Timeline of World History: Year by Year from Prehistory to Present Day







The Ancient World

ca. 2500 B.C. - 900 A.D.


Ancient India

321 B.C.-500 A.D.


The Gupta Dynasty
ca. 320-550 a.d.

Foreign conquerors and tribes continually pushed out of the northwest into the Indian subcontinent and founded kingdoms, though they tended to be shot-lived. The last great Indian empire of antiquity was that of the Guptas.

After the fall of the Mauryan Dynasty in 184 B.C., several forms of states with strong Hellenistic traits established themselves independently in the northwest, stretching from 5 Bactria (Afghanistan) to the Punjab, whose western part became for some time part of the Parthian empire.

They were overrun in the first century a.d. by the nomadic Sakas, who swept down from Central Asia into India and established several kingdoms that survived into the second century under the domination of the Parthians and Kushana. The empire of the Kushana in the northwest of India, then disintegrated in the third century under pressure from the intruding Sassanians.

At first, orders of Buddhist 6 monks exercised great power in the numerous Indian states.

5 Ruins of the city Bactra, present-day Balkh,
Afghanistan, former capital of Bactria

6 Buddhist cave monasteries and temples,
second century B.C.-sixth century a.d.

The princes then promoted the ancient Indian cults and priest castes as a counterweight, which brought about a renaissance of 8 Hinduism.

8 The god Vishnu shows sympathy for the
animal world, fifth century

In this period, the great Indian hero epics 9 Mahabharata and 7 Ramayana, in which the political events of the times are reflected, were written.

9 The Bhagavad Gita, part of the
Mahabharata, excerpt from
a script scroll

7 Illustration of the Ramayana, the life story of Rama miniature painting,
18th century

Rama (right) seated on the shoulders of Hanuman,
battles the demon-king Ravana.



Encyclopaedia Britannica

Hindu literature
(Sanskrit: “Great Epic of the Bharata Dynasty”)
one of the two Sanskrit great epic poems of ancient India (the other being the Ramayana). The Mahabharata is an important source of information on the development of Hinduism between 400 bce and 200 ce and is regarded by Hindus as both a text about dharma (Hindu moral law) and a history (itihasa, literally “that’s what happened”). Appearing in its present form about 400 ce, the Mahabharata consists of a mass of mythological and didactic material arranged around a central heroic narrative that tells of the struggle for sovereignty between two groups of cousins, the Kauravas (sons of Dhritarashtra, the descendant of Kuru) and the Pandavas (sons of Pandu). The poem is made up of almost 100,000 couplets—about seven times the length of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined—divided into 18 parvans, or sections, plus a supplement titled Harivamsha (“Genealogy of the God Hari”; i.e., of Vishnu). Although it is unlikely that any single person wrote the poem, its authorship is traditionally ascribed to the sage Vyasa, who appears in the work as the grandfather of the Kauravas and the Pandavas. The traditional date for the war that is the central event of the Mahabharata is 1302 bce, but most historians assign it a later date.

The story begins when the blindness of Dhritarashtra, the elder of two princes, causes him to be passed over in favour of his brother Pandu as king on their father’s death. A curse prevents Pandu from fathering children, however, and his wife Kunti asks the gods to father children in Pandu’s name. As a result, Dharma fathers Yudhishtira, the Wind fathers Bhima, Indra fathers Arjuna, and the Ashvins (twins) father Nakula and Sahadeva (also twins; born to Pandu’s second wife, Madri). The enmity and jealousy that develops between the cousins forces the Pandavas to leave the kingdom when their father dies. During their exile the five jointly marry Draupadi (who is born out of a sacrificial fire and whom Arjuna wins by shooting an arrow through a row of targets) and meet their cousin Krishna, who remains their friend and companion thereafter. Although the Pandavas return to the kingdom, they are again exiled to the forest, this time for 12 years, when Yudhishthira loses everything in a game of dice with Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas.

The feud culminates in a series of great battles on the field of Kurukshetra (north of Delhi, in Haryana state). All the Kauravas are annihilated, and, on the victorious side, only the five Pandava brothers and Krishna survive. Krishna dies when a hunter, who mistakes him for a deer, shoots him in his one vulnerable spot—his foot—and the five brothers, along with Draupadi and a dog who joins them (the god Dharma, Yudhisththira’s father, in disguise), set out for Indra’s heaven. One by one they fall on the way, and Yudhisthira alone reaches the gate of heaven. After further tests of his faithfulness and constancy, he is finally reunited with his brothers and Draupadi, as well as with his enemies, the Kauravas, to enjoy perpetual bliss.

