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.
Rulers of the Mauryan Empire
We can take into account the names of three great rulers of the Maurya dynasty – Chandragupta Maurya, Bindusara and Ashoka. However other rulers like Dasharatha, Samprati, Shalisukha, Devavarman, Shatadhanvan and Brihadratha ruled the Maurya Empire. Brihadratha was the last Mauryan ruler. He lost his Kingdom to Pushyamitra Shunga in 185 BCE.
Chandragupta Maurya (322 BC – 298BC)
Chandragupta Maurya was the founder of the Maurya dynasty. His name came to be known as Maurya because he was born of Mura, a shudra women. Mura was a worker in the court of the Nandas. However earlier buddhist traditions speak of the Mauryas as the ruling class of the republic of Pipphalivana in Gorakhpur.
Around 322 BC, Chanakya visited the Magadha kingdom, but the then king of Magadha, Dhana Nanda insulted him. In order to take revenge Kautilya advised Chandragupta to snatch the kingdom from Dhana Nanda. Using the advantage of oppressive and corrupt rule of Dhana Nanda, Chandragupta overthrew Dhana and took over the throne of Magadha. This was the start of the historical empire of the Mauryas. With Chanakya’s help and guidance Chandragupta expanded his kingdom westward across central and western India within a very short time.
It is worth-mentioning here that during the rise of Chandragupta, another great leader of that time Alexander the Great withdrew his army from the west. This led to some kind of disruption in local power. Taking this as an advantage Chandragupta left no stone unturned to expand his kingdom. By 320 BC, he occupied the Northwestern India along with the satraps left by Alexander.
Chandragupta liberated north-western India from Seleucus. He fought a war with the Greek and came out victorious. To bring peace in the region both the leaders reconciled with a peace treaty. Chandragupta received the daughter of Seleucus for marriage , 500 elephants, eastern Afghanistan, Baluchistan, and the areas west of the Indus from Seleucus. Selucus also sent Megasthenes as his ambassador to the court of Chandragupta.
Thus Chandragupta built a vast empire that includes areas of Bihar, Odisha, Bengal , parts of north-eastern India, western and north-western India, areas of the south, and the Deccan. The Maurya’s ruled over virtually the entire subcontinent.
Chandragupta’s political organization
Chandragupta was an autocratic king by nature. However, he is said to be a king with ideals in Arthashastra of Kautilya. According to Arthashastra , he stated that in the happiness of his subjects lay his happiness and in their troubles lay his troubles. A council of members noted for wisdom used to assist him in decision making.
The empire was divided into a number of provinces. The provinces were further divided into smaller units. A prince was assigned to rule each such provinces. The capital of the Mauryas, Pataliputra was administered by six committees. The central government controlled about 24 departments, which controlled the social and economic activities of the state. Chandragupta had a huge army. It is said that he maintained about 600,000 foot soldiers, 30,000 cavalrymen, 9000 elephants and 8000 chariots.
In 298 BCE Chandragupta Maurya was succeeded by his son Bindusara.
Bindusara(298BC – 272 BC)
In 298 BC Bindusara acquired the throne of Maurya kingdom from Chandragupta Maurya. Chanakya continued as a minister in Bindusara’s court. Bindusara appointed his eldest son Sumana as viceroy of Taxila and Ashoka that of Ujjain.
He continued his father’s expansionist policy and conquered the Deccan upto Mysore. Bindusara brought 16 states under the Maurya Empire. He conquered almost entire Indian Peninsula except some states in the south and Kalinga of Odisha. Bindusara is known to continue friendly relations with the Greeks established by his father. Dionysius, an ambassador of Egypt came to the court of Bindusara. After his death Ashoka succeeded the throne of Maurya Kindom.
Ashoka (272 BC – 232 BC)
Ashoka succeeded his father in around 272 BC. Many scholars stated that Ashoka was a very cruel person and he killed his 99 brothers to acquire the throne. He was the first king in India who has left his historical records engraved on stones. His history can be reconstructed on the basis of his inscriptions. There are many inscriptions classified into Major Rock Edicts, Minor Rock Edicts, Seperate Rock Edicts, Major Pillar Edicts, and Minor Pillar Edicts. Ashoka’s name has been found engraved in four Minor Rock Edicts. However his adopted title devanampiya piyadasi, occurs in several places.
Ashoka is known to have fought only one major war that turned out to be a turning point of his life. He won the Kalinga war where 100,000 people were killed, several lakhs died, and 150,000 were taken prisoners. The war brought great sufferings to the brahmana priests and buddhist monks, and this in turn filed Ashoka’s heart with grief and remorse. He therefore changed his ideology from bherighosha to dhammaghosha.
After the Kalinga war, Ashoka became a changed emperor with a policy not to occupy in favour of cultural conquest but to follow the path of dharma while ruling his subjects. He even asked his tribal subjects to follow the priciples of dhamma(dharma). He no longer treated foreign dominions as legitimate areas of millitary conquest. In the later part of his life he got converted to Buddhism and became a monk. Ashoka brought about political unification of the country. He bounded the country by one dharma, one language, and virtually one script called Brahmi.
Ashoka retired in 232 BC and handed over his kingdom to Dasharatha.
Dasaratha Maurya (232 BC – 224 BC)
Dasaratha was the grand son Ashoka. He succeeded as the imperial ruler of India in 232 BC. He actually ruled a declining imperium after the death of Ashoka. During Dasaratha’s reign several territories started breaking away from the central rule. All the distant governments like the areas in the south broke away and reasserted their independence. The provinces of Surashtra, Maharastra, Andhra, Mysore and even the Mahameghavahana dynasty of Kalinga broke away from imperial rule. Dasaratha died in 224 BC and was succeeded by his brother Samprati.
Samprati(224 BC – 215 BC)
Samprati is said to have ruled from 224 BC to 215 BC. He was another grandson of Ashoka. During his rule he succeeded to regain the provinces of Surashtra, Maharashtra, Andhra and the Mysore region that broke away from the empire shortly after Ashoka’s death.
Some other ruler’s of the Maurya Empire were Shalisukha, Devavarman, Shatadhanvan and Brihadratha. After the death of Ashoka, the Maurya Empire started declining and reached to an end when one of it’s general assassinated the last Mauryan emperor Brihadratha in 185 BC. The new successor of the kingdom was Pushyamitra Shungha. He killed Brihadratha and founded the Shunga dynasty.