Mauryan Age
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Mauryan Age – UPSC Ancient History Notes

The Mauryan Age was a significant period in ancient Indian history, spanning from approximately 321 BCE to 185 BCE. This era was marked by the reign of the Mauryan Empire, which was the first empire to unify most of India under a single rule. The Mauryan dynasty was founded by Chandragupta Maurya and was ruled by a line of powerful emperors, including the legendary emperor Ashoka.

The Mauryan period was a time of political, economic, and cultural growth and development, and it saw the establishment of an extensive administrative and military system. The reign of the Mauryan Empire had a profound impact on the history of India, and its legacy continues to shape the country even today.

Origin and Expansion of the Mauryan Empire:

The Mauryan Empire was founded by Chandragupta Maurya after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE. Chandragupta first conquered the Punjab region from the southeastern edges of Alexander’s former empire, after which he focused his military efforts toward the east and the south. By the end of his reign, he had successfully extended his empire across northern India.

His son Bindusara continued the expansion of the empire, extending it well into the Deccan region, which is today known as Karnataka. The next ruler, Ashoka, son of Bindusara, added the Kalinga region to the already vast empire. However, the brutal conquest of Kalinga led Ashoka to abandon military conquests and embrace Buddhism, instituting dharma as the state ideology.

After Ashoka’s death, the empire shrank due to invasions from outside forces, defections by southern princes, and disputes over the succession of power. The last ruler of the Mauryan Empire, Brihadratha, was killed in 185 BCE by his Brahman commander-in-chief, Pushyamitra, who then founded the Shunga dynasty. The Shunga dynasty ruled central India for about a century.

Mauryan Empire – Timeline in Pointers

  • Chandragupta Maurya:
    • Conquered the Punjab region after the death of Alexander the Great.
    • Extended the empire across northern India.
  • Bindusara:
    • Continued the expansion of the empire into the Deccan.
  • Ashoka:
    • Added Kalinga to the empire.
    • Abandoned military conquest and embraced Buddhism, instituting dharma as the state ideology.
  • The decline of the empire:
    • After Ashoka’s death.
    • Due to invasions, defections, and disputes over the ascension
  • Last Ruler: Brihadratha
    • Killed by Pushyamitra, the Brahman commander in chief
  • Pushyamitra:
    • Founded the Shunga dynasty
    • Ruled in central India for a century.

Chandragupta Maurya

Chandragupta Maurya was the founder of the Mauryan dynasty in ancient India and is considered one of the most remarkable rulers in Indian history. He was born in 340 BCE and lived to become one of India’s greatest emperors.

Chandragupta’s first major victory was over the Greeks, who were attempting to establish a foothold in the Indian subcontinent. In 305 BCE, he defeated the Greek army led by Seleucus Nicator, one of Alexander the Great’s former generals, at the Battle of Ipsus. This victory marked the end of Greek influence in India and established Chandragupta as a powerful ruler in the region. Despite the defeat, the Seleucids and the Mauryans maintained friendly relations.

Chandragupta’s next significant victory was over the Nanda dynasty, which was then ruling over northern India. With the help of Chanakya, his advisor, Chandragupta overthrew the Nanda dynasty and established the Mauryan Empire. The Nanda dynasty was known for its wealth and military power, and its defeat marked the rise of the Mauryan dynasty as the dominant power in northern India.

In addition to his victories in northern India, Chandragupta also conquered southern India and extended his empire to cover a significant portion of the subcontinent. He defeated the ruler of the Pandyan kingdom and expanded his empire to the southernmost parts of India. He is credited with unifying the Indian subcontinent and establishing a centralized administration, which helped to maintain stability and prosperity.

He established a strong military, with a standing army of 600,000 soldiers, and a well-organized bureaucracy, which was instrumental in maintaining order and collecting taxes. He also implemented a uniform system of weights and measures and standardized currency, which helped to boost trade and commerce. He was a patron of the arts and literature and promoted the spread of Buddhism, which became a major religion in India during his reign.

Jain sources suggest that at the end of his life, Chandragupta converted to Jainism and abdicated the throne in favor of his son. He is said to have traveled to Sravana Belgola in Karnataka, accompanied by Bhadrabahu, a Jain saint, and other monks. Chandragupta Maurya was renowned for his military prowess, empire-building skills, and excellent administration. He was the first significant historical emperor of India and is considered the first ruler to unify the Indian subcontinent.

