Mauryan Empire – Art & Architecture – Mauryan Administration – Edicts of Ashoka

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Mauryan Empire (321 – 184 BC)

Literary Sources

Kautilya’s Arthashastra

  • Written in Sanskrit by Chanakya who is also known by few other names such as Kautilya / Vishnugupta / Indian Machiavelli
  • The book Contains 15 books & 180 chapters; with main theme divided into 3 parts
    • King & his council and departments of government
    • criminal law and Civil
    • Diplomacy of war

Vishakadatta’s Mudra-Rakshasa

  • A drama in Sanskrit written during Gupta’s period
  • Describes how Chandragupta Maurya with the help of Kautilya overthrew Nandas
  • Gives socio – economic picture of condition under Maurya

Megasthenes Indica

  • Megasthenes was a Greek ambassador of Seleucus I Nicator of the Seleucid dynasty to Chandragupta Maurya.
  • He described India in his book Named Indika which is an account of Mauryan India by Megasthenes. The original book is now lost, but its fragments have survived in later Greek and Latin works.

Ceylonese Chronicles

  • Ceylonese chronicles “Dipavamsa & Mahavamsa” throw light on Ashoka’s role in spreading Buddhism in Srilanka

Edicts of Ashoka

  • Inscriptions of Ashoka were 1st deciphered by James Prinsep in 1837
  • Brahmi scripts were used for writing edicts, particularly Pali & Prakrit.
  • In N-W India Ashoka’s inscriptions were also found in Kharosthi script
  • Name Ashoka occurs only in few minor edicts such as Maski, Girnar, Karnataka & Madhya Pradesh.
  • Other edicts mention him as “Devampriya Priyadasi” which means dear to Gods
  • Famous Sanchi Stupa & Sarnath Pillar constitutes to Ashoka’s rein

Chandragupta Maurya

  • Chandragupta Maurya Founded Mauryan Empire by defeating Nandas with the help of Kautilya.
  • In 305 BC, Chandragupta Maurya defeated Seleucus Nicator the commander in chief of Alexander the great.
  • A treaty was signed, according to which, Seleucus gave Chandragupta eastern Afghanistan, Baluchistan & area west of Indus & in return Chandragupta gifted 500 elephants to Seleucus & married his daughter.
  • Megasthenes was sent to Mauryan court as a Greek ambassador

Chandragupta embraced Jainism towards the end of his life & stepped down from the throne in favor of his son Bindusara. He went to Mysore along with Jain monks led by Bhadrabagu & starved himself to death.


  • Bindusara Was called “Amitragatha” which means Slayer of enemies by the Greeks
  • He Conquered Deccan up to Mysore
  • Nicator’s successor Antiochus 1 replaced Megasthenes with Deimachus as a Greek ambassador at Mauryan court under Bindusara’s Patronage
  • Bindusara appointed Ashoka as the governor of Ujjain


  • Victorious war with Kalinga was the most important event of Ashoka’s reign & its effect on Ashoka has been described by Ashoka himself in rock edict 13
  • As an effect of Kalinga war, Ashoka embraced Buddhism under the influence of Buddhist monk “Upagupta / Mogaliputra Tissa”
  • Abandoned policy of physical conquest in favor of policy of cultural conquest (Bherigosha replaced by Dhammagosa) as mentioned on rock pillar 13
  • Appointed a class of administrative officers known as “Rajukas” vested with the power of rewarding & punishing people, wherever necessary
  • Set up a very high ideal for himself as Paternal Kingship (Father of all)

Ashoka & Buddhism

Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism was gradual and not immediate as he first became a Sakya Upasaka (Lay disciple) & 2 ½ years later became a bikshu (Monk) & gave up hunting.

Constituted Dhammayatras to Sarnath and Bodh Gaya. He also appointed special officers called Dhamma Mahamantras to propagate Dhamma among various social groups.

Ashoka Sent his son Mahendra & daughter Sangamitra to Srilanka who planted branches of original Bodhi tree there.

The traditional reason for convening the Third Buddhist Council is reported to have been to rid the Sangha of corruption and bogus monks who held heretical views. It was presided over by the elder monk Mogaliputra-Tissa

Mauryan Administration

Central Government

  • Monarchy was supported by Kautilya however he did not stand for royal absolutism & advocated king to take advice of his ministry in running the administration
  • A council of ministers called Mantri parishad assisted the king in administration matters.
  • Civil servants known as “amatyas” were appointed to look after day to day administration & their selection method was given by Kautilya

Revenue Department

  • “Samharta”, the chief of revenue department was in charge of collection of all revenues of the department
  • “Sannidhata”, Chief custodian of state treasury & store house

Commerce & Industry

  • Commerce & industry (Custom duties, Foreign affairs, Weight & measure etc.) was controlled by officers known as “Adhyakshas”

Provincial & Local administration

  • Mauryan Empire was divided into 4 provinces with capitals at:
    • Taxila
    • Ujjain
    • Suvarnagiri
    • Tosali
  • District administration was under the charge of “Rajukas”, who in turn were assisted by “Yuktas” or subordinate officials
  • Village administration was in hand of “Gramani “ & his official supervisors called “Gopa” (Head of 10 – 15 villages)ac

Art & Architecture

  • Ashoka is often credited with the beginning of stone architecture in India, possibly following the introduction of stone-building techniques by the Greeks after Alexander the Great
  • Lion Capital of Ashoka: The capital is carved out of a single block of polished sandstone, and was always a separate piece from the Ashoka pillar itself.
  • It features four Asiatic 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 whole structure sits upon an inverted bell-shaped lotus.
  • Barabar hills near Bodh Gaya were presented to Ajivikas by Ashoka & his son Dasratha forms wonderful piece of Mauryan architecture
  • Introduction of burnt bricks to make structures & ring wells along with use of spoked wheel for the 1sttime after Indus valley civilization
  • Abundance of pottery NBPW & punch marked coins were found of Mauryan era

Cause of fall of Mauryan Empire

  • Ashoka’s pro Buddhist policies along with prohibition of sacrifices & rituals antagonized Brahamanas who brought about a revolution led by Pushyamitra Sunga
  • Weak successors, Partition of empire, administrative abuses by Dustamatyas (Heavy taxes) after Ashoka’s reign led to the fall of empire
  • Widespread use of iron led to formation of new kingdoms & neglecting of N-W front by Mauryan also led to their downfall
  • Chinese ruler “Shih-Huang-Ti” constructed great wall of China to prevent its border against Scythians who were an Iranian equestrian tribe, but Mauryan did not do any such thing
  • Pushyamitra Sunga (Brahmana) killed last Mauryan emperor Brihadratha publicly & persecuted Buddhists and restarted Vedic rituals & sacrifices.

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