The Gupta Age is unique in the history of the Indian subcontinent because in this period, the tenets of Hindu and Buddhist theology and culture were scattered all over Tibet, China, Burma, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and several Asian island nations.
The Gupta Empire was founded by Sri Gupta in the early fourth century AD and it lasted till the late sixth century. The important rulers of this dynasty include Chandragupta I, Samudragupta, and Chandragupta II (also known as Vikramaditya). Other kingdoms in India played a role in the religious and cultural expansion of this period—the Vakataka Empire of central India and the kingdoms of South India (some of which had a feudatory relationship with the Gupta Empire) made significant contributions.
Vedic and Buddhist rituals became common practice in many Asian countries—many temples and monasteries were built. The ruins of some of these ancient temples and monasteries survive till this day.
In ancient times, the temples and monasteries were not just places of worship, they also served as universities and libraries. The three major temple universities of the Gupta Age—Taxila (which is now in Pakistan), Martand (located in Kashmir), and Nalanda (located in Bihar)—attracted devotees and scholars from all over India and other Asian countries. Wherever the Hindus and Buddhists built their temples and monasteries, they also created a system for imparting education.
The surprising thing about a cultural expansion during the Gupta Age was that it happened through the efforts of private traders, sailors, travelers, scholars, teachers, and preachers, not through the involvement of warriors. A scimitar was not placed on the neck of any man or woman, in any part of the world, to threaten him with death if he refused to convert to Hinduism or Buddhism. The conversions were peaceful and voluntary.
Some of India’s most famous literary works were composed in the Gupta Age—these include Kalidasa’s Shakuntala (Abhijnanashakuntalam) and Raghuvaṃsa, and Shudraka’s Mṛcchakatika and Vina-Vasavadatta. Thinkers of this period made valuable contributions to Indian philosophy. The process of systematizing the six schools of Hindu philosophy—Nyaya, Sankhya, Yoga, Vaisheshika, Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa (Vedanta)—began in this period. The Puranas were systematized and new Smritis were composed. The Mahabharata and the Ramayana texts were standardized and canonized.
Under the patronage of the rulers of the Vakataka Empire, who were closely aligned with the Gupta Empire—Chandragupta II married his daughter into the Vakataka royal family—the rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments, now known as the Ajanta Caves, were built in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra. In the vicinity of the Ajanta Caves, there is the Ellora Caves, whose central feature consists of a chariot-shaped monument dedicated to God Shiva. The Ellora Caves were built by the Rashtrakuta dynasty. Ajanta and Ellora Caves are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The Gupta Age saw significant achievements in science and mathematics. Aryabhata (476–550 AD) discovered that the earth rotated around its axis and it revolved around the sun. His calculation of the length of the solar year is remarkably close to the modern calculation. The use of Hindu numerals with a decimal system and a symbol for zero was standardized and popularized during the Gupta Age. The iron pillar that stands outside the Qutub Minar was constructed during the reign of Chandragupta II—this pillar, which has survived for almost 1600 years, is a testimony to the metallurgical skills of the Gupta Age.
After the Gupta Empire (till this day), there has not been a government in India that has done so much to develop and export Indian theology, science, literature, and art.