Ancient Buddhist Literature and Significance

Buddhist Literature

The Buddhist Literature gives a lot of information regarding the 6th Century BCE period. So, it also mentions about many Great Rulers of 6th Century BCE; Like, Bimbisaar, Chandragupta Maurya, Prasenjit, the Great Ashoka etc. The Buddhist Literature had written in the Pali and Vedic Sanskrit. Most of the literature is written in Pali, so that common people of that period could understand it easily.

The Pali canon of Buddhist Literature consists of three Pitakas or Baskets, which are

  1. Vinaya Pitaka
  2. Sutta Pitaka
  3. Abhidhamma Pitaka
Pali Language

It is a dialect of Ardhamagadhi Language group. So, the earliest evidence of writing we have from the historical period is by Ashoka’s Edicts.

Buddhist Literature: Pitaka

Vinaya Pitaka

Vinaya Pitaka contains disciplinary rules and regulations for leading a monastic life. So, it contains rules for the Buddhist Monks to live in the Buddhist Viharas.

Sutta Pitaka

Sutta Pitaka is a summary of the teaching of Buddha. So, it contains the very words of Buddha in conversation with his disciples. It is the most important of the three of the Pitakas. Includes,

  • Digha Nikaya
  • Majjihma Nikaya
  • Samyutta Nikaya
  • Anguttaira Nikaya
  • Khudduka Nikaya
  • and the most important Jataka Tales are also part of the Sutta Pitaka.

Jataka Tales

It deals with the previous birth of Buddha and stories of Buddha as a teacher. About 549 Jataka stories have published. From the Jatakas, we can draw a picture of political, social,  economic and religious conditions of the people.

There are reliefs of the Jatakas on the stone wall around the stupas of Sanchi and Bharhut. We found 82 inscriptions serves as labels for panels depicting the Jatakas, the life of Buddha.

Abhidhamma Pitaka

It consists of seven texts and deals with the doctrines of the Buddha in a scholastic manner. Buddhavamsha is a collection of legends depicting the 24 lines of Buddha. Dhammapada is a collection of 423 sayings of Buddha. It was completely compiled in the third Buddhist Council in the reign of the Great Mauryan King Ashoka.

Later Buddhist Literature


It is a collection of poems composed by Monks or Bhikkunis. The name Threigatha is derived from the purest form of Buddhism, which is Theravada.

Milindapanha or Questions of King Milinda

This is the work of Buddhist Monk Nagasena. Menander was an Indo-Greek King and Milindapanho is a text named after him. It resembles the dialogues of the plate and is written in a very elegant prose. The text discusses a number of problems and disputed points of Buddhism. So, it is a masterpiece of Pali Language. So, it is basically, a conversation of King Menander with Buddhist Monk Nagasena.


Buddhagosha lived in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in the 5th Century CE. So, he wrote commentaries on all the Tripitakas i.e. three Pitakas. And he also wrote Visuddhimagga.


The Mahayana works of Ashwaghosha (2nd Century CE), such as Buddhacharita. It is a biography of Buddha. So, this text offers valuable materials on different aspects of ancient Indian History during Kushana period. Kanishka, the Kushana ruler gave patron to the Ashwagosha. And Ashwagosha also headed the Fourth Buddhist Council held in Kashmir. Ashwagosha was also a great monk of Buddhist sect Mahayana.


The Mahayana work Manju-Shree-Mulakalpa (Partially religious and partially secular) throws light on the personal qualities of Samudra Gupta, the Napoleon of India. So, it is a significant text for the study of Gupta Period.

The Pali Chronicles of Ceylon

Dipavamsha and Mahavamsha are the Pali Chronicles of Ceylon. So, these are authentic Buddhist Literature determines the early career and succession of Mauryan King Chandragupta Maurya.


It focuses on the coming of Buddhism to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and the establishment of the Sangha. So, the History of Sangha is also relating to the political history of Sri Lanka.


It covers the same themes but also highlights the history of the Mahavihara Monastery.

The Buddhist, not only maintained records of this sort. But they also developed a system of chronology, where major events compiled. So, this was a brief description of Buddhist Literature. So, in the next coming post, we will deal with Jainism: Religious Movement.

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Jainism: A Religious Movement of 6th Century BCE

As we have read in the previous post that in the period of Second Urbanisation i.e. 6th Century BCE. It was the period in which many new religious reformers started their campaign in against to the staunch Brahmanical Religion. We have discussed Buddhism in a brief, and now in this post we are going to have a look on the Jainism.

Religious Movement: Jainism

Origin and Last Tirthankara

According to Jaina texts, the origin of Jainism goes back to the very ancient times. And the text says that there were 24 Tirthankaras or Religious teachers. The first Tirthankara was Rishabhadeva and the twenty-fourth was Vardhaman Mahaveer or commonly known as Mahaveer Swami.

Mahaveera Swami was contemporary of Gautam Buddha. He too was a prince of Jnatrika Kshatriya clan. He was born in 540 BCE in a village Kundagrama. His father Siddhartha was head of the clan. And the mother was the princess of Lichchhavi Dynasty. Her name was Trishala, and she was the sister of Lichchhavai Chief Chetaka.

