Mauryan Culture, Society and Economy Notes for UPSC Exam

Society and Religion in the Mauryan Era

  • According to Megasthenes and later Greek authors, Indian society during the Mauryan period had seven main groups: thinkers, farmers, hunters and herders, craftsmen and merchants, overseers (spies), and the king’s advisors. 
  • These roles were passed down in families, and marrying between groups wasn’t allowed. Strabo further categorized them into Brahmanas and shramanas.
  • These people were seen as valuable to society, giving predictions and were excused from paying taxes.

Religion

Chandragupta turned to Jainism later in life, while Bindusara favored the Ajivikas. Asoka personally embraced Buddhism but didn’t force it on his people.

Farming Society:

Most people were farmers, growing diverse crops due to fertile soil, rivers, and good rainfall.

Other activities like herding animals happened in villages. Kautilya even counted animals for taxes.

Women’s Status

Women had high status and freedom. Some even worked as the king’s personal bodyguards. They had the right to divorce or remarry.

Slavery:

  • Megasthenes stated that India didn’t have slavery, but other sources mention situations leading to enslavement. 
  • A person could become a slave by birth, selling themselves voluntarily, getting captured in war, or facing judicial punishment. Kautilya also talked about different types of slaves.
  •  Ashoka, in Rock Edict V, expressed concern about the treatment of slaves, declaring, “Every Human is my child.”

Economy during the Mauryan Period

Farming Economy

  • The Arthashastra recognized creating permanent villages to expand the agrarian economy. These settlements provided a stable resource base for the State to collect taxes, mainly in the form of land tax. 
  • This settlement process was called janapadanivesa. Agriculture in other areas, known as janapada territories, was probably privately managed.

Crown Lands:

  • In these areas, the King and the State had superior rights of possession, cultivation, mortgage, and sale. The superintendent of agriculture, called Sitadhyaksa, supervised cultivation in these lands.

Land Revenue:

  • Mauryan rule marked a significant improvement in ancient India’s taxation system. 
  • The Samaharta was the collector general of revenue for the Mauryan Empire, overseeing both revenue collection and expenditure. 
  • The Sannidhata managed the treasury and store. Peasants paid Bhaga, which was 1/4th of their produce. 
  • They also paid pindakara, a tax assessed on groups of villages. Other taxes included Bali and Hiranaya, paid in cash.

Reasons for the Decline of the Mauryan Empire:

The imperial authority of the Mauryas began to crumble after the death of Ashoka in 232 BCE and eventually collapsed in 180 BCE.

Successors of Ashoka:

Following Ashoka’s rule, the empire became fragmented, witnessing a rapid succession of rulers that weakened central control. The frequent changes in leadership made it challenging for rulers to establish stability and governance. Due to their short reigns, these rulers struggled to formulate new policies or maintain existing ones.

Political Factors 

The Dhamma-mahamattas, a significant body of state officials, gained excessive power and became oppressive in the latter half of Ashoka’s reign. As the central authority weakened, provinces began to break away. Weak rulers, combined with a constant turnover of officials, resulted in officials prioritizing personal loyalty over loyalty to the State. The intricate spy system under the later Mauryas collapsed, leading to corruption.

Economic Factors:

The state’s monopoly on metals gradually eroded, especially in meeting the demands for iron crucial to the expanding agrarian economy. Agricultural expansion, extensive use of forest wood, and deforestation may have contributed to floods and famines, evidenced by a major famine in north Bengal during the Mauryan period.

In a centralized administrative system, insufficient revenues posed significant challenges. To boost income, the Arthashastra proposed imposing taxes even on actors and prostitutes.

MCQ Test on Mauryan Culture, Society and Economy

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