The most authentic source of Mauryan history is the epigraphical evidence. The edicts of Ashoka are the oldest, the best preserved and the most precisely dated epigraphic records of India. The inscriptions are engraved on rocks, boulders, cave walls and pillars of stone. The inscriptions of Ashoka are of two kinds -the smaller group consists of declaration of the king as a lay Buddhist to his church. These describe his own acceptance of Buddhism and his relationship with the Samgha. The second group of important inscriptions consists of Major and Minor rock edicts and the pillar edicts.
They describe his famous policy of Dhamma. These inscriptions were installed in prominent places either near towns or on important trade and travel routes or in the proximity of religious centres and places of religious importance.
Of the religious sources the Buddhist and Jain traditions the early Dharmashastra are of great importance. The Ashokavadana and Divyavadana are two Buddhist texts containing information about Bindusara, Ashoka’s expeditions to Taxila to suppress a rebellion and about his conversion to Buddhism. DipVamsa and Maha Vamsa describe in detail the role played by Ashoka in the spreading of Buddhism in SriLanka. Chaitra or Parisisthaparvan (biography of Chanakya) of Hemachandra provides very interesting information on Chandra Gupta Maurya.
Amongst the Brahmanical works the Puranas give information on the history of the Mauryas. Megasthenese ‘s Indica is another source in which he had described the physical features of the country-soil, climate, animals and plants, its government and religion, the manners of the people and their art.
This book in original form has been lost. But most passages have been preserved in form of epitomes and quotations which are found scattered here and there in the later writings of various Greek and Roman authors such as Strabo, Arrian and Plinius. Another important source which gives valuable information on the Mauryan period is the Arthashastra. It is believed to be the work of Vishnu Gupta Kautilya also known as Chanakya. He was the chief advisor of Chandragupta Maurya. His book Arthashastra is a standard work on politics and art of government.
It is considered to be the most valuable work in the field of secular literature. Mudra Rakshasa is another important work which throws some light on Chandragupta Maurya’s career. It is a drama written by Vaisakha Dutta in the Gupta period. The author collected all the information available to him in the 5th century AD. This drama gives the detail of the revolution by which Chandragupta Maurya overthrew the Nandas. It also mentioned that Chandragupta belonged to a low caste
As a sequence of Alexander’s invasions of India a number of Greek travellers visited India. They gave valuable information of India to the outside world. Neachus was deputed by Alexander to explore the coast between the Indus and the Persian Gulf. Onesicritus took part in the voyage with Neachus and afterwards wrote a book about the voyage and India. Megasthanese was sent as an ambassador to the court of Chandragupta Maurya by Seleucus Nikator the Greek ruler of Persia. His account about Mauryan India is compiled in Indika.
Archaeological excavations have been conducted at a number of Mauryan sites. Excavations at Kaushambi, Rajagriha, Patliputra, Hastinapur, and Taxila have helped us to reconstruct the historical development of the period.
The Mauryan empire was based on the money economy.Kautilya refers to suvarna, silver pana and copper mashaka as a token currency. A horde of punch marked silver coins were found at Golakhpur at a site of ancient Patliputra belonging to Pre-Mauryan times. Most of these coins have only symbols like tree in railing, sun, moon, mountain, and animals, birds etc punched or stamped on them. These symbols on the coins had probably some connection with local commerce such as the guilds, local or provincial administration, the royal and dynastic symbols etc. The sites from where these coins have been found imply that these places were inhabited during the Mauryan period.
Evidences from Art and Architecture
The Mauryan Art remains include chaityas, viharas, stupas, animal capitals surmounting the pillars. On some pillars the Edicts were inscribed. These remains give us an information about the material used at that time about the craftsmanship, about the peaceful times, efficient administration, religion of the king and people etc. From these stupas, pillars, caves we can see the progress of Mauryan art in different spheres like architecture, sculpture, art of polishing, engineering and art of ornamentation.