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The Mauryan Empire


Between the sixth and the fourth centuries BC Magadha became the most powerful Mahajanapda. Modern historians explain this development in a variety of ways: Magadha was a region where agriculture was especially productive. Besides iron mines were accessible and provided resources for tools and weapons. Elephants an important component of the army was found in forests in the region. Also the Ganga and its tributaries provided a means of cheap and convenient communication. However early Buddhist and Jaina writers who wrote about Magdha attributed its power to the policies of individual's ruthlessly ambitious kings of whom Bimbisara, Ajatshastru and Mahapadma Nanda are the best known and their ministers who helped implement their policies. Initially Rajagaha was the capital of Magadha.

The old name means house of the king. Rajagaha was a fortified settlement located amongst hills later in the fourth century BC the capital was shifted to Patliputra commanding routes of communication along the Ganga.


The Mauryan Empire was the first and one of the greatest empires that were established on Indian soil. The vast Mauryan Empire stretching from the valley of the Oxus to the delta of Kaveri was given a well knit common administration. Chandragupta Maurya was the first ruler who unified entire India under one political unit. About Mauryan rulers we have epigraphically sources, literary sources, foreign accounts and materials obtained from archaeological excavations. The Arthashastra gives us detailed information about the administrative system of the Mauryan Empire. The work was written by Kautilya who is also known as Chanakya. Some scholars think that Kautilya was the real architect of the Mauryan Empire and was also the prime minister of Chandragupta Maurya.

Megasthenese the Greek ambassador from the court of Selectus to that of Chandragupta Maurya wrote accounts of India and Indian people. His book 'Indica' is lost but some fragments of it are known to us in the form of quotations in the works of the later Greek writers. However the most important and authentic source for the history of Mauryan period is provided by the inscriptions of Ashoka.

Sources of Mauryan History

  • Epigraphical Evidences
  • Literary Sources
  • Foreign sources
  • Archaeological excavations
  • Numismatic Evidence
  • Evidences from Art and Architecture
  • This book in original form has been lost. But most passages have been preserved in form of epitomes and quotations which are found scattered here and there in the later writings of various Greek and Roman authors such as Strabo, Arrian and Plinius. Another important source which gives valuable information on the Mauryan period is the Arthashastra. It is believed to be the work of Vishnu Gupta Kautilya also known as Chanakya. He was the chief advisor of Chandragupta Maurya. His book Arthashastra is a standard work on politics and art of government.

    It is considered to be the most valuable work in the field of secular literature. Mudra Rakshasa is another important work which throws some light on Chandragupta Maurya's career. It is a drama written by Vaisakha Dutta in the Gupta period. The author collected all the information available to him in the 5th century AD. This drama gives the detail of the revolution by which Chandragupta Maurya overthrew the Nandas. It also mentioned that Chandragupta belonged to a low caste

    Epigraphical Evidences

    The most authentic source of Mauryan history is the epigraphical evidence. The edicts of Ashoka are the oldest, the best preserved and the most precisely dated epigraphic records of India. The inscriptions are engraved on rocks, boulders, cave walls and pillars of stone. The inscriptions of Ashoka are of two kinds -the smaller group consists of declaration of the king as a lay Buddhist to his church. These describe his own acceptance of Buddhism and his relationship with the Samgha. The second group of important inscriptions consists of Major and Minor rock edicts and the pillar edicts.

    They describe his famous policy of Dhamma. These inscriptions were installed in prominent places either near towns or on important trade and travel routes or in the proximity of religious centres and places of religious importance.

    Literary Sources

    Of the religious sources the Buddhist and Jain traditions the early Dharmashastra are of great importance. The Ashokavadana and Divyavadana are two Buddhist texts containing information about Bindusara, Ashoka's expeditions to Taxila to suppress a rebellion and about his conversion to Buddhism. DipVamsa and Maha Vamsa describe in detail the role played by Ashoka in the spreading of Buddhism in SriLanka. Chaitra or Parisisthaparvan (biography of Chanakya) of Hemachandra provides very interesting information on Chandra Gupta Maurya.

    Amongst the Brahmanical works the Puranas give information on the history of the Mauryas. Megasthenese 's Indica is another source in which he had described the physical features of the country-soil, climate, animals and plants, its government and religion, the manners of the people and their art.

    This book in original form has been lost. But most passages have been preserved in form of epitomes and quotations which are found scattered here and there in the later writings of various Greek and Roman authors such as Strabo, Arrian and Plinius. Another important source which gives valuable information on the Mauryan period is the Arthashastra. It is believed to be the work of Vishnu Gupta Kautilya also known as Chanakya. He was the chief advisor of Chandragupta Maurya. His book Arthashastra is a standard work on politics and art of government.

