The establishment of the Mauryan empire in contrast to the earlier smaller kingdoms ushered in a new form of government, that of a centralized empire.
The Mauryan Empire indicates the triumph of monarchy as a political system over tribal republics. A study of the Arthasastra in conjunction with the edicts provides information regarding the administrative structure.
At the centre of the structure was the king who had the power to enact laws. Kautilya advises the King to promulgate dharma when the social order based on the varnas and ashramas (stages in life) perishes.
The king is called by him dharmapravartaka or promulgator of the social order. There was a council of ministers or mantri- parishad to advise the king and at times this may have acted as a political check.
The Mauryan centralized monarchy became a paternal despotism under Ashoka. Ashoka in his 1st separate Edict (Dhauli and Jauguda) says “Savve Munisse Paja Mama”. (All men are my children). The Mauryan king did not claim any divine origin yet they attempted to emphasize the connection between kinship and divine power.
Council of Ministers:
The council of ministers or mantri-parishad advised the king and at times may have acted as a political check. But the powers of the council were limited owing to the fact that it was the king who appointed the ministers in the first instance. Three qualities of a minister that the Arthasastra stresses are those of birth, integrity and intelligence.
There was no fixed numberforthe members of the council and it varied according to the need. The Arthasastra lists the Chief Minister or the mahamantri and also distinguishes between the ministers and the assembly of ministers (mantrinomantriparisadamca).
It would seem that the ministerial council or mantri-parisad, a small group of perhaps three or four councillors, together with the Chief Minister, was selected to act as an inner council or a close advisory body. It’s important members included the Purohita, Senapati (Commander-in-chief), the Mahamantri and the Yuvaraja.
Amatyas were some sort of administrative personnel or civil servants who filled the highest administrative and judicial appointments. Their pay scales, service rules and method of payment were clearly laid down. Their role and functions were very important, for all governmental work proceeded from them.
Superintendent or Adhyaksha:
The Central administration was conducted by a highly skilled Superintendents or Adhyakshas who looked after various departments. Kautilya in the second book of his Arthasastra, Adhyakshaprachara, gives an account of the working of nearly 27 adhyaksas. Some of the important officials are mentioned below.
The Akshapataladhyaksha was the Accountant-General who was in charge of the two offices of currency and accounts. The Sitadhyaksha was the superintendent of the agriculture of crown lands or government agricultural farms.
The Akaradhyaksha was the superintendent of mining and possessed scientific knowledge of mines, metallurgy, gems and precious stones. Lavananyadhyaksha was the salt superintendent, as the manufacture of salt was a government monopoly.
Navadhyaksha was the Superintendent of Ports who controlled traffic and transit by waterways. The Panyadhyaksha was the controller of commerce who was in the charge of the control of supply, purchase and sale of commodities.
The Sulkadhyaksa was the collector of customs and tolls. TheSuradhyaksha was the Superintendent of Excise who controlled the manufacture and sale of liquor. Pautavadhyaksha was the superintendent of weights and measures. The Lakshanadhyaksha was the superintendent of the mint, etc.
Military and Espionage Department:
The army was often led by the king himself. It was only in the days of the last Maurya that we find a Senapati overshadowing the king and transferring the allegiance of the troops to himself. The army of Chandragupta, according to Pliny, included 6, 00,000 foot soldiers, 30,000 cavalry and 9,000 elephants, besides chariots.
It was under the control of the Senapati under whom there were several adhyakshas of different wings and units of the army such as those of infantry (Padadhyaksha), cavalry (asvadhyaksha), war elephants (hastyadhyaksha), navy (navadhyaksha), chariots (rathadhyaksha), and armoury (ayudhagaradhyaksha).
Kautilya classifies troops into the hereditary ones (Maula), the hired troops (bhritakas), troops supplied by forest tribes (atavivala), and those furnished by the allies (mitravala). The first were of primary importance and constituted the standing army of the king.
They were probably the troops referred to by Megasthenes in describing the fifth class, that of the soldiers. Kautilya’s also talks about the salaries of different ranks of military commanders. For example, the Senapati received a salary of 48,000 panas per annum.