The central plot constitutes little more than one fifth of the total work. The remainder of the poem addresses a wide range of myths and legends, including the romance of Damayanti and her husband Nala (who gambles away his kingdom just as Yudhishthira gambles away his) and the legend of Savitri, whose devotion to her dead husband persuades Yama, the god of death, to restore him to life. The poem also contains descriptions of places of pilgrimages.

Along with its basic plot and accounts of numerous myths, the Mahabharata reveals the evolution of Hinduism and its relations with other religions during its composition. The period during which the epic took shape was one of transition from Vedic sacrifice to sectarian Hinduism, as well as a time of interaction—sometimes friendly, sometimes hostile—with Buddhism and Jainism. Different sections of the poem express varying beliefs, often in creative tension. Some sections, such as the Narayaniya (a part of book 13), the Bhagavadgita (book 6), the Anugita (book 14), and the Harivamsha, are important sources of early Vaishnava theology, in which Krishna is an avatar of the god Vishnu. Above all, the Mahabharata is an exposition of dharma (codes of conduct), including the proper conduct of a king, of a warrior, of an individual living in times of calamity, and of a person seeking to attain freedom from rebirth. The poem repeatedly demonstrates that the conflicting codes of dharma are so “subtle” that, in some situations, the hero cannot help but violate them in some respect, no matter what choice he makes.

The Mahabharata story has been retold in written and oral Sanskrit and vernacular versions throughout South and Southeast Asia. Its various incidents have been portrayed in stone, notably in sculptured reliefs at Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom in Cambodia, and in Indian miniature paintings.

Wendy Doniger



Encyclopaedia Britannica

Indian epic
(Sanskrit: “Romance of Rāma”)
shorter of the two great epic poems of India, the other being the Mahābhārata (“Great Epic of the Bharata Dynasty”). The Rāmāyaṇa was composed in Sanskrit, probably not before 300 bc, by the poet Vālmīki, and in its present form consists of some 24,000 couplets divided into seven books.

The poem describes the royal birth of Rāma in the kingdom of Ayodhyā (Oudh), his tutelage under the sage Viśvāmitra, and his success in bending Śiva’s (Shiva’s) mighty bow at the bridegroom tournament of Sītā, the daughter of King Janaka, thus winning her for his wife. After Rāma is banished from his position as heir by an intrigue, he retreats to the forest with his wife and his favourite half brother, Lakṣmaṇa, to spend 14 years in exile. There Rāvaṇa, the demon-king of Laṅkā, carries off Sītā to his capital, while her two protectors are busy pursuing a golden deer sent to the forest to mislead them. Sītā resolutely rejects Rāvaṇa’s attentions, and Rāma and his brother set about to rescue her. After numerous adventures they enter into alliance with Sugrīva, king of the monkeys; and with the assistance of the monkey-general Hanumān and Rāvaṇa’s own brother, Vibhīṣana, they attack Laṅkā. Rāma slays Rāvaṇa and rescues Sītā, who in a later version undergoes an ordeal by fire in order to clear herself of the suspicions of infidelity. When they return to Ayodhyā, however, Rāma learns that the people still question the queen’s chastity, and he banishes her to the forest. There she meets the sage Vālmīki (the reputed author of the Rāmāyaṇa) and at his hermitage gives birth to Rāma’s two sons. The family is reunited when the sons become of age, but Sītā, after again protesting her innocence, asks to be received by the earth, which swallows her up.

The poem enjoys immense popularity in India, where its recitation is considered an act of great merit. Many of its translations into the vernacular languages are themselves works of great literary merit, including the Tamil version of Kampaṉ, the Bengali version of Kṛttibās, and the Hindi version, Rāmcaritmānas, of Tulsīdās. Throughout North India the events of the poem are enacted in an annual pageant, the Rām Līlā, and in South India the two epics, the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata, even today make up the story repertoire of the kathākali dance-drama of Malabar. The Rāmāyaṇa was popular even during the Mughal period (16th century), and it was a favourite subject of Rājasthānī and Pahārī painters of the 17th and 18th centuries.

