Maurya Administration and Life

The Mauryan imperial polity held sway over nearly three quarters of India’s landmass for a period little less than two centuries. As with any other great empire, the genesis of Maurya Empire was in the economic and military strength of its heartland and the ability of its leaders to asset their military power beyond their frontiers. This ability was asserted by first three emperors of the dynasty. There were three major governance factors behind the Maurya hegemony. First, there was a highly centralized administrative machinery with a steel frame of bureaucratic institutions and machinery comparable to modern Indian administration. Secondly, the administrative diktats were able to infuse a sense of security and belonging to the masses though it demanded strict obedience to the emperor. Third was a contradictory element which made its way after the conquest of Kalinga in the form of moral exhortation inscribed on stone in several parts of the empire. These messages instituted an ideal norm of benign and humane governance as a benchmark of political maturity. This third element did not last long beyond life of Asoka and is called the Mauryan Paradox. Here is a summary of the administration and life of the Maurya world.

The King

King was the supreme source of all powers and was center of all authorities, judiciary and administration. In the highly centralized administration, King used to select ministers, high officials and established a  well-planned system of supervision and inspection.

The Mantriparishada

King was assisted by his council of Ministers (Mantriparishahda), which was headed by a mantriparishadadhyakshya. The mantriparishadadhyakshya was also head of the ubiquitous civil servants called Adhyakshas or Amatyas kept in touch with all sections of the society and made a highly skilled secretariat divided into several departments. Some of these departments and their Adhyakshas are listed below:

  • Akahalapadhyksha (Accountant General )
  • Sannidhata (Royal Treasury)
  • Koshthagara (Treasury Superitendent) )
  • Akaraadhyaksha (Mines Superitendent) )
  • Suvarnaadhyaksha (Gold Superitendent)
  • Panyaadhksha (Commerce Superitendent)
  • Kupyadhyaksha (Forest Officer)
  • Lavanadhyaksha (Salt )
  • Ayudhgaraadhyaksha (Armoury)
  • Tulamanapantavaadhyaksha or Pautavadhyaskh (Weights and Measurements)
  • Sutraadhyaksha (Textiles – spinning and weaving)
  • Sitaadhyaksha (Agriculture)
  • Suradhyaksha (Excise)
  • Navadhyasksha (Shipping and maritime)
  • Mudradhyaksha (Government documents)
  • Pattanadhyaskha (Ports)
  • Lakshanaadhyaskha (Mint)
  • Samstha (Trade Routes )

Provincial Administration:

It is thought that the Maurya empire was divided into 5 provinces.

  1. The Northern Province Uttarpatha was having its capital at Taxila and some mandals were Shakal, Kandhar and Saurastra.
  2. The Southern province Dakshinpatha’s capital was Suvarngiri.
  3. Western province Avantipatha’s capital was Ujjain
  4. The eastern Prachyapatha was having its capital at Toshali near Kalinga.
  5. Magadha was the Central province & Capital of the entire kingdom.

The provinces were administered by either a prince or a member of the royal family which was the viceroy of the king.

District Administration

Each district was administered by three officers’ viz. Pradeshika, Rajuka, & Yukta. Pradesika was senior and Rajuka was subordinate. Yukta was subordinate to both of them.  It was duty of the Pradesika to tour the kingdom every five year and collect details of the administration.

Village Administration

Village was the smallest unit of polity and it was called Grama. The head of the grama was a Gramika. The Gramika was not a paid employee of the government but was elected by the village people. The 10 villages were collectively headed by a Gopa and 100 villages were collectively headed by a Sthanaka. Gramika in Open Panchayats solved most disputes.

Gudhapurusha or Spies

There was a well knitted espionage system of Gudhapurushas in the Mauryan administration. The spies were of two kind viz. Sansthana (stationary) and Sanchari (wandering). These spies were ears and eyes of the King, who kept the king informed about all the details of the bureaucracy. The agents included householders, merchants, disciples, ascetics, pensioners and Poisonous girls called “Vishkanyas”. The ambassadors who were appointed in the foreign countries were also sort of spies.

The Army

The overall in charge of the Mauryan army was Commander in chief, who was immediately junior to the King. The Mauryan army included 6 Lakh infantry, 30,000 cavalry, 9000 war elephants, 1000 chariots and other things such as transport equipments. There was a War Council, which was further divided into 6 sub-councils each with 5 members which formulated policy for infantry, cavalry, elephant forces, chariots, navy and commiserate. Navy, Transport in forces and commiserate were Mauryan innovations.


