The Maurya Empire was a geographically extensive Iron Age historical power in ancient India, ruled by the Maurya dynasty from 322–185 BCE.
Originating from the kingdom of Magadha in the Indo-Gangetic Plain (modern Bihar, eastern Uttar Pradesh) in the eastern side of the Indian subcontinent, the empire had its capital city at Pataliputra(Modern Patna).
The Empire was founded in 322 BCE by Chandragupta Maurya, who had overthrown the Nanda Dynasty and rapidly expanded his power westwards across central and western India, taking advantage of the disruptions of local powers in the wake of the withdrawal westward by Alexander the Great’s Hellenic armies. By 316 BCE the empire had fully occupied Northwestern India, defeating and conquering the satraps left by Alexander. Chandragupta then defeated the invasion led by Seleucus I, a Macedonian general from Alexander’s army, gaining additional territory west of the Indus River.
The Maurya Empire was one of the world’s largest empires in its time, and the largest ever in the Indian subcontinent. At its greatest extent, the empire stretched to the north along the natural boundaries of the Himalayas, to the east into Assam, to the west into Balochistan and the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan.
The Empire was expanded into India’s central and southern regions by the emperors Chandragupta and Bindusara, but it excluded a small portion of unexplored tribal and forested regions near Kalinga (modern Odisha), until it was conquered by Ashok.
It declined for about 50 years after Ashoka’s rule ended, and it dissolved in 185 BCE with the foundation of the Sunga Dynasty in Magadha.
The population of the empire has been estimated to be about 50 – 60 million making the Mauryan Empire one of the most populous empires of Antiquity. Archaeologically, the period of Mauryan rule in South Asia falls into the era of Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW).
Rulers of Maurya Dynasty:
345 – 298 BC(life span)
320 BC(Reign Start)
298 BC(Reign End)
320 – 272 BC
304 – 232 BC
252 – 224 BC
Expansion of Mauryan State :
(From Left to Right): (1) Magadha state in the 5th century BCE.(2)The Nanda Empire at its greatest extent under Dhana Nanda 323 BCE(3)The Maurya Empire when it was first founded by Chandragupta Maurya 320 BCE, after conquering the Nanda (4)Chandragupta extended the borders of the Maurya Empire towards Seleucid Persia after defeating Seleucus 305 BCE.(5)Bindusara extended the borders of the empire southward into the Deccan Plateau 300 BCE(6)Ashoka extended into Kalinga during the Kalinga War 265 BCE, and established superiority over the southern kingdoms.
Very little is known about Chandragupta’s ancestry. What is known is gathered from later classical Sanskrit literature, Buddhist Sources as well as classical Greek and Latin sources.
(a)Classical Greek and Latin Sources:
Classical Greek and Latin sources which refer to Chandragupta by the names “Sandracottos” or “Andracottus.”
Plutarch in his book “Parallel Lives“ reports that Androcottus (Chandraupta) met with Alexander around Takshasila in the northwest, and that he viewed the ruling Nanda Empire in a negative light. Chandragupta is also said to have met the Nanda king, angered him, and made a narrow escape. According to this text, the encounter would have happened around 326 BCE, suggesting a birth date for Chandragupta around 340 BCE.
Plutarch and other Greco-Roman historians appreciated the gravity of Chandragupta Maurya’s conquests. Justin ( a 2nd century AD Latin historian who lived under the Roman Empire) describes the humble origins of Chandragupta, and explains how he later led a popular uprising against the Nanda king.
(b)Classical Sanskrit Sources:
Chandragupta Maurya’s rise to power is shrouded in mystery and controversy. Sanskrit drama Mudrarakshasa (“The Signet of the Minister”) by Visakhadatta, describe his royal ancestry and even link him with the Nanda family. Mudrarakshasa calls him a “Nandanvaya” i.e. the descendant of Nanda. Mudrarakshasa uses terms like kula-hina and Vrishala for Chandragupta’s lineage. This means that Chandragupta had a humble origin.
The Mudrarakshasa (“The Signet of the Minister”) is a historical play in Sanskrit by Vishakhadatta that narrates the ascent of the king Chandragupta Maurya (322BC – 298BC) to power in India. Mudrarakshasa is dated variously at the late 4th century.
The Mudrarakshasa as well as the Jaina work Parisishtaparvan talk of Chandragupta’s alliance with the Himalayan king Parvatka, sometimes identified with Porus.
The Buddhist text the Mahavamsa calls Chandragupta a member of a division of the(Kshatriya) clan called the Moriya i.e. Mor clan or gotra of Jat people. The Mahaparinibbana Sutta states that the Moriyas (Mauryas) belonged to the Kshatriya community. The Mahavamshatika connects him with the Shakya clan of the Buddha.
A medieval inscription represents the Maurya clan as belonging to the solar race of Kshatriya.
Rise of Chandragupta Maurya and Foundation of Maurya Dynasty:
(According to Mudrarakshasa and Greek&Roman Sounces)
The Maurya Empire was founded by Chandragupta Maurya, with help from Chanakya, a Brahmin teacher at Takshashila. According to several legends, Chanakya traveled to Magadha, a kingdom that was large and militarily powerful and feared by its neighbors, but was insulted by its king Dhana Nanda, of the Nanda Dynasty. Chanakya swore revenge and vowed to destroy the Nanda Empire.
Chanakya encouraged Chandragupta Maurya and his army to take over the throne of Magadha. Chanakya’s original intentions were to train a guerilla army under Chandragupta’s command. Using his intelligence network, Chandragupta gathered many young men from across Magadha and other provinces, men upset over the corrupt and oppressive rule of king Dhana Nanda, plus the resources necessary for his army to fight a long series of battles.
Preparing to invade Pataliputra, Maurya came up with a strategy. A battle was announced and the Magadhan army was drawn from the city to a distant battlefield to engage Maurya’s forces. Maurya’s general and spies meanwhile bribed the corrupt general of Nanda. He also managed to create an atmosphere of civil war in the kingdom, which culminated in the death of the heir to the throne. Chanakya managed to win over popular sentiment. Ultimately Nanda resigned, handing power to Chandragupta, and went into exile.
Chanakya contacted the prime minister, Rakshasas, and made him understand that his loyalty was to Magadha, not to the Nanda dynasty, insisting that he continue in office.Rakshasa accepted Chanakya’s reasoning, and Chandragupta Maurya was legitimately installed as the new King of Magadha. Rakshasa became Chandragupta’s chief advisor, and Chanakya assumed the position of an elder statesman.
Meanwhile, the conquering armies of Alexander the Great refused to cross the Beas River and advance further eastward, deterred by the prospect of battling Magadha. Alexander returned to Babylon and re-deployed most of his troops west of the Indus river. Soon after Alexander died in Babylon in 323 BCE, his empire fragmented, and local kings declared their independence, leaving several smaller disunited satraps.
The Roman historian Justin described how Sandrocottus (Greek version of Chandragupta’s name) conquered the northwest: After Alexander’s death in 323 BCE, Chandragupta turned his attention to Northwestern South Asia (modern Pakistan), where he defeated the satrapies left in place by Alexander, and may have assassinated two of his governors, Nicanor and Philip. The satrapies he fought may have included Eudemus, ruler in western Punjab until his departure in 317 BCE; and Peithon, ruler of the Greek colonies along the Indus until his departure for Babylon in 316 BCE.
Expansion by Chandragupta Maurya:
Megasthenes recorded the size of Chandragupta’s army as 400,000 soldiers. According to Strabo: Megasthenes was in the camp of Sandrocottus (Chandragupta), which consisted of 400,000 men. On the other hand, Pliny, who also drew from Megasthenes’ work, gives even larger numbers of 600,000 infantry, 30,000 cavalry, and 9,000 war elephants.
The Mauryas’ military strength was almost three times that of the Nandas, and this was apparently because of a much larger empire and thus far greater resources.
Conquest of Seleucus’ eastern territories:
Justin, a Greek writer, says that Chandragupta overran the whole of India with an army of 600,000. This may or may not be true, but Chandragupta liberated north-western India from the thraldom of Seleucus.
Seleucus I Nicator, a Macedonian satrap of Alexander, reconquered most of Alexander’s former empire and put under his own authority the eastern territories as far as Bactria and the Indus (A/C to Appian, History of Rome), until in 305 BCE he entered into conflict with Chandragupta.
