The Gupta period marked an important phase in the history of ancient India. This long run efficient rule of the Guptas not only touched upon but also brought out many changes in the political, social as well as the cultural spheres.
In spite of not having such a widespread empire like that of the Mauryan Empire, yet the Gupta dynasty was successful in creating an empire that was equally significant in the history of India. It is due to all the right reasons that the Gupta Period is also popularly known as the Golden Age of India.
The economy of the Gupta era continued to be an agrarian one though significant progress took place in the field of industry and trade as well. The associations or guilds which existed in the Mauryan period continued their work and remained the main centres of organization and were allowed to operate almost free from any kind of government control.
They were the major contributors to the manufactured goods industry. The guilds together formed a corporation of guilds which laid down its own set of separate laws which were binding on all the guilds and these laws were even respected by the government. Such was the independence given to the guilds by the government.
Besides this, there were also some smaller corporations started by such guilds which were restricted only for particular types of guilds, like for instance silk weaver guilds. Such corporations had huge amount of resources at their disposal and were involved in various large scale projects like temples.
An interesting development which took place during this time was that the Buddhist Church or the Sangha, itself was very rich and participated in commercial activities. It often acted as a banker providing various services like lending money on interest.
Apart from this, the church was also involved in renting land, which was an extremely lucrative proposition considering the significant grants of land which they received from the kings. The rates of interest for money varied depending on the intended use of the money.
Borrowing money for sea trade was no longer as expensive as it was under the Mauryan period thereby indicating an increased boost in this sector. There was no restriction by the government and the rate of interest could exceed the prevailing levels provided it was agreeable to both parties. However the interest could in no way exceed the principal amount. The free availability of money at reasonable rates was a positive factor for industry and significant activity took place in this period.
One of the most crucial industries which emerged during the Gupta period was the textile industry. Not only was there a significant internal demand, but apart from that Indian textile were in huge demand in many parts of the world. Silk, muslin, calico, linen, wool and cotton textiles were the major ones which came to be produced.
Other important industries of the period were ivory work, stone cutting and carving, metal work especially in metals like gold, silver, copper, iron, lead and bronze. Pearl, too, was a flourishing industry and there seemed to have been many fisheries which catered to the vast demand, considering the popular demand for pearls which commanded high prices in foreign markets.
There was also a lot of work going on in the processing of precious stones like jasper, agate, carnelian, quartz, lapis-lazuli amongst many others. Even these came to be exported to foreign countries. Pottery continued to remain an important industry with various qualities and styles being developed.
The peace and prosperity which spread during the rule of the Guptas reflected greatly not only in their inter-provincial but in their inter-state trade as well. Partnership transactions were a common feature during this time. Varieties of cloth, food grains, spices, salt, bullion as well as precious stones were the main articles used for the purpose of trading.
Trade during Gupta Empire came to be carried out by both namely by land as well as by water. While pack animals and ox carts were used to transport goods by road, Sea travel came to be carried out with the help of a number of Indian ships which regularly moved around the Arabian Sea, the China seas and the Indian Ocean. As a matter of fact, there is even evidence of trade with parts of East Africa. Thus, Goods could now be moved easily throughout the country.
Important towns like Ujjain, Prayaga, Banara, Gaya along with Pataliputra came to be connected by roads. Rivers like the Ganga, Narmada, Krishna, Godavari as well as Kaveri became popular routes with the help of which sea trade became easier. As a result of this, ships came to be built.
Tamralipti, which is today also known as Tamlik was an important port in Bengal which carried out trade with China, Eastern Archipelago and the west Asia. Export items mainly included: clothes, perfumes, pearls, precious stones, indigo, drugs, coconuts, ivory articles etc while import articles included: gold, silver, copper, tin, lead, silk, camphor, dates and horses.
Living was extremely frugal during the Gupta Empire and the Guptas had also laid down certain laws as well as regulations with regard to the smooth flow of trade which consequently influenced deeply on their economic life as well. Additionally, the Smritis as well as some law books have also stated one principal that a royal duty was to be encouraged trade and arts.
Apart from this, the Guptas also laid down laws for the purpose of trade like for instance foreign goods or imported commodities were to be taxed one fifth of the value of its toll.
Thus the 200 long year’s reign of the Guptas ensured great prosperity, flourishing trade, agriculture as well as industry.