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THIRD MILLENNIUM LIBRARY
CHANDRA GUPTA MAURYA
CAREER OF CHANDRAGUPTA.
We have seen that Northern India was far from being a united country at the time of the invasion of Alexander the Great. But the man who was destined to do more than achieve this unity was already born. This heroic figure was Chandragupta.
The ancestry and early life of Chandragupta is recorded in several works of ancient and mediaeval times although, unfortunately, sufficient details are every-where lacking. It has hitherto been believed by several scholars, on the authority of some mediaeval works that Chandragupta was a low-caste man and a scion of the Nanda family. The most important of these works is a collection of stories, without any pretensions to history, known as the Brihatkatha which is preserved through many Sanskrit recensions. Its story of the death of Nanda and the re-animation of his body is obviously not deserving of criticism, and its account of the origin of Chandragupta should also be likewise treated, being not supported by other old works. The other work which calls Chandragupta a low-caste man and connects him with Nanda is the Mudra-Rakshasa, which is also said by the Dasarupavaloka to be based on the Brihatkatha. This work contains many inaccuracies such as the assignation of high birth to Nanda, a statement which led the commentators to postulate that the mother of Chandragupta was a Sudra woman, for otherwise how could the son of a high born man be low born. On the other hand, all the older works recognise Chandragupta as a Kshatriya. The Puranas, no doubt, state that Sudra kingship began with Nanda, but it simply means that kings of Sudra caste were not rare from that time, and not that all the subsequent kings were Sudras, for the Puranas themselves designate the Kanva kings. who belonged to one of the subsequent dynasties, as Brahmans. Therefore, when the Puranas describe the Mauryas as a new dynasty, neither connecting them with the Nandas, nor calling them Sudras, it is clear that they recognised them as Kshatriyas, the caste to which the king normally belonged. The Kalpasutra of the Jains mentions a Mauryaputra of the Kasyapa gotra, which shows that the Mauryas were regarded as high class folk. The Buddhist Divyavadana calls Bindusara and Asoka, the son and grandson respectively of Chandragupta, as Kshatriyas. The Buddhist Mahavansa calls Chandragupta himself as a member of the Kshatriya clan of the Moriyas, who are represented by the Mahavansatika as a Himalayan offshoot of the Sakyas. The description of the Moriyas as a Kshatriya clan is confirmed by the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, a portion of the Pali canon and an early authentic work. 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 mediaeval inscriptions, which call the Maurya family as a branch of the solar racial and Chandragupta an abode of the usages of eminent Kshatriyas. Even in modem times, we are aware of a Rajput clan of Moris, whom Tod considered to be the descendants of the Mauryas. Finally, Kautilya himself indirectly suggests the noble origin of his sovereign's family when he lays down that a high born king, though weak, is better than a lowborn one, though strong. Therefore, it should be regarded as settled that Chandragupta belonged to the Kshatriya clan of the Moriyas.
In the fifth century BC the Moriyas were the ruling clan of the republic of Pipphalivana. According to the Mahavansatika, which seems to be based on truth and is supported by Jain writings at a further stage, the 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 abounded in mayuras or peacocks. When king Nanda extended his conquests, the Moriyas too must have shared the fate of other clans and monarchies. In fact, we are told by the Mahavansatika that Chandragupta's father, whose name unfortunately is not mentioned, was the chief of the Moriya clan and was killed by a powerful Raja, presumably Nanda. Thereafter Chandragupta's mother, who was then pregnant, ran away with her father's relations and lived at Pataliputra in disguise.
At this stage the story is wonderfully corroborated by the Jain Parisishtaparvan and the Uttradhyayanatika, which speak of certain peacock tamers, living near Pataliputra, whose chief's daughter bore Chandragupta. As the Mahavansatika expressly says that the Moriya queen and her relations lived in disguise, it is easy to see that the best way of disguising themselves was to act as tamers of peacocks, which were the most familiar objects for the Moriyas. Moreover, as no mention is made of Chandragupta's father in the Jain version it means that it presupposes certain events which, as we have seen, are briefly set forth in the Mahavansatika. Thus it is clear from both the Buddhist and Jain accounts that the Moriya family had lost all its previous rank at the time when Chandragupta was born and Justin, the Roman author, rightly observes that Chandragupta was born in humble life. The date of his birth must have been about 345 BC as, at the time of Alexander's Indian campaigns in 325 BC, he was only a boy, probably not more than 20 years of ages.