Seleucus appears to have fared poorly, having ceded large territories west of the Indus to Chandragupta. Due to his defeat, Seleucus surrendered vast territory west of the Indus, including the Hindu Kush, modern day Afghanistan, Arachosia (modern Kandahar), Gedrosia (modern Balochistan), Gandhara. Archaeologically, concrete indications of Maurya rule, such as the inscriptions of the Edicts of Ashoka, are known as far as Kandhahar in southern Afghanistan.
Treaty between Chandragupta and Seleucus and Indo-Mauryan relationship during Maurya:
Classical sources have recorded that following treaty between both(probably first treaty of Ancient India with foreigner), Chandragupta and Seleucus exchanged presents. Chandragupta married Seleucus’s daughter 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 latter on. In addition to this treaty, Seleucus dispatched an ambassador, Megasthenes, to Chandragupta, and later Deimachus to his son Bindusara, at the Maurya court at Pataliputra. Later Ptolemy II Philadelphus, the ruler of Ptolemaic Egypt and contemporary of Ashoka, is also recorded by Pliny as having sent an ambassador named Dionysius to the Maurya court.
Presents continued to be exchanged between the Mauryan rulers and Greek rulers. Intensity of these contacts is testified by the existence of a dedicated Mauryan state department for Greek (Yavana) and Persian foreigners, or the remains of Hellenistic pottery that can be found throughout northern India.
On these occasions, Greek populations apparently remained in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent under Mauryan rule. Ashoka, istalled many Edicts, written in Greek.In his edicts, Ashoka mentions that he had sent Buddhist emissaries to Greek rulers as far as the Mediterranean (Edict No. 13),and that he developed herbal medicine in their territories, for the welfare of humans and animals (Edict No. 2).
The Greeks in India even seem to have played an active role in the propagation of Buddhism, as some of the emissaries of Ashoka such as Dharmaraksita, or the teacher Mahadharmaraksita, are described in Pali sources as leading Greek (“Yona”, i.e., Ionian) Buddhist monks, active in Buddhist proselytism (mentioned in Mahavamsa).
It is also thought that Greeks contributed to the sculptural work of the Pillars of Ashoka, and more generally to the blossoming of Mauryan art.
Jainism and Death:
According to Jain tradition, Chandragupta gave up his throne at the beginning of the third century BC when he was forty-two years old and became an ascetic under the last Shrutakevali Bhadrabahu, migrating south with them and ending his days in sallekhana (death by fasting) according to Jain spiritual tradition at Sravaṇa Beḷgoḷa in present day Karnataka, though fifth-century inscriptions in the area support the concept of a larger southern migration around that time.
Chandragupta was first to take title of Devampriya and Priyadarshi.
State under Maurya:
The Mauryas organized a very elaborate system of administration. We know about this from the account of Megasthenes and the Arthashastra of Kautilya.
(1) Megasthenes’s Indika:
Megasthenes (a Greek ethnographer and explorer in the Hellenistic period) was a Greek ambassador sent by Seleucus to the court of Chandragupta Maurya. He lived in the Maurya capital of Pataliputra and wrote an account not only of the administration of the city of Pataliputra but also of the Maurya empire as a whole. Megasthenes’s account does not survive in full, but quotations from it occur in the works of several subsequent Greek writers. These fragments have been collected and published in the form of a book entitled Indika, which throws valuable light on the administration, society, and economy of Maurya times. His Indica served as an important source for many later writers such as Strabo and Arrian.
At the beginning of his Indica, he refers to the older Indians who know about the prehistoric arrival of Dionysus and Hercules (divine Greek Heroes) in India, which was a story very popular amongst the Greeks during the Alexandrian period. Particularly important are his comments on the religions of the Indians. He mentions the devotees of Heracles and Dionysus but he does not mention Buddhists, something that gives support to the theory that the latter religion was not widely known before the reign of Ashoka.
Megasthenes describes such features as the Himalayas and the island of Sri Lanka. He states that numerous cities existed in India, but he considered Pataliputra to be the most important. He calls it Palibothra. This Greek term means a city with gates. According to him, Pataliputra was bounded by a deep ditch and a wooden wall crowned with 570 towers, and had 64 gates which rivaled the splendors of contemporaneous Persian sites such as Susa.. The ditch, timber palisades, and also wooden houses have been found in excavations.
According to Megasthenes, Pataliputra was 9.33 miles long and 1.75 miles broad. This size tallies with that of Patna even today, because Patna is all length with little breadth. Given this conformity, it is possible to trust Megasthenes’s other statements.
Megasthenes gives a detailed description of the personal life of Chandragupta Maurya. He led a very splendid life and his palace was unique in its beauty. The king did not sleep in one room for two continuous days. He did not favor meeting the people too much.
Megasthenes has written a lot about the civil administration of Chandragupta Maurya. He writes that the king was an autocrat and he was the master of unlimited powers. He kept himself fully aware of the main events of his empire through his spies.
Megasthenes refers to the administration of Pataliputra, the capital of the Mauryas. The city was administered by six committees, each of which consisted of five members.These committees were entrusted with sanitation, care of foreigners, registration of birth and death, regulation of weights and measures, and similar other functions.
The administration of the armed forces, according to Megasthenes, was carried on by a board of thirty officers divided into six committees, each committee consisting of five members. It seems that each of the six wings of the armed forces, the army, the cavalry, the elephants, the chariots, the navy, and the transport, was assigned to the care of a separate committee
About Indian Society:
Megasthenes describes a disciplined multitude of people under Chandragupta, who live simply, honestly, and do not know writing:
“The Indians all live frugally, especially when in camp. They dislike a great undisciplined multitude, and consequently they observe good order. Theft is of very rare occurrence. People have no written laws, and are ignorant of writing, and must therefore in all the business of life trust to memory. They live, nevertheless, happily enough, being simple in their manners and frugal. They never drink wine except at sacrifices. Their beverage is a liquor composed from rice instead of barley, and their food is principally a rice-pottage.”
He found that slavery system was unknown to the Ancient Indian society. He has declared all the Indians are free. Slaves do not exist in India.Megasthenes did not travel whole of India and so his observations may not apply to the whole country. Perhaps, since slavery did not exist in North-Western India, had an impact on Megasthenes and he declared that whole of India was free from the custom of slavery.
Megasthenes’ observations about the non-existence of slavery in Ancient India are not supported by available evidences. From the Smritis or Hindu Law Books it is clear that slavery was a recognized institution in India in the Vedic Age.
Some scholars have tried to interpret and explain Megasthenes as such. Slavery system in India was very mild and most of the slaves were domestic slaves who were treated as members of the family. Slave trade was prohibited in the Shastras. Different injunctions were laid down in the Shastras for the liberation of the slaves. Megasthenes was impressed by the prevailing intellectual mood of the time. The liberal rules of the Arthasastra for slaves testify the liberal attitude of the society towards slavery.
He describes that Indians are divided into seven classes, a caste system different from the one that exists today, which shows that the caste system may to some extent be fluid and evolving. However, it might be that, being a foreigner, he was not adequately informed about the caste system. Seven clases are:
Philosophers(sophists), which in number is inferior to the other classes, but in dignity preeminent over all.
Husbandmen, who appear to be far more numerous than the others. They devote the whole of their time to tillage;for men of this class, being regarded as public benefactors, are protected from all injury.
Shepherds(herdsmen) who neither settle in towns nor in villages, but live in tents.They pay taxes from their animals,
Artisans and shopkeepers; they too perform public duties, and pay tax on the receipts from their work, except for those who make weapons of war and actually receive a wage from the community.
Military: next to the farmers in number; they enjoy the greatest freedom and most agreeable life. They are devoted solely to military activities.The entire force are maintained at the king’s expense.
Overseers: They supervise everything that goes on in the country and cities, and report it to the king, where the Indians are governed by kings, or to the authorities, where they are self-governing.
Councillors and Assessors, who deliberate on public affairs. It is the smallest class, looking to number, but the most respected, on account of the high character and wisdom of its members.From their ranks the advisers of the king, the treasurers, of the state, arbiters who settle disputes, generals of the army, chief magistrates, usually belong to this class, supervisors of agricultural works are taken.
(2)Kautilya(Chanakya) and Arthashastra:
The Arthashastra is an ancient Indian treatise on statecraft, public administration, economic policy and military strategy, written in Sanskrit. It identifies its author by the names “Kauṭilya” and “Vishnugupta“ both names that are traditionally identified with Chanakya (350–283 BCE), who was a scholar at Takshashila and the teacher and guardian of Emperor Chandragupta Maurya. (Though many authors seems to have contributed to the Arthasastra over the centuries.)
Megasthenes’s account can be supplemented by the Arthashastra of Kautilya. Although the Arthashastra was finally compiled a few centuries after Maurya rule.
