Chandragupta's rule was effective but harsh. A brutal secret police force reported on corruption, crime, and dissent—ideas that opposed those of the government. Fearful of his many enemies, Chandragupta had specially trained women warriors guard his palace. Servants tasted his food to protect him from poisoning. Secret passages in the palace let him move about, unseen.
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.
The Maurya emperor Asoka went from warrior to Buddhist, and then ruled by moral example instead of excessive force.
Then, horrified at the slaughter—more than 100,000 people are said to have died—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 stopped eating most meats and limited animal sacrifices. He sent missionaries, or people sent on a religious mission, to spread Buddhism across India and to Sri Lanka. By doing so, he paved the way for the spread of Buddhism throughout Asia. Although Asoka promoted Buddhism, he also preached tolerance for other religions.
Asoka had stone pillars set up across India, announcing laws and promising a just government. He then took steps to improve life across his empire. He built hospitals, roads, and rest houses for travelers. “I have had banyan trees planted on the roads to give shade to people and animals,” he noted. “I have planted mango groves, and I have had [wells] dug and shelters erected along the roads.”
Asoka's rule brought peace and prosperity and helped unite the diverse peoples within his empire. After his death, however, Maurya power declined. By 185 B.C., rival princes again battled for power across the northern plain.
During its history, India seldom remained united for long. 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. In the Deccan south, other cultures flourished, adding to the divisions.
Asoka had stone pillars erected throughout India. Writing on the pillars provides moral advice and Asoka's promise of a just government for all.
Contributing to the turmoil, foreign invaders frequently pushed through mountain passes into northern India. Some came to plunder rich Indian cities, but stayed to rule. The divided northern kingdoms were often unable to resist these conquerors. Still, the Maurya rulers had shown that a well-organized government could unite a vast empire.