History of India - 2: Alexander the Great, Mauryan Empire, Gupta Empire
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India > History II  

[Alexander the Great]    [Mauryan Empire]    [Gupta Empire]

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Alexander The Great

In 327 BC Alexander of Macedonia conquered a large part of the northwest India. He entered India through the Hindukush. As a great ruler, he developed good relations with the local authorities while establishing his garrisons. While returning back due to the pressure of his war weary soldiers, he left these areas to be ruled by Greek governors. Chandragupta Maurya fought the Macedonians and defeated them. Gradually these states were lost out to Indian states. But the contact between the two cultures put a lasting influence on Indian art and architecture.

Mauryan Empire

Ashoka Pillar The dissatisfaction against foreign rulers started appearing in 320BC. The early uprisings were crushed by the successors of Alexander. But the uprising continued under a new leader named Chandragupta Maurya. After raising an army and persuading Indians to support his sovereignty he founded Maurya Empire. He went to war with Alexander's representatives and defeated Seleukos and added a large territory of the Macedonian Empire to Mauryan Empire.

The successor of Chandragupta was his son Bindusara who reigned from 300BC to 273BC. He was a very strong ruler and maintained a friendly relation with the Hellenic west established by his father. Bindusara had many sons and when he died, Asoka, one of his sons, took over.

Asoka, the greatest emperor of all, accessed to the throne four years after his father's death and ruled India for 36~37 years. Asoka suppressed a fresh revolt in Taxila and conquered Kalinga. Even though victorious, the Kalinga war was a turning point in Asoka's life. The misery and bloodshed of the war awakened his feelings of repentance and sorrow. It made him devoted to the practice of 'Dharma' ultimately changing his State policies. He embraced Buddhism and spread the teachings of Buddha to his subjects through inscriptions on rocks and pillars, in local dialects, throughout the country. During his reign Buddhism flourished in West Asia and in his southern neighboring countries.

The Mauryan Empire broke up after the death of Asoka in 232BC and divided among his sons. Altogether there were ten kings in the Mauryan dynasty. The disintegration of Maurya Empire invited invaders from central Asia seeking fortunes in India.

The Mauryan economy was agrarian. The state owned huge farms, farm labors and slaves for cultivation. Income for the state was from taxes levied on agriculture, land, trade and industrial products such as handicrafts. Industries such as arms, agricultural implements, ships for river navigation, weaving, handicrafts and cloth industry flourished during this period.

Gupta Empire

The Gupta Empire in 4th century AD is considered as the golden age of Indian history. The Guptas ruled India for more than two centuries. Chandragupta I was the first in the Gupta Dynasty to assume the imperial title of 'Supreme King of Kings'. He strengthened his position by a matrimonial alliance with Lichchhavis.

Ajantha, Ellora cave painting The greatest of all Gupta kings was Samudragupta whose campaign expanded the empire in all directions. Samudragupta was succeeded by Chandragupta II who was also known as Vikramaditya (380 ~ 413AD). He continued the policy of world conquest pursued by his predecessor by military activity and political marriages. Kumaragupta and Skandagupta succeeded him. Skandagupta was able to repel initial conquests by white Huns. But after his death the Huns spread rapidly towards the close of 5th century and the early 6th century. After the fall of Gupta Empire, north India broke into smaller kingdoms and never was really united until the arrival of Moslems.

During the Gupta Era, classical art forms emerged and treatises on grammar, mathematics, astronomy, medicine etc. were written. 'Kamasutra', the great work on the art of love, was created during this period. Science and literature registered considerable progress. The great Kalidasa (literature) and Aryabhata (astronomy) lived in this era. The famous Ajanta and Ellora caves were created during this period. Even though the rulers followed orthodox Hinduism, peaceful co-existence of religions was recorded by Chinese travellers like Fa Hien.

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