There is something almost dramatic in the way in which the Mauryan Empire declined and disappeared after the death of Asoka. The decline was complete within half a century after the death of Asoka.
The reasons given by historians for such a rapid decline are as conflicting as they are confusing. Some of the very obvious and other controversial causes for the decline of the Mauryan Empire are discussed as follows.
1. The Partition of the Mauryan Empire:
An immediate cause for the decline was the partition of the Mauryan Empire into two halves, as discussed earlier. “Had the partition not taken place, the Greek invasions of the north-west could have been held back for a while. The partition of the empire disrupted the various services as well.”
2. Weak later-Mauryan Rulers:
The succession of weak Mauryan rulers after Asoka completely disrupted the Mauryan administration. The weakness of these rulers can be imagined from the fact that as many as six rulers could rule only 52 years over the eastern part of the empire and finally the last Mauryan King was assassinated by his own commander-in-Chief Pusyamitra Sunga. These weak later-Mauryan rulers could also not continue the traditional policies of the Mauryas.
3. Asoka’s Responsibility for the Decline:
Many scholars have accused Asoka as being directly responsible for the decline of the Mauryan Empire. H.C. Raychaudhuri maintains that Asoka’s pacifist policies were responsible for undermining the strength of the empire. He says: “From the time of Bimbisara to Kalinga war the history of India was the story of the expansion of Magadha from a tiny state in South Bihar to a gigantic empire extending from the foot of the Hindukush to the borders of the Tamil country.
After the Kalinga war ensued a period of stagnation at the end of which the process is reversed. The empire gradually dwindled down in extent till it sank to the position from which Bimbisara and his successors had raised it.”
However, Raychaudhuri’s view does not seem to be tenable, because Asoka did not turn complete pacifist after the Kalinga war in view of the fact that he neither demobilize the Mauryan army nor abolished capital punishment. Asoka only gave up the imperialist policy and preached non-violence after the Kalinga war. Such practical pacifism could not have been responsible for the decline of the Mauryan Empire.
Harprasad Sastri holds the view that the decline of the Mauryan empire was a result of the Brahmanical revolt on account of ban on animal sacrifics and undermining the prestige of the Brahmanas by “exposing them as false gods”.
But Sastri’s views are merely hypothetical because first, Brahmanism itself stresses non-violence and secondly, Asoka only banned the unnecessary slaughter of certain animals and on certain auspicious days. Then again Asoka’s frequent requests in his Edicts for due respect to Brahmanas and Sramanas hardly points to his being anti-Brah- manical in outlook.
4. Pressure on Mauryan Economy:
D.D. Kosambi has expressed the opinion that there was considerable pressure on Mauryan economy under the later Mauryas. This view is based on the increase of taxes and debasement of later- Mauryan punch- marked coins. But contrary to the above, the foreign accounts and the material remains of the period give a picture of an expanding economy.
5. Highly Centralized Administration:
Prof. Romila Thapar is of the view: “The machinery of the Mauryan administrative system was so centralized that an able ruler could use it both to his own advantage and that of his people, to the same degree it could become harmful to both under a weak ruler who would lose its central control and allow forces of decay to disintegrate and wreck it.”
The weakening of the central control under the later Mauryas led automatically to a weakening of the administration. The division of the Mauryan Empire after the death of Asoka must have given further blow to the centralized Mauryan administration under the weak later-Mauryan rulers, leading to the decline and disintegration of the Mauryan Empire.
Other factors of importance contributing to the decline of the Mauryan empire have been described as Brahmanical revolt against the pro- Buddhist policies of Asoka and his successors, oppressive provincial governments and people’s revolt against Mauryan oppression, lack of representative institutions and national unity in causes-Asoka’s weak successors and division of the Mauryan empire after Asoka’s death-the other causes described above have weaknesses in their arguments and, therefore, cannot be called as positively responsible for the decline of the Mauryan empire.