UPSC History The Mourya Empire NCERT Extracts - The Mauryas Empire

NCERT Extracts - The Mauryas Empire

Category : UPSC

 Chandragupta Maurya


  • The Maurya dynasty was founded by Chandragupta Maurya.
  • An earlier Buddhist tradition speaks of the existence of a kshatriya clan called Mauryas living in the region of Gorakhpur adjoining the Nepalese terai.
  • With the help of Chanakya, who is known as Kautilya, Chandragupta overthrew the Nandas and established the rule of the Maurya dynasty.
  • The machinations of Chanakya against Chandragupta's enemies are described in detail in the Mudrarakshasa, a drama written by Vishakhadatta in the ninth century.
  • Justin, a Greek writer, says that Chandragupta overran the whole of India with an army of 6,00,000.
  • Chandragupta liberated north-western India from the thralldom of Seleucus.
  • In the war with the Greek viceroy, Chandragupta seems to have come out victorious.
  • Eventually peace was concluded between the two, and in return for 500 elephants Seleucus gave him eastern Afghanistan, Baluchistan and the area west of the Indus.


Imperial Organization

  • We know about it from the account of Megasthenes and the Arthashastra of Kautilya. Megasthenes was a Greek ambassador.
  • He was 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.
  • The account of Megasthenes does not survive in full, but quotations occur in the works of several subsequent Greek writers.
  • These fragments have been collected and published in the form of a book called Indika throws valuable light on the administration, society and economy of Maurya times.
  • Chandragupta Maurya was an autocrat who concentrated all power in his hands.
  • If we believe in a statement of the Arthashastra, the king had set a high ideal.
  • He stated that in the happiness of his subjects lay his happiness and in their troubles lay his troubles.
  • According to Megasthenes the king was assisted by a council whose members were noted for wisdom.
  • The empire was divided into a number of provinces, and each province was placed under a prince who was a scion of the royal dynasty.
  • The administration of Pataliputra was carried on by six committees each committee consisting of five members.



  • The central government maintained about two dozen departments of the state, the most striking feature of Chandragupta's administration is the maintenance of a huge army.
  • The administration of the armed forces, according to Megasthenes, was carried on by a board of 30 officers divided into six committees, each committee consisting of five members.
  • The Maurya's military strength was almost three times that of the Nandas.
  • This happened apparently on account of much larger empire and far more resources.
  • 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.
  • Those who were provided with irrigation facilities by the state had to pay for it.
  • In addition to this, in times of emergency peasants were compelled to raise more crops. Tolls were also levied on commodities brought to town for sale.
  • Moreover, the state enjoyed a monopoly in mining, sale of liquor, manufacture of arms, etc. This naturally brought money to the royal exchequer.


Ashoka (273 - 232 B.C.)


  • Ashoka was the son of Bindusara. He was the greatest of the Maurya rulers.
  • According to Buddhist tradition he was so cruel in his early life that he killed his 99 brothers to get the throne.
  • The history of Ashoka is reconstructed on the basis of his inscriptions.
  • These inscriptions, numbering 39, are classified into Major Rock Edicts, Minor Rock Edicts, Separate Rock Edicts, Major Pillar Edicts and Minor Pillar Edicts.
  • The name of Ashoka occurs only in copies of Minor Rock Edicts I found at three places in Kamataka and at one in Madhya Pradesh.
  • All the other inscriptions mention only Devanampiya Piyadasi (dear to gods) and leave out the word Ashoka.
  • The Ashokan inscriptions are found in India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Altogether they appear at 47 places, and their total versions number 182.
  • They were generally placed on ancient highways. Composed in Prakrit, they were written in Brahmi script in the greater part of the subcontinent.
  • But in its north-western part they appeared in Aramaic language and Kharoshthi script, and in Afghanistan they were written in both Aramaic and Greek scripts and languages.
  • Ashoka is the first Indian king to speak directly to the people through his inscriptions which carry royal orders. The inscriptions throw light on the career of Ashoka, his external and domestic policies, and the extent of his empire.


Prinsep and Piyadassi

  • James Prinsep, an officer in the mint of the East India Company, deciphered Brahmi and Kharosthi, two scripts used in the earliest inscriptions and coins.
  • He found that most of these mentioned a king referred to as Piyadassi -meaning
  • “pleasant to behold"; there were a few inscriptions which also referred to the king as Asoka.


