During the period between Guptas and Harsha, polity, religion, society, economic life, literature, art, and architecture and technology were in the highest state of glory. Because of this reason, this period is popular as ‘a golden period’ of Indian history.
Structure of Administration
Set up of the governments was well organized during the Gupta period, which provided a strong base for them to hold together their extensive territories for such a long period.
In spite of intermittent wars among them, the reigns of the Guptas survived for two hundred years; the Chalukyas lasted for four hundred years; and Pallavas lasted for about six hundred years.
The basic (governance) functionalities of the different dynasties were almost same except some differences in their name.
The kingdom (Rajya) was divided into a number of provinces and they were known as ‘Bhukti’ in the north and ‘Mandala’ or ‘Mandalam’ in the south.
The provinces were sub-divided as ‘Vishaya’ or ‘Bhoga’ in the north (India) and ‘Kottams’ or ‘Valanadu’ in the south (India).
Some other units of administration were the districts, which were called as ‘Adhis,’ ‘Thana,’ or ‘Pattana’ in the north (India) and ‘Nadu’ in the south (India).
The group of villages (i.e. modern tehsil) was known as ‘Vithis’ in the north (India) and ‘Pattala’ and ‘Kurram’ in the south (India).
The villages were the lowest administrative units.
There was a number of central, provincial, and local official to carry on the administration.
The Sarthavaha also repres ented the trading communities. The Prathamakulika represented the crafting communities (artisans) and Prathamakayastha represented Government official community.Pustapala were junior (district level) record officers.
The terms Nivartana, Kulyavapa and Dronavapa were used for Land measurements.
The Araghatta or Ghati Yantras were the instruments of irrigation which were known earlier and now became more popular in Gupta Era.
Governance under Gupta Empire
The administration under Gupta Empire was largely dependent upon the old bureaucratic form of administration; however, they organized it much systematically and elaborately.
The governor of ‘Bhukti’ was appointed by the king and known as ‘Uparika.’
The administrative work was undertaken by a Board of Advisors, consisting of four members representing the various important sections, namely −
The ‘Nagarsresthis,’ were the chief of the guild of traders and bankers. They represented the guilds in particular and the urban population in general.
The ‘Sarthavaha,’ were the head of guild of traders and represented the various trading communities.
The ‘Prathamakulika’ (the chief of artisan) represented various artisan classes.
The ‘Prathamakayastha’ might have represented the government official like the Chief Secretary of the present day. This body was known as ‘Adhisthanadhikarana.’
Each city administration had a council body.
The village administration was under the control of rural bodies consisting of a headman and the village elders.
During Gupta period, there was a remarkable growth of the local self-governing institutions such as the village committees and district committees.
Inscriptions and literature records describe the existence of local bodies since very early period. They mentioned about the nature and the activities of these local bodies and testify to the most wonderful organization that the ancient Indians evolved.
Two New classes of officers were introduced by the Guptas, namely −
Sandhivigrahika, he was the minister of peace and war i.e. modern foreign minister
Kumaramatyas, he was a body of top ranking officials attached not only to the king, but also to the crown-prince, and sometimes placed as in charge of districts.
Ayuktas were another important official, they were same as Yuktasmentioned in the Ashokan inscriptions and in Kautilya’s Arthasastra.
During the Gupta period, many known officials – such as Mahapratihara, Mahabaladhikrita, and Mahadandanayaka, etc. used their title prefixed with ‘Maha.’ The powers of all these officials and officers emanated from the king.
Gupta rulers assumed several titles such as ‘Maharajadhiraja,’ ‘Parambhattaraka,’ ‘Parmesvara,’ etc.
In Allahabad pillar inscription, Samudragupta is described as equal to the Gods Indra, Varuna, Kuvera, and Varna and also as a ‘God dwelling on the earth’. Such titles were used by the rulers of foreign origin such as the Greeks, or the Kushanas, but never by a king of an Indian origin.
Guptas were the first who adopted high sounding titles in the history of India.
Literature of this period mentions the ideals of popular government.
The Smritis explain that “the ruler has been made by Brahma, a servant of the people, getting his revenue as remuneration”.
During the Gupta’s period, the powers of the king were more restricted and he was advised to rule with the help of ministers and to respect the decision of guilds and corporate bodies.
The Gupta kings are usually represented on their coins. They have been described as an excellent and unrivalled chariot warriors and horsemen.
In the early history of India, Gupta period is considered as a landmark in the field of administration of law and justice. The legal literature, developed during this period, reflects a distinct advancement in the legal system.
Lawmakers drew a clear line between civil and criminal law for the first time.
The Brihaspatismriti enumerates eighteen titles of land and adds that fourteen of these have their origin in property (Dhanamula) and four in injury (Himsamula).
During the Gupta period, the land became private property that could be sold for money.
Detailed law about partition, sale, mortgage, and lease of land were mentioned in the law-books and in the inscriptions of this period.
Kautilya’s Arthashastra enumerated a bigger list of taxes than those were found in the Gupta inscriptions.
The burden of taxation was decreased in Gupta period because of the prosperity of the state.
Land taxes were collected both in cash and kind. It was varying from one-fourth to one-sixth of the produce.
Special officers are mentioned in the inscriptions to kept proper records of assessment and collection of revenues, land transactions, etc.