It is divided into 15 adhikarnas or sections and 180 Prakaranas or subdivisions. It has about 6,000 slokas.
It was rediscovered in 1904 by R.Shamasastry, who published it in 1909. The first English translation was published in 1915.
Despite the controversy over its date and authorship, its importance lies in the fact that it gives a clear and methodological analysis of economic and political conditions of the Mauryan period.
The similarities between the administrative terms used in the Arthashastra and in the Asokan edicts certainly suggests that the Mauryan rulers were acquainted with this work. Arthashastra provides useful and reliable information regarding the social and political conditions as well as the Mauryan administration.
Kautilya suggests that the king should be an autocrat and he should concentrate all powers into his own hands. He should enjoy unrestricted authority over his realm. But at the same time, he should give honour to the Brahmanas and seek advice from his ministers. Thus the king though autocrat, should exercise his authority wisely.
He should be cultured and wise. He should also be well-read so as to understand all the details of his administration. He says that the chief cause of his fall is that the king is inclined towards evil. He lists six evils that led to a king’s decline. They are haughtiness, lust, anger, greed, vanity and love of pleasures. Kautilya says that the king should live in comfort but he should not indulge in pleasures.
2. Ideals of Kingship:
The major ideal of kingship according to Kautilya is that his own well-being lies in the well-being of his people of only the happy subjects ensure the happiness of their sovereign. He also says that the king should be ‘Chakravarti’ or the conqueror of different realms and should win glory by conquering other lands.
He should protect his people from external dangers and ensure internal peace. Kautilya maintained that the soldiers should be imbued with the spirit of a ‘holy war’ before they march to the battlefield. According to him, all is fair in a war waged in the interest of the country.
3. Internal strife:
Quarrels among people can be resolved by winning over the leaders or by removing the cause of the quarrel. People fighting among themselves help the king by their mutual rivalry.
Conflicts (for power) within the royal family, on the other hand, bring about harassment and destruction to the people and double the exertion that is required to end such conflicts.
Hence internal strife in the royal family for power is more damaging than quarrels among their subjects.
4. Training of a future king:
Importance of self-discipline: Discipline is of two kinds – inborn and acquired. Learning imparts discipline only to those who have the following mental facilities – obedience to a teacher, desire and ability to learn, capacity to retain what is learnt, understanding what is learnt, reflecting on it and ability to make inferences by deliberating on the knowledge acquired. One who will be a king should acquire discipline and follow it strictly in life by learning the sciences from authoritative teachers.
The training of a prince: With improving his self-discipline, he should always associate with learned elders, for in them alone has discipline its firm roots.Only a king, who is wise, disciplined, devoted to a just governing of the subjects and conscious of the welfare of all beings, will enjoy the earth unopposed.
5. About the Ministers:
Kautilya maintains that the king should appoint ministers. King without ministers is like a one-wheeled chariot. According to Kautilya, king’s ministers should be wise and intelligent. But the king should not become a puppet in their hands.
He should discard their improper advise. The ministers should work together as; a team. They should hold meetings in privacy. He says that the king who cannot keep his secrets cannot last long.
6. Provincial Administration:
Kautilya tells us that the kingdom was divided into several provinces governed by the members of the royal family. There were some smaller provinces as Saurashtra and Kambhoj etc. administered by other officers called ‘Rashtriyas’.
The provinces were divided into districts which were again sub-divided into villages. The chief administrator of the district was called the ‘SthaniK while the village headman was called the ‘Gopa’.
7. Civic Administration:
The administration of big cities as well as the capital city of Pataliputra was carried on very efficiently. Pataliputra was divided into four sectors. The officer incharge of each sector was called the ‘Sthanik. He was assisted by junior officers called the ‘Gopas’ who looked after the welfare of 10 to 40 families.
The whole city was in the charge of another officer called the ‘Nagrika’. There was a system of regular census.
8. Spy Organisation:
Kautilya says that the king should maintain a network of spies who should keep him well informed about the minute details and happenings in the country, the provinces, the districts and the towns. The spies should keep watch on other officials. There should be spies to ensure peace in the land.
According to Kautilya, women spies are more efficient than men, so they should, in particular, be recruited as spies. Above all the kings should send his agents in neighboring countries to gather information of political significance.
9. Maintenance of law and order:
A conducive atmosphere is necessary for the state’s economy to thrive. This requires that a state’s law and order be maintained. Arthashastra specifies fines and punishments to support strict enforcement of laws. The science of law enforcement is also called Dandaniti.
10. Seven ways to deal with neighboring countries:
Sama – Appeasement, non-aggression pact
Dana – Gift, bribery
Bheda – Divide, split, separating opposition
Daṇḍa – Strength, punishment
Maya– Illusion, deceit
Upekṣa – Ignoring the enemy
Indrajala – Faking military strength
Another significant information that we gather from Kautilya is about shipping under the Mauryas. Each port was supervised by an officer who kept vigil on ships and ferries. Tolls were levied on traders, passenges and fishermen. Almost all ships and boats were owned by the kings.
12. Economic Condition:
According to Kautilya, the central government maintained about two dozen departments of state, which controlled social and economic activities at least in the areas that were in proximity to the capital.
Kautilya says that poverty is a major cause of rebellions. Hence there should be no shortage of food and money to buy it, as it creates discontent and destroys the king. Kautilya therefore advises the king to take steps to improve the economic condition of his people.
Kautilya says that the chief source of income was the land revenue in villages while the tax on the sale of goods was the chief source in the cities.
How did Chandragupta Maurya manage to meet the expenses of a huge army? If we rely on the Arthashastra of Kautilya, it would appear that the state controlled almost all the economic activities in the realm. The state brought new land under cultivation with the aid of cultivators and shudra labourers. The virgin land that was opened to cultivation yielded handsome income to the state in the form of revenue collected from the newly settled peasants. It appears that taxes collected from the peasants varied from one-fourth to one-sixth of the produce. Those who were provided with irrigation facilities by the state had to pay for it.
In addition, in times of emergency, peasants were compelled to raise more crops. Tolls were also levied on commodities brought to town for sale, and they were collected at the gate. Moreover, the state enjoyed a monopoly in mining, sale of liquor, manufacture of arms, etc. This naturally brought vast resources to the royal exchequer. Chandragupta thus established a well-organized administrative system and gave it a sound financial base.
13. Comments on vices:
Vices are corruptions due to ignorance and indiscipline; an unlearned man does not perceive the injurious consequences of his vices. He summarizes: subject to the qualification that gambling is most dangerous in cases where power is shared, the vice with the most serious consequence is addiction to drink, followed by, lusting after women, gambling, and lastly hunting.
Bindusara was the son of the first Mauryan emperor Chandragupta Maurya and his queen Durdhara. According to the Rajavalikatha a Jain work, the original name of this emperor was Simhasena.
Bindusara, just 22 year-old, inherited a large empire that consisted of what is now, Northern, Central and Eastern parts of India along with parts of Afghanistan and Baluchistan.
Bindusara’s life has not been documented as well as that of his father Chandragupta or of his son Ashoka. Chanakya continued to serve as prime minister during his reign. According to the medieval Tibetan scholar Taranatha who visited India, Chanakya helped Bindusara “to destroy the nobles and kings of the sixteen kingdoms and thus to become absolute master of the territory between the eastern and western oceans.”
Bindusara extended this empire to the southern part of India, as far as what is now known as Karnataka. He brought sixteen states under the Mauryan Empire and thus conquered almost all of the Indian peninsula (he is said to have conquered the ‘land between the two seas’ – the peninsular region between the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea).
Bindusara didn’t conquer the friendly Tamil regions (Pandya, Chera, Chola and Satyaputra). Apart from these southern states, Kalinga (modern Odisha) was the only kingdom in India that didn’t form the part of Bindusara’s empire. It was later conquered by his son Ashoka, who served as the viceroy of Ujjaini during his father’s reign.
The famous Tamil poet Mamulanar of the Sangam literature also described how the Deccan Plateau was invaded by the Maurya army.
He had a Greek ambassador at his court, named Deimachus Strabo. Ambassadors from the Seleucid Empire (such as Deimachus) and Egypt visited his courts. He maintained good relations with the Hellenic World.
He was a man of wide interest and taste, since tradition had it that he asked Antiochus I (a king of the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire) to send him some sweet wine, dried figs and a sophist. Antiochus wrote to him in answer, “The dry figs and the sweet wine we will send you; but it is not lawful for a sophist to be sold in Greece”.
