The Mauryan Age is seminal period in the political and socio-cultural life of the people of India. It was characterized by the rise of imperial power to an unprecedented level, the blossoming of culture and arts, the growth of economy and brisk contacts with lands and people beyond its geographical frontiers. It is to this age that the term ‘Classical’ is appropriately applicable, and with sufficient good reason, in so far as it has served India as an exemplar of political integration and moral regeneration. A study of the Age presents the students of History a variety of problems which are as complex as they are important. With a view to monograph seeks to examine as to how the intellectual and culture movements of the Age were mutually interconnected as also with the development of a specific imperial structure.
Surendra Nath Dube (b. 1941) has a brilliant academic background – B.A. Allahabad University and M.A. first class first, Gorakhpur University. He earned his PH.D. on “Doctrinal Controversies in Early Buddhism” from the University of Rajasthan, Jaipur in 1968 where he taught for 35 years, beginning in teaching career as Assistant Professor in History and Indian Culture in the year 1967. He was appointed Associate Professor in 1985 and foreign journals his publication include Cross Current in Early Buddhism (Delhi 1980), History of Indian Civilization and Culture (Jaipur 1985) and Religious Movements in Rajasthan (ed.Jaipur 1996). Twenty four candidates have completed their Ph.D. under his supervision.
Professor Dube was fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla (2002-2005). He is also a recipient of UGC National Associateship in History (1976-77). He visited Germany in 1978 under the Culture Exchange Programme of Academic and delivered lectures at several universities there: Humboldt University (Berlin), Martin Luther University, etc. he participated and chaired a session in the International Seminar on Buddhism and Leadership for Peace held at East West International Centre, Honolulu, Hawaii (June 1995). He visited France on an invitation from Maison Des Sciences Des L’Homme Paris (July 1995). Professor Dube has visited several Indological centres of Central Europe and North America. He visited USA again in January- February 2005.
The age of the Mauryas is a seminal period of Indian history characterised by changes of far-reaching significance in the political as well as socio-cultural life of the people of India. It witnessed the rise of imperial power to an unprecedented level, enabling the unification of India under the auspices of a single common authority. The unified state, the first in India's history, incorporated a greater part of Bharatavarsa as also some adjacent regions. The political unification under the Mauryas makes the chronology of Indian history precise. Political unity leads to historical unity. A uniform and efficient system of administration under Chandragupta and his successors brought in its train the cultural unity of the country. A study of the age presents the students of history a variety of problems, which are as complex for a satisfactory explanation as they are important. Numerous questions, interesting in themselves and more interesting by reason of their general significance, unfold before us as the age progresses. With a view to understanding the vitality and continuity of Indian tradition, as well as its ability to adapt to alien ideas, harmonise contradictions and mould new thought patterns, it is interesting to examine as to how the intellectual and cultural movements of the age were mutually inter-connected as also with the development of a specific imperial structure. The present study is a modest attempt to proceed in that direction. Generally known facts of the Mauryan history have been put in a perspective to give an idea of India's historical evolution.
The study consist of ten chapters. The first chapter, entitled Introduction, underlines the importance of Mauryan age in terms of political unity leading to historical and cultural unity and all important question of chronology being made precise. The second chapter, entitled Study of the Sources, surveys relevant sources, highlighting those which are of our direct concern, i.e., Pali and Ardhamagadhi texts. The third chapter, entitled Intellectual and Social Background, traces the backdrop of spiritual unrest and intellectual ferment opening the vista of heterodox ascetic movements, the foremost being Buddhism and Jainism. Each one of them was based on a distinctive set of doctrines and distinctive rules of monastic and social conduct. Their genesis and nature, as well as the extent of their spread and expansion in the society have also been delineated. Imperial Unification and Wider Horizons, which forms the fourth chapter, discusses in detail as to how the Mauryan age ushers in a unique period of unification and consolidation. The accomplishments of the great soldier and founder of the empire Chandragupta, in the aftermath of the disruptive invasion of Alexander the Great in 326 BC, placed India on the political map of the world. The conscientious administrative system of the Mauryas owes as much to him as to his renowned chancellor Chanakya or Kautilya. An important consequence of Alexander's campaigns in India was that India and Greek world were brought closer to each other than before and the way was opened up for active contact between them, leading to the growth of trade and cultural intercourse. The fifth chapter, entitled Benign Autocracy and Its Legacies, discusses the forty years of Asoka's reign which forms a great epoch not only in the history of India, but in the anals of mankind. The baffling problem of Asoka’s religious conviction has been analysed in detail and hitherto unutilised sources have been highlighted on the issue. Asoka's Buddhist missions are claimed to have operated in West Asia, Egypt and Macedonia and the rise of Essenes sect, to which Jesus belonged, may, probably, owe something to the Buddhist influence.
