Literature in Gupta Era

Sanskrit literature reached its climax in the Gupta period. This era is known for equal writing of prose and poetry. Sanskrit became the Lingua franca of India. Final editing of the Ramayana and Mahabharata took place in Gupta Period.  Puranas, Smritis and Dharmashashtra literature was developed in the Gupta period. Yajnavalkyasmriti, which is almost regarded as the official law book of Guptas, was composed in this era. Naradasmriti was also written during the Gupta period.  All the successive redactions in the Manu’s Dharamashashtras were carried out in Gupta Period.


The true beauty and grandeur of the literature in Gupta Era can be seen in the kavyas. The greatest among all the names is Kalidasa who lived in 4th century AD and was contemporary of Chandragupta-II. His earliest production was Ritusamhara, though his earliest drama was Malvikagnimitram. Meghaduta is pioneer Dutakavya in Sanskrit literature.

Its a Sanskrit play depicting love story of Sunga king Agnimitra and Malvika, a maid servant. This play also gives reference to the Rajsuya Yajna carried out by Pushyamitra Sunga.


A sanskrit play which depicts the story of Dushyanta, king of Hastinapur, and Shakuntala, daughter of the sage Vishwamitra and the apsara Menaka.


It’s a Sanskrit drama depicting the love story of Puruvas, a Vedic King and Urvashi. Puruvas is chosen to reflect the qualities of Chandragupta Vikramaditya. Pururavas is a mythological entity representing Sun and Vikramaditya means the “Glory of Sun”.


Raghuvamśa is a Sanskrit epic poem narrating genealogy of Lord Rama’s Raghu Vamsa beginning with King Dileep up to Agnivarna.


Kumārasambhava is an epic poem depicting birth of Kartikeya, son of shiva and Parvati.


Ritusamhara is a mini epic poem on six seasons (Ritu). It mentions the feelings, emotions and experiences of lovers in six seasons. Ritusamhara is considered to be the earliest work of Kalidasa.

Meghaduta means a messenger of Clouds. It’s a poem woven around a Yaksha, who is subject of Lord Kubera. His wife is waiting for him at Mount Kalidasa. Kubera at some place in central India exiled the Yaksha and he wishes to send his message to his wife. For that, he convinces a cloud to take his message and pass it on to his wife. The poem narrates about the beautiful sights and visual perceptions he would come across while going northwards to take this message to his wife.

Other Facts about Kalidasa

The Prakrit Poem Setubandha is believed to have been written/ revised by Kalidasa for king Pravarsena. Kalidasa’s style was imitated by Ceylon King Kumaradasa who has written Janakiharana. Kalidasa wrote Malvikagnimitram which accounts the celebration of Vasantotsava (Spring festival).


Bhāravi is best known for Kiratarjuniya, written around 550 CE. Kirat is Shiva who speaks to arjuna in for form of a mountain dwelling hunter. This epic style Kavya is considered to be among the greatest works in Sanskrit which is known for complexity of the Sanskrit.


Bhatti or Batsabhatti is best known for Bhaṭṭikāvya which is also known as Rāvaṇavadha and was written in the 7th century CE.


Śiśupāla-vadha was written by Magha in 7th century AD and is one of the Sanskrit Mahavakyas. It was inspired by the works of Kalidasa, Bharavi and Dandin, all of them, as the author says but surpasses Bharavi in his style and wordplay.


Mrichhakatika means a “little clay cart’. It is a Sanskrit play written by Shudraka in the 2nd century AD. Arthur W. Ryder translated it in 1905 as The Little Clay Cart. It’s a play full with romance, sex, court politics and comedy. It depicts the story of a poor man Charudatta with a nagarvadhu Vasantsena. The play seems to be a reworked version of Daridracharudatta, another play. Śudraka seems to be an Abhira King Indranigupta who used Shudraka as his pen name.

There is a description of a civil court in Mrichhakatika, whose headquarters were at Nalanda.


We know about only two plays of Vishakhadatta viz. Mudrārākṣasa and the Devichandraguptam. Out of them Mudrārāksasa is the only surviving play. Devichandraguptam is survived in fragments only. Mudrarakshasha means “Ring of the Demon”. It narrates the ascent of Chandragupta Maurya to throne. Rakshasha is the last Minister of Nandas who is lured in Chandragupta’s side, by Chanakya.


Dandin had written Kavyadarshana and Dasakumarcharita. He lived in Kanchi and is best known for Dasakumarcharita “The Tale of the Ten Princes” which depicts the adventures of 10 princes. Dasakumarcharita was first translated in 1927 as Hindoo Tales and The Adventures of the Ten Princes


Bhartṛhari was a fifth century Sanskrit author who wrote Vakyapadiya , a treatise on Sanskrit Grammar and Nitishatak, which has 100 verses on philosophy. Bhatrihari seems to be a King but many scholars say that he was not a king but a courtier serving the king.

Ishwar Krishna

His main work is Sankyakarika. It was a commentary on Samkhya Philosophy.


Vyasa has written Vyasabhasya, it was a commentary on Yoga philosophy


Vatsyayana was the author of Nyaya Sutra Bhashya, which was the first commentary on Gautama’s Nyaya Sutras. Kamasutra is a treatise on Human Sexual behaviour and makes the part of the Kamashashtra. The first transmission of the Kama Shashra is attributed to Nandi, the bull of Shiva, as per the traditions. The Nandi bull is Shiva’s doorkeeper and he overheard the lovemaking of the Gods and recorded his utterances, for benefit of humankind. However, Kama sutra seems to be the first treatise on the principles / advices in sexuality.

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