Ancient History Notes for UPSC [Part 7] Mauryan Empire

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Chandragupta Maurya- (321 BCE to 297 BCE)
Chandragupta Maurya upsc
  • He established the Maurya empire with the help of Chanakya.
  • During his time, Greeks were ruling the northwestern part and Indus basin under Seleucus Nikator.
  • Chandragupta defeated him and gave 500 elephants to Seleucus and in return got areas of Afghanistan, Baluchistan and areas west of Indus basin in sometime 305 BC.
  • The wrestling of Gandhara from Iranians was an important feat as it generated lot of revenue.

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Mauryan Administration – from BA IGNOU note

Megasthenes description of India

Megasthenes description of India upsc
  • Pataliputra- it lies on confluence of Sone and Ganga and is 9.5×1.5 miles in area. He mentions Chandragupta’s palace with magnificent pillars and decorations of gold and silver. He mentions a thousand-mile road leading from Pataliputra to north west i.e Uttrapatha
  • Civil administration- king himself took interest. Large bureaucracy existed from governors, chief of provinces, generals of army, admirals of navy, treasurers, chief magistrates, etc.
  • The superior civic officials were classified as district officials and town officials.
  • Law and justice- king administered justice as final appeal. Punishments were severe and mutiliations, cutting off limbs as punsihment existed.
  • Military had 6 division with officials designated for each – infantry, cavalry, elephants, chariot, navy fleet and weaponry.
  • Social condition- 7 classes of people – philosophers, artisans, herdsmen, cultivators, soldiers, officials, councillors. He also mentions all Indians were free and nobody was a slave
  • Economic condition- General prosperity, no shortage of food, two harvests due to rains, etc. He says the soil bears all kinds of fruits and below it are large reserves of gold and silver.
  • Indians- they were frugal and honest. They left there houses unguarded. Being honest, there were less litigations, less thefts, etc.

Ashoka, the Great– (273 BCE to 232 BCE)

Ashoka the Great upsc

According to Sri Lankan texts of Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa, he killed his 99 brothers to usurp tye throne. Converted to Buddhism after Kalinga war where many people were killed and Brahmans and Buddhist monks were troubled as taken from the 13th rock edict of Ashoka. Although he converted to Buddhism and started a pacifist policy, he did not promote it as a narrow sect.

Ashoka’s Dhamma

Ashoka dhamma upsc
  • In his 2nd pillar edict, Ashoka asks himself- What is Dhamma? He answers- Dhamma is abstention from sin, doing good deeds, charity, truthfulness and purity.
  • Ashoka’s Dhamma was based on the principles of non-violence, compassion, love, truthfulness, respect towards parents, etc. He adorned the path of Dhamma after the Kalinga war.
  • His Dhamma had many things common with Buddha’s Dhamma like his repeated emphasis on Ahimsa, his inscriptions explaining Dukkha, Nibbana, eightfold path, etc.
  • The locations of some of his inscriptions are also near important Buddhist sites. Eg- Rummindei, Sanchi, Sarnath, etc.
  • In his minor rock edict at Bhabru, he has listed six Buddhist texts as texts of Dhamma.
  • He had convened the 3rd Buddhist council.
  • Delhi-Topra pillar- abstain from killing.
  • However, BN Mukherjee has pointed out that his Greek-Armaic inscriptions take a detour. Eg- one such inscription promises heaven to follower of Dhamma, not Nibbana. He also mentions the devotion of subjects as a part of Dhamma.
  • Romila Thapar has called Dhamma as an ideological tool to consolidate the empire in the far flung areas. She has classified empire into core and periphery. It is the periphery where Dhamma needed most as seen from inscriptions
  • It can also be seen as a pacifist policy to pacify tempers after a conquest of entire India.
  • Moreover, when areas of diverse cultures are conquered, the control has to be more ideological than physical which was fulfilled by Dhamma.
  • He threatened tribals to abide by the Dharma and not cause disorder.
  • If Ashoka wanted to spread Buddha’s Dhamma, why didnt he encourage Sangha to do so. Instead, he gave the task to Dhamma Mahamattas. This shows a basic variance between the two.
  • Rock edict 5 asks the Dhamma Mahamattas mingle with the people like Yonas, Kambojas, Gandharas, etc and spread Dhamma.

Ashokavandana part of Divyavadana where story goes that he beheaded 18000 Ajivikas in Pundra because they painted Buddha prostate to Niirgrantha or Mahavira.

