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The Maurya Empire And Mauryan Arts

The Maurya Empire was established centered round Maghada between 321BC and 185BC. Chandraguptha Maurya (321BC - 300BC) was the founder of this empire. He conquered a large number of states around Maghada with the help of his chief minister Kautilya.

This empire consisted of North India and some part of Decan. Chandraguptha Maurya established and organized their rule in India. He helped a lot to develop arts and crafts. Bindusara (300BC - 273BC) became the emperor after the Chandraguptha Maurya. He made the empire powerful. After his death King Asoka (273BC - 232BC) who ruled over Pataliputra became the emperor.

Emperor Asoka continued to expand the empire. In his 9th regnal year in 264BV he declared war against the state of Kalinga. The Kalinga invasion was considered the last invasion of the Maghada Dynasty. In this battle about 100,000 soldiers were killed and about 150,000 soldiers were captured as prisoners of war.

This bloody battle against Kalinga was an unpleasant experience to emperor Asoka. It marked a turning point of his career. The sight of the dead and the wounded made Asoka give up fighting. He swore himself not to engage in war again. Instead of war he embraced Buddhism and began to follow the Buddha's teaching. He ruled and developed his empire on Buddhist principles.

Emperor Asoka's hereditary religion was Jainism. After the Kalinga war he became a devout buddhist. Today he is honoured and respected as the first Buddhist Emperor of India. He extended his royal patronage to organize the 'Third Buddhist Council'. Theravada Dhamma Sangayana under the guidance of Venerable Moggali Puththa Tissa Thero.

He relinquished conquests through war and bloodshed. Instead of 'Dig Vijaya' he started to rule the country following the 'Dhamma Vijaya' advocated even by Lord Buddha. He sponsored missionaries to the following countries and areas in order to propagate the teachings of the Buddha after the third Buddhist Council.

  1. Thambapanni (Sri Lanka)
  2. Swarnaboomi (Burma/Myanmar)
  3. Maheesha Mandala (Mysore)
  4. Vanavasi Desh (North Kanara)
  5. Aparanta Desh (The Areas around Port Supparaka)
  6. Maharastra
  7. Yonaka Desh
  8. Kashmir/ Gandara
  9. Nepal
Following the stanza 'Sawe Purisa Paja Mama' given in a rock inscription, King Asoka considered all his citizens as his own children. In one rock inscription he strongly criticized the early kings and rulers who had done nothing for the spiritual development of the people.

He advised his countrymen to be honest, merciful, pious, compassionate, truthful and dedicated. Not only he requested his people to follow his religious principles or 'Asoka Doctrine' but also he appointed officers namely 'Dharmamatra' to check whether the people followed his religious admonitions.

In his 12th rock inscription he had strongly advised the people not to harm the followers of other religious and also not to boast about ones own religion. He planned his administrative principles called 'Asoka Dharma' providing to respect all other religions in the same spirit.

In one of his rock inscriptions he requests his subjects to protect their king as a baby given to the care and protection of a nurse. King Asoka visited a number of religious places such as Lumbini, Kapilawastu, Saranath, Shrawasti, Buddhagaya and Kusinara to pay his respect. He established a column (pillar) in Lumbini where prince Siddhartha was born, to commomorate the birth of Lord Buddha. In the inscription at Saranath it is stated that king Asoka had constructed a dagaba depositing the relics of Konagama Buddha. According to Buddhist Literature, King Asoka had constructed 84,000 chaityas as a mark of respect and honour to the Dhamma.

King Asoka instituted rock inscriptions in the following areas.
  1. Sha Basgar.
  2. Mangera.
  3. Kalsi.
  4. Ruwindei.
  5. Nepal.
  6. Kashmir.
  7. Nigliver.
  8. Alahbad.
  9. Girinar.
  10. Masti.
  11. Loriyan Tangai.
The South Indian state Chola, Pandya, Sathiyaputra and Kerala are neighbouring kingdoms of the Maghada Empire. The Maurya Empire declined after the death of Emperor Asoka. Between the period od 232BC - 185BC the empire was divided to form three kingdoms as Shunga, Chetha and Sathavahana. After that in the North-Western part of India a new empire emerged as the Kushan Empire.

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The Sixteen Great States in India

According to 'Anguttara Nikaya', by the 6th century BC India was divided into sixteen states or 'Janapadas'.
  1. Anga - Champa
  2. Maghada - Giriwraja
  3. Kasi - Baranasi
  4. Kosala - Kusawati, Shraswati
  5. Vajji - Vesali
  6. Malla - Kusinara, Pada
  7. Vatsa - Kausambi
  8. Cheta - Soththimati
  9. Avanti - Upajayani
  10. Matsha - Virat
  11. Surasena - Mathura
  12. Kuru - Indraprasta, Delhi
  13. Panchala - Abhichatra, kampilya
  14. Gandara - Thaksila, Pushkalawati
  15. Kamboja
  16. Asmaga - Pratistana 
During this period in the Western part, known as Panchaladesh, new Aryan settlements were formed. In Brahmin chronicals it was mentioned that Videgha Mathawa, a leader in the state of Sarasvati worshipped the God Agni - The god of fire.

