Mauryan dynasty

Chandragupta Maurya (322 - 297 BC):

With the help of Chanakya, known as Kautilya or Vishnugupta, he overthrew the Nandas & established the rule of the Maurya dynasty. Chandragupta is called Sandrocottus the Greek scholars.
Seleucus Necater was one of the generals of Alexander and after his death, had succeeded in gaining control of most of the Asiatic provinces. Chandragupta defeated him in 305 BC and was compelled to yield parts of Afghaistan to Chandragupta. There was also a marriage alliance between the two families.
Built a vast empire, which included not only good portions of Bihar and Bengal, but also western and north western India and the Deccan. This account is given by Megasthenes(A Greek ambassador sent by Seleucus to the court of Chandragupta Maurya) in his book Indica. We also get the details from the Arthashastra of Kautilya. Chandragupta adopted Jainism and went to Sravanabelagola (near Mysore) with Bhadrabahu, where he died by slow starvation. I Vishakhadatta wrote a drama Mudrarakshasa (describing Chandragupta’s enemy) & Debi Chandraguptam in sixth century AD.

Bindusara(297 - 273BC):

Called Amitraghat by Greek writers. Chandragupta was succeeded by his son Bindusara in 297 BC. He is said to conquered the land between the 2 seas i.e., the Arabian Sea 8: Bay of Bengal. A time of his death, almost the entire subcontinent came under the Mauryan rule. Greek Ambassador, Deimachos visited his court.

Ashoka (273-236 B.C.)

He was holding important Viceroyalty of Taxila and Ujjain during his father's lifetime. After his father's death he ascended the throne but formal consecration was delayed for 4 years. This suggested a disputed succession. A Buddhist text says he usurped the throne after killing his 99 brothers. He fought Kalinga war in 260 B. C. in the 9th year of his reign. Shortly after the Kalinga war he seems to have been greatly influenced by Buddhist teaching. He became a lay Upasaka of Buddha. In his second Dharmayatra tour (in 21st year of his reign), he visited Lumbini, the birth place of Buddha. In the 14th year of his reign he started the Institution of Dharmamahamatras.

 The reverberation of the war drum (Bheri Ghosha) was to become the reverberation of the law (Dhamma Ghosha). His Hellenistic contemporaries were Antiochus ll of Syria, Ptolemy ll of Egypt, Antigonas of Macedonia, Magas of Cyrene and Alexander of Epirus. He organised the third Buddhist Council in the 18th year of his reign at Pataliputra after which he sent Buddhist Missionaries to Ceylon and Suvarna Bhumi. Ashoka banned animal sacrifice, regulated the slaughter of animal for food. According to his Maski and Gurjara inscriptions he was known as Devanamapriya or Prlyadarshi. He was converted to Buddhism by Nigrodh but according to Divyavadana, Upagupta converted him.


            Ashoka’s Dhamrna was an ethical code aimed at building up an attitude of social responsibility among the people. It was based on the principle of high toleration for each other, respect to elders, parents and teachers, kindness, truthfulness and all the ideals and virtues of peaceful living.  It was a moral law independent of any caste or creed.

Major Rock Inscription

            Ashoka gave us 7 Pillar Edicts. These were at Lauriya Araraj, Lauriya Nandan Garh, Rampurva, Nigali Sagar, Samath Topara and Meerut. There are 14 Major Rock Edicts. 1st Major Rock Edict declares Prohibition of animal sacrifice. 2nd Major Rock Edict mentions medical treatment of human and animals. 3rd Major Rock Edict mentions Pradeshikas Rajukas and Yukta. lt declares liberality towards Brahmans and Sramanas. 4th Major Rock Edict mentions Bheri Ghosha Is replaced by Dhamma Ghosha. 5th Major Rock Edict mentions the appointment of Dhammamahamatas. 6th Major Rock Edict mentions Mantri Parishad and Officers like Pulisani and Prativedikar. 7th Major Rock Edict mentions Religious toleration amongst all sects. 8th Major Rock Edict mentions that he went to Sambodhi in Bodh Gaya. 9th Major Rock Edict mentions the uselessness of various Ceremonies.

