In this article we will discuss about India between the Mauryas and the Guptas (187 B.C. to 300 A.D.).
After the downfall of the Maurya empire North India remained politically divided till the rise of the Gupta empire. Pushyamitra Sunga who usurped the throne of Magadha has been credited by many historians of protecting Magadha from foreign invaders but he failed to revive its glory. The same way, the Satavahanas in the South and the kingdom of Kalinga certainly succeeded in creating strong states in their respective territories but failed to create longstanding empires.
Thus, being politically divided, India provided an opportunity for foreign invaders to penetrate deep into the Indian territories for the first time after the coming of the Aryans. However, India neither succumbed to foreign invaders permanently nor permitted its culture to be overpowered by them. Rather, after some lapse, it again revived its political power and succeeded in strengthening its culture.
The period between the Mauryas and the Guptas may not be glorious from the point of view of political solidarity, which was not always possible, but it proved quite important in certain other aspects. Primarily, Indian culture proved its strength not only in maintaining itself but in making alterations and additions and. thereby, further strengthening itself. It exhibited remarkable capacity to absorb foreigners within itself.
The Parthians, the Sakas and the Kushanas who penetrated into India were all absorbed in the Indian society. Indian culture also got large converts in distant lands during this period. Buddhism, particularly its Mahayanism sect, got patronage of the Kushana king, Kaniska and spread into North-West reaching as far as China and Japan.
Hinduism followed its example and large areas of South-East Asia were brought under the influence of Indian culture. The revival of Hinduism which ultimately reached its zenith during the period of the Guptas, started during this period under the patronage of the Sunga king Pushyamitra.
The period also witnessed the revival of republican kingdoms in different parts of India. Besides, art and literature also progressed. The art of sculpture which attained maturity during the period of the Guptas made notable progress during this age.
Three schools of sculpture — Gandhara, Mathura and Amravati developed during this age. As regards painting, among the paintings of Ajanta caves, No. 9 and 10 belong to this period. In painting No. 9 sixteen upasakas proceeding towards a stupa have been depicted while in painting no. 10, ten upasakas worshipping a Buddha-tree and a stupa have been depicted.
Both the paintings have been regarded fine specimens of art. Literature also progressed during this age. Sanskrit was gradually replacing Prakrat and getting the status of state language. Therefore, most of the texts were written in Sanskrit which constitute the source-material of knowing the history of this age.
The Manusmiriti was written from the period 2nd century B.C. to the middle of the 2nd century A.D. Bhasa wrote several dramas among which the Swapna Vasavadatta became quite famous in which has been described the love-story between king Udavana and princess Vasavadatta.
Patanjali wrote the Mahabhasya during the middle of the 2nd century A.D. Several texts were written on the science of medicine among which the Charaka- Samhita became most renowned. Charaka was the contemporary of Emperor Kanishka.
One famous texts of this period was the Gatha-saptasati. It was written in Prakrat by a Satavahana ruler under the nick-name, Hall, Asvaghosha, Parsva, Vasumita, Nagarjuna and Sangharaksha were great scholars at the court of Emperor Kanishka who wrote several treatises among which the Buddha- Charita written by Asvaghosha became very famous.
Thus, the period proved quite important from the point of view of the progress of Indian culture. In fact, the foundation of its greatness which it achieved during the period of the Guptas, was laid during this age. The period was rot devoid of great rulers as well. Kanishka, Kharvela and Gautmiputra Satakarmi of this age proved powerful rulers who continued the heritage of great kings.
Several category of sources throw light on the history and culture of this period. Different secular and religious Indian literature, literary writings of foreigners, inscriptions, coins and several archaeological discoveries have helped us in this field. Different Puranas, Smiritis particularly the Manusmiriti, Buddhist texts like the Divvavadana, the Lalitvistara, the Manjusrimulakalpa, the Milindpanda, etc. have provided useful information to us concerning this period.
The Mahabhasya of Patanjali throws light on several events of the reign of Pusyamitra Sunga and the Malavikagnimitra written by Kalidas and the Gargi-Samhita refer to several attacks of foreigners during the reign of Pusyamitra Sunga. Among inscriptions, important ones are the Nasika inscription of Gautmi Balsree. Girnara-inscription of Rudradaman and Hathigumpha- inscription of Udayagiri. Besides, many idols and a lot of coins of this age have been found very much valuable for knowing the history and culture of this period.