Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Mauryan Empire

I have simplified the narrative to keep it short and might not have done justice, therefore to the complexity of the Indian History.( I will be continuously editing the contents) The below paragraphs will be organised with these points in mind.

About Mauryan Empire


Significant Books and other sources mentioning this period

Significant Rulers of Maurya Empire


Government structure

Officials and their designations.

Society and Culture

Contributions to art and architecture.


About Mauryan Empire: Mauryan Empire was one of the first and greatest empire established on Indian soil. This vast empire stretched from Oxus valley to the delta of cauvery.About Mauryan rulers and empire we have epigraphical evidences,literary sources,foreign accounts.

Significant rulers of Mauryan Empire:

ChandraGupta Maurya (324-300 B.C): ChandraGupta Maurya was the son of a king of Magadha and by a woman of humble origin, whose caste he took and her name was Mura. Supposedly to be the name of his dynastny.According to Buddhist sources he was the scion of the Kshatriya clan; also various suggests that he is of humble origin.

He was forced to exile by his kinsman, the reigning king of Magadha. Being impressed by the signs of royalty in his childhood, Chanakya took him as pupil and educated him at Taxila, which was once the great centre of learning.

And during his wandering he met Alexander(according to Plutarch) and encouraged him to invade Ganges valley;enlarging the unpopularity of the reigning monarch. He raised a large force of war like clans of Northwest frontier and upon Alexanders death(323 B.C) attacked his garrisons and conquered Punjab. Greek sources refer him as 'Sandracottas'.After liberating the north west of India from Greek rule, he turned his attention towards Magadha, which was then ruled by Nanda Dynasty. Jain sources (Parishista Parvam) reveal that after defeating the Nanda king obtaining the help from Chanakya, he inheririted the vast Kingdom of Magadha.

In about 305 B.C ChandraGupta defeated the invading army of Seleucus and later entered peace treaty, for which the Seleucus conceded Kabul, Kandhahar, Baluchistan and Herut. This also led to matrimonial alliance between two - perhaps ChandraGupta married the daughter of Seleucus.ChandraGupta's empire extended from Assam in the east to Afghanistan in the west and from kashmir in the north to Karnataka in the south.


Bindusara (300 -273 B.C): Bindusara succeded his father ChandraGupta Maurya and only very little is known about this king. Some scholars gives him the credit of south Indian conquest, while others beleive that it was done by his father.According to Jain sources, Chanakya outlived ChandraGupta Maurya and continued as a minster of Bindusara. From Divyavadhana, we come to know that he appointed his eldest son Susima as his viceroy at Taxila and Ashoka at Ujjain.

Later when a revolt broke out in Taxila and when Susima could not suppress it, Ashoka was sent to restore peace. Bindusara continued the policy of having friendly relations with Hellenic world. Pliny mentions that Ptolemy Philadelphus of Egypt sent Dionysius as his ambassador to his court.

Ahoka 273-232 B.C: Ashoka have a seperate place in the Indian History, so be in my blog.I'll create a seperate blog for Ashoka.

Significant Books and sources referring this period

Buddhist sources like Mahavamsa and Dipavamsa

Mudrarakshasha, a play written by Vishaka Datta

Justin, Plutarch, Megasthenese, Strabo,Arrian are the Greek writers

Jain text Parisishta Parvam

Chronology: I wouldn't be doing justice if I did not mention Alexander's invasion when talking about Maurya Dynasty.

327 B.C: Having defeated all the persian rulers and conquered the Acharmenian empire Alexander vowed to conquer all the Indian Satraps. His army crossed the Hindukush mountains and strengthening it's position near kabul. Now Alexander planned a major attack on the Pauravan king across the Jhelum river.

326 B.C: Alexander moves through the dense jungles of O'Hind. Then having crossed the Indus river and secured the help of Ambhi, the king of Taxila he marches forward to Jhelum. The Pauravan king with an army of 30,000 soldiers, horses and elephants provided fierce resistance but was defeated eventually.

