The Mauryan Empire was the first major empire in the history of India, ruled by Maurya dynasty from 321 BC to 185 BCE.
At that time, Magadh was ruled by the Nanda dynasty. Chanakya, also known as Kautilya was a pious, learned and determined brahman, who didn’t have a pleasant appearance but had an intelligent brain. He managed to terminate the existing King Mahapadm Nand and his eight sons and made Chandragupt the King of Magadh who was also the legitimate heir of the throne. Chandragupta founded the Mauryan Empire by overthrowing the Nanda dynasty with the help of Chanakya who was an important minister in the court of the Nanda rulers. Chanakya was ill treated by the Nanda king and he vowed to destroy their kingdom. He met the young Chandragupta in the Vindhya forest. Chanakya was well versed in politics and the affairs of the state. He groomed Chandragupta and helped him raise and organize an army. Thus, with the help of Chanakya, Chandragupta overthrew the last Nanda ruler and became the king and Chanakya became the chief minister in his court.
Important rulers of this dynasty were Chandragupta Maurya, Bindusara, and King Ashoka. This empire reached its peak under King Ashoka. However, this mighty empire crumbled rapidly, under its own weight, soon after the death of Ashoka.
Maurya Empire was originated from the kingdom of Magadha in the Indo-Gangetic plains which is currently a part of modern Bihar, eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bengal (eastern side). It was ruled through the capital Patliputra (modern Patna).
Chandragupta Maurya was the founder of the dynasty (322 BC) who had overthrown the Nanda Dynasty and rapidly expanded his power westwards across central and western India by taking advantage of the disruptions of local powers in the wake of the withdrawal westward by Alexander the Great’s Greek and Persian armies. By 320 BC the empire had fully occupied Northwestern India, defeating and conquering the satraps left by Alexander.
It was one of the largest empires to rule the Indian subcontinent, stretched to the north along the natural boundaries of the Himalayas, and to the east stretching into what is now Assam. To the west, it reached beyond modern Pakistan, annexing Balochistan and much of what is now Afghanistan, including the modern Herat and Kandahar provinces.
Magadh was the fourth dynasty after the Mahabharat war (3139 BC). Chandragupt Maurya was the first king and founder of the Maurya dynasty. His mother’s name was Mur, so he was called Maurya in Sanskrit which means the son of Mur, and thus, his dynasty was called Maurya dynasty.
Some bramhanical texts, like the ‘Puranas’ consider him from a lower (Shudra) caste, there are the Buddhist and Jain texts which speak of him as a member of the ‘Kshatriya’ (warrior)’ Moriya’ clan related to the ‘Shakyas’.
Another story known about Chandragupta was the son of king Mahanandin and Mura, and whose second wife Sunanda was the mother of the Nandas. Apparently with the help of a barber, Mahapadmananda she murdered her husband and Chandraguptas brothers and installed Mahapadmananda as the king. Mura escaped with her young son, who grew up and swore revenge.
Also another source calls Chandragupta’s father a commander to Mahapadmananda’s forces, whom Mahapadmananda had murdered by deceit.
Some texts have called Chandragupta a grandson of a headman of a village of peacock tanners, while some (‘Vishnu purana’ and the play ‘Mudrarakshasa’) refer to him as the illegitimate son of the woman named Mora and a Nanda prince (incidently the puranas also refer to the Nandas as offsprings of low birth).
However the most popular version holding fort is that, Chandragupta belonged to a ‘kshatriya’ (warrior) clan called ‘Moriya’, originally ruling, ‘Pipallivana’(Uttar Pradesh), a forest kingdom.
Most of our knowledge about the Mauryan period in general and the rule of Chandragupta in particular is obtained from two important literary sources: the Arthashastra, written by Chanakya, and Indica, written by the ancient Greek writer Megasthenes (who was an ambassador of Seleucus Nikator and had come to the court of Chandragupta).
Chandragupta's minister Kautilya Chanakya wrote the Arthashastra, one of the greatest treatises on economics, politics, foreign affairs, administration, military arts, war, and religion ever produced in the India. Archaeologically, the period of Mauryan rule in South Asia falls into the era of Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW). The Arthashastra and the Edicts of Ashoka are primary sources of written records of the Mauryan times. The Mauryan Empire is considered one of the most significant periods in Indian history. The Lion Capital of Asoka at Sarnath, is the emblem of India.