Ashoka’s inscriptions

Ashoka’s inscriptions upsc

They are a glance into the thoughts and ways of functioning of Ashoka. It was for the first time that a king chose to inscribe on stones and pillars all over his empire to let his intentions be known to his people. They are mainly classified as- 14 Major rock edicts, 6 or 7 pillar edicts, minor rock edicts and even cave inscriptions eg- Barabar caves. They are located along main locations, trade routes and important Buddhist monasteries. Some inscriptions are lost- Fa Hsein and Xuanzang mention such pillars but none were found.

They are important sources of history-

  • Extent of empire- Shahbazgarhi and Kandahar in north-west, Girnar in west, Errahudi and Sannati in south, Tamralipti and Pundravardhan in east, Rummindei in Nepal.
  • Policy of Dhamma- it talks of compassion, non-violence and respect. In Sopara rock edict, he talks of going from Bherighosha to Dhammaghosha. He is seen respecting Brahmanas and Shramanas alike in Shahbazgarhi inscription. He granted caves to Ajivikas. He has issued orders not to kill certain animals in the Delhi-Topra pillar edict. He also openly admits his relation with Sangha and being a follower of Sakya. The Girnar rock edict where he talks of himself being always ready to listen to grievances.
  • Autobiographical details- names lile Devanampriya and Piyadassi. Eg- Girnar, Shahbazgarhi. His deep sense of grief after Kalinga war. Every edict has the years he has completed on throne.
  • Social policy- it has directions to people as well as his officials called Dhamma Mahamattas. He asked people to be kind to slaves, hence slavery existed. The mixture of population can be seen from bilingual scripts. Shahbazgarhi is Prakrit and Kharoshthi, Shar-i-Kuna is Greek and Armaic. It also indicates widespread literacy for people to read them. Threat to tribals to behave in the Dhauli rock edict.
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Mauryas and forest people

  • The relations between Mauryas and tribes came to light due to 13th major rock edict at Dhauli and even at Shahbazgarhi asking tribals to repent and not to expect forgiveness where it cant be given.
  • Aloka Parashar-Sen has pointed out that in early times, the policy of kings was to exclude tribes from territories. However, Mauryas changed the policy and tried to impose their dominance on forest people.
  • Being the first ever all-India empire, the Mauryas did face problems to assimilate different communities.
  • Arthashastra too has a mixed attitude towards tribes. It uses pejorative terns for them like Mlechha-Jatis and Atavika or wild and savage. It also recommends spies to be sent in tribal regions to spy on them.
  • On the other side, Kautilya also regards Chandalas, tribes like Shabaras and Pulindas as guardians of fotresses.
  • The rights of tribals must have been affected given the fact that Arthashastra attaches great imoortance to forest respurces- forests with elephants Hastivana and other materials Dravyavana
  • Ashoka had employed Dhamma Mahamattas to maintain Dhamma and teach people the same. This might have resulted in forced acculturation of tribals.
  • Aloka also has mentioned that the orders of Ashoka to shun violence and not kill animals might have affected tribals whose main diet is of meat.

Mauryan Economy

Mauryan Economy upsc
  • As many as 27 Adhyakshas were employed to keep a check on different economic activities.
  • Land was measured and irrigation channels were inspected by officials, slaves were employed in the fields although not as explicitly as the Greeks.
  • Highways were built to connect major cities like Patna, Vaishali, those in Nepal, Uttarakhand till Peshawar. Roads went to Kalinga through MP and further to Karnataka and AP. This facilitated trade.
  • Peasants were to pay taxes. Multiple taxes were mentioned in Arthashastra. Megasthenes mentions that tax evasion was heavily punished.
  • Taxes were for 2 reasons- on the land cultivated and on the produce.
  • Lumbini inscription mentions them as Bali and Bhaga.
  • Sometimes, entire villages paid taxes collectively called Pindakara. The
  • Arthashastra mentions that it is the duty of the state to protect the people during famines. Mahasthan inscription talks of this. Grains were also collected and stored in granaries in times of famines, a practice continued from the IVC.
  • Mahasthan bronze plaque has orders by an official in Shravasti to distribute grains from stores in case of a drought.
  • Punched silver coins were used as currency.

