Chandragupta Maurya was the founder of the Maurya
dynasty which ruled the ancient kingdom of Magadha from around 321
BC to 185 BC.
Chandragupta Maurya can also be said to be the foremost of the
ancient Indian rulers who ruled over the maximum amount of known
territory in Bharatvarsha (India). His territories extended from
present day Afghanistan-Pakistan to the southern Indian state of
Karnataka and right up to the east as far as Bengal and Assam.
He was succeeded by his son Bindusara (in about 297 BC).
Chandragupta's origins and early beginnings
There are varying stories about the origins of Chandragupta Maurya.
While some bramhanical texts, like the 'Puranas' consider him to
have come from a lower (Shudra) caste, there are the Buddhist and
Jain texts which speak of him as a member of the 'Kshatriya'
(warrior) 'Moriya' clan which was related to the 'Shakyas'. (It is
to be noted that Buddhism and Jainism were the patronised religions
from the Nanda dynasty to the Maurya dynasty, which may have caused
some resentment amongst the Vedic bramhanas.)
Then there is this version that Chandragupta was the son of the
last king of the Sisunaka dynasty, Mahanandin, and Mura, and whose second wife Sunanda was the mother of
the Nanda brothers. Apparently, with the help of a barber named
Mahapadmananda, this second wife, Sunanda, murdered her husband and
Chandragupta's brothers and installed Mahapadmananda as the king.
Mura escaped with her young son, who grew up and swore revenge.
Yet another source calls Chandragupta's father a commander to Mahapadmananda's forces, whom Mahapadmananda had murdered by deceit.
Some texts have also called Chandragupta a grandson of the headman
of a village of peacock tanners, while some ('Vishnu purana' and the
play, 'Mudrarakshasa') refer to him as the illegitimate son of a
woman named Mora and a Nanda prince. (Incidentally the puranas also
refer to the Nandas as offspring of low birth.)
However, the most popular version is that
Chandragupta belonged to a 'kshatriya' (warrior) clan called 'Moriya'
which originally ruled 'Pipallivana' (Uttar Pradesh), a forest kingdom. After her husband's
death, Chandragupta's mother shifted to Patliputra where she gave
birth to her son.
Whatever the truth, until unbiased and conclusive proof is
unearthed, the authenticity of these texts will remain uncertain.
Chandragupta was noticed by a Brahmin teacher (Acharya) of the
Taxilla (Takshashila) university, named Acharya Chanakya Vishnugupta
(and also known as Kautilya), the son of the famed scholar, Chanak,
and a pundit in his own right. To Vishnugupta, he seemed precocious
as a child, displaying leadership qualities when with his friends
that impressed the Taxillan teacher. Vishnugupta took the young
Chandragupta under his tutelage where his formative years took
shape. Chandragupta was trained in political science, economics,
philosophy, sword fighting, wrestling, archery and other martial
arts. Vishnugupta thus proved to be Chandragupta Maurya's mentor,
philosopher and guide. Vishnugupta, known for his legendary acumen
in political science, can also be attributed to Chandragupta's
ascension to power and its long and subsequent retention (Vishnugupta
was later to serve as Chandragupta's advisor and as a minister in
Another source tells us that Chanakya was a member of Dhanananda's
court and that Chandragupta served in his army. Apparently after a
falling out with the arrogant king on different occasions, both were
expelled from his service, and they later colluded to overthrow
There is a story in which Chanakya, while moving through the forests
with Chandragupta, was pricked by the thorn of a jungle weed.
Chanakya proceeded to pour sugar syrup all over the weed. When
Chandragupta asked the reason, he was told that the syrup will
attract the ants, which in turn will destroy the thorny weed from
its roots and clear the path for future travellers. Impressed by
Chanakya's wisdom, Chandragupta became his disciple.
Whatever the truth might be, it is evident that with time and
evidence that has been lost, the line between fact and fiction has
Alexander the Great, pictured in the House of Faun in Pompeii
In 327 BC, Alexander, the Macedonian king, along with his Greek,
Macedonian and subject Central Asian armies invaded India. His entry
was facilitated by King Ambhi of Gandhara, ostensibly to use these
Greek armies against his arch rival, King Puru (also known as
Parvataka through other sources) of Kekaya. Soon the Greeks marched
over almost the entire upper half of India (except Magadha, which as
per the Roman Greek historian, Plutarch, was too powerful for
Alexander to take on), thus making the various smaller kingdoms his
vassals (unless he ravaged them).
