When members of the same family become rulers one after another, the family is often called a dynasty. The Mauryas were a dynasty with three important rulers – Chandragupta, his son Bindusara, and Bindusara’s son, Ashoka.
Unlike taxes which were collected on a regular basis, tribute was collected as and when it was possible from people who gave a variety of things more or less willingly.
Megasthenes was an ambassador who was sent to the court of Chandragupta by the Greek ruler of West Asia named Selecus Nictor.
Megasthenes wrote an account about what he saw. Here is a part of his description:
“The occasions on which the emperor appears in public are celebrated with grand royal processions. He is carried in a golden palanquin. His guards carry trees on which live birds, including a folk of trained parrots, circle about the head of the emperor. The king is normally surrounded by armed women. He is afraid that someone may try to kill him. Thats’s why he has special servants to taste the food before he eats. And he never sleeps in the same bedroom for two nights.”
And about Pataliputra (modern Patna) he wrote:
“This is a large and beautiful city. It is surrounded by a massive wall. It has 570 towers and 64 gates. The houses, of two and three storeys, are built of wood and mud brick. The king’s palace is also for wood, and decorated with stone carvings. It is surrounded with gardens and enclosures for keeping birds.”
This is what Ashoka declared in one of his inscriptions:
“Eight years after becoming king I conquered Kalinga.
About a lakh and a half people were captured. And more than a lakh of people were killed.
This filled me with sorrow. Why?
Whenever an independent land is conquered, lakhs of people die, and many are taken prisoner. Brahmins and monks also die.
People who are kind to their relatives and friends, to their slaves and servants die, or lose their loved ones.
That is why I am sad, and have decided to observe dhamma, and to teach others about it as well.
I believe that winning people over through dhamma is much better than conquering them through force.
I am inscribing this message for the future, so that my son and grandson after me should try to think about how to spread dhamma.”
(‘Dhamma’ is the Prakrit word for the Sanskrit term “’Dharma’).
“People perform a variety of rituals when they fall ill, when their children get married, when children are born, or when they go on a journey. These rituals are not useful.
If instead, people observe other practices, this would be more fruitful. What are these other practices?
These are: being gentle with slaves and servants.
Respecting one’s elders.
Treating all creatures with compassion.
Giving gifts to brahmins and monks.”
It is both wrong to praise one’s own religion or criticize another’s.
Each one should respect the other’s religion.
If one praises one’s own religion while criticizing another’s, one is actually doing greater harm to one’s own religion.
Therefore, own should try to understand the main ideas of another’s religion and respect it.”
(Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, wrote: “His edicts (instructions) still speak to us in a language we can understand and we can still learn much from them.”
Somewhat before the time of the Mauryan empire, about 2400 years ago, emperors in China began building the Great Wall. It was meant to protect the northern frontier of the empire from pastoral people. Additions to the wall were made over a period of 2000 years because the frontiers of the empire kept shifting. The wall is about 6400 km long, and is made of stone and brick, with a road along the top. Several thousand people worked to build the wall. There are watch towers all along, at distances of about 100-200 m.