Study of the Mauryas and their Administration!
The Mauryan administrative apparatus included in its range various levels of administration.
(i) The core area, i.e., Magadha,
(ii) Regional centres,
(iii) Peripheral areas,
(iv) Cities, and
The Mauryan administration took care of sustaining the king’s authority and maintaining order and a wide range of activities relating to justice, army, revenue, espionage and promotion of handicrafts to better the live hood of the people. All the levels of administrative apparatus from the centre to the village in succession had their own administrative set-up.
But all the levels of administration were under the control of the central authority. Though the Mauryan state was characterized by a centralized monarchical system, Arthasastra indicates that there existed certain tribal republics such as the Kambojas, Lichchavis, Vajjis and Panchalas were allowed to enjoy their privileges as long as they did not disrupt the Mauryan Empire.
The central administration of the Mauryas can be studied under the following headings:
(i) The king,
(ii) The council of ministers,
(iii) City administration,
(v) Espionage network,
(vi) Law and justice, and
(vii) Public welfare.
In the Mauryan administrative structure, the king was the supreme head and all basic policy matters were to be decided by the king alone. Kautilya in his Arthasastra holds the view that the king is the primary limb of the state and as such should carry out a wide range of activities pertaining to material and spiritual welfare besides protecting the people from internal and external aggression.
Arthasastra also mentions that if even on any issue, the Sastras diverge from the king’s law; the king’s law should prevail. However, Arthasastra thus gives supreme power and authority to the king; it also holds the opinion that a monarch functioning through an organized and efficient bureaucracy is the ideal of the government. Just as a single wheel cannot move, so also the king should employ ‘mantrins’ or should have a council of ministers (Mantriparishad).
The Saptangas or seven limbs of the state according to Arthasastra are the king, the Amatya, Janapada, Durga, Kosa, Danda and Mitras. Romila Thapar points out – “the constituents of the Saptanga theory are noticeably absent in the earlier society, though the elements of Raja, Janapada and Rastra are referred to in earlier periods and the notion of concentration of power in the office of the Raja and notion of a defined territory are vague”. These concepts took concrete shape by 3rd century BC.
Arthasastra categorically states that it is the king who appoints and removes the ministers, defends the people and maintains the Kosa, works for the development and welfare of the people, punishes the evil doers and stands as an example by his conduct. Further, Arthasastra states that the king should be virtuous born in Uchchakula or higher status decided by birth, should have a sharp intellect for grasping the affairs of the state, and should be a truthful upholder of Dharma. Kautilya also states that the king should be active, ready to discharge his duties and should not hesitate to act wherever necessary.
The king should not live in an ivory tower leading a luxurious life but should be accessible to officials both high and low and to people whenever they want to see him. The accounts of Megasthenes and the edicts of Asoka prove that the king followed the injuction of Kautilya in letter and spirit.
By the time of Asoka, we notice that though the king is the supreme head of the state, concentrating all powers in him he developed a paternal attitude towards his subjects. This is known from Asoka’s Dhauli epigraph, which states, “All men are my children; on behalf of my own children, I desire that they may be provided by me with complete welfare and happiness in this world and in the other world, even so is my desire on behalf of all men”.
At the same time, he is aware of his absolute power, he instructs his officers at Tosali as follows, “Whatever I approve of that I desire either to achieve by taking action or to obtain by effective means, and these are my instructions to you”. Thus, though Asoka made the welfare of his subjects the primary objective of his administrative philosophy, he appears to be an absolute monarch in terms of policy.
By assuming the title of Devanampriya that is beloved of the gods, Asoka, according to Romila Thapar attempted to establish a connection between monarchy and divinity at a personal level and did away with intermediaries like the clergy or priests. Further, the ministers in the council or Mantriparishad were only his subordinate advisers in the true sense.
The Mauryan rulers had a Mantriparishad or council of ministers. Arthasastra and the Asokan inscriptions confirmed this. Girnar epigraph of Asoka records the function of the council. Whatever may be the functions of the council or of ministers, they appear to have been merely carrying out the orders issued by the king. We do not know the number of ministers and Kautilya is of the opinion that a large council is beneficial to the king.
Though Kautilya suggests that the majority opinion of the council is to be implemented, he states that the verdict of the king is final. Arthasastra lays down certain qualifications for the selection of the ministers and one such qualification is that such person should be the purest of all or Sarvopadasudhama. Besides the council of ministers, there appears to have been an inner group of ministers called Mantris.The Arthasastra refers to 18 departments or Tirthas of the central government and theirduties in one chapter. Arthasastra refers to the superintendents of gold and goldsmiths, forest produce, commerce, armoury, weights and measures, tools, weaving, industry, agriculture, liquor dens, prostitutes, cows, etc.