    It is considered to be the most valuable work in the field of secular literature. Mudra Rakshasa is another important work which throws some light on Chandragupta Maurya's career. It is a drama written by Vaisakha Dutta in the Gupta period. The author collected all the information available to him in the 5th century AD. This drama gives the detail of the revolution by which Chandragupta Maurya overthrew the Nandas. It also mentioned that Chandragupta belonged to a low caste

    Foreign sources

    As a sequence of Alexander's invasions of India a number of Greek travellers visited India. They gave valuable information of India to the outside world. Neachus was deputed by Alexander to explore the coast between the Indus and the Persian Gulf. Onesicritus took part in the voyage with Neachus and afterwards wrote a book about the voyage and India. Megasthanese was sent as an ambassador to the court of Chandragupta Maurya by Seleucus Nikator the Greek ruler of Persia. His account about Mauryan India is compiled in Indika.

    Archaeological excavations

    Archaeological excavations have been conducted at a number of Mauryan sites. Excavations at Kaushambi, Rajagriha, Patliputra, Hastinapur, and Taxila have helped us to reconstruct the historical development of the period.

    Numismatic Evidence

    The Mauryan empire was based on the money economy. Kautilya refers to suvarna, silver pana and copper mashaka as a token currency. A horde of punch marked silver coins were found at Golakhpur at a site of ancient Patliputra belonging to Pre-Mauryan times. Most of these coins have only symbols like tree in railing, sun, moon, mountain, and animals, birds etc punched or stamped on them. These symbols on the coins had probably some connection with local commerce such as the guilds, local or provincial administration, the royal and dynastic symbols etc. The sites from where these coins have been found imply that these places were inhabited during the Mauryan period.

    Evidences from Art and Architecture

    The Mauryan Art remains include chaityas, viharas, stupas, animal capitals surmounting the pillars. On some pillars the Edicts were inscribed. These remains give us an information about the material used at that time about the craftsmanship, about the peaceful times, efficient administration, religion of the king and people etc. From these stupas, pillars, caves we can see the progress of Mauryan art in different spheres like architecture, sculpture, art of polishing, engineering and art of ornamentation.

    Causes of Magadhan Supremacy

    The kingdom of Magadha rose to pre-eminence during the period of Bimbisara and became the first great empire in India by the time of Nanda. Magadha occupied a strategic position of geographical importance. It was bound on the north and west by the river Ganges and Son on the south by the spurs of the Vindhyas and on the east by the river Champa. In this way it was safe from all four sides. Even its two capitals Rajgriha and Patliputra were situated at a strategic position from a geographic viewpoint. Its first capital Rajagriha was surrounded by five hills forming a natural defence. While its second capital Pataliputra being at the junction of the Ganges and the Son had natural means of defence. Natural resources were also favourable to Magadha. The rich iron deposits were situated not far away from Rajgir. It was from this that its rulers could make effective and strong weapons. Its adversaries lacked reserves of iron ore and could not equip themselves with weapons of such high quality. Hence they were easily defeated by Magadhan rulers. Thus the local iron ore deposits made possible better implements and weapons and a profitable trade in iron.

    The land of Magadha was also fertile which yielded rich harvests. Heavy rainfall made the land more productive even without irrigation. They produced varieties of paddy which are mentioned in the early Buddhist texts. Land taxes could be kept high which proved to be regular and substantial source of income to the state without which the maintenance of a big army could not be possible and the empire could neither be built nor consolidated. Neighbouring forests provided timber for buildings and elephants for the army.

    Chandragupta Maurya (324-300 BC)

    The Buddhist sources like Mahavamsa and Dipavamsa describe Chandragupta Maurya as a scion of the Kshatriya clan of the Moriyas branch of Sakyas who lived in Pipphalivana in eastern Uttar Pradesh. The Mudrarakshasa a play written by Vishakha Datta uses the terms like Vrishla and Kulahina for Chandragupta which mean a person of humble origin. Tuskin a Greek writer also says that Chandragupta was born in humble life. According to Buddhist sources Chandragupta's father was killed in a battle and he was brought up by his maternal uncle. Chanakya finding the signs of royalty in the child Chandragupta took him as his pupil and educated him at Taxila which was then a great centre of learning. Chandragupta's early life and education at Taxila is indirectly proved by the fact that the Greek sources says that he had seen Alexander in course of the latter's campaign of Punjab.