The Arthashastra talks about the principles of governance and lays down rules of administration. It also discusses in detail the role of the king, his duties, rate of taxation, use of espionage, and laws for governing the society. The Indica of Megasthenes, on the other hand, gives a vivid description of the Mauryan society under the rule of Chandragupta. Megasthenes described the glory of the Mauryan capital of Pataliputra. He also talked of the lifestyle in the cities and villages and the prosperity of the Mauryan cities.
Square silver coins issued between 321 and 181 BC in ancient India by the Mauryan Empire, which was created after the death of Alexander the GreatAdministration:
Chandragupta had united the whole of northern India under one rule. Mauryan Empire was the first large, powerful, centralized state in India. The Arthashastra laid the foundation of the centralized administration of Mauryan governance. The empire was divided into administrative districts or zones, each of which had a hierarchy of officials. The top most officers from these districts or zones directly reported to the Mauryan ruler. These officials were responsible for collecting taxes, maintaining the army, completing irrigational projects, and maintaining law and order.
During Chandragupta reign, the state regulated trade, levied taxes, and standardized weights and measures. Trade and commerce also flourished during this time. The state was responsible for providing irrigational facilities, succor, sanitation, and famine relief to its masses. Megasthenes, in his writings, has praised the efficient Mauryan administration.
Before the Kalinga war, the Mauryan administration under Ashoka was not different from that of his predecessors. Ashoka, like previous Mauryan kings, was at the head of the centralized administrative system. He was helped by a council of ministers that was in charge of different ministries like taxation, army, agriculture, justice, etc. The empire was divided into administrative zones, each one having its hierarchy of officials. The top most officers at the zonal level had to keep in touch with the king. These officers took care of all aspects of administration (social welfare, economy, law and order, military) in the different zones. The official ladder went down to the village level.
Emperor Chandragupta Maurya became the first major Indian monarch to initiate a religious transformation at the highest level when he embraced Jainism, a religious movement resented by orthodox Hin dupriests that usually attended the imperial court. At an older age, Chandragupta renounced his throne and material possessions to join a wandering group of Jain monks. However his successor, Emperor Bindusara preserved Hindu traditions and distanced himself from Jain and Buddhist movements.
But when Ashoka embraced Buddhism following the Kalinga War, he renounced expansionism and aggression, and the harsher injunctions of the Arthashastra on the employ of force, intensive policing and ruthless measures for tax collection and against rebels. Ashoka sent a mission led by his son and daughter to Sri Lanka, whose king Tissa was so charmed with Buddhist ideals that he adopted it himself and made it the state religion. Ashoka sent many Buddhist missions to West Asia, Greece and South East Asia, and commissioned the construction of monasteries, schools and publication of Buddhist literature across the empire. He is believed to have built as many as 84,000 stupas across India, and increased the popularity of Buddhism inAfghanistan. Ashoka helped convene the Third Buddhist Council near his capital, that undertook much work of reform and expansion of the Buddhist religion.
While himself a Buddhist, Ashoka retained the membership of Hindu priests and ministers in his court, and maintained religious freedom and tolerance, although the Buddhist faith grew in popularity with his patronage. Indian society began embracing the philosophy of ahimsa, and given the prosperity and law enforcement, crime and internal conflicts reduced dramatically. Also greatly discouraged was the caste system and orthodox discrimination, as Hinduism began inculcating the ideals and values of Jain and Buddhist teachings. Social freedom began expanding in an age of peace and prosperity.
Mauryans implemented a common economic system and enhanced trade and commerce, with increased agricultural productivity under the able guidance of Chanakya. Hundreds of earlier kingdoms, many small armies, powerful regional chieftains, and internecine warfare, gave way to this disciplined central authority. Like in Arthashastra (by Kautilya)said, the king was the supreme head of the state. His duty was mainly ensuring the welfare and happiness of his subjects. He was to work almost 18-19 hours a day and was to be at the service of his people, courtiers, and officers any time of the hour. The country prospered during Mauryan rule.
