Maurya Dynasty: Extent & Decline

By Naveen Singh|Updated : April 20th, 2020

Read here the important ancient history notes on Mauryan Empire for the preparation of General Knowledge section of Defence Exam like CDS, CAPF, NDA and AFCAT.

The Mauryan Empire

Chandragupta Maurya (321 BC-298 BC)

1. The Mauryan Empire was founded by Chandragupta Maurya in 321 BC. The foundation of the empire was laid in Magadha.

2. The dynasty was found by replacing the Nanda Dynasty. Chanakya played a vital role in Chandragupta Maurya's rise to the throne. The whole series of events has been summarised in Mudrarakshasha written by Vishakadatta. 

3. Chandragupta Maurya was a patronizer of Jainism and a lot of Jain literature is based on him.

4. Pataliputra (modern-day Patna) was used as the capital city of the Mauryan Empire.

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The Expanse of the Mauryan Empire

With an expanded area of 5,000,000 sq km under its rule, the Mauryan Empire was arguably one of the largest contemporary empires. The Mauryas ruled almost whole of the Indian subcontinent, leaving only some parts of NE India, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu.


Imperial Organization Structure

  • The elaborate arrangements made in the Mauryan administration, society and economy have been described in detail in Indica (written by Megasthanes) and Arthashastra (written by Kautilya).
  • For better administration, Chandragupta divided the empire into provinces, to be ruled and maintained by the Princes. In addition to this, a dozen departments and the armed forces (containing six wings) were also maintained. The administrative system was well organized and had been established with a sound financial base for sustainment.

1. Bindusara (298-273 BC)

He was known to Greeks as Amitrochates and is believed to have patronized the Ajivika sect. While there are ambiguities in the accounts about his court, Deimachos of Plateia has been placed as the ambassador of Seleucid emperor Antiochus I at Bindusara's court.

2. Ashoka (273 BC-232 BC)

  • Often considered the most prominent rules of the Mauryan dynasty, he was known as ‘Devanampriya Priyadarsi’ (the beautiful one who was the beloved of Gods).
  • Ashoka fought the Kalinga war in 261 BC. Kalinga is in modern Orissa.

2.1. Ashokan Inscriptions

  • Ashokan inscriptions were deciphered by James Princep.
  • Ashokan inscriptions carried royal orders through which he spoke directly to the subjects. These inscriptions were in the form of rock edicts and pillar edicts, which were further divided into major and minor.
  • The 14 Major Rock Edicts of Ashoka mention about the Principles of Dharma.
  • The Kalinga rock edict explains the principles of administration after the Kalinga war. In his Kalinga edict, Ashoka mentions ‘‘All men are my children’’
  • The Major Rock Edict XIII of Ashoka deals with the conquest of Kalinga.
  • The term ‘Ashoka’ was mentioned only in the Maski Minor rock edict.

2.2 Ashoka and Buddhism

  • Ashoka converted to Buddhism after the Battle of Kalinga.
  • After adopting Buddhism, he replaced Bherighosha by Dhammaghosha.
  • Ashoka was initiated to Buddhism by Upagupta or Nigrodha, who was a disciple of Gautam Buddha.
  • Ashoka started the institution of Dharmamahamatras for the propagation of Buddhism.
  • The third Buddhist council was organized by Ashoka at his capital Pataliputra in 250 BC under the presidentship of Moggaliputa Tissa.
  • He sent his son (Mahendra) and daughter (Sanghamitra) to Sri Lanka for the propagation of Buddhism.
  • Ashoka spread Buddhism to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) and Nepal. Ceylon’s ruler Devanmpriya Tissa was Ashoka’s first convert to Buddhism.
  • The most prominent objective of Ashoka’s Dhamma policy was to preserve the social order.

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Mauryan Administration

The Mauryan Empire had a highly centralized administrative structure. There were 7 elements of Saptanga theory in administration, as mentioned by Chanakya. The king was assisted by his Council of Ministers (Mantri Parishad).

The administration was widely divided into four units.

  • The chakra or the province
  • The Ahar or the district
  • The Sangrahana or a group of villages
  • The Gram or village

The municipal administration headed by a Nagarak also finds mention in Arthashastra.

Mauryan Art

The art in the empire can be categorized into wide sections.

  • Royal Art – The Royal palaces, pillars, caves, stupas etc.
  • Popular art – Figure sculptures, Terracotta objects etc.

The emblem of India has been adopted from the four-lion capital of one of the Ashokan pillars located in Sarnath. Another four-lion capital is located at Sanchi. Other than this, a Single lion capital at Rampurva and Lauria Nandangarh, single bull at Rampurva, carved elephant at Dhauli have also been found.

The Mauryas introduced and encouraged Stone Masonry on a very large scale. The process of “chewing out” caves from rocks and construction of stupas to store the relics of Buddha and Bodhisattvas was started during their reign. These practices in later stages were expanded by Guptas.

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Reasons for the Decline of the Mauryas

  • Highly centralized Mauryan administration made the administration difficult for a large kingdom.
  • Partition after the death of Ashoka disturbed the unity of the empire to a great extent.
  • Weak later Mauryan rulers were not able to hold on to the vast empire.

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