The Gupta age constitutes a new epoch in the history of Sanskrit literature. It reached its perfection in both form and content, and almost all the best works in its different branches were composed before the end of this glorious period. It may be called the great age of Sanskrit also from another point of view.
For Sanskrit now replaced Prakrits not only in epigraphic, but even in the religious and philosophical literature of the heterodox sects like the Jainas and Buddhists. Sanskrit, which became the lingua franca of India, formed the one sure basis of a common culture in India, in Indo-China and Indonesia. Sanskrit became the language of the learned and retained the position of supremacy for a thousand years.
The continuity of the literary tradition is best marked in the field of Brahmanical literature. For one of the foremost literary activities of the Gupta period is to be seen in the final redaction of at least one of the two great Epics, viz. the Mahabharata, as well as the development of the Puranas and Smriti or Dharmashastra literature. The Yajnavalkya-smriti may be regarded almost as the official law-book of the Guptas.
Narada-smriti is another important work of the Gupta period. It seems to have been a slightly earlier production than the Yajnavalkya-smriti and depends primarily on the Bhrigu-samhita, thus confirming the Purana tradition about Bhrigu, Narada, Brihaspati and Angiras being the successive redactors of Manu’s Dharmashastra. At the same time, the Narada- smriti shows considerable advance over the Bhrigu- samhita.
It speaks of 132 sub-sections of Manu’s 18 titles of law, of 15 kinds of slavery, of 21 kinds of acquisition, of eleven kinds of witnesses etc. The original texts of several other Smriti works were also probably composed during the Gupta age, though they probably underwent considerable modifications at later periods. According to P.V. Kane, the following Smriti works belong to this class: Parashara (AD 100-500); Katyayana (AD 400-600); Pitamaha (AD 400-700); Pulastya (AD 300-700); Vyasa (AD 200-500); and Harita (AD 400-700).
Under the pressure of new demands, the Puranas outgrew the old panchalakshana and began to attract matter relating to Dharmashastra, details of worship of particular deities, resume of philosophical doctrine, and so on. The number of Puranas increased, and sometimes several texts competed for one and the same name and for a place among the recognized list of eighteen main Puranas, e.g. the Shrimad-Bhagavata and the Devi- Bhagavata.
The views of the new sects found expression in the Purana texts; to wit, a Pashupata in Vayu and Linga; Sattvata in Vishnu; Dattatreya in Markandeya\ Sun worship as practised by the Magas, Bhojakas and Shakaldvipi immigrants In Bhavishya and Shamba. Mahatmyas of particular shrines and places of pilgrimages (tirthas) came to be added to old texts as new sections. Dissertations on various branches of secular knowledge were also incorporated in the Purana texts.
The Agni Purana is a thesaurus of poetics, dramaturgy, grammar, lexicography, astronomy, astrology, polity, war, architecture, medicine and so on; the Garuda Purana takes note, of perfumery and the lapidary art, and the Vishnudharmottara Purana of arts of dance, painting and sculpture. These prove the popular character of the Purana texts which now formed the most important medium of popular education.
Some of the Puranas such as Matsya, Vayu, Brahmanda, Bhavishya, Vishnu and Garuda contain a brief account of the royal dynasties of northern India. These must have been put in their present shape between the 4th and 7th centuries AD, as they do not come up to the reign of Harshavardhana.
In order to realize the true beauty, grandeur and splendour of the literary efflorescence in the age of the Guptas, we have to turn to the kavyas, for the age of the Guptas was essentially the age of dramatic, lyrical and epic poetry. By far the most outstanding name associated with that age is that of Kalidasa. He lived in the fourth century AD and was a contemporary of Chandragupta II.
Among his poems, the Ritusamhara is always mentioned as his earliest production. His Meghaduta is the pioneer dutakavya in Sanskrit literature. To from the Meghaduta to the Kumarasambhm the Raghuvamsha is to turn from lyrical beau epic grandeur. In the Kumarasmbhavam, which describes the union of Shiva and Parvati in wed and the birth of their son Kumara or Karti Kalidasa exhibits richer variety and gre brilliance of fancy.
The Raghuvamsha is unive- recognized as the finest specimen of sans mahakavya. The poet describes the careers of kings belonging to the race of Raghu. Accor to one literary tradition, Kalidasa is believed to written for king Pravarasena – or at least rev for him the Prakrit poem Setubandha.
Two other kavyas imitating the style Kalidasa were written during this phase. Janakiharana, which deals with the life of R up to the abduction of Sita by Ravana, traditionally ascribed to Kumaradasa, who is to have been the king of Ceylon between AD 5 and 526. Next in point of time is Bharavi (AD 5 whose epic, Kiratarjuniya is reckoned among five famous mahakavyas.
The poet provides eighteen cantos the story of the fight betw Arjuna and Lord Shiva, who had disguised hi as a Kirata. Bharavi’s art was, no doubt, influ by Kalidasa while his own Kiratarjuniya serv as a model for the Shisupalavadha of Mag (AD700). It is possible to attribute to the Greek period also the poem Ravanavadha of Bhatti. The poem is more popularly known as the Bhattikav.
A few inscriptions of the Gupta age aid possess, in some degree, most of the characteristil features of Sanskrit kavya. The first place goes the panegyric of Samudragupta in the Allahab pillar inscription. The author, Harishena, sho; himself to be a worthy predecessor of Kalida’ Vatsabhatti, the author of the Mandsor inscriptio seems an inferior poet. The Junagarh roc inscription and Mehrauli iron pillar inscription a important from kavya point of view. So is t Mandasor inscription of Yashodharman which w written by Vasula.