Unlike his father Chandragupta (who at a later stage converted to Jainism), Bindusara believed in the Ajivika sect. Bindusara’s guru Pingalavatsa (alias Janasana) was a Brahmin of the Ajivika sect.
During his rule, the citizens of Taxila revolted twice. The reason for the first revolt was the maladministration of Suseema, his eldest son. The reason for the second revolt is unknown, but Bindusara could not suppress it in his lifetime. It was crushed by Ashoka after Bindusara’s death.
Bindusara died in 272 BCE and was succeeded by his son Ashoka the Great.
(3)Ashoka(272- 232 BCE):
Ashoka Maurya was an Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent.The empire’s capital was Pataliputra.
When Bindusara’s wife bore a son, it is from her exclamation “I am now without sorrow,” that Ashoka got his name.
The Buddhist text “Divyavadana” describes Ashoka putting down a revolt due to activities of wicked ministers in Ujjain and Taxila. This may have been an incident in Bindusara’s times.
Bindusara’s death in 272 BCE led to a war over succession. The Dipavansa and Mahavansa refer to Ashoka’s killing 99 of his brothers, sparing only one, named Vitashoka or Tissa. He came into power with the support of minister Radhagupta.
Buddhist legends state that Ashoka was bad-tempered and of a wicked nature. He built Ashoka’s Hell, an elaborate torture chamber.
Ascending the throne, Ashoka expanded his empire over the next eight years, from the present-day boundaries Assam in the East to Iran in the West; from the Pamir Knot in the north to the peninsula of southern India except for present day Tamil Nadu and Kerala which were ruled by the three ancient Tamil kingdoms
As monarch he was ambitious and aggressive, re-asserting the Empire’s superiority in southern and western India. But it was his conquest of Kalinga (262–261 BCE) which proved to be the pivotal event of his life.
The Kalinga War was fought between Ashoka and the ruler of the state of Kalinga, a feudal republic located on the coast of the present-day Odisha and northern parts of Andhra Pradesh. The Kalinga war, the only major war Ashoka fought after his accession to throne,
Causes of Kalinga war:
The main reasons for invading Kalinga were both political and economic. Since the time of Ashoka’s father, King Bindusara, the Mauryan Empire based in Magadha was following a policy of territorial expansion. Kalinga was under Magadha control during the Nanda rule, but regained independence with the beginning of the rule of the Mauryas. That was considered a great setback for the traditional policy of territorial expansion of the Magadhan emperors and was considered to be a loss of political prestige for the Mauryas.
Moreover since its independence Kalinga became an arch enemy of Magadha and allied itself with Chola and Pandya countries of South against Magadha. Thus, Ashoka invaded Kalinga.
Kalinga had a vast army and could be detrimental for the security of the Maurya Empire. It was also true that due to her commercial relation with Malay, Java and Ceylon Kalinga had enormous material prosperity. Possibly this had also provoked Asoka to invade Kalinga.
Aftermath of Kalinga War:
Ashoka’s response to the Kalinga War is recorded in the Edicts of Ashoka. The Kalinga War prompted Ashoka to devote the rest of his life to Ahinsa (non-violence) and to Dharma-Vijaya (victory through Dharma). Following the conquest of Kalinga, Ashoka ended the military expansion of the empire, and led the empire through more than 40 years of relative peace, harmony and prosperity.
Rock Edict No.13 (Dhauli/ Tosali):“Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Priyadarsi, conquered the Kalingas eight years after his coronation. One hundred and fifty thousand were deported, one hundred thousand were killed and many more died (from other causes). After the Kalingas had been conquered, Beloved-of-the-Gods came to feel a strong inclination towards the Dharma, a love for the Dharma and for instruction in Dharma. Now Beloved-of-the-Gods feels deep remorse for having conquered the Kalingas.”
After 2.5 years of Kalinga war, Asoka became an enthuastic supporter of religion of Buddha. Under its influnce he eventually foreswore conquest y war (Bherighosa) and replaced it with conquest by Dharma (Dhammaghosha). He refrained from engraving his confession of remorse at any location in Kalinga. This was replaced by the separate Rock Edicts, which are instructios to his officers, emphasizing need for good governance.
Nigrodha (a 5 years old buddhist monk) was responsible for the change in Ashoka. It is said that he was converte to Buddhism by Upagupta.
Concept of Asoka’s Dhamma:
The word Dhamma is the Prakrit form of the Sanskrit word Dharma. There have been attempts to define and find equivalent English words for it, such as “piety”, “moral life” and “righteousness” but scholars could not translate it into English because it was coined and used in a specific context.
The best way to understand what Ashoka means by Dhamma is to read his edicts, which were written to explain the principles of Dhamma to the people of that time throughout the empire.
Dhamma was not a particular religious faith or practice, or an arbitrary formulated royal policy. it is primarily an ethic of social conduct. Dhamma related to generalized norms of social behavior and activities; Ashoka tried to synthesize various social norms which were current in his time.
Dhamma was not the policy of a heretic but a system of beliefs created out of different religious faiths.
The policy of Dhamma also included other welfare measures.
Need of Dhamma (Dharma):
There was considered intellectual ferment around 600 B.C. healthy rivalry was apparent among the number of sects such as the Charvaks, Jains, Buddhists, Ajivikas etc. whose doctrines ranged from bare materialism to determinism. This intellectual liveliness was reflected in the elected interests of the Mauryan rulers. It was claimed by the Jainas that Chandragupta was supporter and there is evidence that Bindusara favoured the Ajivikas.
Thus, the Empire of Asoka was inhabited by peoples of many cultures who were at many levels of development. The range of customs, beliefs, affinities, antagonisms, tensions and harmonies were galore. The north was in close contact with the Hellenized culture of Afganisthan and Iran. The far south was on the threshold of a creative efflorescence of Tamil culture. The ruler of such as Empire required the perceptions were addressed to the public at large. It is in these inscriptions that the king expounds his ideas on dhamma.
Asoka aimed at creating an attitude of mind among his subjects in which social behavior was accorded the highest place. The ideology of dhamma can be viewed as a focus of loyalty and as a point of convergence for the then bewildering diversities of the Empire.
A centralized monarchy demands oneness of feeling on the part of its people. The ethics of the dhamma was intended to generate such a feeling.
The Mauryan Society with its heterogeneous elements and with economic, social and religious forces working against each other posed the threat of disruption. Asoka, therefore, needed some binding factor to allow the economic activity to proceed on an even keel and thereby ensure the security of his state.
Also as the commercial classes gained economic importance and resented the inferior social status as per the sanctions of the Brahmins, they went over to Buddhism, which preached social equality. Their support to the Mauryan king was very vital for the peace and prosperity of the Empire. Asoka thought that he could attract them by the propagation of this dhamma by weaning them away from too closely identifying themselves with Buddhism.
Asoka felt that the aforesaid forces of contrary pulls would threaten the peace of the realm not in the general interest of his Empire. Asoka’s dhamma therefore, was intended to serve a practical purpose.
Interpretations of Dhamma:
The Ashokan policy of Dhamma has been the subject of controversy and debate amongst scholars; Some have said that Ashoka was a partisan Buddhist and have equated Dhamma with Buddhism. It has also been suggested that it was the original Buddhist thought that was being preached by Ashoka as Dhamma and later on certain theological additions were made to Buddhism. This kind of thinking is based on some Buddhist chronicles. It is believedthat the Kalinga war was a dramatic turning point where out of remorse for the death and destruction of war, Ashoka decided to become Buddhist. The Buddhist records credit him with the propagation of Buddhism in India and aboard.
There has been some discussion among historians about the results Ashoka’s propagation of Dhamma. Some historians believe that Ashoka’s ban of sacrifices and the favour that he showed to Buddhism led to a Brahmanical reaction, which in turn led to the decline of Mauryan empire. Others believe that stopping of wars and the emphasis on non-violence crippled the military might of the empire, leading to its collapse after the death of Ashoka.
Ashoka’s Dhamma is a superb document of his essential humanity and an answer to the socio-political needs of the contemporaneous situation. It was not anti-Brahmanical because respect for the Brahmans and Sarmanas is an integral part of his Dhamma. His emphasis on non-violence did not blind him to the needs of the state. He warned the forest tribes that although he hates to use coercion, he may be required to resort to force if they continued to create trouble. By the time Ashoka stopped war, the entire Indian sub-continent was under his control. In the south he was on friendly terms with the Cholas and Pandyas. Sri Lanka was an admiring ally. Thus, Ashoka’s decline of war came when his empire had reached its natural boundaries. The plea for tolerance was a wise course of action in an ethnically diverse, religiously varied, and class divided society. Ashoka’s empire was a conglomerate of diverse groups; farmers, pastoral nomads and hunter-gatherers, there were Greeks, Kambojas, and Bhojas and hundreds of groups with different traditions. In this situation a plea for tolerance was needed. Ashoka tried to transcend the parochial cultural traditions with a board set of ethical principles.
