About Us  :  Online Enquiry


Mauryan Empire

The Mauryan Empire (321 B.C.-184 B.C.)


  • The origin of the Mauryas eludes unanimity among the historians. It becomes difficult to arrive at a reasonable conclusion owing to the abundance of sources, some of which may be biased.
  • Brahmanical sources like the Puranas say that ,Chandragupta Maurya was born of Mora, a Shudra woman in the court of the Nandas. This may be a biased view in reaction to the patronage accorded to the heterodox sects by the Mauryas.
  • Buddhist texts assertion that Chandragupta Maurya belonged to the Kshatriya republican clan Mariyas of Pippalavahana might be an attempt to elevate the social class of Ashoka and his predecessors. Jain sources say that Chandragupta Maurya was the son of a village headman’s daughter.
  • Visakhadatta in his book Mudrarakshasa (written in the gupta period) refers to Chandragupta Maurya as Vrishala’ which literally means of law origin.
  • Junagarh rock inscription of Rudradaman dated 150 A.D. mentions that Vaishya Pushagupta was the provincial governor of Saurashtra under Chandragupta Maurya.
  • Justin, the Greek writer of ‘Epitome’ mentions that Sandrocottus (identified as Chandragupta Maurya by William Jones) visited the court of Alexander and that he was of humble origin.

Chandragupta Maurya (321-297 B.C.):   [Mauryan Empire]

  • He rose to power in a society which was never very orthodox. In the north-west there had been considerable contacts with the foreigners and Magadha itself was looked down upon in Brahmanical tradition. Besides, it was considerably exposed to the ideas of Buddha and Mahavira, it was thus amidst considerable turmoil socially and politically that he rose to power in Magadha. He was a military genius ably guided by a statesman like Kautilya with favourable conditions for his rise. Justin says that Chandragupta Maurya overran the whole of India with an army of 6,00,000 which may be an exaggeration. He probably started conquests from the north­western part of India instead of attacking the central power of Magadha first.
  • Alexander’s invasion directly and indirectly contributed to the fall of prevailing political systems in the north-west and created a political vacuum which was skillfully used by Chandragupta Maurya. The Greek satraps and their soldiers desired to go home and also there was revolt of Indian satrapies. The death of Alexander in 323 B.C. further emboldened them. In this situation, Chandragupta Maurya confronted Selucus and settled the 1st Treaty of Partition in 321 B.C., territory of Selucus east of Indus was ceded to Chandragupta Maurya.
  • Chandragupta Maurya along-with Kautilya proceeded with the mission to overthrow the
    It was a prolonged affair. Parsistaparvan says that Kautilya and Chandragupta
  • Maurya entered into an alliance with Parvataka and the allied armies beat the Nandas in a dangerous game as a result of which Dhananada abdicated and fled. All accounts Buddhist, Jain and Brahmanic agree that the Nandas were routed completely. In 305, BC Selucus made a bid to reconquer lost territories and a treaty was concluded in 303 B.C. with Chandragupta Maurya ‘according to which Selucus ceded Aria (Heart), Arachosia (Kandahar), Gedrosia (Baluchistan) and Paropanishdae (Kabul). There was also a matrimonial alliance between the families Chandragupta Maurya gave Selucus a gift of 500 elephants and Selucus in turn appointed Megasthenes as an ambassador to the royal court at Pataliputra. According to Jaina tradition, Chandragupta embraced Jainism towards the end of his life and stepped down from the throne in favour of his son, Bindusara. Chandragupta then went to Sravanabelagola and starved to death in typical Jaina fashion.

Bindusara (297-272 B.C.): [Mauryan Empire]

  • He was known to the Greeks as Amitro Chates’ and is said to have carried his arms to the Deccan as far as Mysore. Bindusara also had contacts with Antiochus I, the Selucid king of Syria whose ambassador, Deimachus, was said to have been at the Mauryan court. Bindusara was interested in the Ajivika sect. During Bindusara’s reign, there was suppression of a revolt at Taxila by Ashoka. Taranatha, the Buddhist monk credits Bindusara with conquering the land between the two seas.

