Concept of Dark Age put forward by early colonial historian H.H. Wilson, V.A. Smith. These historians deliberately interpreted Indian History in a negative manner so that Indian pride & self-esteem could be shattered. This concept also used to justify for established of British rule.
Dark Age refers to phase of human age during which progress was completely absent & all round degeneration was witnessed. The 5 centuries of post Mauryan ages were portrait as Dark Age by colonial historian. It was emphasized that India underwent political fragmentation during this age & Indians were defeated repeatedly by foreign invaders. No progress of any kind was witnessed in this period as per colonial historians.
Reality of Post Mauryan Age
Closer examination of various dimensions of human life clearly revels that 5 centuries of Post Mauryan Age constitute a period of remarkable progress. The so called darkness was no visible. In fact this was age of golden progress in many spheres of human life. This progress was visible in-
Progresses were witnessed in political life in this age & it was not age of political degeneration. Though the Mauryan Empire disintegrated but at same time new political forces emerged in India. The Satvahana Empire emerged covering Deccan & Central India. Chola rulers Kanikela (200 BC) & Enlara (2nd century AD) were so powerful that they conquered Sri Lanka as well.
The Indo-Greeks Shakas & Kushanas come from outside the moment they entered India they were no longer foreign. In fact for 1st time these rulers ruled over Central Asia & China with their capital in India. Remarkable progress witnessed in field of literature also during Post Mauryan Age. This progress was in South & North. Patanjali wrote Mahabhashya & in court of Pushymita Shunga. Charak Samhita was written by physician Charak in 1st century AD. Sanskrit began to use quite commonly during this age for 1st time it became the language of inscription (Junagarh) progress of literature was not limited to Sanskrit only but remarkable progress witnessed in Tamil language. Sangam literature was composed by assembly of poet held at capital of Pandyas rulers of Tamil Nadu.
This all round progress of Post Mauryan Age covered whole of Indian History. The ports of South India such as Muziris (Kranganor, Kerala) & Ancamedu (Pondicherry) participated actively in Indo-Roman trade.
Gupta Age as Golden Age of Ancient History
Golden age refers to that phase of human history during which very high level of progress was attend in various spheres of human life such progress in inclusive. The concept of Golden age was put forward by Nationalist historians to counter the negative propaganda being unleashed by colonial historian. This colonial historian portrait certain periods of Indian History as Dark Age to shatter self-esteem & sense of pride of Indians.
The nationalist historian portrait Gupta period as Golden age of Indian history because till that hardly anything known about Mauryan Age. Sources of information about Gupta period were plenty.
Basis of Goldenness of Gupta Age
Gupta Age was the age of Political Unity: Emergence of Gupta Empire resulted in political unification of India after long gap of almost 500 years.
With the decline of Mauryan Empire unity & integrity was nowhere visible. A number of regional principalities had emerged in India. As result of this political fragmentation Indian rulers failed to counter foreign invasion successful Shakas, Kushanas & Indo-Greek ruled over many parts of India.
This political fragmentation of Indi was brought to end by rise of Gupta. Whole of North India from Himalayas to Vindhyas was ruled by Gupta directly & they enjoyed indirect control over peninsular India. Such kind of unity & integrity has been rare in Indian History.
Age of liberal & progressive administration: The political and administration system of Gupta Empire was liberal & progressive. There was no excessive centralization in administration as was the case under Mauryan. Gupta rulers focused on welfare & progress of people. Grants were issued to temples, education institute etc. Nalanda University established by Kumar Gupta first.
A number of officials were appointed by Gupta rulers to look after various branches of administration. The bureaucracy was not so powerful that it could misuse its authority to exploit masses. Officers were appointed after through exam of their character. According Junagarh inscription of Skanda Gupta at the time of appointment of Parnadatta (Government of Saurashtra) Gupta council discussed his candidature whole night.
Judicial legal system was liberal for 1st time civil & criminal laws were separately codified. They were separately code to deal with civil & criminal matter. Civil code was known as “Dharmasthania” & criminal code was known as “Kantakasodhana”. According to Fahiyan the Penal code (Punishment) was liberal. Tortures were absent & there was no capital punishment even in case of repetitive rebellion only right hand was cut.
