(Last Updated on : 03/05/2012)
The Gupta dynasty ascended the throne around 320 A.D. and continued upto 550 A.D., with magnificence and splendour. They consolidated the entire Northern India by subjugating the local and provincial powers that became independent after the downfall of the Kushanas. The period during the Gupta Empire is referred as the Golden Age in all fields, embracing art, architecture, literature, sculpture and education. However the origin of the Guptas is still shrouded in obscurity. This is so because the sources of Gupta History, which have been unearthed till date, do not throw enough light on the ancestry of the Guptas and also their original homeland. The Shunga and the Sattavahana referred to many officials bearing the surname Gupta. But their relationship with the Imperial Guptas is not yet determined. Furthermore it is not yet discovered whether the term Gupta indicated any surname of a family or referred to any clan. However the Gupta records itself and the Chinese records provided by I-Tsing, furnished the names of the first three rulers of the Gupta Dynasty, viz. Maharaja Sri Gupta, Maharaja Sri Ghatotkacha and Maharajadhiraja Sri Chandragupta. K.P. Jaiswal has suggested that the Guptas belonged to the Jat tribe of Punjab. But since the theory of Jaiswal lacked conclusive proofs, it was discarded. Dr. H.C. Roychowdhury, however holds that the majestic Guptas belonged to the Dharana Gotra. According to Roychowdhury, the Guptas were related to queen Dharini of Agnimitra, son of famous king Pushyamitra Shunga. Roychowdhury drew his theory about the pedigree of the Guptas based on the records of Prabhabati Gupta, daughter of Chandragupta II. In her records she claimed herself to be a descendant of the Dharana Gotra. Again Dr. S. Chattopadhya has put forth a different theory about the ancestry of the Guptas. According to him, in the Panchobh Copper Plate, some kings bearing the title Guptas and related to the imperial Gupta Dynasty, claimed themselves as Kshatriyas. The theory of S.Chattopadhya has been widely accepted, after a prolonged research by scholars.
The identification of the Guptas as Kshatriyas though has been supported by facts, the controversy whether the term "Gupta" was a family surname or a full name is still unresolved. This is so because the name of the first king was Sri Gupta, where the term "Gupta" seemed to be a title, but the second Gupta did not use the title like that. Hence, here lies enough dubiousness about the term "Gupta". However the expression "Gupta" had been systematically used by all the Gupta rulers from Chandragupta I onwards, which had led to the acceptance of the term 'Imperial Gupta dynasty'.
There is a keen controversy among the scholars about the original homeland of the Guptas. K.P Jaiswal has pointed out that the Guptas were originally inhabitants of Prayag (Allahabad), as the feudatories of the Nagas or Bharsivas.Thereafter they rose in prominence. Dr. Gayal also supported the theory of Jaiswal, suggesting that the original home of the Guptas was Antarvedi in eastern U.P, embracing the regions of Oudh and Prayag. These historians have derived their theory based on the fact that several coins belonging to the Gupta Dynasty have been found in those regions and the study of those numismatics evidences lead to the conclusion that the Guptas were the original inhabitants of that region. However Dr. D.C Ganguli has provided a different view about the original homeland of the Guptas. According to him the Guptas were inhabitants of the Murshidabad region of Bengal and not of Magadha in Bihar. He based his theory on the statement of I -Tsing, who had visited India during 675 and 695 A.D. Fleet and other historians however criticise the above theory because of the fact that Sri Gupta ruled during the end of the third century, but I-Tsing placed him at the end of the second century. Hence the theory of historians, who have provided their views based on the accounts of I-Tsing, can be refuted without much difficulty.
Not only the ancestry and homeland of the Guptas, the extent of the Gupta Empire, when they ascended the throne after the lapse of the prolonged Dark Age, is a also subject of intense controversy among the scholars. Dr. R.C. Majumdar has pointed out that the picture of a stupa has been found in Nepal with the label "Mrigasthapana" Stupa of Varendri. This "Mrigasthapana" is the same as "Mrigashivana" of I-Tsing. As Sri Gupta built a temple in Mrigashivana and as the place was in Varendri, so historians have pointed out that Varendri might have been under the sway of the Guptas, when they ascended the throne. According to Dr.Ganguli, Bengal and parts of Bihar was also included in the Gupta Empire, when they were ruling from the seat of power.
From these theories, several conflicting opinions about the original homeland and the Empire of the Guptas are available. According to Allan and some other scholars, the Guptas were originally concentrated in the region of Magadha and from there they extended their sway upto Bengal. According to other groups, the original homeland of the Guptas was Varendri or the Varendra Bhumi in Bengal, wherefrom they extended their Empire upto Magadha. Whatever the theory is, the Imperial fabric of the Guptas initiated the Golden Age in history of ancient India and with passage of time they became the sole authority of entire Northern India.