Architectural Achievements of India during Mauryan Period - Ancient City of Patliputra and Sudarsana Lake Reservoir

We have already described the remarkable degree of success achieved by India in the early centuries of the Christian era in the production of fine silks and muslins for which there was a great rage in Rome. These exports helped to create a favorable balance of trade by the drain of gold out of Rome into India to pay for her imports, as described by Mommsen. We may now refer to some of the outstanding examples of industrial achievement in the course of India's history.

Industrial Activities in Mauryan Period - Reservoir at Sudarsana Lake

Mauryan history of the third and second century B.C. in the times of Chandragupta and Asoka is marked by several monumental works. It gave to India its first dam and reservoir, aptly called Beautiful or Sudarsana in a later inscription of King Rudradaman I of 150 A.D. It describes how a Tataka or lake was created by damming up the flow of rivers such as "Suvarnasikata, Palasini and others," down the hills then called Raivataka and Urjayat, under Emperor Chandragupta and his Governor (Rashtriya) of Saurashtra.

Under Asoka and his Governor, the Yona chief, Raja Tushaspha, the lake was equipped with supplemental channels (pranali) for distribution of the water impounded in the reservoir for irrigation in the down. country. This reservoir was a piece of most enduring construction. It was vast like an ocean (sambhonidhitulya), and lasted for more than seven centuries after Asoka, up to the time of the Gupta emperor Skanda Gupta. In his reign, in the year 455 A.D. "at the advent of the monsoons" (ambudakala agate) piercing the heat of summer season (nidagha kalam pravidarya), there occurred a continuous downpour of rain (vavarsha toyam) by which the dam suddenly (afvarat) burst (bibheda), so as to release the imprisoned streams (chirabandhana ushitah) which at once found their way into the sea (samudra-krantah), and rendered the beautiful lake an ugly-looking (durdarsana) one."

The breach, however, was repaired and the embankment renewed within the short period of two months with a length of 100 cubits, width of 68, and height of 7 men, as a solid work of masonry (samyak-ghatita-upalena) so as to last for all time (Sasvata-kalpa-kalam). The. then Governor of Saurashtra-Avani was Pahlava Suvisakha whose rare patriotism and civic spirit led him to pay the entire colossal expenditure incurred (dhanasya kritva vyayam aprameyam) on the repair of Sudarsana lake (Sudarsana tataka samskara) out of his privy purse (svasmat koshat), instead of charging it to public funds (Junagarh inscription of Skanda Gupta. No. 1, of Fleet).

Description of a Magnificent City at Patliputra - Capital of Mauryas - as reported by Megasthenes

Mauryan India also achieved success in other fields of Engineering, in Town-planning, Architecture, and Art. An example of town-planning was its capital itself, Pataliputra, which was founded at a strategic site at the confluence of the two rivers, Ganga and Sona. It was constructed as a city, with a length of 9 miles, and width of 1, and protected by a moat 60 feet deep and 200 yards wide, and the further defence of a massive timber palisade pierced by loopholes, through which archers could shoot. The palisade was provided with 64 openings or gates and 570 towers, as reported by an eye-witness, the Greek Ambassador Megasthenes, who came to live in that city. The city had also its palace worthy of it in its magnificence, with its extensive park of groves and evergreen trees attracting all kinds of birds, peacocks, pheasants and parrots flocking round the king and large tanks breeding the biggest fish. The interior of the palace was adorned with gilded pillars clasped by vines embossed in gold, and decorated with birds of silver. The sewage of the city found its outlet in the rivers.

Asoka made his own contributions to the improvement of the palace by replacing its wooden material by stone which was so lavishly utilised by him in constructing his other monuments. It stood out through centuries in all its pristine magnificence which was even seen in all its splendour more than six centuries later by the Chinese pilgrim, Fa-hien, who visited India under Emperor Chandra Gupta II.

He thus reports on what he still saw of it: "The royal palace and halls in the midst of the city, which exist now as of old, were all made by spirits which he employed, and which piled up the stones, reared the walis and gates, and executed the elegant carving and inlaid sculpture work in a way which no human hand of this world could accomplish."

This statement of a learned foreign observer constitutes the highest compliment that can be paid to the degree of perfection achieved by Mauryan Engineering in the field of Art and Architecture, and described as superhuman by an impartial eye-witness from another great country with similar achievements to its credit.