    The details of Chandragupta's conquests and empire building process are not available. From the Greek and Jain sources it seems that Chandragupta took advantage of the disturbances caused by the invasion of Alexander and his sudden death in 232 BC in Babylon. He first overthrew the Greek Kshatrapas ruling in the region of north-western India. After liberating north-western India from the Greek rule, Chandragupta defeated the Nanda King and captured him. After defeating Nanda, Chandragupta became the ruler of the Magadha Empire. Chandragupta's western and southern Indian conquests are known through indirect evidences.

    The Junagarh rock inscription of Rudradaman says that a dam on the Sudarshana Lake for irrigation was constructed by Pushyagupta a provinicial governor of Chandragupta Maurya. Later Yavanaraja Tushapha excavated canals for irrigation during Ashoka's reign. Similarly the find of Ashokan inscriptions at Girnar hills in Junagarh district in Gujarat and at Sopara Thane dist Maharashtra shows that these areas formed part of Mauryan empire. Ashoka's inscription have been found at Maski, Yerragudi and Chitaldurga in Karnataka.

    Rock Edict II and XIII of Ashoka mentions that his immediate neighbouring states were those of Cholas, Pandyas, Satyaputras and Keralaputras. Since Ashoka and his father Bindusara are not known to have made conquest in South India it can be said that it was conquered by Chandragupta. This conclusion is further strengthened by the Jain tradition which says that in his old age Chandragupta abdicated the throne and retired to Sravangola in Karnataka with his teacher the Jain ascetic Bhadrbahu. Local inscriptions of later period refer to his giving his life as a devout Jaina by fast unto death at that place. Chandragupta defeated the invading army of the Greek Kshatrapa Seleucus who had succeeded Alexander in the eastern part of his empire. This victory was achieved in about 305 BC. The Greek writers don't give details of the war but state that a treaty was concluded in which Seleucus conceded the territories of Kandahar, Kabul, Herat and Baluchistan and Chandragupta presented him with 500 elephants. This also led to the matrimonial alliance between the two perhaps Seleucus married his daughter to Chandragupta Maurya or to his son Bindusara. Seleucus sent Megasthenese as his ambassador to the court of Chandragupta. Chandragupta established a vast empire which with the exception of Kalinga extended from Afghanistan in the west of Assam in the east and from Kashmir in north to Karnataka in south. This is indirectly proved by the find spots of the edicts of his grandson Ashoka. Ashoka is said to have added only Kalinga to the Mauryan Empire and there is no definite evidence that his father Bindusara made only conquests at all. Chandragupta Maurya is said to have ruled for 24 years from 324 BC to 300 BC

    Bindusara (300-273 BC)

    Chandragupta Maurya was succeeded by his son Bindusara. The Jain scholar Hemachandra and Tibetan historian Taranath say that Chanakya outlived Chandragupta and continued as a minister of Bindusara. From Divyavadana it come to know that Bindusara appointed his eldest son Sumana as his viceroy at Taxila and Ashoka at Ujjain.

    It also tells that a revolt broke out at Taxila and when it could not be suppressed by Susima Ashoka was sent to restore peace. Some scholars give the credit of south India conquest to Bindusara but most scholars believe that this was done by his father Chandragupta Maurya. Bindusara continued the policy of friendly relations with Hellenic world. Pling mentions that Ptolemy Philadelphus of Egypt sent Dionysius as his ambassador to his court.

    Ashoka (273- 232 BC)

    After the death of Bindusara in 273 BC Ashoka succeeded to the throne. According to the Buddhist sources his mother was Janapada Kalyani or Subhadrangi. As a prince he served as a victory first at Ujjain and then at Taxila. According to the Buddhist tradition Ashoka was very cruel in his early life and captured the throne after killing his 99 brothers. Ashoka is the first king in the Indian history who has left his records engraved on stones. The history of Ashoka and his reign can be reconstructed with the help of these inscriptions and some other literary sources. The inscriptions on rocks are called Rock edicts and those on pillars, Pillar edicts.

    The Ashokan inscriptions are found in India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afganistan. Altogether they appear at 47 places. However the name of Ashoka occurs only in copies of Minor Rock Edict I found at three places in Karnataka and one in MP. All other inscriptions refer to him as devanampiya (beloved of the gods) and piyadasi. The inscriptions of Ashoka were written in different scripts. In Afghanistan they were written in Greek and Aramaic languages and script and in Pakistan area in Prakrit language and Kharosthi script. Inscriptions from all other places are in Prakrit language written in Brahmi script.

