Ancient India Simplified: The Mauryan Age (321 B.C – 185 B.C)

The Mauryan Empire, which formed around 321 B.C.E. and ended in 185 B.C.E., was the first pan-Indian empire, an empire that covered most of the Indian region. It spanned across central and northern India as well as over parts of modern-day Iran.
The Mauryan Empire’s first leader, Chandragupta Maurya, started consolidating land as Alexander the Great’s power began to wane. Alexander’s death in 323 B.C.E. left a large power vacuum, and Chandragupta took advantage, gathering an army and overthrowing the Nanda power in Magadha, in present-day eastern India, marking the start of the Mauryan Empire.

Important Kings and their achievements 

CHANDRAGUPTA MAURYA (322 BC – 298 BC)1. Chandraupta or Sandrokottos launched a series of wars against Dhananand and also liberated the country from Greek rule.
2. The credit of first unification of North India is attributed to Chandragupta Maurya with the help of Chanakya (Kautilya).
3. Megasthenes, a Greek ambassador, was sent by Seleucus (Alexander’s general) to the Chandragupta Maurya court.

4. According to Jaina sources, Chandragupta embraced Jainism towards the end of his life and abdicated the throne in favour of his son and accompanied by Bhadrabahu, a Jaina saint, he went to Shravanabelagola (Karnataka), where he died by slow starvation (Salekhan).
BINDUSARA (298 BC – 273 BC)1. Known as Amitraghata (the slayer of foes).
2. Bindusara followed the extreme fatalistic order (religion) ‘Ajivika’ founded by Makhali Gosala.
3. This order had complete disregard for ‘karma’.Bindusara maintained good diplomatic relations with Antiochus I, the Seleucid king of Syria. Antiochus sent Deimachus as ambassador to Bindusara’s court.
4. A Chinese text Fa-Uen-Chu-Lin names him Bindupal.Bindusara did not make any territorial conquest.
ASHOKA THE GREAT (273 BC – 237 BC)1. He fought the Kalinga war in 361 B.C.
2. He became a Buddhist under the guidance of Mogaliputta Tissa.
3. During his reign, the policy of Bherighosa (physical conquest) was replaced by that of Dhammaghosa (cultural conquest).
4. He started Dharma Yatras from the 11th year of his reign by visiting Bodh Gaya.
5.In the 14th year of his reign, he started the institution of ‘Dhamma Mahamatras’ (The officers of righteousness) to spread the message of Dhamma.
Ashoka was not an extreme pacifist  because he retained Kalinga and incorporated it into his kingdom; he also didn’t disband the army.

Ashokan Dhamma Policy

  1. His Dhamma was an ethical code aimed at building up an attitude of social responsibility among the people. It was aimed at building up an attitude of mind of social responsibility based on man’s dignity and humanistic approach.
  2. It was not synonymous with Buddhism.
  3. It was not a sectarian faith.
  4. It emphasised on truth, compassion, love, non violence, toleration and obedience.
Some aspects of Dhamma 
1. Respect the parents and elderly people.
2. Treat the young with care.
3. Truth, restraint, worship, Kindness and Magnanimity should be part of one’s behaviour.
4. Right treatment with labourers and servants.
5. Observing non violence To spend less and store less.
6. Respect all religions.

Sites and Purpose of Ashokan Rock Edict

Site of Asoka’s major Rock EdictsPurpose of the edict
Major Rock Edict IProhibits animal slaughter. Bans festive gatherings and killings of animals.
Major Rock Edict IIProvides care for man and animals.Describes recipients as the Chola, Pandyas, Satyapura and Cheras Kingdoms
Major Rock Edict IIIIt says that the Yuktas (subordinate officers) and Pradesikas (district Heads) along with Rajukas (Rural officers) shall go to all areas of the kingdom every five years and spread the Dhamma Policy of Asoka.
Major Rock Edict IVDhammaghosa is ideal to mankind and not the Bherighosa. Impact of Dhamma on society.
Major Rock Edict VConcerns about the policy towards slaves. He mentions in this rock edict “Every Human is my child”.
Major Rock Edict VIKing’s aspiration to know about his people’s circumstances. About welfare measures.
Major Rock Edict VIIRequests tolerance for all religions
Major Rock Edict VIIIDescribes Asoka’s first Dhamma Yatra to Bodhgaya & Bodhi Tree.
Major Rock Edict IXCondemns popular ceremonies.
Major Rock Edict XCondemns the desire for fame and glory. 
Major Rock Edict XIElaborates on principles of Dhamma.
Major Rock Edict XIITolerance for all religions and sects.
Major Rock Edict XIIIMentions conquest over Kalinga. Mentions Ashoka’s Dhamma victory over Greek Kings Antiochus of Syria (Amtiyoko), Ptolemy of Egypt (Turamaye), Magas of Cyrene (Maka), Antigonus of Macedon (Amtikini), Alexander of Epirus (Alikasudaro). Also mentions Pandyas, Cholas, etc.
Major Rock Edict XIVDescribes engraving of inscriptions in different parts of the country.

