The Mauryan Emperor decline after the death of Ashoka. There are various reasons and causes for the decline of the Mauryan Empire. Some of the major causes and reasons for the decline of the Mauryan Empire are:

Causes for the decline of the Mauryan Empire

Some of the very obvious and other controversial causes for the decline of the Mauryan Empire are as follows:

Financial Crisis

The financial crisis was one of the main reasons for the decline of the Mauryan Empire. The huge expenditure on the army and payment to the bureaucracy result in a financial crisis for the Muryan Empire. As far as we know, in ancient times the Mauryan maintains the largest army and the largest regiment of officers. Despite the range of taxes imposed on the people, it was difficult to maintain this huge superstructure.

Besides, there was no doubt that Ashoka gave huge donations to the Buddhist monks. Due to his donations, it left the royal treasury empty. Towards the end, in order to meet expenses, they have to melt the gold images.

Oppressive Rule

Another reason that led to the decline of the Mauryan Empire was the oppressive rule.

During the reign of Bindusara, the citizens of Taxila bitterly complained against the misrule of wicked bureaucrats (Dushtamatyas).

Their grievance was redressed by the appointment of Ashoka. However, when Ashoka became emperor, the same city has a similar complaint.

The Kalinga edicts show that Ashoka was much concerned about oppression in the provinces. Therefore, Ashoka asked the Mahamatras not to oppress the townsmen without due causes.

However, he fails to stop oppression in the outlying provinces and after his retirement, Taxila took the earliest opportunity to throw off the imperial yoke.

Neglect of the North-West Frontier and the Great Wall of China

Besides the above points, another reason for the decline of the Mauryan Empire was the neglect of the North-West frontier and the great wall of China.

Since Ashoka was primarily preoccupied with missionary activities at home and abroad, he was unable to pay attention to safeguard the passes through the North-Western Frontier.

This has become necessary in view of the movement of tribes in Central Asia in the 3rd B.C. The Scythians were in a state of constant flux, which posed a serious threat and danger to the settled empires in China and India.

The Chinese ruler Shin Huang constructed the Great Wall of China during 220 B.C to shield his empire against the attacks of the Scythians.

When the Scythians made a push towards India, they forced the Parthians, the Shakas, and the Greeks to move towards this subcontinent. The Greeks have set up a kingdom in North Afghanistan which was known as Bactria, and they were the first to invade India in 206 B.C, since then, it was followed by a series of invasions.

Brahmanical Reaction

The Brahmanical reason was another reason for the decline of the Mauryan Empire. As a result of Ashoka’s policy, the Brahmanical reaction began. There is no doubt that Ashoka adopted a tolerant policy and asked the people to respect even the Brahamans, but he issued his edicts in Prakrit and not in Sanskrit.

Besides, he prohibits the killing of birds and animals and divides unnecessary rituals performed by women. The anti-sacrifice attitude of Buddhism adopted by Ashoka adversely affects the incomes of Brahamanas.

Further, Ashoka appoints Rajukas to govern the countryside and introduces the same civil and criminal law for all Varnas. But the Dharmashastra compiled by the Brahamas prescribe Varna discrimination, naturally, this policy infuriated the Brahmanas.

Some new kingdoms that arose on the ruins of the Maurya Empire were ruled by the Brahamas. These were the Shungas, Kanvas of Madhya Pradesh, and the Satavahanas in the Western Deccan and Andhra. These Brahmana dynasties perform Vedic sacrifices that were discarded by Ashoka.


Pushyamtra Shunga in 185 B.C finally destroys the Mauryan Empire. The Brahmana was the last general of the Maurya ruler. Brihadratha killed the last general (Pushyamtra Shunga) in public and forcible seized the throne of Pataliput and ruled over the Pataliputra and Central India.

Mauryan Art and Architecture

The origin of monumental stone sculpture and architecture in the Indian subcontinent go back to the Harappan Civilization. However, after the decline, there is a long gap and it is only in the Maurya period that monumental stone sculpture and architecture appears on the scene again. Many of the surviving remains of art and architecture were a direct result of the patronage of Maurya kings especially Ashoka.

However, there are also stone sculptures and terracotta figurines, ring stone, and disc stones which represent popular art, i.e. the lives, activities, and patronage of ordinary people.

The art and architecture of the Mauryan Empire are as below:

Royal Buildings

The Royal Assembly building that is situated in Kumhrar was a hall with numerous pillars in which 84 lithics pillars were discovered. The roof and floor were made of wood with 140 feet long and 120 feet wide.

A Chinese traveler Fa Hein was so impressed with the grandeur when he visited the place after 600 years. He even called the grandeur a God Gifted.

Even the Greek ambassador Megasthene mentions that the town was surrounded by a wooden wall where a number of holes were created to let the arrow pass by. A ditch was dug with a size of 60 feet deep and 600 feet wide long with the wall. The town had 570 towers and 64 entrances.


The majestic free-standing Ashoka pillar symbolized the axis of the world that separated heaven and earth. Some of the pillars have a set of six edicts while a few are inscribed with other types of inscription. There are also pillars without inscriptions, the one with a bull capital at Rampuri, the pillar with a line capital at Vaishali, and the Kosam pillar without a capital.

Ashoka pillars are quite similar to each other in form and dimension. They are made of sandstone quarries at Chunar and they are considered to be monolithic.

A cylindrical bolt joins the top of the shaft to the capital (Bell Capital) On the top, there is an abacus (Platform) which supports the crowning animals. All parts of the pillars are carved in a round form on all sides and were clearly meant to be viewed from all around.

The motifs associated with the Ashokan pillars have a rich and varied symbolism which resonances in the many different Indian traditions.

