Maurya Period (322 BC-185 BC) Sources for Mauryan History

I. Literary Sources

1. Kautilya's 'Arthasastra': It is the most important literary source for the Mauryas. It is a treatise on government and polity. It gives a clear and methodological analysis of the political and economic conditions of the Mauryan period.

2. Megasthenese's 'Indica': Megasthenese was the ambassador of Seleucus Nikator in the court of Chandragupta Maurya. His 'Indica' is foremost among all the foreigners' accounts for Maurya. But its original copy is lost, and it has survived only as quotations in the text of classical Greek writers, such as Strabo, Diodorous, Arrian, Plutarch and, Latin writers such as Pliny and Justin. It refers to Mauryan administration, 7-caste system, absence of slavary and usuary in India, etc.

3. Visakha Datta's 'Mudra Rakshasa': Though it was written during Gupta Period, it describes how Chandragupta Maurya get Chanakya's assistance to overthrow the Nandas. Besides this, it gives an excellent account of the prevailing socio-economic conditions.

4. Puranas: Though they are a collection of legends interspersed with religious teachings, they give us the chronology and lists of Mauryan kings.

5. Buddhist Literature: 
  • Indian Buddhist text Jatakas (a part of Khuddaknikaya of Suttapitaka which describes 549 stories of Buddha's previous births) reveal a general picture of socio-economic conditions of the Mauryan period. 
  • Ceylonese Buddhist chronicles Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa describe the part played by Ashoka in spreading Buddhism to Sri Lanka.
  • Tibetan Buddhist text Divyavadana gives information about Ashoka and his efforts to spread Buddhism.

II. Archaeological Sources

1. Ashokan Edicts and inscriptions: There are Rock Edicts, Pillar Edicts and Cave Inscriptions located at several places in the Indian sub-continent. Their importance came to be appreciated only after their desperation by James Princep in 1837 and also the identification of Ashoka as the author of these edicts in the beginning of the 20th century. The majority of them are in the nature of Ashoka's proclamations to the public at large, and only a small group of them describe his own acceptance of Buddhism and his relationship with the Sangha (Commune). Though Prakrit was the language used in them, the script varied from region to region (Kharoshti in the North-West, Greek and Aramaic in the West and Brahmi in the East of India).

2. Other Inscriptions: Junagadh Rock Inscription of Rudradaman, Sohgaura Copper Plate Inscription in Gorakhpur district of U.P., Mahasthan Inscription in Bogra district of Bangladesh. - All these are directly concerned with the Mauryan Period, though they are believed to be not necessarily those of Ashoka.

3. Material Remains: Wooden palace of Chandragupta Maurya, Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW), Silver and Copper punch-marked coins found in Kumharar (Patna) and other places are the material remains of the Mauryan period.

1. Ashokan Edicts and Inscriptions---> 14 Major Rock Edicts

2. Contents------> Various Principles of Dhamma

3. Found at------> Manshera (Hazara, Pakistan) Shahbajgarhi (Peshwar, Pakisttan), Kalsi (Dehradun, Uttarakhand), Junagadh (Girnar, Gujarat), Sopara (Thana, Maharashtra), Yerragudi (Kumul, Andhra Pradesh), Dhauli (Puri, Orissa), Jaugada (Ganjam, Orissa)

1. Ashokan Edicts and Inscriptions---> 2 Kalinga Rock Edicts

2. Contents------> New system of administration after the Kalinga war

3. Found at------> Dauli or Tosali (Puri, Orrisa), Jaugada(Ganjam, Orissa)

1. Ashokan Edicts and Inscriptions---> Minor Rock Edicts

2. Contents------> Personal history of Ashoka and summary of his dhamma

3. Found at------> Sasaram(Bihar), Maski (Andhra Pradesh), Bhabru-Bairat (Rajasthan), Rupanath(MP), Gavimath,  Palkig-undu, Siddhpur, Jating

Rameshwar, Brahmagiri (Karnataka)

1. Ashokan Edicts and Inscriptions---> Bhabru-Bairat Rock Edicts

2. Contents------> Ashoka' conversion to Buddhism

3. Found at------> Bhabru-Bairat (Rajasthan)

1. Ashokan Edicts and Inscriptions---> 7 Pillar Edicts

2. Contents------> Appendix to rock Edicts

3. Found at------> Merrut-Delhi (Chhoti Lata), Topra- Delhi (Badi Lata), Allahabad (UP); Lauriya Nandangadh, Lauriya Areraj and Rampurva (Bihar)

1. Ashokan Edicts and Inscriptions---> 4 Minor Pillar Edicts

2. Contents------> Signs of Ashoka's fanaticism to Dhamma

3. Found at------> Sanchi (MP), Sarnath and Allahabad(UP)

1. Ashokan Edicts and Inscriptions---> 2 Tarai Pillar Edicts

2. Contents------> Ashoka's respect for Buddhism

3. Found at------> Rummandei / Lumbini and Nigaliva (Tarai of Nepal)

1. Ashokan Edicts and Inscriptions---> 3 Barabar Cave Edicts

2. Contents------> Ashoka's toleration

3. Found at------> Barabar Hills (Gaya, Bihar)

Ashokan 14 Major Rock Edicts


I.    Prohibition of animal sacrifices and festive gatherings.

II.   Measures of social welfare.

III.  Respect to Brahamanas.

IV. Courtesy to relatives, elders, consideration for animals.

V.    Appointment of Dhamma Mahamatras and their duties.

VI.  Need for efficient organization of administration (orders to Dhamma Mahamatras).

VII.Need for tolerance among all religious sects.

