Mauryan Empire: Everything about the Maurya Dynasty

14 Nov 2022  Read 621 Views

The Mauryan Empire (322–185 BCE), established by the Maurya dynasty, was a politically and militarily dominant empire in ancient India. The capital of Maurya Dynasty was Pataliputra (now, Patna). It emerged from the kingdom of Magadha in the Indo-Gangetic plains of current Bihar, Eastern Uttar Pradesh, and Bengal. In 322 BCE, Chandragupta Maurya established the Empire after destroying the Nanda Dynasty & became the first emperor of India. He quickly started extending his influence across central and western India. Alexander the Great's Macedonian and Persian troops' westward retreat had shattered local powers. By 316 B.C.E., the empire had defeated and dominated the satraps (kings) that Alexander had left behind in Northwestern India.

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At its height, the Empire reached into Assam and the Himalayan Mountains' northernmost natural borders. It extended beyond modern Pakistan and large swaths of Afghanistan, including Balochistan, the current provinces of Herat and Kandahar. Although Emperor Bindusara extended the Empire into parts of central and southern India, he left a small piece of the uncharted tribal and woodland areas close to Kalinga, India.

Rise of Chandragupta’s Rule

The Mauryan Empire conquered the trans-Indus region under Chandragupta, who also overthrew its Macedonian rulers. The invasion headed by Seleucus I, a Greek general in Alexander's army, was defeated by Chandragupta. Internal and external trade, agriculture, and economic activity all prospered and flourished throughout India under Chandragupta and his successors. Chandragupta developed a unified, effective system of security, administration, and money. One of the most critical eras in Indian history is the Mauryan empire.

Ashoka’s dominance

Under the Ashoka Empire, people enjoyed fifty years of serenity and safety following the Kalinga War. India was a powerful empire with a strong economy and military. Western and Central Asia and Europe were all affected by their political and commercial dominance. The Mauryan era in India was also one of social harmony, religious reform, and the advancement of learning and the sciences.

The practice of Jainism by Chandragupta Maurya

The adoption of Jainism by Chandragupta Maurya sparked more social and theological reformation throughout his society. The basis of social and political harmony and nonviolence throughout India was laid by Ashoka's adoption of Buddhism. During this time, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, West Asia, and Mediterranean Europe all witnessed a growth in the spread of Buddhist principles.

Artistic works

The Arthashastra, authored by Chandragupta's minister Kautilya Chanakya, is regarded as one of the best works ever written on economics, politics, foreign policy, administration, military arts, war, and religion. According to archaeology, the Mauryan era in Southern Asia corresponds to the Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW) production as the primary sources of written documentation from the Mauryan period; the Arthashastra and the Edicts of Ashoka are used. The national symbol of India continues to be the Lion Capital of Asoka at Sarnath.

Background

In the trans-Indus region of modern-day Pakistan, which had previously been controlled by monarchs Ambhi of Taxila and Porus of Pauravas, Alexander established a Macedonian garrison and satrapies (vassal states) (modern-day Jhelum)

Who was Chanakya, and what led to the battle?

  • A brahmin named Chanakya—whose real name is Vishnugupt, commonly known as Kautilya—travelled to Magadha after Alexander's conquest of Punjab.
  • The Nanda Dynasty's King Dhana dismissed him.
  • Magadha was a vast, militarily strong state feared by its neighbours.
  • Alexander returned to Babylon and redistributed most of his forces west of the Indus River because the possibility of fighting Magadha kept his troops from moving further east.
  • Alexander's kingdom broke up after his death in Babylon in 323 BCE, and local rulers declared their independence, leaving several minor satrapies in a miserable state.
  • Chandragupta Maurya ousted Dhanaya. Before Chandragupta Maurya's stunning defeat of the Macedonians in 316 B.C.E. with the help of Chanakya, now serving as his adviser, the Greek generals  Eudemus and Peithon governed until that time.

Chandragupta Maurya's ascent to power is veiled in mystery and controversies.

On the one hand, some historical sources from ancient India, like the drama Mudrarakshasa (Poem of Rakshasa-Rakshasa was the prime minister of Magadha) by Visakhadatta, describe his royal ancestry and even connect him to the Nanda family. A Kshatriya tribe by the name of the Maurya is mentioned in one of the earliest Buddhist writings, the Mahaparinibbana Sutta.

