UUnder the Mauryas, especially Chandragupta and Ashoka, India was one of the richest political entities in the ancient world. An economic historian has estimated that in the year 1 AD India accounted for 32 percent of the world’s GDP (and one-third of the world’s population), and this proportion may have been even higher during the Maurya period. This period saw the expansion of agriculture, the growth of population and settlement sizes, craft specialization, the emergence of writing, and a surge of internal and external trade thanks to an extensive network of land and sea trade routes.
Our knowledge of Moorish society and economy comes from several sources: Megasthenes’ IndicateAshoka’s inscriptions, Buddhist and Jain texts and the Arthasastra. Although there is disagreement among scholars about the historicity of this work, Mark McClish and Patrick Olivelle write: ‘The teaching of Arthasastrahowever decontextualized and idealized they may be, they also serve as an important record of practices and customs prevailing in Kautilya’s time.’
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Another valuable secondary source is the linguist Paninis Ashtadhyayi (Eight Chapters). Panini is believed to have been born in Gandhara and studied and taught at the University of Taxila. His goal was to define the morphology and syntax of the Sanskrit language, thereby distinguishing between the use of the spoken languages (prakrits) of his time and Sanskrit, the language of the elite and religious texts.
Panini compiled a list of words in common use and then created more than 4,000 grammatical rules to classify various linguistic phenomena; they could in turn be used to generate other words. After his work was discovered in the West in the mid-nineteenth century, Panini was called the ‘father of modern linguistics’.
To describe the living language and create a lexicon, Panini wandered the land and collected words about all aspects of life and society, including customs, folklore, government, medicine, agriculture, food, sports, clothing, family relationships, and so on. He spoke to people of all social levels: musicians, hunters, shoemakers, cooks, merchants, writers, beggars, devotees, farmers, priests, counselors and more.
Just like Arthasastrathat Ashtadhyayi was based on the work of earlier grammarians. Historians originally placed Panini’s work in the sixth century BCE, but recent research suggests it could have been compiled as late as 350 BCE—just before or during Alexander’s invasion and much closer to Ashoka’s time than previously thought. Greek writers mention Panini’s friendship with one of the Nanda kings and say that he visited Pataliputra to attend a conference where philosophers met to suggest ways to improve crop yields and promote public interest. One of the most famous comments on Ashtadhyayi was it Mahabhasya by another scholar, Patanjali, who probably lived in the second century BCE. This work is also a source of information about the Mauryan period.
Whether or not Panini wrote down his work is a matter of much controversy. While some scholars, notably Harry Falk, argue that it was transmitted orally, it is difficult to imagine that a work of such complexity could be transmitted without being written down.
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Mauryan cities, especially the capital Pataliputra, were lively, bustling places. In one of his sutras, the Buddha describes the city of Kushavati as follows:
Both during the day and at night. . . the royal city of Kushavati [a city in the
Kosala kingdom in what is now Uttar Pradesh] resounded with ten
crying; that is, noise from elephants, noise from horses and
noise from carriages; the sounds of drum, tabor and lute; the sound
of song and the sound of cymbals and gongs; and finally with
the cry ‘Eat, drink and be merry.’
Buddhism and Jainism were popular among urban dwellers, and some Brahminical texts expressed disapproval of the urban ethos, declaring, for example, that the study of the Veda should be avoided in market towns.
If the purpose of life i Arthasastra is to achieve arthaworldly success, and of the Brahminical texts to attain Dharma or righteousness, the third goal of life, like (pleasure), is the subject of another famous work, the The Kama Sutra. Just like Arthasastra, its author and date and place of composition are problematic. Historians place its composition between 400 BCE and 200 CE, in a city in northern India or perhaps Pataliputra. Again, this work is based on many ancient texts.