The Maurya empire, an Iron Age historical power reigned the Indian subcontinent from 322 BC to 185 BC. The weaknesses of the last Nanda ruler of Magadha Empire paved the way for Chandragupta Maurya to establish his kingdom in Magadha. He overthrew the last Magadha king with the help of Chanakya and laid the foundation of Maurya Empire. Chanakya, also known as Kautilya was the political adviser and teacher of Chandragupta Maurya. It is said that Dhana Nanda, the last ruler of Magadha Empire once insulted Chanakya. As a repercussion of this, Kautilya advised Chandragupta to usurp the Nanda dynasty.
The Maurya Empire was a geographically extensive power in ancient India. It originated in the Indo-Gangetic plain in the eastern side of the Indian subcontinent. The capital of Maurya Empire was in Pataliputra(modern Patna) of present Bihar. Later on the area of Chandragupta’s kingdom expanded rapidly westward across central and eastern India. The empire stretched to the north along the Himalayas, to the east into Assam, to the west into Baluchistan and into the Hindu Kush mountains.
Causes of the Fall of Maurya Empire
The Maurya empire was such a large and powerful empire that one might not foresee such a kingdom disintegrating in the future. The empire had seen the start of it’s fall after the exit of Ashoka in 232 BC. The rulers after Ashoka could not continue the uprise of their kingdom as their forefathers did. Though the actual cause cannot be known, the historians have given several views in this regard.
The Maurya’s had maintained a large army. They had to spent a huge amount of money in the salaries of the bureaucrats and the soldiers. Despite imposition of taxes on the people, those were not sufficient to meet the expenses of such a huge superstructure. So financial crisis may be one of the factors in the fall of the kingdom.
Oppressive rule may be one of the factors behind the fall of the empire. It is reported that oppressive rule from the side of the bureaucrats were prominent from the days of Bindusara. He had to appoint Ashoka to control the wicked bureaucrats. However the same problem was prevalent during the rule of Ashoka too. Ashoka had to ask his officers not to tyrannize the people without any reason. He used to rotate the duties of officers in Taxila, Ujjain and Tosali. But no strategy could stop such oppressions on the common people.
The Maurya empire produced only three rulers with exceptional leadership qualities. Chandragupta Maurya, Bimbisara and Ashoka expanded their kingdom and added new glories to their title. However later Mauryan leaders proved to be incapable of handling the mighty kingdom. Because of these nearby provinces started moving away from the imperial rule and formed new states. This led to disintegration of the Maurya empire.
Vastness of the kingdom
The total area of Maurya empire was very vast. It included areas of Bihar, Odisha, Bengal , parts of north-eastern India, western and north-western India, areas of the south, and the Deccan. They also ruled in eastern Afghanistan, Baluchistan, and the areas west of the Indus. So literally controlling such a large area through a centralized form of government was a mammoth task. The rulers after Ashoka were too weak to handle such a large kingdom. They lacked in strategy to rule the entire empire from the centre.
Formation of Independent provinces
The administrations of Chandragupta, Bimbisara or Ashoka had very good strategies of ruling the provinces that were gained through expansion. But after Ashoka’s death, power in the centre started to lose. Insufficient power and weak authority on the provinces helped the rulers to gain authority over their provinces and finally they declared themselves as independent states.
The policies of Ashoka were contrasting with that of Bramanas. Ashoka, especially after the Kalinga war had laid down certain policies that were clearly against the principles of the Brahmanas. He issued his edicts in Prakrit and not in Sanskrit. Ashoka porihibited hunting or killing of any living thing. He was against the tradition of sacrifice in pujas of deities. Ashoka did not allow discrimination based on varnas. These steps made the Brahmanas unhappy and they got infuriated. In 185 BC the Maurya empire was destroyed by a brahmana Pushyamitra Shunga.
Spread of Knowledge in the Outlying Areas
The kingdoms that rose in the ancient time were basically based on certain advantages of new knowledges. The Magadha kingdom rose along the Ganga Basin as they learnt to use the nature in their favour. For example they were capable of using the materials like iron ore to manufacture weapons. The Mauryan people along with iron, used coins made of copper or silver, construted stone structures etc.
With the expansion of the kingdom, the knowledge of material culture also spread simultaneously. These ignited the minds of people in the adjacent areas or provinces to use material culture in their favour and establish new kingdoms themselves.
Neglect of North-West Frontier
Ashoka after Kalinga war was deeply engaged with missionary activities. He paid little attention to the passes of north-western frontier. These passes posed serious danger to the settled kingdoms in India. The Greeks that settled their kingdom in north Afghanistan invaded India through the north-western fronteir in 206 BC.
Internal revolt can be regarded as one of the major factor for final dismantling of the Maurya kingdom. Taking advantage of the weak ruler, internal revolt started evolving under the leadership of the commander-in-chief of Maurya army Pushyamitra Shunga. Finally around 185 BC he killed his king Brihadratha with the help of his army and took over the throne of the Maurya empire. Thus Pushyamitra Shunga established the Shunga dynasty.