Administration under the Guptas is characterized by the
three-tier system in its proper functioning. The three units were - the
centre, the provinces and their district units.
The Gupta rulers assumed the high sounding title of Maharajadhiraja,
Parmabhataraka and Paramadaivata, as also Sarvabhauma and Samrat. The
?Divine Right Theory of Kingship' was prevalent. The king was
the focal point in administration, exercising all executive, military
and judicial powers. The laws of and hereditary succession and to a certain
extent, the screening the crown prince before proclaiming him as the crown
prince was followed.
The Central Government
A team of officers known as Mahadandanayaka,Sandhivigrahika and Kumaramatya
assisted the king in administering the state. Sometimes the three offices
were rolled into the same person, like the Mhadandanayaka Harisena's
father. The Gupta inscription mentions two terms for the ministers namely
Sachivs and Mantrins.
The central hierarchy included- Sandhivigrahika - minister in charge of
peace and war, Mahabaladhikrita - commander of the force, Uparika - the
conveyer of the royal sanction of grants, Maha-partihara - the great chamberlain.
The clubbing of offices in the same person or the transfer from one situation
to another was also common. The crown prince had his set of officials
to assist him. They were called Kumaramatyas.
The Provincial Government
The Gupta monarchs themselves appointed the provincial heads. There is,
no reference to the number of provinces or Bhuktis. The prominent
ones mentioned are Tiraka-bhukti and Pundravardhana-bhukti.
Below Bhuktis, the division was the Vishaya or the district. Its head
was called Vishayapati. There was always provision for promotion from
the lower to the higher post, such as the Uparika being appointed as head
of the bhukti.
Among the administrative officials at the provincial headquarters, Adhikaranas
were the kumaramatyas or the ministers. Dandapasashikarana - the chief
of police, Vinayasthiti sthapaka - minister for law and order, Bhutasvapati
- chief censor, who took care of morality, Mahapratihara - the chief chamberlain.
Mahadandanayaka - the chief justice or superintendent of police. Feudatory
chiefs owing allegiance to the Gupta monarch are also mentioned in several
The district Government
This was the last unit in the three-tier system, Vishya, had an
equally organized administrative system. The district heads, Vishyapatis
were generally appointed by the provincial heads. Reference is also made
in the Damodarpur Copper Plate inscription to a non-official advisory
body for the head of the district.
The district government included the officers called- Nagareshthin -
the leader of the trading convoy, Prathamakulika - the chief alderman
and Prathamakayastha - the chief scribe. This board took care of the matters
relating to grants of land and other such matters. The minor officers
in the district were- Saulkaika- the superintendent of tolls and customs,
Agraharika - in charge of religious establishments, Dhruvardharanika -
the superintendent of the collection of the royal share in agricultural
produce, Bhandgaradhikrita - the office in charge of the stones and the
agricultural produce, Bhandagaradhikrita - the office in charge of the
stones and the treasury, Utkhetayuta - the collector of taxes and talavitaka-the
Some information is also available regarding the administration of a
to Top of the page
subdivision known as Vithi. Below the Vishya was the village.
It was the lowest unit under Gramika-the headman. He received the king's
dues and settled village disputes. Nyayakarnika adjudicated the village
boundary disputes and the Dhruvadhikarnika collect dues, such as from
The State head made proper arrangement for the realization of revenues
and taxes in cash and kind. The Gupta administration on the whole was
well organized. It ensured material and moral progress of the people,
as reported by Fa-hien. It laid stress on the ethical and moral side with
corrective and milder punishments. The Gupta kings never comprised with
the security of the people or the smooth trade and communication channels
in the country.
The Gupta period is noted for the ceremonial worship of images of Vaishnavite
and Shaivite divinities. Temples of magnificent proportions were set up
during this period. Buddhism and Jainism were encouraged equally with
Buddhism with its two main school - Hinayana and Mahayana - and
their offshoots thrived in this period. The main concentration of both
the schools was ?documentation of their philosophical doctrines'.
The Chinese pilgrim Fa-hien refers to monasteries of the Hinayana cult.
The goddess Tara - the personification of Knowledge (pradnya) appears
along with Buddha at some places. Manjusrhi, the god of the wisdom is
sometimes associated with Lakshmi or Sarasvati or both.
Buddhism was popular in Kashmir, Afghanistanand the Punjab. Mathura,
Bodh Gaya, sarnath, Praharpur, Ajanta, Nalanda and Kanchi were the places
of Buddhist faith. The Buddhist monasteries received great donations from
tolerant Gupta kings.
Buddhism underwent transformation from a simple moral code to the most
complex system of Mahayanism. This led to developments of Vajrayana. It
came closer to Hinduism with the introduction of Bhaktism.
The Buddhists also accepted the concept of the Hindu Trinity - Brahma-Vishnu
and Siva-. They confirmed Buddha as an incarnation of Shiva. Thus, the
spirit of toleration and religious understanding, were the religious highlights
of the period.
The Brahmanical religion was equally practiced by the people.
Several names of lord Vishnu are noticed in the Gupta inscriptions. These
include names such as Ananta-swamin, Chakrapani, Govinda, Narayana, etc.
In this period, Emusha or Boar was looked upon as an incarnation of Narayana-
Vishnu. Vasudeva- Krishna and his mother Devaki are as well noticed in
a Gupta inscription of Skandagupta from Bhitari. Lakshmi or Shri is associated
with Vishnu as his wife. In a number of inscriptions Vishnu is mentioned
only as Bhagavat.
Besides Vaishnavism, Shaivism also flourished during the Gupta
period. Kumargupta seems to have favoured the Skandha cult of Shaivism.
Several Shivalings as well as coins having a picture of peacock have been
found of his rule. Along with Shiva, Surya and Shakti were equally worshiped.
Inscriptions of this particular age record endowments for a certain Sun
temple. The Shiva-Shakti cult provided the base for Gansesa and Karttikeya
The worship of Krishna and Baladeva in the Tamil country about the time
of the Guptas is evident from the literature of this region. The south
became a stronghold of the Bhagavata religion.
Like Buddhism, Jainism too had taken firm root throughout India
by the third century. The division of the Jains into Shwetambaras and
Digambaras had taken place much earlier. In the Gupta period, several
inscriptions record dedication of Jain images.
As in any other field, the Gupta period achieved glory in the field of
religion too. The Gupta rulers were known for their liberal religious
policy. The remarkable sprit of tolerance and harmony among the followers
of the three faiths was a remarkable feature of the Gupta Age.