Mauryan Material culture

Mauryan culture upsc
  • Coins, iron, NBP pottery, burnt bricks and ringwells made material culture advance. Iron weapons and tools made the ultimate impact along with burnt bricks.
  • Ringwells facilitated people to settle beyond river deltas.
  • Naturally, the period marked multiple city growth as mentioned by Greek writer Arrian.
  • Material culture spread in Bengal, Bangladesh and Orissa. Material culture also progressed in Deccan plateau.
  • This was the first time Deccan plateau actually comes in the mainstream economy.
  • The finding of inscriptions, coins and pottery of the middle gangetic plain in Orissa, Bengal, AP and deccan plateau shows the deliberate acculturation of Mauryas in 3rd century BC.
  • This is in accordance to Chanakya who said that the new areas should be brought under cultivation by relocating Vaishyas and Shudras and giving them tax rebates for a while to flourish there.
  • Usage of Buddhism as religion and effective communication through trade routes in deccan and south India. deliberate method made the culture spread everywhere, although its effectiveness remains debated.
  • The appointment of Dharmamahamantras, threatening of tribal to follow dharma, sending officials to every nook and corner of empire are some of these methods adopted by Ashoka.
  • Stone architecture was a special feature with figures of Yaksha, Yakshi and other demi-gods being common.
  • Megasthenes talks of 7 classes of Indian society which inevitably suggests that Varna system had not become prevalent and other units like professional clans, family were more important. Even the edicts of Ashoka don’t mention any Varna or Jatis.

Mauryan Agriculture

Mauryan Agriculture upsc
  • Megasthenes mentions that agricultural class was the most numerous in the society while Arthashastra says peasants are the base of all the economic prosperity of the empire
  • State control vs private lands- Sita vs Janpada lands distinguished. Arthashastra talks of Sitadhyaksha to overlook royal lands. People cultivated on private lands too
  • New lands- Arthashastra mentions that Vaishyas and Shudras should be settled on cleared lands and be given tax incentives to start cultivation
  • Focus on irrigation- Megasthenes mentions special officers to check the sluices of canals. Rajukas mentioned by Ashokan inscriptions. Case of Sudarshana lake in Girnar. Chanakya talks of taxation on the irrigation water used
  • Taxation- Bali/Bhaga to be paid. Udakabhaga as irrigation tax.
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  • Arthashastra’s 7 sources of revenue mentions Khana or mines as a source.

It talks of Khanadhyaksha as an officer to regulate mines

  • Arthashastra makes provisions to discover mines, enable mining and proper identification of ores and their smelting. It mentions iron ore as chief ore
  • Karnataka region became the chief source of minerals. The Kolar-Bellary region was famous for gold, silver, coal and iron ore.
  • This can be seen from the fact that Mauryan regional capital Suvarnagiri was present there very near to Ashokan edicts at Maski, Brahmagiri, Chitradurga, Kurnool, Gulbarga, etc
  • Raymond Allchin also found out traces of gold and silver mining at Kolar mines of Karnataka

Mauryan Trade

Mauryan Trade upsc
  • It is the second most important source of revenue, so is taxation on trade called Vanikpatha by Arthashastra.
  • Mauryan trade was by land as well as by sea ports like Bhrigukachha, Sopara and Toshali.
  • Regulation- Arthashastra talks of an officer to regulate trade and charge them custom duties and professional taxes. Panyadhyaksha deals with issues of trade. Megasthanes also mentions the same
  • Ship-building industry was a monopoly of Mauryan state with its head as Navadhyaksha.
  • Products traded include ivory, leather, precious stones, spices, etc