Ashoka – the Great Mauryan Ruler

Ashoka (273 BC – 232 BC) was the son of the Indian emperor Bindusara and showed remarkable administrative skills from an early age. Impressed with his abilities, Bindusara appointed him as the governor of the province of Ujjain/Avanti.

  • The 13th Major Rock Edict of Ashoka mentions the Battle of Kalinga, which took place in the 8th year of his reign and resulted in a profound change in Ashoka’s personality and beliefs.
  • The edict states that the bloodshed in the war had a deep impact on Ashoka, causing him to abandon the policy of military conquest and adopt the policy of Dhammavijaya, promoting non-violence and Buddhist principles.
  • In this edict, Ashoka considers the spread of Dhamma to be his greatest victory, marking a shift from military conquests to the spread of Buddhist teachings.
  • He considered Dhammavijaya to be a victory achieved through non-violent means and a more virtuous path to governance.
  • Before embracing Buddhism, Ashoka followed the Brahmin religion, but after the Kalinga war, he converted to Buddhism and became a Bhikshu Gatik, a lay follower.
  • He defined his principles of Dhamma in his 2nd and 7th pillar edicts, promoting non-violence, respect for elders, good behavior with slaves and servants, and a simple lifestyle.
  • Ashoka was the first ruler in world history to promote Dhamma imperialism, or the spread of Buddhist principles, without violence.
  • He appointed a new category of ministers called “Dhammamahamatra” to carry out this policy, as well as other officials such as Yukta, Rajukka, and Pradeshika.
  • In his 5th Major Rock Edict, Ashoka mentions the appointment of these officials in the 13th year of his reign (256 BC).
  • Ashoka’s contributions to the spread of Buddhism and his principles of non-violence have made him a revered figure in Indian history. He is remembered for being a great ruler who brought unity to the Indian subcontinent and promoted principles of peace and compassion.

Mauryan Society

The Mauryan Society was structured by the Varna system, which was fully established during the reign of the Mauryas.

  • The Varna system consisted of four classes: Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra.
  • The occupations and responsibilities of individuals were determined by their Varna.
  • Additionally, Kautilya’s Arthashastra mentions the existence of Varnashankaras, such as Nishad, Magadh, Sut, Veg, Chandals, among others, who were considered to be Shudras.

There is no mention of the Sati system in Kautilya’s works. However, according to the ancient historian Strabo, the practice of Sati was prevalent among the Kath tribes of Punjab.

In terms of entertainment and amusement, Mauryan society offered various options such as hunting, acting, magic, drama, and painting. Citizens also participated in social gatherings, such as Vihara-yatra, Samaj, and Pravahana, to enjoy themselves. Pravahana, in particular, was a social function that involved a gathering of people for entertainment and leisure.

Mauryan Art and Architecture

The Mauryan empire was renowned for its impressive court art and grand royal buildings.

  • The Greek historian Megasthenes described the palaces of the Mauryan empire as one of the greatest creations of mankind and the Chinese traveler Fa-Hian referred to them as god-gifted monuments, not built by humans.
  • According to Megasthenes, the capital city of Patliputra had 64 entrances and 570 towns.
  • One of the most iconic symbols of the Mauryan empire are the majestic free-standing Ashokan pillars, which symbolize the axis of the world that separates heaven and earth.
  • These pillars were mainly used by Ashoka for the propagation of Dhamma.
  • The first Ashokan pillar was discovered in Vaishali and is known as the Koluha Pillar.
  • In terms of art and architecture, the Sarnath pillar of Ashoka is considered the best example of Mauryan art.
  • The pillars were decorated with various motifs, including lions, elephants, bulls, and four lions.
    • The lion motif appears on the pillars of Vaishali, Lauriya Nandangarh, and Rampurva, while an elephant capital was found at Sankisha.
    • The bull motif was found on the Rampurva pillars, and the four lion motif is found on the Sarnath and Sanchi pillars.

Caves Architecture in Mauryan Period

The Mauryan era marked the inception of rock-cut cave architecture in India.

  • The Barabar and Nagarjuni hills are home to several caves that were constructed by the influential rulers Ashoka and Dasharatha.
  • Despite their simplicity, these caves boast highly polished interiors and feature a unique form of ornamentation in the form of a relief carving on the entrance of the Lomas Rishi Cave.
  • These caves were gifted by Ashoka and Dashratha to the Ajivaka sect, a group of ancient Indian ascetics.
  • It is worth noting that the caves of the Barabar and Nagarjuni hills are considered significant not only for their architectural and historical value, but also for their contribution to the spread of Buddhism in ancient India.
  • Ashoka, a devout Buddhist, supported the creation of these caves as places of refuge and meditation for Buddhist monks and ascetics.
    • This reflects his commitment to promoting and supporting the Buddhist faith, which he saw as a means of promoting peace, harmony, and compassion in society.
  • Additionally, the caves also served as places for the storage of Buddhist scriptures, further highlighting their importance in the spread and preservation of Buddhism.

