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Gupta Period – Literature

The Guptas made Sanskrit the official language and all their epigraphic records were written in it. The period saw the last phase of the Smriti literature.

Sanskrit Grammar

  • The Gupta period also saw the development of Sanskrit grammar based on Panini who wrote Ashtadhyayi and Patanjali who wrote Mahabhashya on the topic.
  • This period is particularly memorable for the compilation of the Amarakosa, a thesaurus in Sanskrit, by Amarasimha.
  • A Buddhist scholar from Bengal, Chandrogomia, composed a book on grammar named Chandravyakaranam.

Puranas and Ithihasas

  • The Puranas, as we know them in their present form, were composed during this time.
  • They were the legends as recorded by the Brahmins.
  • They were originally composed by bards (professional storytellers), but now, having come into priestly hands, they were rewritten in classical Sanskrit.
  • Details on Hindu sects, rites and customs were added in order to make them sacrosanct religious documents.
  • The succession of dynasties was recorded in the form of prophesies.
  • Thus what began as popular memories of the past were revived and rewritten in prophetic form and became the Brahmanical interpretation of the past.
  • The Mahabharata and the Ramayana also got their final touches and received their present shape during this period.

Buddhist Literature

  • The earliest Buddhist works are in Pali, but in the later phase, Sanskrit came to be used to a great extent.
  • Most of the works are in prose with verse passages in mixed Sanskrit.
  • Arya Deva and Arya Asanga of the Gupta period are the most notable writers.
  • The first regular Buddhist work on logic was written by Vasubandhu.
  • Vasubandhu’s disciple, Dignaga, was also the author of many learned works.

Jaina Literature

  • The Jaina canonical literature at first took shape in Prakrit dialects.
  • Sanskrit came to be the medium later.
  • Within a short time, Jainism produced many great scholars and by their efforts the Hindu itihasa and puranas were recast in Jaina versions to popularise their doctrines.
  • Vimala produced a Jaina version of Ramayana.
  • Siddasena Divakara laid the foundation of logic among the Jainas.

Secular Literature

  • Samudragupta himself had established his fame as Kaviraja.
  • It is widely believed that his court was adorned by the celebrated navaratnas like Kalidasa, Amarasimha, Visakadatta and Dhanvantri.
  • Kalidasa’s famous dramas are SakunthalamMalavikagnimitram and Vikramaurvashiyam.
  • The works of Sudraka (Mrichchhakatika), Visakhadatta (Mudraraksasa and Devichandraguptam) and the lesser known dramatists and writers also contributed to the literary and social values in the classical age.
  • An interesting feature of the dramas of this period is that while the elite spoke in Sanskrit, the common people spoke Prakrit.

Prakrit Language and Literature

  • In Prakrit, there was patronage outside the court circle.
  • The Gupta age witnessed the evolution of many Prakrit forms such as:-

1. Suraseni used in Mathura and its vicinity,

2. Ardh Magadhi spoken in Awadh and Bundelkhand and

3. Magadhi in modern Bihar.

Nalanda University

  • Nalanda was an acclaimed Mahavihara, a large Buddhist monastery in the ancient kingdom of Magadha in India.
  • The site is located about ninety five kilometres southeast of Patna near the town of Bihar Sharif and was a centre of learning from the fifth century CE to c. 1200 CE.
  • It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • The highly formalised methods of Vedic learning helped inspire the establishment of large teaching institutions such as Taxila, Nalanda and Vikramashila, which are often characterised as India’s early universities.
  • Nalanda flourished under the patronage of the Gupta Empire in the fifth and sixth centuries and later under Harsha, the emperor of Kanauj.
  • The liberal cultural traditions inherited from the Gupta age resulted in a period of growth and prosperity until the ninth century.
  • The subsequent centuries were a time of gradual decline, a period during which Buddhism became popular in eastern India patronised by the Palas of Bengal.
  • At its peak, the Nalanda attracted scholars and students from near and far with some travelling all the way from Tibet, China, Korea and Central Asia.
  • Archaeological findings also confirm the contact with the Shailendra dynasty of Indonesia, one of whose kings built a monastery in the complex.
  • Nalanda was ransacked and destroyed by an army of the Mamluk dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate under Bakhtiyar Khalji in c. 1200 CE.
  • While some sources note that the Mahavihara continued to function in a makeshift fashion for a little longer, it was eventually abandoned and forgotten.
  • The site was accidentally discovered when the Archaeological Survey of India surveyed the area.
  • Systematic excavations commenced in 1915, which unearthed 11 monasteries and 6 brick temples situated on 12 hectares (30 acres) of land.
  • A trove of sculptures, coins, seals and inscriptions have also been discovered since then and all of them are on display in the Nalanda Archaeological Museum situated nearby.
  • Nalanda is now a notable tourist destination and a part of the Buddhist tourism circuit.
  • Recently, the government of India, in cooperation with other South and South-east Asian countries, has revived this university.

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