Maurya Empire (320-185 BC)
Maurya Empire, founded by Chandragupta Maurya in 322 BCE was a powerful historical power in South Asia based on the city of Magadha.
- Chandragupta Maurya (320-298 BC), the founder of the Maurya Empire, is also called the liberator of India because he liberated India from the domination of the Greeks.
- Chandragupta expanded his empire after taking over Magadha.
- He established his power in western India and in the Deccan as far as the northern part of Karnataka.
- The territories conquered by him included Saurashtra, Malwa, and Deccan.
- In the northwest frontier, he faced the Greek general Seleucus Nicator. Eventually, Seleucus had to hand over the territories of Kabul, Kandahar, Hirat, Balochistan, and Makran to Chandragupta. One of his daughters was also married to Chandragupta.
- In 315 BC, the messenger of Seleucus Megasthenes came to Pataliputra in the court of Chandragupta. He has presented his experiences in his travelogue Indica.
- Chandragupta also designed the Mauryan administration, which was the first nationwide system of governance developed in the Indian sub-continent.
- The administration was centralized and rigid.
- Taxes were plentiful and registration of the general public was mandatory.
- The emperor was the focal point of the administration.
- The army was well organized and powerful and the state had complete control over the economy.
- All this information is mainly based on Kautilya’s Arthashastra.
- In the Indica of Megasthenes, a detailed discussion of the city administration of the capital Pataliputra is found.
- Six committees – to look after the city administration.
The reign of Chandragupta Maurya was, thus, a decisive stage in the development of the Maurya Empire. Ashoka gave this administrative system a liberal and welfare form. His records also provide detailed information regarding the Mauryan administration.
During the time of Chandragupta’s successor Bindusara (298-272 BC), the glory of the Maurya Empire remained. Foreign relations also developed and the Greek envoy Democlus remained in his court.
Ashoka (272-232 BC)
- The greatest ruler of the Maurya dynasty was Ashoka.
- He initially adopted the policy of expansion of the empire.
- But in 261 BC, the horrific genocide and bloodshed of the Kalinga war inspired him to abandon the conquest and adopt the policy of Dhamma-Vijay. For this purpose, he made relations with foreign countries.
- He sent his envoys to Sri Lanka, West Asia, Central Asia, and the states ruled by the Greeks. These kingdoms included Syria, Egypt, Cyrene, Macedonia, and Epiral.
- Through these, he propagated the spirit of peace, harmony, and coexistence and took interest in welfare works.
- His aim was to maintain his influence over these areas, not by military conquest, through the display of morality, peace, and his eagerness for human service.
- Ashoka embraced Buddhism. He patronized Buddhism extensively.
- The third Buddhist association was organized by him at Pataliputra.
- He visited pilgrimages related to Buddhism.
- For the promotion of Buddhism, he sent delegations to Sri Lanka, Nepal, Burma (Myanmar), and other countries for the promotion of Buddhism. In this sequence, the spread of Indian culture also took place in foreign countries.
- He sent his son Mahendra and daughter Sanghamitra to Sri Lanka.
- Under the influence of Buddhism, Ashoka adopted a policy of public welfare.
- He appointed Dhamma-Mahamattas (dhamma officers) to provide financial grants and other facilities to different classes.
- To keep the Judicial administration orderly, officers named Rajuk were appointed.
- He banned animal slaughter, laid emphasis on peace, harmony, and tolerance in the society by propounding the policy of Dhamma, and encouraged the development of high moral ideals in the life of the individual.
- Thus Ashoka first presented the idea of a welfare state and promoted harmony and morality among all the subjects.
- Ashoka made his image in history as a great ruler by giving advance place in his administrative policies to principles like peace, non-violence, friendly foreign relations etc.
How far Ashoka was responsible for the decline of Mauryan empire?
Ashoka has been criticized by some historians on the basis that his policy led to the decline of the Maurya Empire. According to them, Ashoka’s peace-loving policy destroyed the military might of the empire, while his inclination towards Buddhism angered the Brahmins. Both these factors contributed to the decline of the Maurya Empire.
This notion is no longer accepted as the decline of the Maurya Empire was influenced by some other reasons. The decline of the empire started after the death of Ashoka due to the incompetence of Ashoka’s successors, the weakness of the central administration, the tyranny of the provincials and rebellions against them, invasions of the Indo-Greek rulers, the vastness of the empire, etc. In 185 BC, Pushyamitra Shunga took control of the kingdom by killing Brihadratha, the last Mauryan ruler.
Mauryan Empire Art & Culture
- Significant progress was also made in the fields of art and learning during the Maurya period.
- Kautilya was a scholar with multi-faceted talent whose creation Arthashastra is a timeless work.
- Ashtadhyaya, the composition of well-known grammarian Panini, is another important achievement of this period.
- Upavarsha, who wrote commentaries on Mimamsa and Vedanta, and Charaka, a medical scientist, were other great personalities of this period.
Mauryan Empire Architecture
- The architecture was also in an advanced stage during the Maurya period.
- Megasthenes has described the beauty of the city of Pataliputra.
- In the southern part of Patna, the remains of the Mauryan royal palace have been found at Kumhrar, in which the monolithic circular pillars are famous for their artistic beauty. This style was influenced by Iranian art. The tall and grand pillars of this style were also built by Ashoka for the promotion of his inscriptions.
- The art of polishing stone was at a very advanced stage during this period. The best example of this is the statue of Yakshini found from the Didarganj locality of Patna City.
- The Sonbhandar caves of Rajgir and the caves of Barabar hills near Gaya also present examples of Mauryan architecture. Buddhist monks used to rest in these caves.