The story also spread in various forms throughout Southeast Asia (especially Cambodia, Indonesia, and Thailand); and its heroes, together with the Pāṇḍava brothers of the Mahābhārata, were the heroes of traditional Javanese-Balinese theatre, dance, and shadow plays. Incidents from the Rāmāyaṇa are carved in bas-relief on many Indonesian monuments—for example, at Panataran in eastern Java.



The Mahabharta - War


The Mahabharta - War


The Mahabharta - Lord Krishna and Arjuna blow their conches

In the long run, the revitalization of Hinduism pushed Buddhism out of India.

In the fourth century Magadha once again became the foundation of a great empire. The local princes of the Gupta Dynasty (320-500 A.D), which reigned during the golden age of Hindu culture, under Chandragupta I and his son Samudragupta, were able to make vassals of the neighboring rulers in quick succession.

Under Chandragupta II, who also stood out as an 11 architect, the empire stood at the pinnacle of its power at the beginning of the fifth century, stretching over all of North India.

11 Vishnu Temple in Deogarh, fifth century

But then it was destroyed by invading Hephthalites. The last Guptas in the sixth century reigned only in Magadha, while in the rest of northern India a number of warring powers emerged.

Among them only the powerful Hindu dynasty of the 10 Gurjara-Pratiharas stood out, as they were able for some time to withstand the onslaught of Islamic conquerors, who had been invading India repeatedly since the eighth century.

10 Shiva as Nataraja, lord of the dance, sandstone from Pratihara, ninth century

Several states existed in central and southern India, among which the central Indian Andhra of the first and second centuries is of note. The Tamils were able to maintain their independence and the characteristic features of their southern Indian culture in the great plain of the Carnatic and northern Ceylon even in the times of the Maurya and Gupta empires.


Chandra Gupta I

Chandra Gupta I, king of India (reigned 320 to c. 330 ce) and founder of the imperial Gupta dynasty. He was the grandson of Sri Gupta, the first known ruler of the Gupta line. Chandra Gupta I, whose early life is unknown, became a local chief in the kingdom of Magadha (parts of modern Bihar state). He increased his power and territory by marrying, about 308, Princess Kumaradevi of the Licchavi tribe, which then controlled north Bihar and perhaps Nepal. Toward the close of the 3rd century ce, India consisted of a number of independent states, both monarchical and nonmonarchical; it is highly probable that the Guptas and Licchavis ruled over adjoining principalities. Their union by marriage enhanced the power and prestige of the new kingdom. Special gold coins depicted the king and queen on one side and the Licchavis on the other. The chronology of the Gupta era, dating from 320 and used in India for several centuries, is believed to be based on the date of either his coronation or his marriage.

By the conclusion of his reign, his kingdom probably extended west to the present-day city of Allahabad and included Ayodhya and southern Bihar. These regions were assigned to him by the Puranas (ancient chronicles of early Sanskrit literature). His dominions must have been sufficiently large to justify his assumption of the imperial title, maharajadhiraja (“king of kings”), and to enable his son Samudra Gupta to begin the conquest that led to the founding of the Gupta empire.

The suggestion that Chandra Gupta I conquered the Scythians is probably without foundation. Nor is it likely that he overcame the Licchavis by killing their king or that he was murdered by his heir. The tradition generally accepted is that the king held an assembly of councillors and royal family members at which Prince Samudra Gupta was formally nominated to succeed his abdicating father.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Chandra Gupta II

Chandra Gupta II, also called Vikramaditya, powerful emperor (reigned c. 380–c. 415 ce) of northern India. He was the son of Samudra Gupta and grandson of Chandra Gupta I. During his reign, art, architecture, and sculpture flourished, and the cultural development of ancient India reached its climax.

According to tradition, Chandra Gupta II achieved power by assassinating a weak elder brother. Inheriting a large empire, he continued the policy of his father, Samudra Gupta, by extending control over neighbouring territories. From 388 to 409 he subjugated Gujarat, the region north of Bombay (Mumbai), Saurastra (now Saurashtra), in western India, and Malwa, with its capital at Ujjain. These territories were ruled by Shaka chiefs, whose ancestors were Scythian tribes from the regions around Lake Balkhash (Balqash) in Kazakhstan. To strengthen his southern flank, he arranged a marriage between his daughter Prabhavati and Rudrasena II, king of the Vakatakas. When Rudrasena died, Prabhavati acted as regent for her sons, thereby increasing Gupta influence in the south. The emperor may also have made a matrimonial alliance with a dynasty in Mysore. He is almost certainly the King Chandra eulogized in the Sanskrit inscription on the iron pillar in the Qūwat al-Islām mosque in Delhi.

