Mauryan Empire: Significance and Literary Sources

A new era was opened in Indian History after the establishment of Mauryan Empire. It was very first time in history that whole India was politically united.
Created On: Apr 19, 2014 14:43 IST


A new era was opened in Indian History after the establishment of Mauryan Empire. It was very first time in history that whole India was politically united. In addition, from this period history writing became clear because of accuracy in chronology and sources. Along with this indigenous and foreign literary sources were available in ample form. This empire left epigraphical records in a large number to write the history of this period.

Also, some important archaeological findings associated with Mauryan Empire were stone sculpture a tremendous example of typical mauryan art. Some scholars suggest that message on Ashoka inscription was entirely different from most other rulers which is a symbol of powerful and industrious Ashoka and also he was humble more than other (later) rulers who adopted grand titles. So it’s not surprising that leaders of the nation regarded him as an inspiring figure.        

Literary Sources

Kautilya’s Arthasastra: this was a book in Sanskri. Kautilya was also called ‘Indian Machiavelli’. R. Shama Sastri in 1904 first discovered the manuscript of Arthasastra. The treaty was divided into 15 books or adhikarnas and which were further divided into 180 chapters into three parts:
The first part deals with the ruler and council of ruler and the departments of Government; the second part containing law as civil and criminal and the third part deals with war and diplomacy. This treaty is the most important literary source for the history of the Mauryas. The work deals with all topics of internal administration and foreign realtions.

Megasthenes’ Indica

The other source is a very interesting account written by Megesthenes in Greek. Megasthenes was the Greek ambassador of Selecus Nicator who spent time in the court of Chandragupta Maurya. His account was mentioned in his book Indica which was survived only in fragments. Yet, his book gives details about the Mauryan administration. The capital city of Pataliputra and its administration and military organization was particularly mentioned. He has given notable picture of contemporary social life.

Visakadatta’s Mudrarakshasa
: a drama in Sanskrit. Although written during the Gupta period but it describes about the victory of Chandragupta over Nandas with the assistance of Kautilya. It also gives a detail account of the socio-economic condition under the rule of Mauryas.

Other Literature    
The Puranas and the Buddhist literature such as Jatakas, apart from other sources provided information on the Mauryas. The Ceylonese Chronicles Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa throw light on the role of Asoka in spreading Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

Archaeological Sources
Edicts of Ashoka
James Princep in 1837 first deciphered the inscriptions of Ashoka which were written in Pali language and in some places Prakrit was used. The Brahmi script was used for writing on edicts. These Edicts of Ashoka deal with Asoka’s Dhamma and also about the instructions given to his officials. The XIII Rock Edict gives details about the war he fought against Kalinga.

Ashokan inscriptions in the northwestern India were found in Karoshti script. There are total fourteen Major Rock Edicts. Two of the Kalinga Edicts are found in the newly conquered territory. A number of major pillar Edicts were erected in important cities. Some edicts were minor rock edicts while some were minor pillar edicts. The Pillar Edict VII gives a summary of his efforts to promote the Dhamma within his kingdom. Thus the Ashokan inscriptions remain valuable sources for the study of Ashoka and the Mauryan Empire.

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