lt lays stress on Morality and Moral code of conduct. 10th Major Rock Edict mentions that the King desires no more fame or glory. 11th Major Rock Edict explains the policy of Dhamma. It lays stress on giving respect to EldeIs and Good behaviour towards Slaves and Servants. 12th Major Rock Edict mentions lthijikamahamata and appeals for toleration amongst sects. 13th Major Rock edict mentions Kalinga war. 14th Major Rock Edict mentions the purpose of the Rock Edicts. Minor Rock Edicts include Kandhar Rock Edict (written in Greek and Aramaic). Barabar cave inscription, Queen's edict (mentions Karuvaki, the mother of Tiwara), Bairat, Bhabru Edict, Lampaka, Maski (Pujadassi), Sohgaura (famine), Mahasthan.

There are 7 Pillar Edicts. In the 1st Pillar Edict social code has been mentioned. In the 2nd Pillar Edict eye donation has been mentioned. In the 3rd Pillar Edict Soul and Sin has been mentioned.  In the 4th Pillar Edict Rajukas have been mentioned. In the 5th Pillar Edict animal killing is mentioned. The 6th Pillai Edict mentions the welfare of people. The 7th Pillar Edict mentions the Dhammamahamatas. 

He was the first King to talk to the people directly through inscriptions.

  • Bhabru Inscription: Mentions Ashoka's conversion to Buddhism.
  • Barabar Inscription: Enjoins toleration.
  • Tarai Pillars: Ashoka’s respect for Buddhism.
  • 14 Major Rock Edicts: Administration and ethics.
  • Minor Rock Edicts: Personal history of Ashoka and summary of Dhmma.
  • The Kalinga Edict (Dhauli and Jaugada) mentions 'All men are my Children'. Brihadratha, the last Mauryan ruler was killed by Pushyarnitra Sunga who founded the Sunga Dynasty.

Extent of Empire:

His empire covered the whole territory from Hindukush to Bengal & extended Afghanistan, Baluchistan 8: whole of India with the exception of a small area in farthest south. Kashmir and Valleys of Nepal were also included, first empire to do so. The Kalinga war(261 BC, mentioned in XIII rock edict) 
It changed his attitude towards life. Ashoka became a Buddhist after that.

Aspects of Ashoka’s Reign:

Ashok’s empire was divided into provinces with a Viceroy in each province established Dhramshalas, hospitals and Sarais throughout his kingdom.
He appointed Dharma Mahapatras to propagate dharma among various social groups including women.
He organized a network of missionaries to preach the doctrine both in his kingdom and beyond. He sent them to Ceylon, Burma (sent his son Mahindra and daughter Sanghamitra to Ceylon) and other south-east Asian regions, notably Thailand.
Ashoka is called ‘Buddhashakya and Ashok in Maski edict and Dharmasoka in Samath inscription.
He was also known as ‘Devanampiya' beloved of the gods, and Piyadassi of pleasing appearance.

Significance of Mauryan rule:

The emblem of the Indian Republic has been adopted from the 4 lion , capital of the Ashokan pillar at Sarnath. Gurukuls & Buddhist monasteries developed with royal patronage. Universities of Taxila and Banaras are the gifts of this era. Kautilya’s Anhashastra, Bhadrabahu’s Kalpa Sutra, Buddhist texts like the Katha Vatthu and Jain texts such as Bhagwati Sutra, Acharanga Sutra and Dasavakalik comprise some of the important literature of this era.

Mauryan Administration

Swami                                     :King, highest authority in all matters.

Mantriparishad                         :To advise the King.

Amatyas                                  :Bureaucracy, executive officials or secretaries in the ministry.

Adhyakshas                            :Superintendent,responsible for various departments.

Sannidhata                              :Chief Treasury Officer.

Samaharta                              :Chief Revenue Collector.

Dandapala                               :Inspector General of Police.

Akshapatal                             :Accountant General. 

Karmikas                                 :Cierks in various departments.

Dhammamahamatras                 :Created by Ashoka for propagation of Dhamma

Antamahamatras                      :Worked among frontier people and tribal people Nagaraviyohalaka

Mahamattas                             :Magistrates in the cities.