Reasons for decline of the Maurya empire

Reasons for decline of the Maurya empire
  • Brahmin resistance – Hari Prasad Shastri has opined tyat the ban of animal sacrifice and ritual adherence of Buddhist philosophy as practiced by ashoka had reduced the income of Brahmins. Plus, they wanted restoration of their benefits and status in the society. However, there is no conclusive proof. In fact, Ashoka asks people to respect Brahmins and Shramanas alike in Shahbazgarhi inscription.
  • HC Roychowdhury has said that over emphadis on the doctrine of Ahimsa reduced the martial spirit of thr army. Thus, they could not suppress revolts by governors and Greek invasions.
  • Decline of Dhamma- it did not have a fixed doctrine but was propounded by only Ashoka. His successors proved unworthy to continue it.
  • Financial crisis –DD Kosambi says that in spite of large taxes, the maintenance of large army and bureaucracy made it impossible to maintain financial order.
  • Oppressive rule- the rule of bureaucracy was oppressive. Complaints had arisen in Taxila and Kalinga. Ashoka had asked the mahamantras to exercise restraint and he had taken to pilgrimage. But this all failed and taxila broke off as soon as Ashoka left the throne.
  • Invasions – Scythians were forcing their way into India and China in 3rd century BC. China built the Great Wall in 3rd century BC but Mauryas did not prepare themselves. Greeks were already present in Bactria. Invasions of Shakas, Parthians, etc continued till Christian era. This weakened the northwestern frontier of India.
  • The result of weakening is that the final death blow was given by Pushyamitra Shunga in 185 BCE.
  • conclusion- RK Mukherjee has said that empires rose and fell in all ages and mauryas were no exception to it. He calls it a natural process occuring due to weak successors, oppression by local rulers, revolt by governors, etc.

Decline of Dhamma– Ashoka’s insistence on non-violence and almost obession about Dhamma might have angered people. An elaborate list of animals not to be killed in Delhi-Topra pillar edict. Dhamma did not have any fixed doctrine or postulates but was only propunded by Ashoka as a set of principles. Hence, it could not survive. Dhamma was a part of the imperial structure of Mauryas. Since he got weak successors, the imperial structure couldnt carry forth Dhamma.

Oppression by Dhamma mahamattas

Shunga dynasty 187-73 BCE

Shunga dynasty upsc

Harshacharita mentions Pushyamitra Shunga was one of the generals of the Mauryas who came to throne by killing the king Brihadratha Maurya in 187 BCE.

His description is different in traditions. Kalidasa calls him of Kashyapa gotra while Panini calls him of Bharadvaja Gotra. Common thing is that he was a brahmin. His son was Agnimitra. Puranas say 10 Shunga kings have ruled for 112 years the last being Devabhuti.

Debate on actions of Pushyamitra-

  • Ayodhya stone inscription of king Dhana says Pushyamitra had performed 2 Ashwamedha yagya which signals returning to Vedic Hinduism
  • Buddhist Sarvastivada text in 2nd century CE, Divyavadana says Pushyamitra destroyed Buddhist monuments. It also talks of his reign extdnding from Magadha to Shakala or Sialkot.
  • 2nd century BC text Vibhasha talks of Pushyamitra giving 100 dinars for head of Buddhist monks.
  • Tibetan Buddhist historian Taranath also claims that Pushyamitra burnt down monasteries from Madhyadesha to Jalandhara.
  • HC Roy Choudhary does not believe in this account and calls it a sort of revenge the Buddhist were taking due to their waning influence.
  • Kalidasa in his 5th century CE Malavika-Agnimitram paints a pious image of Pushyamitra
  • John Marshall says that archaeological evidence of Buddhist establishment being destroyed in this era are found in Taxila. But did pushyamitra rule their ?. He also says that Sanchi stupa was destroyed by pushyamitra but reinstated by his successor Agnimitra.
  • NN Ghosh concludes from the epigraph on Bharhut gateway that Shungas constructed it. So may be they were violent during pushyamitra times but we’re tolerant later on.
  • Overall, whatever Pushyamitra did was nullified because soon after, Buddhism grew under the Kushanas

The Shungas were succeeded by Kanvas who couldn’t hold on to power and disintegrated after 1st century BC. Apart from that, the western frontiers of the empire began falling. Smaller confederacies began to take shape like the Yaudheyas, Audumbaras, Trigartas, Agastyas, Shibis, etc. There could be a possibility that they declared themselves Kshatriyas and liked them to the people of epics to gain acceptance. Apart from that, Kalinga became an important secondary state under Kharvela by 2nd century BC.

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Mauryan Art

Maurya art upsc
  • 72 pillars found in Kumrahar, Patna which are considered to be the remnants of a palace. Moreover, excavations have also yielded wooden ramparts and fortifications in the neighbouring areas of Patna. Some later year 8 pillars made of Chunar sandstone were also found by Altekar.
  • Sandstone was brought from Chunar mines near Varanasi through rivers.
  • Fa Xian mentions Chandragupta’s palace in 5th century.
  • Rock cut elephant at Dhauli with trunk curving graciously inwards and front leg folded showing forward movement.
  • Rock cut caves for ascetics at Barabar and Nagarjuni caves. Inscriptions show Ashoka and son Dasharatha. Ashoka donated cave to Ajivikas in 12th year of ruling. Lomas Rishi cave has an arched facade and two chambers inside.