325 B.C: Alexanders' troops refuses to march towards the Ganges valley and he was severly wounded while storming one of the citadels of the Malavas. Later he leaves India by appointing his own Governors.

324 B.C: ChandraGupta Maurya was the son of a king of Magadha and by a woman of humble origin, whose caste he took and her name was Mura. Supposedly to be the name of his dynastny.He was forced to exile by his kinsman, the reigning king of Magadha and during his wandering he met Alexander(according to Plutarch) and encouraged him to invade Ganges valley;enlarging the unpopularity of the reigning monarch. He raised a large force of war like clans of Northwest frontier and upon Alexanders death(323 B.C) attacked his garrisons and conquered Punjab.

321 B.C - 305 B.C: He next attacked Magadha and dethroned and slew the king and established himself to the throne.He acquired a large army from his predecessor and raised until it reached 30,000 cavalry, 9000 elephants, 600,000 infantry. With this huge force he overran the whole North India, establishing his empire from Bay of Bengal to Arabian Sea.
305 B.C Seleucus Nicator crossed Indus and was defeated by Chandra Gupta; forced to a humiliating peace, by which the Mauryan empire still extended in North.About six years later Chandra Gupta died leaving his empire to his son Bindusara.

Government Structure: An excellent account of court and administrative system of Chandra Gupta is available from the fragments of Megasthenese(envoy of Seleucus to Mauryan Empire), Ashokan inscriptions, Chankaya's Arthasastra. Though the government was autocratic and even tyrannous, it was organised by an elaborate system.

1) Army and civil services were administered by series of boards

2) Cities were governed by municipal commisioners who where responsible for public order and upkeep of public works.

Mantriparishad (Council of Ministers): The king was assisted in administration by this council of ministers.

Adhyakshas (Superintendents):

Yukta (sub-ordinate Officer): The duties of Yukta largely comprised of secretarial work.He was incharge of collecting the revenues of the king.

Rajjukas : Officers, who were responsible for surveying and assesing the land,fixing it's rent. They also have the power to punish guilty and set free the innocents.

Pradeshikas : Pradeshika was the head of district administration, who toured every five years to inspect the administration of areas under his control.

Gramika : The head of the village was called Gramika, who was assisted in Village adminstration by village elders.

Nagaraka: Officer incharge of the city.

Jesthaka: The chief of a guild called Jesthaka.

Mauryan Empire was divided in to provinces, which were subdivided into districts, each of these were further divided in to groups of villages. The villages was the smallest unit of adminstration.Villages enjoyed great autonomy and most disputes of the village were resolved by the Gramika's in the village assembly.

According to Arthasastra, the adminstration of Mauryan state was fairly developed and well organised. Numerous departments regulated and controlled the activities of the state.The state was conceived as the complex of activities of various departments, which covered almost all parts of the state affairs.

Economy : The three aspects which were driving the Mauryan Economy were Agriculture, Commerce and Industries.The Mauryan state created a machinery which directly brought the vast areas under it's control.The measures taken by the Mauryan empire for promotion of economy provided a great impetus to economic development during that period.Kautilya says "A full treasury is a guarantee of the prosperity of the state" and it is important duty of the king to keep the treasury full at all times.

Agriculture: The large part of the population lived in villages and were agriculturists.New areas of cultivation were brought in to existence and the people were encouraged to settle in new areas. The state helped the people in this endeavour. Certain types of forests were protected by people.

Rice of different varieties,Wheat, Coarse grains,Sesame,Pepper,Saffron,Pulses,Linseed,mustard, vegetables and fruits of various kinds and sugarcane were grown. State owned huge farms and these were cultivated by slaves and farm labourers. Water Reservoir and dam were built during this period and they were meausured and distributed. The famous inscription of Rudradaman mentions that one of Chandra Gupta's governor built a dam on Sudarsana lake in Kathiawad. And from the inscription from SkandaGupta we come to know that this dam was repaired during his reign, almost 800 years after it was built.

