The origins of the Guptas are shrouded in obscurity. The Chinese traveller I-tsing provides the first evidence of the Gupta kingdom in Magadha. He came to India in 672 and heard of 'Maharaja Sri-Gupta' who built a temple for Chinese pilgrims near Mrigasikhavana. I-tsing gives the date for this event merely as '500 years before'. This does not match with other sources and hence we can assume that I-tsing's computation was a mere guess.
The most likely date for the reign of Sri-Gupta is c. 240-280 His successor Ghatotkacha ruled probably from c. 280-319 In contrast to his successor, he is also referred to in inscriptions as 'Maharaja'.
Rise of the Gupta empire
Ghatotkacha (c. 280-319), had a son named Chandragupta. In a breakthrough deal, Chandragupta was married to Kumaradevi , a Lichchhavi - the main power in Magadha. With a dowry of the kingdom of Magadha (capital Pataliputra) and an alliance with the Lichchhavis, Chandragupta set about expanding his power, conquering much of Magadha, Prayaga and Saketa . He established a realm stretching from the Ganga (Ganges) river to Prayaga (modern-day Allahabad) by 320. Chandragupta was the first of the Guptas to be referred to as 'Maharajadhiraja' or 'King of Kings'.
Chandragupta died in 335 and was succeeded by his son Samudragupta, a tireless conqueror. He took the kingdoms of Shichchhatra and Padmavati early in his reign. He then took the Kingdom of Kota and attacked the tribes in Malvas , the Yaudheyas, the Arjunayanas, the Maduras and the Abhiras. By his death in 380, he had incorporated over twenty kingdoms into his realm, his rule extended from the Himalayas to the river Narmada and from the Brahmaputra to the Yamuna . He gave himself the titles King of Kings and World Monarch. He performed ashwamedha yajna (horse sacrifice) to underline the importance of his conquest.
Samduragupta was not only a warrior but also a great patron of art and literature. The important scholars present in his court were Harishena, Vasubandhu and Asanga. He was a poet and musician himself. He was a firm believer in hinduism and is known to have worshipped Lord Vishnu. He was considerate of other religions and allowed the Sri Lanka's buddhist king to build a monastery at Censored page.
Chandragupta II, the Sun of Power (Vikramaditya), ruled until 413. He married the daughter of the king of Deccan, Rudrasena II , and gained a valuable ally. Only marginally less war-like than his father, he expanded his realm westwards, defeating the Saka Satraps of Malwa, Gujarat and Saurashtra in a campaign lasting until 409, but with his main opponent Rudrasimha III defeated by 395, and crushing the Bengal (Vanga) chiefdoms. This extended his control from coast-to-coast, established a second (trading) capital at Ujjain and was the high point of the empire.
Despite the creation of the empire through war, the reign is remembered for its very influential style of Hindu art, literature, culture and science, especially during the reign of Chandragupta II. During this period, the Guptas were supportive of thriving Buddhist and Jain cultures as well, and for this reason there is also a long history of non-Hindu Gupta period art. In particular, Gupta period Buddhist art was to be influential in most of East and Southeast Asia. Much of advances was recorded by the Chinese scholar and traveller Fa-hsien.
Chandragupta II was succeeded by his son Kumaragupta I. Known as the Mahendraditya, he ruled until 455. Towards the end of his reign a tribe in the Narmada valley, the Pushyamitras, rose in power to threaten the empire. Kumaragupta's successor Skandagupta defeated this threat, but then was faced with invading Huns from the north-west. The expense of the wars drained the regime and led to its decline.
Skandagupta is generally considered the last of the great rulers. He died in 480 and was succeeded by his son Narasimhagupta Baladitya.