Mauryan empire: Part-I

February 28, 2018

For Mauryan empire: Part-II (click here)

For Mauryan empire: Part-III (click here)






The Maurya empire was built on the foundations laid by the Nandas, the last Nanda king being Dhanananda.

Prominent rulers of the Mauryan empire:

  1. Chandragupta Maurya (324/321-297 BCE)

  2. Bindusara (297-273 BCE)

  3. Ashoka (268-232 BCE)


Chandragupta Maurya:

In Buddhist texts such as the Digha Nikaya, Mahavamsa and Divyavadana, the Mauryas are described to have belonged to a Kshatriya clan called the Moriyas, who ruled at Pipphalivana.

The Parishishtaparvan describes Chandragupta as the chief of the daughter of the chief of a village of peacock tamers (mayura-pakharas).

The Mudrarakshas refers to Chandragupta of being of low social origin.

The early medieval writers Kshemendra and Somadeva call him Purva-Nanda-suta (sone of a genuine Nanda).

Dhundiraja, a commentator of the Vishnu Purana, states that Chandragupta was the eldest son of Maurya, son of the Nanda king Sarvarthasiddhi, by Mura, daughter of a vrishala (hunter).

The background of these events was invasion of Alexander of Macedon in the north-west.

A poem in the Akananuru composed by the Sangam poet Mamulanar refers to an incident: The Koshar achieved many successes against their enemies. However, the Mokur did not submit to them, and so the Moriyas, who had a huge army, sent an expedition to assist them.

Another poem by Mamulanar states that the war-like Vadugar formed the vanguard of the Mauryan army as it marched southwards. Vadugar means "northerners" and refers to the people living in Andhra-Karnataka region, immediately to the north of the Tamil country.


Chandragupta and Jainism:

A number of places in Shravana Belgola hills have the word "Chandra" as their suffix. Jaina tradition speaks of the relationship between Chandragupta and Jaina saint Bhadrababu: mentioned in Brihatkathakosha of Harishena and 19th century Rajavali-kathe.

Inscriptions in the Shravana Belgola hills, dating between the 5th and 15th centuries CE mention a person named Chandragupta and Bhadrababu. The Junagarh inscription of Rudraraman indicates that Chandragupta's conquests extended up to Saurashtra in Gujarat.

  • Karnataka: At Shravana Belgola, a picturesque town, the emperor is said to have passed his final days in austerity and devotions. A hill called Chandragiri, he is said to have resided and pursue Sallekhana.

The Mahabhashya refers to Chandragupta's successor as Amitraghata. The Divyavadana refers to Ashoka putting down a revolt in Taxila due to the activities of wicked ministers.

Bindusara wanted his son Susima to succeed him, but Ashoka was supported by his father's ministers. A minister named Radhagupta seems to have played an important role.

The Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa refer to Ashoka killing 99 brothers, sparing only one, named Tissa.


The Ashokavadana states that Ashoka's mother was a queen named Subhadrangi (Janapadakalyani), daughter of a Brahmana of Champa. The Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa tell the story of Ashoka and Devi, daughter of a merchant of Vidisha.

Devi went on to become the mother of Ashoka's celebrated children, Mahinda and Sanghamitra, both of whom eventually joined Buddhist sangha.

Texts refer to other queens such as Asandhimitta, Tissarakhita and Padmavati.

An inscription on the Allahabad-Kosam pillar mentions gifts made by the queen Karuvaki.

Ashoka's inscriptions have also been found at Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Literature: Major Sources for the Maurya Period.

  1. Kautilya's Arthashastra:

  2. Megasthenes Indica.

  3. Ashoka's Inscriptions.

  4. Archaeological and Numismatic Evidences.

I. Kautilya's Arthashastra: Basic Background:

  1. Arthashastra states very categorically that Artha is superior to Dharma and Karma because the latter are dependent on it.

  2. Arthashastra is the branch of learning that deals with the means of the acquisition and protection of the earth, which is the source of people's livelihood. Arthashastra is thus the Science of Statecraft.

  3. It consisted of 15 books (Adhikaranas).

    1. First five deal with internal administration (Tantra).

    2. Next eight with interstate relations (avapa).

    3. Last two with miscellaneous topics.

  4. Entire discussion of the statecraft is from the point of vijigishu - the would be conqueror, who desire to conquer the entire subcontinent. Arthashastra doesn't contain any references to the Mauryas, their empire, Chandragupta or Pataliputra. This might be because it is theoretical, not a descriptive work.

  5. Arthashastra is earlier than Vatsyanana's Kamasutra, Yajnavalkya's Smriti and Manusmriti.

  6. Visnugupta is the name of the author, Kautilya his gotra name and Chanakya (Son of Chanaka) a patronym.

Saptanga Rajya: It considers the state as consisting of seven inter-related and interlocking constituent limbs or elements (angas or prakritis):

  1. Svami (Lord/King):

    1. "In the happiness of his subjects lies the happiness of the king and what is beneficial to the subjects his benefit. He shall not consider as good only that which pleases him, but treat as beneficial to himself whatever pleases his subjects" (Arthashastra).

    2. Other than the treatise on acquiring, maintaining, enhancing political power, Arthashastra talks about the moral obligations of the King towards his subjects like protecting (Rakshana-palana) the person and property of his subjects and ensuring their welfare and prosperity (Yoga-kshema).