In the whole one can see the same background of the two legendary religious reformers of the 6th Century BCE. So, in a common way, one can find that the luxuries of the Royal system did not give joy to the Gautam Buddha and Mahaveer Swami. They were seeking the path that can provide humanity with a real and permanent peace.

After the 12 years of meditation in the thirteenth year, Mahaveer Swami attained Kaivalya i.e. Jnan. So, he conquered misery and happiness. And after this, he started his campaign just like Gautama Buddha to help other people to get rid of misery. He got Nirvana (passed away) in Pavapuri (Bihar) at the age of 72.

Philosophy of Jainism

Jainism Philosophy
Jainism Philosophy

Jainism talks about five types of knowledge.

  • Mati: Knowledge gained by senses.
  • Shruti: Knowledge gained by listening.
  • Awadhi: Knowledge gained in time.
  • Manprayay: By the above three knowledge one can acquire this Manprayay, which means telepathy.
  • Kaivalya: It is the state after the Manprayay. It is the state when someone acquires supreme knowledge.

The five doctrines of Jainism are,

  • Ahimsa: Do not commit violence.
  • Satya: Do not speak a lie.
  • Asteya: Do not steal.
  • Brahmacharya: Observe Continence.
  • Aparigraha: Do not acquire property.

Sects of Jainism

After Mahaveer Swami the Jainas got divided into three sects. It was mainly due to the Famine that occurred in the Magadha region during the reign of Mauryan Ruler Chandragupta Maurya. So, some people from the Magadha went to the south under the leadership of the Bhadrabahu. We call them as Digamber Jaina.

Those who did not leave their places and lived in Magadha during famine got the leadership of Sthalabahu. We call them as Shwetamber Jaina.

One more sect of Jainism was there for some time, it was Yapaniya sect. Yapaniya sect was a Tantric Sect of Jainism. The Goddess of this sect is Padmavati and Javalmalini.

Jaina Texts

Jaina Texts were composed in dialect Prakrit, Ardhamagadhi group of language. Agamas i.e. Jaina Scriptures compiled in the 6th Century CE at a great Jaina Council held at Valabhi, Gujarat. Some important Jain works are

  • 14 Parvas.
  • 12 Angas/Upangas.
  • Prakirnas and Sutras.
  • Kalpasutra: by Bhadrabahu.
  • Bhagwatisutra.
  • Marutunga.
  • Parisistatiparvan: by Hemachandra.
  • Uttaradhyayana.
  • Sthaviravali.

These were the all important Jaina texts which contain important historical data on Jainism. So, these texts also mention the political, social, religious and economic system of that time. Also, mention important monarchs like Bimbisara, Ajatshatru, Mahapadma Nanda, Chandragupta Maurya etc.

So, this was a brief about Jainism. In the next coming post, we will be going to attend Buddhist and Jaina Councils. 🙂

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Buddhist Council and Jaina Council

Buddhist Council

After Gautama Buddha’s Mahaparinirvana, his disciples conduted four Buddhist Councils. Each one of them were conducted during the reign of different dynasty and ruler.

First Buddhist Council

The First Buddhist Council held in 483 BCE in Saptami Cave near Rajagriha. Rajagriha (Bihar) was the first capital of the Magadha Empire during the reign of Bimbisara and Ajatshatru. They were the King of Haryanka Dynasty. And Ajatshatru was the King during the First assembly.

Buddhist Monk Mahakassapa presided over the assembly. In this assembly, all the teachings of Buddha had compiled Pitakas. The text of Vinaya Pitaka is consisting the rule and regulations for the Buddhist Monks to reside in Buddhist Viharas. So, in this assembly, Upali compiled the Vinaya Pitaka and Ananda, the disciple of Gautama Buddha compiled the Sutta Pitaka.

Second Buddhist Council

The Second Buddhist Council held at Vaishali in 383 BCE. After the 100 years of First Buddhist assembly, the second assembly held. In this assembly, Monks of Vaishali and Pataliputra had accepted certain different rules. Actually, these rules were different from the teachings of Buddha. So, the Monks of Kaushambhi (Allahabad) and Avanti (Ujjain) opposed these rules.

This led to the split in the Buddhist order into Sthaviravadins and Mahasanghikas. Sthaviravadins upheld the orthodox Vinaya Pitaka. But Mahasanghikas favoured new rules and their relaxations. The Second Buddhist Assembly was held during the reign of the Kalashoka ruler of Shishunaga Dynasty.

Third Buddhist Council

This was the most important Buddhist Council held at Pataliputra, the capital of Magadha Empire. The Chairperson of this assembly was Moggaliputta Tissa. The philosophical interpretation of the doctrines of Buddha compiled in this assembly. It is Abhidhamma Pitaka, contains philosophical doctrines of Buddha’s teachings.

The assembly was organised during the reign of the Great King Ashoka. Ashoka followed the policy of Dhammavijaya over Digvijaya. So, in this assembly, an attempt made to free the Buddhist order from the dissidents and innovations.

Fourth Buddhist Council

It held in Kashmir, during the reign of Kushana King Kanishka. This Council was a gathering of Hinayanists of North India. In the Buddhist Council, the compilation of three commentaries (Vibhashas) of the three Pitakas took place.