Megasthenes describes the administration of the armed forces as comprising of six committees with five members on each. The first committee was concerned with naval warfare, second equivalent to the modern commissariat supervising the transport of war materials, third supervising the infantry, the fourth supervising cavalry, the fifth was concerned with chariots and the sixth supervised the elephant corps.
The espionage department was manned by guddhapurushas (secret agents) under the control of mahamatyapasarpa, both stationary (Samsthan) and wandering (Sanchari). Officials formed the personnel of this cadre.
Different types of agents, from recluses and students to householders and ‘poisonous’ girls (vishkanyas) were employed. They correspond to the ‘overseers’ of Megasthenes and the Pativedakas or special reporters and Pulisanis or king’s agent of Asokan edicts.
The central administration was conducted through a number of offices largely relating to the control of the revenue, and each under particular officer.
The treasurer was responsible for the storage of royal treasure, and of the state income both in cash and kind.
He was in charge of collection of revenue from various parts of the kingdom and looked after the income and expenditure by supervising the works of the akshapataladhyaksha (Accountant General). Sources of revenue as listed in the Arthasastra, include that of cities, land, mines, forests, roads, tolls, fines licences, manufactured products, merchandise of various kinds and precious stones.
Kautilya refers to some other kinds of income such as Senabhaktam, the punitive tax imposed by the army on the region through which it passed, and Pindakara, a fixed commuted tax contributed by the villages from time to time.
The Accountant-General kept the accounts both of the kingdom and the royal household. He was assisted by a body of clerks (Karmikas). The chief source of revenue was the land tax which was one-sixth to one-fourth of the produce and was collected by the revenue officer, agronomoi, who measured the land, levied the tax and collected it.
The second major source of income was toll- tax which was imposed on all articles (except grain, cattle and a few other items). This tax was approximately 10 percent. Shudras, artisans and others who survived on manual labour had to work free for one day in each month.
Strabo mentions that craftsmen (except royal craftsmen), herdsmen and husbands men all paid taxes. The king’s own estate or royal lands yielded income called sita. Two kinds of taxes, bali and bhaga, are referred to in the Ashokan edicts.
The Rummindei Edict records that the village of Lumbini, where the Buddha was born, was exempted from bali and was to pay only one eighth of the bhaga. Bhaga was levied on agricultural produce and the cattle at the rate of one-sixth (Shadabhaga) whereas Bali was a religious tribute. According to the Arthasastra, the Brahmins, women, children, armourers, sons and the king’s men were exempted from paying tax.
Judicial and Police departments:
The King was the head of justice – the fountain head of law and all matters of grave consequences were decided by him. Kautilya refers to the existence of two kinds of courts – dharmasthiyas (dealing with civil matters) and kantakasodhanas (dealing criminal cases). There were special courts in the cities and villages presided over by the pradesika, mahamatras and rajukas. Kautilya mentions about the four sources of law.
They are dharma (sacred law), vyavahara (Usage), charitam (customs and precedents) and rajasasana (royal proclamations). The Pradesika were the principal police officers, whose duty was to investigate the crimes committed in the region within their jurisdiction. Police headquarters were found in all principal centres.
There was a sthaniya in the midst of 800 villages, a dronamukha in 400 villages, a kharvatika in 200 villages and a sangrahana in 10 villages. The jail proper bandhanagara was different from the police lock-up called Charaka.
Provincial and Local Administration:
Apart from the metropolitan area which was directly governed, the empire was divided into four provinces, each under a prince or member of the royal family (Kumara and Aryaputra). Under Asoka, there were four provinces: the Northern Province (Uttarapatha) with the capital at Taxila, western province (Avantiratha) with the headquarters at Ujjain, eastern province (Prachyapatha) with the centre at Tosali and the southern province (Dakshinapatha) with its capital as Suvarnagiri.
The central province Magadha, with its capital at Pataliputra was also the headquarters of the entire kingdom. The viceroy had the power to appoint some of his officials such as the Mahamattas, who went on tour every five years.
The most important provinces such as Taxila and Ujjain were directly under the command of the princes (Kumaras). Provinces were subdivided into districts for purposes of administration and groups of officials were in charge of a district. The three major officials of the provinces were thepradesika, the rajuka and the yukta.
The pradesika was in charge of the overall administration of a district – supervising the collection of revenue and of maintaining law and order both in the rural areas and in the towns within his district. The rajuka was responsible for surveying and assessing land.