The Council of ministers consisted of 3-12 members, each being the head of a department. Then there was the State council which could have 12,16 or 20 members. Besides, there was the bureaucracy consisting of the ‘Sannidhata’ (treasury head), ‘Samaharta’ (chief revenue collector), ‘Purohita’ (head priest),’Senapati’(commander of the army),’ Pratihara’ (chief of the palace guards),’Antarvamisika’ (head of the harem guards),’Durgapala’(governor of the fort), ‘Antahala’ (governor of the frontier),’Paur’(governor of the capital),’Nyayadhisha’ (chief justice),’Prasasta’ (police chief). Then there were the ‘Tirthas’, ‘Amatyas’ i.e officers in charge of accounts (controlled by the chief minister‘Mahaamatya’) of the: treasury, records, mines, mints, commerce, excise agriculture, toll, public utility, armory etc.
The governors or viceroys of provinces were called ‘Mahamatras’ and if the designation was held by a prince then he was called ‘Kumara mahamatra’. Assisting them were the ‘Yutas’ (tax collectors), ‘Rajukas’(revenue collectors),’Sthanikas’ and’Gopas’(district officers). Then there was the local village head called’ Gramika’ under whom the village assembly operated.
The civil courts were called ‘Dharmasthiya’ and criminal courts were called ‘Kantakshodhana’.
An international network of trade expanded during Ashoka's reign under the Indo-Greek friendship treaty. Like the Khyber pass, on the boundary of Pakistan and Afghanistan became important port of trade and intercourse with the outside world. Greek states and Hellenic kingdoms in West Asia became important trade partners of India. Trade also extended through the Malay peninsula into Southeast Asia. India's exports included silk goods and textiles, spices and exotic foods. The Empire was enriched further with an exchange of scientific knowledge and technology with Europe and West Asia. Ashoka also sponsored the construction of thousands of roads, waterways, canals, hospitals, rest-houses and other public works. The easing of many overly-rigorous administrative practices, including those regarding taxation and crop collection, helped increase productivity and economic activity across the Empire. In many ways, the economic situation in the Maurya Empire is comparable to the Roman Empire several centuries later, which both had extensive trade connections and both had organizations similar to corporations.
Fourteen Rock Edicts found at eight different places which are. Shahbazgarhi (seventh edict engraved on a bowl ,Peshawar, Pakistan presently displayed in the Prince of Wales museum, Mumbai),Manshera (Hazara),Kalsi (Dehradun, Uttarakhand),Girnar (Junagadh, Gujrat),Sopara(Thana, Maharashtra), Dhauli and Jaugada(Orissa) and erragudi(Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh). Minor Rock Edicts found at thirteen different places which are. Roopnath(Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh), Bairat(Jaipur, Rajasthan), Sasaram(Shahbad district, Bihar), Maski (Raichur, Karnataka), Gavimath and Palkigundu(Mysore, Karnataka), Gujarra(Datia district , Madhya Pradesh), Ahraura (Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh), Rajulamandagiri (Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh), Yerragudi and three neighbouring places in Chitaldurga district, Mysore. Seven Pillar Edicts found on a single pillar (Topra, presently displayed in Delhi).Rest were found in northern Bihar. The remaining inscriptions were engraved on rocks, pillars and cave walls.
The most important of these being the engravings on a pillar found at Rumindei (Nepal) which mentions Ashoka’s visit to the birthplace of Gautam Buddha at Lumbini. Two short inscriptions written in Aramaic have also been found at Taxilla and Jalalabad(Afghanistan). A bilingual inscription written in Greek and Aramaic has been found on a rock at Shar-i-Kuna(Kandahar, Afghanistan). Four edicts (one in Kharoshti script derived from Aramaic, used in Iran and others in perhaps, Prakrit, rest found in the country being in Brahmi) have been found in Shalatak and Qargha (Afghanistan).
The thirteenth rock edict gives a vivid account of Ashokas conquest of Kalinga (260 BC), after a prolonged war, in which 1,50,000 persons were captured, 1,00,000 killed and many times that number perished. Ashoka was said to have been filled with great remorse and guilt after witnessing the misery and bloodshed his war cost.