So, in this assembly, it decided certain controversial questions of differences that arose between the Sarvastivada teachers of Kashmir and Gandhara.

It was all about the four Buddhist Councils held during ancient times. Now we will discuss Jaina Councils.

Jaina Council

First Jaina Council

The First Jaina Council held at Pataliputra, under the leadership of Sthalabahu in the 3rd Century BCE. It resulted in the compilation of 12 Angas. And these 12 Angas replaced the lost 14 Parvas.

Second Jaina Council

It held at Vaishali in 512 CE. It was a Council of Shwetambara Jaina Sect. So, the Shwetambara Jaina Monk Devaradhi Kshatnasramana presided this Jaina Council. And it resulted in the final compilation of 12 Angas and 12 Upangas.

It was brief about the Buddhist and Jaina Council. In the next coming post, we will deal with the Major Ancient Dynasties of India. So, we are going to read about many Great Kings of Indian Subcontinent.

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Mighty Magadha Empire and Great Kings

Ancient Empires

As we have studied that in Rigvedic Period the political structure was tribal, but Later Vedic Period gradually saw the political system with the Monarch. In Later Vedic Period, as we have read there was a proper Taxation system because of which the Monarch was able to have a standing army.

But in the age of Second Urbanisation, the big cities came into existence and it saw the emergence of Mahajanapadas. There were four important Mahajanapadas Koshala, Vatsa, Avanti and Magadha. Out of these four, the Magadha was the most prosperous kingdom. There are many reasons why was the Magadha Empire so Prosperous? Let us have a look at those reasons.

Mighty Magadha Empire

Magadha Empire
Magadha Empire

Causes of Magadha Empire’s Success

The main reason for the prosperity of Magadha Empire was its geographical position. Magadha, (present day Bihar) in the Iron Age was having Iron deposits nearby to its capital Rajgir. The region was in the proximity of the Chhota Nagpur Plateau, which is rich in all kind of mineral resources. The other reason was that the fertile plains of river Ganges. The river Ganges provided the most fertile land to the people of Magadha Empire.

So, with the agricultural work, the people of Magadha Kingdom produced a surplus of grains. That was the reason the Kingdom was having a proper taxation system. So, because of this, the treasury of the Magadha Empire was always full.

The other factor for the success of the Magadha Empire was the ambitious leaders like Bimbisara, Ajatshatru and Mahapadmananda etc. So, these rulers employed all means fair or foul to enlarge their kingdoms.

Magadha Empire: Important Dynasties

Haryanka Dynasty

Magadha Empire Under Bimbisara

Bimbisara (544-492 BCE), the Ruler of Haryanka Dynasty laid the foundation of the Magadha Empire. The capital of the Magadha was Rajgir during his reign. He did three marriage alliances to empower his political status.

  • His first wife was the daughter of the king Koshala and sister of the Prasenjit.
  • The 2nd wife was from the Lichchhavi Dynasty of Vaishali (Nepal). She was Chellana and gave birth to the Ajatshatru. Ajatshatru was the successor of the Bimbisara.
  • Bimbisara also had a wife from the Madra clan of Punjab.

So, all these matrimonial alliances gave the way to the expansion of the Magadha Empire. The only rival Mahajanpada was Avanti. Bimbisara did a friendship treaty with Chanda Pradyota Mahasena, King of Avanti. So, by this friendship treaty, he actually pacified the Avanti.


Ajatshatru was the successor of the Bimbisara. Though his mother was a Lichchhavi princess still he fought with the Lichchhavi republic and won great success over it. He then fortified the Pataligrama or Pataliputra. He once met Gautama Buddha, mentioned in Barhut Sculptures.

We have read that Ajatshatru was associated with the First Buddhist Council at Rajgir. According to Mahavamsha the Buddhist Text, he constructed many Chaityas and Viharas. Here Chaityas mean, the prayer halls and Viharas mean residential area of Buddhist Monks. So, in this way, the reign of Ajatshatru was very important in the Magadha Empire.


Udayin was the successor of Ajatshatru. The most important work of Udayin was that he shifted the Capital of Magadha Empire from Rajgir to Pataliputra. During the reign of the Udayin, the commander-in-chief of the Haryanka Dynasty Shishunaga assassinated the ruler and captured the throne.

Shishunagas Dynasty

After the Shishu naga’s accession to the throne, Magadha came under the rule of Shishunaga Dynasty. The greatest achievement of the Shishunagas was that they destructed the power of Avanti and ended the 100 years old rival of the Magadha.

The Successor of Shishunaga was Kalashoka. His reign was important because of the Second Buddhist Council at Vaishali. The next and the most powerful dynasty of the Magadha was the Nanda Dynasty.

Nanda Dynasty

Nanda Dynasty was the great and the most prosperous dynasty of the Magadha. Mahanadin was the founder of this Dynasty. But, some historians believe that the Mahapadma Nanda was the founder of this Dynasty. However, there is not any duality in the fact that Mahapadma Nanda was the Great Ruler of Nanda Dynasty.

Under the reign of Mahapadma Nanda Kalinga was annexed in Magadha. Purana speaks extensive conquests of Mahapadma Nanda. Hathigumpha inscription of Kharvela of Kalinga refers to the conquest of Kalinga by Nanda. Soon, the grace of the Nanda Dynasty turned into the dark under the reign of Dhanananda.

