From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Shankhlipi Script, Gupta Period
Mains level : Zenith of arts and cultural development during Gupta Period
Last week, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) discovered remains of an ancient temple dating back to the Gupta period (5th century) in a village in Uttar Pradesh’s Etah district.
Findings of the excavation
- The Bilsarh site was declared ‘protected’ in 1928.
- Every year, the ASI undertakes scrubbing work at the protected sites.
- This year, the team discovered two decorative pillars close to one another, with human figurines resembling an ancient temple.
- The stairs of the temple had ‘shankhalipi’ inscriptions, which were deciphered by the archaeologists as saying, ‘Sri Mahendraditya’, the title of Kumaragupta I of the Gupta dynasty.
You will find tons of PYQs on Gupta Period. Try this recent one:
Q. With reference to the period of Gupta dynasty in ancient India, the towns Ghantasala, Kadura and Chaula were well known as:
(a) ports handling foreign trade
(b) capitals of powerful kingdoms
(c) places of exquisite stone art and architecture
(d) important Buddhist pilgrimage centres
Post your answers here.
Who was Kumaragupta I?
- Kumaragupta I was an emperor of the Gupta Empire of Ancient India.
- A son of the Gupta emperor Chandragupta II and queen Dhruvadevi, he seems to have maintained control of his inherited territory, which extended from Gujarat in the west to Bengal region in the east.
- In the 5th century, Kumaragupta I ruled for 40 years over north-central India.
- Skandagupta, son and successor of Kumaragupta I is generally considered to be the last of the great Gupta rulers.
- He assumed the titles of Vikramaditya and Kramaditya.
What is the Shankhalipi script?
- Shankhalipi or “shell-script” is a term used by scholars to describe ornate spiral characters assumed to be Brahmi derivatives that look like conch shells or shankhas.
- They are found in inscriptions across north-central India and date to between the 4th and 8th centuries.
- Both Shankhalipi and Brahmi are stylised scripts used primarily for names and signatures.
- The inscriptions consist of a small number of characters, suggesting that the shell inscriptions are names or auspicious symbols or a combination of the two.
Chronology and meaning
- The script was discovered in 1836 on a brass trident in Uttarakhand’s Barahat by English scholar James Prinsep, who was the founding editor of the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal.
- A year later, he came across two more similar scripts at Nagarjuna group of caves in the Barabar Hills near Gaya.
- Prominent sites with shell inscriptions include the Mundeshwari Temple in Bihar, the Udayagiri Caves in Madhya Pradesh, Mansar in Maharashtra and some of the cave sites of Gujarat and Maharashtra.
- In fact, shell inscriptions are also reported in Indonesia’s Java and Borneo.
- Scholars have tried to decipher shell script but have not been successful.
Back2Basics: Gupta Empire
- The Gupta Empire was an ancient Indian empire which existed from the early 4th century CE to late 6th century CE.
- This period is considered as the Golden Age of India by historians.
- The ruling dynasty of the empire was founded by the king Sri Gupta; the most notable rulers of the dynasty were Chandragupta I, Samudragupta, and Chandragupta II alias Vikramaditya.
- The 5th-century CE Sanskrit poet Kalidasa credits the Guptas with having conquered about twenty-one kingdoms, both in and outside India, including the kingdoms of Parasikas, the Hunas, the Kambojas, tribes located in the west and east Oxus valleys, the Kinnaras, Kiratas, and others.
- Many of the literary sources, such as Mahabharata and Ramayana, were canonized during this period.
- The Gupta period produced scholars such as Kalidasa, Aryabhata, Varahamihira, and Vatsyayana who made great advancements in many academic fields.