Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Chandragupta Maurya, Founder of Mauryan Empire

Chandragupta Maurya’s claim to fame rests on the fact that he was the founder of the first and one of the greatest empires that appeared in India. He not only succeeded in overthrowing the unpopular last ruler of the Nandas with their capital at Pataliputra (modern day Patna), also to his credit goes the driving out of the Greeks garrisons from the North-West frontier set up as a result of Alexander’s invasion and unification of a large part of India including the Deccan.  In fact, he was the first Indian ruler who sent military expeditions beyond the Vindhyas and brought the area under his influence.


The early life of Chandragupta Maurya
The early life of Chandragupta Maurya and his ascent to the throne is hidden in obscurity. He is described as Sanrocottus in the Greek sources which attest to his meeting with Alexander who did not like his boldness of speech. Chandragupta Maurya is also mentioned as Androcottus in the Greek sources. According to the Sri Lankan Buddhist chronicle Mahavamsa, Chandragupta Maurya belonged to the Kshatriya clan of the Moriyas of Pipphalivana. The Jaina text Sthaviravali Charita or Parisisthaparvan, written by Hemchandra, states that he was the son of “the chief of the peacock tamers”. The sixth century work of Vishakhadatta, Mudrarakshasa (Minister’s Signet Ring), which describes the usurpation of the Nanda throne by Chandragupta, refers to his low origin, which can be gauged by the epithets ‘Vrishala’ and ‘Kulahina’ used by the text for Chandragupta. In the backdrop of conflicting descriptions, Justin’s statement that he was “born in humble life” seems plausible.

Military Conquests of Chandragupta Maurya
The sources dealing with the military conquests of Chandragupta Maurya are annoyingly scarce. As a matter of fact, it is not clear whether he first overthrew Mahapadma Nanda, the last Nanda ruler, or drove put the Greeks from the North-West part of India. From the inferences from the Jaina and Greek sources, it seems that liberation of Punjab was the first military activity by Chandragupta Maurya who felt emboldened by the confusion in the Greek empire that followed Alexander’s sudden death in 323 BC in Babylon. Justin writes about the prevailing condition of the time, “India, after the death of Alexander, had shaken, as it were, the yoke of servitude from its neck ad put his Governors to death. The architect of this liberation was Sandrocottus.” 

After driving out the Greeks, Chandragupta turned his attention to the overthrow of the Nanda dynasty that was ruling Pataliputra at that time. Again we are faced with the scarcity of accounts about this conquest. From the Jaina work Parisisthaparvan we come to know that Chankya, the able Brahmin advisor of Chandragupta, aided him in the conquest of Pataliputra by making him allying with a neighbouring king Parvataka. The combined armies of both the powers death the body-bow to the Nanda empire. According to Milinda-panho, Nanda army was led by its general Bhaddasala.

After the defeat of the Nanda power, Chandragupta declared himself the ruler of Magadha. He, however, again embarked on a policy of fresh military expeditions thereby bringing different parts of India under his suzerainty.

War with Suleucus
A war with Suleucus Nicator, one of Alexander’s generals,  became inevitable for Chandragupta as the former after his master’s death became ruler of Babylon and tried to recover Alexander’s Indian provinces which had became part of the Mauryan empire.  However Suleucus was defeated and entered into an alliance by ceding the Satrapies of Archosia (Kandahar) and the Paropanisade (Kabul), together with portions of Aria (Herat) and Gedrosia (Baluchistan). Under the terms of the alliance, the Mauryan emperor presented 500 elephants to the Greek general. According to Appian, the peace was concluded by a marriage alliance. However, the exact nature of this alliance is not known. Megasthenese was sent as ambassador to the Mauryan court to reside at Pataliputra.

Conquests of Western India and South
That western India was included in the Mauryan empire under Chandragupta can be ascertained from the Girnar Rock Inscription of the Saka ruler Rudradaman I of about 150 AD which refers to his reconstruction of a great dam or reservoir for irrigation which was excavated by Pushyagupta, the provincial governor (rashtriya) of Chandragupta Maurya in the provinces of Anarta and Saurashtra (Gujarat).  Chandragupta further extended his boundaries into the Konkan in Maharashtra where Asoka’s Rock Edict has been found at Sopara. Ashoka, grandson of Chandragupta Maurya, had excavated several edicts and inscriptions throughout the length and breadth of his kingdom.  Since Bindusara, who was the son and successor of Chandragupta Maurya, is not known to have made any conquest and Asoka only conquered the Kalinga kingdom of Odisha, it can be said with certainty that Konkan was annexed to the Mauryan empire by Chandragupta.

Same can be said of Chandragupta’s expansion of his territories beyond the Vindhyas. The Rock Edicts II and XIII of Asoka state that the Mauryan empire shares its border with those of the southern kingdoms of the Cholas, Pandyas, Satyaputras and Keralaputras.

Last years of Chandragupta Maurya
Chandragupta Maurya ruled for twenty-four years. His rule ended either in 301-300 BC or 298-97 BC. According to Jaina text Parishisthaparvan, he embraced Jainism towards the end of his life. He abdicated the throne in favour of his son and retired to Jaina temple and monastery at Sarvanbelgola in Karnataka with his teacher Bhadrabahu. There he starved himself to death.  


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