Brief notes on the rise of Secular Literature during the Gupta Period

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The Gupta monarchs, being highly cultured, liberally patronized literature and a good number of intellectual celebrities were also associated with them. Samudragupta himself had earned the title of Kaviraja (king of poets) for his various poetical compositions. Harisena, the Minister ofWar and Peace (Sandhivigrahika) of Samudragupta was a notable poet of his court. He composed the famous Allahabad Pillar inscription in ornate prose and poetry, a very good specimen of literary art. Virasena Saba was another important high official in the court of Chandragupta II who was an accomplished grammarian and poet.

The Mandasor Inscription of Kumaragupta I was composed by Vatsabhatti in Kavya style. Some of the Smritis were either composed or received their final form during this period. The Smritis of Yajnavalkya, Narada, Katyayana and Brihaspati most probably belonged to this period. The Yajnavalkya – Smriti may be regarded as the official law book of the Guptas. The works of Narada, Katyayana and Brihaspati dealt with civil law and legal procedure.

If the identification of Chandragupta II with the legendary Vikramaditya is to be accepted then his court must have been adorned with the famous Navaratna or nine gems such as Kalidasa, Aryabhatta, Kshapanaka, Barahamihira, Ghatakarpura, Vararuchi, Dhanvantari, Amarsingh and Shanku. However, it is not certain if all of them were contemporaries.

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Kalidasa, a resident of Malwa, was probably a contemporary of Chandragupta II and or Kumaragupta I. His famous epic, the Raghuvamsa refers to the military exploits of Chandragupta II. In Raghuvamsa Kalidasa has given the concept of a united India. He describes king Raghu as a king of solar dynasty and as a soverign of the entire earth. Among his greatest works are the two epic poems Kumarasambhava and Raghuvamsa, the lyrical poem Meghaduta and the great drama Shakuntala. He has often been described as ‘the Shakespeare’ of India.

His works are invaluable gems of Sanskrit literature and easily rank among the best literary productions of any age and any time. His works throw a great deal of light on the social, economic, political and cultural life of the period. However, although we know so much about his magnificent works, we know next to nothing about the poet himself.

Though somehow eclipsed by Kalidasa there were many other important writers of repute. Shudraka’s Mrichchhakatika was a superb social drama. Vishakadatta’s play Mudra-RakshasatiramaWzed the revolution that led to the fall of the Nandas and the advent of Chandragupta is a political drama dealing with Ramagupta.There were other works like Bharavi’s Kirtarjuniya, Magha’s Sisupalabodha, Bhartihari’s Nitisataka. Bhatti’s Ravanavadha (or Bhatti Kavya), Amarsing’s Amarakosa (famous Sanskrit dictionary), Vishnu Sharma’s Panchatantra, Subhandhu’s Vasabadatta, Dandhin’s Kavyadarsha and Dosakumara Charita etc. Vishnu Sharma’s Panchatantra describes stories having morals intended to teach politics to the princes. This has been translated into many languages. It outbids Aesop’s Fables and The Arabian Nights.

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