Mauryan Period

Chandragupta Maurya, with the help of his guru Kautilya, defeated the Nandas, the rulers of Magadha (present-day Bihar) and established the Mauryan dynasty in 324 BCE. He quickly expanded towards the west of India, taking advantage of the power disruption caused by the death of Alexander. Chandragupta’s aggressive expansion soon resulted in him conquering the north, north-west, and a large portion of peninsular India. Bindusara ((297 – 273 BCE) succeeded his father, Chandragupta. Ashoka (269-232), considered one of the ablest kings in Indian history, succeeded his father Bindusara to rule as an emperor.

The Mauryan Dynasty is significant in Indian history for three reasons: They unified India under one ruler, spread Buddhism rapidly, and developed trade relations with the western world.

Mauryan Age - information - 2
Mauryan Age - information

Agrarian society

Agriculture was the primary occupation in the Mauryan period, and they followed very refined irrigation methodologies such as reservoirs and canals. One of the texts from the era states that the government taxed the peasants for irrigated lands. Paddy cultivation was widespread, which required an ample supply of labour. Gleaning from Arthashastra and other texts, the Mauryans encouraged the settlements of peasants by providing them with incentives such as cattle and implements to cultivate the land.

Advanced irrigation methods


Textiles, mining, and metallurgy were some of the crucial industries during the Mauryan era. Varanasi, Bengal, Gandhara, Madurai and Ujjain were the major textile centres.

Metallurgy was an advanced industry where Iron production happened on a large scale, as evidenced by the many sophisticated iron implements found during excavation. Researches show that the monarchs maintained a monopoly over iron production and distribution. In some sectors, the Kings employed skilled workers such as weavers, artisans, ship-builders, and stone workers. This employment was both for profitability and control over building military equipment.

The rulers controlled the markets by appointing officials and enforcing strict standards on pricing. At the same time, the guilds protected the workers' interests. The well-known guilds of the period were metallurgists, carpenters, potters, leatherworkers, painters, and textile workers. The state never went against the guilds but worked with them to have an efficient system of production and distribution of goods.

Mauryan Age - information - 2

Art and Architecture

The Mauryan period is one of the earliest examples of fine Indian art and architecture. Stone sculptures and pillars erected by Ashoka at Rampurvan, Nandigarh, and Sarnath show skilled artistry and technology. As for the buildings, a large number of ring wells and burnt bricks excavated indicate that people might have used them for domestic purposes. Megastanese mentions the pillared halls of the palaces and the wooden structures.

Reconstitution of the 80-pillared hall in Pataliputra
Carved Torana from the Mauryan Empire
Mauryan statuette - 2nd BCE
Bodh Gaya (left), built by Ashoka in 3rd Century BCE

Trade and commerce

Trade routes to West and Central Asia passed through northwest India. The policy of Bindusara and Ashoka to maintain friendly ties with neighbouring countries resulted in extensive trade, especially with the Greeks.

Though trade was not under the control of the rulers, they exercised control of the production and distribution of goods. Megasthenes mentions a superintendent of commerce whose duty was fixing goods' prices. Officers also interfered if there was a commodity surplus to ensure proper distribution. The Mauryan rule provided safety for travellers by employing regular patrolling of the highways, which helped internal trade blossom.

Quoting from the work Arthashastra, "The pautavadbyaksa or superintendent of weights and measures, exerted strict control on maintaining standard weights and measures. State boats that facilitated transport were under the charge of a navadhyaksa. He helped in regulating river transport and collecting ferry charges. All traders had to pay taxes and customs dues ranging from '15th to '125th of the value of goods. These were supposed to be collected by a superintendent of tolls called the sulkadhyaksa."


Kautilya (350-275 BCE), popularly called Chanakya, gave a firm foundation for the state policy of the Mauryans. A multi-faceted statesman and philosopher, Chanakya wrote a treatise on politics and finances called Arthashastra. A learned man who knew even medicine and astrology had exposure to Greek and Persian learning.

Chanakya, the counsellor and guide to Chandragupta Maurya, helped find the Mauryan dynasty. Chanakya guided Chandragupta to dethrone the Nandas and occupy the Magadha capital of Pataliputra. Mauryan dynasty relied heavily on Chanakya's Arthashastra for guidance. Surprisingly, this work was lost for centuries and was discovered only in the early 20th century. Though there are many legends regarding Chanakya, there is no official text detailing his life and work.

Arthashastra by Kautilya
Kautilya - a portrait

Spread of Buddhism

Ashoka (c. 304 – 232 BCE), the third and the last influential monarch of the Mauryan empire, brought all of India under his rule. Called Ashoka the great, he waged several ruthless wars to expand his reign. However, disillusioned with warfare and the bloodshed after a long and bloody war against Kalinga, a province in Odisha, Ashoka turned to the peaceful ways of Buddhism. After the Kalinga war, Ashoka focused on bringing peace and harmony to his kingdom. He began to spread awareness about peaceful living by inscribing his thoughts on rock and pillar edicts. Ashoka's pillar edicts weighed around 50 tons and were 40 to 50 feet tall. These pillars had a capital (top piece) of lions facing in four directions and bulls, horses, and elephants carved below the lion head. The four-facing lion capital has been the national emblem of India since its independence in 1947 CE.

In addition, Ashoka built hundreds of Stupas, important Buddhist structures, throughout northern India. The most famous Stupa built by Ashoka is at Sanchi in present-day Bihar.

Sangamitta spread Buddhism in Sri Lanka
Avalokiteshwara, a renowned Buddhist devotional figure
Footprint of the Buddha at Sikhri, Khyber
 Pillar edict at Torpa