Decline of Mauryas started immediately after the death of King Asoka

The decline of the Maurya Empire

The decline of Mauryas started immediately after the death of Asoka. The fact that Asoka gave up conquests and preached non-violence reacted unfavorably to the military position of the Empire and rendered it weak.

The sons and grandsons of Ashoka divided the empire amongst themselves and began to rule in an independent capacity without owing allegiance to any common authority. The Andhras broke away from the Maurya Empire and set up an independent kingdom under the Satavahanas. The Kalinga too became independent. The Greeks came across from Bactria and began to direct plundering raids. In the hour of his confusion Pushyamitra, the commander-in-chief of the tenth and last Maurya King, Brihadratha, killed his master and occupied the throne himself. The death of Brihadratha brought the Maurya rule to an end.

The causes of the decline and downfall of the empire are not far to seek. The Empire of the Maurya was too vast to be governed efficiently. It was not possible to keep the Governors of the distant provinces under effective control. Provincial misrule was a source of weakness for the Empire. The successors of Asoka were weak rulers. None of them was strong enough to maintain the empire intact.

The decline of the Mauryan Empire No political empire lasts forever. Every empire in history broke down for certain obvious causes. Among these causes, some causes appear almost as common, namely, the weak successors, the vastness of the empire, independence of the provinces, foreign invasion, and internal revolt. The causes for the downfall and decline of the Maurya Empire are discussed below:

Vastness of the Empire

The Maurya Empire was too vast in its extent. While extending to the farthest corners of the Indian sub-continent it also included territories outside the natural frontiers of India.

This vastness was itself a source of weakness rather than of strength because of the lack of communication. Distances were so great that the empire could not remain a closely integrated political unit for a longer time.

Weak Successors of Ashoka
The first three Maurya emperors were Chandragupta Maurya, Bindusara and Ashoka the Great. They were men of exceptional abilities. As heroes, conquerors, and administrators, they were indeed great. But, heredity in succession does not guarantee ability in character for all time or all successors to follow. Ashoka's sons and grandsons did not prove themselves worthy of the Great Mauryas.

Independence of the Provinces

Though the Maurya administration from the days of Chandragupta was strong enough to control the distant provinces bound to a centralized system, it was also necessary for the provincial governments to enjoy sufficient power. When the centre declined and its authority became weak, the provinces assumed independent character.

Internal Revolt

When the Maurya rule was thus weakening and the empire was breaking up within the half-century after Asoka's death, there finally came a death blow to it by an internal revolt. This revolt was led by the chief of the Maurya army, General Pushyamitra Sunga in about 185 or 186 B.C. when the Maurya King Brihadratha ruled in Magadha.

Bana, the famous author of Harsha-Charita describes the incident saying that Pushyamitra held a parade of the army which he invited the King to witness, and thus created an occasion to kill him on the spot with the support of the army. This ended the dynasty of the Mauryas. The fall of the Maurya Empire was a tragedy no doubt.

I. The Magadhan empire, which had been reared by successive wars culminating in the conquest of Kalinga, began to disintegrate after the exit of Ashoka in 232 B.C. With the death of Ashoka, a political decline set in, and soon after the empire broke up. the Ganges valley remained under the Mauryas for another fifty years. The northwestern areas were lost to the Bactrian Greeks by about 180 B.C. Several causes seem to have brought about the decline and fall of the Mauryan empire.

II. Ashoka have both been blamed and exonerated for the decline of the Mauryas. He has been accused of having caused a revolt of the Brahmans because of his pro-Buddhist policy. But his general policy was neither specifically pro-Buddhist nor anti-Brahman. It was open to acceptance or rejection by all or any.

III. It has also been said that Ashoka’s obsession with non-violence led to the erosion of the army, thus laying the country to invasion. Ashoka’s pacifist policy has been seen as responsible for the decline of the Mauryas. However historians argue that his non-violence was not of such an unrealistic nature, nor does the edicts imply that he weakened the army. However, a long reign marked by only one military campaign in the early years may have adversely affected the preparedness of the army, and this may have been a factor responsible for the success of the Greek invasion.

IV. Many historians speak of the Mauryan economy being under tremendous pressure. The need for vast revenues to maintain the army and to finance the salaries of officials and settlements on newly cleared land must have strained the treasury. Although the evacuation of the Mauryan urban sites points to an expanding economy in the early stages, the debasement of coins in the later Mauryan period suggests a different picture. The decreasing silver content of coins attributed to the later Mauryan kings has been interpreted as severe pressure on the economy where the normal channels of revenue were not sufficient for the Mauryan state. However, this alone cannot be the cause. Even though the agrarian economy was dominant in the Ganga valley, there were variations in the economic patterns and revenue throughout the empire.

V. The Mauryan bureaucracy was highly centralized, with the ruler as the key figure, and all loyalty was directed to the person of the king. A change of king meant a re-alignment of loyalty, or worse, a change of officials, the system of recruitment being arbitrary, where local governors appointed by the viceroys chose their officers and the same pattern repeated itself throughout the hierarchy of office. The lack of any representative institutions to stabilize public opinion added to the problem. The system used by the Mauryas, espionage, must have created many tensions in both political and administrative activity. Thus many historians like Romila Thapar point to the absence of nationalism, the idea of loyalty to the state than to a particular king.

VI. Since Ashoka was mostly preoccupied with missionary activities at home and abroad, he could not pay attention to the safeguarding of the passage on the northwest frontier. They had become necessary in view of the movement of tribes in Central Asia in the third century B.C. The Scythians were in a state of constant influx. A nomadic people mainly relying on the use of horses, they posed serious dangers to the settled empires in China and India.

The Chinese ruler Shih Huang I constructed the Great Wall of China in about 220 B.C to shield his empire against the attacks of the Scythians.. No similar measure was taken by Ashoka. Naturally when the Scythians made a push toward, India they forced the Parthians, the Sakas and the Greeks to move toward India. The Greeks had set up a kingdom in northern Afghanistan which was known as Bactria. They were first to invade India in 206 B.C. This was followed by a series of invasions that continued till the beginning of the Christian era. 

VII. Given the nature of the evidence, explanations of the decline of the Mauryan empire have to be very general. All empires rely on mechanisms of integration and control over territory, resources, and people. These mechanisms include military force, administrative infrastructure, and ideology. In the case of the Mauryas given the vast empire, all three must have strained to the utmost. It was just a matter of time before the distant forces broke away from the center.

VIII. The Mauryan empire was formally destroyed by Pushyamitra Shunga in 185 B.C. Although a Brahmana he was a general of the last Maurya King called Brihadratha. He is said to have killed Brihadratha in public and forcibly usurped the throne of Patliputra. The Sungas ruled in Patliputra and central India, and they performed several Vedic sacrifices in order to mark the revival of the Brahmanical way of life.

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