So it is believed that Videgha Mathawa had introduced the 'Agni Pooja' of the Aryans so the Western side of the India. Videgha or the North Bihar was ruled by a king named Janaka. The capital of Bihar was Mithila.

As presented in Yajurveda, Settlements were formed in South Bihar or Maghada. But Maghada was considered a semi non-Aryan settlement. Two Aryan tribes, 'Wrathya and Nishada' formed their settlements in Anga Pradesh situated to the north of Maghada.

Meanwhile, in 'Udichidesh' in northern part of India, Aryan tribes Uttara Kuru and Uttara Madhu formed settlements. Finally, settlements were formed in the dakshinadesh and the tribes, Andra, Pulinda, Muiniba and Sabara lived in them. Spreading from the north-west, the formation of the Aryan settlements in India started around 1500BC. By 600 century BC the Aryans completely settled in India. From India they migrated to Sri Lanka and other nearby countries and formed settlements.

Champa was the capital of the state of Anga located in the North Bihar. Geographically this state was very important to engage in business transaction. Port 'Thambraputra' was in the delta of the Ganges. From that port merchants in the Anga were able to visit other South India ports. They were able to keep contacts with the neighboring Burma - Present Myanmar.

Maghada had the facilities to become an empire and its oldest capital was Giribaja. later Rajagaha and Patali Putra(patna) became its capitals respectively. Maghada provided a suitable environment to experiment political ideologies. Atarveda was the first chronical to mention about Maghada.\

In later years, the state of 'Kasi' joined with the state of Maghada. Kasi was a prosperous state in the Ganges valley. Its capital 'Baranasi' became famous as it was located between the rivers 'varuna and Asi'. The river 'Sarabhu' geographically divided the state of Kosala into two parts.

This made the Kosala have two capitals. 'Sarasvati' became the capital of north kosala and 'Kuasawati' became the capital of south kosala. Saketa, Ayodya, Setawaya were some cities in the south Kosala. Later Kosala state too went under the rule of Maghada.

Vajji, in the North Bihar, was the kingdom of Lichchavi. wesali was its capital and this state was formed of nine tribes. The state of 'Malla', had a republic called 'Ghana'. It had two capitals as Kushinara, Pava. Kaushabi was the capital of Watsa. Udena was one of the kings who ruled the state of Watsa. taking the character of Udena as theme, Three dramas were written as Priyadarshika, Swapna-Wasawadatta and Ratnawali.

Chedi or Cheta was a state situated to the south of Vajji. Sottimati was the capital of this state. The people in the Cheta tribe later formed the Chetha Empire in kalinga. A stone inscription found in 'Hastigumbha' mentions a name of a king called 'Kharawela' belonging to the Chetha dynasty.

The state of Avanti was located at present Malawa area. Maheesmati was the oldest capital of this state. Later Ujjaini became its capital. The road leading from the Rajagaha Nuwara to prastisthan, the capital city of the state Asmata went across the state of Avanti.

Avanti Putra was the ruler of the state Surasena and the capital of Surasena was Mathura. In later years Mathura became a very religious place among the followers of God Vishnu. Indraprasad or Delhi was the capital of the state in Kuru. During the period of Lord Buddha, a king named kaurawa ruled Kuru.

The capital of the Matsya state was Virat or Wairat. Panchala was another state that existed during the time of Lord Buddha. Abhichatra and kampilya were its capitals. Peshawar and Rawalpindi were two north-western districts in India. They were in the state of Gandhara. Takshala was the capital of Ghandara then. In the days of Lord Buddha a king named Pukkusathi ruled Ghandara. The present Kandhahar is the ancient Ghandar. The state of Kamboja was situated to the north of Ghandar. The state of Asmatha was in the upper reaches of the river Godhavari. Pratisthan was its capital. It was also known as Potali, Potana and Paitan.

The 'Dhiganikaya' gives information about the 'Gana Rajya' or republics that functioned in the days of Lord Buddha in India. It tells about the Sakyans in Kapilawastu, the Mallawas in Kushinara, the Lichchavis in Vasali, the vedehas in Mithila, the Koliyas in Ramagrama, the Bullians in Allakappa, the Kalamas in Keshaputra, the Borias in the Pippili Jungle and the Bhaggas in Sunsumaragiri.

All this information tell that during the days of Lord Buddha the majority of people in Bharata preferred Ghan Rajya method of ruling which had more democratic features than in the monarchy.

People had even the voting rights to select their leaders under the democratic rule of the Lichchavis. The sixteen states that functioned in India during the time of Buddha, vied with each other to gain hegemony. As a result of this competition Maghada, Kosala, Vatsya and Avanti emerged more powerful than the other states.

Ultimately, Maghada became the greatest of all. Under the regimes of Bimbisara, Ajasatta, Sisunaga and the Nanda dynasty, Maghada laid the foundation to the status of an empire. During the reign of King Maha Padmananda the state of Maghada extended to North India and to a part of South India. Later the invasions by the Persians and Alexander the Great paved the background for the first establishment of Maghada or the Maurya empire in India.

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