Megasthenes probably referred them as agronomoiand they formed the backbone of the rural administration. The yuktas appear to have been subordinate officials whose duties were largely secretarial work and accounting.
There was an intermediate level of administration between the district level and that of the village. The unit here was formed by a group of five or ten villages. The two important officials concerned with the administration of this unit were the gopa and the sthanika.
The gopa worked as an accountant to the unit. His duties included the setting up of village boundaries, keeping a census of the population of each village according to their tax-paying capacity, their professions and their age, noting the livestock of each village, etc. The tax was collected by the sthanika who worked directly under the Pradesika.
Village (grama) was the smallest unit of administration and enjoyed autonomy to a great extent. Individual villages must have had their own set of officials who were directly responsible to the gopas.
The head of the village was called gramika who was assisted by gram-viddhas or village elders. Gramika was not a paid servant; he was chosen from amongst the village elders. He may have supervised the tax collection of the village and other matters such as discipline and defence.
The Arthasastra mentions the nagaraka or city superintendent who was responsible for the maintenance of law and order in the city. He was assisted by two subordinate officials, the gopa and the sthanika. Asokan inscriptions mention the nagalaviyohalaka mahamattas and refer to them largely in their judicial capacity.
In describing city administration, Megasthenes outlines a more elaborate system. According to him, the officials were divided into six committees each with a membership of five. The first committee was concerned with matters relating to industrial arts.
The second occupied it with the facilities to the foreigners. The third kept a register of births and deaths both by way of a census and for purposes of taxation. The fourth committee was in charge of matters of trade and commerce.
The fifth committee supervised the public sale of manufactured articles. The sixth committee collected the tax on the articles sold, this being one-tenth of the purchase price.
The mainstay of the economy under the Mauryas was agriculture, though trade was becoming increasingly more important. It would seem that cultivators formed a majority of the population and taxes on agriculture were the main source of revenue.
In some parts of the empire the gana sangha system with communal ownership of land continued. There are also references to state-owned lands called sita lands, which were worked under the supervision of the Sitadhyaksha either directly by hired labourers or they were leased out to individual cultivators.
In the latter case, a share of the produce had to be paid to the state. In addition to these were private owners of land who were required to pay taxes to the king. The village pastures were largely held by the entire community.
In the fertile Gangetic plain a variety of taxes are mentioned such as bali, bhaga, shulka, kara, etc. Megasthenes states that one-quarter of the produce had to be paid as tax. It is likely that this was the figure in the fertile region around Pataliputra.
Most Sanskrit texts, on the other hand, lay down that not more than one-sixth of the produce could be claimed by the king. It is very unlikely that a uniform tax was levied over the entire areas as the fertility of the soil varied from region to region, and it varied from one-fourth to one-sixth of the produce.
It was directly collected by the king’s officials from the individual cultivators without bringing in intermediaries. In addition, the Arthasastra states that the amount of tax would also depend on the nature of irrigation facilities and would range from one-fifth to one third.
The Rummindei inscription is the only Ashokan inscription which makes a precise reference to taxation. Here Ashoka says that he had reduced the amount of bhaga (produce of the soil) to one- eighth (atthabhagiya) as a concession to the people of the holy birth-place of the Buddha.
Another interesting fact which emerges from this inscription is that the king deals directly with the question of exemption from land tribute. The village that were exempted from taxation was called pariharaka, those that supplied soliders, ayudhiya, and those that paid their taxes in the form of grain, cattle, gold or raw material was called kupya. There were also the villages that supplied free services and dairy produce in lieu of taxes.
Other sources of Revenue:
The Arthasastra refers to a state monopoly of mines (khani), and the manufacture of salt and wine. According to Megasthenes, shipbuilding and manufacture of arms were royal monopolies. Slave labour was employed in the mines and factories.
The state was also the biggest trader and made arrangements to check adulteration, provided for the correctness of weights and measures, and collection of tolls through officials like Panyadhyaksa, Mudradhyaksa, Kosthagaradhyaksa, Pautvadhyaksa and Sulkadhyaksa, all of them working under the Samaharta.
