The Mauryans: They Shaped Patliputra (Patna) as a Beautiful Capital

Painting Mauryan Empire

Yes, we are going that back. Yes We are talking about Nanda dynasty and Mauryans. When Magadh was there and it was ruled by the 2 major kingdom. That was the time when Patliputra (modern Patna) started getting great attention. Patliputra was the place of power houses for many kings after that.

So lets explore the BCs of our history.

The Mauryans 

At that time, Magadh was ruled by the Nanda dynasty. Chanakya, also known as Kautilya was a pious, learned and determined brahman, who didn’t have a pleasant appearance but had an intelligent brain. He managed to terminate the existing King Mahapadm Nand and his eight sons and made Chandragupt the King of Magadh who was also the legitimate heir of the throne. Chandragupta founded the Mauryan Empire by overthrowing the Nanda dynasty with the help of Chanakya who was an important minister in the court of the Nanda rulers. Chanakya was ill treated by the Nanda king and he vowed to destroy their kingdom. He met the young Chandragupta in the Vindhya forest. Chanakya was well versed in politics and the affairs of the state. He groomed Chandragupta and helped him raise and organize an army. Thus, with the help of Chanakya, Chandragupta overthrew the last Nanda ruler and became the king and Chanakya became the chief minister in his court.


Maurya Empire was originated from the kingdom of Magadha in the Indo-Gangetic plains which is currently a part of modern Bihar, eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bengal (eastern side). It was ruled through the capital Patliputra (modern Patna).

Chandragupta Maurya was the founder of the dynasty (322 BC) who had overthrown the Nanda Dynasty and rapidly expanded his power westwards across central and western India by taking advantage of the disruptions of local powers in the wake of the withdrawal westward by Alexander the Great’s Greek and Persian armies. By 320 BC the empire had fully occupied Northwestern India, defeating and conquering the satraps left by Alexander.

It was one of the largest empires to rule the Indian subcontinent, stretched to the north along the natural boundaries of the Himalayas, and to the east stretching into what is now Assam. To the west, it reached beyond modern Pakistan, annexing Balochistan and much of what is now Afghanistan, including the modern Herat and Kandahar provinces.

Maurya Dynasty:
Magadh was the fourth dynasty after the Mahabharat war (3139 BC). Chandragupt Maurya was the first king and founder of the Maurya dynasty. His mother’s name was Mur, so he was called Maurya in Sanskrit which means the son of Mur, and thus, his dynasty was called Maurya dynasty.

Some bramhanical texts, like the ‘Puranas’ consider him from a lower (Shudra) caste, there are the Buddhist and Jain texts which speak of him as a member of the ‘Kshatriya’ (warrior)’ Moriya’ clan related to the ‘Shakyas’.

Another story known about Chandragupta was the son of king Mahanandin and Mura, and whose second wife Sunanda was the mother of the Nandas. Apparently with the help of a barber, Mahapadmananda she murdered her husband and Chandraguptas brothers and installed Mahapadmananda as the king. Mura escaped with her young son, who grew up and swore revenge.

Also another source calls Chandragupta’s father a commander to Mahapadmananda’s forces, whom Mahapadmananda had murdered by deceit.

Some texts have called Chandragupta a grandson of a headman of a village of peacock tanners, while some (‘Vishnu purana’ and the play ‘Mudrarakshasa’) refer to him as the illegitimate son of the woman named Mora and a Nanda prince (incidently the puranas also refer to the Nandas as offsprings of low birth).

However the most popular version holding fort is that, Chandragupta belonged to a ‘kshatriya’ (warrior) clan called ‘Moriya’, originally ruling, ‘Pipallivana’(Uttar Pradesh), a forest kingdom.

Most of our knowledge about the Mauryan period in general and the rule of Chandragupta in particular is obtained from two important literary sources: the Arthashastra, written by Chanakya, and Indica, written by the ancient Greek writer Megasthenes (who was an ambassador of Seleucus Nikator and had come to the court of Chandragupta).

Chandra Gupta Maurya entertains his bride from Babylon
Chandra Gupta Maurya entertains his bride from Babylon

Chandragupta’s minister Kautilya Chanakya wrote the Arthashastra, one of the greatest treatises on economics, politics, foreign affairs, administration, military arts, war, and religion ever produced in the India. Archaeologically, the period of Mauryan rule in South Asia falls into the era of Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW). The Arthashastra and the Edicts of Ashoka are primary sources of written records of the Mauryan times. The Mauryan Empire is considered one of the most significant periods in Indian history. The Lion Capital of Asoka at Sarnath, is the emblem of India.