Dhanananda was the last and the most monster ruler of the Nanda dynasty. His oppressive way of tax collection resented by his subjects. So, Chandragupta Maurya under the guidance of the Guru Chanakya took the advantage of this situation. Soon, after defeating Dhanananda, Chandragupta established the Mauryan Empire in the Magadha Region.

We will discuss Mauryan Empire and its great rulers in the next coming post.

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Alexander’s Invasion and Mauryan Empire

We have read that the oppressive tax policy of the Dhananand, the Nanda Dynasty ruler resented the subjects. So, the Chandragupta Maurya and Chanakya took the advantage of this condition and overthrew the Nanda Dynasty and established Mauryan Empire. But before it a major incident took place. It was external invasion from the north-west frontier of the India. A Macedonian army under the leadership of Alexander invaded the India’s North-Western provinces.

Alexander’s Invasion

Alexander was a Macedonian hero, who was very fascinated about the India. So, he came India after defeating the Persian Ruler Xerus. He invaded India from the North-Western Frontier. The Taxila Prince Ambi helped him to fight against the Army of Porus.

Porus was a young king of the area between the river Jhelum and Chenab. This area also called as Plains of Karri. In the Battle of Hydaspes (Jhelum), armies of Porus and Alexander fought with valour. Alexander got impressed with the young king Porus and returned his territory to him.

After this battle, he wanted to go towards East. But his army denied moving further in India. It was so because the army of Alexander once had the experienced a taste of Indian fighting qualities. And they also about the glory of Infantry, Cavalry and Elephant forces of Mahapadma Nanda. So, they asked Alexander to retreat or return to their native place. So, after their denial, Alexander lamented,

I am trying to rouse the hearts that are disloyal and crushed with craven fears.

The Alexander who had never faced defeat at the hand of his enemies had to accept defeat from his own Men. So, he left the India. However, the governor of Alexander that is Seleucus Nicator was placed at the north-western frontier of India. So, as the Indo-Greek trade also improved from this invasion.

Mauryan Empire

Mauryan Empire
Mauryan Empire

Alexander went empty handed from the India. But all this episode gave the opportunity to the Chandragupta Maurya and his Guru Chanakya, to establish a vast Empire over the Magadha. There are numerous resources which gave the description for the Mauryan Empire. Let us list out them,

  • Arthashastra of Kautilya or Chanakya. Arthashastra is a collection of 15 books with 179 sub sections. Book number 2, 3 and 4 are relevant to Mauryan Period.
  • Mudrarakshas by the Vishakhadutta. Devichandragupta by Vishakhadutta also mentions the reign of Mauryan King Chandragupta.
  • Vishnu Purana states that Mother of Chandragupta was Mura. Though she was a woman of low caste but was the wife of a Nanda King.
  • Kalpasutra by Bhadrabahu.
  • Parisistparvan by Hemachandra. This book mentions the conversion of Chandragupta Maurya to Jainism.
  • Indica by Magasthenes. Magasthenes was the Greek Ambassador. He came with the army of Alexander. He mentions the administrative system of the Mauryan Empire.

The most important sources to know about the Mauryan Empire are the Ashoka’s Major and Minor Rock Edicts.

Mauryan Empire: Major Rock Edicts

There are 14 major rock edicts of Ashoka, the Great. The Major Rock Edicts are in Jaugada, Kalsi, Mansehra, SHabbazgarti, Girnar, Sopara, Yerragudi and Dauli. So, let’s have a look the important Major Rock Edicts.

1st Major Rock Edict

It states “Do not kill animals”.

3rd Major Rock Edict

In this Major Rock Edict, Ashoka created three new administrative posts. These were,

  • Pradeshika: District Magistrate.
  • Rajjuka: Revenue Officer.
  • Yukta: Clerk.

5th Major Rock Edict

It describes the new administrators Dhamma Mahamatyas. These officials were appointed to preach Dhamma to the people. Ashoka sent these Dhamma Mahamatyas to various extents.

6th Major Rock Edict

In this Major Rock Edict, a new post was Prativedaka. And this Prativedaka could meet to the Ashoka at any time if the matter was regarding Kingdom affairs.

8th Major Rock Edict

This Rock Edict states that Ashoka went Bodhgaya. As we know Bodhgaya is the where Siddhartha Gautama became Gautama Buddha. So, Ashoka worshipped the Bodhi Tree i.e. Peepal Tree at the 10th year of his ruling.

13th Major Rock Edict

This gave the description of Kalinga war. So, after which Ashoka adopted the policy of Dhammavijaya over Digvijaya. This Major Rock Edict also mention for the South Kingdoms Chola, Chera and Pandya etc.

14th Major Rock Edict

In this Edict, Ashoka states that My Kingdom is vast.

Minor Rock and Pillar Edicts

Minor Rock Edicts have found at 14 places. Maski, Gujarra, Nittur and Udegolam Minor Rock Edicts mentions Ashoka’s name explicitly. Devanama Devpiyadasi was the name of Ashoka in these Rock Edicts.

Likewise, there are many Minor Pillar Edicts of Ashoka. So, these are Allahabad, Sanchi and Sarnath Pillar Edicts, mentions Ashoka’s obsession with the Dhamma.