    Kalinga war and its impact

    The earliest event of Ashoka's reign recorded in his inscription is his conquest of Kalinga (modern Orissa) in the 8th year of his reign. This turned out to be first and also the last battle fought by him. The Rock Edict III describes vividly the horrors and miseries of this war and its impact on Ashoka. According to this edict one lakh people were killed in this war, several lakhs perished and lakh and a half were taken prisoners. He felt great remorse for the atrocities the war brought in its wake.

    He thus abandoned the policy of aggression and tired to conquer the hearts of the people. The drums declaring wars were replaced by the drums announcing ethical and moral principals with dhamma ghasa. He sent ambassadors of peace to the Greek Kingdoms in West Asia and several other countries. Within the empire he appointed a class of officers known as rejjukas who were vested with the authority of not only rewarding people but also punishing them if required.

    Dhamma of Ashoka

    There is no doubt that Ashoka's personal religion was Buddhism. In his Bhabru edict he says he had full faith in Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. He showed respect to all sects and faiths and believed in using among ethical and moral values of all sects. In Rock Edict VII he says all seeks desire both self control and purity of mind. In Rock Edict XII he pronounces his policy of equal respect to all religious sects more clearly.

    The Dhamma as explained in Ashoka's edicts is not a religion or a religious system but a moral law, a common code of conduct or an ethical order. In Pillar Edict II Ashoka himself puts the question what is Dhamma? Then he enumerates two basic attributes or constituents of Dhamma: less evil and many good deeds. He says such evils as rage, cruelty, anger, pride and envy are to be avoided and many good deeds like kindness, liberty, truthfulness, gentleness, selfcontrol, purity of heart, attachment to morality, inner and outer purity etc are to be pursued vigorously. Ashoka established hospitals for humans and animals and made liberal donations to the Brahmans and ascetics of different religious sects

    He erected rest houses, caused wells to be dug and trees to be planted along the roads. Ashoka took for the propagation of Buddhism. He conducted Dharamyatras and instructed his officials to do the same. He appointed special class of officials called Dharamahamatras whose sole responsibility was to propagate Dhamma among the people. Ashoka sent missions to foreign countries also to propagate dhamma. His missionaries went to western Asia, Egypt and Eastern Europe. Of the Foreign kings whose kingdoms thus received the message of Buddhism five are mentioned in the inscriptions of Ashoka namely Antiochus, Syria and Western Asia, Ptolemy Philadelphus of Egypt, Antigonus Gonatas of Macedonia, Megas of Cyrene and Alexander of Epirus. Ashoka even sent his son Mahendra and daughter Sanghamitra to propagate Buddhism in Srilanka.

    Policy and Administration

    The Mauryan Empire was one of the largest in the whole of the ancient world. It ushered in a centralized form of government. From the Arthashastra Ashokan inscription and from the fragments available from Megasthense's account there have a good idea about the various aspects of administration, economy, society and religion of the people. The king was head of the state. He had judicial, legislative and executive powers. The king issued what was known as sasana or ordinances. The edicts of Ashoka are examples of the sansanas. The king was assisted in administration by a council of ministers (mantriparishad). Besides there were some referred as Adhyakshas (superintendents).

    Kautilya refers to a large number of superintendents like those of gold, store houses, commerce, agriculture, ships, cows, horses, chariots, infantry, the city etc. In the Maurya administration there was an officer called yukta who was perhaps the subordinate officer in charge of the revenues of the king.

    The rajjukas were officers responsible for land measurement and fixing their boundaries. They were also given power to punish the guilty and set free the innocents. Another officer of the Mauryan Administration was pradeshikas. Some scholars think that he was responsible for the collection of revenue while others think that he was the provincial governor. The Mauryan Empire was divided into provinces. During the reigns of Bindusara, Ashoka was posted at Ujjain as Governor of the Avanti region while his Brother Susima was posted at Taxila as the governor of the north-western provinces. Provinces were subdivided into the district each of these was further divided into groups of the villages and the final unit of administration was the village. The important provinces were directly under kumara (princes). According to the Junagarh rock inscription of Rudradaman, Saurashtra was governed by vaisya Pushyagupta at the time of Chandragupta Maurya and by Yavana-raja Tushaspa at the time of Ashoka both provincial governors.

