The Pan-Asian Dharmic Influence of the Gupta Empire

Ancient Indians travelled widely abroad. They carried out trade with several countries. It was not just the traders and businessmen who travelled widely but people from all the four varṇas. Even today we find the roots of brāhmaṇa families in Indonesia, Thailand, Bali, and other places. The ancient tradition has remained until this day. It is a different matter to what extent these traditions have loosened and transformed into something else. In sum, it is a fact that their ancestors migrated to those regions from India. In these exchanges, the role of the Guptas is pre-eminent. The Guptas should be given the credit for the success of showing us newer paths in trade and culture. All the reforms that they brought about were attuned to the pulse of the people. This is the reason why their policies were neither suicidal nor oppressive. In the Gupta Era, the aspects of our culture that percolated even to those regions that were not under the direct rule of the Guptas were the lofty ideals of Dharma-Brahma-Rasa of Sanātana-dharma.[1] It is indeed an expansion and detailing of these fundamental concepts that we find in the dharma-śāstras; artha-śāstras; the various darśana-śāstras (particularly in the kevalādvaita of the Vedānta school); treatises that investigate the nature of art and literature; Purāṇas; Itihāsas; Tantra-Āgamas; the Vedic literature; the various secular sciences (grammar, metallurgy, Āyurveda, Vṛkṣāyurveda, astrology, mathematics, etc.); in the daily life and experiences captured in Sanskrit, Prakrit, and multiple Indian languages; in the variety of folk-lore, folk games, celebrations; in the myriad types of peoples, tribes, clans and their diverse customs and practices – we see those primary concepts in every sense; they are ubiquitous. Without doubt, a few of these fundamental ideas of Sanātana-dharma form the common thread that binds—in a meaningful way—Indians living all over the world. This is the life breath of our culture’s continuity over millennia. There are so many rules, regulations, customs, practices, and traditions that we adhere to and respect to this day; the Guptas were responsible for collecting all these, giving it a śāstric framework, polishing them, modifying them, and arranging them. Without doubt, all the credit for this must go to the Guptas. Their remarkable rule influenced the length and breadth of India – not just the north but also the south; the Guptas were famous all over and were revered by all. For example, consider Tamil, which has been painted as a language that is wholly different from Sanskrit. It is due to ignorance, delusional tendencies, and intentional malice that this artificial divide between Tamil and Sanskrit has been perpetrated. Now, the classical poetry in Tamil has an undoubted mark of Gupta influence. In recent years, Rajiv Malhotra, and, primarily Aravindan Neelakandan, in their book Breaking India, have shown with ample evidence how the culture of the Tamils is not disconnected from the Vedas, how Tamil heritage is aligned to Sanātana-dharma, and how the Christian missionaries and Communist historians have consistently tried to show—by means of fraud and deceit—that Tamil and Sanskrit are different. There is a long history of such misrepresentation. In an important section of their book, they have shown how the ancient Sangam Tamil literature and culture was rooted in Vedic culture and influenced by Vedic literature. A similar scholarly work has been done by the senior epigraphist-archaeologist-historian from Tamil Nadu, Dr. R Nagaswamy and presented in his recent book Mirror of Tamil and Sanskrit. I too have constantly perpetrated the true picture in my various writings and speeches. In a similar manner, the myriad tribes and communities in India like the Gondas, Bhils, Lohars, Santhals, Banjaras, Todas, Nagas, Bodos, and a hundred others are an integral part of the great classical culture of India, representing an unbroken tradition of thousands of years. What becomes evident is that this great heritage was not thrust upon any individual or imposed upon any population. For that matter, any system that is forcibly imposed on a people will not be sustainable. It is only that culture attuned to nature that survives and sustains. All other aberrations disappear. The words of the Gītā (18.59) – प्रकृतिस्त्वां नियोक्ष्ह्यति – ‘your nature will direct you.’ In other words, the basic instincts in man—desire and wealth (i.e. means of fulfilling desire)—direct all his actions. But to avoid our excessive indulgence in artha (wealth) and kāma (desire), leading to corruption and evil, there is a need for firmly establishing dharma. Dharma has not been established to destroy artha and kāma; but for the regulation and moderation of desire and wealth, dharma becomes inevitable. In this context, a verse from the Manusmṛti (4.176) is notable – परित्यजेत् अर्थकामौ यौ स्यातां धर्मवर्जितौ । – Give up those desires and the wealth that is not regulated by dharma. This is not uncommon; everyone says this. But the second half of this verse is far more enchanting and poignant – धर्मं चाप्यसुखोदर्कं लोकविद्विष्टमेव च ॥ – Give up that dharma which does not give us peace of mind and is opposed to the general practices of the times.[2] To be continued Translated by Hari Ravikumar and Sandeep Balakrishna


[1] Those interested to know more about these concepts may kindly refer to my essay title Dharma-Brahma-Rasa in the anthology ‘Hokkuḻa-baḻḻiya-sambandha’ (p. 150). [2] A lot of people go to their purohitas or their maṭhādhipatis seeking a solution to their problems and suspicions – “Our son has married a girl from outside our community; what should we do?” or “This girl is divorced from her husband and wishes to marry again; is this right?” Those poor souls, the purohitas and maṭhādhipatis, what answers could they possibly give? If they refer to the dharmaśāstras—treatises that they deem holy—they will find no answers. At the same time, they lack the confidence and the courage to embrace verses like the one I have alluded to here.



Dr. Ganesh is a 'shatavadhani' and one of India’s foremost Sanskrit poets and scholars. He writes and lectures extensively on various subjects pertaining to India and Indian cultural heritage. He is a master of the ancient art of avadhana and is credited with reviving the art in Kannada. He is a recipient of the Badarayana-Vyasa Puraskar from the President of India for his contribution to the Sanskrit language.



Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.


Hari is a writer, translator, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Vedanta, Carnatic music, education pedagogy design, and literature. He has worked on books like The New Bhagavad-Gita, Your Dharma and Mine, Srishti, and Foggy Fool's Farrago.

Prekshaa Publications

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective...


इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...