History : The Mauryan Empire

History : The Mauryan Empire

The Mauryan empire was the first and one of the greatest empires that were established on the Indian soil. The growth of Magadha culmi nated in the emergence, of the Mauryan Empire. Chandragupta Maurya, who founded the empire (321 BCE), extended control as far northwest as Afghanistan and Baluchistan, and his grandson Ashoka, arguably the most famous ruler of early India, conquered Kalinga (present-day coastal Orissa). Chandragupta Maurya was the first ruler who unified entire India under one political unit.
Length of reign years
  Date BC
 321 -297
 297- 272
272- 228
228 -220
220 -211
211 -198
198 -191
 191 - 183
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Chandragupta Maurya (321-297 BC)

In 305 BC Chandragupta defeated Seleucus Nikator, who surrendered a vast territory. Megasthenese was a Greek ambassador sent to the court of Chandragupta Maurya by Seleucus.
He occupied the region north of the Narmada (d) But 305 BC saw him in the campaign against Seleucus Nikator with the treaty of 303 B.C. concluding the war in favour of the Mauryas. By the treaty, Chandragupta made a gift of 500 elephants to Seleucus and obtained the trans-Indus region (the territory across the Indus).
Chandragupta became a Jain and went to Sravanbelgola with Bhadrabahu, where he died by slow starvation (Sale/than). Under Chandragupta Maurya, for the first time, the whole of northern India was united. Trade flourished, agriculture was regulated, weights and measures were standardized and money came into use.
The Junagarh rock inscription of Rudradaman says that a dam on the Sudarshana lake for irrigation was constructed by Pushyagupta, a provin cial governor of Chandragupta Maurya. Later Yavanaraja Tushapha exca vated canals for irrigation during Ashoka's reign.

Bindusara (297-272 BC)

Bindusara extended the kingdom further and conquered the south as far as Mysore. Bindusar asked Antiochus I of Syria to send some sweet wine, dried figs, and a Sophist. Antiocus I sent wine and figs but politely replied that Greek philosophers are not for sale. Bindusar patronized Ajivikus.
Bindusara, known to the Greeks as “Amitrochates” (derived from the Sanskrit word `Amitraghata’ or slayer of foes), is said to have carried his arms to the Deccan, extending Mauryan control in the peninsu-lar region of India as far south as Mysore.
From Divayayadana we come to know that Bindusara appointed his eldest son Sumana (also named Susima) as his viceroy at Taxila and Ashoka at Ujjain. It also tells us that a revolt broke out at Taxila and when it could not be suppressed by Susima, Ashoka was sent to restore peace.

Asoka (268-232 BC)

According to the Buddhist tradition, Asoka usurped the throne alter killing his 99 brothers and spared Tissa, the youngest one. Radhagupta a Minister of Bindusar helped him in fratricidal struggle.
In 1837 James Prinsep deci-phered an inscription referring to a king called “Devanampiya Piyadas-si”. Later, many more similar inscriptions were discovered. Initially these records could not be attributed to Asoka. But in 1915 was discovered Maski inscription which speaks of Asoka Piyadassi.
There was a struggle for the throne among the princes on the death of Bindusara. This war of succession accounts for the interregnum of four years (272-268 BC), and only after securing his position on the throne, Asoka had himself formally crowned in 268 BC.
Under Asoka. the Mauryan Empire reached its climax. For the first time, the whole of the subcontinent, leaving out the extreme south, was under imperial control. Asoka (ought the Kalinga war in 261 BC in the 9th years of his coronation. The king was moved by massacre in this war and therefore abandoned the policy of physical occupation in favour of policy of cultural conquest. In oilier words, Bherighosha was replaced by Dhammaghosha.
Ashoka is the first king in the Indian history who has left his records en graved on stones. The inscriptions on rocks are called Rock Edicts, and those on Pillars, Pillar Edicts. The Ashokan inscriptions are found in India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Altogether, they appear at 47 places.
However, the name of Ashoka occurs only in copies of Minor Rock Edict I found at three places in Karnataka and one in Madhya Pradesh. Ashoka name is mentioned in only four places- Gurjara, Udgolan, Maski, and Nittur.
The inscriptions of Ashoka were written in four different scripts. In Af ghanistan area they were written in Greek and Aramaic languages and scripts, and in Pakistan area, in Prakrit language and Kharosthi script. Inscriptions from all other areas are in Prakrit language, written in Brahmi script.
Asoka sent missionaries to the kingdoms of the Cholas and the Pandyas, 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.
According to tradition, Asoka built the city of Srinagar. The Mauryans had closed connections with the area of modern Nepal. One of Asoka’s daughters married a noble from Nepal. The Ceylone ruler, Tissa, modelled himself on Asoka.
The most important event of Asoka’s reign seems to have been his victorious war with Kalinga (260 BC). Bhabru inscription, states that after a period of 2 1/2 years he became an ardent supporter of Bud-dhism under the influence of a Buddhist monk, Upagupta.
The find of Ashokan inscriptions at Girnar hills in Junagarh district (in Gujarat) and at Sopara (Thane district, Maharashtra) shows that these areas formed part of the Mauryan empire.
Ashoka's inscriptions have been found at Maski Yerragudi and Chitaldurga in Karnataka. Rock Edict II and XIII of Ashoka mentions that his immediate neighbouring states were those of Cholas, Pandyas, Satyaputras and Keralaputras.