The reign of Ashoka was followed for 50 years by a succession of weaker kings. Brhadrata, the last ruler of the Mauryan dynasty, ruled territories that had shrunk considerably from the time of emperor Ashoka, but he was still upholding the Buddhist faith. He was assassinated in 185 BCE during a military parade by the commander-in-chief of his guard, the Brahmin general Pusyamitra Sunga, who then took over the empire.
Chandragupt Maurya (322-298 BC)
Chandragupt Maurya ruled for 34 years. It is generally thought that Chandragupta married Seleucus's daughter, or a Greek Macedonian princess, a gift from Seleucus to formalize an alliance. In a return gesture, Chandragupta sent 500 war-elephants, a military asset which would play a decisive role at the Battle of Ipsus in 302 BC. In addition to this treaty, Seleucus dispatched an ambassador, Megasthenes, to Chandragupta, and later Deimakos to his son Bindusara, at the Mauryan court at Pataliputra (modern Patna in Bihar state). Later Ptolemy II Philadelphus, the ruler of Ptolemaic Egypt and contemporary of Ashoka the Great, is also recorded by Pliny the Elder as having sent an ambassador named Dionysius to the Mauryan court.
Mainstream scholarship asserts that Chandragupta received vast territory west of the Indus, including the Hindu Kush, modern day Afghanistan, and the Balochistan province of Pakistan. Archaeologically, concrete indications of Mauryan rule, such as the inscriptions of the Edicts of Ashoka, are known as far as Kandhahar in southern Afghanistan. The invasion of the northwestern part of India by Alexander in 326 BC and the subsequent establishment of the rule of Seleucus Nikator (one of Alexander's general) was a thorn in the eyes of Chandragupta. He first stabilized his power in Magadh and then began his campaign against Seleucus.
After a prolonged struggle, Chandragupta was able to defeat Seleucus in 305 BC and extended his territories extended from present day Afghanistan-Pakistan to the southern Indian state of Karnataka and right upto the east till Bengal and Assam. According to the peace treaty with Seleucus, Chandragupta also got Kabul, Gandhara, and parts of Persia and married his daughter. In this way, Chandragupta became the undisputed ruler of Northern India. His fame was so widespread that rulers from far off kingdoms send their envoys to his court. Chandragupta also conquered parts of Central India and united the whole of northern India under Mauryan rule. After ruling for about 25 years, he became a Jain ascetic and left his throne to his son Bindusara (296 BC-273 BC).
Chandragupta then, retired to the forests of Shravana Belgola (near Mysore city, Karnataka state) along with his religious guru Bhadrabahu and several followers, where he renounced his life after a fast unto death as per Jain traditions.
Bindusar (296 BC-273 BC)
Son of Chandragupta Maurya ruled 28 years. He inherited a vast empire that spanned parts of modern-day Afghanistan in the northwest, to parts of Bengal in the east. It also spread through large parts of central India.
Bindusara extended the Mauryan Empire southwards in the Indian peninsula as far as Mysore. He defeated and annexed 16 small kingdoms, thus extending his empire from sea to sea. The only regions that were left out on the Indian subcontinent were that of Kalinga (Orissa) and the kingdoms to the extreme south of the Indian peninsula. As these southern kingdoms were friendly, Bindusara did not annex them, but the Kingdom of Kalinga was a problem for the Mauryan Empire.
The administration under Bindusara functioned smoothly. During his reign, Mauryan Empire had good relation with Greeks, Syrians, and Egyptians.
Ashokvardhan / Ashoka (273 BC-232 BC)
Bindusara was succeeded by his son Ashoka, the most famous of the Mauryan Kings. He ruled for 36 years. The Mauryan Empire reached its peak under the rule of Ashoka. He undertook military campaign against Kalinga and, after defeating it in a bloody war, extended it.
However, the sight of the large-scale carnage moved Ashoka, and he embraced Buddhism. The war of Kalinga was the turning point in the life of Ashoka to the extent that he shunned all forms of violence and became a strict vegetarian.