Asoka’s Moral code(Dhamma) formulated in Rock Edicts:
Major Rock Edict I prohibits of animal sacrifice and holidays of festive gathering.
Major Rock Edict II relates to measures of social welfare. It mentions medical treatment for men and animals, construction of roads, wells and tree planting.
Major Rock Edict III declares that liberality towards Brahmans and Sramanas is a virtue, and that respecting one’s parents is a good quality.
Major Rock Edict IV comments that because of the policy of Dhamma the lack of morality and disrespect towards Sramanas and Brahmans, violence, unseemly behaviour to friends, relatives and others, and evils of this kind have been checked. The killing of animals to a large extent was also stopped.
MajorRock Edict V refers to the appointment of Dhamma-mahamatta for the first time in the twelfth year of his reign. These special officers were appointed by the king to look after the interests of all sects and religions and spread the message of Dhamma.
Major Rock Edict VI is an instruction to Dhamma-mahamattas. They are told that they could bring their reports to the king at any time. The second part of the Edict deals with speedy administration and the transaction of smooth business.
Major Rock Edict VII is a plea for tolerance amongst all sects. It appears from the edict that tensions among the sects were intense perhaps in open antagonism. The plea is a part of the overall strategy to maintain unity.
Major Rock Edict VIII states that Dhammayatras (tours) would be undertaken by the emperor. The earlier practice of the emperor going out on hunting expeditions was given up. Dhammayatras enabled the emperor to come into contact with various sections of people in the empire.
Major Rock Edict IX attacks ceremonies performed after birth, illness, marriage and before going on a journey. A censure passed against ceremonies observed by wives and mothers. Ashoka instead lays stress on practice of Dhamma and the uselessness of ceremonies.
Major Rock Edict X denounces fame and glory and reasserts the merits of following the policy of Dhamma.
Major Rock Edict XI is a further explanation of the policy of Dhamma. It emphases the respect of elders, abstaining from killing animals, and liberality towards friends.
Major Rock Edict XII is another appeal for tolerance among sects. This edict reflects the anxiety the king felt because of conflict between sects and carries his plea for harmony.
Major Rock Edict XIII is of paramount importance in understanding the Ashokan policy of Dhamma. The Rock Edict pleads for conquest by Dhamma instead of war. This is logical culmination of the thought processes which began from the first Rock Edict, and by conquest what is perhaps meant is the adaptation of the policy of Dhamma by a country, rather than its territorial control.
Major Rock Edict XIV Ashoka said, My dominions are wide, and much has been written, and i shall cause still no more to be written. And some of this has been stated again and again because of the charm of certain topics and in order that men should act accordingly.
In a monor edict, Asoka says: In ‘Father and mother must be obeyed; similarly respect for living creatures must be enforced, truth must be spoken. These are the virtues of the law of Duty (or “Peity”. Dhamma) which must be practiced. Similarly, the teacher must be reverenced by the pupil, and proper courtesy must be shown to relations.
This is the ancient standard of duty (or “Piety”) – leads to length of days and according to this men must act.
The three obligations – of showing reverence, respecting animal life, and telling the truth – are inculcated over and over again in the edicts.
Besides, it was meant for all – Buddhists, brahmins, Jains and Ajivikas, In the way, it was the essence of the good principles of all religions. Also, Asoka passionately appealed for toleration towards all religions and a reverence for each other.
Had this dhamma got anything to do with Buddhist principles, Asoka would have openly stated so in his edicts. For that matter, Asoka did not incorporate any of the fundamental tenets of Buddhist faith such as the Four Noble Truths, the chain of casualty the sacred eight-fold path, and the Nirvana. The omissions, also with repeated reference to the concept of svarga or heaven (a Hindu belief) show that his dhamma cannot be identified with Buddhism.
Since Asoka’s dhamma was not intended for the cause of Buddhism during his dharama-yatras, he not only visited various places of Buddhist importance, but also gave gifts to sramanas and Brahmins. Most of all, even after entrusting the propagation of dhamma to the Dharma Mahamatras, Asoka continued to style himself as the beloved of the devas, a Hindu concept, since there were no Gods in Buddhism at that time.
Success of his Dhamma?:
Asoka specifically states that his missions were sent to various places (Ceylon and various Western countries) and maintains that they were all successful. It is difficult to accept this claim. There is no authentic proof that his missions were a success.
His policy to Dhamma failed to acheive the desired goal, social tension continued. Taxila which had revolted earlier in his father’s reign, was goadd to rebellion again by ministerial oppression.
Power of official Dhammamahamattas to interfre the lives of people increased over time. There was resentment against officials.
None of Asoka’s successors continued the propagation of dhamma. His policy did not make ay lasting impact and may vassals declared their independence after retirement of the king in 232BC.
Ashoka’s “Dhamma” could not survive him; as such it was a failure. However, he was not establishing a new religion but was trying to impress upon the society the need for ethical and moral principles.
His policy to consolidate the empire through Dhammma bore fruit. The Kandhar inscription spaks of the success of his policy witht the hunters and fishermen who gave up killing animals and took settled agricultureal life.
Was Ashoka a complete pacifist?
We actually have reason to believe that Ashoka wasn’t infact as Pacifistic or unmilitaristic as believed earlier. Buddhist Literature seems to exaggerate Ashoka’s pacifism.
Various Ashoka inscriptions as well as some stray Hindu texts indicate that the Mauryans during Ashoka’s time maintained a fairly strong army, and even used it to quell uprisings amongst tribal societies and other groups. There are inscriptions warning against further revolts, particularly in line with Piyadasi’s benevolence.
He did not gave up his imperial ambitions but modified them in accordance with the humanitarian ethics of Buddhism.
Within the empire he appointed a class of officers known as rajukas, who were vested with the authority of not only rewarding people but also punishing thm whenever necessary.
He maintained death penalty and merely granted a stay of execution of 3 days to men condemned to death, so that they their minds for the next world. Though a/c to Buddhist tradition, he abolished judicial torture but this is not stated his edicts.
Edicts of Ashoka:
The Edicts of Ashoka are a collection of 33 inscriptions on the Pillars of Ashoka as well as boulders(rocks) and cave walls made by the Emperor Ashoka of the Mauryan Empire during his reign.
These inscriptions are dispersed throughout the areas of modern-day Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan and represent the first tangible evidence of Buddhism.
The edicts focus on social and moral precepts rather than specific religious practices or the philosophical dimension of Buddhism. He also mentions his social and animal welfare program.
The first tangible evidence of Buddhism is represented by the rock and pillar edicts of Asoka detailing wide expansion of Buddhism through the sponsorship of Ashoka.
According to the edicts, the extent of Buddhist proselytism during this period reached as far as the Mediterranean, and many Buddhist monuments were created.He names the Greek rulers of the time, inheritors of the conquest of Alexander, from Bactria to as far as Greece and North Africa, displaying a clear grasp of the political situation at the time.
The inscriptions found in the eastern part of India were written in the Magadhi language, using the Brahmi script. In the western part of India, the language used is closer to Sanskrit, using the Kharoshthi script, one extract of Edict 13 in the Greek language, and one bilingual edict written in Greek and Aramaic.
These edicts were decoded by British archeologist and historian James Prinsep in 1837.
In these inscriptions, Ashoka refers to himself as “Beloved of the Gods” (Devanampiyadasi) The identification of Devanampiyadasi with Ashoka was confirmed by an inscription (Minor Rock Edict) discovered in 1915 by C. Beadon, at Maski, a village in Raichur district of Karnataka. Another minor rock edict is found at the village Gujarra(Girjara) in Datia district of Madhya Pradesh which also shows the name “Ashoka” in addition to usual “Devanampiyadasi”.
The Edicts are divided into:
Pillar Edicts (major and minor)
Major Rock Edicts: 14 Edicts (termed 1st to 14th) and 2 separate ones found in Odisha
Minor Rock Inscriptions: Minor Rock Edicts, the Queen’s Edict, Barabar Caves inscriptions and the Kandahar bilingual inscription.