The Arthashastra talks about the principles of governance and lays down rules of administration. It also discusses in detail the role of the king, his duties, rate of taxation, use of espionage, and laws for governing the society. The Indica of Megasthenes, on the other hand, gives a vivid description of the Mauryan society under the rule of Chandragupta. Megasthenes described the glory of the Mauryan capital of Pataliputra. He also talked of the lifestyle in the cities and villages and the prosperity of the Mauryan cities.

Chandragupta had united the whole of northern India under one rule. Mauryan Empire was the first large, powerful, centralized state in India. The Arthashastra laid the foundation of the centralized administration of Mauryan governance. The empire was divided into administrative districts or zones, each of which had a hierarchy of officials. The top most officers from these districts or zones directly reported to the Mauryan ruler. These officials were responsible for collecting taxes, maintaining the army, completing irrigational projects, and maintaining law and order.

During Chandragupta reign, the state regulated trade, levied taxes, and standardized weights and measures. Trade and commerce also flourished during this time. The state was responsible for providing irrigational facilities, succor, sanitation, and famine relief to its masses. Megasthenes, in his writings, has praised the efficient Mauryan administration.

Before the Kalinga war, the Mauryan administration under Ashoka was not different from that of his predecessors. Ashoka, like previous Mauryan kings, was at the head of the centralized administrative system. He was helped by a council of ministers that was in charge of different ministries like taxation, army, agriculture, justice, etc. The empire was divided into administrative zones, each one having its hierarchy of officials. The top most officers at the zonal level had to keep in touch with the king. These officers took care of all aspects of administration (social welfare, economy, law and order, military) in the different zones. The official ladder went down to the village level.

Emperor Chandragupta Maurya became the first major Indian monarch to initiate a religious transformation at the highest level when he embraced Jainism, a religious movement resented by orthodox Hin dupriests that usually attended the imperial court. At an older age, Chandragupta renounced his throne and material possessions to join a wandering group of Jain monks. However his successor, Emperor Bindusara preserved Hindu traditions and distanced himself from Jain and Buddhist movements.

But when Ashoka embraced Buddhism following the Kalinga War, he renounced expansionism and aggression, and the harsher injunctions of the Arthashastra on the employ of force, intensive policing and ruthless measures for tax collection and against rebels. Ashoka sent a mission led by his son and daughter to Sri Lanka, whose king Tissa was so charmed with Buddhist ideals that he adopted it himself and made it the state religion. Ashoka sent many Buddhist missions to West Asia, Greece and South East Asia, and commissioned the construction of monasteries, schools and publication of Buddhist literature across the empire. He is believed to have built as many as 84,000 stupas across India, and increased the popularity of Buddhism inAfghanistan. Ashoka helped convene the Third Buddhist Council near his capital, that undertook much work of reform and expansion of the Buddhist religion.

Birth of Buddhism
Birth of Buddhism

While himself a Buddhist, Ashoka retained the membership of Hindu priests and ministers in his court, and maintained religious freedom and tolerance, although the Buddhist faith grew in popularity with his patronage. Indian society began embracing the philosophy of ahimsa, and given the prosperity and law enforcement, crime and internal conflicts reduced dramatically. Also greatly discouraged was the caste system and orthodox discrimination, as Hinduism began inculcating the ideals and values of Jain and Buddhist teachings. Social freedom began expanding in an age of peace and prosperity.

Rock-cut Lord --Buddha-- Statue at Bojjanakonda near Anakapalle of Visakhapatnam dist in AP
Rock-cut Lord –Buddha– Statue at Bojjanakonda near Anakapalle of Visakhapatnam dist in AP

Mauryans implemented a common economic system and enhanced trade and commerce, with increased agricultural productivity under the able guidance of Chanakya. Hundreds of earlier kingdoms, many small armies, powerful regional chieftains, and internecine warfare, gave way to this disciplined central authority. Like in Arthashastra (by Kautilya)said, the king was the supreme head of the state. His duty was mainly ensuring the welfare and happiness of his subjects. He was to work almost 18-19 hours a day and was to be at the service of his people, courtiers, and officers any time of the hour. The country prospered during Mauryan rule.

