Short notes on Industrial Crafts of Mauryan Economy


The Arthashastra also lays down rules for artisans and craftsmen who could either work independently or organise themselves into guilds. The latter system was preferred.

Guilds were known as shrenis or sanghas and played an important part in the conduct of crafts and trades. Greek sources and the Jatakas say that occupations were usually hereditary.

The Jatakas also mention the ‘eighteen guilds’, and several industries that were localised in particular towns and villages. Each of the different crafts had a pramukha (or president) or jettha (or alderman).


A judge was appointed from among the craftsmen to settle dis­putes among the guilds. There were also satthavahas or caravan leaders of caravans travelling along the trade-routes.

Some sanghas adopted vartta or agricul­ture, cattle rearing and trade as their profession. Wages were dependent on the quality of the work, and the quantity produced.

The state employed artisans like armourers, ship-builders, etc. These artisans did not have to pay tax but had to work in state workshops.

The Arthashastra mentions several places in the country which specialised in textiles. Cotton fabrics were produced at places like Mathura, Kalinga, Kashi, Aparanta (Konkan), Vatsa, Vanga and Mahisa.


Cotton fabrics were probably exported from the port of Bharuch on the west coast. Cotton manufacture held the first place among textile industries from very ancient times. Kautilya has distinguished be­tween three varieties of dukula (an unidentified but fine fibrous fabric).

The first variety from Vanga in East Bengal was white; the second from Pundra in North Bengal was black, while the third variety from Suvarnakudya was the colour of the rising sun.

Mention has also been made of kshauma or linen fabrics from Kashi and Pundra and fabrics made of fibres of specified trees like patrorna, literally mean­ing leaf-wool, from Magadha, Pundra and Suvarnakudya. Among costlier textiles, silk and silk cloth is frequently mentioned in Buddhist works.

Carpentry was a long-established craft and sources mention activities like shipbuilding, house­building and the making of carts, chariots and various types of machines.


The skill in this field is verified by seven large wooden platforms found at Kumrahar (near Pataliputra). It is not clear as to what they were actually a part of, but their finish and perfection speak of their being made by skilled craftsmen.

Stone-cutting was also a highly developed art and the pasana-kottaka or the stone-cutter is fre­quently mentioned in the Jataka stories. The beautiful execution of Asokan inscriptions on stone testifies to the development of this art.

The Arthashastra mentions in detail about the technique of mining and metallurgy. There are descriptions of the characteristics of ores and meth­ods of smelting and purification of ores. The metals mentioned are gold, silver, copper, lead, tin, iron and an unidentified metal called vaikrintaka.

Jewellery-making was also a developed craft. Kautilya talks of muktika or pearls, mani or jewels, vajra or diamonds, and pravala or corals, Indian as well as foreign. He mentions the qualities of good and bad pearls, colours and qualities of various types of ruby, beryl, sapphire, crystal, diamond and coral.


Five varieties of yashti or pearl necklaces are de­scribed which are again subdivided into other classes. Some varieties are said to be worn as ornaments for the arms, feet, head and waist.

Other industries mentioned in the literary works include manufacture of dyes, gums, drugs, perfumes, and pottery.

Weapons for the battlefield were also manufac­tured on a large scale. The Arthashastra mentions bows, bow-strings, arrows and arrowheads made of different materials, such as, palmyra, bamboo, bone, and horn.

There were different types of swords with handles made of the horn of the rhinoceros or buffalo and of wood, ivory or the root of the bamboo. Other weapons included axes, discusses, kshura-kalpah or sharp-edged razor-like weapons.


The armour was of iron, skins or other material. Yantrani or machines of different types were also manufac­tured. These war machines included the hasti-varaka, a movable machine for attacking elephants.

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