The Mauryas maintained a standing army. While Pliny gives the strength of the army as 9,000 elephants, 3,000 cavalry and 6,000 infantry; Plutarch says that the Mauryan army consisted of 6,000 elephants, 8,000 horses, 2,000 foot-soldiers and 8,000 war chariots. We are not sure of the strength of the army but can say that they maintained a sufficiently large army.
The army was divided into infantry, cavalry, elephants, chariots, transport; and navy of the fleet Kautilya refers only to Chaturangabala as the main components of the army. A commander was appointed over every branch. Kautilya refers to a medical corps attached to the army. There appears to be a hierarchy of military officers like Senapati, Nayaka, Mukhyas and Adhyakshas and the salary of the officer varied according to his rank.
There was an officer called Ayudhagaradhyaksha, who looked into the production and maintenance of armaments. Likewise, every department of army has an Adhyaksha. Arthasastra describes in detail the plans of war, fortifications and policy of recruitment. The Mauryas had an efficiently organized spy system. Spies acted as the eyes and ears of the king, by supervising the officials and non-officials. The Mauryan rulers established an efficient legal system to maintain the social order, the smooth and orderly functioning of administrative apparatus and for the uninterrupted collection of revenue. This is evident from Arthasastra, which is full of codes to punish the guilty. The offences mentioned in Arthasastra are varied like the violation of marriage law, divorce, murder, adulteration and wrong weights.
There appears to have existed a hierarchy of judicial officers from the village level to the highest level. The practice refers to two types of courts Dharmasthaniya, i.e., courts which had jurisdiction over personal disputes and Kantakasodhana that has jurisdiction over cases involving the state and the individual.
These courts followed prescribed regulations and gave an opportunity to produce the witnesses. They followed the Dharmavyavahara, i.e., existing legal code, Charitra or precedents, and Rajasasam or the law of the king. As the king was the upholder of Dharma, he had the supreme judicial power. Though Magasthanese wrote that the crime rate was not low in Mauryan India, Arthasastra gives a different picture and proves that there was no rule of law as the punishments varied from one Varna to another as prescribed by the Dharmasastras. We however do not know whether this was merely theoretical or also practiced.
During the Mauryan period, the state derived revenue from various sources. According to Kautilya, the state received revenue from road and traffic (Vanikpatra), pastures (Vraja), plantations (Setu), forests (Vana), mines (Khana), rural areas (Astra), and cities (Durgas). An official called Sannidhata looked after the state treasury or Kosa. Arthasastra hints that twenty-one taxes were collected from the people of Durga, tax from Sita lands or new lands, land revenue or Bhaga from cultivators, taxes on orchards and ferry charges.
The Mauryas collected taxes on road and waterways from the merchants and taxes on imports and exports also. There were a number of departments with officers to collect the revenues. This income was in turn spent on army, administration, salaries, king and public works. The king had the right to reduce or enhance the land tax. For we know that Asoka had reduced the state’s share in agricultural produce to one-eighth in the case of Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha.
Arthasastra and the accounts of Megasthanese reveal that adequate money was spent on public works that benefited the majority of people. Of such public works, the irrigation system was one. Megasthanese refers to a category of officials who supervised the irrigation facilities like dams, ponds, and canals. People were instructed to follow certain rules and regulations and those who violated them were punished by the state.
An inscription of 2nd century AD of the time of Rudradaman, mentions the construction of Tataka (lake) Sudarsana during Chandragupta’s time. Besides irrigational facilities, the state provided medical facilities to both men and women. The state appears to have taken care of the citizens during famines and floods. Arthasastra laid down that it is the duty of the state to take care of orphans and destimte women. Another important work was the laying of and repairing of roads and maintenance of inns. Asoka might have implemented all these activities on a large scale.
City administration is the last aspect of the central administration as it refers to the administration of the capital, Palibothra or Pataliputra known from the account of Megasthanese, and it is different from the account of the Arthasastra. Megasthanese states that the city council was divided into six sub-councils, or committees and each committee had five members. The first committee was entrusted with the responsibility of industry and crafts. This committee inspected such centres and fixed wages for the artisans and labourers. The second committee took care of foreigners.
Its function was to arrange for their food, stay, comfort and security. The third committee recorded births and deaths. The fourth committee took care of trade and commerce, and inspected weights and measures and controlled markets. The fifth committee was constituted to take care of the manufactured goods. Strict provision was made for their sale. Strict watch was also maintained to discriminate the first and second hand manufactured goods. The sixth committee collected the sales tax at the rate of 1/10 on goods sold.
The Arthasastra does not mention such committees though it gives a well-defined plan of city administration. It describes the head of the urban administration as Nagarika, who was assisted by Gopa and Sthanika. There appears to be a host of officials appointed by the state like Bhandanagaradyaksha, Lokadyaksha and Sarvaraitha. Thus, the Mauryas developed an efficient and well-organized city administration during this period that was elaborate and well planned.