    A group of officials worked in each district. The pradeshika was the head of district administration who toured the entire district every five years to inspect the administration of areas five years to impact the administration of areas under his control. The rajjuka was responsible for surveying and assessing the land, fixing its rent and record keeping besides judicial functions. The duties of yukta largely comprised secretarial work collection and accounting of revenue etc. There were intermediate levels of administration between district and that of village. This unit comprised five to ten or more villages. The village was the smallest unit of administration. The head of the village was called gramika who was assisted in village administration by village elders. It is difficult to say whether the gramika was a paid servant or was elected by the village people. The villages enjoyed considerable autonomy. Most of the disputes of the village were settled by gramika with the help of village assembly. The Arthashastra mentions a wide range of scales in salary, the highest being 48000 panas and the lowest 60 panas.

    City Administration

    A number of cities such as Pataliputra, Taxila, Ujjain, Tosali, Suvarnagiri, Samapa, Isila and Kausambi are mentioned in the edicts of Ashoka. The Arthashastra has a full chapter on the administration of cities. Megasthenese has described in detail the administration of Pataliputra and it can be safely presumed that similar administration system was followed in most of the Mauryan cities. Megasthenese described that the city of Pataliputra was administered by a city council comprising 30 members. These 30 members were divided into a board of five members each. Each of these boards had specific responsibilities towards the administration of city. The first board was concerned with the industrial and artistic produce. Its duties included fixing of wages, check the adulteration etc. The second board dealt with the affairs of the visitors especially outsiders who came to Pataliputra. The third board was concerned with the registration of birth and death.

    The fourth board regulated trade and commerce kept a vigil on the manufactured goods and sales of commodities. The fifth board was responsible for the supervision of manufacture of goods. The sixth board collected taxes as per the value of sold goods. The tax was normally 1/10th of the sold goods. The city council appointed officers who looked after the public welfare such as maintenance and repairs of roads, markets, hospitals, temples, educational institutions, sanitation, water supplies etc. The officer in charge of the city was known as Nagarka. The administrative machinery of the Mauryan state was fairly developed and well organized. Numerous depts regulated and controlled the activities of the state. Several important depts that Kautilya mentions are accounts, revenue, mines and minerals, chariots, customs and taxation.

    Economic Activities

    The Mauryan state concerned machinery which governed vast areas directly and to enforce the rules and regulations in respect of agriculture, industry, commerce, animal husbandry etc. The measures taken by the Maurya state for the promotion of the economy gave great impetus to economic development during the period. The vastness of India's agricultural and mineral resources and the extraordinary skill of her craftsmen have been mentioned by Megasthenes and other Greek writers. The large part of the population was agriculturists and lived in villages. New areas were brought under cultivation after cleaning the forest. People were encouraged to settle down in new areas. chief of the guild was called jesthaka. The guilds settled the disputes of their members. A few guilds issued their own coins.

    Among the crops rice of different varieties, coarse grains, sesame, pepper, pulses, wheat, linseed, mustard, vegetable and fruits of various kinds and sugarcane were grown. The state also owned agricultural farms, cattle farms and dairy farms etc. Irrigation was given due importance. Water reservoirs and dams were built and water for irrigation was distributed. The famous inscription of Rudradaman found at Junagarh mention that one of Chandragupta's governors, Pushyagupta was responsible for building a dam on Sudarshana Lake near Girnar in Kathiawad. From an inscription of Skandagupta it has been known that this dam was repaired during his reign almost 800 years after it was built. Industry was organized in various guilds.

    The chief industries were textile, mining and metallurgy, ship building, jewellery making, metal working etc. The trade was regulated by the state. India supplied to other states indigo, cotton and silk and medicinal items. Provisions of warehouses, godowns and transport arrangements were also made. Foreign trade was carried on by land as well as by sea. Special arrangements were made for the protection of trade routes. The state controlled and regulated the weights and measures. The artisans and craftsmen were specially protected by the state and offences against them were severely punished. The guilds were powerful institutions. It gave craftsmen great economic, political and judicial powers and protection.

    The Sanchi Stupa inscription mentions that one of the carved gateways was donated by the guilds of ivory workers. Similary the Nasik cave inscription mentions that two weaver's guilds gave permanent endowments for the maintenance of a temple. Kautilya says a full treasury is a guarantee of the prosperity of the state and it is the most important duty of the king to keep the treasury full at all the times for all works. During the Mauryan period taxes were levied both in cash and in kind and were collected by local officers. The chief source of revenue was land tax and tax levied on trade etc. The land tax was 1/4th to 1/6th of the produce. Toll tax was levied on all times which were brought for sale in the market. Tax was also levied on the manufactured goods. Those who could not pay the tax in cash or kind were to contribute their dues in the form of labor. Strabo mentions that craftsmen, herdsmen, traders, farmers all paid taxes. The Arthashastra describes revenues at great length. This was further augmented by income from mines, forests, pasture lands, trade and forts etc. Brahmans, children and handicapped people were exempted from paying taxes. Also no tax was levied in areas where new trade routes or new irrigation projects or new agricultural land were being developed. Tax evasion was considered a very serious crime and offenders were severely punished.

