The Pan-Asian Dharmic Influence of the Gupta Empire

Ancient Indians travelled widely abroad. They carried out trade with several countries. It was not just the traders and businessmen who travelled widely but people from all the four varṇas. Even today we find the roots of brāhmaṇa families in Indonesia, Thailand, Bali, and other places. The ancient tradition has remained until this day. It is a different matter to what extent these traditions have loosened and transformed into something else. In sum, it is a fact that their ancestors migrated to those regions from India. In these exchanges, the role of the Guptas is pre-eminent. The Guptas should be given the credit for the success of showing us newer paths in trade and culture. All the reforms that they brought about were attuned to the pulse of the people. This is the reason why their policies were neither suicidal nor oppressive.

In the Gupta Era, the aspects of our culture that percolated even to those regions that were not under the direct rule of the Guptas were the lofty ideals of Dharma-Brahma-Rasa of Sanātana-dharma.[1] It is indeed an expansion and detailing of these fundamental concepts that we find in the dharma-śāstras; artha-śāstras; the various darśana-śāstras (particularly in the kevalādvaita of the Vedānta school); treatises that investigate the nature of art and literature; Purāṇas; Itihāsas; Tantra-Āgamas; the Vedic literature; the various secular sciences (grammar, metallurgy, Āyurveda, Vṛkṣāyurveda, astrology, mathematics, etc.); in the daily life and experiences captured in Sanskrit, Prakrit, and multiple Indian languages; in the variety of folk-lore, folk games, celebrations; in the myriad types of peoples, tribes, clans and their diverse customs and practices – we see those primary concepts in every sense; they are ubiquitous. Without doubt, a few of these fundamental ideas of Sanātana-dharma form the common thread that binds—in a meaningful way—Indians living all over the world. This is the life breath of our culture’s continuity over millennia. There are so many rules, regulations, customs, practices, and traditions that we adhere to and respect to this day; the Guptas were responsible for collecting all these, giving it a śāstric framework, polishing them, modifying them, and arranging them. Without doubt, all the credit for this must go to the Guptas. Their remarkable rule influenced the length and breadth of India – not just the north but also the south; the Guptas were famous all over and were revered by all.

For example, consider Tamil, which has been painted as a language that is wholly different from Sanskrit. It is due to ignorance, delusional tendencies, and intentional malice that this artificial divide between Tamil and Sanskrit has been perpetrated. Now, the classical poetry in Tamil has an undoubted mark of Gupta influence. In recent years, Rajiv Malhotra, and, primarily Aravindan Neelakandan, in their book Breaking India, have shown with ample evidence how the culture of the Tamils is not disconnected from the Vedas, how Tamil heritage is aligned to Sanātana-dharma, and how the Christian missionaries and Communist historians have consistently tried to show—by means of fraud and deceit—that Tamil and Sanskrit are different. There is a long history of such misrepresentation. In an important section of their book, they have shown how the ancient Sangam Tamil literature and culture was rooted in Vedic culture and influenced by Vedic literature. A similar scholarly work has been done by the senior epigraphist-archaeologist-historian from Tamil Nadu, Dr. R Nagaswamy and presented in his recent book Mirror of Tamil and Sanskrit. I too have constantly perpetrated the true picture in my various writings and speeches. In a similar manner, the myriad tribes and communities in India like the Gondas, Bhils, Lohars, Santhals, Banjaras, Todas, Nagas, Bodos, and a hundred others are an integral part of the great classical culture of India, representing an unbroken tradition of thousands of years. What becomes evident is that this great heritage was not thrust upon any individual or imposed upon any population. For that matter, any system that is forcibly imposed on a people will not be sustainable. It is only that culture attuned to nature that survives and sustains. All other aberrations disappear. The words of the Gītā (18.59) – प्रकृतिस्त्वां नियोक्ष्ह्यति – ‘your nature will direct you.’ In other words, the basic instincts in man—desire and wealth (i.e. means of fulfilling desire)—direct all his actions. But to avoid our excessive indulgence in artha (wealth) and kāma (desire), leading to corruption and evil, there is a need for firmly establishing dharma. Dharma has not been established to destroy artha and kāma; but for the regulation and moderation of desire and wealth, dharma becomes inevitable. In this context, a verse from the Manusmṛti (4.176) is notable – परित्यजेत् अर्थकामौ यौ स्यातां धर्मवर्जितौ । – Give up those desires and the wealth that is not regulated by dharma. This is not uncommon; everyone says this. But the second half of this verse is far more enchanting and poignant – धर्मं चाप्यसुखोदर्कं लोकविद्विष्टमेव च ॥ – Give up that dharma which does not give us peace of mind and is opposed to the general practices of the times.[2]

To be continued

Translated by Hari Ravikumar and Sandeep Balakrishna


[1] Those interested to know more about these concepts may kindly refer to my essay title Dharma-Brahma-Rasa in the anthology ‘Hokkuḻa-baḻḻiya-sambandha’ (p. 150).

[2] A lot of people go to their purohitas or their maṭhādhipatis seeking a solution to their problems and suspicions – “Our son has married a girl from outside our community; what should we do?” or “This girl is divorced from her husband and wishes to marry again; is this right?” Those poor souls, the purohitas and maṭhādhipatis, what answers could they possibly give? If they refer to the dharmaśāstras—treatises that they deem holy—they will find no answers. At the same time, they lack the confidence and the courage to embrace verses like the one I have alluded to here.

Shatavadhani Dr. R. Ganesh gupta dynasty The Pan-Asian Dharmic Influence of the Gupta Empire r ganesh

Shatavadhani Dr. R. Ganesh

Dr. Ganesh is a 'shatavadhani' and one of India’s foremost Sanskrit poets and scholars. He writes and lectures extensively on various subjects pertaining to India and Indian cultural heritage. He is a master of the ancient art of avadhana and is credited with reviving the art in Kannada. He is a recipient of the Badarayana-Vyasa Puraskar from the President of India for his contribution to the Sanskrit language.
Shatavadhani Dr. R. Ganesh gupta dynasty The Pan-Asian Dharmic Influence of the Gupta Empire r ganesh