Apparently, Acharya Vishnugupta had approached the Nanda king,
Dhanananda (Nandrum), for his help in raising an united army to
fight against the Greeks. But stories say he was humiliated and
turned away by an inebriated Nanda. This insult strengthened
Vishnugupta's resolve to do away with the Nanda dynasty. He, along
with his pupil , Chandragupta, raised an army of teachers, students,
monks, rebels, mercenaries, and tribals (Chandragupta was also said
to be aided by a Kekaya king known as Parvataka).
Alexander meanwhile had departed and had placed his general,
Seleucus Nicator, as the chief satrap of the Indian subcontinent. A
power vacuum was created by Alexander's departure. Seleucus had
based himself in Central Asia (in Bactria), with Philippus as the satrap of the
upper Indus valley. Chandragupta initially started on his path in
the lower Indus valley, which he liberated. He then assisted revolts
from several Indian satraps which also led to the assassination of
Phillipus in 325 BC. Soon northern India was under Chandragupta's
Chandragupta's victorious armies then started eating into Magadha's
surrounding territories, until they finally conquered the powerful
Magadha kingdom itself (after an internal conflict which was
apparently orchestrated by Vishnugupta). The decadent Nanda king,
Dhanananda, was either killed or exiled, as per various sources. The
Nanda empire collapsed in spite of the Nandas apparently having wise
ministers like Varuchi, Katyayana, Shaktaar, and a corrupt commander
of forces called Bhadrabahu. In 321 BC , Chandragupta Maurya was
crowned king of Magadha. He immediately declared his mentor,
Vishnugupta, to be his prime minister. Vishnugupta, however,
retained the Nanda's loyal minister, Katyayana Rakshas, in his
original post (after much persuasion) and took on the role of an
elder statesman and advisor.
Although ancient Bactrian civilisation isn't well
known before the Greek conquest, this figurine from
around 2000 BC is proof that it existed
Chandragupta then embarked on his conquest of the rest of India,
starting from central India. He overcame all opposition in the
territory up to the north of the River Narmada. As per the version
of the history by Plutarch, his armies numbered around 4,00,000
troops (Pliny, the Roman naval commander and author of 'Naturalis Historia', has Chandragupta with infantry numbering 6,00,000, along
with 30,000 cavalry and 9,000 war elephants).
In 305 BC, Seleucus Nicator himself led his Greek armies to conquer
his lost territories. But this time around, Chandragupta proved more
than a match for him. Seleucus was forced to enter into a treaty
with Chandragupta, whereby he surrendered his territories of
Arachosia (Kandahar), Gedrosia (Baluchistan), Paropamisadae (Kamboja),
Aria (Herat), and Kabura (Kabul). He even entered into a matrimonial
alliance with Chandragupta, where in one of Seleucus' daughters was
betrothed to the Indian king. In return Chandragupta assured him his
support in consolidating Central Asia, along with a gift of 500
war-trained elephants. Subsequent relations between the Greeks and
the Mauryans appear to be cordial. Seleucus even appointed
Megasthenes as his ambassador to Chandragupta's court. Megasthenes
later penned the famous travelogue, 'Indica', recounting his travels
and his stay in India. Chandragupta has been identified by the name
'Sandrokottos' in the contemporary Greek texts.
Chandragupta's reign and Mauryan administration as per Arthashastra
Chandragupta was known to be a benevolent ruler, one who not only
extended the peripheries of his empire but also ruled it with
considerable prudence, under the able guidance of his aide,
Vishnugupta, for almost a quarter of a century. Trade, agriculture
and commerce were based on some of the principles and rules which
were enunciated by Vishnugupta, and the country prospered during the
During his lifetime, Vishnugupta authored the famed
treatise, 'Arthashastra', and also 'Nitishastra' under the pseudonym of Kautilya. It essays
the tenets of ruling a country and concentrates (besides the
politics), on its military, security, economic, social and moral
As per the Arthshastra, the king was the supreme head of the state.
His duty was mainly ensuring the welfare and happiness of his
subjects. He was to work almost eighteen to nineteen hours a day and
was to be at the service of his people, courtiers, and officers at
any time of any hour. (The king was to listen to the reports of his
spies and officers even while being dressed.)
To mark his treaty with Chandragupta in 305 BC, in which he ceded
all Greek possessions to the east of Kabul, Seleucus Nicator
imprinted some of his coins with an Indian elephant. Chandragupta
gifted him with 500 real elephants which he used to great success
against his Greek rival, Antigonas, the following year
The council of ministers consisted of three to
twelve members, each being the head of a department. Then there was
the state council which could have twelve, sixteen or twenty
members. Besides, there was the bureaucracy consisting of the 'Sannidhata'
(head of the treasury), 'Samaharta' (chief revenue collector), 'Purohita' (head
priest), 'Senapati' (commander of the army), 'Pratihara' (chief of
the palace guard), 'Antarvamisika' (head of the harem guards),
'Durgapala' (governor of the fort), 'Antahala' (governor of the
frontier), 'Pair' (governor of the capital), 'Nyayadhisha' (chief
justice), and 'Prasasta' (police chief). Then there were the 'Tirthas'
and 'Amatyas', ie. officers in charge of accounts (controlled by the
chief minister, 'Mahaamatya') of the treasury,
records, mines, mints, commerce, excise, agriculture, tolls, public
utilities, armoury, etc.