Impact of the Kalinga War

  • The ideology of Buddhism guided Ashoka's state policy at home and abroad.
  • After his accession to the throne, Ashoka fought only on major war called the Kalinga War. According to him, 1,00,000 people were killed in this war, several lakh; perished, and 1,50,000 were taken prisoners.
  • The war brought to the brahmana priests and the Buddhist monks great suffering which caused Ashoka much grief and remorse.
  • So he abandoned the policy of physical occupation in favour of a policy of cultural conquest. In other words, bherighosha was replaced with dhammaghosha.
  • The officials appointed by Ashoka were instructed to propagate this idea among a sections of his subjects. The tribal people were asked to follow the principle of dhamma.
  • He took steps for the welfare of men and animals in foreign lands, which was a new thing considering the condition of those days.
  • He sent ambassadors of peace to the Greek kingdoms in West Asia and Greece-
  • If we rely on the Buddhist tradition it would appear that he sent missionaries for the propagation of Buddhism to Sri Lanka and Central Asia.
  • It would be wrong to think that the Kalinga war made Ashoka an extreme pacifis
  • He did not pursue the policy of peace for the sake of peace under all condition.
  • On the other hand he adopted a practical policy of consolidating his empire.
  • He retained Kalinga after its conquest and incorporated it into his empire.
  • Within the empire he appointed a class of officers known as the Rajukas, who we vested with the authority of not only rewarding people but also punishing them.
  • The Kandhar inscription speaks of the success of his policy with the hunters aind fishermen, who gave up killing animals and possibly took to a settled agricultural life.


Internal Policy and Buddhism

  • Ashoka was converted to Buddhism as a result of the Kalinga war.
  • According to tradition he became a monk, made huge gifts to the Buddhists and undertook pilgrimages to the Buddhist shrines.
  • According to tradition the third Buddhist council (Sangiti) was held by Ashol
  • Missionaries were sent not only to south India but also to Sri Lanka, Burma and other countries to convert the people there.
  • He repeatedly asked his officials to tell the subjects that the king looked upon them as his children. As agents of the king, the officials were also asked to take care the people
  • Ashoka appointed dhammamahatras for propagating dharma among various social groups including women.
  • He also appointed Rajukas for the administration of justice in his empire.
  • He forbade killing certain birds and animals, and completely prohibited the slaughter of animals in the capital.                                
  • He interdicted gay social functions in which people indulged in revelries
  • Ashoka taught people to live and let live.
  • He emphasised compassion towards animals and proper behaviour towards relatives
  • Ashoka's teaching were thus intended to maintain the existing social order on the Basis of tolerance.He does not seem to have preached any sectarian faith.


Ashoka's Place in History

  • Ashoka brought about the political unification of the country
  • He bound it further by one dharma, one language and practically one script called Brahmi which was used in most of his inscriptions.
  • He followed a tolerant religious policy. He did not try to foist his Buddhist faith on his subjects. On the other hand he made gifts to non-Buddhist and even anti-Buddhist sects. Ashoka was fired with zeal for missionary activities.
  • He deputed officials in the far-flung parts of the empire
  • Ashoka is important in history for his policy of peace, non-aggression and cultural Conquest. Hed no model in early Indian history for pursuing such a policy

Significance of the Maurya Rule


State Control

  • The brahmanical law-books again and again stressed that the king should be guided by the laws laid down in the Dharmashastras and by the customs prevalent in the country.
  • Kautilya advises the king to promulgate dharma when the social order based on the varnas and ashramas (stages in life) perishes.
  • The king is called by him dharmapravartaka or promulgator of the social order
  • That the royal orders were superior to other orders was asserted by Ashoka in his inscriptions.
  • Ashoka promulgated dharma and appointed officials to inculcate and enforce its essentials  throughout the country.
  • Magadha possessed the requisite power of sword to enforce its overall control
  • In order to control all spheres of life the state had to maintain a vast bureaucracy.
  • In no other period of ancient history we hear of so many officers as in Maurya times
  • The administrative mechanism was backed by an elaborate system of espionage
  • various types of spies collected intelligence about foreign enemies and officers
  • Important functionaries were called Tirthas.
  • It seems that most functionaries were paid in cash.
  • The highest fanctlonaries were minister (mantr), high Priest (purohita), commander in-chief (senapati) and crown prince (yuvaraja) who were paid generously
  • There were enormous gaps between the highest and the lowest category of government servant.


