Chandragupta Maurya (322-298 B.C.): After the return of Alexander, there prevailed a political chaos in India for some time, out of this emerged the Maurya dynasty which was to rule the destiny of the country for more than a century. Chandragupta Maurya was the founder of this dynasty, who, with the help of Kautilya (or Chanakya)-a great diplomat and chief adviser to the king-laid the foundation of a vast empire which stretched from Bengal in the east to the Hindukush mountains in the west, and from the Himalayas in the north to the Vindhyas (and even certain areas beyond it) in the south. Apart from being a great conqueror, he was also an administrative genius.
Megasthenes: He was a Greek historian and representative of the Greek ruler, Selukus Nector, in Chandragupta’s court, who came to this country in the fourth century B.C. He spent five years in the emperor’s court and wrote an account of Chandragupta’s reign in a book called Indika, which deals with the social, political and religious conditions of the Indian society at that time.
Kautilya or Chanakya: As chief adviser to the emperor, Kautilya was directly concerned with the Mauryan administration. In his famous work, Arthashastra, he has left very valuable information about the political condition and administrative machinery of the Maurayan Empire. Bindusara (298-273 B.C.)
He was the son of Chandragupta Maurya and ruled for about 25 years.
The son of Bindusara, ranks as one of the greatest rulers, not only in the annals of Indian history but also in that of the world. He endeavoured to do all he could for the good of his people and, therefore, his reign is considered to be one of the most glorious periods in the history of India.
Ashoka’s reign is noteworthy for the all round development and prosperity that it brought to the country. By his conquests, he furthered the borders of the empire which he had inherited from his father and grandfather, so that it became the biggest empire in ancient India. However, after the Kalinga war, in which countless people were killed, before he emerged the victor, he was so deeply affected by the sight of bloodshed and suffering that he underwent a change of heart and completely gave up the policy of conquests.
He embraced Buddhism and thereafter gave up to all sorts of violence. He now turned his full attention towards the good of the people and gave them an efficient administration ensuring peace and prosperity. Many schools were opended and the arts also flourished under his patronage. He also worked tirelessly for the propagation of Buddhism in India and abroad.
Ashoka’s Dharma: His greatness also lies in the fact that he was perhaps the first king to conceive some sort of a world religion-Dharma- comprising the good principles of all religions. Its main principles were: respect of elders, good treatment of the younger people, ahimsa, truthfulness, charity, religious toleration and a simple and virtuous life.
Causes of Downfall of the Mauryan Empire: Within 50 years of Ashoka’s death, the mighty Mauryan Empire folded up like a house of cards. The reasons : weak successors; absence of any definite law of succession; a vast and unwieldy empire; internal rebellions; foreign invasions; weak military; strong reaction of the Brahmins against the Mauryan Empire because of its patronage to Buddhism; and deteriorating financial conditions.