Ashoka (268-232 B.C.):

  • There was a struggle for the throne among the princes on Bindusara’s death for a period of four years. Ashoka emerged the successor and formally crowned himself in 268 B.C. The most important event of Asoka’s reign seems to have been his victorious war with Kalinga in 260 B.C. The Bhabra inscription states that after a period of two-and-half years he became an ardent supporter of Buddhism under the influence of a Buddhist monk Upagupta. One of the Ashokan inscriptions Major Rock Edict XIII refers to his southernmost neighbours as Cholas, Pandyas, Satyaputras and Keralaputras. Also mentioned is made of various contemporaries of Ashoka in the greek world. They were Antiochus II of Syria, Ptolemy II of Egypt, Antigonus of Macedonia, Magas of Cyrene and Alexander of Epirus. Ashoka also had connections with Nepal and gave one of his daughters called Charumati in marriage to a noble called Devapala from Nepal. The Ceylonese ruler, Tissa, modeled himself on Asoka. The latter sent his son Mahendra and daughter Sanghamitra as Buddhist missionaries to Ceylon, besides sending a sapling of the original pipal tree under which the Buddha had, received enlightenment. From literary and epigraphic evidence we come to know that Ashoka’s mother was Subhadrangi and among his brother Susima (eldest) and Tissa (youngest) are clearly identified. The list of his wives include Asandhimitta, Tissaraka or Kauravaki, Padmavati etc. Among Ashoka’s sons, Mahendra, Tivara (the
  • only one mentioned in an inscription), Kunala and Taluka are prominent. Two of his daughter Sanghamitra and Charumati are known.  Mauryan Empire

Later Mauryas (232-184 BC): [Mauryan Empire]

  • Following the death of Ashoka, the Mauryan empire was divided into two parts — western and eastern. The western part came to be ruled by Kunala and then for a short time by Samprati. The eastern part was ruled successively by Dasratha, Samprati, Salisuka, Devaraman, Satadhanvan and finally Brihadratha. The last Mauryan ruler Brihadratha was assassinated in 184 B.C. by his Brahmin commander-in-chief, Pushyamitra Sunga, who established his own Sunga dynasty.

Maurya Administration  [Mauryan Empire]

  • The Maurya state was more or less a welfare state. It was a highly centralised government which marks the first successful experiment in imperial government by the Indians.
  • Central Adminstration: The king was the pivot of the administrative superstructure. The Mauryas were paternal monarchs who considered all his subjects as his children. Mantrins were the ministers and advisers of the highest grade whose advice had to be sought by the king in all administrative matters. The number of mantrins varies from three to four. The Mantriparishad was the Mauryan ministry and it included the mantrins and some other officials. Kautilya clearly distinguishes the mantrins from the mantriparishad. Amatyas were civil servants who filled the highest administrative and judicial appointments. Their qualifications and method of selection are laid out by Kautilya. Their role and functions are very important, for all governmental work proceeded from them. Kautilya’s ‘annatyas’ are similar to the ‘mahamattas’ of Ashokan edicts.
  • Revenue department: It was manned by Samharta (in-charge of collection of all revenue of the empire) and Sannidhata’ (chief treasury officer).
  • Military department: It was under the control of senapati under whom there were several adhyakshas or superintendents of different wings and units of the army such as infantry, cavalry, war elephants, chariots, admirality and transport. According to Megasthenes, there were six committees of five members each to look after this department.
  • Department of Commerce and Industry: It controlled production, supply, prices, as well as weights and measures through its adhyakshas or market superintendents.
  • Espionage department: It consisted of gudhapurushas (secret agents) under the control of ‘rnahamatyapasarpa’. They correspond to the pativedakas and pulisanis of Ashokan edicts.
  • Judicial department: Kautilya refers to the existence of two kinds of courts — dharmasthiyas and kantakasodhanas or civil and criminal courts. The supreme-court at the capital was presided over by the chief justice, called dharmadhakarin. There were also subordinate courts at the provincial capitals, divisions and districts.  Mauryan Empire
  • Police department: Police headquarters were found in all principal centres. The jail proper called bandhangara was different from police lock-up called Charaka.
  • Provincial and Local Administration: Ashokan edicts talk about the division of the Mauryan empire into four provinces — Uttarapatha (Taxila), Avantipatha (Ujjain), Dakshinapatha (Suvarnagiri) and Kalinga (Tosali or Dhauli) each of which was under a viceroy-in-council. The council of ministers at the provincial level acted as a check on the power of Viceroy. The provinces were in turn divided into ‘divisions’ which were under ‘pradeshtris’ or ‘pradesikas’ who had no advisory councils. The divisions were in turn divided into ‘districts’ under officials called ‘rajukas’, whose position and functions are similar to those of a modern district collector. He was assisted by ‘yuktas’, subordinate officials doing Secretariat work and accounting. The districts were in turn divided into groups ‘of 5 to 10 villages which were under Sthanikas’ who were assisted by ‘gopas’. The lowest rung in the administrative ladder was the village under the charge of a gramani, assisted by a council of elders in the administration of a village.
  • Municipal Administration:
    • Kautilya clearly delineates the role of the nagarika or city superintendent. His chief duty was maintenance of law and order, but he also discharges some other duties. The nagarika was assisted by two officials as ‘astyonomor. Megasthenes says that the Municipal Commission consisted of thirty members and was divided into six boards or committees of five members each.

