The Mauryas created for the first time a well-organized state machinery which operated at the heart of the empire.
Their conquest also opened the doors for trade and missionary activity.
It appears that the contacts established by administrators, traders, and Jaina and Buddhist monks led to the spread of the material culture of the Gangetic basin to areas situated on the periphery of the empire.
The new material culture in the Gangetic basin was based on an intensive use of iron, the prevalence of writing, punch- marked coins, an abundance of beautiful pottery called Northern Black Polished Ware, the introduction of burnt bricks and ring wells, and above all, on the existence of towns in north-eastern India. A Greek writer called Arrian states that it is not possible to record with accuracy the number of cities on account of their multiplicity. Thus, the Maurya period witnessed a rapid development of material culture in the Gangetic plains.
Given the access to the rich iron ores of south Bihar, people used more and more of this metal. This period evidences socketed axes, hoes, spades, sickles, and ploughshares. Besides these iron implements, the spoked wheel also began to be used. Although arms and weapons were the monopoly of the Maurya state, the use of the other iron tools was not restricted to any class. Their use and manufacture must have spread from the Gangetic basin to distant parts of the empire.
In the end of the Maurya period burnt bricks were used for the first time in north-eastern India. Maurya constructions made of burnt bricks have been found in Bihar and UP. Houses were made of bricks, and also timber which was available in abundance because of the dense vegetation in ancient times.
Megasthenes speaks of the wooden structure at the Maurya capital Pataliputra. Excavations show that logs of wood were also used as an important line of defence against flood and invasion. The use of burnt bricks spread in the outlying provinces of the empire. Because of the moist climate and heavy rainfall, it was not possible to have large, lasting structures made of mud or mud-brick, as was the case in the dry zones.
Therefore, diffusion of the use of burnt-brick proved to be a great boon, eventually leading to the growth of towns in the different parts of the empire. Similarly, ring wells, which were first constructed under the Mauryas in the Gangetic plains spread beyond the heart of the empire. As ring wells supplied water to people for domestic use, it was no longer imperative to found settlements on the banks of rivers. Ring wells also served as soak pits in congested settlements.
The principal elements of the mid-Gangetic material culture seem to have been transferred with modifications to northern Bengal, Kalinga, Andhra, and Karnataka, but, of course, the local cultures of these regions also developed independently. In Bangladesh, the Mahasthana inscription in Bogra district is in Maurya Brahmi. NBPW has been found at Bangarh in Dinajpur district and sherds of it at Chandraketugarh in the 24 Parganas in West Bengal. Gangetic associations can be attributed to settlements at Sisupalgarh in Orissa. The settlement of Sisupalgarh is ascribed to Maurya times in the third century Bc, and it contains NBPW, iron implements, and punch-marked coins.
As Sisupalgarh is situated near Dhauli and Jaugada, where Ashokan inscriptions have been found on the ancient highway passing along the eastern coast of India, the material culture may have reached this area as a result of contact with Magadha. This contact may have started in the fourth century BC when the Nandas are said to have conquered Kalinga, but it deepened after the conquest of Kalinga in the third century Bc. Possibly as a measure of pacification after the Kalinga war, Ashoka promoted some settlements in Orissa which had been incorporated into his empire.
Although we find iron weapons and implements at several places in Andhra and Karnataka in the Maurya period, the advance of iron technology in that area was the contribution of the megalith builders noted for various kinds of large stone burials including those of a round form. However, some of these places have Ashokan inscriptions as well as sherds of the NBPW of the third century BC. For example, Ashokan inscriptions have been found at Amaravati and three other sites in Andhra and at nine places in Karnataka. It therefore appears that, from the eastern coast, ingredients of the material culture percolated through Maurya contacts into the lower Deccan plateau.
The art of making steel may have spread through Maurya contacts across some other parts of India. Steel objects relating to about 200 Bc or an earlier date have been found in the mid-Gangetic plains. The spread of steel may have led to jungle clearance and the use of better methods of cultivation in Kalinga, and could have created the conditions for the rise of the Cheti kingdom in that region.
Although the Satavahanas rose to power in the Deccan in the first century Bc, yet in some ways their state was a projection of the Maurya. As will be shown later, they also issued inscriptions in Prakrit, and adopted some of the administrative measures of the Mauryas.
It seems that stimulus to state formation in peninsular India came from the Mauryas not only in the case of the Chetis and the Satavahanas but also that of the Cheras (Keralaputras), the Cholas, and the Pandyas. According to Ashokan inscriptions, all the three last-mentioned people came together with the Satyaputras, and the people ofTamraparni or Sri Lanka lived on the borders of the Maurya empire, and were, therefore, familiar with the Maurya state.
The Pandyas were known to Megasthenes who visited the Maurya capital. Ashoka called himself ‘dear to the gods’, a title which was translated into Tamil and adopted by the chiefs mentioned in the Sangam texts.
The existence of inscriptions, occasional NBPW sherds, and punch- marked coins in parts of Bangladesh, Orissa, Andhra, and Karnataka from about the third century bc shows that during the Maurya period attempts were made to spread elements of the mid-Gangetic basin culture in distant areas. The process seems to be in accord with the instructions of Kautilya.
Kautilya advised that new settlements should be founded with the help of cultivators, who were apparently vaishyas, and with that of shudra labourers who should be drafted from overpopulated areas. In order to bring the virgin soil under cultivation, the new peasants were allowed a remission in tax and supplied with cattle, seeds, and money.
The state did this in the expectation that it would recover what it had given. Such settlements were necessary in those areas where people were not acquainted with the use of the iron ploughshare, and this policy led to the opening of large areas to cultivation and settlement.
How far the Maurya towns facilitated the diffusion of the material culture of the Gangetic plains into the tribal belt of central India, extending from Jharkhand in the east to the Vindhyas in the west, cannot be said. It is however quite clear that Ashoka maintained intimate contacts with the tribal people, who were exhorted to observe dharma. Their contact with the dhammamahamatras appointed by Ashoka must have enabled them to imbibe rudiments of the higher culture prevalent in the Gangetic basin.
In this sense, Ashoka launched a deliberate and systematic policy of acculturation. He states that as a result of the diffusion of dhamma, men would mingle with gods. This implies that tribal and other people would take to the habits of a settled, taxpaying, peasant society and develop a respect for paternal power, royal authority, and for the monks, priests, and officers who helped in enforcing his authority. His policy succeeded. Ashoka claims that hunters and fishermen had given up killing and practised dhamma, which implies that they had taken to a settled agricultural life.