Industry: Industry was organized in various guilds. The chief industries were Mining, Metallurgy,Jewellery,Pot making,Textile. The trade was regulated by the state.The artisans and the craftsmen were specially protected by the state and any offences against them were severly punished.Guilds were powerful institutions during this period and they provided economic, political and judicial powers to craftsmen. The chief of the guild was called Jesthaka. A few guilds issued their own coins. These guilds also made donations to learned brahmans and to the destitute.

Inscriptions on Sanchi stupa mentions that one of the carved gateways was donated by the guilds of Ivory workers.Nasik cave inscription mentions that two weaver's guild made permanent endowmentsfor the maintenance of a temple.

Trade: Mauryan empire supplied western countries with Indigo and other medicinal substances,cotton, silk. Trade was carried out in both land and sea. Godowons, Warehouses were built and special provisions were made to protect the trade routes. The state controlled the weights and measures.

Tax: Tax evasion were considered serious crimes and the offenders were severly punished. The chief source of income during that period were tax levied on land and trade. Land tax were one fourth to one sixth of the produce and Toll tax were levied on all products which are brought for sale in the market. Those who could not pay taxes in cash, should contribute their dues in the form of labour.The income from the king's own land is called as sita.

Brahmans, childrens, handicapped were exempted from paying tax.Also no tax was levied on new settlements, new trade routes, new irrigation projects or new new agricultural land being recently developed.Tax were collected on lands, trade and manufacture of handicrafts were the other sources of income during this era.

Contributions to Art and Architecture: During the Mauryan period we find a great dvelopment in art and architecture. The main examples of mauryan art and architecture are

1) Remains of Royal palace and the city of Pataliputra

The famous city of Pataliputra was stretched along the river Ganga in the form of a Parallelogram. It had 64 gates and enclosed by a wooden palisade. References of which found in the writings of Megasthenese,Arrian, Fa-Hien.The palace and the wooden palisade seems to have been destroyed by fire. The burnt wooden structure and ashes have been found in Kumrahar.

2) Ashokan Pillars and Capitals.

The most astounding and extraordinary objects of Mauryan Period are monolithic stone pillars of upto 15m. These pillars comprises of two parts, a shaft tapering from the base with a diameter of 90cm to 125cm. At the top the pillar was adorned with animal figurines. The main animal figurines were lions,horses,bulls and elephants. These pillars were made of sand stone from hills near Chunar in Mirzapur district.

3) Seven rock cut caves in Barabar and Nagarjuni hills.

Seven rock cut caves in Barabar and Nagarjuni hills show that the tradition of rcok cut caves begain during the period of Mauryas. These caves were excavated by Ashoka and his grandson Dasaratha for the abode of the Ajivikas monks.

4) Individual Mauryan sculptures and terracota figurines.

Yaksha and Yakshini figurines have been found near Pataliputra(modern Patna).Yakshini figure was found with holding a chowrie depicting the folk art during this period.

Society and Culture: The Jati and Varna system continued to govern the society. But the craftsmen irrespective of Jati, enjoyed a high place in society. The material growth continued to mellow the Jati system and the people enjoyed prosperity and respectability.The urban way of life developed; residential accomodation, wealth were entered in to official records.

Education was fairly wide spread and teaching continued to be the main job of the Brahmans.Educational institutions were also run by Buddhist monasteries. The famous educational centres were Ujjain, Taxila and Varanasi. The technical education were provided through guilds.

In the domestic life, Joint family was the common norm and women had a very honourable role in the society.A married woman had her own property in the form of bride-gift(Stree Dhana) and were at her disposalin case of widow hood. Offences against women were severly dealt with. Kautilya laid down severe penalties against officials incharge of Prison and workshops, who misbehaved with women. Forced labour and Bonded labour existed on a very small scale, but they were not treated so harshly as happened in the hellenic world.

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