As "Sandrokottos," Chandragupta first appears in Greek sources when he was a young man, possibly meeting Alexander. He reportedly encountered the Nanda monarch well, infuriated him, and narrowly escaped. Initially, Chanakya planned to prepare a guerilla force for Chandragupta to command. Both the Jaina work Parisishtaparvan and the Mudrarakshasa of Visakhadutta recount Chandragupta's union with the Himalayan king Parvatka, who is sometimes mistaken for Porus. Chandragupta received a diverse and robust army from the Himalayan alliance, consisting of Yavanas (Greeks), Kambojas, Shakas (Scythians), Kiratas (Nepalese), Parasikas (Persians), and Bahlikas (Bactrians). Chandragupta conquered the Nanda/Nandin kings of Magadha with the help of the frontier warrior tribes from Central Asia and established the powerful Mauryan empire in northern India.

Magadha’s Conquest

Chanakya persuaded Chandragupta to conquer Magadha's throne with the help of his soldiers. Using his intelligence network, Chandragupta recruited a large number of young men from all around Magadha and other provinces. They were dissatisfied with King Dhana's oppressive and corrupt reign and the supplies his army would need to fight a prolonged series of battles. These men included the former Taxila general, several renowned Chanakya pupils, King Porus of Kakayee's emissary, his son Malayketu, and the heads of petty nations.

To conquer Pataliputra, Maurya devised a strategy. He announced a war, and the Magadhan army assembled from the city to a remote battleground to confront Maurya's forces. Meanwhile, spies and the general of Maurya bought off the dishonest Nanda general. Additionally, he instigated a civil war in the country, resulting in the heir to the throne's demise. Chanakya was able to influence public opinion. In the end, Nanda resigned, giving control to Chandragupta, fled into exile, and vanished from historical records.

Chanakya approached Rakshasa, the prime minister insisting on his stay, making him believe that he owed him loyalty to Magadha rather than Magadha Dynasty. Again, Chanakya emphasised that choosing to oppose would ignite a battle that would severely harm Magadha and destroy the city. Chandragupta Maurya has officially crowned the new King of Magadha after Rakshasa agreed with Chanakya's argument. Rakshasa was named Chandragupta's principal advisor, while Chanakya was elevated to the status of a wise man.

Decline in the Maurya Dynasty

Undoubtedly the most extensive empire to conquer the Indian subcontinent was the Mauryan Empire. It collapsed when the Sunga Dynasty ascended to power in Magadha in 185 B.C.E. Its decline had started fifty years after Ashoka's dominion ended. Ashoka's sons were unable to take over the empire, therefore, the empire was ruled by Dasharatha Maurya who was Ashoka's grandson. The empire started losing it's territories under the rule of Dasharatha which were eventually reconquered by Samprati, Kunala's son (one of Ashoka's son). The Mauryas gradually lost several regions after Samprati. Without an heir, Brihadratha Maurya was assassinated by his commander Pushyamitra Shunga in 180 BCE during a military parade. The vast Mauryan empire, therefore, came to an end, giving birth to the Shunga Empire.

Maurya Dynasty Kings

Chandragupta conquered Punjab after becoming the king of one of India's most powerful nations. Peithon, satrap of Media and one of Alexander's wealthiest satraps, had attempted to form a coalition against him. Chandragupta captured Taxila, the capital of Punjab and a significant hub for trade and Hellenistic culture, which helped him consolidate his dominance.

