Social Conditions Under Gupta Period

Place of Caste

During the Gupta period emperors and their successors social conditions endured rapid changes. This is mentioned in epigraphs referring to some of the most illustrious rulers of the age as “employed in setting the system of castes and others” and in “keeping the castes confined to their respective spheres of duty”.

However, these attempts of confining people to their ‘right places’ did not always succeed as one can find the evidences of members of priestly and artisan classes joining the profession of arms and members of soldier caste taking to the profession of merchants. One can also easily find the evidence that Vaisyas and Sudras were rulers of the mighty kingdoms: R.C.Majumdar writes, “Vasyas and Sudras figure as rulers of mighty kingdoms”.

Rules of Marriage

During the Gupta period, rules governing the marriage as a social system were somewhat elastic, following perhaps its immediate past.The cases of inter-caste marriages between people of different castes, creeds and races happened quite often. The marriage system of the society got complicated with the influx of those foreigners who were admitted into caste-framework. There are instances of some of the earlier immigrants who were ranked as degraded kshatriyas in the legal codes.

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Introduction of New Clans as Caste Hindu

The immigrants who came after the fall of early Gupta empire were usually given a place among the thirty-six clans of Rajputs. They built independent or semi-independent principalities for themselves and with the time acquired the place of the kshatriya families of the olden times.

Among these new clans Huns and Pratiharas carved out special place for themselves which they rightly deserved. Many scholar historians are or have been of the opinion that Pratiharas, who excelled into prominence for the first time in the sixth century AD, belonged to the race of Gurjaras. While the ruling families of Hinduised border tribes and foreign immigrants usually ranked as Rajputs, the rank and file remained under less valued social groups like Gujars, the Dhaki khaasyas,the Bhotiyas and others.

Grade Status of People in General

According to Fa Hien, a Chinese pilgrim, people who formed the section of higher castes in Madhya-desa(Middle-India) did not “kill any living creature, nor drink intoxicating liquor,nor eat onions or garlic”.

In contrast to these higher castes, Chandalas’ lives were sharply different. They lived in totally separate area,usually situated outside the cities. It was a social practice prevalent at that time that when Chandals entered the gate of a city or the market place, they used to or perhaps instructed to struck a piece of wood to make themselves known so that men belonging to higher echelons of society knew and avoided them, and did not come into direct contact with them.

The existence of such impure castes have been described at length not only by Indian and Chinese records but also by al-Biruni. According to al-Biruni the principle of impurity was widened to foreigners in the north-west towards the end of the Gupta empire. However, the Hindus of several interior provinces did not follow the principle of impure castes.

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Position of Women in Gupta Period

The position of women in the Gupta period reflects some very interesting characteristics. In some selected areas,women belonging to the upper classes commanded a prominent share in the field of administration. In the Gupta period the queen-consort undoubtedly possessed an important position. A Chinese author has described an Indian princes as administering the government in association with her brother. There are evidences that in some of provinces, especially in the Kanarese country, women functioned as provincial governors and heads of villages.

These facts indicate that girls belonging to the upper castes used to get a liberal education and took a keen interest in the cultural and administrative activities of the age. The practice of Svayamvara, self-choice of husband, had not gone out of use. However, Polygamy was prevalent and women were not permitted to contract a second marriage. Among the ruling clans, the customary practice of burning widows on the funeral pyre of their husbands was becoming a sanctioned social practice during the Gupta period.

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