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Sources of Mauryan Period

Sources of Mauryan Period

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Published by Ramita Udayashankar
Describe the nature of Mauryan Sources.
Literary Evidence
Foreign Sources
Art and Archaeological remains
Epigraphical evidence
Describe the nature of Mauryan Sources.
Literary Evidence
Foreign Sources
Art and Archaeological remains
Epigraphical evidence

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Published by: Ramita Udayashankar on May 07, 2013
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With the coming of the Mauryas in the later part of the 4
century B.C., Indian history in areal sense has been reconstructed with fairly authentic evidences from many sources. A studyof the Mauryan period yields a flood of available resource material. The sources of Mauryanage can be classified under the following heads: Literary, Foreign Accounts, Epigraphical,Art, Archaeological, and Numismatics.
Amongst the Brahmanical works, the Puranas, which is a collection of legends with religiousteachings, throw ample light on the history of Mauryas. List of the Mauryan kings areincluded in the Puranas, but there are inconsistencies in detail. One set of texts speaks of 13Mauryan 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 aflood 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 17
century history of Indian Buddhism written by the Tibetan monk, Taranathahas 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 providevaluable information for this period. The Divyavadana and Ashokavadana contain
information about Bindusara, Ashoka’s expedition to Taxila, and his conversion to
Buddhism. The Ceylonese chronicles Dipavansa and Mahavansa describes at a great lengththe part played by Ashoka in spreading Buddhism, particularly in Ceylon. However, cautionis needed while studying these sources since they were written by Ceylonese Buddhist monkswho 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 Hemachandra’s Parishishtaparvan allude to Cha
dragupta’s 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
Kautilya’s 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 people’s 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 dayto day work.
It deals with the wide spectrum of the state activity such as the punishing of theoffenders and the enforcement of law, organizing the secret service, diplomacy and theinter-state relations and the connected matters.
It states very categorically that artha is superior to dharma (spiritual well-being) andkama (sensual pleasure), because the latter are dependent on it.
Kautilya’s work consists of 
2000 slokas, set in 15 books or divisions (Adhikaranas). Thefirst five deal with internal administration (tantra), the next eight with inter-staterelations (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 onthe date of the Arthashastra have emerged, some of which suggest that it should not beconsidered 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 4
century. Their views are corroborated as there existsmuch similarity of observation in the Arthashastra and the Indica on subjects such as theownership of land, social organisation, legal procedure, and on several other matters. Anattempt has also been made to date the text of the Arthashastra, using the method of stylisticanalysis 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 withthe political postulations.The Puranas, Arthashastra and the Mudrarakshasa all of them cast the figure of Chandraguptainto shade in this heroic fight and give full credit to Chanakya for bringing about the dynasticrevolution in Magadha by his diplomacy and appointing Chandragupta as king.
Foreign sources are accounts gathered from classical writings in Greek and Latin of thememoirs of travellers who visited India during the Mauryan period. The main sources are thewritings of Megasthenes, Strabo, Diodorous, Nearchus, Arrian, Pliny, Plutarch, Justine,Appian, etc. As a sequence of Alexander's invasions of India, a number of Greek travellersvisited 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,
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.
It is the foremost among all the foreign accounts regarding the Mauryans.
He has described the different aspects of Indian life including the administration of the State, local administration, life of the king, etc.
It refers to Mauryan administration, the 7 caste system, absence of slavery and usuryin India, etc.
It contains his description of the capital city, Pataliputra, which ranges fromdescribing the business of the streets, to the peace and tranquillity
in the city’s roya
l park.
It contains the personal life of the emperor, his magnificence, splendour andgrandeur, the royal court, the administration, and the contemporary social life.
Archaeological excavations have been conducted at a number of Mauryan sites. Excavationsat Kaushambi, Rajagriha, Pataliputra, Hastinapur, and Taxila have helped us to reconstructthe historical development of the period. The Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW) wasthe common pottery type used throughout the Mauryan Empire with the exception of southernmost areas. Inscriptions are the most important and authentic sources of Mauryanhistory. The inscriptions have been engraved on rocks, caves, pillars, etc.Art remains include the remains of the Mauryan Stupas, Viharas, and the animal capitalssurmounting the pillars on some of which the edicts were inscribed. These remains give us aninformation about the material used at that time about the craftsmanship, about the peacefultimes, 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.
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 Kharoshtiscript 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, whichdescribe 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.

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