    Society and Culture

    Megasthenese speaks of Mauryan society as comprising seven castes-philosophers, farmers, soldiers, herdsmen, artisans, magistrates and councillors. He could not properly comprehend the Indian society and failed to distinguish between jati, Varna and the occupation. The chaturvana system continued to govern the society. But the craftsmen irrespective of jati enjoyed a high place in the society. The material growth mellowed the jati restrictions and gave people prosperity and respectability. The urban way of life developed. The residential accommodation and its wealth etc were entered into official records and rules and regulation were well defined and strictly implemented. The education is fairly wide spread. Teaching continued to be the main job of the Brahmans. But Buddhist monasteries also acted as educational institutions. Taxila, Ujjayini and Varanasi were famous educational institutions. The technical education was generally provided through guilds, where pupils learnt the crafts from the early age. In the domestic life the joint family system was the norm. A married woman had her own properly in the form of bride gift and jewels.

    These were at her disposal in case of widowhood. The widows had a very honourable place in the society. There are frequent references to women enjoying freedom and engaged in many occupations. Offences against women were severely dealt with. Kautilya laid down penalties against officials in charge of workshops and prisons who misbehaved with women. Megasthenese have stated that slavery did not exist in India. However forced labour and bonded labour did exist on a limited scale but were not treated so harshly as the slaves in the western world. About one and half century of Mauryan rule witnessed the growth of economy, art and architecture, education.

    Art and Architecture

    During the Mauryan period there was a great development in the field of art and architecture. The main examples of the Mauryan art and architecture that survived are

  • Ashokan pillars and capitals.
  • Remains of the royal palace and the city of Pataliputra
  • Rock-cut Chaitya caves in the Barabar and Nagarjuni hills
  • Individual Mauryan sculptures and terracotta figurines
  • The famous city of Pataliputra was described in detail by Megasthenese, references of which are found in the writings of Strabo, Arian and other Greek writers. It stretched along the river Ganga. It was enclosed by a wooden wall and had 64 gates. Excavations have brought to light remains of palaces and the wooden palisade.

    The Mauryan wooden palace survived for about 700 years because at the end of the 4th century AD when Fa Hien saw, it was astounding. The palace and also the wooden palisade seem to have been destroyed by fire. The burnt wooden structure and ashes have been found from Kumrahar. Seven rock-cut caves in the Barabar and Nagarjuni hills show that the tradition of rock-cut caves in India began with the Mauryas. These caves were caused to be excavated by Ashoka and his grandson Dasaratha for the abode of Ajivika monks.

    The most extraordinary object of Mauryan period was monolithic stone pillars of up to 15m height with a capital. The pillars comprise two pars a shaft tapering from the base with a diameter from about 90 cm to 125 cm. These pillars had a capital at the top which was adorned with animal figurines. The main animal figurines were lions, horses, bulls and elephants. The pillars and the capitals were made of sandstone near Chunar in Mirzapur dist. They were all polished which gave them a shine. Some Yaksha and Yakshini figures have been found from Mathura, Pawaya and Patna. They are large sized statues representing folk art of the period.

    Pillar and Sculpture

    The pillars set up by Ashoka furnish the finest remains of the Mauryan art. The pillars with Ashoka edicts inscribed on them were placed either in sacred enclosures or in the vicinity of towns. The pillars are made of two types of stone-the spotted red and white sandstone from the region of Mathura and the buff coloured fine grained hard sandstone usually with small black spots quarried in Chunar near Banaras. The stone was transported from Mathura and Chunar to the various sites where the pillars have been found and here the stone was cut and carried by craftsmen. Each pillar has three parts: the prop under the foundation, the shaft of the column and the capital. The prop is buried in the ground. The shaft made of a single piece of sand stone supports the capital made of another single piece of sandstone. Thin round and slightly tapering shaft is highly polished and very graceful in its proportions. The capital which is the third part of the pillar consists of some finally executed animal figures such as the lion or the elephant.