Gupta administration was efficient or effective, common public enjoyed complete security of life & property as informed by Kalidas & Fahiyan. Elements of decentralization were present in Gupta administration. Guilds enjoyed high-degree of autonomy. Participation of local representative elements in district admin was another remarkable feature of Gupta political system.
According to contemporary source Vishayapati (Head of district admin) was assisted by a council comprising “Nagal Srashti” (Chief Bankers of City), Prathma Kulika (Head of Artisans community), Prathma Kasyastha (Head of scribes – writer’s community) & Sarthavaha (Head of mobile guild). Members of this council were known as Vishya Mahathara (elders of district).
Age of remarkable progress in Religion: The trends of liberal in progressive reforms in Brahmnical religion which commenced during Post Mauryan Age, culminated during Gupta period. This reformed Brahmnical religion was simple, liberal, progressive & pro-people. It revolved around idea as Vishnu as supreme deity & it was known as Vaishnavism.
The Brahmnical rituals & ceremonies were no longer predominant among people. Vaishnavism was free from this complex costly & violent ceremony. These ceremonies were limited to ruling class. The priestly dominance was no longer visible in field of religion. Idea of Bhakti was dominant feature of Vaishnavism. The Vaishnavism philosophy emphasizes direct relation between God & Devotee.
Concept of incarnation emerged during Gupta Age. It was used to bring about integration of various faiths & traditions prevailing in India. All the prominent deities begin to be identified as various incarnation of Vishnu. Even Buddha & Mahavira were term of as incarnation of Vishnu.
The idea of Shakti worship (Parvati) also gained popularity during Gupta Age. Goddess Durga riding lion as depicted on Gupta coin in existence of same. Concept of Purusharsha became popular during Gupta Age. These are four in number that is Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha.
Purusharstha were the four main object of human life. These were the aim to be pursued by people for higher living. Sun worship & Kartikeya were also prevalent during Gupta age. In spite of fact that Vaishnavism was religion of Gupta rulers, peoples were allowed to practice their faith freely without any state intervention. In this way religious life of Gupta age was based on toleration & idea of peaceful co-existence.
Age of remarkable progress in literature: Gupta age was the classical age of Sanskrit literature. A number of great scholars such as Kalidas lived during Gupta. A large number of prominent works were composed during this period. Kalidas wrote dramas, romantic poems & epics. Bhasha was the author of “Swapna Vasav Datt”. Shudrak was the author of Mruchakatikam. Vishnu Gupta the author of Panchatantra. Amrasimha the author of Amarkosh. Aryabattiyam written by Aryabhatta. Sushruta samhita was written by Shushrut. Puranas & epics got their final touches during Gupta age. Such kind of remarkable progress in literature was never witnessed during any other period of Indian History.
Age of remarkable progress in Indian Culture: Glory of Indian culture reached far & wide during Gupta Age. Entire South-East Asia became cult extension of Indian Culture. As result of concept of greater Indian gained popularity.
Gupta Age as Classical Age
Classical age refers to that phase of human history during which progress of such high level was witnessed during different spheres of human life that is it became model for future generation. Classicism manifests itself on form of climax. The progress of such high level was never seen before or afterwards.
The Gupta age is widely recognized as classical age of Ancient Indian History. This classicism of Gupta period can be conceived in the light of development of pre-Gupta period & development that followed in Gupta age.
Elements of classicism in Gupta period
The political unity & integrity witnessed during Gupta age was having few parallels. No such unity was witnessed for much classicism before & after Gupta period. Progress in Sanskrit literature also reflects classicism of Gupta age. The temple architecture witnessed unparalleled progress during Gupta period Nagara style of temple archaeology emerged large number of temples were build.
Progress in field of sculpture also reflect classicism because Mathura, Gandhar, Amravati School continued to flourish & at same time Banaras School. Paintings found in Ajanta & Bagha caves also reflect classicism. Progress in Science & Technology witnessed during Gupta age was never seen before or after words. Music & dance also flourished during Gupta period. Not only as private effort but also under patronage of state. Political and administration system was also having elements of classicism because for many centuries after Gupta period such liberal, progressive, efficient & effective admin was never witnessed.
Limitation of Classicism
Classicism of Gupta period can be accepted in degree not in absolute term because it was age of imperial political system where participation of people in affair of state was negligible. This high level progressive in various sphere of life was limited to upper section of people. Hardly any classicism was found in life of common masses.