Decline and Downfall of Gupta Empire (Gupta Kingdom)

Decline of the Gupta Empire

“Empire, like human beings, has birth, rise and death.”

The forces that worked towards the decline and downfall of Gupta Empire (Gupta Kingdom) are – the dissension in the ruling family, provincial rebellion, revolt for local independence, foreign invasions and economic reasons.

The Decline of the Gupta Empire started during the period of Skandagupta’s rule. Though Skandagupta had some great military success against the Pushyamitra and the Huns, the heavy pressure and constant war had deeply pressed the resources of the Empire. The picture of this financial drain can be testified from the debased coinage and lack of variety of coins during Skandagupta’s reign. The Gupta Empire was no longer in its past glory.

The Gupta Kingdom was declining with the passage of time it became weak and inefficient. After the death of Skandagupta, Purugupta reigned for a shorter period, but during this period the decline of the empire became further steady. Buddha Gupta, the last great independent empire of the dynasty arrested the declining process of Gupta Empire for some time, but for Western India he had no commendable influence whatsoever. During this period the feudatories of the Bundelkhand region assumed semi-independent status. The Vakataka invasion of Malwa reduced his authority in that region also. When Buddha Gupta died the fall of the Gupta empire was further eminent and within next three generations it succumbed totally.

The most important cause of the downfall of the Gupta Empire was the dissention within the royal family. Possibly after the death of Kumar Gupta I, his sons fought among themselves for the throne. His second son Skandagupta ascended the throne by defeating his two other brothers, Purugupta and Ghatotkachagupta II. We find another war of succession when after the death of Puru Gupta, the empire was virtually partitioned among Bhanugupta in the west, Narsimhagupta in the centre and Vinyagupta in Bengal in the east. Of course our knowledge about these wars of succession and its real extent are still miger for paucity of adequate information’s. Yet this is true that these wars of successions had tremendously weakened the hold of the central authority over the various provinces and the feudatories.

The second fundamental cause of the fall of the Gupta Empire was the invasions of the Vakatakas of Deccan. Samudragupta’s victorious march into Deccan East left the Vakataka power of Western Deccan unscathed.  The Vakatakas were the western neighbor of the Guptas and they could easily put the empire in trouble by dint of their geographical position. In order to avert of any possible clash with the VakatakasChandragupta II made a matrimonial alliance with them by giving marriage of her daughter Prabhavati Gupta with the Vakataka king Rudrasena II. But Chandragupta II’s successors maintained no peaceful relation with the Vakataka rulers. That was why during Budhagupta’s rule the Vakataka king Narendrasena invaded Malwa, Kosala and Mekala. His invasion considerably weakened the authority of the Gupta Kingdom over the vast tract of Central India and Bundelkhand. In later years Vakataka king Harishena further conquered Malwa and Gujrat from the Imperial Guptas.

Similar blow was hurled over the Gupta Empire by the Huns invasion which heavily disturbed its stability. During the rule of Skandagupta in the 5th century A.D., the Huns invaded the North-Western gate of India, but they were beaten back. But in Sixth Century, they successfully occupied Punjab, Gandhara, Gujarat and Malwa. Yasodharman of Mandasore first defeated the Hun chief Mihirakula. Narsimhagupta also crushed the Hun power totally. Though some historians tried to establish that the Hun invasion was the root cause of the downfall of the Gupta’s, Dr. R.C. Mazumdar denied accepting the idea as because the Huns were altogether defeated by the Guptas. Yet it cannot be denied that these Huns had greatly weakened the authority of the Gupta’s over the regions where they attacked. Their repeated attack must have taxed the royal treasury too.

As the central authority became weaker day by day and as that renewed foreign invasions which taxed on the royal treasury and military might of the Gupta Empire, the feudatories and hereditary governors took the opportunity to declare local independence. This is evident when Yasodharman  made a sweepingconquest over the Northern India. This was indeed a death blow over the Gupta Empire. The power and prestige of the Gupta’s were shattered. Soon Isanavarman of the Maukharis of U.P. revolted followed by the Maitrakas of Vallahi in Saurastra. They all became independent rulers. There were independent chiefs in Southern, Western and Eastern Bengal. The later Gupta’s rose to power in Magadha only.

The later Gupta’s embraced Buddhism while their predecessors were staunch Hindus. The change of religion had reflection over their political and military activities. It is true due to non-violent pacific influence of the Buddhism the late Gupta’s did not care to follow a strong and vigorous military and foreign policy. The lack of militant spirit of the later Gupta’s simply paved the ground for the unscrupulous enemies and powerful feudatories to hit hard the dying Gupta Empire. The Gupta Kingdom was on the declining trend.

Narsimhagupta and his successors ruled in diminished glory in Magadha, Northern Bengal and part of Kalinga. We are not yet very sure exactly when and how the Gupta empire breathed its last. However, the Maukharis ultimately overthrew the Gupta rule from Magadha, sometimes in or about 554 A.D.