    The sacred dharmachakra with 24 spokes symbol engraved with animal seulpures in relief and the inverted or bell shaped lotus. The capital of the Sarnath Pillar is the magnificent and best piece of the series. The wonderful life like figures of four lions standing back to back and the smaller graceful and stately figures of four animals in relief on the abacus and the inverted lotus- all indicate a highly advanced form of art. The Indian government adopted this capital with some modifications as its state emblem. The sculpture of the Mauryan period is represented by the figures such as

  • The Yakshi of Besnagar in MP.
  • The Yaksha of Parkham near Mathura
  • The Chauri bearer from Didarganj in Bihar
  • The stone elephant from Dhauli in Orissa
  • Artistically these figures do not appear to belong to the same tradition as the animal capitals. They were probably carved by local craftsmen and not by the special craftsmen who were responsible for the animal capitals

    Decline of Mauryan Empire

    Ashok ruled over 40 years and met with his death in 232 BC. The decline set in and soon after the empire decline set in and soon after the empire broke up. Seven kings followed Ashoka in succession in a period of 50 years. The empire was divided into an eastern and western part. The western part was governed by Kunala, Samprati and others and the eastern part with southern India with its capital at Pataliputra by six later Mauryan Kings from Dasarath to Brihadratha. The revolt of the Andhras in the south and victorious raids of Greek king in the west gave a blow to the power and prestige of the Mauryan Empire. Due to the concern for the empire and total disillusionment on kings unworthiness Pushyamitra the commander-in-chief killed the King Brihadratha while he was reviewing the army. This is the only recorded and undisputed incident in the history of India till the 12th century AD where the king was murdered and replaced.

    Most of the historians agree that after Ashoka his successors were weak who could not control the unrest and revolt in various parts of the empire. Some historians hold Ashoka responsible for this decline. Ashoka's pacifist policies weakened the empire in terms of wars and military strength. The centralised empire needed very strong willed rulers which were not the case with Ashoka's successors. Some historians think that Ashoka's welfare measures must have eaten away a large chunk of income and overall income must have been very inadequate to maintain the army and the administrative machinery.

    Moral Codes of Ashoka

    Ashoka in Rock Edict XII and many other edicts prescribes the following codes:

  • Obedience to mother and father, elders, teachers and other respectable persons.
  • Respect towards teachers
  • Proper treatment towards ascetics, relations, slaves, servants and dependents, the poor and miserable, friends, acquaintances and companions
  • Abstention from killing of living beings
  • Non-injury to all living creatures
  • Spending little and accumulating little wealth
  • Truthfulness
  • Purity of heart
  • Megasthenese the Greek ambassador from the court of Selectus to that of Chandragupta Maurya wrote accounts of India and Indian people. His book 'Indica' is lost but some fragments of it are known to us in the form of quotations in the works of the later Greek writers. However the most important and authentic source for the history of Mauryan period is provided by the inscriptions of Ashoka.

    Ashoka's 14 Rock Edicts

    The Edicts of Ashoka set in stone are found throughout the Subcontinent ranging from as far as in Afghanistan and in south as Andhra, the edicts state his policies and accomplishments. Although predominantly written in Prakrit, two of them were written in Greek and one in Aramaic.Ashoka’s edicts refer to the Greeks,Kambhojas and Gandharas as people forming a frontier region of his empire. The major Rock Edicts are

    Ist MRE

    Declares prohibition of animal sacrifice also prohibits the holding of festivals; royal hunting was discontinued; only 2 peacocks and deer were killed in the kitchen of beloved of Gods.

    IInd MRE

    It mentions medical treatment of humans and animals; also mentions construction of roads,wells etc and also tree planting.

    IIIrd MRE

    It mentions about the Pradeshikas,Rajuks and Yuktas;declares the liberty towards Brahmanas and the Sramanas.

    IVth MRE

    It mentions that the Beri Ghosa has been replaced by dharma gosha.it also mentions that the Rajuks had the power to punish.

    Vth MRE

    Reference to the appointment of Dhamma mahatamas for the first time in the 14th year of his regime. It also mentions that Dhamma Mahatamas promoting the welfare of prisoners.

    VIth MRE

    Mantri parishad has been mentioned; officials like Pulisani and Pratividikar has also been mentioned; it mentions All Times I am available to the Mahamattas- Mahamattas could bring their report to the king at any time.

    VIIth MRE

    It mentions religious toleration amongst all the sects; it gives information that tension among the sects was expressed intensely; it gives information about self-centre and purity of mind.

    VIIIth MRE

    In his 10th Regnal year Ashoka went to Dharmyatras to Sambodhi in Bodhgaya.