Economic Regulations

  • The state appointed 27 superintendents (adhyakshas) mostly to regulate the economic activities of the state.
  • The state also provided irrigation facilities and regulated water supply for the benefit of agriculturists.
  • Megasthenes informs us that in the Maurya Empire the officials measured the land as in Egypt and inspected the channels through which water was distributed into smaller channels.
  • According to the Arthashastra of Kautilya, a striking social development of the Maurya period was the employment of slaves in agricultural operations.
  • Megasthenes states that he did not notice any slaves in India.
  • But there is no doubt that domestic slaves were found in India from Vedic time onwards.
  • In Maurya period slaves were engaged in agricultural work on a large scale.
  • The state maintained farms, on which numerous slaves and hired labourers were mployed. However, ancient Indian society was not a slave society.
  • What the slaves did in Greece and Rome was done by the shudras in India.
  • The shudras were regarded as the collective property of the three higher varnas.
  • They were compelled to serve them as slaves, artisans, agricultural labourers, and domestic servants.
  • Royal control worked over a very large area. This was because of the strategic position of Pataliputra, from where royal agents could sail up and down the four directions.
  • Besides this, the royal road ran from Pataliputra to Nepal through Vaishali Champaran. Megasthenes speaks of a road connecting north-western India Patna.
  • In the northern plains the Ganga and other rivers were routes of communicatij
  • The Ashokan inscriptions appear on important highways. The stone pillars were made in Chunar near Varanasi from where they were transported to north and south India.
  • The Maurya period constitutes a landmark in the system of taxation in ancient india. Kautilya names many taxes to be collected from peasants, artisans and traders.
  • The Mauryas attached greater importance to assessment than to storage and deposi
  • The Samaharta was the highest officer in charge of assessment and the Sannidhata was the chief custodian of the state treasury and store-house.        
  • The harm done of the state by the Samaharta is thought to be more serious than the harm caused by the Sannidhata.  
  • The list of taxes mentioned in the Arthashastra is impressive.
  • We have epigraphic evidence for the existence of rural store-houses.
  • It seems that the punch-marked silver coins, which carry the symbols of the peacock, and the hill and crescent, formed the imperial currency of the Mauryas.


Art and Architecture                                                  

  • The Mauryas made a remarkable contribution to art and architecture.
  • They introduced stone masonry on a wide scale.
  • Megasthenes states that the Maurya palace at Pataliputra was as splendid as that in the capital of Iran. Fragments of stone pillars and stumps, indicating the existence of a 80-pillared hall, have been discovered at Kumrahar on the outskirts of modem Patna.
  • These remains certainly attest the high technical skill attained by the Maurya artisans in polishing the stone pillars.
  • Each pillar is made of a single piece of buff coloured sandstone.
  • Only their capitals, which are beautiful pieces of sculpture in the form of lions or bulls, are joined with the pillars on the top.
  • These polished pillars were set up throughout the country, which shows that technical knowledge involved in their polishing and transport had spread far and wide
  • The Maurya artisans also started the practice of hewing out caves from rocks for monks to live in. The earliest examples are the Barabar caves at a distance of 30 km from Gaya.


Spread of Material Culture and State System

  • In the Maurya period burnt bricks were used for the first time in north-eastern India
  • Ring wells which appeared first under the Mauryas in the Gangetic plains spread beyond the heart of the empire.
  • In Bangladesh, where we find the Mahasthana inscription in Bogra district in Maurya Brahmi, we find NBPW at Bangarh in Dinajpur district.
  • NBPW sherds have also been found at some places, such as Chandraketugarh in the 24 Parganas, in West Bengal.
  • Gangetic associations can be attributed to settlements at Sisupalgarh in Orissa
  • Since Sisupalgarh is situated near Dhauli and Jaugada, where Ashokan inscriptions have been found on the ancient highway passing along the eastern coast of India material culture may have reached this area as a result of contact with Magadha.
  • The art of making steel may have spread through Maurya contacts in some parts of the country.


  • 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 B C Several causes seem to have brought about the decline and fall of the Maurya Empire
  • The Maurya Empire was finally destroyed by Pushyamitra Shunga in 185 B C
  • Although a brahmana, he was a general of the last Maurya king called Brihadratha
  • The hungas ruled in Pataliputra and central India. The Shungas performed several Vedic sacrifices in order to mark the revival of the brahmanical way of life. It is said that they persecuted the Buddhists
  • They were succeeded by the Kanvas who were also brahmanas.

NCERT Extracts - The Mauryas Empire

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