Junagarh Rock Inscription

This inscription of Rudradama-I, states about the construction of Sudarsana Lake in Saurashtra region.

Barabar Hill Cave Inscription

Barabar Caves were the favour of Ashoka to the Ajivika Monks. However, Ashoka’s father Bindusara in his last days inclined toward the Ajivika Sect.

Bhabru Edicts

Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism and his reverence for this religion.

James Princep in 1837, first deciphered the Ashokan Edicts. However, in Edicts Ashoka generally, refers to himself by the title Devanam Devapiyadasi means “Beloved of the Gods”.


So, these were the all important sources from which we learn about Mauryan Empire. One more important source is Rajatarangini, written by Kalhan. In the Rajatarangini, Kalahan said that Jaluka was the successor of Ashoka in Kashmir.

So, this was all about the sources which can be used as the reference to study Mauryan Empire. However, the Administrative system of the Mauryan Empire was so vast. So, we will deal with it in next coming post. Lastly, in the next post, we will discuss all the Emperor or the Kings and the administrative system of the Mauryan Empire.

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Great Kings and Administration of Mauryan Empire

Great Kings in Chronological Order

The Mauryan Empire was the extensive and the most prosperous Empire of that time. We have read the sources that give us knowledge about the Mauryan Empire. So, here we are going to discuss rulers and the administration of the Mauryan Empire.

Chandragupta Maurya

He was the founder of the Mauryan Dynasty. He laid the foundation of the most systematic and liberal as well as rigid system of administration. The administrative system of Mauryan Empire was designed by the Mentor of Chandragupta Maurya. And he was Chanakya, who guided Chandragupta Maurya.

The Sohagaurya Copper Plate Inscription and Mahasthana Inscription describe the arrangements done by the King during the time of Famine. In the late days of his life, he adopted Jainism. The Bhadrabahu (about whom one had read once before) took the Chandragupta Maurya to the South India.

So, Chandragupta Maurya came to the Sravanbelgola near Mysore with the Bhadrabahu. He performed Santhara or Sallekhana there. Santhara or Sallekhana is just like Jaina ritual in which a person does fast to the death. The Greeks called him Sandrokottos or Androkottos.


Bindusara was the son of Chandragupta Maurya and his Queen Durdhara. Greeks called Bindusara as Amitragatta or Amitrakottos (meaning slayer of enemies). Jaina text Rajavalikatha, mention his original name as Simhasena.

Taranatha was a Tibetan Monk contemporary of Bindusara wrote about him. He said that Bindusara conquered 16 States comprising ‘the Land between two Seas’. In the late days of his life, he inclined towards the Ajivikas Sect. However, Chandragupta Maurya adopted Jainism.

During the Bindusara’s reign, Mauryan Empire spread over the large extent of India. He appointed his son Ashoka as a governor of Ujjain. So, after his demise, Ashoka became the Ruler of Magadha Empire.

Mauryan Empire Under Ashoka
Mauryan Empire Under Ashoka

The Great Ashoka

Ashoka was the only king of ancient India with a title ‘The Great’. It is because of his greatness we as a country adopted Ashoka’s Symbol as our National Emblem. According to Buddhist text Dipavamsha and Mahavamsha, Ashoka captured power after killing his own brothers. However, it was a long tradition of ancient India, Ajatshatru also killed his father and attacked his maternal place because of the throne.

So, though Ashoka presented a bad example by killing his brothers. But at the same time, his act of killing his own brothers proved a blessing for his subjects. It was so because no one of his brothers was as capable as he was. So, he adorned the throne of Mauryan Empire and helped Mauryan Empire to reach its heights. During his reign, Third Buddhist Council was organised in Pataliputra.

Bhabru Inscription tells us about the Ashoka’s conversion to the Buddhism. He was very tolerant to all the religious sects of that time.

Extent of Mauryan Empire under the Great Ashoka

Ashoka in the battle of Kalinga won the Kalinga. And it was probably the last battle he fought. So, after winning the Kalinga war from Kandahar in North-West to Mysore in South was under his rule.

Cholas, Pandyas, Satyaputras and Kerala Putra or Cheras mentioned in Ashokan inscription along with people of Tmrapani or Sri Lanka (Major Rock Edict II and XIII). Ashoka’s daughter Sanghamitra and son Mahendra were sent as the missionary to the Ceylon or Sri Lanka.

Now we will have a look how was this extensive Empire systematically administered?

Mauryan Administration

There were many officials in Mauryan Empire. These were having their different duties. Let’s have a look on the various officials of Mauryan Empire,

  • 18 Tirthas called as Mahamattras. They were high functionaries.
  • 27 Adhyakshas or Superintendents. These officials look after the most economic and military duties.
  • Shudras, for the 1st time, added to the main stream of work. They all employed in the agricultural works.
  • Sitadhyaksha: Crown Land named as Sita. So, Sitadhyaksha were the officials employed to look after the Agricultural productivity of the crown land.
  • There was state sponsored prostitution during the Mauryan Empire. These Prostitutes were worked as the spies of the Mauryan Kingdom. The head of this department was Bandiposhaka.
  • Senapati was the name for the commander-in-chief. 
  • Gramika was the Village head.
Village Administration
Village Administration
  • Samaharta was the official in charge of assessment.
  • Sannidhata was chief treasurer.
  • Rajjuka was Revenue Officer.
  • Amatya was high ranking officers. 