Yaksha worship

yaksha and yakshini upsc
yaksha and yakshini upsc
  • Mauryan art is also characterized by the stone and terracotta sculptures of Yakshas and Yakshis who are connected to fertility, water, trees, forests and wilderness. This shows the existence of Yaksha worship in ancient India even during times of 300BCE to 200CE.
  • AK Coomaraswamy has argued that Yaksha, Yakshi, Naga, Nagis were a natural source of devotional Bhakti in ancient India who were slowly absorbed in all religions.
  • The sculptures were mainly standing. A colossal Yaksha image has been found in Parksham who is considered to be Manibhadra yaksha revered by merchants and tarders.
  • In Besnagar, a Yaksha is found holding a money bag indicating his connection to wealth. Kubera, the God of wealth is a Yaksha.
  • Shalabhanjikas or beutiful, sensuous women grasping the branches of trees were Yakshis in many cases. A Yakshini image at Didargunj has been found with innate sense of bodily features. It shows sensitivity towards depicting human features.
  • Collosal statues of Yakshas indicate public worship while smaller images indicate private worship.
  • Yakshas are also depicted standing behind Buddha which shows assimilation of Yaksha in Buddhism.

Ashokan Pillars

Ashokan pillar, c. 279 B.C.E. – 232 B.C.E, Vaishali, India (where Buddha preached his last sermon). Photo: Rajeev Kumar, CC: BY-SA 2.5)
  • Majestic standing pillars of Ashoka was a novel experiment in India because it was for the first time that a kong had decided to sermonize through inscriptions.
  • The Ashokan pillars are not uniform. Some have edicts as sermons while some like Rummindei have commemorative inscriptions. Some dont have the lion capital like Kosam pillar while some have bull capital like Rampurva. Some pillars dont have inscriptions at all.
  • In many places of east India, sandstone was mined from Chunar.
  • Most rise to 12-14 meter height.
  • It is thought that Ashokan pillars are monolithic i.e made of a single stone. However, study by Vidula Jayaswal shows that pillars in Vaishali, LauriyaNandangarh were made of several pieces of stone.
  • The pillars did nkt have any base. The plain smooth and circular shaft is connected to the capital through a cylindrical bolt. The capital is a stone carved in shape of an inverted lotus.
  • The top of the pillar contained the crowning animal. However, it differed.

Lion capital has been found in Vaishali, L Nandangarh. Quadraple lions at Sanchi and Sarnath. Bull capital at RamPura

  • The pillars were carved round so that it can be viewed from all sides.
  • The Ashokan Pillars had special Buddhist symbolic significance
  • Lotus- purity. It sprang on ground when Buddha took 7 steps after birth
  • Dhammachakra- first sermon of Buddha
  • Horse- it signifies Siddhartha leaving his kingdom behind • Elephant- Buddha entered his mothers womb as a white elephant • Bull- symbol of fertility.
  • Lion- it is used by Shakyas to signify Buddha as a lion among Shakyas.
  • Locations are also famous ones. This shows an urge to reach maximum people.
  • Foreign influence.

Foreign Influence

  • It has been argued that a sudden emergence of inscribing on pillars with no similar growth of tradition in India means that perhaps a foreign influence was there.
  • AK Coomaraswamy has said that India formed a part of ancient Persian empire of Darius. There must have been a cultural interaction between India and Iran. The existence of Kharoshthi script in Ashokan inscriptions prove the point. Hence, a Persian influence cannot be denied.
  • Similarities include- sermons in third person and then shifting to first person, pillars being smoothened and polished, existence of animal capitals, etc. Both Darius and Ashoka use similar words like Dipi and Lipi respectively.
  • However, Niharranjan Ray points out to some crucial differences. The pillars at Kumrahar dont have capitals while Persepolis have it. The inverted lotus appears at the base of shafts in Persian while at top in Mauryas. Usage of palm leaves and animals like unicorns absent in Mauryas. Round crowning of pillars absent in Persia.
  • Plus, sandstone was from Chunar and symbolism was purely Indian.
  • However, other Mauryan arts like the caves at Barabar, stupa at Sanchi, sculptures of Yakshas and Yakshis don’t show any foreign influence.