Chandragupta and his son, Bindusara, extended Mauryan rule over northern India and the Deccan to the south. Their rule was strict, reputedly having an army of some 700,000 men and 9,000 elephants. Chandragupta and Bindusara built and maintained roads, bridges, and irrigation systems.Bindusara's successor and one of the most remarkable rulers in history was Ashoka (269-232 B.C.E). A bloody struggle for the throne and the even bloodier conquest of Kalinga in 261 B.C.E upset him so much that he embraced the Buddhist concept of non-violence and renounced war, gave up the hunt, and outlawed the killing of any animals not used or eaten. Throughout his reign, Ashoka continued to rule in the spirit of Buddhism (which he may also have seen as a unifying force for his empire). He sent out officers of righteousness to ensure the just rule by his officials. He codified Buddhist laws and principles. And he worked for the welfare of his subjects by digging wells, building rest houses and planting banyan trees for shade, medicinal herbs, and mango trees.
The Kushan realm remained a center of culture until its demise in the late third century at the hands of a new power rising in the West, the Sassanid Persians. However, a new native dynasty, the Guptas, emerged in the fourth century to take the Kushans' place. Its founder, Chandra Gupta I (319-335), although from an obscure family in Bihar in the northeast, made a favorable marriage that helped him control the Ganges River Valley by his death. His successors eventually brought Northern India under their rule while states in the Deccan and Sri Lanka agreed to become the Guptas' vassals.Meanwhile, the Brahmins were renewing contact with the people and winning many converts to their religion, which at this point had evolved into what we now call Hinduism. In the following centuries, Hinduism would replace Buddhism as the major religion in India, although it continued to spread across Asia.
The Gupta empire united northern Indian territories between 320 - 550 CE. (see map) Unification and greater stability under the Gupta leadership produced a prosperous and productive age for India - termed a "renaissance" by some historians.
Under the Guptas, Indian enjoyed a rare and brief respite from constant warfare. There was a noticeable increase in stability and security. Energies and monies could be devoted to cultural and artistic development, rather than warfare and military needs. Trade flourished, thus increasing wealth and cultural interactions. Gupta rulers themselves supported and encouraged cultural and artistic achievements. The result of these many constructive influences was, for India, a "golden age"
This was perhaps one of the most stable and most creative periods in ancient Indian history. The relative decrease in violence during the Gupta empire allowed Indian civilization to focus energies and resources on creative arts and speculative pursuits, rather than warfare. It is a poignant indication of what this civilization was capable of when not wracked by war and outside threats.