Short notes on the Mauryans in the South

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The extension of the Mauryan empire to the south went as tar as present-day Karnataka with parts of Andhra and Maharashtra. Kerala and Tamil Nadu were not included in the empire.

Sangam literature (in five Sangam poems, three by Mamulanar) has some references to Mauryas, based on which some have concluded that the Podyil hill adjoining the Tirunelveli and Madurai districts (Tamil Nadu) to the west was the farthest limit of the Mauryan invasion in the south.

But these references are of doubtful value and relate to a later period of time (the whole body of Sangam literature “clearly” belongs to first three centuries of Christian era-K.A. Nilakanta Sastri).

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The only clear indication from these texts is that the “Tamil states were within the sphere of Mauryan influence” and at least once they assisted the Kosars to subdue the rebelling chieftain of Mohur (K.A.N. Sastri).

Romila Thapar has stated in A History of India, Vol. I that “at the time of Bindusara’s death in 272 bc, practically the entire subcontinent had come under Mauryan suzerainty. The extreme south was ready to submit, thus eliminating the need for military conquest”.

R.C Majumdar in Ancient India says that under Chandragupta and Bindusara, a consid­erable part of the South Indian peninsula was “either incoporated in their dominions or was brought within their sphere of influence/’ but later goes on to say that during Asoka’s time.

The Tamil lands in the extreme south were lost to the Maurya empire, but whether they broke off during Asoka’s reign or before his accession, it is difficult to say (italics ours).

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“The Maurya banner wafted across a vast stretch of land, from Herat in the north-west, to Madurai in the south.”

From references to Chandragupta in association with Jainism in Jaina traditions, it has been concluded that Sravana Belagola, where the king settled down for pen­ance, must have been within the limits at his empire.

Three Asokan minor rock edicts have also been recovered from places close to Sravana Belagola, from Siddapura, Brahmagiri and the Jatingu Ramesvara hill (Chitaldurg district, Mysore).

Asokan inscriptions, the Gavinath and Palkigundu inscriptions (Kopbal taluq), the Maski inscrip­tion, and Yarragudi inscription (Kurnool district) support the theory of Mauryan expansion in the south. Asoka also mentions the Cholas, the Pandyas, the Satyaputras and Keralaputras as his neighbours on the south.

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However, in Rock Edict XIII, Asoka states that his only conquest was that of Kalinga, after which he gave up all violent conquests. Many scholars view the Mauryan extension in the south as the work of Chandragupta and not that of Asoka.

In a book authored by Hermann Kulke and Dietmar Rothermund it is stated that at the time of Asoka’s accession in 268 bc itself, the empire extended up to Karnataka.

Further, they add that “south of the Vindhya Mountains the Mauryas only controlled the coastal areas and some of the interior near present Mysore which they probably coveted because of the gold which was found there”.

Court by a Greek ambassador, Daimachus, sent by Antiochus I. According to Pliny, Dionysius was sent as ambassador to India by Ptolemy Fluladelphu of Egypt in third century bc, the period coinciding with the lime of Bindusara’s reign.

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The king was in friendly contact with the Hellenistic kings, as a Greek writer, Athenacus (third century ad). Stated by Bindusara is probably ‘Amitrochates’ mentioned by the Greeks-Amitrochates being a transcription of the Sanskrit amilraghala.

The Mauryan king is said to have had a 500-member privy council (mantriparishat). Bindusara seems to have had interest in the Ajivikas, an sect of the time. It has been noted that an Ajivika fortune-teller was resident at the king’s court.

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