The governors or viceroys of provinces were called
if the designation was held by a prince then he was called 'Kumara mahamatra'.
Assisting them were the 'Yutas' (tax collectors), 'Rajukas' (revenue collectors), and
'Sthanikas' and'Gopas' (district
officers). Then there was the local village head called 'Gramika'
under whom the village assembly operated.
The civil courts were called 'Dharmasthiya' and
criminal courts were called 'Kantakshodhana'.
Arthashastra stresses an efficient espionage system. Spies operated
not only in the city but outside, in foreign regions, as well.
The defence forces consisted of the navy, infantry, cavalry, war
chariots and the war elephants.
There were hospitals not just for people but for animals as well.
There were census records maintained on births and deaths. There
were wells, gardens, tanks, amusement places, and temples erected in
various parts of the city.
The royal share of the produce of the land was
called the 'Bhaga'
and was generally one-sixth (16.6%) of the total. The shepherds and
livestock breeders were taxed. Also, there was the forest tax, a tax
on intoxicants, a mine tax, a fishery tax, an irrigation tax, etc.
Seaborne trade was controlled by the state. The state also owned
factories producing cloth, etc.
Chandragupta Maurya's impressive capital city
Chandragupta's feet are supposed to have stood in this spot many
times during his later years
Kautilya has stated that collection of tax should be akin to a bee
collecting honey from the flower, just taking the minimum that is
required, negating the chances of tax evasion.
Every city was divided into wards and further groups of houses. The
roads measured 1,150 miles in total (1,851 kilometres) and were
quite wide according to the accounts by Megasthenes. There were
trees planted on both sides of the road.
Arthashastra also enunciated the ideal relations between a father
and son, brother and sister, husband and wife, teacher and student,
There is a section which deals in inter-state
relations. They were to be based on the four traditional expedients:
(conciliation, alliance), 'Daama' (gifts, subsidies), 'Bheda'
(sowing dissension in hostile states), and 'Danda' (aggressive
There are some suggestions for individuals as well:
Citizens need to follow their duties diligently in order to ensure
the welfare of the state.
The king and his subjects should exercise control over their
instincts and desires. One may indulge in cardinal pleasures, but in
Only cowards are afraid of defeat and one shouldn't hesitate in
attempting a mission (one shouldn't shun karma).
A king should be religious in nature, respectful towards his elders,
teachers and courtiers. He should refrain from tyranny. He should
follow a pragmatic, prudent and conciliatory approach towards
To achieve social goals , one has to forego personal interests.
Politics shouldn't be self-serving but should be for the welfare of
There are some suggestions for the state:
An egalitarian society is one in which there are equal opportunities
According to Kautilya, there should be an efficient management of
resources. It is essential that the state keeps an eye on the
occupation of excess land by landlords and the unauthorised use of
land. Ideally the state should monitor the most important and vital
resource - land.
The state should always take care of agriculture. Government
machinery should be directed towards the implementation of projects
aimed at supporting and nurturing the various processes, beginning
from the sowing of seeds to the cutting and supply of the harvest.
The nation should embark on constructing forts and cities. These
complexes would protect the country from invasions and provide
internal security. The cities would serve as giant markets,
increasing the revenue of the state.
A Mauryan Balarama coin from the third or second century BC
Internal trade was more important to Kautilya than external trade.
At each point of the entry of goods, there was to be a minimal
amount of tax collected. A country should have a self-sufficient
economy and shouldn't depend completely on foreign trade.
The laws of the state should be the same for all, irrespective of a
person's position in society.
The security of citizens in peace time is paramount, because the
state is the saviour of its subjects. Criminals and antisocial
elements should be kept under check with the help of spies.
Destitute women should be protected by society from exploitation.
Kautilya has suggested a society in which the people are not slaves
of material pleasures. Control over one's sense organs is essential
for success in any endeavour. Spiritual development is essential for
the internal strength and character of the individual. Material
pleasures and achievements are always secondary to the spiritual
development of the society and country at large.
The task of a king is to strive for the welfare of his people day in
and day out. The administration of the kingdom should be foremost
for the king. The happiness of his subjects is the happiness of the
king. Their welfare should be his welfare.
