The Gupta period marked an important phase in the history of ancient India. The long and efficient rule of the Guptas had a huge impact on the political, social as well as cultural spheres. In spite of the Gupta Empire not being as widespread as the Mauryan Empire, yet the Gupta dynasty was successful in creating an empire which is significant in the history of India.
It is purely due to the significance of the Gupta Empire that this period was also popularly known as the Golden Age of India. The lifestyle and culture of the Gupta dynasty can be inferred through the availability of various ancient coins, scriptures, inscriptions, texts, etc. belonging to that era.
Apart from the several similarities which the Gupta Empire shared with the Mauryan Government, one was the setup of government though it a whole distinct style of government. Like the Mauryan system the Gupta kings were at the epicenter of the entire administration.
The empire was divided into several provinces each of which had viceroys who were appointed from amongst the members of the royal family. These Viceroys undertook the task of carrying out the administration for the province allotted to them. The provinces were further sub-divided into a series of districts.
Each district had its own separate administrative centers. The local administration of the district was at liberty to take decisions on governing the area, essentially free from central control, except in matters which may have dealt with central policies. The highest officer in a district was known as the ‘kumaramatya’ and he acted as the link between the centre and the district.
Contrary to their Mauryan counterparts, the Gupta kings were not concerned with every nuance of local administration thereby leaving such matters to the discretion of the kumaramatya. An efficient central government allowed trade to prosper and provided a stable background for advances in learning and the arts.
Villages were organized under rural bodies which consisted of the headman and village elders. The most respected people of the village served on the council. In the cities there was a council which consisted of several officers like the President of the City Corporation, the chief representative of the guild of merchants, a representative of the artisans along with the chief scribe.
The Gupta system of urban and rural administration was based on encouraging local participation unlike the Mauryan system where administration came to be carried out by the royally appointed councils were the norm. Initially, women were allowed to serve on councils.
However, eventually, Hindu law placed greater restrictions on women thus excluding them from any kind of such participation. Additionally, the Gupta rulers also gave power to local leaders. These local leaders were elected by merchants and artisans. In each village, a headman and councils made decisions for the village. The Gupta Empire's government had a system that work to keep order. The
A significant change which took place during the Gupta regime was the increasing trend of paying salaries in land grants instead of paying cash. Land grants usually gave the beneficiary hereditary rights over the land, although it was generally the king who retained the right to repossess the land if he was unhappy with the conduct of the beneficiary.
Brahmins were usually granted tax free lands which were another concession to an already existing privileged class. Land grants undermined the authority of the king as more and more land came to be taken away from his direct control. Also since the beneficiaries of land grants were usually Brahmins or government officials the king was not really able to exercise the repossession option with the apprehension of a political backlash.
The government revenue essentially came from land as commercial activity was no longer as big a contributor as it once was. Land revenue came from a variety of sources, like direct tax on the land as well as a tax on the cultivated produce of the land.
Apart from this, the Guptas also had a fairly good judicial system. Gupta emperors ruled over a spectacular court at Pataliputra. At the bottom, there were various councils which were authorized to resolve disputes that arose like for instance there was the village assembly or the trade guild.
Hence justice was usually available in the place a person lived or worked and hence didn’t need to travel a long distance just to get justice. The king presided over the highest court of appeal and he was usually assisted by various judges, ministers and priests etc, depending upon the nature of the case. The judgments were usually made based on legal texts, social customs or specific edicts from the king.