(1)Pillar(Stambha) Edicts(set of 7):
Ashokan pillar edict is set of 7 :
Pillar Edict I Asoka’s principle of protection to people
Pillar Edict II Defines dhamma as minimum of sins, many virtues, compassion, liberality, truthfulness and purity
Pillar Edict III Abolishes sins of harshness, cruelty, anger, pride etc
Pilar Edict IV Deals with duties of Rajuka, his officer
Pilar Edict V List of animals and birds which should not be killed on some days and another list of animals which have not to be killed at all occasions. Describes release of 25 prisionars by asoka.
Pilar Edict VI Dhamma Policy
Pilar Edict VII Works done by Asoka for Dhamma Policy . He says that all sects desire both self control and purity of mind.
Why a pillar edict?
All the pillars were placed at Buddhist monasteries, many important sites from the life of the Buddha and places of pilgrimage. Some of the columns carry inscriptions addressed to the monks and nuns.Some were erected to commemorate visits by Ashoka.
It is quite possible that Persian artists came to Ashoka’s empire in search of work, bringing with them the form of the pillar. which was common in Persian art. But is also likely that Ashoka chose the pillar because it was already an established Indian art form. In both Buddhism and Hinduism, the pillar symbolized the axis mundi (the axis on which the world spins).
The pillars and edicts represent the first physical evidence of the Buddhist faith. The inscriptions assert Ashoka’s Buddhism and support his desire to spread the dharma throughout his kingdom. The edicts say nothing about the philosophical aspects of Buddhism and scholars have suggested that this demonstrates that Ashoka had a very simple and naïve understanding of the dharma.
Ashoka’s goal may not to expound on the truths of Buddhism, but to inform the people of his reforms and encourage them to live a moral life. The edicts, through their strategic placement and couched in the Buddhist dharma, serve to underscore Ashoka’s administrative role and as a tolerant leader.
The pillars of Ashoka are a series of columns dispersed throughout the northern Indian subcontinent, erected or at least inscribed with edicts by the Mauryan king Ashoka during his reign in the 3rd century BC. Originally, there must have been many pillars but only nineteen survive with inscriptions, and only six with animal capitals.
Averaging between 40 to 50 feet in height, and weighing up to 50 tons each, the pillars were dragged or carried through rivers, sometimes hundreds of miles, to where they were erected.
Pillars are genrally polished.
Stone type and region:
it seems that the columns were carved in two types of stone. Some were of the spotted red and white sandstone from the region of Mathura, the others of buff-colored fine grained hard sandstone usually with small black spots quarried in the Chunar near Varanasi.
The uniformity of style in the pillar capitals suggests that they were all sculpted by craftsmen from the same region.
Architecture of Pillar(Stambha):
The pillars have four component parts in two pieces: (1)Shaft (2) Capital, Bell(lower part of capital), Abacus(upper part of capital)
The three sections of the capitals are made in a single piece, often of a different stone to that of the monolithic shaft to which they are attached by a large metal dowel.
The shafts are always plain and smooth, circular in cross-section, slightly tapering upwards and always chiselled out of a single piece of stone(mnolithic).
The Capital forms the topmost member of a column.
The lower parts of the capitals have the shape and appearance of a gently arched bell formed of lotus petals.
An abacus is a flat slab forming the uppermost member or division of the capital of a column, above the bell. Its chief function is to provide a large supporting surface, tending to be wider than the capital, to receive the weight (of the four Asiatic Lion in Sarnath Pillar of Ashoka for example). The abaci are of two types: square and plain and circular and decorated. The crowning animals are masterpieces of Mauryan art, shown either seated or standing, always in the round and chiselled as a single piece with the abaci.
Presumably all or most of the other columns that now lack them once had capitals and animals.
Pillar as stone sculpture and influence:
The six surviving animal sculptures from Ashoka pillars form “the first important group of Indian stone sculpture“, though it is thought they derive from an existing tradition of wooden columns topped by animal sculptures in copper, none of which have survived.
It is also possible that some of the stone pillars predate Ashoka’s reign. There has been much discussion of the extent of influence from Achaemenid Persia, where the column capitals supporting the roofs at Persepolis have similarities, and the “rather cold, hieratic style” of the Sarnath Lion Capital of Ashoka especially shows “obvious Achaemenid and Sargonid influence“.
Five of the pillars of Ashoka, two at Rampurva, one each at Vaishali, Lauriya-Areraj and Lauria Nandangarh possibly marked the course of the ancient Royal highway from Pataliputra to the Nepal valley. Several pillars were relocated by later Mughal Empire rulers, the animal capitals being removed.
List of pillars(with or without inscription):
The two Chinese medieval pilgrim accounts record sightings of several columns that have now vanished: Faxian records six and Xuanzang fifteen, of which only five at most can be identified with surviving pillars.
The main survivals, listed with any crowning animal sculptures and the edicts inscribed, are as follows:
1. Sarnath, near Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, four lions, Pillar Inscription, Schism Edict:
The capital is carved out of a single block of polished sandstone, and was always a separate piece from the column itself. It features fourAsiatic Lions standing back to back. They are mounted on an abacus with a frieze carrying sculptures in high relief of an elephant, a galloping horse, a bull, and a lion, separated by intervening spoked chariot-wheels.
The capital was originally probably crowned by a ‘Wheel of Dharma’ (Dharmachakra popularly known in India as the “Ashoka Chakra”), with 24 spokes, of which a few fragments were found on the site.
Picture below, minus the inverted bell-shaped lotus flower, has been adopted as the National Emblem of India showing the Horse on the left and the Bull on the right of the Ashoka Chakra in the circular base on which the four Indian lions are seated back to back. On the far side there is an Elephant and a Lion. The wheel “Ashoka Chakra” from its base has been placed onto the centre of the National Flag of India.
2. Sanchi, near Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, four lions, Schism Edict
3. Rampurva, Champaran, Bihar, two columns: (a) bull, Pillar Edicts I, II, III, IV, V, VI; (b)single lion with no edicts
4. Vaishali, Bihar, single lion, with no inscription.The location of this pillar is contiguous to the site where a Buddhist monastery and a sacred coronation tank stood. The lion faces north, the direction Buddha took on his last voyage.
5. Sankissa, Uttar Pradesh, elephant capital only. It is mainly unpolished, though the abacus is at least partly so.
6. Lauriya-Nandangarth, Champaran, Bihar, single lion, Pillar Edicts I, II, III, IV, V, VI
7. Kandahar, Afghanistan (fragments of Pillar Edicts VII)
8. Ranigat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan
9. Delhi-Meerut, Delhi ridge, Delhi (Pillar Edicts I, II, III, IV, V, VI; moved from Meerut to Delhi by Firuz Shah Tughluq in 1356
10. Delhi-Topra, Feroz Shah Kotla, Delhi (Pillar Edicts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII; moved from Topra to Delhi by Firuz Shah Tughluq. The inscription in Brahmi script conveys the same message as the other Ashokan Pillars erected such as “code of dharma:virtue, social cohesion and piety” but with one difference that on this pillar there is also a reference to issues related to taxation.
11. Lauriya-Araraj, Champaran, Bihar (Pillar Edicts I, II, III, IV, V, VI)
12. Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh (originally located at Kausambi and probable moved to Allahabad by Jahangir; Pillar Edicts I-VI, Queen’s Edict, Schism Edict)
13. Amaravati, Andhra Pradesh
Minor Pillar Inscriptions:
These contain inscriptions recording their dedication.
Lumbini (Rummindei), Rupandehi district, Nepal (the upper part broke off when struck by lightning; the original horse capital mentioned by Hsuan Tsang is missing).This inscription talks about how King Priyadarsi (Emperor Ashoka), Beloved of the Gods, visited this place in person and worshipped at this spot, because the Sage of the Sakyans – Lord Buddha was born here.
Asoka exempted of Lumbini from tax.
Nigali-Sagar (or Nigliva), near Lumbini, Rupandehi district, Nepal (originally near the Buddha Konakarnana stupa). The inscriptions at the Nigali Sagar pillar give us references to the repairs and expansions that took place regarding the size of the previous stupa of Buddha called the Konakama in 254BC, the personal visit of Emperor Ashoka and his offerings of prayer in 249BC.The pillar which records the enlargement of the Stupa by Ashoka, however, has been admittedly not in situ.
Allahabad Pillar or Allahabad Ashoka Stambha:
In Allahabad there is a pillar with inscriptions from Ashoka and later inscriptions attributed to Samudragupta and Jehangir. It is clear from the inscription that the pillar was first erected at Kaushambi, an ancient town some 30 kilometres west of Allahabad that was the capital of the Koshala kingdom, and moved to Allahabad, presumably under Muslim rule. The pillar is now located inside the Allahabad Fort, also the royal palace, built during the 16th century by Akbar.