Most of the traditions agree that Chandragupta spent his boyhood in the country of Magadha. According to some of the stories he also lived for some time at the court of King Nanda and being ill, treated plotted against him and was obliged to flee. This occount seems to be correct, as it is supported by Justin. There are several stories relating to the uncommon intelligence of Chandragupta even in his boyhood. One of them may be related here with advantage :
"The Raja of Simhala sent to the Court of the Nandas a cage containing a lion of wax, so well made that it seemed to be real. He added a message to the effect that any one who could make that fierce animal run without opening the cage should be acknowledged to be an exceptionally talented mart. The dullness of the Nandas prevented their understanding the double meaning contained in the message, but Chandragupta, in whom some little breath yet remained, offered to undertake the task. This being allowed, he made an iron rod red hot and thrusted it into the figure as a result of which the wax soon ran and the lion disappeared".
We may take it as correct that Chandragupta did live for sometime at the court of Nanda, and being dissatisfied with him, became determined to end his tyrannous rule. He soon got an opportunity. A learned and fiery tempered Brahman, named Vishnugupta Chanakya, being invited to a religious ceremony at the court of Nanda, was ill-treated by the latter which induced him to take an open vow to revenge against Nanda. Chandragupta then drew Chanakya to his side and instigated a revolt. They were, however, suppressed and obliged to quit the kingdom of Magadha.
Chandragupta then wandered in the northern provinces for some time. According to Plutarch, he paid a visit to Alexander also, although there is nothing to indicate that his purpose was to persuade the invader to attack the kingdom of Magadha, as is held by some scholars. A curious story found both in the Parisishtaparvan and the Mahavansatika relates that, while wandering, Chandragupta heard an old woman saying that the cause of his failure was that he revolted against Magadha before conquering the outer provinces, and that realising his mistake, he made up his mind to conquer the northern provinces. A born leader of men as he was, he soon gathered sufficient men round him to help him in his designs and presently secured the subordinate alliance of a chief named Parvataka, who ruled in some Himalayan district, and whose name finds mention in several independent works.
Chandragupta appears to have begun his career of conquest from the Punjab, perhaps because he could not brooke the presence of foreign garrisons in a part of his country, which he had determined to unite under his own sway. Alexander had made his own administrative arrangements in the Punjab when he retreated. An officer, named Philip, was made satrap of the Indus basin, with the confluence of the Punjab rivers with the Indus as the southern boundary of the satrapy. The territory of Sindh was put in charge of Peithon, son of Agenor. King Porus was allowed to rule his own principality as the satrap of Alexander.
In 324 BC, Philip was murdered by his mercenary troops and Eudemos was temporarily apppointed in his place, but the death of Alexander in 323 BC removed all chances of the arrangement being renewed. At the time of the second partition of the Empire in 321 BC, the arrangement was continued unaltered, although Peithon, the satrap of Sindh, was transferred to the provinces situated to the west of the river Indus. The Indians were, however, growing intolerant of the domineering foreigners, and the treacherous murder of Ports by Eudemos in 317 BC was the signal for revolt. Chandragupta headed the revolt, and Eudemos finding the country too hot for him, quitted India. The Greek officers and soldiers, who still remained in India, were put to the sword and, by 316 B.C, Chandragupta became the unquestioned master of the Punjab.
Having taken possession of the Punjab, Chandragupta advanced towards the east. It is probable that the provinces of the upper Gangetic valley conquered by Mahapadma Nanda had regained their independence, following his tyrannous rule. These provinces were taken by Chandragupta one by one, although there are indications in the account given by Hemachandra that all of them did not submit with ease. It must have taken a couple of years to reduce completely the portion of the Gangetic valley outside the compressed Nanda dominions.
