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Notes on Mauryan Empire [ 321 BC to 185 BC] UPSC | Indian History | General Studies I

 Table of Contents: 

  • About Mauryan Empire Sources [Evidence] of the Mauryan Empire
  • Chronological order of the Mauryan rulers 
  • Administration of the Mauryan Empire 
  • The revenue system or taxation system of the Mauryan Empire
  • Ashoka Inscriptions 
  • Major Rock edicts 
  • The Decline of the Maurya Dynasty

Notes on the Mauryan Empire:

During Gautam Buddha's time, there were sixteen ( 16) Mahajanpadas in the Indian subcontinent. Over time, Magadha Mahajanada became prosperous and more powerful due to its locational advantages. We have already studied the Magadha Empire and Mahajanpadas. 

Please go through the below links, if you want more information:

The last of the Nanda rulers, Dhana Nanda was highly unpopular due to his oppressive tax and he belonged to a lower caste. So, Chandragupta Maury overthrew him with the help of Chanakya or Kautilya and established the Mauryan empire on Magadh.

Alexander invaded India in 326 B.C., at the time of Dhana Nanda ruler of Magadha, however, his army did not cross the Chenab River. He ( Alexander) died in 323 B.C.

The successor of Alexander, the Seleucus attempted to advance into India in 305 B.C. However, Chandragupta Maurya defeated him, and he established peace along the western border.


Sources [Evidence] of the Mauryan Empire:

  • The information about the administration and socio-economic conditions of the Mauryan empire we get from the following sources;
  • Account of Megasthenes "Indica".
  • Arthashastra book,  which was composed by Kautilya or Chanakya.
  • Banabhatta's Kadambari.
  • Vishkhadatta's Mudraraksshasa ( 500 CE); describes the role of Chanakya against Chandragupta's enemies.
  • Buddhist literature ( Mahavamsa, Milinapamho, and Mahabhashya)
  • Jaina texts like Hema Chandra's Parishshishta Parvan gave information about the Chandra Gupta Maurya connection to Jainism.
  • Puranic literature.
  • The inscriptions of Asoka on rocks and pillars.

Account of Megasthenes (a Greek ambassador to the court of Chandragupta Maurya,). He was nominated as ambassador to India by a Greek ruler of West Asia named Seleucus Nicator. He had written a book named " Indica " about the Maurya empire.

Asoka was the first ruler who inscribed his messages on stone surfaces – natural rocks as well as polished pillars.

The following is the chronological order of the Mauryan rulers;

The following are nine major kings who were part of the Mauryan empire. 

  • Chandragupta Maurya ( 322 B.C to 297 B.C); 
  • Bindusara (297 B.C to 273 B.C)
  • Ashoka (268 B.C to 232 B.C)
  • Dasharatha ( 232 B.C to 224 B.C)
  • Samprati (224 B.C to 215 B.C)
  • Shalishuka (215 B.C to 202 B.C)
  • Devavarman ( 202 B.C to 195 B.C)
  • Shatadhanvan (195 B.C to 187 B.C)
  • Brihadratha ( 187 B.C to 185 B.C)

Brihadratha was assassinated by his Commander in Chief Pushyamrita who founded the Shunga Dynasty in 185 B.C. So Brihadratha was the last king of the Maurya Empire and the Shunga Dynasty was the successor of the Maurya Dynasty. 

The first three kings of the Maurya empire that are Chandragupta Maurya, Bindusara, and Ashoka were powerful and most important. Let us know more about them;

About Chandra Gupta Maurya:

The Mauryan empire was established by the Chandragupta Maurya with the help of Chanakya. He overthrew the Magadha ruler, Ghana Nanda of the Nanda Dynasty. He established the Mauryan empire in about 322 B.C. So Chandragupta Maurya was the first king and founder of the Maury dynasty.

His mother's name was Moore, so the dynasty name of Maurya came from the name of his mother.

Chandragupta Maurya defeated the Greek King "Celeucus Nicator" in 305 to 303 B.C. He acquired the territories of Baluchistan, Eastern Afghanistan, and northwest areas of the Indus River.

He also married the daughter of Seleucus Nicator.

Megasthenes mention him as Sandrokottos.

He spent his last days in Shravanbelagola, Karnataka. He died through fasting under the Jainism tradition ( Santhara) under the guidance of Jain Monk Bhdrabahu. So, Chandragupta Maurya was Jain.

The Girnar inscription of Gujarat provides details about Sudarshan Lake. The lake was built by Rudradaman, a governor of Chandragupta Maurya.

About Bindusara ( 297 B. C to 273 B.c):

Bindusara was the son of Chandragupta Maurya and the second king of the Maurya dynasty. 

Damascus was a Greek ambassador in his court. 

Asoka, the son of Bindusara was the viceroy of Ujjain during his reign. He went to Taxila to suppress the rebels. 