    IXth MRE

    It mentions about the uselessness of the various ceremonies; it stresses on morality and moral code of conducts; it also mentions about the ceremony of Dhamma;it includes regards for slaves and servants,respect for teachers,restrained behaviour towards living beings and donation to Sarmanas and the Brahmanas.

    Xth MRE

    It mentions that the king desires no more fame or glory except in the field of Dhamma;it mentions about the supreme quality of Dhamma policy.

    XIth MRE

    It further explains the policy of Dhammas;it emphasizes on giving respect to the elders,abstain from killing animals and liberalism and charity towards friends,Sramanas and Brahmans and good behaviour towards slaves and servants.

    XIIth MRE

    Ithijika Mahamatta has been mentioned ;appeal for toleration among sects to honor the other sects;it mentions that the beloved of the Gods does not consider gifts or honor to be as important as the progress of the essential doctrines of all sects.

    XIIIth MRE

    It is the largest inscription from the edict .King considered the victory by Dhamma to be the foremost victory;mention the Dhamma victory on the Greek being named Antiochus;it also mentions the Dhamma victory over the following foreign brings-
    Ptolemy II Philadelphus- King of Egypt ( 285-247 BC)
    Alexander –King of Epirus (273-255 BC)
    Antigonous Gonatus- King of Macedonia ( 276-239 BC)
    Magas- King of Cyrene
    It also mentions the Dhamma victory in south over the Cholas and Pandyas as far as Ceylon
    IInd and 13th RE mentions that Pandyas,Cholas had Dhamma victory over Ceylon.

    XIVth MRE

    The purpose of the Rock Edicts has been mentioned.

    Categories of Ashoka's Inscriptions

    1. Bhabru- Conversion to Buddhism
    2. Barbar Hills- Enjoins tolerance
    3. Tarai Pillars- Respect to Buddhism
    4. 14 Rock Edicts- Administration and ethics.
    5. Minor Rock Edicts-Personal history of Ashoka and summary of Dhamma
    6. 7 Pillar Rock Edicts-Appendix to Rock Edicts
      1. Later Mauryas (232-184 BC)

        The evidence for the later Maurya is very little and whatever is there is in an uncertain form rendering the re construction of their history very difficult. The Puranas besides Buddhist and Jaina literature do provide us with some information on the later Maurya but there is no agreement among them. Even among the Puranas there is lot of variance between one Purana and another. But on one point which all Puranas are in agreement is that the Mauryan dynasty lasted 137 years. Ashoka's death was followed by the division of the Mauryan Empire into two parts-western and eastern. The western part was ruled by Kunala (son of Ashoka) and then for a short time by Samprati. It was later threatened by the Bactrian Greeks in the north-west and by the Satvahanas and others in the Deccan.

        The eastern part of the empire with Pataliputra as the capital came to be ruled by Dasaratha. Dasaratha is also known as from the caves in the Nagarjuni hills which he dedicated to Ajivikas. Three inscriptions ordered by Dasartha Devanampriya state that the caves were dedicated immediately on his accession. Samprati also mentioned in the Matsya Purana is referred to in both the Buddhist and Jaina literature as the son of Kunala.

        According to Jaina tradition he was a grandson of Ashoka and a patron of Jainism. He is said to have been converted to Jainism by Suhastin after which he gave the religion both his active support as a ruler and encouragement in other ways. The western part including the north-western province ,Gandhara and Kashmir was governed by Kunala. It is possible that Kunala gradually extended his territory to include the western province of the empire. According to the Puranas Dasaratha reigned for eight years. Jaina sources mention that Samprati ruled from Ujjain and Pataliputra.

        This would suggest that the capital of the western part of the empire was moved from the north to Ujjain. The decade following was to see the conflict between Antiochus III of Syria and Euthydemus of Bactria with Bactria emerging as a strong power ready to threaten north-western India. A number of Principalities in the trans-indus region broke away from the empire while Samprati was occupied in establishing himself at Pataliputra. Gradually the concentration of attention moved to Magadha and the main line of the Mauryan dynasty lived out its years at Pataliputra unable to control or prevent the breaking up of the empire in the more distant regions. After the reign of nine years Samprati was followed by Salisuka who ruled for thirteen years. The successor of Salisuka mentioned as Somavarman or Devavarman ruled for seven years. The last two kings of the Mauryan dynasty were Satadhanvan who is said to have ruled for 8 years and finally Brihadratha who ruled for seven years and was assassinated by Pushyamitra Sunga.

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