From these above accounts gathered from Arthasastra and Megasthanese, we are aware that the king was the supreme authority in the Mauryan state and that the core area was characterized by a highly centralized administrative system. But the vast area of the Mauryan empire could not be controlled effectively by a king, however supreme his authority. Hence, a mechanism to rule the distant areas had to be devised. In order to exercise effective control over distant regions, provincial and local administrative machinery was introduced.
Provinces were entrusted to the rule of princes or Kumaras, as the representatives of the king. For example, we know that Asoka acted as the provincial ruler of Ujyaini and Taxila during the time of Bindusara before he became the king. Mahamatyas, Mahamatras, and a council of ministers assisted the Kumaras in Asoka’s time. Asokan edicts refer to Tosali in the east, Ujijaini in the west, Suvamagiri in the South and Taxila in the north as provincial capitals.
Besides those provinces under the Kumaras, there were certain provinces that were ruled by minor rulers belonging to other royal families. For example, the 2nd century AD inscription of Rudradaman records that Tushaspa, a Yavana, was appointed the governor of Junagadh area in the time of Asoka.
Further, the said record mentions Pushyagupta, a Vaisya, as the governor of the same area during Chandragupta Maurya. Perhaps, the council of ministers was appointed by the king to act as a check over Kumara and we may presume that this council of ministers must have direct access to the king. The provincial governor or the king appointed the senior officers like Mahamatras, Amatyas and Mahamatyas who are also a category of high officials and when they misused or abused their powers, the people revolted against them. This is known from the reigns of Bindusara and Asoka.
We come to know that the provinces were divided into districts that were under the control of Pradesihta, Rajuka and Yukta. Perhaps, Pradesihta was the overall incharge of the district, who appears to have had the functions of survey and assessment of land, tours and inspections, revenue collection and maintenance of law and order.
As and when occasion demanded, the king maintained direct relations with these officials. For example, Asoka giving independent authority to the Rajuka to carry out his instructions in relation to public welfare is known from the fourth pillar edict. The Yukta appears to have assisted the Pradeshita and Rajuka as well. None of the officers was given total authority and checks and balances controlled them.
The Asokan edicts do not throw much light on village administration but Arthasastra refers to it. Gramika, an officer was appointed from among the local people, who ruled with the assistance and cooperation of the villagers. We notice that two officers Gopa and Sthanika were acting as intermediaries between the district and village level administration. There appears to be the practice of demarcating village boundaries, maintaining of records of lands used for various purposes, recording income and expenditure of people and noting down taxes, revenues and fines collected from the villagers.
The villages appear to be enjoying certain amount of autonomy in the sphere of their administration. One of the interesting features of the Mauryan rule was the payment of salaries and services were paid in cash. This practice was not continued in later times.
The Mauryan rulers maintained cordial and friendly relations with their neighbouring kingdoms because of necessity of trade and of geographical proximity and diplomatic requirements. Thus, we find a shift from conquest and subjugation to friendly moral conquest in their relations with their neighbours.
Recent researchers raised a doubt about the centralization of power in the Mauryan Empire. Though contemporary historians think that the Mauryan Empire under Asoka was Unitarian and centralist, G.M. Bogard Levin says, “The degree of centralization and bureaucratization of the administrative system should not be overestimated.
The Mauryan Empire in fact was the first unified Indian state, and it consisted of numerous characteristics inherited from the former political structure and of tribal traditions. The Mauryan emperors tried to exercise effective control on all aspects of life and on all institutions. They instituted special monitoring systems and a secret police. The central administration made direct efforts to impose its authority on many provincial institutions.
Nevertheless, it is not possible to speak of the strict control of the state, in that it concerns the heart of the empire. In the provinces, particularly in the far-flung ones, there were strong local institutions, and separatist tendencies could be seen in them”.
Gerrard Fussman, raising new questions concludes “one can thus assume that, contrary to general opinion, the Mauryan Empire functioned … with a central absolute power, personal that is, dependent, on personal activity of the sovereign, relying on the army and on efficient officers with a regional administration organized in a non-systematic fashion exercising royal authority, with more liberty further away from the royal power and putting into practice the king’s orders only when they fitted in with local reality, with large provinces directly administered by royal agents, with traditional local powers (tribes, cities, feudal kingdoms), which, in many areas (taxes and rents, codes of Justice, customs, languages, culture and religious practices) continued to function as autonomous bodies under the more or less strict supervision of imperial officials … what one sees under the Mauryas is a central power trying to bring under its sole authority pre-constituted entities to which it leaves a greater or lesser degree of autonomy according to the place and circumstances. But, in the 3rd century BC history and geography precluded the constitution of a Unitarian state, which is not a reality even in the 20th century”.