The Mauryans maintained a huge army, a vast bureaucracy and ruled over a large part of the Indian subcontinent. The founder of the Mauryan dynasty, Chandragupta Maurya inherited a large army from the Nandas, which he used to conquer almost whole of north, northwest and large part of peninsular India. His son Bindusara promoted trade and cultural interactions with the Greek. His son, Asoka, too had a major impact in capturing the entire India. But soon after the death of Asoka, the empire got divided into two parts. While the king Dasaratha controlled the eastern part of the empire, the western part was under Samprati.
Possible causes of decline
Asoka under the influence of Buddhism became a pacifist which weakened his army. It is also said that the religious policy of Asoka antagonized the brahmanas as he banned animal sacrifice, which affected the economic and religious activities of the brahmanas. The decline of the Mauryan Empire was therefore, also due to the brahmanical rebellion on account of prohibition of animal sacrifices as well as undermining their status by “divulging them as false gods”. Therefore, Pusyamitra Suga, the brahmana chief of the army, killed the last Mauryan king, Brihadaratha. But this does not seem to be correct as the study of Asokan inscriptions reveals that Asoka paid full respect to brahmanas. Moreover, it is true that Ashoka followed a policy of peace and harmony, but he did not disband his army and was always prepared to face any eventuality.
One of the main reasons for the decline could be the succession of weak rulers who could not keep under check those ministers and officials of far-flung regions who had become oppressive and acted against the interest of the center. It is also possible that Mauryan rule may have suffered some kind of economic crisis. It is reflected in the debasement of some coins of that period. This crisis might have developed either due to massive donations and charity or overspending in the imperial administrative system. In fact, the reason of decline was inherent in the structure of the vast centralized empire itself.
The successors of Asoka could not maintain the balance between the centre and the various provincial governors of the empire, and at the first possible opportunity, they made an effort to separate themselves from the centre. However, the Mauryan Empire had a positive effect of spreading agriculture and iron technology in the different parts of the subcontinent. It facilitated the rise of several regional kingdoms in the post Mauryan period.
The mechanism of the Mauryan governmental structure was so very centralized that any capable ruler could utilize it for his own benefit as well as for his people, but at the same time it could become detrimental under a feeble ruler who could lose its central power and let forces to crumble and shatter it completely.
Lastly, the declining central power under the control of the later Mauryans must have led to a declining administration. The partition of the Empire post Emperor Ashoka would have given extra power to the centralized Mauryan rule under the weak later-Mauryan rulers, leading to the final disintegration and decline of the Mauryan Empire.
By Deepti Verma
Video Source: Decline of the Mauryan Empire-caesarfabella