Megasthenes also refers to six boards of Astynomoi, some of which were entrusted with these duties. The state derived its revenue from seven main heads (ayasarira) viz., durga (fortified towns), rastra (country side), khani (mines) setu (buildings and gardens), vana (forest), vraja (herds of cattle), and vanikpatha (roads of traffic).
There was a brisk internal trade among different regions, in various types of goods. External trade was carried on with foreign countries, particularly with the Hellenic (Greek) world and Burma to some extent. The main exports were different spices, pearls, diamonds, cotton textiles, ivory works, conch shells, etc.,
The main imports consisted of horses, gold, glass, linen, etc. Balance of trade was very much in favour of India. Trade was an important source of revenue which became a major earner in the post-Mauryan period. The eighteen chief handicrafts of the time were organised in guilds called srenis each under its president called pramukha and the alderman called jetthaka. Trade was organised in merchant-guilds (sanghas and srenis). The sale of merchandise was strictly regulated by the state and a toll tax of one- fifth of the value of the commodity was levied.
The percentages of profit to the merchants were fixed and excess profits went to the treasury. The amount consisted of 5 per cent on local commodities and 10 per cent on foreign produce. Commodities manufactured in the country were stamped at the place of manufacture, while those that were brought in from foreign countries were stamped at the toll-gates. Since the toll-tax was based on the value of the commodity it was probably paid in money and not in kind.
About the practice of usury, Megasthenes states that Indians neither put out money at usury, nor know how to borrow. Kautilya deals with organized money lending in the Arthasastra. Fifteen percent per annum appears to have been the average rate of interest on borrowed money.
A special commercial interest (vyavaharika) at 60 percent per annum was probably charged for commercial activities involving sea voyages or lengthy travels. Greek sources speak of tax evader being sentenced to capital punishment (kleptim totelos).
Trade routes in the Mauryan period followed either the main highways or the navigable rivers. Sea trade was conducted both with the west and with the northern coast of Burma. The important internal trade routes were the north to south-west route (from Sravasti to Pratisthana), the north to south-east route (from Sravasti to Rajagriha) and the east-west route which followed the river courses of the Ganges and the Yamuna. The Royal Highway from the north-west (in the region of Taxila) to Pataliputra was considered the most important route.
This route extended eastwards along the Ganga to the port of Tamralipti. Tamluk (Tamralipti) on the east coast and Broach and Soparaon the west coast were the most important sea-ports of India in those times. The east coast sea route appears to have had heavier traffic. The state appears to have had a considerable control over the ship building industry.
Crafts and Industries:
One of the more important results of the political unification of India under the Mauryas, and the control of a strong centralized government was the impetus given to the various crafts. Megasthenes refers to the artisans and craftsmen as the fourth class in his seven-fold division of India society.
The Arthasastra lays down rules for artisans and craftsmen. They could either work independently on their own or were organised in guilds. Of the two, the latter system was preferred. In addition, the state also employed some artisans such as armourers, ship builders, etc. who were exempted from tax but had to work in the state’s workshops.
Guilds of textile workers must have been prominent at this time as the Arthasastra mentions several places in the country which specialised in textiles. Cotton fabrics were made at Madhura, Aparanta, Kalinga, Kashi, Vanga, Vatsa and Mahisa. Vanga (East Bengal), Pundra (West Bengal) and Suvarnakudya (in Assam) was famous for white and soft textile dukula, Kashi and Pundra were noted for linen fabrics, kshauma, and Magadha was famous for patroma, a fabric made from trees.
Guilds had to employ hired labour and it consisted of two categories, the karmakaras or the bhritakas who were regarded as free labourers working for a regular wage and the dasas who were slaves. Metallurgy, pottery, wood-work and stone-cutting were other prominent crafts and industry prevalent during the Mauryan period.
Money Economy and Currency:
The use of currency, which began in the earlier period, became a fairly common feature of the Maurya period because of the developed commerce. Money was not only used for trade; even the government paid its officers in cash.
It seems that the punch-marked silver coins, which carry the symbols of the peacock, and the hill and crescent, called pana, formed the imperial currency of the Mauryas. Copper punch-marked coins were rare. Copper masika was the token curency and quarter pieces of masika was called kakini. Kautilya refers to state officers in charge of coinage, the suvarnadhyaksa, the laksanadhyaksa and the rupadarsaka.
