Buddhist temple architecture.
Buddhist temple architecture.

India's Maurya and Gupta empires had many things in common. They were both founded by men named Chandragupta. They both ruled much of what is now India, and shared the same capitol city at Pataliputra. However, the Gupta empire never controlled as much territory as the Maurya empire and was never as unified. The Gupta rulers also patronized Hinduism, unlike the later Maurya emperors, who favored Buddhism.

Differences in Extent

The Maurya empire was founded by Chandragupta Maurya around 320 B.C. The Maurya emperors continued to expand until they ruled almost the entire Indian subcontinent by 272 B.C., including most of what is now India and Pakistan. The Gupta empire was founded by Chandragupta I in A.D. 320, but never ruled territories as extensive as those of the Maurya at its height. The Guptas controlled northern India and received tribute from the Vakatakas in central India, but never expanded into the south.

Differences in Administration

The Maurya empire was governed by powerful emperors who established an elaborate bureaucracy, levied extensive taxes and exercised direct control over the villages within its territories. Under the Gupta, villages were governed by their own headmen and the central government did not seek to impose direct control. The Gupta delegated power to regional authority figures who often succeeded in becoming hereditary feudal lords. Although the Gupta empire was extremely wealthy, taxes were never as extensive as under the Maurya and the imperial bureaucracy was smaller.

Differences in Religion

A significant cultural difference between the Maurya and Gupta empires was in the area of religion. Both empires included followers of the Hindu, Jain and Buddhist religions. However, the Maurya emperors generally favored non-Hindu religions. The first Maurya emperor, Chandragupta, was a follower of Jainism. The most powerful of all the Maurya emperors was Ashoka, who embraced Buddhism in remorse for the destruction caused by his own wars of conquest. However, by the time the Gupta founded their empire, Hinduism had recovered the initiative and was able to secure the support of the Gupta emperors, many of whom named themselves after Hindu gods. Hinduism experienced a cultural and religious renaissance under the Guptas.

Differences in Art and Architecture

The artists and architects of the Maurya empire created huge stone sculptures such as the famous rock pillars on which Ashoka had his edicts carved. Many of the Maurya sculptures featured Buddhist themes and animal figures such as lions and elephants. Although Maurya artists were influenced to some extent by other cultures such as the neighboring Persians, their style was essentially native to India. The Gupta era is known as the Golden Age of India because of the advancements made in science, art and literature. The dominant artistic styles during the Gupta Empire were those of Mathura and Gandhara, both reflecting Hellenistic and Buddhist influences. Gupta art and architecture also shows a strong Hellenistic influence, with Buddhist and Hindu sculptures based on the features of the Greek gods.