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The Gupta period is often referred to as ‘The Golden Age of India.’ The Gupta Empire was based on the concept of hereditary monarchy. The kings would declare their eldest sons as the crown prince. During its zenith, the Gupta Empire extended from the Himalayas in the north to the Vindhya Mountains in the south, and from the ‘Bay of Bengal’ in the east to Saurashtra in the west.

Several rulers from the Gupta dynasty, such as Narasimhagupta (Baladitya), Kumaragupta II, Budhagupta, Vainyagupta, Bhanugupta, Kumaragupta III, and Vishnugupta, collectively ruled from 476 CE to 550 CE.

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Gupta period agriculture and revenue system - History of ancient India

Gupta period- Source of Government Revenue

In the “Prayag Prashasti,” the mighty Gupta Emperor Samudragupta was described as the representative of the divine ruler on Earth. He was even compared to deities such as Kubera, Varuna, Indra, and Yamaraja. The Gupta rulers governed over several smaller kingdoms within their empire.

The administration system and revenue policy of the empire were highly efficient during the Gupta era. The primary sources of political revenue during the Gupta period were various forms of taxes, including:

Bhag (Land Tax): This tax was a sixth part of the produce from the land and was collected by the king.

Bhog (Produce Tax): It was likely a tax in the form of fruits, flowers, and vegetables that were offered to the king daily.

Pranayakar: In the Gupta era, this was a mandatory or voluntary contribution imposed on village residents. References to Bhoomikar Bhog are also found in “Manusmriti,” and a similar tax called “Bhent” is mentioned in the “Harshacharita.”

Uparikar and Udrangkar: These were forms of land taxes. The payment of Bhoomikar could be made in cash (Hiranya) or kind (Meen). However, after the sixth century, peasants were compelled to pay Bhoomikar in the form of food grains.

Haladand Kar: This tax was levied on traders, artisans, sugar producers, and indigo makers during the Gupta period. It was imposed on plowing.

Also Read-Land tax system in India from Mauryan period to British period

Other Sources of Revenue

During the Gupta period, apart from land revenue, there were other significant sources of revenue. These included land grants, precious gems, hidden Gupta treasures, mining, and salt, among others. The emperor had a monopoly over these resources, but if such resources were found on land already granted to someone else, the king had no claim to them.

Land Revenue (Bhoomi Rajasva)

Land revenue was a crucial source of income during the Gupta era, constituting around 1/4 to 1/6 of the total production. Manusmriti states that the person who converts wilderness into cultivated land is the rightful owner of that land. Both Brihaspati and Narada Smriti explicitly mention that an individual can claim ownership of land only if they have legal documents. At this time, there were approximately five types of land mentioned:

Type of Land Use
Kshetra Bhoomi Agricultural land is suitable for cultivation.
Vastu Bhoomi Land suitable for habitation.
Charagaha Bhoomi Land suitable for grazing livestock.
Sil Land unsuitable for cultivation.
Agrahat Wild, uncultivated land.


Amar Singh has mentioned 12 types of land in the ‘Amarakosha,’ which are as follows:

  1. Urvara
  2. Usar
  3. Maru
  4. Aprahat
  5. Sadvat
  6. Pankil
  7. Jal
  8. Kachcha
  9. Sharkara
  10. Sharkavati
  11. Nadimatruk
  12. Devamatruk

Agricultural Condition in Gupta’s Period

Agriculture during the Gupta period was characterized by extensive cultivation practices referred to as ‘Mahakshatlik’ and ‘Karanik.’ Due to the lack of irrigation facilities, most of the agriculture in the Gupta era was dependent on rainfall. The absence of irrigation tools led to a heavy reliance on the monsoon rains for crop cultivation. The possibility of rainfall and the questions related to its scarcity were extensively discussed in the ‘Brihatsamhita’ by Varahamihira.

Also ReadDevelopment of Literature and Major Authors in the Gupta period

In the ‘Brihatsamhita,’ three crops dependent on rainfall are mentioned. It is confirmed from the Junagadh inscription of Skandagupta that maintenance work was carried out at the ‘Sudarshan Lake.’ Irrigation was done using devices known as ‘Rahta’ or ‘Ghatiyantra.’ During the Gupta period, metals such as gold, silver, copper, and iron were prevalent. The ‘Amarakosha’ mentions various animals suitable for farming, including horses, cows, camels, goats, sheep, donkeys, dogs, and cats.

Statement by Hiuen Tsang

Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang provided insights into the crops of the Gupta period, mentioning that in northwestern India, sugarcane and wheat were cultivated, while in the Magadha region and its eastern areas, rice was the predominant crop.

The ‘Amarakosha’ mentions detailed descriptions of textiles, handloom, and threads, indicating that the textile industry played a significant role in the Gupta era. Categories, both in commerce and manufacturing, held crucial roles. Categories had complete autonomy in their internal affairs, and their leaders were called ‘Jyesthak.’ This position was hereditary.

Nalanda and Vaishali produced seals of prominent merchants, Sārthavāhas, and Kulikas during the Gupta period. Categories also performed functions similar to modern banks. They accumulated wealth and lent money at interest. The interest earned was used for lighting lamps in temples.

The ‘Mandsaur Inscription’ from 437-438 CE mentions the contribution of the category of silk weavers in the construction and maintenance of a grand Sun Temple.

The Inscription of Skandagupta

In the Tamrapatra inscription of Skandagupta from Indore, there is a mention of the “Tailika Shreni” (oil guild) led by Brahmins from Dev Vishnu. This guild was responsible for bearing the cost of oil used for lighting lamps in the Sun Temple, which was paid in rupees.

During the Gupta period, the term “Shreni” referred to a significant institution where various categories, consisting of members from different crafts, played a vital role. Each category had its own rules and traditions. These categories had the authority to penalize those who violated their laws and customs.

The larger institution to which these categories belonged was called the “Nigam.” Within the Nigam, various categories of artisans operated independently. These categories held the power to administer punishments to those who did not adhere to their rules. The leaders of these categories were known as “Sarthavaha,” and the chief of the Nigam was called “Shresthi.”

Trade associations were referred to as “Nigam,” and they played a significant role in economic and social life during the Gupta era.

Also Read-  Biography and History of Chandragupta I 2022

Gupta-era Inscription and Related Rulers
Primary Inscriptions
1- Samudragupta Prayaga Prashasti, Eran Prashasti, Gaya Tamra Shasanalekh, Nalanda Shasanalekh
2- Chandragupta II (Chandragupta Vikramaditya) Sanchi Shilalekh, Udayagiri First and Second Inscriptions, Gadha First Inscription, Mathura Stambhalekh, Mehrauli Prashasti
3- Kumaragupta Mandasor Shilalekh, Gadha Second and Third Inscriptions, Vilasada Stambhalekh, Udayagiri Third Guhalekh, Manakura Buddha Murti Lekh, Karmadada Linkalekh, Dhandeh Tamralekh, Kitaikuti Tamralekh, Baigram Tamralekh, Damodara First and Second Tamralekh
4- Skandagupta Junagadh Prashasti, Bhitarri Stambhalekh, Supiya Stambhalekh, Kahanaav Stambhalekh, Indore Tamralekh
5- Kumaragupta II Sarnath Buddha Murti Lekh
6- Bhanugupta Eran Stambh Lekh
7- Vishnugupta Pancham Domodar Tamralekh
8- Budhagupta Eran Stambh Lekh, Rajghat (Varanasi) Stambh Lekh, Pahad Tamralekh, Nandapur Tamralekh, Chaturth Damodar Tamralekh
9- Vāniyagupta Tipara (Gunaīdhar) Tamralekh

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