The Mauryan Art Pillars and Sculptures:
The well-known art historian A.K. Coomaraswamy divides Mauryan art into two, indigenous art and official or court art. The best examples of indigenous art are two free standing stone figures – a Yaksha image from Parkham and a Yakshi sculpture from Besnagar. A more perfect example of this style is a large female
Cauri-bearer from Patna and a male Yaksha. This group of sculptures shows that the indigenous school was well developed and established by the Maurya period. Official art under Asoka is represented by the monolithic pillars on which the king’s edicts were engraved.
These pillars are the finest examples of a highly developed technique in the cutting and polishing of the surface of the stone. Each pillar has three parts: the prop under the foundation, the shaft or the column and the capital. The prop is buried in the ground.
The shaft, made of a single piece of sandstone, supports the capital made of another single piece of sandstone. The round and slightly tapering shaft is highly polished and very graceful in its proportions. The capital, which is the third part of the pillar, consists of some finely executed animal figures, the sacred dharma-chakra symbol engraved with animal sculptures and the inverted or bell-shaped lotus.
The capitals of these pillars were realistically modeled and consisted of groups of animals. The finest extant example is that of Sarnath. It consists offouraddorsed lions which originally supported a dharma chakra. These rest on an abacus bearing in relief an elephant, horse, bull and lion separated by four small dharma-ckhakras (with 24 spokes).
1. At Lauriya-Nandangarh the crowing figure is a single lion while the abacus is adorned by a row of Bhramagiri geese or hamsas pecking their food.
2. At Rampurva a bull has been reported at one pillar and the other pillar has lion as the crowning animal.
3. At Sankisa (Farrukhabad district, U.P) there is an elephant as the capital.
4. The Basarh-Bakhira pillar has a single lion capital.
5. The Rumminder pillar inscription had capital of horse but it is now absent.
6. Another remarkable animal figure of the Mauryan period is the elephant at Dhauli. However, it belongs to a very different tradition and has little in common with the animal capitals.
Two types of stone were used for Mauryan pillars – the spotted red and white sandstone from the region around Mathura and the buff-coloured Chunar sandstone obtained from the region around Varanasi.
There is a uniformity in the pillar capitals suggesting that they were all sculpted by craftsmen belonging to the same region. An interesting exception is the pillar fragment from Amaravati in Andhra. It is made of locally available quartzite and seems to have been cut, shaped, modeled and even polished locally.
Ashoka is credited with building 84,000 stupas all over India and Afghanistan. Hiuen Tsang, during his visit to India (seventh century A.D.), is said to have seen a considerable number of these stupas, but majority of them have not come down to us.
The best example of these is the famous stupa at Sanchi (near Bhopal). The original brick stupa built by Ashoka was probably of not more than half the ‘ present dimensions. Besides the present railing was a subsequent replacement for the older and smaller railing of Ashoka.
Another important heritage of the Mauryas are the caves, cut out of hard and refractory rocks which were meant to be residences for monks (viharas) and also served the purpose of churches and assembly halls (chaityas).
Ashoka and his grandson Dasaratha built several such cave-dwellings built in the Barabar Hills near Bodh Gaya and donated them to the monks of the Ajivikas sect. The details of two famous Barabar Caves (Sudama and Lomash Rishi caves) show a clear influence of wooden architecture on rock-cut architecture.
Other Architectural Remains:
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 80-pillared hall, have been discovered at Kumrahar, on the outskirts of modern Patna.
He also speaks of the wooden structure at the Maurya capital Pataliputra knon to the Greek and Latin writers as Palibothra. The Mauryan wooden palace survived till at least the end of the 4th century A. D. when Fahien visited Indian and found it so astounding that he considered it “a work of spirts”. The palace seems to have been destroyed by fire as may be inferred from the burnt remains found at Kumrahar near Patna.
(b) Terracotta Objects:
No less important is a group of terracottas which have been found at several Mauryan sites during archaeological excavations. These are usually made from moulds. The tradition of making mother-goddess in clay, which goes back to the pre-historic period, is revealed by the discovery of these objects at Mauryan levels at Ahichchhatra. Terracotta was also used for making toys and these consist mainly of wheeled animals, a favourite being the elephant.