Date of Birth: 340 BC
Place of Birth: Pataliputra
Date of Death: 297 BC
Place of Death: Shravanabelagola, Karnataka
Reign: 321 BC to 298 BC
Spouses: Durdhara, Helena
Grandchildren: Ashoka, Susima, Vitashoka
Chandragupta Maurya was the founder of the Maurya Empire in ancient India. He is credited with bringing together the small fragmented kingdoms of the country and combining them into a single large empire. During his reign, the Maurya Empire stretched from Bengal and Assam in the East, to Afghanistan and Balochistan in the West, to Kashmir and Nepal in the North and to the Deccan Plateau in the South. Chandragupta Maurya, along with his mentor Chanakya, was responsible in bringing an end to the Nanda Empire. After a successful reign of around 23 years, Chandragupta Maurya renounced all the worldly pleasures and turned himself into a Jain monk. It is said that he performed ‘Sallekhana’, a ritual of fasting until death, and therefore willfully ended his own life.
Origin & Lineage
There are many views when it comes to the lineage of Chandragupta Maurya. Most of the information about his ancestry comes from ancient texts of the Greek, Jains, Buddhist and ancient Hindu known as Brahmanism. There have been many research and studies conducted on the origins of Chandragupta Maurya. Some of the historians believe that he was an illegitimate child of a Nanda prince and his maid, Mura. Others believe that Chandragupta belonged to Moriyas, a Kshatriya (warrior) clan of a little ancient republic of Pippalivana, situated between Rummindei (Nepali Tarai) and Kasia (Gorakhpur district of Uttar Pradesh). Two other views suggest that he belonged either to the Muras (or Mors) or to the Kshatriyas of the Indo-Scythian lineage. Last but not the least, it is also claimed that Chandragupta Mauryawas abandoned by his parents and that he came from a humble background. According to the legend, he was raised by a pastoral family and then was later sheltered by Chanakya, who taught him the rules of administration and everything else that is required for one to become a successful emperor.
As per various records, Chanakya was on the lookout for a suitable person to end the reign of a Nanda king and possibly the Empire as well. During this time, a young Chandragupta who was playing along with his friends in the Magadha kingdom was spotted by Chanakya. Impressed with Chandragupta’s leadership skills, Chanakya is said to have adopted Chandragupta before training him on various levels. Thereafter, Chanakya brought Chandragupta to Takshashila, where he turned all his pre-amassed wealth into a huge army in an attempt to dethrone the Nanda king.
The Maurya Empire
Around 324 BC, Alexander the Great and his soldiers had decided to retreat to Greece. However, he had left behind a legacy of Greek rulers who were now ruling parts of ancient India. During this period, Chandragupta and Chanakya formed alliances with local rulers and started defeating the armies of the Greek rulers. This led to the expansion of their territory until finally the establishment of the Maurya Empire.
End of the Nanda Empire
Chanakya finally had the opportunity to bring an end to the Nanda Empire. In fact, he helped Chandragupta establish the Maurya Empire with the sole aim of destroying the Nanda Empire. So, Chandragupta, according to the advice of Chanakya, formed an alliance with King Parvatka, the ruler of the Himalayan region of ancient India. With the combined forces of Chandragupta and Parvatka, the Nanda Empire was brought to an end around 322 BC.
Chandragupta Maurya defeated the Macedonian satrapies in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent. He then waged a war against Seleucus, a Greek ruler who had in control most of the Indian territories which were earlier captured by Alexander the Great. Seleucus however, offered his daughter’s hand in marriage to Chandragupta Maurya and entered into an alliance with him. With the help of Seleucus, Chandragupta started acquiring many regions and expanded his empire as far as South Asia. Thanks to this massive expansion, Chandragupta Maurya’s empire was said to be the most extensive in the whole of Asia, second only to the empire of Alexander in this region. It is to be noted that these regions were acquired from Seleucus who gave them up as a friendly gesture.
Conquest of South India
After acquiring the provinces west of river Indus from Seleucus, Chandragupta's empire stretched across the northern parts of Southern Asia. Thereafter, began his conquests in south, beyond the Vindhya Range and into the Southern parts of India. Except parts of present day Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Chandragupta had managed to establish his empire throughout India.
Maurya Empire - Administration
Based on the advice of Chanakya, his Chief Minister, Chandragupta Maurya divided his empire into four provinces. He had established a superior central administration where his capital Pataliputra was located. The administration was organized with the appointment of king's representatives, who managed their respective province. It was a sophisticated administration which operated like a well-oiled machine as described in Chanakya’s collection of texts called the Arthashastra.
The Maurya Empire was known for its engineering marvels like temples, irrigation, reservoirs, roads and mines. Since Chandragupta Maurya wasn’t a huge fan of waterways, his main mode of transport was by road. This led him to build bigger roads, which allowed the smooth passage of huge carts. He also built a highway which stretched across thousand miles, connecting Pataliputra (present day Patna) to Takshashila (present day Pakistan). Other similar highways built by him connected his capital to places like Nepal, Dehradun, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. This kind of infrastructure subsequently led to a strong economy which fueled the whole empire.
