Magadha had the requisite power of the sword to enforce its overall authority. In order to control various spheres of life the state had to maintain a vast bureaucracy.
In no other period of ancient history do we hear of as many officers as in Maurya times.
The brahmanical law-books repeatedly stressed that the king should be guided by the laws laid down in the Dharmashastras and by the customs prevalent in India.
Kautilya advises the king to promulgate dharma when the social order based on the varnas and ashramas (stages in life) collapses. He calls the king dharmapravartaka or promulgator of the social order.
That the royal orders were superior to other orders was asserted by Ashoka in his inscriptions. Ashoka promulgated dharma and appointed officials to inculcate and enforce its essentials throughout India.
An assertion of royal absolutism was a natural culmination of the policy of military conquest adopted by the princes of Magadha. Anga, Vaishali, Kashi, Koshala, Avanti, Kalinga, etc., one by one were annexed to the Magadhan empire. Military control over these areas eventually turned into a coercive control over the lives of the people. Magadha had the requisite power of the sword to enforce its overall authority. In order to control various spheres of life the state had to maintain a vast bureaucracy. In no other period of ancient history do we hear of as many officers as in Maurya times.
The administrative mechanism was backed by an elaborate system of espionage. Various types of spies collected intelligence about foreign enemies and kept an eye on numerous officers. They also promoted superstitious practices to collect money from credulous people. Important functionaries were called tirthas.
It appears that most functionaries were paid in cash, the highest among whom, the minister (mantrin), high priest (purohita), commander-in-chief (senapati) and crown prince (yuvaraja), were paid generously. They received as much as 48,000 panas (pana was a silver coin equal to three-fourths of a tola). In sharp contrast to them, the lowest officers were given 60 panas in consolidated pay although some employees were paid as little as 10 or 20 panas. Thus there was great disparity in the salaries of employees.
If we rely on the Arthashastra of Kautilya, it would appear that the state appointed twenty-seven superintendents (adhyakshas), principally to regulate its economic activities. They controlled and regulated agriculture, trade and commerce, weights and measures, crafts such as weaving and spinning, mining, and the like. The state also provided irrigation facilities and regulated water supply for the benefit of agriculturists. Megasthenes informs us that in the Maurya empire the officials measured the land as in Egypt and inspected the channels through which water was distributed into smaller channels.
According to the Arthashastra of Kautilya, a striking social development of the Maurya period was the employment of slaves in agricultural operations. Megasthenes states that he did not notice any slaves in India, but there is little doubt that there had been domestic slaves from Vedic times onwards. It seems that during the Maurya period slaves were engaged in agricultural work on a large scale.
The state maintained farms on which numerous slaves and hired labourers were employed. About 150,000 war- captives brought by Ashoka from Kalinga to Pataliputra may have been engaged in agriculture, but the number of 1,50,000 seems to be exaggerated. However, ancient Indian society was not a slave society. The tasks that slaves performed in Greece and Rome were undertaken by the shudras in India.
The shudras were regarded as the collective property of the three higher varnas. They were compelled to serve them as slaves, artisans, agricultural labourers, and domestic servants. Several reasons suggest that royal control was exercised over a very large area, at least in the core of the empire.
This was because of the strategic position of Pataliputra, from where royal agents could sail up and down the Ganges, Son, Punpun, and Gandak rivers. Besides this, the royal road ran from Pataliputra to Nepal through Vaishali and Champaran. We also hear of a road at the foothills of the Himalayas which passed from Vaishali through Champaran to Kapilavastu, Kalsi (in Dehra Dun district), Hazra, and eventually to Peshawar.
Megasthenes speaks of a road connecting northwestern India with Patna. Roads also linked Patna with Sasaram, and from there they ran to Mirzapur and central India. The capital was also connected with Kalinga via a route through eastern MP, and Kalinga in turn was linked with Andhra and Karnataka. All this facilitated transport in which horses may have played an important part. The Ashokan inscriptions appear on important highways. The stone pillars were made in Chunar near Varanasi from where they were transported to north and south India. Maurya control over the settled parts of the country may have matched that of the Mughals and perhaps of the East India Company.
Medieval transport improved as a consequence of more settlements on the highways and the use of stirruped horses. In the late eighteenth century, when the dominions of the Company extended up to Allahabad, tax collections were transported by boat from eastern UP to Calcutta, and the transport system was much improved when steam navigation began on the Ganges around 1830. In the distant areas the Maurya imperial authority may not have been effective.
