Impact of Vedic Culture on Society

by Kaushik Acharya | 2020 | 120,081 words

This page relates ‘Mingling of Cultures (A): The Guptas’ of the study on the Impact of Vedic Culture on Society as Reflected in Select Sanskrit Inscriptions found in Northern India (4th Century CE to 12th Century CE). These pages discuss the ancient Indian tradition of Dana (making gifts, donation). They further study the migration, rituals and religious activities of Brahmanas and reveal how kings of northern India granted lands for the purpose of austerities and Vedic education.

Mingling of Cultures (A): The Guptas

Today in the 21st century, we firmly believe in the concept of toleration and of secularism. What is called “Hinduism” in present time actually stands for Brahmanical ideal of religion which comprises many forms of faiths, beliefs, and rituals based on different philosophies and sacred texts. The inscriptions under discussion are sufficient to testify to the fact that in early and early mediaeval India there was a more or less happy coexistence and intermingling of different religious sects and faiths.

As we see Brahmanism, Buddhism and Jainism were the main religious beliefs with vedic traditions in early and early medieval periods in India, and they coexisted peacefully having received extensive patronage from the kings. In the inscriptions, we see that the people gained complete freedom in the choice of faith and in the outward practice of worship, even though the kings had their personal beliefs and practices in their private lives. The inscriptions further focused on the fact that religious toleration at that time was based on donation and benevolence. And that the kings integrated toleration into their administrative network as the part of the Statecraft, perhaps, to enhance their images to the people, but evidently for the welfare of people. It is, however, not possible, and it doesn't seem that all of the kings were always tolerant of religion. There must be a story on the opposite side of the same coin. If there had been a king who did not practice tolerance, none of them remembered that way, and we don't see many examples in this regard.

For the convenience of discussion, we will also present here the records obtained from Bengal and Odisha region also.

Under the rule of the Guptas between c. 319 CE-c. 550 CE, India has enjoyed the blessings of a strong but generous central government. Although Brahmanism gradually gained prominence during this period by occupying the position of monarchical religion, the Gupta dynasty gained a reputation for unwavering religious generosity and amity. The Imperial Guptas had their own religious beliefs, and their religious principles allowed tenants to live in harmony with the views of choice and external worship. So, people could enjoy complete freedom.

Samudragupta’s Eran inscription (c. 360 CE)[1] records the installation of a Viṣṇu idol in a temple. Samudragupta was a devotee of lord Viṣṇu supported by his coins on which appear figures of Lakṣmī and the Allahabad pillar inscription (c. 355 CE)[2] indicates that Samudragupta adopted the symbol of Garuḍa viz. the vāhana of Viṣṇu, as his official seal. However, Samudragupta also expressed sympathy for the followers of other religions. Samudragupta was also tolerant of Buddhism. It is evidenced from the fact that he permitted the construction of a Buddhist monastery commissioned by the Anurādhāpura King Meghavarṇa at Bodhgayā in his territory for the accommodation of Buddhist monks and pilgrims.[3]

Again, the Aśvamedha type of coins issued by him as well as the reference to him as the performer of this long discarded (cirotsanna) sacrifice in the records of his successors bears strong testimony to the performance of Aśvamedha sacrifice by him.

Candragupta II (Vikramāditya) was the son of Samudragupta , also maintained a tolerant attitude like his father. The Gupta records describe Candragupta II as a ParamaBhāgavata (devotee of Viṣṇu).[4] However, he gave his subjects complete freedom to follow the religion of their choice. A great devotee of Viṣṇu, Candragupta II, had some inscriptions that provide us with information about Śaivism in his time. His Mathurā pillar Inscription (c. 380 CE) records the establishment of śivalingas, and Udayagiri cave inscription (c. 401 CE), records the installation of a Śiva temple. In Mathura Inscription (c. 400 CE),[5] he had been compared to vedic deities (Varuṇa, Indra, etc.), and he performed Aśvamedha sacrifice as well. Again, Sāñci stone inscription (c. 412 CE),[6] of Candragupta II, records a grant of a village to a community of Buddhist monks.

Another king of this premier dynasty, Kumāragupta I, who was the son of Candragupta II, was a devotee of Kārtikeya as evidenced by some of his coins where Kārtikeya is seen riding on a peacock . Like other kings, he also did not impose his faith on his people. Being Śaivite he upheld the benevolent principle to others. An inscription issued from his feudatory family, ‘The Gāndhār stone Inscription (c. 423 CE)[7] ’ describes the construction of temples of Viṣṇu and divine mother Śakti. Again, Udaygiri cave Inscription (c. 425 CE),[8] Māndāsor stone Inscription (c. 436 CE)[9] and Mankuwar stone inscription (c. 448 CE)[10] records installation of an image of Pārśvanātha (the penultimate Tīrthankara of Jainas), building of as temple of Sun-god and installation of a Buddhist image respectively.

However, there are many instances where land is being donated to vedic brāhmaṇas for religious purposes. For example, in Karamdāndā inscription (c. 436 CE)[11] we may find proper religious rites performed by the vedic brāhmaṇas of various go tras and caraṇas at that period.

Needless to say, Parama-Bhāgavata[12] King Skandagupta (the son of Kumāragupta I) upheld the same religious policy as his ancestors. Kahaum stone pillar Inscription records a Madra[13] who was full of respect for vedic brāhmaṇas as well as ascetics, set up five images of Jaina Tīrthaṅkaras, [14] which forms an excellent evidence of liberal outlook at that time.

Thus the inscriptions, as mentioned above, are sufficient to assume that religious diversity, harmony, and toleration was the fundamental characteristics of society at the age of the Guptas where the intermingling of the vedic and purāṇic cultures along with Jainism and Buddhism can be experienced at that period in Northern India. However, their prominence varied from one place to another, one era to another, they stayed peacefully together, intact by each other.

Footnotes and references:


USVAE, vol. III, no. 29.


The term garutmad aṇka indicates his tendency towards Vaiṣṇava religion as he adopted the symbol of Garuḍa. (CII, vol. III, p. 8).


V.A Smith, Early history of India, pp. 192-197.


R.C. Majumder, op. cit., p. 58.


USVAE, vol. III, no. 46.


CII, vol. III, pp. 29-30.


Ibid., pp. 72-73.


Ibid., pp. 258-259.


Ibid., pp. 79-80.


Ibid., pp. 45-46.


USVAE, vol. III, no. 78.


D.C. Sircar, Select Inscriptions, pp. 307-208.


Madra is a general name of the people dwelling in Madra-deśa.


CII, vol. III, pp. 65-66.

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