Rock-crystal seal of king Avarighsa

Western India, 4th century

King Avarighsa ruled parts of western India prior to the Gupta conquest in the late fourth century. On this seal, used to certify charters and court documents, Avarighsa is shown wearing an elaborate crown and decorative armbands. These insignia accentuated the king’s strength, beauty and high social status.

The royal courts of the Gupta period – both imperial and provincial – developed elaborate protocols which regulated every aspect of courtly life. These protocols continued for centuries after the Guptas. Great emphasis was placed on correct language, proper deportment, learning and virtuous conduct. Gestures and the exchange of courtesies were highly formalised. Even emotions and sexual activity were supposed to conform to the rules in the Kāmasūtra and related works.

The most obvious outward manifestation of courtly refinement was dress and jewellery. The design, size and use of rings and ornaments signalled the wearer’s wealth and station in the social hierarchy.

Manuals on statecraft, such as the Artha Śāstra, prescribed that the king should appoint ministers, judges and religious leaders. These officials and their many assistants – such as astrologers and doctors – established a demanding routine for the king: he was to rise in the early hours, perform his devotions, listen to music, take council, eat and sleep – all according to schedule.

Major undertakings, from temple building to military campaigns, were supposed to start at an auspicious time of year under auspicious celestial signs. The king’s social space was also carefully regulated: the palace had special areas for the king’s treasury, armoury, stables and servants. These surrounded and protected the king’s personal quarters, garden and women’s chambers.

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Height: 2.89 cm

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Brooke Sewell Permanent Fund


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