Mauryan Stupas

  • Stupas, also known as Buddhist mounds, have a long history in India dating back to the Vedic period.
  • These structures consist of a cylindrical drum, a circular dome, and a Harmika and Chhatra at the top.
  • A circular terrace called the medhi, surrounded by a railing, surrounds the dome, on which people circumambulate in a clockwise direction.
  • The entire structure is enclosed by a low wall called the Vedika, which is punctuated at the four cardinal points by Toranas or gateways.
  • One of the most famous Ashokan stupas is the Sanchi Stupa located in Madhya Pradesh, while the oldest stupa is the Piprahwa Stupa in Uttar Pradesh. Other important stupas built by Ashoka include the Bharhut Stupa, the Dharmarajjika Stupa at Sarnath and Taxila, the Bodhgaya Stupa, and the Bairat Stupa.
  • The reign of Ashoka marked a significant stage in the history of Buddhist stupas, as he was a devout supporter of Buddhism and funded the construction of several important stupas across India.
  • These stupas served not only as memorials for the deceased but also as centers for Buddhist religious practices and the preservation of Buddhist scriptures.
  • They remain important religious and historical sites for Buddhists to this day, attracting thousands of visitors and pilgrims every year.

Mauryan Viharas

Viharas were an integral part of the Buddhist monastic tradition in ancient India and were originally built to provide shelter for monks during the rainy season, when it was difficult for them to continue their itinerant lifestyle.

  • The Viharas served as residences for the monks, providing them with a place to live, meditate, and perform religious ceremonies.
  • In the city of Patliputra, the great ruler Ashoka built two significant Viharas, the Ashokaram Vihara and the Kakuttaram Vihara.
  • These Viharas represented Ashoka’s support for Buddhism and his commitment to providing for the needs of the Buddhist monastic community.

Mauryan Folk Art

The Mauryan period was a time of significant artistic and cultural achievement in ancient India.

  • This period saw the emergence of several new forms of art, including stone sculpture and terracotta figurines.
  • Stone sculptures from the Mauryan period were typically carved from soft sandstone and depicted a wide range of figures, including Yaksha and Yakshi figures, as well as scenes from Hindu mythology and daily life.
  • Some of the largest and most impressive stone sculptures from this period have been found in and around the cities of Patna and Mathura, and many of these works are now housed in museums and galleries around the world.
  • Terracotta figurines were another popular form of folk art during the Mauryan period, and these small sculptures were used to decorate homes and religious shrines.
  • They depicted a wide range of figures, including male and female figures, as well as animals and carts, and they provide valuable insights into the daily life and cultural beliefs of the Mauryan people.
  • Pottery was also an important form of folk art during the Mauryan period, and the pottery produced is generally referred to as Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW).
  • The high-quality, glossy black pottery was widely used and highly prized, and it was produced in large quantities in the cities of Kosambi and Patliputra.
  • NBPW pottery is considered to be among the finest examples of ancient Indian pottery and is highly valued by collectors and museums around the world.

Mauryan Economy

The Mauryan economy was primarily based on agriculture, with revenue primarily generated from land tax.

  • The revenue was collected in both cash and kind and was managed by the state through a revenue system and taxation.
  • The royal share of the produce of the soil was known as Bhaga, which was typically one-sixth of the total produce.
  • There were two types of lands in the Mauryan empire: state land (Rajkiya Bhoomi) and private land (Niji Bhoomi).
  • State land was used for agriculture, with farmers keeping half of the produce or one-third or one-fourth, depending on whether they used their own seeds and farming tools.
  • Private land was owned by the farmers, who paid one-fourth or one-sixth as tax to the state.
  • Taxation was collected by Rajukkas, who measured the land.
  • There were tax-free villages known as Pariharaka and tax-free land known as Udwalik or Parihar.
  • The state also imposed other sources of income, including toll tax, trade tax, forest tax, tax on intoxicants, mine tax, irrigation tax, and others.
  • However, some groups of people were exempt from taxes, such as Brahmanas, students, women, blind, deaf, and others.
  • The Mauryan economy also had a concept of emergency tax known as Pranay tax, which could only be imposed once during the reign of a king, according to Kautilya.