Mauryan Society  [Mauryan Empire]

  • Megasthenes divided Indian society into seven classes comprising of the philosophers, agriculturists, soldiers, artisans, shepherds and hunters, officials in the government and spies. This division of society was according to the occupation pursued by the people.  Mauryan Empire
  • Megasthenes refers to the general honesty of the people and says that theft was a rare occurrence. The code of punishment was severe mutilation for giving false evidence and death for injuring the royal artisan.
  • Megasthenes says that scarcity and famine were unknown to Indians but Kautilya talks about various famine relief measures to be taken by the state.
  • Megasthenes says that slavery was absent in India. But slavery did exist in India but it’s form was different from Europe. Kautilya mentions about nine categories of slaves and their rights.
  • There was a reduction in gap between the vaishyas and the Sudras, but there was no simultaneous improvement in the social status of Sudras, which caused social tensions finally leading to popularity of the heterodox sects. To overcome social tensions Ashoka laid emphasis on social harmony.
  • Though Brahmanical literature was particularly severe in the treatment of women, Buddhist and Jaina literature were more considerate. Megasthenes talks about the growing practice of polygamy; employment of women as palace guards, bodyguards to the king, spies etc. Thus, though the position of women was inferior to that of men, it was not as bad as it came to be in later periods such as the Gupta period.

Mauryan Economy  [Mauryan Empire]

  • The Arthashastra of Kautilya says that the state appointed 27 superintendents (adhyakshas) to regulate the economic activities of the state. They controlled and regulated agriculture, trade and commerce, weights and measures, crafts such as mining, weaving, spinning and so on.
  • The Mauryas seem to have owned large farms called ‘Site’ which were worked under the supervision of sitadhyaksha with the help of numerous slaves and hired labourers. The state farms were a source of royal income no less than the land cultivated by private individuals who paid taxes to the state.
  • The Maurya state itself also engaged in trade and commodity production. The state goods were to be normally sold by state servants but the assistance of private traders was also sought.
  • The Mauryan state had monopoly over mining and metallurgy, armaments, ship­building, coins and currency and salt making.  Mauryan Empire
  • There seems to have been tapping of iron, gold, silver and copper mines by the state. The monopoly over the mines strengthened the power of the Mauryan government, particularly in view of the almost complete disarming of the rural population.
  • Apart from income from it’s own economic undertakings, a large number of taxes have been levied the chief among them being the land tax bhaga’ which seemed to be levied at the rate of 116th of produce. Udaka-bhaga was a cess on irrigation. Various other taxes such as customs and ferry charges were levied. Guilds of artisans living in the capital were also taxed. Kautilya also recommends several fiscal measures in emergency.
  • The Mauryan state founded new settlements and sought to rehabilitate the decaying ones by drafting surplus population from overpopulated regions. The Shudras for the first time were aided by the state in settling down as farmers in
  • these settlements. Deportation of 1,50,000 people after the kalinga war was apparently in keeping with the Mauryan policy of founding new settlements. The Sudras were granted fiscal exemption and supplied cattle, seeds and money initially in the hope of future repayments.
  • Large scale clearing of land by the state as well as the cultivation of the crown land under the direct supervision of it’s officers led to an unprecedented growth of settled agriculture, especially in the gangetic valley.
  • The agricultural surplus led to growth of trade which was fostered by the development of the internal communication system. The rivers of north India provided easy internal transport. Peaceful relations with the Greeks under Bindusara and Ashoka gave a fillip to foreign trade with the west.
  • The use of currency which began in the pre-mauryan period became a fairly common feature of the Mauryan period. Money was used not only for trade but the government paid it’s officers in cash. The largest number of punch-marked coins mostly of silver are from eastern U.P. and Bihar in the Mauryan age.
  • Northern black polished ware (NBPW) is the typical pottery of the Mauryan period, present even in the sites such as Mahasthangarh, Chandraketugarh.

