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Maurya Dynasty (321-184 BC)

Chandragupta Maurya345 BC 322 BC 298 BC
Bindusara320 BC 298 BC 272 BC
Ashoka the Great304 BC 274 BC 232 BC
Dasaratha252 BC 232 BC 224 BC
Samprati...224 BC 215 BC
Salisuka...215 BC 202 BC
Devavarman...202 BC 195 BC
Satadhanvan...195 BC 187 BC
Brihadratha185 BC 187 BC 185 BC
The advent of the Maurya dynasty marks the passage from darkness to light for the historian. Chronology suddenly becomes definite, almost precise; a huge empire springs into existence, unifying the innumerable fragments of distracted India; the kings, who may be described with justice as emperors, are men of renown, outstanding personalities whose qualities can be discerned, albeit dimly, through the mists of time ; gigantic world-wide religious movements are initiated, of which the effects are still felt; and the affairs of secluded Hind are brought into close touch with those of the outer world.

The manners of the court, the constitution of the government, the methods of administration, the principles of law, and the course of commerce under the Maurya sovereigns for nearly a hundred years in the fourth and third centuries BC are known to the modern age far more intimately than are the doings and institutions of any other Indian monarch until the days of Akbar, the contemporary of Queen Elizabeth. When all sources of information have been exhausted the result is a picture of astonishing completeness. The external political facts, although on record to a considerable extent, are known far less perfectly than the particulars of the internal government and administration.

India History Map - 250 BCThe foundation of the Mauryan Empire opened a new era in the history of India. For the first time, the political unity was achieved in India. Moreover, the history writing has also become clear from this period due to accuracy in chronology and sources. Besides plenty of indigenous and foreign literary sources, a number of epigraphical records are also available to write the history of this period.

The Arthasastra, a book in Sanskrit, was written by Chandragupta Maurya’s able minister, the Brahman variously known as Vishnugupta, Kautilya (Kautalya), or Chanakya. Kautilya was also called ‘Indian Machiavelli’. The manuscript of Arthasastra was first discovered by R. Shama Sastri in 1904. The Arthasastra contains 15 books and 180 chapters but it can be divided into three parts: the first deals with the king and his council and the departments of government; the second with civil and criminal law; and the third with diplomacy and war. It is the most important literary source for the history of the Mauryas.

The Mudrarakshasa written by Visakadatta is a drama in Sanskrit. Although written during the Gupta period, it describes how Chandragupta with the assistance of Kautilya overthrew the Nandas. It also gives a picture on the socio-economic condition under the Mauryas. Megasthenes was the Greek ambassador in the court of Chandragupta Maurya. His book Indica has survived only in fragments. Yet, his account gives details about the Mauryan administration, particularly the administration of the capital city of Pataliputra and also the military organization. His picture on contemporary social life is notable. Certain unbelievable information provided by him has to be treated with caution.

Apart from these three important works, the Puranas and the Buddhist literature such as Jatakas provide information on the Mauryas. The Ceylonese Chronicles Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa throw light on the role Asoka in spreading Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

The inscriptions of Asoka were first deciphered by James Princep in 1837. They are written in Pali language and in some places Prakrit was used. The Brahmi script was employed for writing. In the northwestern India Asokan inscriptions were found in Karoshti script. There are fourteen Major Rock Edicts. The two Kalinga Edicts are found in the newly conquered territory. The major pillar Edicts were erected in important cities. There are minor Rock Edicts and minor pillar Edicts. These Edicts of Asoka deal with Asoka’s Dhamma and also instructions given to his officials. The XIII Rock Edict gives details about his war with Kalinga. The Pillar Edict VII gives a summary of his efforts to promote the Dhamma within his kingdom. Thus the Asokan inscriptions remain valuable sources for the study of Asoka and the Mauryan Empire.

Although Indian accounts to a large extent ignored Alexander the Great's Indus campaign in 326 BC, Greek writers recorded their impressions of the general conditions prevailing in South Asia during this period. Thus, the year 326 BC provides the first clear and historically verifiable date in Indian history. A two-way cultural fusion between several Indo-Greek elements--especially in art, architecture, and coinage--occurred in the next several hundred years. North India's political landscape was transformed by the emergence of Magadha in the eastern Indo-Gangetic Plain. In 322 BC, Magadha, under the rule of Chandragupta Maurya, began to assert its hegemony over neighboring areas. Chandragupta, who ruled from 324 to 301 BC, was the architect of the first Indian imperial power--the Mauryan Empire (326-184 BC)--whose capital was Pataliputra, near modern-day Patna, in Bihar.

Situated on rich alluvial soil and near mineral deposits, especially iron, Magadha was at the center of bustling commerce and trade. The capital was a city of magnificent palaces, temples, a university, a library, gardens, and parks, as reported by Megasthenes, the third-century BC Greek historian and ambassador to the Mauryan court. Legend states that Chandragupta's success was due in large measure to his adviser Kautilya, the Brahman author of the Arthashastra (Science of Material Gain), a textbook that outlined governmental administration and political strategy. There was a highly centralized and hierarchical government with a large staff, which regulated tax collection, trade and commerce, industrial arts, mining, vital statistics, welfare of foreigners, maintenance of public places including markets and temples, and prostitutes. A large standing army and a well-developed espionage system were maintained. The empire was divided into provinces, districts, and villages governed by a host of centrally appointed local officials, who replicated the functions of the central administration.

Ashoka, grandson of Chandragupta, ruled from 269 to 232 BC and was one of India's most illustrious rulers. Ashoka's inscriptions chiseled on rocks and stone pillars located at strategic locations throughout his empire--such as Lampaka (Laghman in modern Afghanistan), Mahastan (in modern Bangladesh), and Brahmagiri (in Karnataka)--constitute the second set of datable historical records. According to some of the inscriptions, in the aftermath of the carnage resulting from his campaign against the powerful kingdom of Kalinga (modern Orissa), Ashoka renounced bloodshed and pursued a policy of nonviolence or ahimsa, espousing a theory of rule by righteousness. His toleration for different religious beliefs and languages reflected the realities of India's regional pluralism although he personally seems to have followed Buddhism (see Buddhism, ch. 3). Early Buddhist stories assert that he convened a Buddhist council at his capital, regularly undertook tours within his realm, and sent Buddhist missionary ambassadors to Sri Lanka.

Contacts established with the Hellenistic world during the reign of Ashoka's predecessors served him well. He sent diplomatic-cum-religious missions to the rulers of Syria, Macedonia, and Epirus, who learned about India's religious traditions, especially Buddhism. India's northwest retained many Persian cultural elements, which might explain Ashoka's rock inscriptions--such inscriptions were commonly associated with Persian rulers. Ashoka's Greek and Aramaic inscriptions found in Kandahar in Afghanistan may also reveal his desire to maintain ties with people outside of India.

After the disintegration of the Mauryan Empire in the second century BC, South Asia became a collage of regional powers with overlapping boundaries. India's unguarded northwestern border again attracted a series of invaders between 200 BC and AD 300.

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Page last modified: 12-08-2013 16:07:21 ZULU