The Ashokan inscription is in Brahmi and is dated to 232 BCE. It contains the same six edicts that can be seen on the other pillars
(2)Major Rock Edicts(set of 14):
Ashokan Rock Edict is set of 14 (already discussed i Dhamma of Ashoka in this chapter, but still I will describe it here again).
Major Rock Edict I: Prohibits animal slaughter. Bans festive gatherings and killings of animals. Only two peacocks and one deer were killed in Asoka’s kitchen. He wished to discontinue this practice of killing two peacocks and one deer as well.
Major Rock Edict II: Provides for care for man and animals, describes about Chola, Pandyas , Satyapura and Keralputra Kingdoms of South India
Major Rock Edict III: Generosity to Brahmans. Issued after 12 years of Asoka’s coronation. It says that the Yuktas (subordinate officers and Pradesikas (district Heads) along with Rajukas (Rural officers ) shall go to the all areas of kingdom every five years and spread the Dhamma Policy of Asoka.
Major Rock Edict IV: Dhammaghosa is ideal to the mankind and not the Bherighosa. Impact of Dhamma on society.
Major Rock Edict V: Concerns about the policy towards slaves. He mentions in this rock edict ” Every Human is my child…”Appointment of Dhammamahamatras is mentioned in this edict.
Major Rock Edict VI: Describes King’s desire to get informed about the conditions of the people constantly. Talks about welfare measures.
Major Rock Edict VII: Requests tolerance for all religions
Major Rock Edict VIII: Describes Asoka’s first Dhamma Yatra to Bodhgaya & Bodhi Tree.
Major Rock Edict IX: Condemns popular ceremonies. Stress in ceremonies of Dhamma.
Major Rock Edict X: Condemns the desire for fame and glory. Stresses on popularity of Dhamma.
Major Rock Edict XI: Elaborates Dhamma
Major Rock Edict XII: Directed and determined request for tolerance among different religious sects.
Major Rock Edict XIII: Asoka’s victory over Kalinga . Victory of Asoka’s Dhamma over Greek Kings, Antiochus, Ptolemy, Antigonus, Magas, Alexander and Cholas, Pandyas etc. This is the Largest Edict. It mentions Kamboj, nabhaks, Bhoja, Andhra etc.
Major Rock Edict XIV: Describes engraving of inscriptions in different parts of country.
List of Major Rock Edicts:
Kandahar, Afghanistan (portions of Rock Edicts 12 and 13; bilingual Greek-Aramaic)
Shahbazgarhi, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan (in Kharosthi script)
Mansehra Rock Edicts, Mansehra, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan (in Kharosthi script).It describes expansion of Buddhism and Law of Piety or dharma. The site is located near to the Karakoram Highway on the ancient Silk Route.
Kalsi, near Chakrata, Dehradun district, Uttarakhand
Girnar, near Junagadh, Gujarat.The edict is in Brahmi script and it is inscribed high up on a large, domed mass of black granite.
Sopara, Thane district, Maharashtra (fragments Rock Edicts 8 and 9)
Dhauli, near Bhubaneswar, Orissa.The Rock Edicts found here include Nos. I-X, XIV and two separate Kalinga Edicts(i.e. not among set of 14).
(Separate edict I : Asoka declared all people are my sons. Separate Edict II : proclamation of edicts even to a single person).
The rock-cut elephant above the Edicts in Dhauli is the earliest Buddhist sculpture of Odisha. The stone elephant shows the animal’s foreparts only.
Jaugada, Ganjam district, Orissa (includes Kalinga Edict, excludes Rock Edicts 1-10 and 14). Jaugada served a provincial Mauryan fortified capital of the newly conquered province of Kalinga,
Sannati, Gulbarga district, Karnataka (separate Rock Edicts 1 and 2, fragments Rock Edicts 13 and 14).Edicts were written in the Prakrit language and Brahmi script. One of the stones – the only known example of its type – is of Asoka (274–232 BC) seated on his throne. It is probably the only surviving image of Asoka.
Yerragudi, near Gooty, Kurnool district, Andhra Pradesh (Both Major Rock Edicts and Minor Rock Edict are found here).The rock edict talks about welfare of wildlife.(Ashokan Edicts are probably first law for the welfare of wild life animals in the entire world).
(3)Minor Rock Edicts:
Bairat, near Jaipur, Rajasthan
Bhabru, second hill at Bairat, Rajasthan
Gujarra, near Jhansi, Datia district, Madhya Pradesh
Rupnath, on the Kaimur Hills near Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh
Panguraria, Sehore district, Madhya Pradesh
Sohgaura, Gorakhpur district, Uttar Pradesh
Sahasram, Rohtas district, Bihar
Barabar Caves, Bihar (donatory inscriptions to the Ajivika sect by Mauryan King Dasaratha in 232 BC.)
Towards the end of his reign Asoka’s grip over the imperial organisation became weak. The Maurya Empire began to decline with the death of Asoka in 232 B.C., soon after it broke up. The evidence for the later Mauryas is very meagre.
The Puranas, besides Buddhist and Jaina literature, do provide us with some information on the later Mauryas, but there is no agreement among them. Even among the Puranas, there is a lot of variance between one Puranas and another. The one statement on which all the Puranas are in agreement is that the dynasty lasted 137 years.
Ashoka’s death was followed by the division of the empire into western and eastern halves. The western part including the north-western province, Gandhara and Kashmir was governed by Kunala (one of the sons of Ashoka) and then for a while by Samprati (according to Jaina tradition he was a grandson of Ashoka and a patron of Jainism).
It was later threatened from the north-west by the Bactrian Greeks, to whom it was practically lost by 180 B.C. From the south, the threat was posed by the Andhras or the Satavahanas who later came to power in the Deccan.
The eastern part of the Maurya Empire, with its capital at Pataliputra, came to be ruled by Dasaratha (probably one of the grandsons of Ashoka). Dasaratha apart from being mentioned in the Matsya Purana is also known to us from the caves in the Nagarjuni Hills, which he dedicated to the Ajivikas.
According to the Puranas, Dasaratha reigned for eight years.The same sources speak of Kunala ruling for eight years in western part. He must have died at about the same time as Dasaratha; so that Sampriti now ruling in the west may have successfully regained the throne at Pataliputra, thus uniting the empire again.
This event occurred in 223 B.C. However, the empire had probably already begun to disintegrate. Jaina sources mention that Samprati ruled from Ujjain and Pataliputra.
After Dasaratha and Samprati came Salisuka, a prince mentioned in the astronomical work, the Gargi Samhita, as a wicked quarrelsome king.
The successors of Salisuka, according to the Puranas, were Devavarman, Satamdhanus and finally Brihadratha. The last prince was overthrown by his commander-in-chief, Pushyamitra, who laid the foundations of a new dynasty called Sunga dynasty.
Important causes of the fall of the Maurya Empire:
The Magadhan empire, which had been reared by successive wars culminating in the conquest of Kalinga, began to disintegrate after the exit of Ashoka in 232 BC. Several causes seem to have brought about the decline and fall of the Maurya empire.
1. Brahmanical Reaction:
Scholars have suggested that the pro-Buddhist policies of Ashoka and the pro-Jaina policies of his successors alienated the Brahmins and resulted in the revolt of Pushyamitra, the founder of the Shunga dynasty.
The brahmanical reaction began as a result of Ashoka’s policy. There is no doubt that Ashoka adopted a tolerant policy and asked the people to respect even the brahmanas, but he issued his edicts in Prakrit and not in Sanskrit. He prohibited the killing of birds and animals, and derided superfluous rituals performed by women.The anti-sacrifice attitude of Buddhism adopted by Ashoka adversely affected the incomes of brahmanas.
Further, Ashoka appointed rajukas to govern the countryside and introduce vyavaharasamata and dandasamata. This meant the same civil and criminal law for all varnas. But the Dharmashastra compiled by the brahmanas prescribed varna discrimination. Naturally this policy infuriated the brahmanas.
Some new kingdoms that arose on the ruins of the Maurya empire were ruled by the brahmanas. The Shungas and the Kanvas, who ruled in MP and further east on the remnants of the Maurya empire, were brahmanas. Similarly, the Satavahanas, who founded kingdom in the western Deccan and Andhra, claimed to be brahmanas. These brahmana dynasties performed Vedic sacrifices that were discarded by Ashoka.
View that brahminical reaction was responsible for the decline because of the following reasons.