The Mauryan period witnesses the beginning of rock-cut architecture. The Barabas and Nagarjuni hills contain several caves that were inhabited by ascetics in ancient times.

The caves are simple but highly polished interiors and these caves that are found were dedicated by Ashoka and Dasharatha to Ajivikas.

The tradition of making Stupas was originally mounds, but with time the stupa became an object of venerating and worship.

Afterward, it swiftly became an emblem of Buddha’s Dharma and an important part of Buddhist Monasteries.

Ashoka’s reign marked an important stage in the history of Buddhist Stupa architecture, old mud stupa was rebuilt and enlarged with bricks as evident from the excavation at Vaishali and Piprahwa.

At various sites in and around Patna, Mathura, and other places several large stone sculptures were found. Many of them represent Yaksha and Yakshis, deities whose worship was part of the popular region in many parts of the subcontinent.

Examples of these can be found at Dohanipur and Didargunj at Patna.

Besides, in various parts of Northern India, a large number of carved ring stones and disc stones have been found. They occur at sites such as Patna, Taxila, Mathur, Kaushambi, Rajghat, and Vaishali. They generally have a diameter of 5 to 6 centimeters with different sorts of carving like animals, female figures that mat represent Goddesses, trees and floral designs, and geometric patterns.

Terracotta arts flourished with the expansion of the urban centers which vary a great deal in terms of theme, style, and possible significance but they do give an important insight into popular practices, beliefs, and aesthetics.

The Society of Mauryan

The society of the Mauryan Empire are as follows:

Caste System

During the Mauryan times, the caste system was the main unit of the social organization that evolved out from the way of life. In India, the social organization had already begun in the Vedic period based on this organization of social orders, the system of dividing society into forecaster had emerged. In the beginning, there was no grading in the caste system. People wanted to keep together in groups based on their occupations and these occupational groups gradually crystallized into castes. This occupational division made hierarchical division by the end of the Vedic period.

Megasthenes who was a Greek historian as well as an ambassador to the Mauryan court has described the Mauryan society. According to his book Indica, the Ancient Mauryan society comprised of seven divisions, namely- philosophers, farmers, soldiers, herdsmen, artisans, magistrates, and councilors who were referred to as castes. However, he was able to comprehend Indian society properly and failed to distinguish between jati (caste) and occupation.

Apparently, by the Mauryan period, the Brahmans had gained supremacy, although there was not much rigidity. For the first time, a section of Shudras was usually employed as agricultural laborers. They were provided with land in newly colonized areas and were also engaged as share-croppers on crown lands.

Forced Labor

Vishti or forced labor was imposed on a much larger scale. According to the Arthashastra, a class of government servants called Vishtivandhakas was in charge of procuring labor. The intellectual class commanded respect from the king and the society for their learning, integrity, and willingness to serve the king and the people in various ways. They were considered the custodian of education and the culture of the community.

The first three castes were theoretically more privileged than the Shudras and the outcastes. However, the Vaishyas were apparently socially excluded by the first two castes. Yet, as the Vaishyas were economically powerful, the conflict between them and the social castes was inevitable. Ashoka’s emphatic plea for social harmony suggests the existence of social tensions.

Although, Megasthenes wrote that there were no slaves in India. But slavery was prevalent in a mild form. Slavery was legally recognized and the rights and duties of slaves and their masters were defined by the law.

According to the Arthashastra, an individual could be a slave by birth, by selling oneself by one’s own choice, as a prisoner of war, or when punished by the law. A slave could be freed by his master or a slave could be free by giving his own price to his master.

Most of the slaves were Shudras, they formed the majority of the labor class. Under special circumstances, members of higher Varnas could also be engaged as slaves and they are referred to an Ahitakas.

In prosperous households, domestic slaves were common. Such slaves were of low caste status but not outcastes. Besides, there were also Slaves’  in the mines and by the guilds.

Status of Women

As for women, only those belongs to the upper strata of society have access to education and took part in religious and social functions.

Some women work as spies and bodyguards. There was evidence indicating that seclusion was a practice to some extent among royal women and probably also among women of the upper classes.

Sati was rare and apparently limited to women of the higher classes. There are several references to common women moving about with freedom and doing different kinds of work.

Ganikas or public women play a significant role in the palace and in social life. This class includes actresses, dancers, musicians, and other artists. All offenses against women were severely punished and the Arthashastra lays down penalties against officials in charge of workshops and prisons who misbehaved with them.


In the caste of marriage, Kautilya mentioned that there was no prohibition against any kind of marriage as long as it was satisfactory to everyone. Marriage could be dissolved by mutual consent or by prolonged absence.

A married woman had the property of her own in the form of bridal-gift or stridhana and jewels which she could use it in case of widowhood.

If a woman marries the relative of her deceased husband with the consent of her father-in-law, she could retain property given to her by her father-in-law or her husband.

In a marriage, cruelty by one person to the other was punishable. If there was no male child from the first wife, a man could marry the second time without paying compensation to the first one.


As per the Greek writers, men and women were well-groom during this time. Cotton garments were used by common people. While the rich used garments of silk and fine embroidered with precious stones and jewels. Both men and women used ornaments and cosmetics to beautify themselves. According to the Greek sources they mentioned the use of shoes by the people of India.

Food and Entertainment

Rice, pulses, fruits, vegetables, milk, and milk products were the main item of food. But on the occasion of festivals and social gatherings, they eat meat and consume intoxicants including liquor made from rice.

Sources of entertainment include bouts between men and animals, music and dances, chess, drama, and gambling. Social and religious festivals were also cheerful to the people.

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