VIII.System of Dhamma-yatras.

IX. Attack on meaningless ceremonies and rituals.

X. Conquest through Dhamma instead of war.

XI. Explanation of Dhamma-policy.

XII.Appeal for tolerance among all religious sects.

XIII.Kalinga war, mention 5 contemporary Hellenic (Greek) kings.

XIV.Inspiration to spend religious life.

Origin of the Mauryas

1. The Puranas describe them as Shudras.

2. 'Mudrakshasa' of Vishakhadatta uses the terms Vrishal / Kulhina (of low clan).

3. The Classical writers, such as Justin, describe Chandragupta only as a man of humble origin.

4. The Junagarh Rock Inscription of Rudradaman (150 AD) has some indirect evidence, suggesting that the Mauryas might have been of Vaishya origin.

5. The Buddhist work, on the other hand, try to link the Mauryan dynasty with the Sakya Kshatriya clan to which Buddha belonged. According to them, the region from which the Mauryas came was full of peacocks (Mor), and hence they came to be known as 'Moriyags'. It is obvious, from this that the Buddhists were trying to elevate the social position of Ashoka (their patron) and his predecessors.

6. In conclusion, we can say that the Mauryas belonged to the Moriya tribe and were certainly of a low caste, though it is not clear as to which low caste.

Chandragupta Maurya: 322 BC-298 BC

1. Chandragupta dethroned the last Nanda ruler Dhananand and occupied Patliputra in 322 BC with the help of Kautilya (Chanakya).

2. In 305 BC, Chandragupta Maurya defeated Selecus Nikator, who surrendered a vast territory including Aria (herat) / Arachosia (Kandhar), Gedrosia (Baluchistan) and Paropanisade (Kabul), in return for 500 elephants. According to treaty between Chandragupta and Selecus, the Hindukush became boundry between their states.

3. Megasthenese was a Greek ambassador sent to the court of Chandragupta Maurya by Selecus Nikator.

4. Chandragupta became a jain and went to Chandragiri Hill, Sravanbelgola (Karnataka) with Bhadrabahu, where he died by slow starvation (Kaya-Klesha / Salekhan).

5. Under Chandragupta Maurya, for the first time, the whole of Northern India was united.

6. Trade flourished, agriculture was regulated, weights and measures were standardised and money came into use.

7. Taxation, sanitation and famine relief became the concerns of the state.

Bindusara : 298 BC-273 BC

1. Chandragupta Maurya was succeeded by his son Bindusara.

2. Bindusara, known to the Greeks as Amitrochates (derived from the Sanskrit word Amitraghata i.e. slayers of foes), is said to have carried his arms to the Deccan (upto Mysore).

3. Bindusara asked Antiochus I of Syria to send some sweet wine, dried figs and a sophist. Antiochus I sent wine and figs but politely replied that Greek philosphers are not for sale.

4. Bindusara patronised Ajivikas.

5. Ashoka fought the Kalinga war in 261 BC in 9th years of his coronation. The king was moved by the massacre in this war and therefore abandoned the policy of physical occupation in favour of policy of cultural conquest. In other words, Bherighosa was replaced by Dhammaghosa.

6. Ashoka was not an extreme pacifist. He did not pursue the policy of peace for sake of peace under all conditions. Thus, he retained Kalinga after his conquest and incorporated it into his empire.

7. Ashoka sent missionaries to the kingdoms of the Cholas and the Pandyas, and five states ruled by Greek kings (Antiochus II, Syria; Philadelphos Ptolemy II, Egypt; Antigonus, Mecedonia; Maggus, Syrina; Alexander, Epirus). We also know that he sent missionaries to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Suvarnbhumi (Burna) and also parts of South-East Asia.

Ashoka's Dhamma

1. Ashoka's Dhamma cannot be regarded as a sectarian faith. Its broad objective was to preserve the social order it ordained that people should obey their parents, pay respect to Brahmanas and Buddhist monks and show mercy to slaves and servants.

2. He held that if people behaved well they would attain Swarga (heaven). He did never say that they would attain Nirvana, which was the goal of Buddhist teachings.

Later Mauryas: 232 BC-185 BC

1. The Mauryan dynasty lasted 137 years.

2. Ashoka's death was followed by the division of the Mauryan Empire into two parts-Western and Eastern.

3. The Western part came to be ruled by Kunala (son of Ashoka) and the Eastern part came to be ruled by Dasaratha.

4. The last Mauryan ruler, Brihadratha, was assassinated in 185 BC by his commander-in-chief, Pushyamitra Sunga, who established his own Sunga dynasty.

5. Causes for the Decline: 

  • Highly centralized administration (Romila Thapar) 
  • Pacific policy of Ashoka (H.C. Raychaudhuri)
  • Brahmanical reaction (H.P. Sastri)

4. The partition of the Mauryan Empire

5. Weak later-Mauryan Rulers 

6. Pressure on Mauryan economy 

7. Neglect of North-West Frontier.

Ashoka: 273 BC-232 BC

1. It appears from the available evidence (Buddhist literature mainly) that there was a struggle for the throne among the princes on the death of Bindusara.

2. According to Buddhist tradition, Ashoka usurped.

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