Currency and Taxation System

Revenue Administration
Revenue Administration of Mauryan Empire

Punch-Marked Silver coins carrying symbols of peacock, Hill and crescent. Pana was the term for these coins. The Taxation system was very simple and systematic.

  • Bhaga: Land Tax, It was the major source of the revenue of the empire. It was one-sixth of the produce.
  • To have an established agricultural irrigation system, there was the provision for the Water Cess.
  • Kara: It was also a tax. Levied upon the part of produce from fruit and flower garden.
  • Hiranya: tax paid in cash.
  • Pranaya: Emergency Tax.
  • However, there was a provision for the Poll tax.
  • The second major source of income was the Toll Tax. Toll Tax imposed on all articles. So, it was approximately 10 percent.

Other Important Designations during Mauryan Period

  • Panyadhyaksha: Superintendent of commerce. 
  • Sulkadhyaksha: Head of the department of Toll or Custom tax.
  • Lakshanadhyaksha: Head of the Mint.
  • Pantavadhyaksha: Superintendent of weights and measures.
  • Akaradhyaksha: Head of Mines.
  • Lavnadhyaksha: Superintendent of the department of Salt.

Important Note

After the battle of Kalinga, The Great Ashoka inaugurated a new policy of Dhammavijaya or conquest by piety. And he replaced the old policy of conquest by force of arms which was Digvijaya.

Provincial Administration

There were 5 provinces during Mauryan Era.

Mauryan Empire: Provincial Administration
Mauryan Empire: Provincial Administration

District Administration

The three posts were there to look after the District Administration.

Mauryan Empire: District Administration
Mauryan Empire: District Administration

Municipal Administration

For the Municipal Administration, 30 commissioners were there. So, these officials got divided into six groups each of containing 5 members. However, these six groups were having different duties.

Municipal Administration of Mauryan Empire
Municipal Administration of Mauryan Empire


This was brief about the Most important ancient kingdom. After the Ashokathere was not the great ruler in Mauryan Dynasty. So, no one was really able to carry forward his supreme legacy. So, after Ashoka, the Mauryan Empire became decentralised in every sense. This once again gave the opportunity to the external invaders.

So, after the Mauryan Kingdom, there was the rule of Sunga Dynasty over the Magadha. Pushyamitra Sunga was the important ruler of the Sunga Dynasty. Sungas were the staunch believer of the Brahmanism. Because of which Buddhism lost its importance in the region it was first originated. But Buddhism spread over the south-east and east Asia.

After the Shunga Dynasty, there was the rule of Kanva Dynasty. So, as till the coming of Kushana, there was not a great centralised Empire in Indian Subcontinent. Though the Empire of Kushanas were not so big so as was Mauryan. But it gave many things to the Indian Peninsula in terms of art and culture.

In the next coming post, we are going to read about the Golden age of the Ancient India. Yes, it was none other than the Age of Guptas.

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The Golden Age of Ancient India: Gupta Period

Post Mauryan Empire

We have read about the great Mauryan Empire. Though it was a vast Empire spreading all over the Indian Subcontinent. But after the death of the Great Ashoka, there was no such great ruler. Because of which the Mauryan Empire started declining. Now, it is very simple to understand when the central power is weak then the state can become the victim of external invasion.

Now, it is very simple to understand when the central power is weak then the state can become the victim of external invasion. So, it was true in the case of Mauryan Empire too. As we know that the Mauryan Rulers were Kshatriyas. And due to the Golden age of Buddhism, Brahmanism was in tension during this time. So, as the Great Ashoka died, Brahmin rivals took this as the opportunity to rebuild their status in the society.

So, for this Southern Kingdom of Indian Subcontinent was of Brahmanical Religion. Satvahana were of the Brahmin origin. Though they were not hostile to the Buddhism. But they preached Brahmanical Religion. Satvahanas were the rulers of Southern India just after the demise of Mauryan Empire. Because northern India saw the external invasion.

So, after the Mauryan Empire, the Golden Age of the Ancient History was the Gupta Period.

Gupta Period
Gupta Period

Sources of Gupta Period

Scriptures related to Gupta Period

There are many sources for the Gupta Empire. The most relevant are as follows,

  • Purana: The Vishnupurana refers three Gupta Kings Srigupta, Ghatotkacha Gupta and Chandragupta-I. It also states that Srigupta was the founder of Gupta Dynasty in north India.
  • Nitishastra by Kamandak also gave pieces of evidence of Gupta Period. This book is equivalent to the Arthashastra of Kautilya.
  • Devichandraguptam and Mudrarakshas of Vishakhadutta also give details of the religion of Gupta Period. In Gupta Period temple architecture was at its peak. Many temples of North India were built during this period. All the temples of North India follow Nagara Style of Architecture.
  • Ravanbadh or Battikavya by Bhatti also mentions about the Gupta Empire.