Ashoka believed in high ideals, which, according to him, could lead people to be virtuous, and peace loving. This he called Dhamma (which is a Prakrit form of the Sanskrit word Dharma). His rock edicts and pillar inscriptions propagated the true essence of Dhamma. Ashoka asked the different religious groups (Brahmins, Buddhist and Jain) to live in peace. His lofty ideals also included shunning violence and war, stopping animal sacrifice, respect for elders, respect of slaves by their masters, vegetarianism, etc. Above all, Ashoka wanted peace in his empire.
Ashoka sent edicts to different parts of the empire, where they engraved on rocks or pillars, for the common people to see and read them which were in different scripts. The language was generally Prakrit, as it was spoken by the common people, where as Sanskrit was spoken by educated upper caste people. Also they used Greek and Aramaic language for the inscription.
Ashoka sent his son Mahendra to Sri Lanka to preach Buddhism there. He propagated Buddhism to Chola and Pandya kingdoms, which were at the extreme southern part of the Indian peninsula then Buddhist missions to Burma and other Southeast Asian countries too.
The war with Kalinga transformed Ashoka both on a personal as well as public level. He made a number of changes in the administration. Ashoka introduced a new cadre of officials, by the name of Dhamma Mahamatta, who was sent across the empire to spread the message of Ashoka's Dhamma (dharma).
For the rest of his life, Ashoka preached the principles of Buddhism not only in his vast empire, but also sent missions abroad. Ashoka built a number of rock edicts and pillars to spread the gospel of Buddhism.
The great Mauryan Empire did not last long after the death of Ashoka and ended in 185 BC. Weak kings on one hand and the unmanageability of a vast empire on the other caused the rapid decline of the Mauryas. A number of small kingdoms emerged from the edifice of the Mauryan Empire.
Modern Indias national emblem is a gift from Ashokas heritage.
Ashoka visited the various places considered holy by the Buddhists. He is said to have begun the propogation of the Buddhist doctrines through his specially appointed officers called ‘Dharmamahamatras’. Ashokas ‘dhamma’ (in Prakrit) or ‘dharma’ (in Sanskrit) is still considered reflecting his character and philosophy.
Dasaratha Maurya (232 - 224 BCE)
Dasaratha Maurya was the Emperor of the Mauryan dynasty from 232 BCE to 224 BCE. According to the Matsya Purana, he succeeded his grandfather Ashoka the Great. He succeeded Ashoka after his uncle Kunala became blind, which made him unfit to rule.
Daśaratha was only about twenty years old, when he ascended to the throne with the help of ministers. According to the Puranas, he reigned for eight years.
Daśaratha dedicated three caves in the Nagarjuni Hills to the Ajivikas. Three inscriptions ordered by Devanampiya Daśaratha state that the caves were dedicated immediately on his succession.
Dasaratha's son did not succeed him, instead Kunala's son Samprati did.
Samprati (224 - 215 BCE)
He was the son of Ashoka's blind son, Kunala. He succeeded his cousin, Dasharatha as emperor of the Mauryan Empire and ruled almost the entire present-day Indian subcontinent. Kunala was the son of Ashoka's first queen, Padmavati (who was Jain), but was blinded in a conspiracy to remove his claim to the throne. Thus Kunal was replaced by Dasharatha as the heir to the throne. Ashoka had many wives: his premier wife was Jain and the others were Buddhist. Kunala lived in Ujjain with his "Dhai Maa". Samprati was brought up there. Years after being denied the throne, Kunala and Samprati approached Ashok's court in an attempt to claim the throne. Ashoka could not deliver the throne to his blind son, but was impressed by Samprati's skills as a warrior and administrator and declared Samprati the successor to Dasharatha. After Dasharatha's death, Samprati inherited the throne of the Mauryan empire.