Asoka’s Dhamma

Asoka’s Dhamma cannot be regarded as 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 slave and servants.Asoka’s Dhamma was neither a new religion nor a new philosophy. Rather it was a way of life, conduct and a set of principles to be practised by the people at large.
The message of Dhamma was propagated in Aramaic and Greek in the north-western borderland of the subcontinent. On the other hand, the emperor chose to issue a large number of edicts in Prakrit in Brahmi script for areas in the Deccan which must have been better acquainted with Dravidian languages.
The Kandahar Greek edict, the contents of which have considerable similarities with and correspondence to REs XII and XIII, enlists the virtues to be inculcated by people for practising Eu’sebeia, i.e. Dhamma.
Though Ashoka accepted Buddhism as his main faith, it would be wrong to think that he forced Buddhist ideals on his subjects. He showed respect to all sects and faiths and believed in unity among ethical and moral values of all sects.
In Rock Edict VII he says, "All sects desire both self control and purity of mind". In Rock Edict XII he pronounces his policy of equal respect to all religious sects more clearly. He says, that he "honours all sects and both ascetics and laymen, with gifts and various forms of recognition."
Pillar Edict II Ashoka himself puts the question: "What is Dhamma?" Then he enumerates the two basic attributes or constituents of Dhamma less evil and many good deeds. He says such evils as rage, cruelty, anger, pride and envy are to be avoided and many good deeds like kindness, liberality, truthfulness, gentleness, self control; purity of heart, attachment to morality, inner and outer purity etc. " are to be pursued vigorously.
While different Major Rock Edicts talk about different aspects of the Dhamma, the Major Rock Edict XI contains an elaborate explanation of the Dhamma. The following are the main features of the Dhamma:
  • Prohibition of animal sacrifices and festive gatherings (M.R.E-I), and avoiding expensive and meaningless ceremonies and rituals (M.R.E-IX);
  • Efficient organisation of administration (M.R.E-VI) in the direction of social welfare (M.R.E-II);
  • Consideration and non-violence to animals and courtesy to relations (M.R.E-IV) and liberality to Brahmins, Sramanas, etc. (M.R.E-III);
  • Humane treatment of servants by masters and of prisoners by the government (M.R.E-V) it also mentions the appointments of Dhamma-Mahamatras;
  • Tolerance among all the sects (M.R.E-VII &II)
  • Replacement of ‘Bherighosa’ (sound of wardrums) ‘Dhammaghosa’ (sound of peace) i.e. conquest through Dhamma instead of rough war (M.R.E-XIII);
  • Maintenance of constant contact with the rural people through the system of Dhammayatras (M.R.E-VIII).

Causes of Decline

The Mauryan Empire lasted a little over a century and broke up fitly years after the death of Asoka. 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 ushered in a dream that was to survive and echo again and again in centuries to come. Some probable causes of decline of the Mauryan Empire:
  • Brahmanical reaction
  • Financial crisis
  • Oppressive rule
  • Neglect of north-west frontier.
  • Weak successors
  • Pacific policy of Asoka
  • New knowledge in outlying areas-Dissemination of knowledge of manufacturing Iron.

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