The Mauryan Dynasty
The Mauryan Dynasty is the one of the most influential empires of classical India. The empire was established by Chandragupta Maurya with strong rule over northern India and initiated the unification of India. Chandragupta Maurya seized the opportunity to take over the largest state in northeastern classical India, Magadha kingdom, in 325 B.C.E. He conquered small, remote regions of Magadha and worked his way to the center of northwestern India. His reign expanded into the Punjab and Indus River Valley in 315 B.C.E. and gained even more power for the Magadha kingdom after the death of Alexander the Great. It was then that Chandragupta Maurya founded the Maurya Dynasty which stretched from Bactria to Ganges.
The Mauryan Empire was strictly ruled with an army of around 700,000 men and 9,000 elephants. Advising Chandragupta Gupta on managing the empire was Kautilya. Kautilya wrote the Arthashastra, an ancient Indian political manual that shows methods of administering the empire, trade and agriculture, tax collection, and foreign affairs. Chandragupta Maurya believed, “Government is the science of punishment,” which was written in the Arthashastra. Chandragupta Maurya also built and sustained irrigation systems and roads for trade to help unify India.
The highest point of the Mauryan Empire was when Ashoka assumed the throne. Like his grandfather, Ashoka continued to expand his territory in the southwestern regions. He added most of southern India to his growing empire but Kalinga resisted Ashoka’s rule. This led to the Battle of Kalinga which was one of the most brutal battles of India. The Kalinga army was greatly outnumbered and Ashoka soon accessed the throne and incorporated Kalinga into the Mauryan Empire. He ran a firmly organized bureaucracy and developed a capital at Pataliputra. It was the central administration for the empire’s policies.
Ashoka was also a great supporter of Buddhism. Part of the reason for his conversion to Buddhism was the revolting war. He wanted to create a nonviolent policy, ahmisa, for all his empire. Ashoka organized Buddhist laws and principles. He had his beliefs in dharma inscribed on rock and pillar edicts. This was another unifying force for classical India.
The Gupta Dynasty
The other most influential empire was the Gupta Dynasty. This period was considered the “Golden Age” of classical India. Education was a major part of the Gupta Empire’s political stability. This was the time when universities prospered in Nalanda and great scientists and mathematicians helped form a creative atmosphere. Gupta mathematicians developed easier numerals that were later adopted by other civilizations through trade. Coinage was another part of the Guptas’ creativity and regarded as part of ancient India’s beauty.
Although the Gupta Empire was a place for “tolerant and happy” religions, Hinduism gradually replaced Buddhism and became ancient India’s dominant religion. Hinduism drew political support and patronage from Gupta emperors because its caste system preservation as opposed to Buddhism’s unrecognizing of social hierarchies. It also grew in popularity as it needed more rituals and had great relation to astronomy. This was good for the caste system. Scholastic works such as Ramayana, Mahabharata, and the Bhagavad Gita depicts the duties of relationships among castes and achieving salvation by meeting said duties. These literature helped popularize Hinduism.