II. Ancient and Classical Periods, 3500 B.C.E.–500 C.E. > C. Early Civilizations and Classical Empires of South and East Asia > 2. South Asia, 72 B.C.E.–500 C.E. > a. North India: Punjab and the Gangetic Plain > 477–495+
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477–495+
 
Budhagupta, one of the last emperors of the dynasty, ruled from northern Bengal to eastern Malwa, perhaps to Surashtra. After c. 500 the chief branch of his house ruled as kings of Magadha till the 8th century.  1
The Brahman legal writers defined the social structure and ritual obligations. The Dharma Sastra of Manu (1st century B.C.E.?) was respected and freely utilized by later writers. The Dharma Sutra of Vishnu (3rd century C.E.), like the epics, recognized suttee, widow burning, though it was not yet recommended. The days of the week were named from Greek sources. Yanjavalkya (4th century) admitted documentary evidence and recommended use of ordeals of ploughshare, scales, and poison in addition to Manu's fire and water. Narada (5th century) first omitted religious and moral precepts from legal discussion. Brihaspati (c. 600 or 700) cited nine ordeals. Punishments, such as impalement, hanging, burning, mutilation, fines, and outcasting, were adjusted to caste. A plaintiff might enforce justice by fasting to death on a debtor's premises. Fa-hsien, pioneer Chinese Buddhist pilgrim at the height of Gupta power, stated that fines were usually imposed and that mutilation was reserved for brigands and rebels. He was enthusiastic about the peace and happiness of north India (401–409) and Ceylon (410–411).  2
Six schools of Hindu philosophy (or rationalized religion) developed during the first centuries before and after Christ. They enjoy orthodox status in that all recognize the primordial and eternal character of the Veda, although in fact they do not derive from it. None is concerned primarily with ethics, but all seek freedom from bondage through deeds to rebirth. Escape for the soul is found in knowledge and cessation of thought.  3
Vasubandhu (c. 300–350), leading philosopher of Hinayana Buddhism, in his Abhidharmakosa sastra gave a classic summary of the Vibhasha and of the Vaibhashika school based upon it, with illuminating comments on the competing Sautrantika school founded by Kumaralabdha (c. 150–200) and developed by Harivarman.  4
Literary studies at Ujjain blossomed under the Guptas into the golden age of classical Sanskrit. Arya Sura in the Jatakamala (Chinese trans. 428) put into elegant kavya verse tales of former births of the Buddha which had been best known through the Divyavadana (Chinese trans. in part, 265). Secular fables gathered into the Panchatantra passed through Pehlvi (531–570), Syriac (570), and Arabic (750) into the languages of Europe. The Sakuntala and Vikramorvasi of Kalidasa (c. 400–455) rank first among Indian dramas (Greek influence), with his Meghaduta equally high as a lyric poem, while his Kumarasambhava and Raghuvamsa mark the apogee of Kavya, scholarly epic poetry. Literary taste survived the Gupta Empire: witness Sudraka's drama Mrichchakatika (“Little Clay Cart”) and Dandin's romance Dasakumaracharita (both 6th century) and Santideva's brilliant poem of Mahayanist altruism, Bodhicharyavatara (late 7th century).  5
As in literature, so in art the Gupta period is one of dignity, restraint, and refinement, characteristics attributed to classicism. The sophisticated treatment of surface detail and explication of the concepts and motifs elaborated in the texts produced in this period would be used by later historians to exemplify a pure “Hindu” high culture untouched by Islamic or European influence.  6
Indian medicine largely paralleled the Greek but was limited, and surgery atrophied, by objection to dissection. An ethical code like the Hippocratic oath appeared in works of Charaka and Susruta (prior to 4th century, though present texts date from 8th and 11th). Greek origin is clear for many astronomical ideas in the (4th century?) treatises, but many Indian inconsistencies suggest that Greek astronomy was known imperfectly, perhaps through rule-of-thumb manuals. Aryabhata (499) taught rotation of the Earth and the value of pi as 3.1416 (epic value 3.5). Brahmagupta (b. 598) systematized the rules of astronomy, arithmetic, algebra, and geometry. His integral solution of an indeterminate equation, with another method given by Bhaskara in his Siddhantasiromani (1150), is called by Hankel the finest thing in numerical theory before Lagrange (1736–1813). The abacus was described in the Abhidharmakosa from 1st-century sources, long before its use in China (1303–1383). More important, the zero (actually a superscribed dot) is attested in Indian literature (600), and the decimal position appeared in a Sanskrit inscription in Cambodia (604) before they passed to the Arabs of Syria (662) and thence to the Europeans. (See North India)  7
 
 
 
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

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