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SOURCES OF MAURYAN HISTORY

DESCRIBE THE NATURE OF MAURYAN SOURCES


With the coming of the Mauryas in the later part of the 4th century B.C., Indian history in a real sense has been reconstructed with fairly authentic evidences from many sources. A study of the Mauryan period yields a flood of available resource material. The sources of Mauryan age can be classified under the following heads: Literary, Foreign Accounts, Epigraphical, Art, Archaeological, and Numismatics.

LITERARY EVIDENCE
Amongst the Brahmanical works, the Puranas, which is a collection of legends with religious teachings, throw ample light on the history of Mauryas. List of the Mauryan kings are included in the Puranas, but there are inconsistencies in detail. One set of texts speaks of 13 Mauryan kings who ruled for 137 years, while another set speaks of only 9 kings. Of the religious sources, Buddhist literature is of chief importance. Traditions also throw a flood of light on the Mauryan Age. The Jataka stories are useful not only because they pertain directly to the Mauryan period but also because they reveal a general picture of socio-economic conditions of the Mauryan period. Digha Nikaya helps in determining the influence of Buddhist ideas on Mauryan polity. Vamsatthapakasani gives us information about the origin of the Mauryas. The 17th century history of Indian Buddhism written by the Tibetan monk, Taranatha has some even later, mostly legendary, accounts of the Mauryas. In Buddhist texts, Ashoka is the focus of attention and is presented as an exemplary king. Sanskrit Buddhist texts like the Divyayadana, Lalitavistara and the Mahavastu also provide valuable information for this period. The Divyavadana and Ashokavadana contain information about Bindusara, Ashokas expedition to Taxila, and his conversion to Buddhism. The Ceylonese chronicles Dipavansa and Mahavansa describes at a great length the part played by Ashoka in spreading Buddhism, particularly in Ceylon. However, caution is needed while studying these sources since they were written by Ceylonese Buddhist monks who depicted Ashoka from the orthodox Buddhist standpoint. The Jains claim that Chandragupta Maurya in the later part of his career became a Jain. Jain works such as Hemachandras Parishishtaparvan allude to Chandraguptas connection with Jainism. A work known as Jain Kalpasutra by a Jain writer Bhadrabahu of 4th century B.C. imparts some useful information about the Mauryas. An historical play written in about 500

A.D. by Vishakadatta named Mudrarakshasa also yields useful data about the history of the Nandas and early Mauryan rule. Of the secular literature on the Mauryan period, the most important single source is Kautilyas Arthashastra discovered by Samasastre in 1909. Arthashastra is the branch of learning that deals with the means of the acquisition and protection of the Earth, which is the source of peoples livelihood. It is one of the oldest works on polity and administration. It is an extremely sophisticated and detailed treatise on statecraft. It discusses the usual problems which confront heads of states and statesmen in their day to day work. It deals with the wide spectrum of the state activity such as the punishing of the offenders and the enforcement of law, organizing the secret service, diplomacy and the inter-state relations and the connected matters. It states very categorically that artha is superior to dharma (spiritual well-being) and kama (sensual pleasure), because the latter are dependent on it. Kautilyas work consists of 2000 slokas, set in 15 books or divisions (Adhikaranas). The first five deal with internal administration (tantra), the next eight with inter-state relations (avapa), and the last two with miscellaneous topics. The authorship of the work and the time of its writing have raised a debate. Several views on the date of the Arthashastra have emerged, some of which suggest that it should not be considered in totality a text written in the Mauryan period. The historians such as Shamsatre, N. N. Law, V. Smith, and others hold that the work is authored by Kautilya, the chancellor of Chandragupta and belongs to the 4th century. Their views are corroborated as there exists much similarity of observation in the Arthashastra and the Indica on subjects such as the ownership of land, social organisation, legal procedure, and on several other matters. An attempt has also been made to date the text of the Arthashastra, using the method of stylistic analysis with the aid of a computer. It does not contain any references to the Mauryas, their empire, Chandragupta, or Patliputra. It is concerned with actual administration and not with the political postulations. The Puranas, Arthashastra and the Mudrarakshasa all of them cast the figure of Chandragupta into shade in this heroic fight and give full credit to Chanakya for bringing about the dynastic revolution in Magadha by his diplomacy and appointing Chandragupta as king.