Apart from the Southern kingdoms of Cholas, the Pandyas, Chera, and Kalinga coastal king, he had conquered most of the Indian subcontinent.

Bindusara was follower of Ajivak sect.

Amitraghata ( destroyer of enemies), Bhadrasara, and Singhasena were titles of Bindusara.

About Ashoka ( 268 B.C to 232 B.C)

Asoka was born in 304 B.C . He was also known as "Devanampiya ( means beloved of the gods)” and "Piyadassi (means pleasing appearance )". 

He was the greatest king of the Maurya empire, and also of all time. 

He was the first ruler who maintained direct communication with common people through his inscription. 

After the 8th year of the rule,  Kalingas (present-day coastal Orissa) was conquered by Ashoka in 261 B.C. Askoka's rock edict 13 provides the details of the Kalinga War.

Maharani Devi was the the wife of Ashoka. Sanghamitra (daughter) and Mahendra ( son) were the children of Ashoka. Sanghamitra and Mahendra went to Sri Lanka to spread Buddhism.

According to Raj Tarangini, Ashoka was a follower of Shaivism.

He organized the third Buddhist Council in Pataliputra. 

Except for the small portion of southern territory which was occupied by Cholas and Pandyas, the whole Indian subcontinent was administered by Ashoka.

After 10 years of this rule, he went to Bodhgaya. 

Special officers, known as the "Dhamma Mahamatta", were appointed to spread the message of dhamma to various social groups including women. Dhamma Mahamatta was appointed in the 14 years of his reign in 255 B.C. Second inscription tells us about the Ashoka Damma.

After 20 years of his rule, he went to Lumbini to visit the birthplace of Gautam Budha. He also abolished the "Bali tax" in Lumbani, and also reduced the agriculture tax in Lumbini. 

The Raj Tarangini, composed of the Kalhan in the 12th century CE, described that Asoka was the first ruler of Kashmir.

Ashoka died in 232 B.C. 

Sanchi Stupa in Madhya Pradesh is the most famous of the Ashokan Stupas.

Piprahwa Stupa in Uttar Pradesh is the oldest Stupa.

About the Ashoka Dhamma:

The second and seventh inscription of Ashoka tells us about the Asoka Dhamma. 

Self-control is the basic philosophy of the Dhamma policy. 

Asoka also tried to hold his empire together by propagating dhamma, the principles of which, as we have seen, were simple and virtually universally applicable.

Ashoka Dhamma included respect towards elders, generosity towards Brahmanas and those who renounced worldly life, treating slaves and servants kindly, and respect for religions and traditions other than one’s own.

Whosoever praises his religious sect or blames other sects out of excessive devotion to his own sect, with the view of glorifying his own sect, he rather injures his own sect very severely.

Administration of Mauryan Empire:

There were five major political centers in the empire, that were also called the five Chakra. The name of the five Mauryan provinces was:

  • The northern province was known as Uttar Path, which had Takshila as the capital.
  • The western province was known as Avantipath ( Capital: Ujjain)
  • The southern province was known as Dakshinpath ( Capital: Swarngiri ( Karnataka))
  • The eastern province was known as Prachytapath ( Capital: Toshali/Kalinga)
  • The central province was known as Magadha ( Capital: Patliputra).

During Chandragupta's Maurya time, there were four provinces, however, Ashoka added a fifth province after the Kalinga War. The capital of Kalinga was Toshali, which was made also the capital of the fifth province ( the Prachytapath).

The capital of the Mauryan empire was Pataliputra and the provincial centers of Taxila, Ujjayini, Tosali, and Suvarnagiri, all mentioned in Asokan inscriptions

Taxila ( Pakistan and Afghanistan) and Ujjayini ( Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, and Maharashtra) were situated on the trade route.

Suvarnagiri was situated in present-day Karnataka, which was the main source of gold mines in Karnataka. 

The Army was an important means of ensuring a very big empire. Megasthenes mentions a committee with six subcommittees for coordinating military activity. Of these, one looked after the navy, the second managed transport and provisions, and the third was responsible for foot soldiers, the fourth for horses, the fifth for chariots, and the sixth for elephants.

The following were prominent ministers during the Maurya empire:

  • Samaharta: Samaharta was superintendent of revenue.
  • Sitaadhyaksha: Superintendent of Agriculture.
  • Yukatas: Superintendent of royal treasury.
  • Sulkaadhyakksha: Superintendent of customs.
  • Akaradhyaksha: Superintendent of mines.
  • Dhamma Mahamatta: Religious officer.
  • Rajuka: Village officer

Revenue system or taxation system of the Mauryan Empire:

Chanakya or Kautilya was the main architected of the revenue system of the Mauryan empire. The revenue system of the Maurya empire is known as the "Bhaga System" or "Taxila System".

