Literature-both religious and secular, writings of foreign travelers, inscriptions coins, monuments etc., constitute various sources of the history of Guptas:-
1. Literary Sources
Although we have discussed all the sources of Ancient Indian History, earlier in the beginning. Yet this is a right time to recapitulate the sources related to the period of discussion. “Puranas”, such as “Vayu-Purana”, Matsya Purana”, Vishnu Purana”, “Brahmanda Purana” and “Bhagvat Purana” are the most important. They throw light on the dynastic list, the area of science, polity and system of government etc. the empire and names of the provinces.
Other, literary sources are the “Dharmasastras” such as “Narada Smriti”, and “Brihaspati Smriti” was probably written during the Gupta period and give us a lot of useful information. “Kamadaka Nitisara” was probably written during the Chandra Gupta-II reign by Sikhara, Prime Minister of Chandragupta-II. The object of the book was to give instructions to the king. The author defends the murder of Saka king by his sovereign.
The ‘Kavya-Nataka’ literature is also useful as a source of information. The “Kaumudi Mahotsava” is a drama in five Acts, which lays down the political condition of Magadha on the eve of ascendancy of the Guptas. The other drama “Devichandraguptam” narrates the contest for the throne between Ramagupta and Chandragupta-II
The records of the Buddhist Kingdom handed down by Fa-hien, the Chinese traveler who visited India during the reign of Chandra Gupta-II tells us the social, religious and economic condition of India at that time. He noted the wealth and prosperity of the towns and their citizens. He also refers to the free hospitals maintained by the state and other charitable institutions.
Another Chinese traveler I-tsing, who travelled in India after the Gupta age. He refers to Maharaja Srigupta. Who created a shrine for the use of Chinese pilgrims near Mrigasikhava known as the Temple of China?
He saw the ruins of that temple. He states that, a temple was built about 500 years before his time. This Srigupta was probably the founder of the Gupta dynasty and reigned about 500 years before the visit of the I-tsing.
2. Epigraphic Sources
Inscriptions are another indispensable source for the Gupta history. Dr. Fleet brought together not only the inscriptions of the early Guptas but also of the later Guptas. The first 16 inscriptions in the “Corpus Inscription Indecorum or Inscriptions” refer to the early Guptas. The direct line of the early Gupta dynasty is taken to aid with Skandagupta. Buddhagupta and Bhanu Gupta with their respective dates 484 A.D. and 510 A.D are mentioned in Nos. 19 and 20 the ‘Corpus’.
The Allahabad Pillar Inscription of Samudragupta gives us a detailed account of the conquests of Indian Napolean. The “Eran stone No.2 Inscription” of Samudragupta’s period contains a record of the power and achievements of Samudragupta. The Udaygiri Cave Inscription’, “The Mathura Stone Inscription”, “the Sanchi Stone Inscription” and “the Gadhwa Stone Inscription ” of the time of Chandragupta-H gives us a lot of information regarding the religious condition.
The “Godhwa Stone Inscription”, the “Bilsad stone Pillar Inscription and the “Man-Kuwar stone Image Inscription” indicates to Kumaragupta-I. The ‘Bihar Stone Pillar Inscription’ in two parts the “Bhiari Stone Pillar Inscription”, the “Junagadh Rock Inscription”, and the “Kahaun Stone Pillar Inscription and the “Indore copper plate Inscription” refer to Skandagupta
The “Mahrauli Iron Pillar Inscription” indicates that King Chandra conquered the Vanga countries after fighting against a confederacy of enemies united against him. He also conquered the Vahlikas in a running fight across the seven mouths of the river Sindu. The “Bhitari Pillar Inscription” of Skandagupta tells us about the fight with the Pushyamitras and probably also with the Hunas during the reign of his father Kumaragupta-I.
Besides these inscriptions there are a number of copperplates also called “Tamrapatra”. These Copper Plates are mosdy of donative nature. They refer about the donor, donees and donation.
Most of these are in fact the religious grants made by history manual the Gupta rulers to these temples. The copper plates or “Tamrapatras” usually provide us information on the genealogy of the kings mentioned in them.
A large number of seals have been found from Vaisali in the Muzaffarpur District. Among these seals, we have the seal of “Mahadevi Dhruvaswamini”, queen of Chandragupta-H. She was the mother of Maharaj Govind Gupta. Probably, he was the younger brother of Kumaragupta-I who was the Governor of Vaisali in the reign of his father Chandragupta-H.
The variety and character of the seals give us an insight into the provincial and local administration. These seals were related to the high and low officials, by which we can draw a long list of civil and military administration officers.
The Monuments of the Gupta period are also a reliable source of artistic and religious history of that period. They not only depict different aspects of life but also illustrate different schools of art and architecture viz. Mathura centre, Banaras School and Nalanda School. The Gupta art was free from foreign influence.
The image of seated Buddha in the Sarnath museum belongs to the Banaras school of Art, is a master-piece of Indian art. Illustrations of the Nalanda School are to be found at Nalanda and Kurkihar.
The temples of the Gupta period give us an idea of the religious beliefs of the people. They represent the religions and the deities of the period viz. Vishnu, Shiv, Duiga, Jain Thirthankaras, Buddha or Bodhisattvas.
The temples at Udaygiri Pathari illustrate the worship of Vishnu. A temple at Deogarh is dedicated to the worship of Shiv and Vishnu. A temple at Aioli is dedicated to the worship of Durga.
The paintings of Ajanta and Ellora caves pointed the artistic tastes of the people. These paintings throw a flood of light on Indian culture. Thus these paintings and monuments help us a lot for the reconstruction of the social and religious history of the Guptas.
A lot of useful and authentic information for the history of the Guptas is to be found in the coins of the Gupta emperors. Allan published in 1914, “Catalogue of the coins of the Gupta Dynasties”.
We have the various varieties of coins of Chandragupta-I, Samudragupta, Chandragupta-II, Kumaragupta-I and Skandagupta viz tiger type, lyrist type, asvamedha type, standard type, archer type, couch type, chhatra type, lion slayer type, horsemen type, tiger slayer type, elephant-rider type etc.
The archer type coins of Skandagupta are mainly of gold. The legends on the coins possess great poetic merit. Samudragupta and Chandragupta issued as many as six types of gold coins.