FOREIGN SOURCES
Foreign sources are accounts gathered from classical writings in Greek and Latin of the memoirs of travellers who visited India during the Mauryan period. The main sources are the writings of Megasthenes, Strabo, Diodorous, Nearchus, Arrian, Pliny, Plutarch, Justine, Appian, etc. As a sequence of Alexander's invasions of India, a number of Greek travellers visited India. They gave valuable information of India to the outside world. We have an account of the voyage between the Persian Gulf and the Indus by Nearchus. The Egyptian courts sent an envoy named Dionyius to Pataliputra. There was Deimachose who was sent by the Syrian court to Amitrachates, i.e., Bindusara.

The most valuable account has been left by Megasthenes, ambassador of Seleukas to the court of Chandragupta Maurya. His original work Indica is unfortunately lost. But few extracts from his work have been extensively found incorporated in the writings of many subsequent Greek and Roman writers. o It is the foremost among all the foreign accounts regarding the Mauryans. o He has described the different aspects of Indian life including the administration of the State, local administration, life of the king, etc. o It refers to Mauryan administration, the 7 caste system, absence of slavery and usury in India, etc. o It contains his description of the capital city, Pataliputra, which ranges from describing the business of the streets, to the peace and tranquillity in the citys royal park. o It contains the personal life of the emperor, his magnificence, splendour and grandeur, the royal court, the administration, and the contemporary social life.

ART AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL REMAINS


Archaeological excavations have been conducted at a number of Mauryan sites. Excavations at Kaushambi, Rajagriha, Pataliputra, Hastinapur, and Taxila have helped us to reconstruct the historical development of the period. The Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW) was the common pottery type used throughout the Mauryan Empire with the exception of southernmost areas. Inscriptions are the most important and authentic sources of Mauryan history. The inscriptions have been engraved on rocks, caves, pillars, etc. Art remains include the remains of the Mauryan Stupas, Viharas, and the animal capitals surmounting the pillars on some of which the edicts were inscribed. These remains give us an information about the material used at that time about the craftsmanship, about the peaceful times, efficient administration, religion of the king and people, etc. From these stupas, pillars, caves we can see the progress of Mauryan art in different spheres like architecture, sculpture, art of polishing, engineering and art of ornamentation.

EPIGRAPHICAL EVIDENCE
The most authentic source of Mauryan history is the epigraphical evidence. The edicts of Ashoka are the oldest, the best preserved and the most precisely dated epigraphic records of India. The edicts are inscribed on rocks, boulders, cave walls and pillars of stone. The inscriptions were deciphered by James Princep in 1837 and identified king Piyadassi of the edicts with Ashoka which provided the link for the new and correct identification of Ashoka as the author of the edicts. Ashokan inscriptions are written in Brahmi and Kharoshti script and the language used is Prakrit. Asoka's inscriptions are of two types: The smaller group consists of the declarations of the king as a lay Buddhist, which describe his own acceptance of Buddhism and his relationship with the Sangha. The second group of important inscriptions, described as proclamations (Sasanas), consisting of the Major and Minor Rock Edicts and the Pillar Edicts describe his famous policy of Dhamma.

The Ashokan edicts are a store house of information: It provides accurate information about the contemporary polity, administration and social conditions, and about the improvement Ashoka introduced in the prevailing system. They throw light on the social, religious, and economic life of the people; on the Kalinga war, and its impact on Ashoka, on his proclamation of the Dharma and on the summoning of the Third Buddhist Council. These inscriptions were installed in prominent places either near towns or on important trade and travel routes or in the proximity of religious centres and places of religious importance. The pillars may have commemorated events of some significance.

NUMISMATICS
The Mauryan Empire was based on the money economy. Mauryan kings had evolved their monetary systems based on indigenous standard. The coins in circulation during this period were Punched Marked coins which neither bear the name of any ruler nor carry any date. Most of these coins have only symbols like tree in railing, sun, moon, mountain, animals, birds, etc punched or stamped on them. These symbols on the coins had probably some connection with local commerce such as the guilds, local or provincial administration, the royal and dynastic symbols, etc. The punch marked coins have been found at Ahichchatra, Atranji Khera, Sanchi, Patna, Ropar, Basarh, Hastinapur, Taxila, Tripuri, Bairath, Sarnath.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India Upinder Singh Ashoka and the decline of the Mauryas Romila Thapar Ancient India Vijay Kachroo Indias Ancient Past R. S. Sharma Mauryan India Irfan Habib