The Mauryas who ruled India from 326 BC to 184 BC marked the beginning of a new era in the history of India. It was during the time of Chandragupta Maurya that Magadha, in the eastern Indo-Gangetic plain, developed as a strong power and asserted its superiority over the neighboring areas. The Magadhan Empire spread all over northern India and into Afghanistan. Chandragupta was the most famous Mauryan emperor. Kautilya, also known as Chanakya, was the adviser to Chandragupta. A master in governmental administration and political strategy, this clever, shrewd Brahmin contributed considerably to the emperor's success. He is well known for his work Arthasastra, a political treatise on administration.

Chandragupta was succeeded by his son Bindusara who extended the kingdom further. Later Ashoka, son of Bindusara was enthroned as the emperor in 272 BC. He became the most illustrious emperor of all and ruled India for almost 36 years. Sickened by the carnage that resulted from his campaign against the powerful kingdom of Kalinga (modern Orissa), Ashoka renounced bloodshed and embraced a policy of non-violence or ahimsa. He became a staunch follower of Buddhism. The monumental edicts on Buddhism carved into rocks and caves throughout Ashoka's empire are proof of his commitment to the religion. In an effort to spread the religion beyond the borders, Buddhist monks were sent in every direction to Burma, Tibet, Nepal, Persia, Mesopotamia, Syria, and Israel. Buddhism spread very quickly from Nepal and Burma into Tibet and China. But the missions to the west were not fruitful.

The culture and art of India flourished during the reign of the Mauryas. Stupas and dome styled architecture were the contributions of the Mauryan Empire. The writings of the Greek diplomat Megasthenes, who was sent as an ambassador to the court of Chandragupta by the hellenistic king Seleucus I, provide valuable insight into the nature of the empire. His records speak volumes about the architectural advancement at that time. Pataliputra, the capital was encircled by a wooden wall which had 64 gates and 570 towers that challenged the splendors of contemporary Persian sites.

The Mauryan economy depended mainly on agriculture and the state owned large farm lands for cultivation. The other income of the state came from the taxes levied on agriculture, land, trade, and industrial products such as handicrafts. Many industries also flourished during this period.

The decline of the Mauryan Empire started after the death of Ashoka in 232 BC when the land was divided among his sons who proved to be weak rulers. They were incapable of executing the task of administration of the vast Mauryan Empire. The strong religious doctrine based on the law of piety put forward by Emperor Ashoka made the army inactive and dulled their skills of defence. Added to this, the conflicts among the successors finally led to the total disintegration of the Mauryan Empire in 184 BC.

Updated on 21st January, 2024


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