Though there are no historical evidences to identify the style of arts and architecture of the Chandragupta Mauryan era, archeological discoveries like Didarganj Yakshi suggest that the art of his era could have been influenced by the Greeks. Historians also argue that most of the art and architecture belonging to the Maurya Empire were that of ancient India.
Chandragupta Maurya’s Army
It is only fitting for an emperor like Chandragupta Maurya to have a massive army with hundreds of thousands of soldiers. This is exactly what is described in many Greek texts. Many Greek accounts suggest that the army of Chandragupta Maurya consisted of more than 500,000 foot soldiers, 9000 war elephants and 30000 cavalry. The entire army was well trained, well paid and enjoyed a special status as per the advice of Chanakya.
Chandragupta and Chanakya also came up with weapon manufacturing facilities which made them almost invincible in the eyes of their enemies. But they used their power only to intimidate their opponents and more often than not settled the scores using diplomacy rather than war. Chanakya believed that this would be the right way of doing things according to dharma, something which he has highlighted in the Arthashastra.
Integration of India
Under Chandragupta Maurya’s rule, the whole of India and a large part of South Asia was united. Different religions like Buddhism, Jainism, Brahmanism (ancient Hinduism) and Ajivika thrived under his rule. Since the entire empire had uniformity in its administration, economy and infrastructure, the subjects enjoyed their privileges and hailed Chandragupta Maurya as the greatest emperor. This worked in the favor of his administration which subsequently led to a flourished empire.
Legends Associated with Chandragupta Maurya and Chanakya
A Greek text describes Chandragupta Maurya as a mystic who could control the behavior of aggressive wild animals like lions and elephants. One such account states that when Chandragupta Maurya was resting after a battle with his Greek opponents, a huge lion appeared before him. When the Greek soldiers thought that the lion would attack and probably kill the great Indian emperor, the unimaginable happened. It is said that the wild animal licked Chandragupta Maurya’s sweat, so as to clean his face from sweat and walked away in the opposite direction. Another such reference claims that a wild elephant which was destroying anything and everything on its way was controlled by Chandragupta Maurya.
When it comes to Chanakya, there are no shortages of mystical legends. It is said that Chanakya was an alchemist and that he could turn a single piece of gold coin into eight different pieces of gold coins. In fact, it is claimed that Chanakya used alchemy to turn a small wealth of his into a treasure, which would later be used to buy a large army. This very army was the platform on which the Maurya Empire was built. It is also said that Chanakya was born with a complete set of teeth, which had the fortune tellers predicting that he would become a great king. Chanakya’s father though, didn’t want his son to become a king and so broke one of his teeth. This act of his got the fortune tellers predicting again and this time around they told his father that he would become the reason behind an establishment of an empire.
Chandragupta Maurya married Durdhara and was leading a happy married life. Parallelly, Chanakya was adding small dosages of poison in the food consumed by Chandragupta Maurya so that his emperor wouldn’t be affected by any attempts of his enemies who might try to kill him by poisoning his food. The idea was to train Chandragupta Maurya’s body to get used to poison. Unfortunately, during the last stage of her pregnancy, queen Durdhara consumed some of the food which was meant to be served to Chandragupta Maurya. Chanakya, who entered the palace at that time, realized that Durdhara would no longer live and hence decided to save the unborn child. So, he took a sword and cut open Durdhara’s womb to save the child, who was later named as Bindusara. Later, Chandragupta Maurya married Seleucus’ daughter Helena as part of his diplomacy and entered into an alliance with Seleucus.
When Bindusara became an adult, Chandragupta Maurya decided to pass on the baton to his only son Bindusara. After making him the new emperor, he requested Chanakya to continue his services as the chief advisor of the Maurya dynasty and left Patliputra. He renounced all worldly pleasures and became a monk as per the tradition of Jainism. He traveled far into the south of India before settling down in Shravanabelagola (present day Karnataka).
Around 297 BC, under the guidance of his spiritual guru Saint Bhadrabahu, Chandragupta Maurya decided to give up his mortal body through Sallekhana. Hence he started fasting and on one fine day inside a cave at Shravanabelagola, he breathed his last, ending his days of self-starvation. Today, a small temple sits on the place where once the cave, inside which he passed away, is believed to have been located.
Chandragupta Maurya's son Bindusara succeeded him to the throne. Bindusara fathered a son, Ashoka, who went on to become one of the most powerful kings of the Indian subcontinent. In fact, it was under Ashoka that the Maurya Empire saw its complete glory. The empire went on to become one of the largest in the entire world. The empire flourished across generations for more than 130 years. Chandragupta Maurya was also responsible in uniting the most of present day India. Until the establishment of the Maurya Empire, this great country was ruled over by many Greek and Persian kings, forming their own territories. Till date, Chandragupta Maurya remains to be one of the most important and influential emperors of ancient India.