Mauryan Administration: Mauryans were known for their elaborate bureaucracy.

Kingship1. Highly centralised bureaucratic rule with the king as the head of all powers.
Kautilya called the king ‘Dharmapravartaka’ or promulgator of social order.
Tirthas1. The highest functionaries at the centre. 
2. There were 18 members.
2a. Mantrin, Purohit, Senapati, Yuvaraja, Samaharata (Collector general), Sunidhata (Treasury chief), Vyavaharika (chief Judge), Karmantika (chief of mines), Dandapal (police chief), Dvarapal ( Chief of home defense), Antapal (Chief of Frontier defense)
Mantriparishad1. To assist the king in day to day administration.
Adhyakshas1. Kautilya mentions 27 superintendents mostly to regulate economic activities:
1a. Panyadhyaksha: Commerce;
1b. Samasthadhyaksha: market and checking wrong practices;
1c. Pautavadhyaksha: Weights and Measures;
1d. Navadhyaksha: state boats;
1e. Ganikadhyaksha: courtesan;
1f. Lakshanadhyaksha: Mint
Mahamattas1. High ranking officials irrespective of the duties assigned to them.
1a.Vyavaharika Mahamatta: Judicial officer;
1b. Itijhaka Mahamattas: officer in charge of women;
1c. Anta Mahamattas: officer in charge of frontier areas.
1d. Dhamma Mahamattas: officer propagating the message of Dhamma.
Espionage1. Spies operated in the form of Sanyasis, beggars and wanderers. 
2. Four types of spies: 1. Sanstha (worked by remaining stationed at a public place) 2. Sanchari (moved from place to place) 3. Pulisani (Public relation officer collecting public opinion and reporting to the king) 4. Prativedaka: special reporters had direct access to the king at any hour.
Provincial Administration1. Except the capital Pataliputra, the whole empire was divided into four provinces controlled by the viceroy/governor – either a prince or a member of a royal family.
2. Provinces subdivided into districts which had three main officers.
2a.. Pradesika: overall administration of the district.
2b. Rajuka: revenue administration and later judicial.
2c. Yukta: accountant.
3. Village Administration: Gopa (accountant) and Sthanika (Tax collector).
4. City Administration: Head was Nagarika who also had Gopa and Sthanika.

Socio-Economic-Cultural conditions in Mauryan period

Economic Condition1. Punched marked silver coins with symbols of peacock, hills and regent, formed the imperial currency of the Mauryans.
2. A striking social development was the employment of slaves and shudras in agricultural operations on a large scale.
3. Hired labourers were called ‘karmakaras’.
4. Colonisation of forestlands for agriculture took place on a large scale.
5. State monopoly of mining, forest, salt, sale of liquor, manufacture of arms and metallurgy.
Social Conditions1. Four-fold Varna system, slavery (dasas) existed in the society.
2. Megasthenes divided Mauryan society into seven castes- philosophers, farmers, soldiers artisans etc.
3. Kautilya recommends the recruitment of Vaishyas and Shudras in the army.
4. The position of Shudras improved as they were employed as agricuiltural labourers and domestic slaves. 
5. Women’s position in society deteriorated severly- widow remarriage stopped, institution of ‘ganikas’ (prostitution) expanded.

The reasons for the decline of the Mouryans

1. Brahminical Reaction: Har Prasad Shastri holds that Ashoka’s pro-Buddhist policy annoyed Brahmans culminating in the killing of the last Mauryan ruler Brihadratha by his Brahman army general Pusyamitra Sunga.
2. Ashoka’s Pacifist Policy: Which resulted in the emasculation of the army.
3. Economic Burden: Heavy economic pressure caused due to a vast army and bureaucracy.
4. Administrative Weakness: Romila Thapar attributes decline to the top heavily centralised bureaucracy.
5. Weak successors post Ashoka: They failed to resist the Indo-Greeks, who invaded the north west part of Indian subcontinent.

Mauryan Art and Architecture

Mauryan Art and Architecture is elaborately explained in the next unit.

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