Ithijakhamahamattas                 :Superintendent of women.

Ganikadhyakas                        :Superintendent of prostitutes.

Pradesika                                :Official at the district level, made tours to inspect administration.

Rajuka                                      Judicial officer at the district level.

Gopa                                       :Worked as accountant and registered land at the lower level below the district.

Sthanika                                  :Tax collector at lower level below the district.

Pativedikas                             :Officials who brought news of the people to the king.

Pulisani                                    :King's agent at lower level.

Nagaraka                                :City Superintendent; maintained law and order, cleanliness, etc.

Senapati                                :Commander-in-Chief of the army.

Gramika                                 :Incharge of village administration.

Gudhapurushas                      :Detectives of the state.

Kantakashodhanan                 :New court created to administer justice

Agaranomai                            :Market Commissioners

Rupadarshaka                        :Tester of coins

Other Soures of Mauryan History

            Kautilya’s Arthasastra, Megasthenese’s Indica, Visakhadatta's Mudrakshasa and Chanakya’s Chandragupta Katha.


  1. Bhaga – Land Tax, the hief soure of revenue,
  2. Pindakara – assessed on groups of village,
  3. Kara – taxes on fruits and vegetables,
  4. Hiranya – on special crops paid in kind.

            Land revenue was the main source of income for the state, but varied from 1/4th  to 1/6th of the produce.  ‘Rumrnindei’ inscription is the only Ashokan inscription which makes a precise referene to taxzation.  The revenuw collectors made direct assessment of the land under utilization.  Landfs were divided into high, middle and low for the purpose of taxation.

Trade and Commerce

            There was a brisk internal trade. External trade was carried on with Greece and Burma. The main exports were spices, pearls, diamonds, cotton textiles, ivory works. Mauryan traders used metallic currency in the form of punch-marked silver and copper coins. Usury was practiced. The rate of interest varied from15% to 60% p.a.


Ashokan pillars fumish the finest remains of the Mauryan art. The pillars are made of two types of stone. The spotted red and white sandstone from the region of Mathura, the buff coloured fine-grained hard sandstone usually with small black spots quarried in Chunar near Banares. Ashoka is credited with building 84,000 stupas all over India and Afghanistan. Asoka and Dasaratha got several caves carved in Barabar hills. Contemporary Greek writers refer to Mauryan palace at Pataliputra. Terracotta objects are also worth of mentioning. 

            The finest examples are those of Ashoka's monolithic pillars. The four lions on the Sarnath pillar and the smaller figures of animals in relief of the abacus exhibit remarkable beauty and vigour. A more important heritage is the caves built at Barabara hills near Gaya.


            Megasthenese refers to seven castes--Philosophers, Farmers, soldiers, Herdsmen, Artisans, Magistrates, and Councillors. Kautilyay ,however, in addition to seven castes refers to five mixed castes by the general name Antyavasayin, who lived beyond the pale of Aryan Society. 


            Shiva and Samkarshan became the central deities in Brahmanism. Magical practices and superstitions were very popular.  Ajivika sect was more popular as Ashoka and his grandson Dashratha dedicated some caves to the Ajivikas in Nagarjun hills in Bihar. 


            Hariprasad Shastri told that Ashoka's pro Buddhist Policy annoyed the Brahmans culminating in the killing of the last Mauryan ruler Brihadratha by his Brahman Army General Pushyamitra Sunga. Ashoka’s pacifist policy which resulted in the emasculation of the Army is also cited as a cause for the downfall of the Mauryas, but we have no evidence of his disbanding the Army or even reducing their number. D D. Koshambi draws our attention to the debased coins of later Mauryas and maintains that the heavy economic pressure caused due to a vast Army and Bureaucracy was the chief cause for this downfall.

            Romila Thaper attributes decline to top heavy centralised Bureaucracy The nature of organisation of Administration and the faulty conception of State, Lack of Nationalism, no means of Gauging public opinion ultimately caused the downfall of the empire. Another reason cited is Ashoka's weak successors and the division of the empire into parts which might have adversely affected the strength and resources of the empire in resisting Indo-Greeks who were the first to invade. 

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