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7th Grade Social Studies / Lesson 3 - Powerful Empire of India

What will we be learning in this unit?
  • How did Maurya rulers create a strong central government?
  • Why is the period of Gupta rule in India considered a golden age?

Maurya Empire
  • The first ruler of the Maurya dynasty was Chandragupta. Chandragupta maintained order through a well-organized bureaucracy. Royal officials supervised the building of roads and harbors to benefit trade. Other officials collected taxes and managed state-owned factories and shipyards. People sought justice in royal courts. 
  • Chandragupta's rule was effective but harsh. A brutal secret police reported on corruption, crime, and dissent, that is, any differing or opposing ideas. Fearful of his many enemies, Chandragupta had specially trained women warriors guard his palace.

Maurya Empire

  • The most honored Maurya emperor was Chandragupta's grandson, Asoka (uh soh kuh). A few years after becoming emperor in 268 b.c., Asoka fought a long, bloody war to conquer the Deccan region of Kalinga. Then, horrified at the slaughter - over 100,000 dead - Asoka turned his back on further conquests. He converted to Buddhism, rejected violence, and resolved to rule by moral example.
  • True to the Buddhist principle of respect for all life, Asoka became a vegetarian and limited Hindu animal sacrifices. He sent missionaries, or people sent on a religious mission, to spread Buddhism across India and to Sri Lanka. He thus paved the way for the later spread of Buddhism throughout Asia. Although Asoka promoted Buddhism, he preached tolerance for other religions.
  • Asoka had stone pillars set up across India, announcing laws and promising righteous government. On one, he proclaimed: "All people are my children, and just as I desire for my children that they should obtain welfare and happiness, both in this world and the next, so do I desire the same for all people."
  • Asoka's rule brought peace and prosperity, and helped unite the diverse people within his empire. Asoka helped his "children" by building hospitals and Buddhist shrines. To aid transportation, he built roads and rest houses for travelers.


 Decline of the Maurya Empire
  • After Asoka's death, Maurya power declined. By 185 b.c., the unity of the Maurya empire was shattered as rival princes again battled for power across the northern plain. In fact, during its long history, India has seldom been united. In ancient times, as today, the subcontinent was home to many peoples and cultures. Although the Aryan north shared a common civilization, fierce local rivalries kept it divided..
  • Adding to the turmoil, foreign invaders frequently pushed through mountain passes into northern India. The divided northern kingdoms could not often resist such conquerors.

Age of the Guptas
  • Although many kingdoms flourished in the Deccan, the most powerful Indian states rose in the north. About 500 years after the Mauryas, the Gupta dynasty again united much of India. Gupta emperors organized a strong central government that promoted peace and prosperity. Under the Guptas, who ruled from a.d. 320 to about 550, India enjoyed a golden age, or period of great cultural achievements.

 Age of the Guptas
  • Gupta rule was probably looser than that of the Mauryas. Much power was left in the hands of individual villages and of city governments elected by merchants and artisans.
  • Trade and farming flourished across the Gupta empire. Farmers harvested crops of wheat, rice, and sugar cane. In cities, artisans produced cotton cloth, pottery, and metalware for local markets and for export to East Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. The prosperity of Gupta India contributed to a flowering in the arts and learning.

Advances in Learning
  • In India, as elsewhere during this period, students were educated in religious schools. However, in Hindu and Buddhist centers, learning was not limited to religion and philosophy. The large Buddhist monastery-university at Nalanda, which attracted students from other parts of Asia, taught mathematics, medicine, physics, languages, literature, and other subjects. 
  • Indian advances in mathematics had a wide impact on the world. Gupta mathematicians devised the simple system of writing numbers that is used today. These numerals are now called "Arabic" numerals because it was Arabs who carried them from India to the Middle East and Europe. Indian mathematicians originated the concept of zero and developed the decimal system of numbers based on 10, which we still use today.
  • By Gupta times, Indian physicians were using herbs and other remedies to treat illness. Surgeons were skilled in setting bones and in simple surgery to repair facial injuries. Doctors also began vaccinating people against smallpox about 1,000 years before this practice was used in Europe.

Other advances
  • Rajahs sponsored the building of magnificent stone temples. Sometimes, cities grew up around the temples to house the thousands of laborers working there. Hindu temples were designed to reflect cosmic patterns. The ideal shape was a square inscribed in a circle to symbolize eternity. 
  • Buddhists built splendid stupas, large dome-shaped shrines that housed the sacred remains of the Buddha or other holy people. The stupas were ringed with enclosed walkways where Buddhist monks slowly walked, chanting their prayers.
  • In the cave temples at Ajanta in western India, Buddhist artists painted rich murals, or wall paintings, recalling Buddhist stories and legends. The murals also reveal scenes of life in Gupta India, from beggars with bowls to sailors at sea to princes courting princesses in lovely flowered gardens.
  • During Gupta times, many fine writers added to the rich heritage of Indian literature. They collected and recorded fables and folk tales in the Sanskrit language.