New colonies should be established for the augmentation of
resources. Also advocated is the development of already annexed
Vishnugupta Chanakya is often termed India's Machiavelli. He trained
Chandragupta into the valiant warrior that he was, and acted as his
trusted eyes and ears, warding off the nefarious designs of his
enemies. It can also be said that Chandragupta Maurya could embark
on his long war campaigns knowing full well that the administration
of his kingdom was safe in the hands of his elderly and competent
statesman, Chanakya Vishnugupta.
Chandragupta controlled sea trade from ports such as would have
existed in the Bay of Bengal
Vishnugupta remained the advisor for Magadha even after
Chandragupta's reign, assisting his son, Bindusara.
There is a story that Vishnugupta had been feeding Chandragupta
small quantities of poison with a glass of milk since childhood in
order to make him immune to poison. He continued that practice after
Chandragupta became king. One day, Chandragupta's wife, who was nine
month pregnant and was unaware of the poisoned glass of milk, drank
it. Frothing at the mouth, she collapsed and died. On hearing the
news, Vishnugupta immediately went to her and ordered her womb to be
torn open. Thus the unborn baby was extracted and the child was
named Bindusara (Bindu literally meaning 'a drop', in this case a
drop of poison).
Bindusara also had a minister named Subandhu who disliked
Vishnugupta immensely. He poisoned Bindusara's mind against
Vishnugupta, implying that Vishnugupta Chanakya was responsible for
the murder of his mother. On hearing this, Bindusara became very
angry with Chanakya. It is said that Chanakya, on hearing that the
king was angry with him, donated all his wealth to the poor, widows
and orphans and sat meditating on a dung heap, preparing to die by
total abstinence from food and drink. Bindusara meanwhile heard the
full story of the circumstances of his birth from the nurses who'd
cared for him, and rushed to beg forgiveness from Chanakya. But
Chanakya refused to relent. Bindusara then went back to Subandhu and
vented his fury on him. Subhandhu implored the king for time so as
to beg for forgiveness from Chanakya. But Subandhu had other plans.
He wanted once and for all to end his arch rival's influence. So he
arranged for a ceremony of respect but, unnoticed by anyone, he
slipped a smouldering charcoal ember inside the dung heap. The dung
heap caught fire, and Acharya Chanakya Vishnugupta, the man behind
the Mauryan empire was burnt to ashes.
The death of Chandragupta
Chandragupta embraced Jainism during his lifetime. Later, he is said
to have abdicated his throne in favour of Bindusara.
Chandragupta then retired to the forests of Shravana Belgola (near
Mysore city, in Karnataka state), along with his religious guru,
Bhadrabahu, and several followers, where he renounced his life after
a fast unto death as per Jain traditions.
The complete list of Mauryan rulers is shown below with approximate dates:
321-301 BC Chandragupta Maurya
301-269 BC Bindusara
269-232 BC Asoka The Great
232-224 BC Dasaratha
224-215 BC Samprati
215-202 BC Salisuka
202-195 BC Devavarman
195-187 BC Satadhanvan
187-185 BC Brihadratha
The Bahubali statue stands
on a hill which is associated with Chandragupta Maurya
Bindusara succeeded his father in 301 BC (or,
alternatively, 297 BC). He was also known as Amitraghata (slayer of
the foes) or Amitrochates to the Greeks.
He was said to be a competent ruler who
successfully consolidated the vast empire that he had inherited. He
is said to have maintained friendly relations with the southern
kingdoms of the Cholas, Pandyas and Cheras. The only exception was
the hostile kingdom of Kalinga, which was only overcome later, by
his son Ashoka. Tibetan history attributes to him the conquest of
the land between the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. But there is
no conclusive proof to establish that as fact.
He is said to have been be a man of eclectic
tastes, and to have asked the Greek Seleucid king, Antiochus I, to
send him some sweet wine, dried figs and a sophist (a Greek teacher
of philosophy and rhetoric). The Greek ambassador present in his
court at the time was Deimakos.
Buddhist texts reveal that he was deeply interested
in the Ajivika sect (the Ajivikas were a sect of wandering ascetics
who believed that rebirth was not according to one's karma (deeds),
but a matter of 'niyati', meaning destiny or fate).
Bindusara had many sons, but the most prominent
amongst them were Sushima, the governor of Taxilla, and Ashoka, the
governor of Ujjain. The latter succeeded him twenty-five years after
he ascended the throne, in c.272 BC (or 269 BC). Bindusara's death
caused a brief power struggle between Ashoka and Shisiuma and the
other brothers, but it was Ashoka who gained the throne.
A Mauryan-era figurine
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Government in Ancient India, Motilal Banarasidas Publishers Ltd
Majumdar, R C - Ancient India, Motilal
Banarsidass Publishers Ltd, 1987
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Volume 1, Penguin Books, London, 1990