According to the Puranas, Samprati reigned for nine years The Jaina text, Pariśiṣṭaparvan mentions that he ruled both from Pataliputra and Ujjain, but unfortunately, we have no inscriptional or other evidences to support these accounts. According to the Jaina tradition he ruled for 53 years. Samprati was influenced by the teachings of a Jain monk, Suhastin. He also sent Jain scholars abroad to spread Jainist teachings. But research is needed to learn where those scholars went and their influence. Until now, this has not been accomplished. According to the Puranas, he was succeeded by Śāliśuka, who according to the Yuga Purana was a cruel, wicked and unrighteous ruler.
Emperor Samprati is poorly highlighted in history. He is regarded as the "Jain Ashoka" for his patronage and efforts to spreading Jainism in east India. Samprati, according to Jain historians, is considered more powerful and famous than Ashoka himself. The historical authenticity of Samprati is proved because Samprati Vihär, after the name of Samprati, existed at Vadamänu in the Krishna Valley during the second century CE. Under the influence of Suhastin (the disciple of Acharya Sthulibhadra, the leading saint of the Jain community under Mahagiri, Samprati was again converted to Jainism, the Mauryas' ancestral religion. He spread Jainism by every means, working hard for Jainism as scriptures. He had decided to rinse his mouth in the morning, only after hearing that another new temple had been built. Besides, he got all the old and existing temples repaired and set up in all of them holy statues made of gold, stone, silver, brass and of a mixture of fine metals and performed their Anjankala ceremony: i.e., declared them fit for worship. It is said that Samprati built thousands of Jain Temples in India, many of which are still in use, such as the Jain temples at Viramgam and Palitana (Gujarat), Agar Malwa (Ujjain). Within three and a half years, he got one hundred and twenty-five thousand new temples built, thirty-six thousand repaired, twelve and a half million murtis, holy statues, consecrated and ninety-five thousand metal murtis prepared. Samprati is said to have erected Jain temples throughout his empire. He founded Jain monasteries even in non-Aryan territory, and almost all ancient Jain temples or monuments of unknown origin are popularly attributed to him. It may be noted that all the Jain monuments of Rajasthan and Gujarat, with unknown builders are also attributed to Emperor Samprati.
According to Jaina tradition, King Samprati had no children. He considered it the consequence of earlier Karma and observed the religious customs more scrupulously
Salisuka ( 215 - 202 BCE)
Salisuka Maurya was a ruler of the Indian Mauryan dynasty. He was the successor of Samprati Maurya. The Yuga Purana section of the Gargi Samhita mentions him as wicked, quarrelsome, unrighteous ruler, who cruelly oppressed his subjects. According to the Puranas he was succeeded by Devavarman.
Devavarman (202 - 195 BCE)
Devavarman Maurya was a king of the Mauryan empire. He was the successor of Salisuka Maurya.
Satadhanvan (195 - 187 BCE)
king of the Mauryan empire, ruled from 195-187 BCE. He was the successor of Devavarman Maurya.
Brihadratha (187 - 185 BCE)
He was the last ruler of the Mauryan dynasty. He was killed by his senapati (commander-in-chief), Pusyamitra Sunga.
According to the Puranas, Brihadratha succeeded Śatadhanvan and he ruled for seven years. Mauryan territories, centered on the capital of Pataliputra, had shrunk considerably from the time of the great Emperor Ashoka when Brihadratha came to the throne. In 180 BCE, northwestern India (parts of modern day Afghanistan and Pakistan) were attacked by the Greco-Bactrian king Demetrius. He established his rule in the Kabul Valley and parts of the Punjab in modern-day Pakistan. The Yuga Purana section of the Gargi Samhita says that the Yavana (Greco-Bactrian) army led by King Dhamamita (Demetrius) invaded the Mauryan territories during Brihadratha's reign and after occupying Panchala region and the cities of Saketa and Mathura, they finally captured Pataliputra. But soon they had to leave to Bactria to fight a fierce battle (probably between Eucratides and Demetrius).
He was killed in 180 BCE and power usurped by his commander-in-chief, the Brahmin general Pusyamitra Sunga, who then took over the throne and established the Sunga dynasty. Banabhatta in his Harshacharita says, Pushyamitra, while parading the entire Mauryan army before Brihadratha on the pretext of showing him the strength of the army, crushed his master, Brihadratha Maurya, because he was too weak to keep his promise (probably to repulse the Yavanas).