Foreign Traveller’s Account

Fa-Hein (399-414 CE)

Fa-Hein the Chinese traveller came to visit Indian Subcontinent during the reign of Chandragupta Vikramaditya. Chandragupta Vikramaditya was the third great ruler of the Gupta Empire. Fa-Hein gave a description of exchange system during Gupta Period. The currency by which the transactions were done was Kaudi. He also describes Chandals or Untouchable and their plight condition.

It-Sing (675 CE)

It-Sing too was the Chinese Traveller. He gave a description of Srigupta, the founder of Gupta Empire.

Inscriptions related to Gupta Period

Allahabad Inscription

The Allahabad inscription gave the details of the Victory of Samudragupta. It is also called Prayag Prashasti. And the court poet Harisena describes his King in this Prashasti. This inscription is engraved in Ashokan Pillar at Allahabad.

Iron Pillar Inscription of Mehrauli

Virsen was the court poet of Chandragupta Vikramaditya. He wrote this inscription. He was a minister of war and peace at Vikramaditya’s reign.

Bhitari Inscription

It is the inscription of Skandagupta. It gives detail of Huna invasion during his reign. Indore Pillar inscription is also the inscription of Skandagupta.

Eran Inscription (510 CE)

The first ever evidence of Sati was found during the Gupta period. Eran inscription is the first epigraphic-record of Sati system. This inscription was during the age of Bhanugupta.

Golden Coins

Gupta Rulers had issued the highest number of Golden Coins in India. Though Kushana Rulers started the tradition of Golden coins. But the Gupta period saw the most of the Golden Coins. Chandragupta Vikramaditya also issued first Silver coin among all Gupta Rulers.

Samudragupta issued 8types of coins. Lion, Ashwamedha Yajna were shown on the coins. Samudragupta was fond of playing the Veena. So, his picture of playing the Veena was also there on coins.

  • Golden Coins: called as Nishka or Pala.
  • Silver Coins: called Rupak, Satmana and Pana depending on the value of the coin.
  • Copper Coins: Kakini, Ksharpan.

However, the highest number of the remnant of coins of Gupta Period was found in Bayana of Rajasthan.

Gupta Kings

According to Manusmriti and Vishnupurana Gupta’s were Vaishyas (traders). Actually, it has been seen that they were feudal of Kushanas. So, after the declining of Kushanas, they accession to the throne.

Though some historians also believe that Guptas were Kshatriya. Because of their matrimonial alliance with the Lichchhavi and Nagas. But it is rather an absurd thing to say that they were Kshatriyas because they had marriage relations with Kshatriya Clan. Because bureaucracy does not believe in the Caste System.

Well, some also believe that they were Brahmins. Because the Chandragupta Vikramaditya married her daughter with a Vakataka Prince, who was Brahmin. So, we do not need to dwell on this detail as it is not important. We are not going to make Biodata of these Kings. 😉 😛

So, we will study about the Gupta Kings as they were the Rulers during the Golden Age of Ancient India.

Emergence of Guptas

Empires of Satvahana and Kushanas came to an end in the middle of 3rd Century CE. So, new dynasty emerged in north India and it was Gupta Dynasty.

Allahabad Prashasti of Samudragupta mentioned that his predecessors were Srigupta, Ghatotkach and Chandragupta-I. So, from here we can know that the Srigupta was the founder of Gupta Dynasty and Ghatotkach was his successor. Though the foundation stone was laid by Srigupta. But it was the reign of Chandragupta-I during which, Guptas started flourishing.


He adopted the title of Maharajadhiraja and issued Gold coins. He has done many marriage alliances because of which his Empire extended. Chandragupta and his Queen Kumaradevi (Lichchhavi Princess) engraved on the obverse and seated Goddess on the reverse side of a coin of Lichchhavi Republic.

Samudragupta: Napoleon of India

He was the greatest King of Gupta period. Allahabad Prashasti gives a detailed account of the career and personality of Samudragupta. He adopted the policy of conquest and reinstatement with the Southern Rulers. Historian Vincent A. Smith gave him a name of Napoleon of India because of his conquests. He ruled over his kingdom by two methods.

Two Methods to Rule during Samudragupta's reign
Two Methods to Rule during Samudragupta’s reign

Samudragupta also performed Ashwamedha Yajna and after this Yajna he adopted the title of Parakramanka. He was fond of writing poems. So, he also earned a title of Kaviraja.

The other important King was Chandragupta Vikramaditya. About him and other rulers, we will read in the next coming post.

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Later Gupta Kings and Gupta Administrative System

Till now we have read the sources and the few Gupta Kings. So, now we are going to continue with our discussion on Gupta Period. The last ruler about which we have read was Samudragupta. He started the expansion of Gupta Empire in all direction. After Samudragupta, there was an another great king of Gupta Dynasty. He was Chandragupta-II, who later got the title of Chandragupta Vikramaditya.

Chandragupta Vikramaditya (380-413 CE)

He was a son of Dattadevi and Samudragupta. The Gupta Kingdom reached its highest glory during his reign. He not only succeeded in terms of territorial expansion but also gave patron to art and culture to flourish. Chandragupta-II entered into matrimonial alliance with Nagas, as was his Grandfather did.

