Updated December 20, 2022
When we talk about the most inspirational and interesting section of Ancient History, it is Maurya Period or rise of Mauryan dynasty. Going by the Mauryan dynasty, it occurs that one can achieve anything what one wants to. It doesn’t really matter which clan (Caste / Jati) one belongs to.
The entire journey of Chandragupta Maurya from an ordinary boy of a low clan to become a king of a vast kingdom is quite inspirational. However, the story of Maurya period is not just about this. In fact, there is lot to know about Mauryan Period and their dynasty. So, do read the article to explore and keep visiting Career101.in to get more of such interesting topics.
A Primer on Maurya Period & the Dynasty
The Mauryan Empire was founded by Chandragupta Maurya which dominated the Indian subcontinent between 322 and 185 BCE. It was a geographically extensive and the Iron Age historical power based in Magadha. With conquest of Indo-Gangetic Plain the dynasty made up majority of South Asia with Pataliputra (modern Patna) as its capital. The empire was the largest political entity that has ever existed in the Indian subcontinent. It extended over 5 million square kilometres (1.9 million square miles) at its zenith under Ashoka.
With the assistance of Chanakya (author of Arthasastra), Chandragupta Maurya raised an army and overthrew the Nanda Empire in 322 BCE. Chandragupta rapidly expanded his power westwards across central and western India by conquering the satraps left by Alexander the Great, and by 317 BCE the empire had fully occupied northwestern India. The Mauryan Empire then defeated Seleucus I, a diadochus and founder of the Seleucid Empire during the Seleucid–Mauryan war, thus acquiring territory west of the Indus River.
At its greatest extent, the empire stretched along the natural boundary of the Himalayas, to the east into Assam, to the west into what is present-day Balochistan, Pakistan and the Hindu Kush mountains of what is now eastern Afghanistan. The dynasty expanded into India’s southern regions by the reign of the emperor Bindusara, but it excluded Kalinga (modern Odisha), until it was conquered by Ashoka. It declined for about 50 years after Ashoka’s rule, and dissolved in 185 BCE with the foundation of the Shunga dynasty in Magadha.
Agriculture, internal and external trade and economic activities thrived and expanded across South Asia due to the creation of a single and efficient system of finance, administration, and security under Chandragupta Maurya and his successors. The Grand Trunk Road, one of Asia’s oldest and longest trade networks, connecting the Indian subcontinent with Central Asia was built by the Mauryan dynasty.
The Empire experienced nearly half a century of centralized rule under Ashoka After the Kalinga War. Chandragupta Maurya’s embrace of Jainism increased socio-religious reform across South Asia, while Ashoka’s embrace of Buddhism and sponsorship of Buddhist missionaries allowed for the expansion of that faith into Sri Lanka, northwest India, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Egypt, and Hellenistic Europe.
The Mauryan Empire was one of the most populous empires of antiquity wherein, the population estimates is about 50–60 million. Archaeologically, the period of Mauryan rule in South Asia falls into the era of Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW). The Arthashastra and the Edicts of Ashoka are the primary sources of written records of Mauryan times. The Lion Capital of Ashoka at Sarnath is the national emblem of the modern Republic of India.
Sources of Mauryan History & Origin of Mauryas.
1.There are two sources of Mauryan History which are: (I). Literary Sources and (II). Archaeological Sources. Sources record the Maurya Period to be around (322- 185 BC).
Literary Sources of Mauryan History
2. Arthasastra of Kautilya: It is the most important literary source for the Mauryas. It is a treatise on on Government and Polity. It gives a clear and methodological analysis of political and economic conditions of Mauryan Period.
3. Indica of Megasthenese: Megasthenese was the ambassador of Selecus Nikator in the court of Chandragupta Maurya. His ‘Indica’ is foremost among all the foreigners accounts for Maurya. But its original is lost and it has survived only as quotations in the text of classical writers, such as Strabo, Diodorous, Arrian, Plutarch and Latin writers such as Pliny and Justin. It refers to Mauryan administration, 7-caste system, absence of slavery and usuary in Indica.
4. Mudra Rakshasa of Visakha Datta: Though its a Gupta Period writing, it describes how Chandragupta Maurya gets Chanakya’s assistance to overthrow the Nandas. Besides this, it gives an excellent account of prevailing socio-economic conditions.
5. Puranas: Though they are a collection of legends interspread with religious teachings, they give us chronology and lists of Mauryan Kings.
6. Budhist Literature: There are two Buddhist Literature:
(a). Indian Buddhist text Jataks (part of Khuddaknikaya of Suttapatika which describes 549 stories of Buddha’s previous births) reveal a general picture of socio-economic conditions of Mauryan Period.
(b). Ceylonese Buddhist chronicles Dipavamsa & Mahavamsa describes the part played by Ashoka in spreading Buddhism to Sri Lanka.
(c). Tibetan Buddhist text Divyavadana gives information about Ashoka and his efforts to spread Buddhism.
Archaeological Sources of Maurya Period & the History
7. Ashokan Edicts and Inscriptions: There are Rock Edicts, Pillars Edicts and Cave Inscriptions located at several places in the Indian sub-continent. Their importance came to be appreciated only after their decipheration by James Princep in1837 and also the identification of Ashoka as the author of these Edicts in the beginning of the 20th century.
Majority of them are in the nature of Ashoka’s proclamations to the public at large, and only a small group of them describe his own acceptance of Buddhism and his relationship with Sangha (commune). Though Prakrit was the language used in them, the script varied from region to region (Kharoshti) in the North-West, Greek and Aramaic in the West and Brahmi in the East of India.
8. Other Inscription: Junagadh Rock Inscription of Rudradaman, Sohgaura Copper Plate Insciption in Gorakhpur district of U.P., Mahasthan Inscription in Bogara district of Bangladesh. All these are directly concerned with the Mauryan Period, though they are not necessarily those of Ashoka.
9. Material remains: wooden place of Chandragupta Maurya, Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW), Silver & Copper punch -marked coins found in Kumharar (Patna) and other places are the material remains of Mauryan Period.
Origin of Mauryan: The Divergent Views
10. The Puranas describe them as Shudras.
11. ‘Mudrarakshasa’ of Vishakhadatta use the term Vrihal / Kulhina (of low clan).
12. The Classical writers, such as Justin, describe Chandragupta only as a man of humble origin.
13. The Junagarh rock Inscription of Rudradaman (150 AD) has some indirect evidence which suggest that the Mauryas may have been of Vaishya origin.
14. The Buddhist work, on other hand, try to link the Mauryan Dynasty with the Sakya Kshatriya clan to which Buddha belonged. According to them the region from which the Mauryas came was full of peacocks (Mor) and hence they came to be known as ‘Moriyas’. It is obvious from this that the Buddhist were trying to elevate the social position of Ashoka (their patron) and his predecessors.
15. In conclusion, we can say that the Mauryas belonged to the Moriya tribe and were certainly of low caste, though it is not clear as to which low caste.
16. Some of the prominent Mauryan kings along with the period of their reign are listed below.
I. Chandragupta Maurya (322 BC- 298 BC)
II. Bindusara (298 BC- 273 BC)
III. Ashoka (273 BC- 232 BC)