh, and finally extinguished the last vestige of foreign domination in India by defeating the Saka chiefs who had been ruling in Gujarat for more than three hundred years. Skanda-gupta, the grandson of Chandra-gupta, was faced with the terrible ordeal of a Huna invasion. The Hunas, notorious for their ferocious cruelty, were at that time the most dreaded scourge of humanity. They carried fire and sword over Asia and Europe, and their leader Attila was 'able to send equal defiance to the courts of Ravenna and Constantinople.' About the time when the two Roman Empires quailed before them the Hunas appeared at the frontier of India. But the Gupta Emperor inflicted such a crushing defeat upon them that for nearly half a century they dared not cross the Sindhu. When later, they appeared once again, the Gupta Empire was crumbling, but the heroic tradition of old days still inspired the Indians, and no less than three contemporary rulers, including the last great Gupta Emperor, claim to have defeated the Hunas. Whether the three heroes acted singly or in concert we do not know. But it is certain that after a brief spell of success the Hunas ceased to be an important political power in India, far less a threat to its safety and security. Judged in the context of the history of the then world, this definite check to the nomadic barbarian hordes must ever redound to the credit of the Gupta Empire.

The Gupta rulers were versed in arts of war as well as of peace.


They established an efficient system of administration which became the model for succeeding ages. They ensured peace 'and prosperity to the people to which even foreign visitors paid eloquent tribute. During their rule India witnessed a wonderful outburst of intellectual activity and a unique efflorescence of culture to which detailed reference will be made later. There are good grounds to believe that the political system set up by the Gupta rulers and the personality of some of them played a large part in bringing about this momentous change, The Gupta Age was mostly a product of the Gupta Empire.


The Gupta Empire perished, but the memory of its greatness continued for centuries. This was echoed in the popular legends, the most famous of which is that of Vikramaditya. Whether there was an historical king Vikramaditya before the Guptas is a matter of dispute. But there is no doubt that the legend owes much of, its vitality and inspiration to the lives and achievements of the Gupta Emperors, no less than three of whom actually assumed the title Vikramaditya. Like his great contemporary Sulivahana, the legendiary hero Vikramaditya is to be regarded as the personification of a group of rulers rather than an individual. The cycle of Vikramaditya legends, which has been a cherished tradition of India or many centuries, may thus be looked upon as a fitting tribute to the glory of the Gupta Age of which it was a product.


The history of the Imperial Guptas cast into shade that of several contemporary dynasties which enjoyed great local importance. These are dealt with in two separate chapters (VIII, XI). One of them, the Vakatakas, received an undue importance on account of some fanciful conjectures of the late Mr. K. P. Jayaswal, so much so that a recently published volume in a comprehensive history of India, planned in 20 volumes, has been styled the Vakataka-Gupta Age. As a matter of fact, however, the political influence of the Vakatakas hardly ever spread much beyond the Deccan, and for a considerable period their state was an appendage to, if not a vassal of, the Gupta Empire. The same may be said of most other states which enjoyed a nominal independence. Few of them can really be said to have been quite beyond the sphere of influence of the Guptas.


Among the states that succumbed to the Gupta Imperialism special reference must be made to those ruled by republican or oligarchical clans. These formed a distinctive feature of the Indian political system since the days of Buddha, if not much earlier still, and some of them like the Lichchhavis, Sakyas and Mala as played an important role in the political and cultural history of India. The existence of these states with their republican tradition of freedom was always a thorn in the side of Imperialism. The Maurya Empire, true to the imperial policy enunciated by Kautilya, swept them away. But these clans appeared again, and indications are not wanting that many of them took a leading part in the struggle against the foreign hordes who dominated India. But the Gupta Empire made a clean sweep of them all. Some of them submitted to Samudra-gupta and continued for some time as vassal states. But with the growth of the Gupta Empire they gradually fade out of existence never to appear again. We cannot clearly trace the last stages in the dissolution of the republican system after more than a thousand years of recorded activity in Indian politics. But it is certain that Gupta Imperialism was the main cause of its final extinction.


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