A strong and vigorous ruler, Chandra Gupta II was well qualified to govern an extensive empire. Some of his silver coins bear the title Vikramaditya (“Sun of Valour”), which suggests that he was the prototype for the king Vikramaditya of later Hindu tradition. Although the emperor generally resided at Ayodhya, which he made his capital, the city of Pataliputra (now Patna in Bihar) also achieved prosperity and grandeur. A benevolent king under whom India enjoyed peace and relative prosperity, he also patronized learning; among the scholars at his court were the astronomer Varahamihira and the Sanskrit poet and dramatist Kalidasa. The Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Faxian, who spent six years (405–411) in India during Chandra Gupta II’s reign, spoke highly of the system of government, the means for dispensing charity and medicine (the emperor maintained free rest houses and hospitals), and the goodwill of the people. But he never visited the emperor or his court. Chandra Gupta II was a devout Hindu, but he also tolerated the Buddhist and Jain religions.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Samudra Gupta

Samudra Gupta, (died 380 ce), regional emperor of India from about 330 to 380 ce. He generally is considered the epitome of an “ideal king” of the “golden age of Hindu history,” as the period of the imperial Guptas (320–510 ce) has often been called. The son of King Chandra Gupta I and the Licchavi princess Kumaradevi, he is pictured as a muscular warrior, a poet, and a musician who displayed “marks of hundreds of wounds received in battle.” In many ways he personified the Indian conception of the hero.

Samudra Gupta was chosen as emperor by his father over other contenders and apparently had to repress revolts in his first years of rule. On pacifying the kingdom, which probably then reached from what is now Allahabad (in present-day Uttar Pradesh state) to the borders of Bengal, he began a series of wars of expansion from his northern base near what is now Delhi. In the southern Pallava kingdom of Kanchipuram, he defeated King Vishnugopa, then restored him and other defeated southern kings to their thrones on payment of tribute. Several northern kings were uprooted, however, and their territories added to the Gupta empire. At the height of Samudra Gupta’s power, he controlled nearly all of the valley of the Ganges (Ganga) River and received homage from rulers of parts of east Bengal, Assam, Nepal, the eastern part of the Punjab, and various tribes of Rajasthan. He exterminated 9 monarchs and subjugated 12 others in his campaigns.

From inscriptions on gold coins and on the Ashoka pillar in the fort at Allahabad, Samudra Gupta is shown to have been especially devoted to the Hindu god Vishnu. He revived the ancient Vedic horse sacrifice, probably at the conclusion of his fighting days, and distributed large sums for charitable purposes during these ceremonies. A special gold coin that he issued commemorated this ceremony, while another showed him playing the harp; all were of high gold content and excellent workmanship.

Since he was a member of the influential Brahman caste (the highest-ranking caste), it is reasonable to assume that he supported caste distinctions, and the Guptas may have been responsible for the emergence of Brahmanism as a theological system as well as a code of social behaviour, which was carried into present Hindu society.

Encyclopaedia Britannica




Deogarh Vishnu Temple


Vishnu Temple is located at Deogarh in Central India built in c. 500 AD.

The temple is one of the earliest Hindu stone temples to still survive today. Built in the Gupta Period (320 to c. 600 AD), Vishnu Temple shows the ornate and beauty seen in Gupta style architecture. This temple is also a good resource for examining Gupta style sculptures and art.

Many of these early Hindu stone temples were dedicated to a single Hindu deity. The temple at Deogarh is dedicated to the Vishnu. These temples made in the early part of the 6th century of the Gupta Period housed images and symbols of Hindu gods. These temples allowed people to make contact with the gods they were worshiping. The Temple was built out of stone and brick consisting of a single cubical sanctum that sheltered the images within. Statuaries of the Vishnu were both sculpted in the interior and exterior walls of the temple. The temple’s affiliation with the deity Vishnu can be seen by looking at the statuary of the deity seated on a coiled serpent seat that decorates the carved doorway into the temple. There are also many sculpted panels showing the myths and tales connected with Vishnu.

Vishnu Temple is a great example of early Gupta architecture. The style and organization of the structure was the method for the decoration of many Hindu temples seen around India at the time. Though it is in poor condition, having a damaged tower, the temple still exudes the ornate decorations and structural complexity created back in the early 6th century.



Deogarh Vishnu Temple


Deogarh Vishnu Temple
Doorway detail