Pataliputra was the chief centre of royal power, but Tosali, Suvarnagiri, Ujjain, and Taxila were seats of provincial power. Each of them was governed by a governor called kumara or prince, and thus every governor hailed from the royal family. The princely governor ofTosali administrated Kalinga and also parts of Andhra, and that of Suvarnagiri ruled the Deccan area. Similarly, the princely governor of Ujjain ruled the Avanti area while that of Taxila the frontier area. The princely governors may have functioned as autonomous rulers, and although some governors oppressed their subjects, Ashoka’s authority was never seriously questioned.
The Maurya rulers did not have to deal with a large population. All told, their army did not exceed 650,000 men. If 10 per cent of the population was recruited, the total population in the Gangetic plains may not have been over six and a half million. Ashokan inscriptions show that royal writ ran throughout the country except the extreme east and south. Nineteen Ashokan inscriptions have been found in AP and Karnataka, but rigid state control may not have proved effective much beyond the mid-Gangetic zone owing to difficulty in means of communications.
The Maurya period constitutes a landmark in the system of taxation in ancient India. Kautilya names many taxes which were collected from peasants, artisans, and traders. This required a strong and efficient machinery for assessment, collection, and storage. The Mauryas attached greater importance to assessment than to storage and deposit. The samaharta was the highest officer in charge of assessment and collection, and the sannidhata was the chief custodian of the state treasury and storehouse. The assessor- cum-collector was far more important than the chief treasurer. The damage inflicted on the state by the first was thought to be more serious than any inflicted by the second.
In fact, an elaborate machinery for assessment was first set up during the Maurya period. The list of taxes mentioned in the Arthashastra is impressive, and, if these were really collected, very little would have been left to the people to live on. The epigraphic evidence we have for the existence of rural storehouses shows that taxes were also collected in kind. These granaries were probably also meant to help local people in times of famine, drought, etc.
It seems that the punch-marked silver coins, which carry the symbols of the peacock and crescent hill, formed the imperial currency of the Mauryas. They have been discovered in large numbers. Copper coins were also punch-marked. Besides punch-marked silver and copper coins, cast copper coins and die-struck coins were also issued.Without doubt, all these different types of coins helped the collection of taxes and payment of officers in cash. Also, because of its uniformity, the currency must have facilitated market exchange in a wider area.
The term empire is used for the territories conquered by the Magadhan kings, but this pre-industrial empire was different from the colonial empire of the industrial period. The pre-industrial empire was essentially territorial, based on taxes and tributes. The pre-industrial rulers collected taxes from a limited area under their direct control but also received tributes from distant rulers who acknowledged the suzerainty of the emperor.
In the colonial empires of the industrial age, the rulers obtained raw material from their dominions for the manufacture of various goods which were sold to the dominions. Thus cotton was almost unknown to Europe, and Indian textiles were sold in Britain. However, with the establishment of their rule, the British imported huge quantities of cotton from India, and sold cotton cloth to India in addition to woolen fabrics. In this context the pre-British empires were quite different.
Art and Architecture:
The Mauryas made a remarkable contribution to art and architecture, and introduced stone masonry on a wide scale. Megasthenes states that the Maurya palace at Pataliputra was as splendid as that in the capital of Iran. Fragments of stone pillars and stumps, indicating the existence of an 84- pillared hall, have been discovered at Kumrahar on the outskirts of modern Patna.
Although these remains do not recall the magnificence mentioned by Megasthenes, they certainly attest to the high technical skill achieved by Maurya artisans in polishing the stone pillars, which are as shining as the Northern Black Polished Ware. It was a very difficult task to transport the huge blocks of stone from the quarries and to polish and embellish them when they were erected.
The whole process suggests a great feat of engineering. Each pillar is made of a single piece of buff-coloured sandstone. Only their capitals, which are beautiful pieces of sculpture in the form of lions or bulls, are joined to the pillars on the top. The erection of the polished pillars throughout India shows the spread of the technical knowledge involved in the art of polishing them. It also shows that transport had spread far and wide.
The Maurya artisans also started the practice of hewing out caves from rocks for monks to live in. The earliest examples are the Barabar caves at a distance of 30 km from Gaya. Later, this form of cave architecture spread to western and southern India.
In the central phase of the Northern Black Polished Ware around 300 BC, the central Gangetic plains became the centre of terracotta art. In Maurya rimes terracottas were produced on a large scale. They generally represented animals and women. The women included mother goddesses, and animals included elephants. These terracottas were however modelled by hand. The stone statue of Yakshini in the form of a beautiful woman found in Didarganj (Patna) is noted for its Maurya polish.