Rise and Ramifications of Early Buddhist Sects, which is the caption of the sixth chapter, traces the background, evolution and ramifications of the early Buddhist sects which seem to have proliferated in the age of Asoka. The seventh chapter, entitled Critical Transition in Buddhist Ideas, presents a broad cross-section of Buddhist thought in the age of the Mauryas when some of the conflicts and obscurities latent in the earlier doctrines emerged openly and when in the course of their discussion ground was prepared for future development. The Pali text Kathavatthu, a leading document of the age of Asoka, is a kind of magnum opus for a reconstruction of early Buddhism and for understanding the figurative transition from the earlier historical forms to the later developed systems. Consolidation of other Ascetic Orders, forming the eighth chapter, underlines the development and importance of Jain ism in the history of Indian thought. The growth of the Jaina monastic order till the Mauryan times, as gleaned from Jaina texts and inscriptions shows the powerful support it received from its dedicated followers, both monks and lay disciples. It also enjoyed royal patronage in considerable measure. There is reason to believe that Jainism, like Buddhism, began to flourish in the days of the Mauryas. The concluding part of the chapter is devoted to piecing together the evidences with a view to projecting another contemporary movement led by the famous ascetic Makkhali Gosala. The Pali and Ardhamagadhi sources are in agreement in describing the Ajivikas as naked ascetics, professing rules of life quite distinct from the hermits of the Vanaprastha order. The Buddhists and the Jainas mercilessly criticise the fatalistic creed of the Ajivikas. The ninth chapter, entitled Theistic Movements, seeks to examine the rise of the theistic orders ascribable to this period. It seems that the genesis of the theistic movements, especially Vaisnavism and Saivism, was, perhaps, connected with the intellectual discontent of the 6th-5th centuries B.C. and it might be reflecting the other shade of the deep-seated agitation. The thought-ferment manifested itself in the north-east of India in an anti-Vedic movement, while in the north-west attempt was made to reconcile the newer tendencies with orthodoxy. The tenth chapter is in the form of concluding remarks followed by a General Bibliography.
I am deeply indebted to the Governing Body of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Simla for the award of a fellowship to enable me to undertake this study. Professor G.C. Pande has always been the prime source of inspiration for me in all my academic endeavours, and without his encouragement it would have been difficult for me to. complete this project. I am grateful for the support received from ex-Directors of the Institute Professor V.C. Srivastava and Professor Bhuvan Chandel in whose tenure the project was pursued. I must also acknowledge my deep sense of gratitude to the present Director Professor Peter Ronald deSouza for bearing with me the inordinately delayed publication of this monograph. To my valued friend and former colleague, Shri R.S. Mishra, I am grateful for his kind interest in the progress of this work. I do not have adequate words to express what I owe to my sahadharmini Smt. Geeta. The officers and staff of the Institute had always been very cooperative and helpful during my three years stay at the Institute for which I am highly thankful to them.
The establishment of the Mauryan empire marks a unique event in the history of India. The empire was created and founded by Chandragupta, who, according to the accounts of Plutarch and Justin, appeared before Alexander in the Punjab (326-25 BC) as a 'stripling'. A man of humble birth though, he was endowed by tradition with signs of an august destiny. Northern India was passing through a state of ferment about that time. The Nanda dynasty of Magadha was tottering under the burden of its avarice, extortion and unpopularity. In the north-west the people, divided, as they were, smarted under the blows of Alexander's invasion. The political situation was, thus, ripe for a radical change. It did not take long for a bold initiative to be taken by Chandragupta, who aided by Chanakya, conceived the grand design of reversing the conditions. Both Indian and classical sources agree that Chandragupta overthrew the last of the Nandas and occupied the throne of Magadha." The classical sources add that, soon after the retreat of Alexander, Chandragupta liberated the north-west by driving out the Greek garrisons. He made himself the master of the whole of the Aryavarta. The results of the formidable stature that he gained were seen a few years later, when Seleucus I, the king of Syria, tried to repeat unsuccessfully Alexander's exploits in India." The consolidation and expansion of the empire of Magadha at the hands of the Mauryas dominates the scene for more than a century, realising a long cherished dream of universal monarchy (samrajya).
With the establishment of the Mauryan rule we come from darkness to light and it is from this period that the history of India finds a proper chronological setting, entering into a unique period of expansion and consolidation of Indian statehood. Alexander the Great, Chandragupta, Chanakya (Kautilya) and Asoka are the dominating figures who play a pivotal role in shaping the contours of its history. Some enviable developments, which characterise the period, mark a distinct break from the past and a turning point in Indian history. The age was preceded by momentous events, such as the upsurge of non-Brahmanical or so-called heterodox schools of thought, the rise of second urban revolution, introduction of coinage and the art of writing, the ascension of Magadhan aggrandisement, etc. The interplay of these factors generated a tumult in Indian society and led to developments which gave a fillip to fundamental changes in India's history and culture. Fortunately, in a study of the Mauryan period, there is a comparative abundance of information from sources, either contemporary or later.