Chandragupta Maurya

  • When Seleucus I, the ruler of the Seleucid Empire, attempted but failed to recapture the northwest regions of India during a war in 305 B.C.E., Chandragupta engaged in battle again with the Greeks.
  • A peace agreement between the two kings was eventually reached. It was called an "epigamia," which might either refer to an alliance between the two royal lines or the acceptance of marriage between Greeks and Indians.
  • The satrapies of Paropamisadae (Kamboja and Gandhara), Arachosia (Kandhahar), and Gedrosia (Balochistan) were given to Chandragupta.
  • In contrast, Seleucus I was given 500 war elephants, crucial to his victory over western Hellenistic kings at the Battle of Ipsus in 301 B.C.E.
  • Following the establishment of diplomatic ties, several Greeks, including the historian Megasthenes, Deimakos, and Dionysius, lived at the Mauryan court.
  • At Pataliputra, Megasthenes was described as "surrounded by a wooden wall pierced by 64 gates and 570 towers—(and) rivalled the splendours of contemporaneous Persian sites such as Susa and Ecbatana," Chandragupta established a powerful, centralised state with an advanced administrative structure.
  • The Mauryan empire's control over southern India was expanded by Chandragupta's son Bindusara.
  • At his court was also the Greek ambassador Deimachus (Strabo 1–70). Megasthenes portrayed Chandragupta's followers as disciplined people who lived honestly and without writing skills.

Bindusara

  • Chandragupta passed away after twenty-four years in power. In 298 BCE, his son Bindusara succeeded him.
  • According to Greek traditions, Bindusara was also known as Amitrochates (destroyer of opponents).
  • Some people give him credit for incorporating southern peninsular India. His mother was a woman named Durdhara, as per Jain tradition.
  • The Puranas give him a twenty-five-year reign as.
  • He has been linked to the Greek name Amitrochates and the Indian moniker Amitraghata (slayer of Enemies).

Ashoka

The grandson of Chandragupta, Ashokavardhan Maurya, also known as Ashoka (reigned 273-232 B.C.E.), is regarded by modern historians as perhaps the greatest king of India, possibly the entire world.

Ashoka’s influence

  • Ashoka was a brilliant commander who set aside disturbances in Taxila and Ujjain, being a young prince.
  • He asserted the Empire's superiority in southern and western India as an ambitious and combative king. But the decisive moment in his life was his capture of Kalinga.
  • Despite Ashoka's army's success in defeating Kalinga forces of royal soldiers and civilian units, approximately 10,000 of Ashoka's soldiers perished in the fierce fighting, along with an estimated 100,000 other soldiers and civilians.
  • Even though Kalinga had been fully annexed, Ashoka adopted the Buddha's teachings and abandoned violence and war.
  • This was a momentous accomplishment for a king in ancient times.
  • The only part of India that was not directly under Ashoka's influence was the southernmost region, known as Tamilakam or "Land of Tamils," where he built amicable links with the three Tamil kings of Chola, Chera, and Pandya.
  • Ashoka put the principles of ahimsa into practice by prohibiting sports like hunting and bringing an end to forced labour and indentured slavery (many thousands of people in war-ravaged Kalinga had been forced into hard work and servitude).
  • To maintain order and his position of power, Ashoka strengthened his social connections with nations throughout Asia and Europe and funded Buddhist missions while supporting a sizable and influential army.
  • He launched a nationwide, massive building effort for public works.
  • One of the most prosperous and well-known kings in Indian history, Ashoka enjoyed more than forty years of peace, harmony, and wealth.
  • In contemporary India, he is still viewed as an idealised influence.

Ashoka Edicts

All over the Subcontinent, one can find the iconic Ashoka Edicts. Ashoka's edicts outline his policies and accomplishments and span from Andhra (Nellore District) in the south to Afghanistan in the west.

Despite being primarily written in Prakrit, two were written in Greek, and one was written in Greek and Aramaic.

Ashoka's edict describes the Greeks, Kambojas, and Gandharas as inhabitants of his empire's frontier.

They also confirm that Ashoka dispatched envoys as far as the Mediterranean to the Greek emperors in the West.

Interesting facts about Maurya Dynasty

  • It was formed around 321 B.C.E. and ended in 185 B.C.E.
  • Mauryan Empire was known as the first pan-Indian Empire, which covered most of the Indian region.
  • National emblem of India is the Lion Capital of Ashoka at Sarnath.
  • The Mauryan Empire was not only the greatest in India but across the globe.
  • The most significant achievement of Mauryans was building a trade network and a stable economy.
  • The last Mauryan King was Brihadratha Maurya who was killed by Pushyamitra Shunga who formed Shunga Dynasty.
About the Author: Gurpreet Kaur Dutta | 43 Post(s)

A legal content writer who pursued BBA-LL.B.(H) from Amity University Chhattisgarh. She has a keen interest in corporate and IPR sectors. 

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