    3. King should protect his people from deceitful artisans, traders, thieves, murderers, and natural calamities.

    4. King should maintain helpless children, old people, childless women, and other persons in distress.

    5. King needs to protect social order as defined under Varnashrama dharma.

    6. Also, King lives in a vulnerable world and has to exercise extreme vigilance to safeguard his life and position.

    7. Ashoka added the paternalistic attitude of the king.

  2. Amatya (Ministers).

    1. Arthashastra mentions a small consultative body of mantris called the mantri-parishad.

    2. Arthashastra also talks about a larger body of variable number called the mantri-parishad which included executive heads of department. King must be accessible to officials at all times.

    3. Some important Positions:

      1. Chief collector of Revenue- Samaharti

      2. Treasurer and incharge of royal stones- Samnidhatri.

      3. Chief of Palace attendants - Dauvarika.

      4. Chief of Palace guards - Antaravamshika.

      5. Departmental heads - Adhyakshas.

      6. Record cum audit office - Akshapatala.

      7. Royal priest - Purohita.

      8. Mahatamas.

        1. Anta-mahatama: Mahatamas in charge of the frontier areas.

        2. Itthijhakka-mahatamas: Mahatamas in charge of women's welfare.

        3. Dhamma Mahatamas: To spread dhamma all over the empire.

      9. Pativedakas and Pulisani who were responsible for keeping the King informed of public opinion.

  3. Janapada (Territory of the people):

    1. Magesthenes' account of city administration applied to Patliputra. It mentions 6 committees of 5 members each, in charge of following aspects:

      1. Industrial arts

      2. Entertainment and surveillance of foreigners

      3. Maintaining records of birth and death

      4. Trade and commerce

      5. Supervising public sale of goods.

      6. Collection of tax on merchandise sold in the market

    2. The nagalaviyohalaka-mahamatas of Ashokan inscriptions were associated with city administration.

  4. Durga (Fortified capital).

    1. Kautilya recommends a series of frontier posts placed under officials known as antapalas.

    2. The four divisions of the army-infantry, cavalry, chariots and elephants-should be placed under officials known as the patyadhyaksha, ashvadhyaksha, rathadhyaksha and hastyadhyaksha

  5. Kosha (Treasury):

    1. Lists agriculture, animal husbandry and trade as peoples' main occupation.

    2. Land was the main resource and source of revenue for the state.

    3. The kshetrika (owner of the land) is different from the upavasa (tenant of the land).

    4. Kautilya refers to various kinds of sharecroppers working on the state-owned land, that is, ardhasitikas, who kept half the produce and svaviryopajivins (those who kept 1/4th-1/5th of produce). Urban taxes included shukla: duties on imported and exported goods and excise duty on local manufacturers. Taxes were realised in cash and kind.

    5. The dues in the form of grains should be kept as buffer stock to be used in times of food shortage.

    6. Kautilya describes forests, pastures, and mines as state property. Mines, under an officer called the akaradhyakshai, were considered especially important.

    7. The king grant land unsuitable for agriculture in the wilderness to ascetics for the study of the Veda and the performance of soma sacrifices. It also advocates tax-free and hereditary grants of land to Brahmanas and priests such as the ritvig, acharya and purohita.

    8. Minor pillar edict 3 on the Allahabad-Kosam pillar refers to gifts of mango groves, gardens, and alms houses by queen Karuvaki, while inscriptions in the Barabar and Nagarjuni hills record gifts of caves by Ashoka and his successor Dashratha to the Ajivikas.

    9. The Arthashastra mentions shunyanivesha-establishing settlements on unoccupied land.

    10. Kautilya calls for strict control over trade and market. An officer called panyadhyaksha was in charge of trade, including the price fixation and the sale of goods produced by state-run manufacturing units.

    11. The sansthadhyaksha was the superintendent of markets, rupadarshaka the inspector of coins, and the pautavadhyaksha was in charge of ensuring the use of standardised weights and measures.

    12. The Arthashastra advocates strict control over artsans' guilds.

    13. State-run workshops were to be placed under a sutradhyaksha and chariot workshops under a rathadhyaksha.

  6. Danda (Justice or Force): Nature of the punishment depended on the nature, gravity, and circumstances of the crime, and also on the varna of the offender and plaintiff.

    1. Can be understood as force or justice.

    2. If a Kshatriya has sexual relations with an unguarded Brahmana woman, he was to pay highest fine.

    3. If a Vaishya does that, his entire property was to be confiscated.

    4. If a Shudra has done that, he should be burnt in a fire of straw.

  7. Mitra (Ally).

  1. Kautilya's discussion of inter-state policy is from the point of vijigishu- the would-be conqueror.

  2. He talks about the circle of kings (raja-mandala). The four principle players: vijigishu, ari (enemy), madhyama (the middle king), and udasina (the indifferent, neutral king)

  3. He also lists 6 policies (shad-gunya) that the king should follow in different circumstances.

  4. If one is weaker than the enemy, the policy of sandhi (making a peace treaty).

  5. If one is stronger than the enemy, the policy of vigraha (hostility).

  6. If one is equal to the enemy, the policy of asana (keeping quiet).

  7. If one is much stronger than the enemy, the policy of yana (the process of military expedition).

  8. If one is very weak, the policy of samshraya (seeking shelter in another's fort).

  9. If one can fight with the enemy with the help of an ally, then the double policy of dvaidhibhava (sandhi with one king and vigraha with another).

To be continued...

Please reload

Please reload

About us:

Follow us on:

  • Facebook Social Icon
  • YouTube Social  Icon
  • Instagram Social Icon


Pursuit IAS is a knowledge portal which seeks to bring quality education to students in easily accessible manner so that students don't get excluded from competition due to their financial or spatial constraints. We seek to provide an equal platform to students from all backgrounds.