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The Mauryan State Administration

Provincial Administration

  • At the head of the administration was the king.
  • He was assisted by a council of ministers and a purohita or priest, who was a person of great importance, and secretaries known as mahamatriyas.
  • The capital region of Pataliputra was directly administered.
  • The rest of the empire was divided into four provinces based at Suvarnagiri (near Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh), Ujjain (Avanti, Malwa), Taxila in the northwest, and Tosali in Odisha in the south-east.
  • The provinces were administered by governors who were usually royal princes.
  • In each region, the revenue and judicial administration and the bureaucracy of the Mauryan state was replicated to achieve a uniform system of governance.
  • Revenue collection was the responsibility of a collector-general (samaharta) who was also in charge of exchequer that he was, in effect, like a minister of finance.
  • He had to supervise all the provinces, fortified towns, mines, forests, trade routes and others, which were the sources of revenue.
  • The treasurer was responsible for keeping a record of the tax revenues.
  • The accounts of each department had to be presented jointly by the ministers to the king.
  • Each department had a large staff of superintendents and subordinate officers linked to the central and local governments.

District and Village Administration

  • At the next level of administration came the districts, villages and towns.
  • The district was under the command of a sthanika, while officials known as gopas were in charge of five to ten villages.
  • Urban administration was handled by a nagarika.
  • Villages were semi-autonomous and were under the authority of a gramani, appointed by the central government, and a council of village elders.
  • Agriculture was then, as it remained down the centuries, the most important contributor to the economy, and the tax on agricultural produce constituted the most important source of revenue.
  • Usually, the king was entitled to one-sixth of the produce.
  • In reality, it was often much higher, usually about one-fourth of the produce.

Source of Revenue

  • The Arthasastra, recommended comprehensive state control over agricultural production and marketing, with warehouses to store agricultural products and regulated markets, in order to maximise the revenues from this most important sector of the economy.
  • Other taxes included taxes on land, on irrigation if the sources of irrigation had been provided by the state, taxes on urban houses, customs and tolls on goods transported for trade and profits from coinage and trade operations carried on by the government.
  • Lands owned by the king, forests, mines and manufacture of salt, on which the state held a monopoly, were also important sources of revenue.

Judicial Administration

  • Justice was administered through courts, which were established in all the major towns.
  • Two types of courts are mentioned.
  • The dharmasthiya courts mostly dealt with civil law relating to marriage, inheritance and other aspects of civil life.
  • The courts were presided over by three judges well-versed in sacred laws and three amatyas (secretaries).
  • Another type of court was called kantakasodhana (removal of thorns), also presided over by three judges and three amatyas.
  • The main purpose of these courts was to clear the society of anti-social elements and various types of crimes, and it functioned more like the modern police, and relied on a network of spies for information about such anti-social activities.
  • Punishments for crimes were usually quite severe.
  • The overall objective of the judicial system as it evolved was to extend government control over most aspects of ordinary life.

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