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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Chandragupta Maurya - The Empire builder & Protector of Bharat | An Introduction

" Since the days of Cyrus[1a] (558 - 530 B.C.) parts of India to the west of the Sindhu (modern day river Indus) and some parts of the Punjab off and on formed part of the Achaemenian[1b] empire. During Mahapadma's[1c] time in 326 B. C. Alexander, the Macedonian, with his thundering legions, entered North-West India, the erstwhile satrapy of the Iranian empire[1d].

In a few months, however, he retreated from India. He could neither face the Nanda empire nor leave any impression on the people. The natives fought him heroically; yielded for the time being only to the superior military organization of the Macedonians; and soon after under Chandragupta drove out[2] the Greeks from the Punjab in a brilliant war of liberation. 

The successful war against the Greeks awoke Chandragupta (c. 324-300 B.C.>) to a consciousness of his strength. To Chandragupta and to his master - Chanakya, we owe a gorgeous phenomenon :
- a swift war of liberation; 
- a vast empire; 
- India politically and administratively unified;
- the re-establishment of Dharma as the supreme law; and 
- the organization of life on which was founded the invulnerable culture-consciousness of Indians in succeeding ages.

Consolidating his position in the Punjab, and inspired by his teacher Chanakya, Chandragupta :
- marched on Pataliputra;
- removed Dhana Nanda, assumed the sovereignty of Magadha; 
- vanquished Seleucus, the Greek, who was moving towards India to recapture Alexander's lost possessions; and
- started on a career of becoming the architect of an all-India empire.

For the first time the writ of one emperor ran in the country through a hierarchy of centrally appointed officers. This is how we define the aura around one of the most formidable personalities to have graced this land - Chandragupta Maurya."

THE MAURYAN empire was the first and one of the greatest empires that were established on Indian soil. The vast Mauryan empire stretching from the valley of the Oxus[3a] to the delta of Kaveri[3b] was given a well-knit, common administration. About Mauryan rulers we have epigraphical sources, literary sources, foreign accounts and materials obtained from archaeological excavations. The Arthashastra gives us detailed information about the administrative system of the Mauryan empire. The work was written by Kautilya who is also known as Chanakya. Some scholars opine that Kautilya was the real architect of the Mauryan empire. He was also the Prime Minister of Chandragupta Maurya. Megasthenese, the Greek ambassador from the court of Seleucus to that of Chandragupta Maurya, wrote accounts of India and Indian people. His book Indica is lost but some fragments of it are known to us in the form of quotations in the works of the later Greek writers. Despite some discrepancies and inaccuracies in the information provided by Megasthenese it is, nevertheless, an useful source. However, the most important and authentic source for the history of Mauryan period is provided by the inscriptions of Ashoka.

In the courtyard opposite Gate No. 5 of the Indian Parliament House, on a red sandstone pedestal, is installed a symbolic bronze statue of Chandragupta Maurya, one of the greatest figures in Indian history and founder of the Mauryan dynasty, who reigned from 324/321 B.C. to 300/298 B.C.

The 0.74 metre high bust bears at its base the inscription:
"Shepherd boy - Chandragupta Maurya dreaming of India he was to create".

 This bust was made by Hilda Selegman who donated it for installation in Parliament Complex.

Origins & Early Life of Chandragupta Maurya (324/21 - 300/298 B.C.)

The Buddhist sources like Mahavamsa[4a] and Dipavamsa[4b] describe Chandragupta Maurya as a scion of the Kshatriya clan of the Moriyas[4c] branch of Sakyas who lived in kingdom of Piphalivan[4d], in eastern Uttar Pradesh.

The Mudrarakshasa, a play written by Vishakha Datta, uses the terms like Chandrashri[5a] , Vrishala[5b] and Kulahina[5c], for Chandragupta which mean a person of humble origin.

According to Buddhist sources Chandragupta's father was killed in a battle/ambush and he was brought up by his maternal uncle.
Justin, a Greek writer, says that Chandragupta was "born in humble life". Chanakya, finding the signs of royalty in the child Chandragupta, took him as his pupil, and educated him at Taxila[6] which was then a great centre of learning.

Chandragupta's early life and education at Taxila is indirectly proved by the fact that the Greek sources tell us that he had seen Alexander in course of the latter's campaign of Punjab.