He married to the Naga Princess Kubernaga. His daughter Prabhavati was married to Rudrasena-II of the Vakataka Dynasty. But soon after the marriage, the Vakataka king died. So, then the Queen Prabhavati became the authority of the Vakataka Dynasty. So, he acted as a regent on behalf of her two minor sons.

Chandragupta-II also defeated Saka Ruler Rudrasimha-III. So, he then annexed Saka kingdom and added the regions of Gujarat, Kathiawar and west Malwa to Gupta Empire. He made Ujjain as his second capital. The location of Ujjain was suitable to rule the vast Empire, which was extended in the south also. However, we know that the Samudragupta annexed a large area under the Gupta Empire.

After defeating Sakas, he adopted the title of Vikramaditya. He was the first Gupta king, who issued Silver coins. He had Nine Gems in his court namely,

  • Kalidasa
  • Varahmihir
  • Amar Singh
  • Dhanvantari
  • Betal Bhatta
  • Sanku
  • Ghatt-Karpar
  • Var-Ruchi
  • Kshapanak

Chandragupta Vikramaditya patronised Dignaga. Dignaga wrote the book Nyaya Prakash and considered as the father of Justice.

Kumargupta (413-455 CE)

Kumaragupta was the successor of the Chandragupta Vikramaditya. He reigned for more than 40 years. So, he adopted the title of Mahendraditya. Mandsor (Madhya Pradesh) and Mathura (Uttar Pradesh) inscription written in Sanskrit gives evidence of his reign.

Damodarpur Copper Plate inscription refers to him as Maharajadhiraja. So it shows that he himself appointed the Governor (Uparika) of Pundravardhana Bhukti (Province), the biggest administrative division of Gupta Empire.

During his reign first Huna attack took place. He also introduced the concept of worshipping God Kartikeya (Son of God Shiva). Nalanda Buddhist Monastery was built during his period.

Skandagupta (455-467 CE)

Kumargupta died in 455 AD. So, Skandagupta came on the throne as a successor of the Kumaragupta. His greatest enemies were Hunas. Skandagupta inflicted a terrible defeat upon the Hunas. He repaired and restored the dam on Sudarshana Lake built during Chandragupta Maurya’s reign.

He assumed the title of Paramabhattaraka, Paramdevta, Maharajadhiraj. Bhitari inscription records the career of Skandagupta. It also states that Skandagupta issued the lion carved coins. Unfortunately, the successors of Skandagupta were not so capable as he was.

So, after his demise, Gupta Empire declined slowly but steadily. So, successors of Skandagupta were Purugupta, Bhanugupta, Vismigupta and the last king of Gupta Dynasty was Vishnugupta (550 CE).

Gupta Administrative System

Gupta Administrative System
Gupta Administrative System

In the Gupta period, the King was believed as equivalent to God. And the officer’s post became hereditary. The society was moving towards the Feudalism system. So, the Feudal lords were increasing their power day by day. So, these feudal lords rebelled time to time when the central power was weak.

This is the most and the simplest way to understand feudalism. Feudal lords many times rebelled when there were no great centralising forces. So, the Gupta Empire started to decentralising and then declined.

Gupta Administrative System: Different Level of State

During the Gupta Period, the Empire was divided into different parts. So, as to have better administration there were divisions like,

  • State: Bhukti
  • District: Vishay
  • Sub-District: Vithi
  • Group of Villages: Pethak
  • Village: Grama

The names of each of these administrative blocks are as follows,

  • Head of Country: Gopa
  • Head of Bhukti: Uparika
  • The Head of Army: Mahabaladhikrita
  • Cavalry Head: Bhattaswapati
  • Head of Elephant Army: Mahapilupati
  • Chancellor of Military Exchequer: Ranbhandarika
  • Head of Police: Dandapasika
  • Head of  Judiciary: Mahadandanayaka
  • The head of Queen’s Harem: Kanchuki
  • Ministry of War and Peace: Mahasandhivigrahika
  • Head of Roadways: Tikina
  • Revenue Department head: Dhruvadhikarna
  • Head of District: Vishayapati
  • Head of his work: Nagar Shresthi
  • The Chief of Traders: Sarthvaha
  • Chief Architect: Kulik
  • Chief Scribe: Prathama Kayastha
  • Head of Village: Bhojika/ Bhojak/ Gramika
  • General Army: Chat
  • A small group of Army: Chamu
  • Head of Small group of Army: Chamupa

In the Gupta Administrative System, King was the chief of Judiciary. However, Diwani and Faujdari laws were separated first in the Gupta Administrative System.

Taxation of Gupta Administrative System

During the Gupta Period, trade tax was low but the land tax was high. There were 18 types of taxes during the Gupta Period. The main taxes were,

  • Udranga: Tax on permanent peasants.
  • Uparikara: Tax on temporary peasants.
  • Hiranya: Tax paid in the form of Gold.
  • Purrastha: Tax gave to officers who were collecting the land tax.

As per the Gupta Administrative System, there were four types of land.

  • Kshetra: Fertile Land
  • Khil: Unfertile Land
  • Aprahata: Forested Land
  • Vastu: Habitable Land

This was a brief of Gupta Period and Gupta Administrative System. This was the Golden age of Ancient India because we saw Gupta Kings patronised the extensive art and culture in their Empire. So, in the next coming post, we will have a look the architecture of Gupta Period.

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