It is also true that of all the early periods of Indian history the age of the Mauryas has evoked extreme curiosity and interest of researchers and authors. From the beginning of the Indological studies to recent times different aspects of its history and culture have continued to attract scholars. Even a select list of publications on the Mauryas, pertaining to the last sixty years, would be quite voluminous and would show that, on an average, more than one book has come out every two years. A perusal of the studies, however, demonstrates that their focus generally has been on the sources, especially epigraphic, and the Mauryan political history and polity. Added to that, while writing about ancient India, historians have largely relied on the works of Brahmanical literature and have generally ignored the Buddhist and Jaina texts or at least have not utilised them to their full potential. An attitude of apathy towards Buddhism and Buddhist culture, as a secondary factor, characterises early writings on Indology both Indian and Western. What seems to remain a desideratum, to some extent, is an analysis of the Buddhist and Jaina texts which have bearings on the period in so far as they contain data poorly elucidated in the inscriptions. Numerous scholarly studies on the sources of Mauryan history notwithstanding, some of the Buddhist and Jaina works which do not seem to have been fully utilised or cross-checked are-Kathavatthu, Milindapanha, Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa (supposedly based on earlier texts), Sinhali Atthakatha and Uttaravihara Atthakatha), Mahavamsatika (Vamsatthappakasini), Mahabodhivamsa, Tiloyapannati, Bhadrabahu's Nijjuti on Brhatakalpasutra, Avassayachunni, Sukhabodha (Prakrit commentary on Uttarajjhayanasutta), chunnis and commentaries on Dasavaikalika sutta and Nisithasutta, Avassayachunni (as reflected in Parisistaparvan , etc.
The administrative system of the Mauryan empire, which may be said to be at the base of subsequent administrative development of India, may owe something to the predecessors of the Mauryas, but one gets the strong impression that much of it was due to the creative ability of Chandragupta himself and his famous chancellor Chanakya or Kautilya. If there was not much scope for the exercise of civic liberties and rights, it has to be noted that conditions elsewhere were no better and that the despotic authority of his government was used largely for promoting the welfare of the people, as is clear from the testimony of both Kautilya and Megasthenes. As the architect of the Mauryan empire and, to a large extent, of the Mauryan administration Chandragupta certainly leaves an indelible mark on Indian history. The remarkable accomplishments of Chandragupta have been immortalised by a grateful posterity. There are lauds, tales, plays, eve') philosophical dissertations in Indian literature in which authors eulogise the great hero in whose arms the earth, harassed by barbarians, found a shelter and who nearly succeeded in bringing about the unification of 'Jambudvipa'. Fragments of the cycle of legends with him as the hero survive even in the works of classical writers.
The significance of the Mauryan rule lay not merely in the conquest of its rulers, but in the fact that it was able to weld the largely diverse elements of the sub-continent into a well-knit empire by successfully reducing the tremendous cultural gaps between the farflung regions. It, thus, gave expression to an imperial vision which was to dominate succeeding centuries of Indian political and cultural life. It also witnessed, among other things, the extension of humanistic and cultural activities of India much beyond her own physical boundaries, and the remarkable experiment in promoting international peace and harmony through abandonment of the policies of violence and military aggrandisement. The quiet tone in which the Mauryan emperor Asoka, one of the most interesting personalities in the history of India, records the despatch of his missions to preach the dhamma in alien lands and provide for the medical treatment of men and animals speaks eloquently of a practising dharmika dharmaraja. He was tireless in his exertion and unflagging in his zeal, all directed to the welfare of not only his own subjects, whom he considered as his children, but the entire world of living beings. Asoka is undoubtedly the brightest luminary in the firmament of Indian history. By the dint of his high idealism, his noble ideal of his duties and responsibilities as emperor, his unflinching determination for the service of the people and the unsurpassable humanity of his nature, Asoka towers far above the other great rulers of history." Under him India reached the high water-mark of material progress and, in a sense, of moral progress too. His eminence lay in the practical and detailed application to the daily administration of a vast empire of the highest principles of a religion and morality.
Asoka was equipped both by his endeavour and by circumstances to understand the requirements of his time. He coupled with this characteristic an extraordinary degree of idealism, and the courage with which he attempted to expound and impose dhamma, particularly in the complex milieu of the third century BC, is remarkable. The large numbers of Asokan inscriptions located in various parts of his empire give us an idea not only of the personality of the emperor but also of the important events of his reign. Perhaps, the most momentous of these was his conversion to Buddhism, which took place after the victorious campaign of Kalinga.
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