I wish to do a detailed analysis about his early life and origins from the Greek, Roman, Buddhist, Sanskrit and Jain sources, in a separate blog post.

Beginning of Conquests :

The minute details of Chandragupta's conquests and empire building process are not available to us. From the Greek and Jain sources it seems that Chandragupta took advantage of the disturbances caused by the invasion of Alexander and his sudden death in 323 B.C. in Babylon. He, with the help of Chanakya raised a large army and launched campaigns. He first overthrew the Greek kshatrapas[7] ruling in the region of north-western India.

Justin writes, "India after the death of Alexander, had shaken, as it were, the yoke of servitude from its neck and put his Governors to death. The architect of this liberation was Sandrocottas"

Sandrocottas of the Greek writer Justin has been identified with Chandragupta Maurya. Another Greek writer Plutarch called him Androcottus. In the Shahnama written by Firdausi, he is called Kandra. Manuscripts of Shahnama were commissioned by Mughal Emperor Akbar and he was very fond of this text.

Overthrow of Nandas :

After liberating north-western India from the Greek rule, Chandragupta turned his attention to the conquest of Magadha from the Nandas. The fine details of this conquest is not known to us. The Jain text, Parisistha Parvam, describes that with the help of Chanakya, Chandragupta defeated the Nanda king and captured him. After defeating Nanda, Chandragupta became the ruler of Magadha empire.

Mauryan seal. 3rd century BCE. Mauryan Empire
A chakra / wheel can be seen - damaged and cracked.
Preserved in the National Museum, Delhi

Inscriptions about Chandragupta Maurya :

Chandragupta's western and southern Indian conquests are known to us through indirect evidences. The Junagarh rock inscription of Rudradaman[8a] says that a dam on the Sudarshana lake for irrigation was constructed by Pushyagupta, a provincial governor of Chandragupta Maurya. Later, Yavanaraja Tushapha[8b] excavated canals for irrigation during Asoka's reign.

Similarly, the discovery of Asokan inscriptions at Girnar hills in Junagarh district (in Gujarat) and at Sopara (Thane district, Maharashtra) shows that these areas formed part of Mauryan empire.

Asoka's inscriptions have been found at Maski, Yerragudi and Chitaldurga in Karnataka. Rock Edict II and XIII of Asoka mentions that his immediate neighbouring states were those of Cholas, Pandyas, Satyaputras and Keralaputras. Since Asoka and his father Bindusara are not known to have made conquest in south India, it is believed that it was conquered by Chandragupta.

This conclusion is further strengthened by the Jain tradition which says that in his old age Chandragupta abdicated the throne and retired to Sravanbelgola in Karnataka with his teacher, the Jain ascetic Bhadrabahu. Local inscriptions of later period refer to his giving up life as a devout Jaina by fast unto death at that place. There is a hill nearby called Chandragiri, which seems to be named after him.

Battle with the Greek general Seleucus Nikator :

Chandragupta defeated the invading army of the Greek kshatrapa Seleucus who had succeeded Alexander in the eastern part of his empire. This victory was achieved in about 305 B.C. The Greek writers do not give details of the war but state that a treaty was concluded in which Seleucus conceded the territories of Kandahar, Kabul, Herat and Baluchistan and Chandragupta presented him 500 elephants. 

It is also stated that this led to the matrimonial alliance between the two - it is believed that Seleucus married his daughter in the Mauryan house. Seleucus sent Megasthenese as his ambassador to the court of Chandragupta. 

Bust of Plutarch. Museum of Delphi (Greece). Photo Jona Lendering.

Plutarch writes, "Sandrocottas who had by that time mounted the throne overran and subdued the whole[9] of India with an army of 6,00,000". Thus, it can be safely assumed that Chandragupta established a vast empire which with the exception of Kalinga, extended from Afghanistan in the west to Assam in the east and from Kashmir in north to Karnataka in south. This is indirectly proved by the find spots of the edicts of his grandson, Asoka.

Asoka is said to have added only Kalinga to the Mauryan empire, and there is no definite evidence that his father Bindusara made any conquests at all. Chandragupta Maurya is said to have ruled for approx. 24 years i.e. from 324 B.C. to 300 B.C.

