The Gupta age saw the acceptance of the Aryan pattern in northern India. The key status of the Brahmin was established. Good number of books re-written incorporating the view-point of the brahmins confirming the view that the status of the Brahmin was effective and powerful. Added to his, the increased granting of land to brahmins strengthened the pre-eminces of the Brahmin in society. The Brahmin thought that he was the sole custodian of Aryan tradition. Not only, this, the brahmins also
monopolized knowledge and the education system.
Also, in the Aryan pattern of a society the master of the house occupied higher status. This indicates the disappearance of the indigenous pre-Aryan culture. Luckily this patriarchal Aryan society did not spread to all parts of India as conflict between Aryan and non-Aryan cultures continued. Al though the patriarchal stamp of Aryan and non-Aryan society, as revealed by the low status of women, became increasingly evident, the opposite also appeared in the form of increasing worship of Mother Goddess and fertility cults. In a way, the imposition of Aryan pattern of society on classes other than those of upper castes was incomplete and uncertain. In the post-Gutan era more and more concessions were made to popular cults as borne out by the spread of Saivism and linga worship. Thus, the Aryan pattern of society could not take routes in the whole of India.
Al though women were idealized in literature, they definitely occupied a subordinate position. Only upper class women were permitted a limited kind of education and that too only for enabling them to converse intelligently. Occasionally there are references of women teachers and philosophers. Some of the later day evil practices began to appear in this age. Early marriages appeared, and even pre-puberty marriages. It was also suggested that a widow should not only live in strict celibacy, but pre-ferably burn herself on the funeral pyre of her husband, according to Thapar evidence shows that this practice dates from 510 A.D. as stated in an inscription at era. It gradually came to be followed by the upper classes of central India to begin with and later in eastern India and Napal.
Some of the towns of South Bihar were large like those of Magadha. People were generally rich and prosperous. Charitable institutions were numerous. Rest houses for travelers existed on the highways. The capital itself had excellent free hospital endowed by benevolent and enlightened citizens.
Interestingly Pataliputra was still a city which inspired awe. Fahien was impressed by it particularly as it possessed two monasteries of interest. According to him, the monks were famous for their learning and students from all quarters attended their lectures. He himself had spent three years in the study of Sanskrit language and the Buddhist scriptures in Patiliputra. Fahien was tremendoulsly impressed by the palaces and halls erected during the time of Asoka in the middle of the city. According to him the massive stone-work adorned with sculptures and decorative carvings appeared to be the work of spirits beyond the capacity of human craftsmen.
Fahien also recorded that on his journey from the Indus to Mathura and Yamuna he saw a large number of monasteries tenanted by thousands of monks. Mathura alone had 20 such institutions.
It is said that people generally observed the Buddhist rule of life. The Chandalas or outcastes lived outside towns and cities. They were required to strik a piece of wood on entering to town or a bazaar so that people might not become polluted by contact with them. This particular observation shows that the manners and attitudes of people and government underwent a great change from the days of the Mauryas. It may be remembered that earlier the people of Taxila offered herds of fat beasts to Alexander to be slaughtered. Even Asoka did not forbid the slaughter of kine. Fahien observed that through out the whole country no body except the lowest out castes killed any living thing. Drank strong liquor, or ate onions and garlic. Probably this view of Fahien has to be taken with a pinch of salt. What all his remark conveys is that the sentiment of ahimsa was probably very strong in mid-India. Possibly, Fahien was only remarking on Buddhists.
In the field of education the sciences of mathematics and astronomy including estrology, were pursued. The famous writers of the day were Aryabhata, Varahamihira, and a little later Brahmagupta. The first two writers definitely absorbed some Greek elements relating to their respective sciences. By the end of the sixth century India had devised the decimal system for the notation of numeral and employed a special sign for zero. This contribution of India to the world in the sphere of practical knowledge was used in inscriptions only a century after Aryabhata.
The university at Nalanda became an educational center of international fame. Founded in the fifty century by one of the later Gupta emperors, it was endowed munificently by monarchs and rich men frol all parts of India and the Hindu colonies. Both Yuan-chwang and I-Tsing have left detailed accounts of their observations. We have also sufficient epigraphical and archaeological records to know more about it.
Formal education was imparted both in brahminical institutions and in Buddhist monasteries. In the latter pupils lived for 10 years but those who sought to join the ranks of monk remained for a longer period. Nalanda was the premier canter of Buddhist learning.
Primarily formal education was limited to grammar rhetoric prose,
composition, logic, metaphysics and medicine. It is interesting to observe that detailed works on veterinary science appeared and that too they primarily related to horses and elephants.
Most of technical and specialized knowledge remained with guilds. Unfortunately, this knowledge was transmitted to younger generations on hereditary lines. This knowledge of the guilds has no contact with Brahmin institutions and Buddhist monasteries. Exceptionally the only one subject that brought the guilds and others close was mathematics. Understandably great advance was made in the field of mathematics.
Dramatic entertainment was popular both in court circles and outside. Music concerts and dance performances were primarily held in well-to-do house holds and before discerning audience. The generality of people derived pleasure in gambling and in witnessing animal fights specially those, of rams, cocks and quails. Athletics and gymnastics were the well-known sporting tournaments of the day. At various festivals both religious and secular amusements of various kinds were witnessed by people. The festival of spring was an important event for merry-making. Al though Fahien says that vegetarianism was widely prevalent meat was commonly consumed. Wine both local and imported was drunk and chewing of beetle leaf was a regular practice.
Caste and occupation were related although it was not very strictly maintained. There appears to be some improvement in the status of the shudra as compared to the Mauryan times. There was a clear distinction between shudras and slaves in the legal literature of the day. Also the term 'dvija' came to be restricted to Brahmins. The inscriptions of the day, however indicate that there was social mobility among the sub-castes.
The legal text-books primarily base the mselves on the work of manu. The writers of the day were Yajnavalkay, Narada, Brihaspati, Katyayana. Joint family system was well-known.
The first major works on astronomy were compiled earlier. Some of the fundamental problems of astronomy were tackled by Aryabhata. It was primarily because of his efforts that astronomy was recognized as a separate discipline. Aryabhata also believed that the earth was a sphere and the shadow of the earth falling on the moon caused eclipses. A near contemporary of Aryabhata was Varahamihira who divided the study of a stronomy into three distinct branches - astronomy, and mathematics, horoscopy and astrology.