The Buddhist book Divyavadana refers to the persecution of Buddhists by Pushyamitra Sunga.
Ashoka’s claim that he exposed the Bhudevas (Brahmins) as false gods shows that Ashoka was not well disposed towards Brahmins.
The capture of power by Pushyamitra Sunga shows the triumph of Brahmins.
All of these three points can be challenged because:
The book Divyavadana cannot be relied upon since it was during the time of Pushyamitra Sunga that the Sanchi and Barhut stupas were completed. The impression of the persecution of Buddhism was probably created by Menander’s invasion, since he was a Buddhist.
The word ‘bhudeva’ is misinterpreted because this word is to be taken in the context of some other phrase. The word normally means “brahmaṇa” or “brahmin” in classical Sanskrit, but perhaps the context here requires it to be understood differently.
The victory of Pushyamitra Sunga clearly shows that the last of the Mauryas was an incompetent ruler since he was overthrown in the very presence of his army, and this had nothing to do with brahminical reaction against Ashoka’s patronage of Buddhism. Moreover, the very fact that a Brahmin was the commander in chief of the Mauryan ruler suggests that the Mauryas and the Brahmins were cooperating.
2. Financial Crisis:
The enormous expenditure on the army and payment to the bureaucracy created a financial crisis for the Maurya empire. In ancient times the Mauryas maintained the largest army and the largest regiment of officers. Despite the range of taxes imposed on the people, it was difficult to maintain this huge superstructure.
Ashoka made large donations to the Buddhist monks which left the royal treasury empty. Towards the end, in order to meet expenses, they were obliged to melt gold images.
Though these factors are one-sided and is not corroborated by archaeological data. Excavations at sites like Hastinapura and Sisupalgarh have shown improvement in the material culture.
3. Oppressive Rule:
Oppressive rule in the provinces was an important cause of the break-up of the empire. In the reign of Bindusara, the citizens of Taxila bitterly complained against the misrule of wicked bureaucrats (dushtamatyas). Their grievance was redressed by the appointment of Ashoka, but when Ashoka became emperor, a similar complaint was made by the same city.
The Kalinga edicts show that Ashoka was much concerned about oppression in the provinces and, therefore, asked the mahamatras not to tyrannize the townsmen without due cause. For this purpose he introduced rotation of officers in Tosali (in Kalinga), Ujjain and Taxila. He himself spent 256 nights on a pilgrimage which may have helped administrative supervision.
All this however failed to stop oppression in the outlying provinces, and after his retirement Taxila took the earliest opportunity to throw off the imperial yoke.
4. Vastness of the Empire:
The Maurya Empire was too vast in its extent. While extending to the farthest corners of the Indian sub-continent it also included territories outside the natural frontiers of India. This vastness was itself a source of weakness rather than of strength because of the lack of communication. Distances were so great that the empire could not remain a closely integrated political unit for a longer time.
No doubt, there was an elaborate system of administration as left by Chandragupta and Asoka. But the whole machinery worked under the direction of the centre. The highly centralized character of the government suffered from a grave defect. It depended on the king for all major policies. As the king was the pivot of the whole machinery, the success of the administration depended on his personality.
If the king was strong, the centre was strong. If he was weak, the centre became weak. Once the centre became weak, the administration of the distant provinces also became weak. In the days of the later Mauryas this is what exactly happened. The weak centre under a weak king could not govern the vast empire. As a result, the Maurya administration collapsed and the empire began to disintegrate.
5. New Knowledge in the Outlying Areas:
We may recall that Magadha owed its expansion to certain basic material advantages. Once the knowledge of the use of these elements of culture spread to central India, the Deccan, and Kalinga as a result of the expansion of the Magadhan empire, the Gangetic basin, which formed the heart of the empire, lost its special advantage. The regular use of iron tools and weapons in the peripheral provinces coincided with the decline and fall of the Maurya empire.
On the basis of the material culture acquired from Magadha, new kingdoms could be founded and developed. This explains the rise of the Shungas and Kanvas in central India, of the Chetis in Kalinga, and of the Satavahanas in the Deccan.
6. Neglect of the North-West Frontier and the Great Wall of China:
Since Ashoka was primarily preoccupied with missionary activities at home and abroad, he was unable to pay attention to safeguarding the passes through the north-western frontier. This had become necessary in view of the movement of tribes in Central Asia in the third century BC. The Scythians were in a state of constant flux. A nomadic people principally reliant on the use of the horse, they posed a serious danger to the settled empires in China and India.
The Chinese ruler Shih Huang Ti (247-10 BC) constructed the Great Wall of China in about 220 BC to shield his empire against the attacks of the Scythians, but Ashoka took no such measures. Naturally, when the Scythians made a push towards India, they forced the Parthians, the Shakas, and the Greeks to move towards this subcontinent. The Greeks had set up a kingdom in north Afghanistan which was known as Bactria, and they were the first to invade India in 206 BC. This was followed by a series of invasions that continued till the beginning of the Christian era.
7. Internal Revolt:
A further and immediate cause was the partition of the empire into two, the eastern part under Dasaratha and the western part under Kunala. Had the partition not taken place, the Greek invasions of the north-west could have been held back for a while, giving the Mauryas a chance to re-establish some degree of their previous power. The partition of the empire disrupted the various services as well.
When the Maurya rule was weakening and the empire was breaking up within the half century after Asoka’s death, there finally came a death blow to it by an internal revolt. This revolt was led by the chief of the Maurya army, General Pushyamitra in about 185 B.C. when the Maurya King Brihadratha ruled in Magadha.
It was a military coup d’etal. General Pushyamitra was a Brahmin. The Puranas state that “Pushyamitra the Senapati will rule the kingdom by assassinating his own master.” Bana, the famous author of Harsha-Charita describes the incident saying that Pushyamitra held a parade of the army to which he invited the King to witness, and thus created an occasion to kill him on the spot with the support of the army.
The Shungas ruled in Pataliputra and central India. They performed several Vedic sacrifices to mark the revival of the brahmanical way of life, and are said to have persecuted the Buddhists. They were succeeded by the Kanvas who were also brahmanas.
(8)Ashoka’s Pacifist Policy:
Asoka’s pacifist policies were responsible for undermining the strength of the empire.
Ashoka’s emphasis on nonviolence for weakening the empire and its military strength.(Though there is nothing in the Ashokan inscriptions to suggest demobilization of the army. Similarly capital punishment continued)
(9Most Fundamentsl Reasons:
The decline of the Mauryan empire cannot be satisfactorily explained by referring to Military inactivity, Brahmin resentment, popular uprising or economic pressure. The causes of the decline were more fundamental.
The organization of administration, and the conception of the state or the nation, were of great significance in the causes of the decline of the Mauryas. The Mauryan administration was of an extremely centralized character which necessitated a king of considerable personal ability.In such a situation the weakening of the central control leads automatically to a weakening of the administration. With the death of Ashoka and the uneven quality of his successors, there was a weakening at the centre, particularly after the division of the empire.
Also, it should be borne in mind that all the officials owed their loyalty to the king and not to the State. This meant that a change of king could result in change of officials leading to the demoralization of the officers. Mauryas had no system of ensuring the continuation of well-planned bureaucracy.
Since Mauryan Empire was its extreme centralization and the virtual monopoly of all powers by the king, there was a total absence of any advisory institution representing public opinion. That is why the Mauryas depended greatly on the espionage system. Added to this lack of representative institutions there was no distinction between the executive and the judiciary of the government. An incapable king may use the officers either for purposes of oppression or fail to use it for good purpose.
The Mauryan state derived its revenues from taxing a variety of resources which would have to grow and expand so that the administrative apparatus of the state could be maintained.Unfortunately the Mauryas made no attempt to expand the revenue potential or to restructure and reorganise the resources. This inherent weakness of the Mauryan economy when coupled with other factors led to the collapse of the Mauryan Empire.
Other factors of importance that contributed to the decline and lack of national unity were the ownership of land and inequality of economic levels. Land could frequently change hands. Fertility wise the region of the Ganges was more prosperous than northern Deccan. Mauryan administration was not fully tuned to meet the existing disparities in economic activity. Had the southern region been more developed, the empire could have witnessed economic homogeneity.
Also the people of the sub-continent were not of uniform cultural level. The sophisticated cities and the trade centers were a great contrast to the isolated village communities. All these differences naturally led to the economic and political structures being different from region to region. It is also a fact that even the languages spoken were varied.
Hence, the causes of the decline of the Mauryan empire must, in large part, be attributed to top heavy administration where authority was entirely in the hands of a few persons while national consciousness was unknown.