The Mauryan Empire was perhaps the largest empire ever to dominate the Indian subcontinent. Administration of Mauryan dynasty emote a stupendous instance, in which the top order established solemn groundwork for their descendants. Although, its downfall began fifty years after Ashoka's rule came to an end and was dissolved in 185 BCE, with the foundation of the Sunga Dynasty in Magadha.
Rulers of Mauryan Empire
Chandragupta Maurya, the founder king of the Mauryan Dynasty, represents the quintessence of the Mauryan kings, who materialised the very idea of political unification of India. Chandragupta Maurya conquered Magadha and in 321 BC, founded the Mauryan Dynasty, with his capital at Pataliputra. With the ubiquitous Chanakya always by Chandragupta's side, background of Mauryan dynasty is one unusual chapter in Indian history. Chandragupta's minister Chanakya, also legendary as Kautilya, penned the Arthashastra, one of the greatest treatises on economics, politics, arts of war and religion. His son, Bindusara, continued the campaign into peninsular India. Chanakya helped Bindusara in destruction of the kings and ministers of sixteen towns and made Bindusara the master of all territory between the eastern and western sea.
Ashoka, Chandragupta's grandson, established an all-India empire and discovered both the advantages and problems inherent in such a political structure. After the Kalinga War, the empire experienced half a century of prosperity and safety under Ashoka. Mauryan India also relished an era of social concord, religious metamorphosis and expansion of science and of knowledge. Ashoka's espousing of Buddhism was the groundwork of the prevailing of social and political peace and non-violence throughout India.
Administration of Mauryan Empire
Land revenue had been recognised as a major source of state income before the Mauryas. The proverbial wealth of the Nandas was doubtless due to their efficient collection of revenue from the fertile middle Ganga plain. According to the Arthasastra, every activity, from agriculture to gambling and prostitution, might be subjected to taxation by the state. No waste land should be occupied nor a single tree cut down in the forest without permission from the state, since these were all ultimately sources of revenue. It was conceded that the main item of income was land revenue and this was dependent on correct assessment and proper collection. But other activities also had to be controlled and supervised by the state so that they would yield the maximum revenue.
During the Mauryan dynastic period, apart from trade and commerce, agricultural productivity also was accentuated to massive extent. The Mauryans were benevolent kings and during their reign, farmers were liberated of tax and crop collection burdens from regional kings. The fair system of taxation as advised by the principles of Arthashastra, led the Mauryans to earn total respect from the subjects. Chandragupta Maurya had established a single currency across India and eliminated the gangs of pedlars, regional private armies and the powerful chieftains who tried to impose their own domination in the small areas. Mauryan dynasty also had patronised internal trade within India, which boomed profoundly due to political unity and internal reign of peace. Under the Indo-Greek political treaty, during Ashoka's reign, international trade network attained a thriving prosperity.
Armed Forces of Mauryan Empire
The army and its role in the politics and economy of the Mauryan period are the major factors of the society. A large army was not only essential to vast conquests, it was equally important as a means of holding the empire together. The estimated strength of Chandragupta's army, according to near-contemporary classical sources, was around 9,000 elephants, 30,000 cavalry, and 6,00,000 infantry. Even allowing for a margin of exaggeration in these figures, the Mauryan army was a large one by any standards. Thus it was the interdependence of taxation, administration, and armed strength which went into the making of a centralised empire.
Social Developments under Mauryan Empire
Among the more significant changes which had taken place by the middle of the first millennium B.C. was the development of towns and urban culture. The coming of Aryan culture based on pastoralism and agrarian village communities. It resulted in the entire process of development from village cultures to urban cultures being re-experienced in northern India. Towns evolved from trade centres and craft villages, and consequently the dominant institution of urban life was the guild. By the end of the 4th Century B.C. artisan and merchant guilds were an established part of the urban pattern.
During the Mauryan period, the improved economic status of the guilds introduced complications in the existing social pattern. Guild leaders became powerful citizens controlling large economic assets. But, in the caste-based society of this period, the trader or the artisan was not included among the most socially privileged citizens.
Moreover there have been adequate developments in infrastructure under the reign of the mauryan dynasty. In a system as centralised as that of the Mauryas, it was essential that communication be maintained with all parts of the subcontinent and with every level of society. This was done in part by building a network of roads linking the entire empire with Pataliputra. The Royal Highway which ran from Taxila to Pataliputra, covered a distance of over a thousand miles.
Art and Architecture under Mauryan Empire
Apart from these, the art and culture of Mauryan Empire deserve mentioning though architectural heritage of the Mauryan dynasty were not momentous enough and did not attain prosperity to the extent trade and commerce had flourished. The architectural idiom of the Mauryas is the hypostyle kind of building, which has been excavated in the Kumrahar region of Patna. Since Buddhism and Jainism prospered during the Mauryan period, contemporary architecture had an aura of these religious sects. Apart from these, most widespread example of the Mauryan architecture is the rock edicts of Ashoka, traversing almost all the country.
For many centuries, Ashoka remained almost unknown to the Indian historical tradition. The proclamations issued by Ashoka were engraved on rocks and pillars throughout the subcontinent and these remained visible. It would appear that Ashoka aimed at creating an attitude of mind among his subjects in which social behaviour had the highest relevance.
Religion under Mauryan Empire
During the Mauryan era, religions namely Buddhism and Jainism, had won the sympathy of the artisans and the merchants. These are said to be the heterodox sects that challenged the established order. These new religions sprang from a considerable intellectual ferment which had begun earlier in the period, around 600 B.C. A healthy rivalry was apparent among a number of sects, such as the Charvakas, Jainas, and Ajivikas, whose doctrines ranged from pure materialism to determinism. This intellectual liveliness was reflected in the eclectic interests of the Mauryan rulers.
Decline of Maurya Empire
The magnificence and prosperity which the Mauryan Empire had earned during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya, Bindusara and Ashoka, was destined to weaken during the later Mauryas. In 185 B.C. the Mauryan Empire ceased to exist. After the death of Ashoka, an impenetrable darkness shrouded the history of Mauryan Empire. The Mauryan kingdom was disintegrated disastrously after the death of Ashoka and the later Mauryas were not effective enough to re-integrate the whole empire. Perhaps this is the sole cause behind the downfall of the Empire. The successors of Ashoka were more concerned to preach Buddhism and Jainism, rather than in the successful maintenance of the Empire. Hence after Ashoka, Mauryan dynasty lost its former glory, but continued reigning for 50 years after Ashoka's death.
After the death of Demetrius, his sons continued to conflict within the Mauryan empire. Then finally the Greek army captured Patna under King Menander, uniting the Indo-Greek realm. The last Maurya King Brahadratha was killed by the chief of the Shunga coup, Pushyamitra Shunga, who instituted the Shunga dynasty in 185 B.C.