Chandragupta finally attacked the kingdom of Nanda about 314 BC. The story of the war between the Nandas and Chandragupta is preserved in several works. According to the Milindapanho, the Nanda army was commanded by Bhaddasala. The war is reported to have been a sufficiently serious affair. According to several authorities: all the nine Nandas were killed in this war and the family of Mahapadma was exterminated.
Chandragupta, thus, became maser of Northern India. His ally Parvataka also died in the meanwhile, although the legends which relate to the manner of his death are contradictory and untrustworthy It is clear that his death removed the only rival who could legitimately claim a share in the conquests, and Chandragupta became the sole master of Northern India. His coronation took place at Pataliputra in 313 BC.
The events which immediately followed the assumption of authority by Chandragupta are related in the Mudra-Rakshasa, a play which, although full of imaginary details, is probably based on events which actually occurred. We learn from it that the son of Parvataka named Malayaketu rose against Chandragupta, with the help of five other chiefs and an ex-minister of king Nanda named Rakshasa. The Machiavellian tactics of Chanakya, whom Chandragupta had made his prime minister, however, succeeded in sowing dissensions in the camp of Malayaketu, and the latter got his own allies murdered. By this act of his Malayaketu was rendered powerless, but on the intervention of his friend, the ex-minister of Nanda, he was restored in his father's principality as a vassal of Chandragupta.
The Maurya king at this time naturally became secure in his north Indian dominions. But his zeal for conquest could hardly remain satisfied with what he had already acquired. He pushed his conquests up to the western sea, for we learn from the Junagarh inscription of Rudradaman that Chandragupta had control over Surashtra.
Chandragupta also seems to have conquered a considerable portion of trans-Vindhyan India.
According to Plutarch, Chandragupta overran all India, which statement, even if we admit of exaggeration, means that Chandragupta conquered the major portion of India. This tradition is recorded in other documents also, for the Mahavansa says that Chandragupta ruled over all Jambudvipa. According to Prof. Aiyangar, Mulnamer, an ancient Tamil author, refers to the advance of Mauryas upto Tinnevelly district in early times. Finally, certain Mysore inscriptions refer to Chandragupta's conquest of Mysore. All these statements leave little room for doubt that Chandragupta did conquer a considerable portion of the Deccan.
Chandragupta thus gained recognizance as the paramount sovereign in the whole of India. He had, however, yet to measure strength with the greatest of his rivals, Seleucus Nikator, formerly a general of Alexander. Seleucus conquered Babylon in 312 BC and six years later assumed the title of king. He also subjugated the Bactrians, and then advanced to India, crossing the Indus, about 305 BC. Shwanbeck has shown at length that Seleucus could not proceed much beyond the Indus, which may be taken to mean that Chandragupta was present in the Punjab at that time. It is, therefore, probable that Chandragupta, not content with the conquest of India, was thinking of marching towards the western regions to emulate the legendary digvijaya of Raghu and other ancient kings. Thus, the war between Chandragupta and Seleucus was a clash between two ambitious kings. No detailed account of the actual conflict has survived. But the results, as mentioned by the classical authors, clearly show that Seleucus recognized the superiority of Chandragupta and was obliged to conclude a humiliating treaty. According to this treaty, Seleucus gave a large part of Ariana to Chandragupta in consequence of a marriage alliance. Dr. Smith has very ably shown that the large part of Ariana, referred to by Strabos, was identical with the four satrapies of Aria (Herat) Arachosia (Kandhar) Paropanisadiae (Kabul) and Gedrosia (Baluchistan) all of which Pliny considered as forming part of India.
As for the marriage contract, there is no reason to doubt its correctness because both Strabo and Appian refer to it. Thus the real explanation of the whole treaty seems to be that Seleucus married his daughter to Chandragupta, giving the territories of Afghanistan and Baluchistan as a sort of dowry. The two royal families were, in this way, drawn on close friendly terms. We further learn that Chandragupta presented 500 elephants to Seleucus, and the latter sent an envoy named Megasthenes to the Indian court. It is not recorded whether Chandragupta also sent an envoy to the Greek court.
