The literary sources on the history of the Mauryas can be classified into the religious literature and secular literature.

Buddhist and Jain Texts:

Of the religious sour­ces, the Buddhist literature is of great importance. The Jataka stories, while describing the stories of the previous lives of Gautama Buddha, tell us about the prevalent social order, existence of guilds, popular customs, a general picture of so­cial and economic conditions of the Buddhist period, which continued broadly till the Mauryan age.

The Asokavadana and Divyavadana are other two Buddhist texts containing a collection of legends built around the personality of Asoka and preserved outside India mainly in Tibetan and Chinese Buddhist sources.


These two Avadanas contain information about Bindusara, Asoka’s ex­peditions to Taxila to suppress a rebellion and about his conversion to Buddhism. The Sri Lankan Chronicles, the Dipavamsa and the Mahavamsa may also be regarded as source materials, since they describe in great detail the part played by Asoka in the spreading of Bud­dhism in Sri Lanka.

The Dipavamsa was compiled between third century B.C. and fourth century A.D., and the Mahavamsa, historically a superior work, is believed to have been written in the 5th century A.D. A commentary on Mahavamsa, known as Mahavamsatika or Vamsatthapakasini, composed in about the 10th century A.D. contains many legends on the Mauryas.

Among the Buddhist non-canonical works mention may be made of the Mahayana work Manjusrimulkalpa which covers a wide historical period from the seventh century B.C. to the eighth century A.D. and contains many important facts including those of the Nandas and Mauryas.

The Jain work Sthuviruvali-Charitra or Parisis- thaparvan (a biography of Chanakya) of Hemachandra provides very interesting informa­tion on Chandragupta Maurya, such as his early life, conquest of Magadha, and conversion to Jainism in the latter part of his reign.


Amongst the Brahmanical works the Puranas, collections of legends interspersed with religious teachings, provide some information on the his­tory of the Mauryas. The Puranas contain some old traditions and provide chronology of the Mauryas, which is somewhat confusing. The Vish­nu Purana describes the origin of Nandas and their overthrow by Kautilya and Chandragupta Maurya.

Arthasashtra of Kautilya:

Of all the secular literary sources on the history of the Mauryas, the single most important source is Arthasashtra writ­ten by Kautilya, also known as Vishnugupta and Chanakya. This work is a comprehensive treatise on statecraft and public administration. It is divided into fifteen adhikaranas (sections) and 180 prakaranas (chapters) and is written in prose as well as in verse in Sanskrit.

There is no mention of Chandragupta or Mauryan rulers of Pataliputra in the Arthasashtra, but at the colophon it is recorded that the book was composed by “a per­son who owned the land that was under the control of the Nanda Kings”.


Ever since the discovery of Arthasashtra by R. Sama Shastri in 1924, there is considerable debate among the scholars regard­ing the date of the Arthasashtra. Winternitz, Jolly, H.C. Raychaudhuri and some other historians have argued that the Arthasashtra is a later work and as such cannot be accepted as a source- material for the Mauryan period.

However, R.K. Mookerji, K.A.N. Sastri, Krishna Rao, Romila Thapar and others believe on the basis of various evidences that it was originally a Mauryan work and its author was Prime Minister or Adwser to Chandragupta Maurya. The similarities between the administrative terms used in the Arthasashtra and in the Asokan Edicts would certainly suggest that the Mauryan rulers were acquainted with this work.

Of the remaining literary sources the Mudrarakshasa of VisaKhadatta, a Sanskrit drama of the 4th century A.D., describes the over­throw of the Nandas by Kautilya. Among other secular literary sources dealing with Mauryan his­tory mention may be made of Rajatarangini of Kalhana written in the 12th century A.D., the Kathasaritasagara of Somadeva and Brihatkatha- manjari of Kshemendra.