Post-Gupta Period: Political, Social, Economic Religious and Cultural life
The decline of the Gupta dynasty a little after the fifth century A.D. triggered a process of political fragmentation in the whole subcontinent. Feudatories and subjugated powers declared their independence and made way for emergence of small kingdoms. It gave rise to a period of rivalry and competition to gain political supremacy. The extent of the kingdoms of early medieval India was flexible and was centered on nuclear areas that became political centres. The different ruling dynasties that gained supremacy after the fall of the Gupta power were the Pushyabhutis of Thanesar, the Maukahris in the Kannauj province, the later Guptas, the Maitrikas of Vallabhi and Sasanka of Bengal (Gauda) and so on. The Deccan and the far South were similarly divided into small kingdoms. The different dynasties that dominated the Deccan and the southernmost states were the Vishnukundins, Kadambas, the Pandyas, Cheras and Cholas. This period has been portrayed by scholars as a period of feudalization of the Indian economy characterized by‘decline of trade and commerce’. An area-wise study would help us to understand the regional differences in exchange network in the period between the fifth and the eighth century A.D.
Social life in post gupta
So far we have discussed the political condition. The present section will deal with society and economic condition of post Gupta period. A number of important changes took place in Indian society in the post Gupta period. The land grants paved the way for feudal development in India from the fifth century onwards. The peasants were asked to remain in the land granted to the beneficiaries. The villages transferred to the grantees were called sthana-jana-sahita and janata samriddha. All these worked for a close economy which contributed to the decline of trade and commerce in the post Gupta period.
The growth of the feudal society in India had far reaching effects. It weakened the position of the king and made him more dependent on the feudal chiefs. Most of them maintained their own military forces. The domination of the feudal chiefs also weakened the village self-government.
This period witnessed the ascendancy of varnashramadharma. Hiuen Tsang writes about the existence of four varnas in the society. Both Bana and Hiuen Tsang inform us about the existence of many sub castes. The position of women seems to have suffered a further decline during this period. Sati and dowry were prevalent. As for marriage, the smriti writers state that girls were to be given away by their parents between the ages of six and eight years. In general women were distrusted. They were to be kept in seclusion. Their lives were dominated by the male relations like father, brother, husband and son. However, various stories point to the skill of princesses in the fine arts, specially in painting and in music.
Economic life in post gupta period
The Land grants was issued in both the field’s i.e. religious fields and secular fields. The religious land grants were given to Brahmins and it was a custom which was sanctified by the dharamshastras, Puranas and Mahabharata. Secular land grants were given to officers for their administrative and military services.
The historical records suggest that by the 400- 500 AD this developed in the region of MP, 700AD- Assam, 1000 AD- Kerala and eventually became a pan India phenomenon. The socio-economic impact of the land grants is to be perceived in the light of beneficiaries also. The system of the Land grants expanded under the Guptas. Guptas political system is characterised by the existence of feudatories or vassals known as Samantas.
These Samantas held a considerable part of empire which was beyond the directly administered area. The system acquired many new features in the course of time upto 1200 AD. Contemporary references suggest the practice of conferment of fiscal and administrative immunities on the beneficiaries, like the transfer of rights over mines and salt etc.
Growing importance of land and land influencing economic relations. Development of certain associated features i.e. trends of localism, trends of closed economy, and trends of growth of self sufficient village economy.
Gradually the entire socio-economic relations got affected by the system of land grants. The notion of land and land rights influenced society and gave it a feudal shape and land rights emerged as a new basis of social structure/ hierarchy, cutting across the Varna system. Acquisition of land and land rights established a new status irrespective of social origin.
Religions in post gupta period
Buddhism had lost its popularity and was limited to a few places. Towards the close of the fifth century A.D. the Huna invasion dealt a death blow to Buddhism in North- Western India. The Hunas destroyed Buddhist temples and monasteries and massacred the Buddhist monks.
The effects of Huna invasion can be clearly perceived from the account of HiuenTsang. When Hiuen Tsang visited India (629-645 A.D.) Harshavardhan’s patronage of Buddhism gave a temporary lease of life to the decaying religion in North India. The facts recorded by him are sufficient to show that Buddhism had lost its strong hold except in Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.
In the previous unit we have already discussed that Buddfhism was divided into two sects viz. Hinayana and Mahayana. In Mahayana form of Buddhism Buddha was worshipped as god. In the post Gupta period, this worship became more and more elaborate with devotional songs and was accompanied by rites and ceremonies. Tantricism had a great hold on Mahayana form of Buddhism. Tantricism advocated that a person could attain supernatural power through secret rituals and by uttering magical words called mantras. This encouraged superstition. The association of Buddhism with magical cults was a confusing development, since much of its original ethical teaching was now submerged in rituals.
Hinduism remained the dominant religion in India. It was patronized by most of the rulers. The prevalent forms of Hinduism were Vaishnavism and Saivism. Two characteristics of the religious life of the preceding period viz. toleration and worship of images continued in full force. The worship of Siva seems to have been a general practice in early days. Great rulers like Sasanka and Harshavardhana, great poets like Kalidasa, Bhababhuti etc. all were ardent worshippers of Siva without probably belonging to any particular sect. By the 6th century A.D. Saivism had spread to the extreme south . Saiva sects also developed very rapidly. In the seventh century B.C. Hiuen Tsang found ‘Many professed Pasupatas’ as far west as Baluchistan. Varanasi was also a strong hold of the Saivas. It was adorned with many temples. In South India Saivism became very popular in 500 A.D. There were a large number of saiva saints, called Nayanars who greatly contributed to the growth of Saivism in South India. There were two other important Saiva sects, viz. Virasaivas and Lingayats, who gave great prominence to the Linga (phallus) and the Nandin or the Bull which is said to the vahana (vehicle) of Siva. The Saiva religion became popular in South India under the patronage of the Cholas. Magnificent temples and monastic establishments testify to its former grandeur. Even the Buddhist Pala kings of Bengal established Saiva temples. The Sena kings were professed Saivas.
Jainism gained popularity among the trading classes in north and west India. In south India Jainism was patronized by the Chalukyas, Gangas and the Rastrakuta rulers. But from the 7th century A.D. Jainism began to decline in south India on account of the influence of Saivism and Vaishnavism. The Cholas and the Pandyas were bigoted Saivas and they are said to have persecuted the Jainas. However, unlike Buddhists, the Jainas had not disappeared in the land of their birth. Gujarat and Rajputana, their stong hold had suffered less from the invasions of Mohammedans.