1. The approximate extent of the Magadha Empire in the 5th century BCE.

2. Nanda Dynasty

3. The Mauryan Empire when it was first founded by Chandragupta Maurya, after conquering the Nanda Empire when he was only about 22-24 years old. It includes the area in North West which was obtained after defeating the Greeks.

4. Chandragupta extended the borders of the Maurya Empire towards Seleucid Persia after defeating Seleucus c. 305 BCE.

5. Chandragupta Maurya later extended the borders of the empire southward into the Deccan Plateau c. 300 BCE.

6. Bindusara is not known to have made any conquest. He maintained the empire of Chandragupta. Asoka extended into Kalinga during the Kalinga War c. 265 BCE, and established superiority over that kingdom.



1a. Cyrus II of Persia commonly known as Cyrus the Great, was the founder of the Achaemenid Empire. From the Mediterranean Sea and Hellespont in the west to the Indus River in the east, Cyrus the Great created the largest empire the world had yet seen. His regal titles in full were The Great King, King of Persia, King of Anshan, King of Media, King of Babylon, King of Sumer and Akkad, and King of the Four Corners of the World.

1b.The Achaemenid Empire, also called the First Persian Empire, was an empire based in Western Asia, founded by Cyrus the Great, notable for including various civilizations and becoming the largest empire of ancient history, spanning at its maximum extent from the Balkans and Eastern Europe proper in the west, to the Indus Valley in the east. It is equally notable for its successful model of a centralised, bureaucratic administration (through satraps under the King of Kings), for building infrastructure such as a postal system and road systems and the use of an official language across its territories and a large professional army and civil services.

1c. He was the then ruler of the Nanda dynasty.

1d. The Iranian / Persian Empire is a series of imperial dynasties centered in Persia (modern–day Iran). The first of these was established by Cyrus the Great in 550 BC with the conquest of Media, Lydia and Babylonia. Several later dynasties "claimed to be heirs of the Achaemenids". These are as follows :

    Achaemenid Empire (550–330 BC)
    Seleucid Empire (312–63 BC)
    Parthian Empire (247 BC–224 AD), also called the "Arsacid Empire"
    Sasanian Empire (224–651), also called the "Sassanid Empire" or the "Empire of Empires".

In the time of Chandragupta Maurya, it was the Selucid branch of Iranian Empire which was in power. Persian dynastic history was interrupted by the Muslim conquest of Persia in 651 AD and later by the Mongol conquest of Khwarezmia. The main religion of ancient Persia was Zoroastrianism, but after the seventh century, it was replaced by Islam.

2. This happened in 317 BC.

3a. Oxus is a river, today called Amu Darya in its western part and Wakhsh in its eastern parts, which flows for a length of 2400 km across modern Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan into Lake Aral. In Ancient times it crossed the regions Fergana, Bactria, Oxeiana, Sogdiana and Khiva.

The Oxus was the nucleus of the successive Bactrian civilizations and kingdoms. The river was the borderline between the Persian satrapy of Sogdiana northward and Bactria southward, whereas the western part belongs to nomads. Several cities were founded here, mostly known under their Greek names, like Alexandreia Oxeiana (actual Termez).

Alexander came across the river three times between 329 and 327 BC.

River Oxus

3b. The Kaveri (or Cauvery) is a large Indian river. The origin of the river is at Talakaveri, Kodagu in Karnataka, flows generally south and east through Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and across the southern Deccan plateau through the southeastern lowlands, emptying into the Bay of Bengal through two principal mouths in Poompuhar, Tamilnadu.

River Kaveri

4a. 4b. These are among the oldest historical records of Sri Lanka. They are the source of many accounts of ancient history of Sri Lanka and India. I have analyzed them in great details in the following blog post : Emperor Ashoka Maurya Killed 99 Brothers to Become King - Fact or Myth ? And some other questions - A Debate | HISTORY of Bindusara, Dharma, Ashoka - 3

4c. Moriyas

In the 5th century B.C, the Moriyas were the ruling clan of the republic of Pipphalivana. According to the Mahavamstika, Moriyas were a branch of the Sakyas and were so called because, when driven by the attack of the Kosalan* prince Virudhaka, they left their original home and settled in a place which was abounded in mayura / mor or peacocks. Gautam Buddha also belonged to the Kshatriya clan of Sakyas.

