Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Mauryan Empire

The Mauryan Empire
The accession of Chandragupta Maurya to the throne of Magadha in 321 Be marks the beginning of the Mauryan dynasty under whose rule the Magadhan empire reached the apex of glory. The three prominent Maurya kings were Chandragupta Maurya, Bindusara and Asoka.


Sources available for understanding the history of the Mauryan period may be divided into two groups: literary and archaeological.

Literary Sources By the time Mauryan rule was established in Magadh, Sanskrit had emerged as a rich Indian language. Sanskrit texts throw important light on contemporary social and political conditions. The following texts give us invaluable information regarding Mauryan rule.

Puranas Vishnu Purana, Bhagawat Purana and Markandeya Purana help determine the origin and chronology of Mauryan rule.

Arthashastra Written by Vishnugupta also called Kautilya or Chanakya, Arthashastra is the most important source for understanding Mauryan rule and contemporary political, social and economic conditions.

Mudrarakshasa A VlShakhadatta creation, Mudrarakshasa provides important information regarding the Mauryan period. It deals with Chanakya's role in the downfall of the Nanda dynasty, Chandragupta's accession to the throne of Pataliputra, how the Nanda King'samatya, Rakshasa was won over by Chandragupta, etc.

Mahabhasya Patanjali's Mahabhasya depicts the declin­ing political and social conditions during the late Mauryan ri.tlers.

Malvikagnimitra Written by Kalidasa, it describes the declining phase of Mauryan rule. It mentions the murder of Brihadratha, the last Mauryan king, by Pushyamitra Sunga.

Harshacharita Written by Banabhatta, Harshavardhana's court poet, it mentions the conspiracy hatched by Pushyamitra Sunga to eliminate the last Maw-yan king, Brihadratha.

Rajatarangini Kalhan's Rnjatarangini provides infor­mation about Asoka as an administrator of Kashmir as well as his successors.

Buddhist texts Dipavansa, Mahavansa, Asokavadan, Milinda-Panho and the Jatakas" are some of the Buddhist literary sources that throw light on the Mauryan period. The Jatakas, dated between the third century BC and}he first century AD, describe the general conditions prevalent dur­ing the Mauryan period. The Dipavansa-compiled between the third century Be and the fourth century AD-provides considerable help in determining the period of Asoka. Mahavansa provides information about Chandragupta and Chanakya. Milinda-Panho is important in understanding the decline of the Mauryas.

Jaina texts Brihatakathakosha of Harisena, Aradhana of Prabhachandra, Kathakosha of Shrichand, Parashishtaparvana of Hemachandra, Bhadrabahucharita of Ratnanandi, etc., are some of the Jaina texts which help us in understanding the Mauryan kings and their administration.

Foreign Accounts Megasthanese's lndika provides im­portant information about Mauryan administration. The accounts of Plutarch, Strabo, Ptolemy, Arian and Justin deal with the pre- and post-Mauryan periods. Chinese Buddhist pilgrims, such as Fa-hsein, Hsuan Tsang and I-tsing, visited India to study Buddhism. Their accounts provide consid­erable information about Indian polity, society and culture, especially in relation to Mauryan period. Hsuan-Tsang refers in his writings to pillars at Rajagriha, Sravasti, etc.

Archaeological Sources Archaeological excavations have provided invaluable information regarding Mauryan pe­riod. The entire life history of Asoka has been constructed on the basis of his inscriptions. Rock and pillar edicts of the Mauryas provide considerable information regarding Mauryan rule. There are also other archaeological inscrip­tions which, though not related directly to the Mauryas, give ample information regarding the Mauryan kingdom. For example, Kalinga's King, Kharvela's Hathigumpha inscription throws light on the declining phase of the Mauryas. The Girnar inscription of Rudradaman mentions Chandragupta and Asoka and their governors, Pushyagupta and Tushashpa. They had constructed the Sudarashan Lake
there. The cave edict of Nagarjuni mentions a Maurya king called Dasarath.
Besides inscriptions, contemporary stupas, viharas and chaityas throw light on religious and social conditions and development of art d'uring the Mauryan period. Of alI the archaeological evidences, inscriptions belonging to the Asokan period are the most important. These inscriptions provide certain, undisputed and authentic information regarding Mauryan empire.

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