Maurya Caste System

Caste System prevailed among the Maurya Community. The Greek writers like Megasthenes and Diodorus also told us about Maurya caste system.

Indian Community had the traditional fourfold heredities caste system, but the Greeks told about seven castes which has made the scholars wonder. It is possible that the Greeks were not aware of fourfold classification or ‘Chaturvarna’ caste system.

 According to some scholars, the population of India during the Maurya period was divided into several castes, namely:
  • The Philosophers,
  • The Husbandries,
  • The Soldiers,
  • The Overseers,
  • The Councilors
  • The Assessors,
  • The shepherds,
  • The Neat herds, and
  • The Artisans.

Some scholars made an occupational division of the people of India and this had no relevance with the traditional caste system which was based on birth and blood relation. But it should be remembered that the Greek writer not only told us about this caste but also mentioned about its hereditary character of restricting inter marriage and change of occupation.

However, the Indian community during the Mauryas was classified into four casts or varmas although there were many mixed castes. The husbandries or the cultivators were the majority in number. Cultivation was considered so essential in those days that even at the time of battle field and remained undisturbed and unmolested. Ashoka the Great also said in his Rock Edict XIII that the Kalinga war had caused great sufferings to the civilian people including the husbandmen. The Buddhist text also instructed not to include the civilians and cultivators into the war.

The Brahmins formed the intellectual class. They were to look after education and culture of the people. The state used to spend a good amount of revenue for the maintenance. The Brahmins were exempted from torture or criminal offence but could be banished. They used to help and advice the king.

The Kshatriyas were the warrior class. The only duty of the Kshatriya was war. They received liberal pay from the state and them at the time of peace, used to spend their time in merriment and luxury.

The artisans, shepherds and traders paid taxes to the state but were free from all military services.

Megasthenes told that slavery was totally absent in India. The foreigners as prisoners of war were not counted as the slaves. However, slavery was not altogether unknown in India as Ashoka’s inscriptions speak us of the Dasas or Slaves and the Arthasashtra also said that no freeman or Anya could be made as slave. As such slaves were collected from the prisoner of wars. However, the slaves in India had better status than their Greek counterparts. They could win private property and even freedom .They were treated gently with sympathy and considered as the domestic servants.

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