The Age of the Mauryas – Chandragupta Maurya

Chandragupta Maurya

Chandragupta Maurya

Chandragupta Maurya rise to greatness is indeed a romance of history. Born of peacock-tenders in humble circumstances, he worked his way through the help of Chanakya and carved out an empire which for the first time in the history of India gave political unity to the country.

Chandragupta Maurya StatueImage: India Opines

About Chandragupta’s ancestry there are different accounts. In the Sanskrit drama Mudrarakshasa written by Visakhadatta, Chandragupta is called Maurya Putra, meaning son of Maurya. The name Maurya is interpreted as the son of Mura, daughter of a Vrishali and concubine of the last Nanda king. This story is obviously a very late invention.

An account of the Buddhists makes the Mauryas a Himalayan  branch of the Sakyas, a clan to which the Buddha belonged. Some writers accept the view that Chandragupta belonged to the Kshatriya clan called the Moriya originally ruling over Pipphalivana which probably lay in U.P, about 50 miles to the west of Kusinagara. Jaina tradition regards Chandragupta as the son of a daughter of the chief of a village of peacock-breeders (Mayur’s Poshaka). It may be noted that the peacock figures as the Mauryas’ emblem in some punch-marked sculptures and coins.

The story goes that Chanakya who had treated with disrespect by the Nanda king was on the look-out for a suitable instrument to wreak his vengeance on the Nanda. Finding  Chandragupta suitable for his purpose he bought him paying a heavy price and had him educated at Taxila, his native place. Another and more probable story makes Chandragupta a general of the Nanda army who had grievances of his own and so joined Kautilya in effecting a political revolution.

Chanakya - Chandragupta Maurya AdvisorImage: lifehacker

Chandragupta’s task was no easy one. He was to liberate the country from alien domination and rid it of the tyranny of the Nanda king. According to classical writers Chandragupta once visited Alexander in the Punjab and greatly offended him. Alexander in his anger gave orders to kill Chandragupta; but being swift of foot Chandragupta managed to escape. We have no place for the various miracles which are said to have encouraged Chandragupta set out collecting a large army of the republican peoples of the Punjab. Justin describes these recruits by a term which may mean ‘robbers’. This meant only the stubborn fighters of the republics of the Punjab.

Chandragupta took advantage of the growing difficulty of the Greek  position in the Punjab. There was a growing jealousy between the Greeks and the Macedonians which undermined the strength of the Greek rulers in North-west India.

The death of Alexander in 323 B.C. led to the disruption of his short-lived empire. And as Justin sums up, ‘India, after the death of Alexander, had shaken off the yoke of servitude and put his governors to death. The author of this liberation was Sandracottus (Chandragupta).

Chandra succeeded in seizing the throne of Magdha and bringing the north- west under his sway. The details of the conquest are lost. It is not even known if his conquest of the Punjab came before or after the Magadhan revolution. The story as related in a Jaina book called Parishishta Parvan mentions Chanakya’s initial defeat in Magadha because he had not secured the surrounding the country before attacking the stronghold of the enemy.

According to the same text Chanakya made Chandragupta make a pact with Paravataka (king of Himavat Ikuta) and the allied armies surrounded Pataliputra and forced Nanda to capitulate. Nanda was spared his life and permitted to leave pataliputra with his two wives and one daughter and as much treasure as he could carry off in a single chariot.

Extent of Empire

Seleucus inroad and cession of territory to Chandragupta for 500 elephants has been doubted by Tarn. But the recently discovered Kandahar inscription of Asoka conclusively proves that the territory in questionformed part of Asoka’s Empire. Asoka did not conquer the region but inherited it.

Kingdom of Chandragupta Maurya

By 305 B.C., Chandragupta undoubtedly ruled over a vast empire, which extended as far as the Hindukush in the west. According to plutarch, he overran and subdued the whole of India with an army of six hundred thousand men and Justin also refers to his mastery over the countries.

Asoka’s inscriptions credit him with only one conquest namely that of Kalinga. But the geographical distribution of his inscriptions as well as their internal evidence shows that the empire extended to Mysore in the south and beyond the natural boundaries of India up to  borders of Persia in the north-west.

As Asoka’s father Bindusara is not known to history as a great conqueror, it may reasonably be assumed that the empire over which Asoka ruled was mostly the creation of his grandfather Chandragupta. There is no clear evidence about Bengal in the east, but it must be taken to have become a part of the Mauryan State.

The Junagadh inscription of Rudradaman (A.D. 150) shows that Saurashtra was a province of the Mauryan empire. There the Mauryan governor (rashtriya),the Vaisya Pushya Gupta, constructed the famous Sudarsana lake. Possibly, Chandragupta’s dominions embraced all those parts of the Deccan which had formed a part of the Nanda empire.

Kautilya’s idea of Chakravarti Kshetra very nearly corresponding to the reality of the Mauryan rule in the reign of Chandragupta. It must here be pointed out that ‘empire’ did not always mean the extinction of local dynasties but only their recognition of a suzerain imperial power to which annual tributes were paid. The Roman historian Justin affirms that the rule of Chandragupta was a strong ruler who did not shrink from the use of force to maintain order in his realm. All authorities agree that his rule lasted for twenty for years.

Last Days of Chandragupta Maurya

Late and doubtful Jaina tradition affirms that in his last days Chandragupta renounced his kingdom and became a Jaina monk. On  the eve of a famine in Magadha he followed the Jaina migration led by Bhadrabahu to Mysore. It is believed that he lived in Shravanabelagola where few local inscriptions still continue in his memory. The hill where he lived is still known as Chandragiri and a temple erected by him as Chandragupta Basti. But the identity  of the Chandragupta Manipati of the inscription with the Mauryan emperor has been doubted.

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