Ancient Indian history: 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, and 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 cave, and
contained his ideas on matters such as religion, Government and peoples behavior
towards one another. These edicts are in the form of 44 royal
orders, which aim at molding the general behavior 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
Mauryan administration was highly centralized. 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, Pushyamitra Shunga, an
ambitious Commander-in-Chief of armed forces, overthrew the Mauryan
king. He started the Shunga dynasty in Magadha.
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