Ashoka’s Dhamma  [Mauryan Empire]

  • The policy of Dhamma was Ashoka’s own invention. Although it may have been influenced by hinduism and Buddhism, Ashoka’s dhamma was neither a new religion nor a new political philosophy, Rather, it was a way of life, a code of conduct and a set of principles to be adopted and practiced by the people at large. It’s contents were so broad and humanitarian that no cultural group or religious sect could object to it’s propagation by Ashoka. Though the concept of dhamma used in the sense of law and social order was not new to the ancient Indians, Ashoka gave a new meaning and significance to the concept by humanizing it. The code of ethics was both practical and convenient, as well as highly moral.  Mauryan Empire
  • It his policy of dhamma had been merely a recording of Buddhist principles, Ashoka would have openly said so, since he never sought to hide his support for Buddhism. The Ashokan edicts were used to expound dhamma in it’s different aspects which clearly indicate that dhamma was a secular thing. From the major rock edicts, we can mention the following as the main features of the dhamma;
Major Rock Edict I: Major Rock Edict II: Major Rock Edict III: Major Rock Edict IV: Prohibition of animal sacrifices and festivities. Administration directed towards social welfare

Liberality to Brahmins, sramanas

Consideration and non-violence to animals and courtesy to relations

Major Rock Edict V:  [Mauryan Empire]

Appointment of dhammamahamattas entrusted with propagation of dhamma. Humane treatment of servants by masters and of prisoners by the government officials. Efficient organisation of administration

  • Tolerance among all the sects.
  • Maintenance of constant contact with the rural people through the system of ‘dhammayatras’.
  • Avoiding expensive and meaningless ceremonies and rituals
  • Charity, kinship, dhamma    Mauryan Empire
  • Religious tolerance
  • Change of heart after Kalinga war and replacement of berighos (sound of war drums) by dhammagosha (sound of peace) signifying conquest through dhamma instead of through war.
  • Major Rock Edict VI: Major Rock Edict VII: Major Rock Edict VIII:
  • Major Rock Edict IX:
  • Major Rock Edict XI: Major Rock Edict XII: Major Rock Edict XIII:

Mauryan Art and Architecture  [Mauryan Empire]

  • Mauryan art is known for the diverse materials used in the constructions. Pre-Ashokan Mauryan art used wood and some other perishable materials. Ashoka started the general use of stone for monuments partly due to Achaemenid influence and partly due to denudation of forests.
  • Pataliputra: Arrian refers to the multiplicity of cities in the Mauryan empire. Megasthenes refers to the city of Pataliputra and says that it is nine-and-half miles in length and eleven miles in breadth. The roof and floor of the imperial palace were made of wood and pillars were the gupta period praises the Mauryan edifices: The city of Pataliputra was surrounded by a big fortification wall made of wood surrounded by a ditch filled with water.
  • Stupas: Tradition has it that Ashoka constructed 84,000 stupas all over the empire and the Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang is said to have reach a considerable number of these. The sanchi stupa was constructed by Ashoka originally of bricks and wood. The sanchi stupa was repaired during the times of the Sungas and a southern gateway to the Sanchi Stupa was constructed by the Satavahanas.  Mauryan Empire
  • Caves: The rock-cut caves of the Mauryan period are the earliest examples of rock-cut architecture. The caves were to serve as residences for the monks and also served the purpose of Churches and assembly halls. These caves show a clear influence of wooden architecture on rock-cut architecture. Ashoka donated some caves such as sudama caves and Lomas Rishi caves in the Barabar hills near Bodhgaya to the Ajivikas. Ashoka’s grandson Dasaratha donated the Nagarjuna hill caves and Gopika caves to the Buddhists.
  • Pillars: The pillars set up by Ashoka furnish the finest, the most beautiful and characteristic specimens of the remains of the Mauryan art. These were placed either in sacred enclosures or in the vicinity of towns. The pillars are monolithic and are made of two types of stones-red and white sandstone from Mathura and buff-coloured hard sandstone quarried in Chunar near Benaras. Each pillar has three-parts- the prop under the foundation, the shaft or the column and the capital. The capital itself consists of three items-finely executed one or more animal figures, the sacred dharmachakra (with 24 spokes) symbol engraved with animal sculptures in relief, and the inverted or bell-shaped lotus. The capital of Sarnath pillar is undoubtedly the most magnificent and the best piece of the series. The wonderful life-like figures of the four lions standing back to back, and the smaller graceful and stately figures of four animals (lion, elephant, bull and horse) 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.

Independent Specimens of Art  [Mauryan Empire]

  • Various pieces of art such as terracotta images have been found from Ahicchatra. Such images of mother goddess were very similar to those found from Harappa. Many images, toys, dice, ornaments and beads have been found from Taxila. Some images of animals have been found with elephant being the most popular. Maski was a famous bead making centre. Northern Black Polished ware is the typical pottery of the Mauryan period and is found from even areas suth as Chandrketugarh in Bengaland Susupalgarh in Orissa. In folk art various images of yakshas and yakshis.  Mauryan Empire


Send this to a friend