The Council of ministers consisted of 3-12 members, each being the head of a department. Then there was the State council which could have 12,16 or 20 members. Besides, there was the bureaucracy consisting of the ‘Sannidhata’ (treasury head), ‘Samaharta’ (chief revenue collector), ‘Purohita’ (head priest),’Senapati’(commander of the army),’ Pratihara’ (chief of the palace guards),’Antarvamisika’ (head of the harem guards),’Durgapala’(governor of the fort), ‘Antahala’ (governor of the frontier),’Paur’(governor of the capital),’Nyayadhisha’ (chief justice),’Prasasta’ (police chief). Then there were the ‘Tirthas’, ‘Amatyas’ i.e officers in charge of accounts (controlled by the chief minister‘Mahaamatya’) of the: treasury, records, mines, mints, commerce, excise agriculture, toll, public utility, armory etc.

Coins of that age
Coins of that age

The governors or viceroys of provinces were called ‘Mahamatras’ and if the designation was held by a prince then he was called ‘Kumara mahamatra’. Assisting them were the ‘Yutas’ (tax collectors), ‘Rajukas’(revenue collectors),’Sthanikas’ and’Gopas’(district officers). Then there was the local village head called’ Gramika’ under whom the village assembly operated.
The civil courts were called ‘Dharmasthiya’ and criminal courts were called ‘Kantakshodhana’.
An international network of trade expanded during Ashoka’s reign under the Indo-Greek friendship treaty. Like the Khyber pass, on the boundary of Pakistan and Afghanistan became important port of trade and intercourse with the outside world. Greek states and Hellenic kingdoms in West Asia became important trade partners of India. Trade also extended through the Malay peninsula into Southeast Asia. India’s exports included silk goods and textiles, spices and exotic foods. The Empire was enriched further with an exchange of scientific knowledge and technology with Europe and West Asia. Ashoka also sponsored the construction of thousands of roads, waterways, canals, hospitals, rest-houses and other public works. The easing of many overly-rigorous administrative practices, including those regarding taxation and crop collection, helped increase productivity and economic activity across the Empire. In many ways, the economic situation in the Maurya Empire is comparable to the Roman Empire several centuries later, which both had extensive trade connections and both had organizations similar to corporations.

Fourteen Rock Edicts found at eight different places which are. Shahbazgarhi (seventh edict engraved on a bowl ,Peshawar, Pakistan presently displayed in the Prince of Wales museum, Mumbai),Manshera (Hazara),Kalsi (Dehradun, Uttarakhand),Girnar (Junagadh, Gujrat),Sopara(Thana, Maharashtra), Dhauli and Jaugada(Orissa) and erragudi(Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh). Minor Rock Edicts found at thirteen different places which are. Roopnath(Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh), Bairat(Jaipur, Rajasthan), Sasaram(Shahbad district, Bihar), Maski (Raichur, Karnataka), Gavimath and Palkigundu(Mysore, Karnataka), Gujarra(Datia district , Madhya Pradesh), Ahraura (Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh), Rajulamandagiri (Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh), Yerragudi and three neighbouring places in Chitaldurga district, Mysore. Seven Pillar Edicts found on a single pillar (Topra, presently displayed in Delhi).Rest were found in northern Bihar. The remaining inscriptions were engraved on rocks, pillars and cave walls.

The Caves of Barabar from 300 BC
The Caves of Barabar from 300 BC

The most important of these being the engravings on a pillar found at Rumindei (Nepal) which mentions Ashoka’s visit to the birthplace of Gautam Buddha at Lumbini. Two short inscriptions written in Aramaic have also been found at Taxilla and Jalalabad(Afghanistan). A bilingual inscription written in Greek and Aramaic has been found on a rock at Shar-i-Kuna(Kandahar, Afghanistan). Four edicts (one in Kharoshti script derived from Aramaic, used in Iran and others in perhaps, Prakrit, rest found in the country being in Brahmi) have been found in Shalatak and Qargha (Afghanistan).

Newly excavated Buddhist stupa at Mes Aynak in Logar Province of Afghanistan.
Newly excavated Buddhist stupa at Mes Aynak in Logar Province of Afghanistan.

The thirteenth rock edict gives a vivid account of Ashokas conquest of Kalinga (260 BC), after a prolonged war, in which 1,50,000 persons were captured, 1,00,000 killed and many times that number perished. Ashoka was said to have been filled with great remorse and guilt after witnessing the misery and bloodshed his war cost.

The reign of Ashoka was followed for 50 years by a succession of weaker kings. Brhadrata, the last ruler of the Mauryan dynasty, ruled territories that had shrunk considerably from the time of emperor Ashoka, but he was still upholding the Buddhist faith. He was assassinated in 185 BCE during a military parade by the commander-in-chief of his guard, the Brahmin general Pusyamitra Sunga, who then took over the empire.

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