The Empire of Ashoka
• Maurya Empire was founded by Chandragupta Maurya with help of Chanakya, more than 2300 years ago. Chandragupta Maurya was grandfather of Ashoka.
• Chanakya’s ideas and teachings were written down in famous book called, Arthashastra.
• There were several cities in empire which included capital Pataliputra, Ujjain as well as Taxila, a gateway to northwest, including Central Asia. Ujjain lay on route from north to south India. Merchants, officials & crafts persons probably lived in these cities.
• Many forests were located in Central India, where people used to go in search of food. It was a vast empire and people spoke different languages, lived a different lifestyle, ate various kinds of food and wore clothes of other patterns.
• Emperors need more resources than kings because empires are larger than kingdoms and need to be protected by armies. Emperors need a larger number of officials who collect taxes.
• Because empire is so large, different regions have different ways of ruling. The area around Pataliputra was under direct control of emperor. Officials were appointed to collect taxes from farmers, herders, craftsperson’s and traders, who lived in villages and towns in area.
• Officials punished those who disobeyed ruler’s orders and many of these officials were given salaries.
• There were messengers, spies in empire and emperor supervised them all, with help of members of royal family and senior ministers.
• There were various provinces and each of these was ruled by provincial capital such as Taxila or Ujjain.
• There were vast areas between provincial centers, here Maurya’s tried to control roads and rivers, which were important for transport and to collect whatever resources were available as tax and tribute.
• People living in forests were generally independent but they used to provide elephants, timber, honey & wax to Mauryan officials.
Megasthenes: A Greek Ambassador
• Megasthenes was an ambassador who was sent to court of Chandragupta by Greek ruler of West Asia named Seleucus Nicator.
• Megasthenes wrote an account of what he saw. Here is a part of his description:
1. The occasions on which emperor appears in public are celebrated with grand royal processions. He is carried in a golden palanquin. His guards ride elephants decorated with gold and silver.
2. The king is normally surrounded by armed women. The king has special servants to taste food before he eats. He never sleeps in same bedroom for two nights.
3. Pataliputra is a large and beautiful city. It is surrounded by a massive wall. It has 570 towers and 64 gates. The houses, of two & three storeys, are built of wood and mud brick. The king’s palace is of wood and decorated with stone carvings. It is surrounded by gardens and Ashoka- a unique ruler enclosures for keeping birds.’
• Ashoka was most famous Mauryan ruler. He was first ruler who tried to take his message to people through inscriptions. Most of Ashoka’s inscriptions were in Prakrit and were written in Brahmi script.
• In ancient times, coastal Orissa was called Kalinga. Ashoka fought a war so that he could conquer great Kalinga, but remained horrified when he found out results of war.
• He was terrified to see all bloodshed and massive loss of lives in both kingdom. Ashoka is only king in history of world who gave up conquest after winning a war.
• Ashoka was inspired by teachings of Buddha and he felt that just as a father tries to teach his children, he had a duty to instruct his subjects.
• There were lot of problems troubling him like people from different religions were fighting with each other; Slaves and servants were ill-treated etc. Ashoka felt it was his duty to solve these problems.
• Therefore, Ashoka appointed several officials called dhamma mahamatta who went from place to place teaching people about dhamma. Ashoka got his messages inscribed on rocks and pillars, instructing his officials to read his message to those who could not read it themselves.
• He sent messengers to spread ideas about dhamma to other lands, such as Syria, Egypt, Greece & Sri Lanka. He built roads, dug wells, rest houses and he arranged for medical treatment for both human beings and animals.
Rampurva: The Bull Capital
• The archaeological site is known as Rampurva and is located in West Champaran district of Indian state of Bihar, situated very close to border with Nepal.
• The lion capital is now in Indian Museum in Kolkata, while bull capital is located at center of porch of Rashtrapati Bhavan, Indian Presidential Palace.
• Rampurva Bull was part of a Mauryan pillar found in Rampurva, Bihar & has now been placed in Rashtrapati Bhavan. It is an example of skill of sculptors of time.