Sources of Mauryan History

The foundation of the Mauryan Empire opens a new era in the history of India. For the first time, the political unity was achieved in India. Moreover, the history writing has also become clear from this period due to accuracy in chronology and sources. Besides plenty of indigenous and foreign literary sources, a number of epigraphical records are also available to write the history of this period. Contemporary literature and Archaeological findings are crucial sources of information.
Updated: Jul 6, 2017 18:32 IST

There are two types of sources of Mauryan History. One is Literary and the other is Archaeological. The literary sources include Kautilya’s Arthasastra, Visakha Datta’s Mudra Rakshasa , Megasthenese’s Indica, Buddhist literature and Puranas. The archaeological sources include Ashokan Edicts and inscriptions and material remains such as silver and copper punch-marked coins.

Mauryan Dynasty

1. Literary Sources

a) Kuatilya’s Arthasastra

It is a book written by Kautilya (other name of Chanakya) on polity and governance. It reveals the economic and political conditions of the Mauryan period. Kautilya was the Prime Minister of Chandragupta Maurya, founder of Mauryan dynasty.

b) Mudra Rakshasa

The book was written by Visakha Datta in Gupta period. The book gives an account of how Chandragupta Maurya defeated Nandas with help from Chanakya besides throwing light on socio-economic conditions.

c) Indica

Indica was authored by Megasthenese who was the ambassador of Selecus Nikator in Cahndraqgupta Maurya’s court. It depicts administration in Mauryan Empire, 7-caste system and absence of slavery in India. Although it is lost in its original form, it has survived in the form of quotations in the text of classical Greek writers such as Plutarch, Strabo and Arrian.

d) Buddhist Literature

Buddhist texts such as Jatakas reveal socio-economic conditions of Mauryan period while Buddhist chronicles Mahavamsa and Dipavamsa throws light on the role of Ashoka in spreading Buddhism to Sri Lanka. Divyavadam, the Tibetan Buddhist text informs us about Ashoka’s efforts in spreading Buddhism.

e) Puranas

Puranas reveals us the lists of Mauryan kings and the chronology.

Mauryan Empire: Its Decline and Significance

Archaeological Sources

Ashokan Edicts

Ashokan Edicts in the form of Rock Edicts, Pillar Edicts and Cave Inscriptions are found at different places in Indian Sub-continent. These edicts were deciphered by James Princep in 1837 AD.  The majority of the edicts are mainly Ashoka’s proclamations to the public while few of them describes Ashoka’s acceptance of Buddhism.

Material Remains

Material remains such as NBPW (Northern Black Polished Ware), silver and copper punch-marked coins throws light on Maurya period.

A short description of Ashokan Edicts and its location

Ashokan Edicts and Inscriptions What it depicts? Its Location
14 Major Rock Edicts Principles of Dhamma Kalsi(Dehradun, Uttarakhand, Manshera(Hazara, Pakistan), Junagadh(Girnar, Gujarat), Jaugada( Ganjam, Orissa), Dhauli (Puri, Orissa), Yerragudi(Kurnul, Andhra Pradesh), Shahbajgarhi(Peshawar, Pakistan)
2 Kalinga Rock Edicts New System of administration post Kalinga war Dauli or Tosali(Puri, Odissa), Jaugada(Ganjam, Odissa)
Minor Rock Edicts Personal History of Ashoka and his Dhamma’s summary Brahmagiri(Karnataka), Rupanath(Madhya Pradesh, Siddhpur(Karnataka), Maski(Andhra Pradesh)
Bhabru-Bairat Rock Edicts Ashoka‘s getting converted to Buddhism Bhabru-Biarat (Rajasthan)
Pillar Edicts
7 Pillar Edicts Appendix to rock edicts Allahabad, Rampurva(Bihar)
4 Minor Pillar Edicts Signs of Ashoka’s fanaticism to Dhamma Sanchi(MP), Sarnath, Allahabad
2 Tarai Pillar Edicts Ashoks’s respects for Buddhism Lumbini( Nepal)
Cave Edicts  
3 Barabar Cave Edicts Ashoka’s toleration Barabar Hills

14 Rock Edicts of Ashoka and their content

Edict 1: Prohibits animal sacrifices
Edict 2: Depicts measures of social welfare
Edict 3: Respect for Brahmanas.
Edict 4: Respect to elders.
Edict 5: Appointment of Dhamma Mahamatras and their duties
Edict 6: Orders to Dhamma Mahamatras
Edict 7: Need for Tolerance among all religious sects
Edict 8: Dhamma- yatras
Edict 9: Discarding of meaningless ceremonies and rituals
Edict 10: Use of Dhamma instead of war for conquest
Edict 11: Explaining Dhamma-policy
Edict 12: Appeal to all religious sects for tolerance.
Edict 13: Kalinga war
Edict 14: Inspiring people to spend religious life

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