The foundation of the Mauryan Empire opens a new era in the history of India. For the first time, the political unity was achieved in India. Moreover, the history writing has also become clear from this period due to accuracy in chronology and sources.
Besides plenty of indigenous and foreign literary sources, a number of epigraphical records are also available to write the history of this period.
This book in Sanskrit was written by Kautilya, a contemporary of Chandragupta Maurya. Kautilya was also called ‘Indian Machiavelli’. The manuscript of Arthasastra was first discovered by R. Shama Sastri in 1904. The Arthasastra contains 15 books and 180 chapters but it can be divided into three parts: the first deals with the king and his council and the departments of government; the second with civil and criminal law; and the third with diplomacy and war. It is the most important literary source for the history of the Mauryas.
The Mudrarakshasa written by Visakadatta is a drama in Sanskrit. Although written during the Gupta period, it describes how Chandragupta with the assistance of Kautilya overthrew the Nandas. It also gives a picture on the socio-economic condition under the Mauryas.
Megasthenes was the Greek ambassador in the court of Chandragupta Maurya. His book Indica has survived only in fragments. Yet, his account gives details about the Mauryan administration, particularly the administration of the capital city of Pataliputra and also the military organization. His picture on contemporary social life is notable. Certain unbelievable information provided by him has to be treated with caution.
Apart from these three important works, the Puranas and the Buddhist literature such as Jatakas provide information on the Mauryas. The Ceylonese Chronicles Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa throw light on the role Asoka in spreading Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
Edicts of Asoka
The inscriptions of Asoka were first deciphered by James Princep in 1837. They are written in Pali language and in some places Prakrit was used. The Brahmi script was employed for writing. In the northwestern India Asokan inscriptions were found in Karoshti script. There are fourteen Major Rock Edicts. The two Kalinga Edicts are found in the newly conquered territory. The major pillar Edicts were erected in important cities. There are minor Rock Edicts and minor pillar Edicts. These Edicts of Asoka deal with Asoka’s Dhamma and also instructions given to his officials. The XIII Rock Edict gives details about his war with Kalinga. The Pillar Edict VII gives a summary of his efforts to promote the Dhamma within his kingdom. Thus the Asokan inscriptions remain valuable sources for the study of Asoka and the Mauryan Empire.