We know that a good system of government is inevitable for the functioning of any society. When it comes to the administration of a vast empire like the Mauryan Empire, the need for a good system of government is all the more great. The most valuable source regarding Mauryan government is indeed the Arthasastra of Kautilya according to which,
“a sophisticated civil service governed everything from municipal hygiene to international trade. The expansion and defense of the empire was made possible by what appears to have been the largest standing army of its time”.
The Mauryans are credited with establishing the first great empire of India. Founded in 311 BC by the great emperor Chandragupta Maurya, the empire lasted from 321 to 185 BC. Pataliputra was its capital. Our country in this period witnessed tremendous developments in almost all areas of human life.
According to Megasthenes, “ the empire wielded a military of 600,000 infantry, 30,000 cavalry, and 9,000 war elephants. A vast espionage system collected intelligence for both internal and external security purposes”.
The government during Mauryan Empire was a highly centralized and hierarchical one having a a large staff, which regulated tax collection, trade and commerce, industrial arts, mining, vital statistics, welfare of foreigners, maintenance of public places including markets and temples. A large standing army was maintained.
The king was the ultimate authority as the empire followed hereditary kingship. He took decisions on all military and civil matters. He was the chief justice of the country. He was accessible to all subjects. The council of ministers or the Mantriparishad advised the king on all matters. He was also assisted by the Yuvraja or the crown prince.
The structure of government was such that the empire was divided into provinces. The names of four provincial capitals were Tosali, Ujjain, Suvarnagiri and Taxila in the east, the west, the south and the north respectively.
Kumara or the royal prince was the head of the provincial administration. He was assisted by Mahamatyas and council of ministers. pradeshikas or Sthanikas were in charge of the districts. Villages were governed by a host of centrally appointed local officials, who were called Gramanis.
A general concern for the welfare of the masses was an important aspect of rule, believed the Mauryan rulers. Recruitment to all posts in administration was based on merit. Six boards or departments looked after the Municipal administration of the city of Pataliputra.
Every board had five members. Tax was the principal revenue of the government. The government, it is said, had spies to prevent any uprisings or revolts. These spies or agents not only checked the possibility of revolts and rebellions, but also monitored the rule of superintends and the general consensus of the people.