Thus from a homeless wanderer, twelve years before, Chandragupta became the emperor of India and a large part of the former Persian empire. The war with Seleucus was, in all probability, the last war of Chandragupta, and he devoted the remaining sixteen years of his reign in consolidating his empire and establishing a highly efficient system of administration. We can glance something of his personal life at this stage from the writings of Megasthenes preserved in fragments by other writers, and, to some extent, from the Arthasastra of Kautilya, the name by which Chanakya is famous as an author.
Chandragupta lived in a very stately palace, containing gilded pillars adorned with golden vines and silver birds, and furnished with richly carved tables and chairs of state, as well as basins and goblets of gold. "In the Indian royal palace where the greatest of all the kings of the country resides, besides much else which is calculated to excite admiration, and with which neither Susa nor Ekbatana can vie, there are other wonders besides. In the parks tame peacocks are kept, and pheasants which have been domesticated; there are shady groves and pasture grounds planted with trees, and branches which the art of the woodsman has deftly interwoven; while some trees are native to the soil, others are brought from other parts, and with their beauty enhance the charm of the landscape. Parrots are natives of the country, and keep hovering about the king and wheeling round him, and vast though their numbers be, no Indian ever eats a parrot. The Brachmanes honor them highly above all other birds—because the parrot alone can imitate human speech. Within the palace grounds are artificial ponds in which they keep fish of enormous size but quite tame. No one has permission to fish for these except the king's sons while yet in their boyhood. These youngsters amuse themselves while fishing in the unruffled sheet of water and learning how to sail their boats."
Chandragupta spent his leisure hours in the palace. The care of his person was entrusted to females who were armed. He left his palace either for performing administrative duties or for offering sacrifices or for the chase. When he condescended to show himself in public he was clothed in the finest muslin embroidered with purple and gold. When making short journeys he rode on horse-back, but when travelling longer distances he was mounted pn an elephant. The hair-washing ceremony of the king was performed with great splendor accompanied with rich presents from nobles, as was also the custom in the Persian Court. The king did not sleep in the day time. In the night he used to change his bedroom from time to time in order to defeat any plots against him.
Chandragupta supervised the administration of justice himself. He did not allow the business to be interrupted even if he had to sit for the whole day, and the hour arrived when he had to attend to his person. In such cases, he continued hearing cases, while four attendants massaged him with cylinders of wood. His busy life seems to have been the cause of his abstaining from sleep during the day time. Kautilya, in fact, lays down the precept that a king should so divide his timetable that he may not sleep for more than three hours.
It is interesting to learn that the king left his palace to offer sacrifices also. The fact probably shows that Chandragupta was a Brahmanical Hindu at least for the greater part of his life, although he inclined towards Jainism during his last days, according to Jain authors.
Chandragupta was also fond of sports. He delighted in witnessing the fights of elephants, bulls, rams and rhinoceroses. A curious entertainment was provided by ox races. The most favourite sport was chase. The road along which he went for chase was marked with ropes, and it was death to pass within the ropes. He shot arrows either from the back of an elephant or from a platform.
Chandragupta led the life of an energetic emperor of a vast empire for 24 years. We do not know much about his family. The name of one of his queens—for he was, in all likelihood, a polygamist like most monarchs of those times—was Durdhara, according to Hemachandra. His only son whose name is known to us under various forms was Bindusara, who succeeded him on the throne of Pataliputra.
Chandragupta died in or about 289 BC. According to Rajavalikatha, Chandragupta was a Jain and abdicated at the time of a great famine and repaired to Mysore where he died. In certain Mysore inscriptions the summit of the Kalbappu hill, at Sravan Belgola, is said to be marked with the footprints of the great munis, Bhadrabahu and Chandragupta.
Bhadrabahu was a Jain leader who lived during the reign of Chandragupta. The Jain tradition, however, is very confused with regard to details. Hemachandra, for example, does not speak of the retirement of Chandragupta and Bhadrabahu together to the southern direction. On the other hand, he suggests that Bhadrabahu died in the sixteenth year of Chandragupta's reigns. It is probable that Bhadrabahu died before Chandragupta, and that the latter too, some years after, passed away at the same place where Bhadrabahu had died. Whatever be the case, there is no alternative account of the last days of Chandragupta and, as Dr. Smith has contended, we have to trust the Jain version as being based on truths.
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