Mauryan Polity & Administration

Mauryan Empire was the first great empire in the history of the Indian subcontinent. The references found in Arthashastra, Indica of Megasthenes & information provided by Ashokan encryption through light on nature & character of the Mauryan state system.

The Mauryan political system was highly evolved. It was the culmination of a long process of gradual evaluation spanning across more than 1000 years. This Process had started with the arrival of Vedic Aryan & culminated under Mauryan in 4th century BC.

Kautliya's Arthashastra
Kautilya’s Arthashastra

Mauryan polity was monarchical in character because the king was head of state. The king was considered to be a representative of God on Earth kingship was semi-divine in character. The office of king was hereditary and the law of Primogeniture was followed but at time issue of succession decided through the strength of arms. Ashoka killed 99 brothers to get the crown.

High sounding titles adopted by Mauryan Rulers such as Priyadassi, Devanampiya. Mauryan polity was despotic in nature. Rulers maintained a big council of minister & advisor. They were supposed to take customs & traditions into the act while issuing orders. But in conflicting scenario order of the king was final.

Centralized Political system of Mauryan

The Mauryan political system was centralized in nature because the entire politico-admin machinery was controlled & guided from the center. A large body of center officials maintained by the Mauryan ruler to look after different fun. Recent historical have revealed that elements of decentralization were also present in the character of the Mauryan political system.

The entire Mauryan Empire was divided into three regions known as the nucleus/metropolitan region, core region & peripheral region. The nucleus region comprising territories around the capital was under the direct comfort of the king. It was admin by central officials. The core region is divided into provinces & districts. The provincial & district level officials enjoyed wide powers as informed by Ashoka inscription. The peripheral area comprised of tribal areas with semi-autonomous rulers looked after affairs.

Pataliputra: Capital city of Mauryan
Pataliputra: Capital city of Mauryan

The Guilds enjoyed a very high degree of autonomy. The state didn’t interfere in the fun of the guild. Elements of a Bureaucratic state were also present in the Mauryan political system because a large number of officials divided into various categories were there in the Mauryan Empire. Tirthas (18) formed the highest category of officials in the Mauryan political system (head of the ministry). Adakashya (27) formed the 2nd highest category. They were like heads of departments. Mahamatya & Amatyas were the next categories. They were appointed in different capacities.

Magadha Empire’s existence of the military state. Military state reference to such a state system in which no different practiced between civil & military officials. The existence of a military state depends on military strength. Most of the state of ancient & medieval age was of these natures. The important role of the state in economics was also imparted feature of the Magadha polity system state took steps for the progress of agriculture, industries & trade. Provincial and sub-provincial admin was also in the developed state in Magadha Empire.

Kumara/Aryagupta/Uparaja was head of provincial administration. Pradeshika was the district chief. He was assisted by Yukta & Rajuka. The village was the smallest unit of administration Gopa was the village headman. Mauryan polity was secular in char. because the state didn’t impart any particular faith or practice on people. The imperialistic outlook was dominant in Mauryan state system Mauryan rulers followed the policy of territorial expansion.

The Mauryan political system was panned India in nature because almost the whole of the Indian Subcontinent was included in it. Mauryan polity was also a character by an emphasis on grand ideals. According to Arthashastra king was to use his authority for the overall benefit of the people. The idea of Chakravarti chetra (Universal Monarch) was also followed by Mauryan rulers.

The disintegration of the Empire

Towards the end of his reign, Asoka’s grip over the imperial organization became weak. The Maurya Empire began to decline with the death of Asoka in 232 B.C., soon after it broke up. The evidence for the later Mauryas is very meager. The Puranas, besides Buddhist and Jaina literature, do provide us with some information on the later Mauryas, but there is no agreement among them. Even among the Puranas, there is a lot of variance between one Puranas and another. The one statement on which all the Puranas agree is that the dynasty lasted 137 years.

Asoka’s death was followed by the division of the empire into western and eastern halves. The western part including the north-western province, Gandhara, and Kashmir was governed by Kunala (one of the sons of Ashoka) and then for a while by Samprati (according to Jaina tradition he was a grandson of Ashoka and a patron of Jainism). It was later threatened from the north-west by the Bactrian Greeks, to whom it was practically lost by 180 B.C. From the south, the threat was posed by the Andhrasorthe Satavahanas who later came to power in the Deccan.

The eastern part of the Maurya Empire, with its capital at Pataliputra, came to be ruled by Dasaratha (probably one of the grandsons of Ashoka). Dasaratha apart from being mentioned in the Matsya Purana is also known to us from the caves in the Nagarjuni Hills, which he dedicated to the Ajivikas. According to the Puranas, Dasaratha reigned for eight years. This would suggest that he died without an heir old enough to come to the throne. The same sources speak of Kunala ruling for eight years.

This event occurred in 223 B.C. However, the empire had probably already begun to disintegrate. Jaina sources mention that Samprati ruled from Ujjain and Pataliputra. After Dasaratha and Samprati came Salisuka, a prince mentioned in the astronomical work, the Gargi Samhita, as a wicked quarrelsome king. The successors of Salisuka, according to the Puranas, were Devavarman, Satamdhanus, and finally Brihadratha. The last prince was overthrown by his commander-in-chief, Pushyamitra, who laid the foundations of a new dynasty called the Sunga dynasty.

Causes for the Decline of the Mauryas

The Magadhan Empire, which had been reared by successive wars culminating in the conquest of Kalinga, began to disintegrate after the death of Ashoka in 232 B.C. The reason given by historians for such, rapid declines is as conflicting as they are confusing.

One of the more obvious reasons for the decline was the succession of weak kings after Ashoka. A further and immediate cause was the partition of the empire into two, the eastern part under Dasaratha and the western part under Kunala. Had the partition not taken place, the Greek invasions of the north-west could have been held back for a while, giving the Mauryas a chance to re-establish some degree of their previous power. The partition of the empire disrupted the various services as well.

Scholars have suggested that the pro-Buddhist policies of Ashoka and the pro-Jaina policies of his successors alienated the Brahmins and resulted in the revolt of Pushymitra, the founder of the Shunga dynasty. H.C. Raychaudhuri maintains that Asoka’s pacifist policies were responsible for undermining the strength of the empire. The second argument blames Ashoka’s emphasis on non­violence for weakening the empire and its military strength. Haraprasad Sastri holds the view that the decline of the Mauryan Empire was the result of the Brahmanical revolt on account of the ban on animal sacrifices and undermining the prestige of the Brahmanas. Both these arguments are rather simplistic.

Another reason is put forward by some historians such as D.D. Kosambi is that there was considerable pressure on the Mauryan economy under the later rulers leading to heavy taxation. The organization of administration, and the conception of the state or the nation, was of great significance in the causes of the decline of the Mauryas. The Mauryan administration was of an extremely centralized character which necessitated a king of considerable personal ability. In such a situation the weakening of the central control leads automatically to a weakening of the administration. With the death of Ashoka and the uneven quality of his successors, there was a weakening at the center, particularly after the division of the empire.

The Mauryan state derived its revenues from taxing a variety of resources that would have to grow and expand so that the administrative apparatus of the state could be maintained. Unfortunately, the Mauryas did not attempt to expand the revenue potential or to restructure and reorganize the resources. This inherent weakness of the Mauryan economy when coupled with other factors led to the collapse of the Mauryan Empire.