Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Mauryan era

The rulers of Mauryan empire (India, except the area south of Karnataka) 4th-2nd centuries BC

  • 321 to 298 BC - Chandragupta Maurya
  • 298 to 272 BC - Bindusara Amitraghata
  • 272 to 232 BC - Asoka (Vardhana)
  • 232 to 185 BC - later Mauryas

By the 6th century bc, Indian civilization was firmly centered at the eastern end of the Gangetic Plain (in the area of present day Bihar), and certain kings became increasingly powerful. In the 6th century bc the Kingdom of Magadha conquered and absorbed neighboring kingdoms, giving rise to India’s first empire. At the head of the Magadha state was a hereditary monarch in charge of a centralized administration. The state regularly collected revenues and was protected by a standing army. This empire continued to expand, extending in the 4th century bc into central India and as far as the eastern coast.

Chandragupta Maurya, the first king of the Mauryan dynasty, succeeded the throne in Magadha in about 321 bc. In 305 bc Chandragupta defeated the ruler of a Hellenistic kingdom on the plains of Punjab and extended what became the Mauryan Empire into Afghanistan and Baluchistan to the southwest. Chandragupta was assisted by Kautilya, his chief minister. The empire stretched from the Ganges Delta in the east, south into the Deccan, and west to include Gujarat. It was further extended by Ashoka, the grandson of Chandragupta, to include all of India (including what is now Pakistan and much of what is now Afghanistan) except the far southern tip and the lands to the east of the Brahmaputra River. The Mauryan Empire featured a complex administrative structure, with the emperor as the head of a developed bureaucracy of central and local government.

After a bloody campaign against Kalinga in what is now Orissa state in 261 bc, Ashoka became disillusioned with warfare and eventually embraced Buddhism and nonviolence. Although Buddhism was not made the state religion, and although Ashoka tolerated all religions within his realm, he sent missionaries far and wide to spread the Buddhist message of righteousness and humanitarianism. His son Mahinda and daughter Sanghamitta converted the people of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and other missionaries were sent to Southeast Asia and probably into Central Asia as well. He also sent cultural missions to the west, including Syria, Egypt, and Greece. Ashoka built shrines and monasteries and had rocks and beautifully carved pillars inscribed with Buddhist teachings.

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