(Last Updated on : 20-01-2009)
An impenetrable obscurity shrouded the history of the Mauryan Empire after the death of Ashoka. Moreover there is no detailed and authentic information supplied by the historians about the period, when the Mauryan Empire was in the hand of the later kings. The colossal kingdom founded by Chandragupta Maurya and maintained in its entire splendour by his successors, could not ultimately retain its magnificent integrity.
The death of Ashoka in 236 B.C. removed the strong hand that held together the integrated whole of the Mauryan empire. His successors were unworthy to preserve the integrity of the vast Empire. During the end of his reign, Ashoka himself depleted the state treasury by making enormous charitable offerings to the Sramanas and the Bhikshus. The treasury was also exhausted because of the welfare programmes undertaken by Ashoka. The successors of Ashoka could not maintain the administrative system so suitably after Ashoka. The integrated Mauryan Empire was entirely disintegrated.
The Pillar edict VII denotes that Ashoka had many sons. As is known from the available historical records, Tivra inherited the throne of his father. And among the other sons Kunala and Jalauka, Jalauka was the successor of Ashoka in Kashmir. Jalauka had Saiva affliction and for that reason he turned hostile towards the Buddhist Kunala. Consequently there resulted chaos and anarchy among the brothers. As a result of this continuous hostility, the empire was divided and strength of the consolidated empire was weakened. But there lies a great controversy among the scholars about Kunala as the ruler of Pataliputra. The scholars have opined that since Kunala was blind, the entire administrative system was looked after by his favourite son Samprati. The Buddhist text also corroborated this fact. Henceforth, historians have opined that the king of Pataliputra was not Kunala but actually his son Samprati.
Though there is enough confusion among the scholars and even in the contemporary literary documents about the successors of Kunala, it is known that two of his sons, Samprati and Dasharatha rose to prominence. Dasharatha in the later years was also identified with Bandhupalita of Puranas. The Puranas had also stated that Dasharatha was the predecessor of Samprati. Smith however refuted this view and explained that the Mauryan Empire was divided between Dasharatha and Samprati. Dasharatha was the administrative head of the eastern part of the Mauryan Empire with Pataliputra as his capital and the western part was under Samprati with Ujjaini serving as his capital. But Dr. Bhandarkar denied this theory and supported the theories laid down by the Puranas. Whatever the theory is, the historians have opined that Mauryan Empire was disintegrated into several parts after Kunala.
Samprati was a great patron of Jainism. The Jain records spoke highly of him. According to the Jain interpreters, Samprati built Viharas for the Sramanas even in the non-Aryan areas and constructed thousands of Jain temples. Samprati is believed to have converted into Jainism by a monk Suhastin. According to Smith, Samprati had ruled over Avanti and western India in addition to his Western India. Bhandarkar had surmised that relics of the Jain traditions were found in various parts of Western India, he also added that Samprati was the last of the imperial Mauryas who continued his sway over various parts of the Mauryan Empire and it was after him that the deluge arrived.
The Mauryan Empire was divided into several parts after Samprati, as Dr. Thomas had suggested. Salisuka, a descendant of Samprati, was ruling over Pataliputra in diminished imperial splendour. Salisuka's reign right from the dawn of his ascension was threatened with foreign invasion and internal rebellion. The incompetent king Salisuka could not hold back the administration properly. About 206 B.C., Antiochus III, a descendant of Selucus Niketar, launched an invasion in India with his huge army. The Classical historians considered the Greek invasion led by Antiochus as the first step for the downfall of the Mauryas. But the other groups of historians however hold that the downfall of the vast imperial fabric of the Mauryas were the result of revolt and internal rebellion of the viceroys of royal blood. Viceroys in the different provinces unfurled the flag of their independence. As a result authority of the absolute sovereign was challenged and there was a continuous struggle between the viceroys and the king. King Salisuka was not capable enough to subdue the revolt, which finally resulted in complete crumbling of the Mauryan Empire. Moreover most of the governors in due course made an alliance with the Greek king Antiochus against the sovereign king Salisuka. As a result power of Salisuka fell short to the formidable coalition of the Greeks and native Governors.
The decline of the Mauryan Empire, which came over during the reign of Salisuka, could not be recaptured by the weak successors. The Yavana invasion and the internal revolt of the native governors eroded the vitality and the very foundation of the Mauryan Empire. The later kings of the Maurya lineage clung to the throne of Pataliputra with lessened splendour. Between Salisuka and Brihadratha, there ruled several kings, though from the Puranas the name of Debadharman predominated. The last of the Imperial Mauryas was Brihadratha, who was equally incompetent like his predecessors and later was treacherously assassinated by his general Pushyamitra Shunga.
As historical tradition speaks from time immemorial, the death of Brihadratha brought about the downfall of the Mauryan Empire.