Short essay on Mauryan administration


The Mauryan empire was the largest State in the whole of the ancient world and for the first time it ushered in a new form of government i.e., central­ized government. Within its framework it united a number of people and tribes.

The Mauryan centralized monarchy became a paternal despotism under Asoka. This paternal attitude is expressed in the remark, “All men are my children”, which almost becomes the motto of Asoka in defining his attitude towards his subjects.

The King:


The Mauryan King did not claim any divine origin yet he was taken to be the repre­sentative of the Gods. Kings were described as Devanampriya, Beloved of the Gods. The King was the source and centre of all authority, head of administration, law and justice and also the supreme judge. He himself selected his ministers, appointed high officials and controlled their ac­tivities.

There was a well-planned system of super­vision and inspection. The King led a strenuous life and was ever intent on the promotion of the well-being of his subjects. According to Kautilya, an ideal ruler is one who is a native of the territory, who follows the teachings of the Shastras, who is free from disease, is brave, strong, confident, truthful and of noble birth.

The Central Government:

The Mauryan Govern­ment was completely centralized -a purely bureaucratic set-up-and was managed through several officers of different ranks. Kautilya has said: “administration cannot be the work of one man, just as one wheel cannot drive a vehicle”.


The normal administrative machinery prescribed for the government of a State was King, (ii) the Viceroys and Governors functioning as King’s representatives, (iii) the Ministers, (iv) the Heads of Departments, (v) The Subordinate Civil Service, and (vi) the Officers in charge of rural administration.

Council of Ministers:

The King was assisted by a council of ministers called the mantriparishad; the ministers themselves were known as mantrins. There was no hard and fast rule regarding their numbers at any time. Their number varied accord­ing to need. Their salary was 40 panas per year. The Arthasashtra gives a list of the qualities that a minister should possess, and stresses on those of birth, integrity and intelligence.

It further suggests that these qualities should be ascertained from a variety of sources. The mantriparishad consisted of Purohit (high priest), Senapati (Com­mander-in-Chief), Yuvaraj (heir-apparent) and a few other ministers. The ‘Council or mantriparishad had its Secretary in charge of its office, which has been called by Kautilya as mantri- parishadadhyasha


Asoka in Rock Edict III and VI mentions his Parishad for the disposal of urgent matters by the Council. The Arthasashtra lists the Chief Minister or the mahamantri and also distinguishes between the ministers and the Council of Ministers.


The Central administration was con­ducted through a number of senior officers, who were like modern Secretaries in the ministries and performed judicial and administrative functions. The Amatyas of the Arthasashtra have been equated with Secretaries. These Amatyas may be compared with the “Seventh Caste” of Megas­thenes which consisted of counsellors and asses­sors of the King



The machinery of Central Govern­ment dealt with by Kautilya in the Adhyak- shaprachara (Book II) is worthy of a modern Manual of Administration. It contemplates a vast, numerous and all-pervading bureaucracy, keep­ing itself in touch with all aspects of social, economic and administrative needs of the country.

The speedy and successful creation of a hierarchy of officials and their organisation into a well-knit bureaucracy was a great achievement of the Mauryan administration. The Civil Service con­sisted of different grades and scale of pay attach­ing to each grade. Kautilya gives an account of these grades which very well show the vastness and complexity of the administrative machinery.

Superintendents or Adhyakshas:

The Central ad­ministration was conducted by a highly skilled Secretariat divided into several departments, each headed by an Adhyaksha or a Superintendent. Kautilya in the second Book of his Arthasashtra gives an account of the working of nearly thirty two Adhyakshas, viz. those of: Accountant-General (Akahapaladhyaksha), Mines (Akara), Gold (Suvarna), Stores (Kosthagara), Commerce (Panya), Forest Products (Kupya), Armoury (Ayudhagara), Weight and Measures (Tulamanapantava), Spinning and Weaving In­dustry (Sutra), Agriculture (Sita), Excise (Sura), Shipping (Nau), Passports (Mudra), Ports (Pat- tan), Mint (Lakshana), General Trade and Trade Routes (Samstha), etc. There were Superinten­dents of both the civil and military departments.


It is hardly necessary to repeat that most of these departments and officers are mentioned by the Greek writers and there is a very close and striking similarity of their accounts with that of Kautilya.

Important Officials of the Central Government: Kautilya has mentioned functions of various of­ficers of the Central Government. Some of the important officials and their functions are described as under:

Sannidhata was the head of the royal treasury, and of the State income both in cash and kind. All royal stores were under his supervision and con­trol.

Samaliarta was like the Chancellor of the Exche­quer and was responsible for the collection of revenue from various parts of the country.

Akshapataladhyaksha was the Accountant General who was in charge of the two offices of Currency and Accounts. The fiscal year was from Asadha (July), and 354 working days were reck­oned in each year.

Sitadhyaksha was the Director of Agriculture and in charge of the cultivation of Crown lands or of Government agricultural farms

Akaradhyaksha was the Superintendent of min­ing and possessed scientific knowledge of mines, metallurgy, gems, and precious stones. The State had a monopoly in the working of mines and in trade in their products.

Lavanadhyaksha was the Salt Superintendent. The manufacture of salt was a Government monopoly administered by the Salt Superinten­dent. It was administered through a system of licences, on payment of a fixed fee, or a share of the output.

Navadhyaksha was the Superintendent of Ports. He controlled traffic and transit by waterways, riverine, oceanic, coastal routes, etc. and also policed the rivers and seashores.

Panyadhyaksha was the Controller of Com­merce who was in charge of the control of supply, prices, purchase and sale of commodities. He also controlled stocks of foodgrains and other mer­chandise by issuing licenses to traders.

Sulkadhyaksha was the Collector of Customs or Tolls. Kautilya has described the detailed customs regulations, including the list of banned and duty-free items. Goods were classified according to the customs or tolls charged on them.

Suradhyaksha was the Superintendent of Excise who controlled the manufacture and sale of liquor and intoxicating drugs. Only sealed liquor was to be sold at the specified places, days and timings.

Pautavadhyaksha was the Superintendent of Weights and Measures. He used to undertake periodic checking of balances, weights and measures used by private parties and stamped them.

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