Mauryan Agriculture

Agriculture was the most significant aspect of the economy during the Mauryan period.

  • According to Kautilya, there were three crops harvested in a year, while Megasthenese mentioned two types of crops.
  • The economy relied on agriculture, animal husbandry, and trade, collectively referred to as Varta.
  • The shift towards agriculture as the primary economic activity was completed during the Mauryan era.
  • The main crops cultivated were rice, barley, millet, and wheat, along with references to sugarcane, fruits, and vegetables.

Mauryan Industries

  • Industries
    • The prime industry during the Mauryas was spinning and weaving
      • Madura, Aparant, Kalinga, Kashi, Vatsa, and Mahishmati are mentioned as important cotton textile centres in Kautilya’s Arthashastra.
    • In the same context, Kautilya mentions the linen fabrics of Kasi and Pundra.
    • As regards costlier textiles, there were references to silk cloth. Kautilya mentions Kauseya along with the Chinese fabric of Chinese manufacture.
    • The manufacture of wool was an old and indigenous industry. Kautilya refers to varieties of fabrics of sheep’s wool.

Mauryan Communication & Transport

  • Communication and Transport
    • Roads and ports were important ways of communication. There were mainly four roads:
      • Uttarapath– Purushpur to Tamralipti. According to Megasthenese, this road was 1300 miles long. It was constructed by Chandragupta Maurya and during the reign of Sher Shah Suri this road was known as Sadak-iazam. During the time of Lord Auckland it was known as Grand Trunk Road.
  • Dakshinapath– Shravasti to Pratishthan.
  • The third road connected Bhrigukacch to Mathura.
  • The fourth road began from Champa to Kaushambi.

Mauryan Ports

Ports played a crucial role in the Mauryan economy. Some of the important ports were:

  1. Barbairikam is located in Sindh.
  2. Bhrigukacch (Bharoach), known as Berigaja by the Greeks.
  3. Sopra. These three ports were situated in the western parts of the empire, with Tamralipti being the major port on the eastern side.
  4. Kautilya in his Arthashastra mentions an import duty of 10% on imported goods.
  5. The state was directly involved in trade and commerce and had a monopoly over certain products such as wine, salt, mines, ships, forests, etc.

Mauryan Trade and Commerce

During the Mauryan period, external trade was conducted with countries such as Syria, Egypt, Greece, etc. in the west. After the conquest of Kalinga and its sea port on the eastern coast of India, trade was carried out with South-East Asia and China.

The primary exports included spices, pearls, diamonds, sandalwoods, ivory, cotton cloth, silk yarn, muslin, etc. The main imports were linen, silver, gold, dry fruits, etc.

Mining and metallurgy were also significant aspects of the Mauryan economy, with the state having a monopoly over these industries, which was a source of significant income. The superintendent of mining, known as Akradhyaksha, was responsible for finding new mines and reopening old and inactive ones.

Mauryan Coins

The Mauryan economy used a variety of coins, as described in Kautilya’s Arthashastra. These included gold coins called “Nishaka/Suvarna,” silver coins called “Karshapan/ Dharan/ Pann,” and copper coins called “Mashak/ kakini.”

There were state-run minting factories, with the head known as Lakshanadhyaksha, and the examiner of coins was known as Rupdarshaka. The economic year of the Mauryas started in July.

In addition to these, there were also punch-marked coins that had images such as snakes, peacocks, and trees punched into them. These coins did not have any written information or inscriptions.

Mauryan Administration

The Mauryan administration was well organized, with details described in both Megasthenes’s Indica and Kautilya’s Arthashastra. The king was the head of state and held legislative, executive, and judicial power. He was also the supreme commander of the army and worked with the Commander-in-chief to plan military operations.

The king was assisted by a council of ministers, which was headed by Mantriparishadadhyaksha.

Mantriparishada was also the head of the civil servants called Adhyakshas or Amatyas.

  • These civil servants kept in touch with all sections of society and made up a highly skilled secretariat that was divided into several departments, including the
    • Royal Treasury (Sannidhata)
    • Mines Superintendent (Akaradhyaksha)
    • Gold Superintendent (Suvarnaadhyaksha)
    • Commerce Superintendent (Panyaadhyaksha)
    • Forest Officer (Kupyadhyaksha)
    • Salt Department (Lavanadhyaksha), and
    • Agriculture (Sitadhyaksha).

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