There was a separate department of road. The width of the cattle tracks, pedestrians, chariots and other traffic were different. There were trunk roads which were managed by the department of Roads. Trees were planted on both sides of the roads. Inns were constructed at places on the road. Nurseries and drinking water facilities such as wells, canals were provided

The Agriculture

Sitadhyaksha was the chief of the Agriculture department.  There was full-fledged irrigation department as well. There was a network of canals which provided the water for irrigation as per the measurements of the land i.e. requirements.

Pushyagupta, who was a provincial governor of Chandragupta Maurya, constructed “Sudarshan Lake” at Girnar in Gujarat. Rice of different verities was grown, Kondrava was a kind of coarse grain. Wheat, Pulses, Saffron, Mustard, Linseed, Sesamum etc. were grown.

Caste System and Slaves

There was a well-developed “caste” system as per the accounts of Megasthenes. Megasthenes writes that there were seven castes viz. philosophers (he indicated Brahmins), farmers, soldiers, herdsmen, craftsmen, magistrates and soldiers. So based upon the account we can figure out that still the caste system was based upon “occupation” rather than birth. The marriage and polygamy both were present. Polygamy was confined to Royal classes. Normal people could marry to other women if there was no “son”.

The women had their property in the form of Stridhana, which included bridal gift. Women enjoyed high status. The women were appointed as assistances and bodyguards of King. Offenses against women were punishable. There was no slavery in the sense that people used to work as dasa, out of their own compulsions. No Arya including a Shudra could be made dasa forcibly. The 14th book of Arthashastra titled Secret Means (Aupanisadika) deals with a number of rites and practices.

The Mauryan Art

Mauryas contributed to arts significantly. The palace of Chandragupta Maurya at the Pataliputra was mostly made up of wood. The traces of this palace have been found at Kumhrar near Patna. It’s an 80-pillar hall, which speaks of Mauryan Palace art. A large number of Stupas were built in Mauryan Era, many of them by Asoka. The Buddhist tradition writes that Asoka built 84000 Stupas. The rock cut caves of Mauryan era are at Barabar hills, located near Gaya and they are oldest surviving Rock Cut caves.The Nagarjuna Hills rock cut caves are of Asoka and his successors. The barabar caves have been cut of granite and are large halls which provided place for worshippers. The Asokan Pillars are Monolithic and mostly used Hard sandstone procured from Chunar near Varanasi. They were finely chiselled and highly polished.

There are two distinct categories of Maurya art viz. Royal art and popular art. The Yaksha image from parkam and Yakshini Image from Besnagar are examples of popular art. While, the pillars are example of Royal art.


There was a proper system of census, which registered all the details of the deaths and births. Nagarika was the census officer who was responsible to keep a ready reference data of the farmers, cattle, traders, cowherds etc. This was to ensure that proper tax is levied.

Public health

There were proper hospitals and Bheshajas (Doctors) appointed along with a team of midwifes, nurses etc. Treatment was free universally. Food adulteration was a punishable offense which invited a death sentence.

Crimes and Judiciary

Suppression of crimes, maintenance of peace and protection of the subjects were the chief duties of the King. The antisocial elements were called “Kantakas”. There were two kinds of courts “civils” and criminals. The civils courts were Dharmastheya and the Criminal Courts were “Kantakashodhna”. The idea of Kantakashodhna was to weed out the antisocial elements. The king was the source of Supreme Justice. Death Sentences were common and Asoka’s edicts detail that he gave additional time to the persons under the Capital punishment to offer donations and repent so that they get a better life in next birth.

Economy: Revenue & Taxes

There was an advanced concept of “responsibility accounting’ which envisaged a preparation of budget and activity planning, reporting on the revenue and expenditure, responsibility for both the revenues and expenditures. The “full treasury” was guarantee to the prosperity of state says Arthashastra. Treasury received revenues from farms, mines, forests, pasture lands etc. Tributes were received when a prince was born. Chief source for revenue was “land tax”. It was 1/6 to 1/4 of the total produce and it was collected by the revenue officers. The more productive lands and irrigated lands invited more tax. All craftsmen (except royal) and traders paid taxes.

Taxes were of two kinds viz. Bali & Bhaga. The Bali was religious tribute. Bhaga was the part of the produce. Asoka edict says that Lumbini was exempted from Bali and Bhaga was reduced to 1/8 parts of the reduce. Bhaga, which was 1/6th of the produce, was called shadbhaga (6th part) or Rajbhaga (state part). Maintenance of the Royal palaces, members, ministers and public welfare were the main avenues to use the revenue.

Foreign Trade

Foreign Trade by means of the land and sea was prevalent, and it was regulated by passports kinds of documents. Indigo, cotton and silk was most traded property. Antiochus I with his joint rule with Selucus issued coins of Indian standard rather than the Attic Standard. This shows that the Mauryan Economy was world’s largest economy and the currency of Mauryas was accepted worldwide and was main currency of that time. The trade routes were called Vanikpatha.

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