Samaharta ( tax collector ) was the main officer looking after the revenue system. 

Amatya officer was responsible for land measurement and assessment. 

The following were the main revenue sources during Mauryan time:

  • Sita: Revenue from royal land was known as Sita.
  • Bhaga: Land revenue from the cultivator is known as Bhaga. It was one-fourth to one-sixth of the farm output. 
  • Pindikara: It is the tax levied on groups of villages and which was supposed to be paid by farmers.
  • Hiranya: It was the tax paid in cash.
  • Bali: The Bali tax was continuities during Mauryna time, which was levied during the Vedic period.
  • Pranaya: It was levied during the emergency time.
  • Sulkadhyaksha: It was one time of sales tax.
  • Vishti: Tax paid in the form of forced labor
  • Vartani:  Road tax
  • Nishkrmya: export duty

Ashoka Inscriptions:

Three languages and four scripts were used in Ashoka Inscriptions. The names of the three languages that were used in the Ashoka inscription are Prakrit, Greek, and Aramaic. The name of four scripts that are used in Ashoka inscriptions is Brahmi, Kharoshti, Greek, and Aramaic. Prakrit inscriptions are written in Brahmi and Kharosti script.

Kandahar Rock Inscription is bilingual ( Greek- Aramaic). 

Most of the rock inscriptions in Pakistan were used in the Kharoshti script.

James Prinsep deciphered Asokan Brahmi in 1838.

The number of major inscriptions of Asoka is 14 and the number of long pillar inscriptions is 7. 

Ashoka's seven pillar edicts are Topra ( Delhi), Meerut, Kausambhi ( Allahabad), Rampurva ( Bihar), Champaran ( Bihar), Lauriya-Araraj ( Bihar), and Mehrauli.

Ashokan Inscriptions

Important animal capital of Ashoka;

  • Sarnath Pillar ( Varanasi): Four Lions
  • Sanchi Pillar ( Madhya Pradesh) Four lions, but it is broken.
  • Rampurva Pillar ( Bihar): Single Bull 
  • Sankissa Pillar ( Farrukhabad district of Uttar Pradesh): Single Elephant
  • Lauriya Nandangarh Pillar ( West Champaran district, Bihar): Single Lion
  • Ranipurva I: Single Lion

Rampurva Bull: A polished stone pillar that was found in Rampurva, Bihar. Now it is part of Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Allahabad pillar ( Prayagraj pillar ) was initially in Kaushambi, but it was brought to Praygraj during Akbar's reign. This pillar is also known as Rani's inscription.

The following are the major and minor important rock edict of Ashoka:

  • Kandahar rock edict : Afghanistann
  • Yerragudi rock edict: Gooty, Andhra Pradesh
  • Girnar rock edict: Gujarat; Girnar's inscription tells us that Asoka had built hospitals for both humans and animals.
  • Dhauli rock edict: Odisha; Dhauli pillar inscriptions are based on Kalinga War. 
  • Jaugada: Odisha
  • Khalsi rock edict: Uttarakhand
  • Sopara rock edict: Palghar, Maharashtra.
  • Shahbazgarhi rock edict : Pakistan
  • Mansehra rock edict: Pakistan
  • Sannati rock edict: Karnataka

Bhabru's inscription mentioned Rahul as the son of Buddha. 

Dhauli and Jaugana's edict also mentioned that "All humans are my children".

The subject of all inscriptions of Asoka was administrative except for Rummindei and Lumbini edict, both were economic. 

Major Rock edicts:

Rock Edict 1: It prohibits the animal slaughtering and killing of animals. It also laid the principle of protection for people.

Rock Edict -II: Mentioned the Pandyas, Satyapuras, and Keralaputras of South India.

Rock Edict -III: Abolish sins of harshness and cruelty.

Rock Edict IV: Deals with the duties of Rajukas. Rajukas was head of the Grama ( Village).

Rock Edict VI: Damma Policy

Rock Edict V: Appointing Dhammamahamatras.

Rock Edict VII: Work done by Ashoka Dhamma Policy

Rock Edict VIII;  Describe Ashoka's first Dhmma yatra to Bodhgaya. 

Rock Edict XII: Mentioned Tolerance.

Ashoka’s XIII (13th) Rock Edict describes the Kalinga War. It is also the largest rock edict. 

The Decline of the Maurya Dynasty:

The following were the main reasons for the decline of the Mauryan dynasty:

Weak Successor after Ashoka: The lack of a clear and strong successor led to power struggles, internal conflicts, and weakening of central authority, making the empire vulnerable.

Regional Revolts: Local rulers of Western and central providence took advantage of the empires' internal conflict, and established their independent kingdoms. 

Centralization of administration: The centralized tendency of governance such as the big Maurya empire, would be difficult to manage as that time there were no modern means of transportation and communication network.

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