* - Kosala is an ancient kingdom, which is said to be the kingdom of Lord Rama, and was situated in the region corresponding to present day Awadh in Uttar Pradesh state of India.

The Mahavamsa calls Chandragupta as a member of the Kshatriya clan of the Moriyas, who are represented in the Mahavamsatika as a Himalayan off-shoot of the Sakyas.

The description of the Moriyas as a Kshatriya clan is also mentioned in the Mahaparinibana Sutta, an old Pali text. It mentions the Moriyas as one of the Kshatriya tribes who claimed a portion of the relics of Buddha after the latter's death.

This tradition was also recorded in medieval inscriptions of Mysore and Coorg, which call the Maurya family as a branch of the solar race / Surya Putras and Chandragupta an abode of the usages of eminent Kshatriyas.

Till 728 AD, the rulers of Chittorgarh in Rajasthan, ruled under the name/clan of Moris. After that, Bappa Rawal established the Sisodia Rajput dynasty, who took the titles of Ranas. We are well aware of the Rajput clan of Moris, who consider themselves as the descendants of the Mauryas. 

4d. Piplivana, Piphlivana / Piplikana / Piplikanan - is a site in present day Eastern Uttar Pradesh, 50 miles west of Kushinagara.

According to Mahaparinirvana Sutta, Gautam Buddha made his journey to Kushinagar, died there. Modern scholarship, based on archaeological evidence, confirms that the Buddha died in Kushinagar, close to the modern Kasia (Uttar Pradesh).

Asoka built a stupa and pilgrimage site to mark Buddha's parinirvana in Kushinagara.The kings of Gupta dynasty period (4th to 7th century CE) helped greatly enlarge the Nirvana stupa and Kushinagar site, building a temple with reclining Buddha.This site was abandoned by Buddhist monks around 1200 CE, who fleed to escape the invading army after defeat of Prithviraj Chauhan, after which the site decayed over the Islamic rule in India that followed.

The British archaeologist Alexander Cunningham rediscovered Kushinagara in late 19th-century and his colleague A. C. L. Carlleyle unearthed the 1500 year old Buddha image.The site has since then become an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists. Archaeological evidence from the 3rd century BCE suggests that the Kushinagara site was an ancient pilgrimage site.

Excavated Ruins of Stupa in Kushinagar

5a. 5b. 5c. There are various views about this. Some scholars take the meaning of Vrshala and Kulahina to be a Shudra and an outcaste. However, the most accepted view is that Kulahina means one of lowly birth or humble origins, while the terms Vrishala is sometimes used in sense of a Vrisha or chief among kings.

Note how the meaning changes with respect to Vrshala and Vrishala.

6. Taxila University flourished between 600 BC and 500 AD, in the kingdom of Gandhar, in ancient India, but now in Pakistan. 68 subjects were taught including vedas, grammar, philosophy, astronomy, medicine, surgery, politics, archery warfare, music, commerce etc. Minimum entry age was 16. At the time, 10500 students studied there, including those from China, Babylon, Syria and Greece. 

Excavated Ruins of Taxila University

7. It originally referred to a provincial governor in the ancient Persian Empire. Also, refers to a feudatory / vassal / subordinate / local ruler.

8a. Rudradaman I (130–150 CE) was a Saka ruler from the Western Kshatrapas dynasty. Rudradaman I was instrumental in the decline of the Satavahana Empire.

The Sanskrit Junagadh inscription dated 150 CE credits Rudradaman I with supporting the cultural arts and Sanskrit literature and repairing the dam built by the Mauryans. He in fact repaired the embankments of the lake Sudarshana, which was constructed by the Mauryas for checking floods. 

Silver coin of Rudradaman I

8b. Provincial governor or Emperor Asoka Maurya. He is believed to be a Persian.

9. Some modern scholars believe it to be an exaggeration of Plutarch. However, this is not an exaggeration as Chandragupta Maurya had won almost entire India which was known to the Greeks, till river Kaveri in Karnataka.


This was a short introductory post about Chandragupta Maurya. More posts will be added depending on the response of the readers.

Suggested Reading : Chanakya's method to test character of ministers | From Arthashastra

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Article Category : Mauryans

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