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The Mauryan Dynasty                 [322 BC - 185 BC]

 

The Mauryan empire was established under the leadership of Chandragupta Maurya (322 BC - 296 BC). Our knowledge of this period is derived from the writings of the Greek, Megasthenes, who wrote Indica. He wrote, not only about the capital city of Pataliputra, but also about the empire as a whole and about the splendour and order he saw. Chandragupta conspired with Chanakya, the minister of the Nandas, to overthrow the Nandas. After that, he negotiated with Seleucus Nicator, the Greek Viceroy of Alexander, who ceded eastern Afghanistan, Baluchistan and the area west of the Indus.

Under Chandragupta Maurya, the whole of northern India was united. Trade flourished, agriculture was regulated, weights and measures were standardized. Money first came into use. Taxation, sanitation and famine relief became the concerns of the State. His son and successor, Bindusara (296 BC - 273 BC), extended the kingdom further and conquered the south as far as Mysore.

His son, Ashoka (273 BC - 232 BC) won over Kalinga (265 BC) and under him, the Mauryan empire reached it's climax. For the first time, the whole of the sub-continent, leaving out the extreme south, was under imperial control. It is said that the conquest of Orissa resulted in 100,000 dead and 150,000 prisoners, while thousands died of pestilence and hunger. Stricken by remorse, Ashoka embraced Buddhism. He propagated Buddhism in the kingdoms of the Cholas and the Pandyas in South India, and five States ruled by Greek kings. We also know that he sent missionaries to Ceylon and Suvarnabhumi (Burma) and also parts of South East Asia.

He was the first ruler to maintain direct contact with his people through various edicts, which were composed in Prakrit and written in Brahmi. They were engraved on rocks, pillar and caves, and contained his ideas on matters such as religion, Government and peoples behaviour towards one another. These edicts are in the form of 44 royal orders, which aim at moulding the general behaviour of the people. Stone masonry was introduced on a wide scale. The emblem of the Indian Republic has been adopted from the four-lion capital of one of Ashoka's pillars.

Mauryan administration was highly centralised. The State maintained a huge standing army. Taxes were collected from various sources. The state brought new lands under cultivation and developed irrigation facilities. The famous Sudarshana lake was built. Under the Mauryans, the entire sub-continent was criss-crossed with roads. A royal highway connecting Taxila and Pataliputra was built - a road which survives to this day as the Grand Trunk road Mauryan artisans started the practice of hewing out caves from rocks for the monks to live in. The earliest examples are the Barabar hill caves near Gaya. Stupas were built throughout the empire to enshrine the relics of Buddha. Of these, the most famous are at Sanchi and Barhul.The Mauryan empire lasted a little over a century and broke up fifty years after the death of Ashoka. It was the weak successors of Ashoka who brought about its dismemberment. Slowly, the various princes of the empire began to break away and set up independent kingdoms. In 185 BC, the Mauryan king was overthrown by Pushyamitra Shunga, an ambitious Commander-in-Chief of armed forces. He started the Shunga dynasty in Magadha.

The Mauryan empire, which lasted barely two hundred years, ushered in a dream that was to survive and echo again and again in centuries to come.