What were the sources of Mauryan history?



The sources of Mauryan history, contemporary and later both, can be classified under the follow­ing categories:

(1) Epigraphical Evidence

(2) Literary Sources

(3) Foreign Sources

(4) Archaeological Excavations

(5) Art Evidence, and

(6) Numismatic Evidence.

1. Epigraphical Evidence

The epigraphical evidence is the most authentic source of Mauryan history. The edicts of Asoka are the oldest, the best preserved and the most precisely dated epigraphic records of India. The mystery of these epigraphs was unveiled by James Principe in 1837, when he deciphered the Asokan Brahmi script of these epigraphs and identified king "Piyadassi" of the edicts with Asoka on the testimony of Sri Lankan Chronicles Dipavamsa and Maha vamsa, in which the title of Piyadassi was given to Asoka.

Asoka's inscriptions are of two types. The smaller group consists of the declarations of the king as a lay Buddhist, which describe his own acceptance of Buddhism and his relationship with the Samgha. The second group of important in­scriptions, described as proclamations (Sasanas), consisting of the Major and Minor Rock Edicts and the Pillar Edicts describe his famous policy of Dhamma.

These inscriptions, engraved on rocks and pillars, were installed in prominent places, either near towns, or on important trade and travel routes, or in the proximity of religious centres and places of religious importance.

The Pillar Edicts were installed to commemorate events of some significance. A few inscriptions were shifted from their original places. Two pillars -one from Topra (Ambala District, Haryana) and another from Meerut (Uttar Pradesh) were shifted to Delhi by Firuz Tughlaq. The Allahabad pillar was believed to have been originally at Kausambi and was shifted to Allahabad by Akbar. The Bairat (Jaipur, Rajasthan) was removed to Calcutta by Cunninghan. On the basis of their content, char­acter and chronology, these edicts are classified into nine groups.

(i) Fourteen Major Rock Edicts:

These 14 major Rock Edicts inscribed on large boulders were located at: Kalsi (Dehradun, U.P.), Mahsehra (Hazara district, Pakistan) and Shahbazgari (in Peshawar district, Pakistan), Girnar (Gujarat), Sopara (near Bombay, Maharashtra), Dhauli and Jaugada (both in Orissa), Maski and Yerragudi (both in Andhra Pradesh).

(ii) Minor Rock Edicts:

These minor Rock Edicts and Inscriptions have been found at Bairat, Rupnath, Sahsaram, Rupnath, Brahmagiri, Gavimalh, Jatinga-Rameshwar, Maski (which for the first time mentions king's personal name Asoka), Palkigundu, Rajula-Mandagiri, Suvar- nagiri, Siddapura, Yerragudi, Gujjara and Ah- raura.

(iii) Northern Edicts:

Of the two Northern Edicts, the one found at Taxila (Pakistan) is writ­ten in Aramaic script and the other found at Kan­dahar (Afghanistan) is bilingual, being inscribed in Greek and Aramaic.

(iv) Seven Pillar Edicts:

Seven Pillar Edicts exist at Allahabad, Delhi-Topra, Delhi-Meerut, Nigali- Sagar, Lauriya-Araraja, Lauriya-Nandangarh and Rampurwa. The Asokan Pillar at Allahabad con­tains two later inscriptions: one of the Gupta rulers Samudragupta (Prayaga Prashasti written by poet Harisena) describing his conquests and another of the Mughal tmperor Jahangir.

(v) Minor Pillar Edicts:

The minor pillar edicts have been found at Sarnath, Sanchi and Kausambi. The fourth minor Pillar Edict is known as the Queen's Edict. These edicts were inscribed to check schism in the Buddhist Samgha. For in­stance, in the first three edicts Asoka ordered that "whosoever, monk or nun, breaks up the Samgha must be made to wear white garments and to take up abode in a place other than a monastery".

Two commemorative Pillar Inscriptions have been found at Rummindei (Lummini or Lumbini), the birth place of Buddha and at Nigliva, where Asoka enlarged the Stupa of Buddha Konakmana.

(vi) Two Kalinga Rock Edicts:

Two separate Kalinga Rock Edicts, which supplement the series of 14 Rock Edicts, are found at Dhauli and Jaugada (Orissa). These edicts describe Asoka's paternal concept of monarchy: "All men are as my children.

As, on behalf of my own children, I desire that they may be provided with complete welfare and happiness both in this world and the next, the same I desire also for (all) men." These edicts further describe the humane principles of governance on which the newly conquered province of Kalinga was to be governed.

(vii) Bhabru Edict:

It is incised on a boulder, now in Calcutta, which was removed from the top of a hill at Bairat. This shows Asoka's reverence for Buddhism.

(viii) Cave Inscriptions:

Three cave inscriptions of Asoka have been found in the Barabara Hills near Gaya in Bihar, which describe the donation of these caves by Asoka to the sect of the Ajivikas. The name of the Barabara Hill in the time of Asoka was Khalatika Hill. The adjoining Nagar Cave has three cave inscriptions of Dasaratha, the grandson of Asoka.

(ix) Sannatai Minor Rock Edicts:

The latest dis­covery of three more Asokan minor Rock Edicts was made from Sannatai village in Gulbarga dis­trict of Karnataka. With this discovery, historians believe that Asoka had annexed the northern part of Karnataka and the adjoining portions of "Andhra Desa" during the third century B.C. The Rock Edicts are identical in content, script, style and language to those found at Yerragudi in Kur- nool district (Andhra Pradesh).