In the 4th century B.C. India entered into a glorious period of her history.
For the first time, India achieved her political unity under the Maurya dynasty of which Chandragupta Maurya was the founder.
It was not merely Chandragupta Maurya who made India great by his military power, but his grandson Asoka played a vital role in spreading the Indian religion and culture outside by preaching the high ideals of non-violence, love and universal brotherhood.
The ancestry of the Maurya Emperor Chandragupta is shrouded in mystery as different literary sources give different information’s of the origin of the Mauryas. A commentator on Vishnu Puran first propounded the theory that Chandragupta Maurya was the son of Mura, one of the wives of the King Nanda. In the drama of Mudrarakshsa, Chandragupta is mentioned as “Vrishala, Kulahina, Mauryaputra” etc. From these terms it is interpreted that Mauryas were of sudra origin.
The Buddhist chronicle, ‘Mahaparinirvana sutta” describes the Mauryas as Kshatriyas, ruling over Pippalivana and belonged to the clan of the Sakyas to which Gautama Buddha belonged. The “Mahabodhivamsa’, “Digha Nikaya”, “Divyavadana” describe the Mauryas as kshatriyas. According to Jaina Parisisthaparvan, Chandragupta was the son of a daughter of the chief of a village of peacock tamers or Mayura-poshaka.
It is evident from the Maurya sculptures that peacock was dear to the Maurya dynasty. Coming from among the peacock tamers, Chandragupta carried the dynastic name of Mauryas. He came to the notice of Chanakya, who took him away to Taxila. Thus, it is historically reasonable to believe that Chandragupta was a Kshatriya and belonged to the Moriyas of Pippalivana.
Early Life and Conquests of Chandragupta Maurya:
The ancestry of Chandragupta Maurya has been known from the above discussion. It is generally accepted by the historians that he belonged to the Moriyas of Phppalivana. The Buddhist chronicle, “Mahavamsa Tika” throws light on the early life of Chandragupta. According to it, his father was a chief of the moriya clan and was killed in a battle.
His widowed mother escaped to a city called Purushapur or Pataliputra where she gave birth to a son, who came to be known as Chandragupta. However, in a helpless state his mother left him and went away. He was then brought up by a cowherd who subsequently sold him to a hunter. He engaged this boy to tend catties. It was right from his childhood that Chandragupta had exhibited signs of extraordinary intelligence and leadership.
One day while Chandragupta was playing a mock royal count with his friends and administering justice like a learned judge, Chanakya (Kautilya) happened to pass by that way. He was impressed by the intelligence of the boy and purchased him from his adopted father. Then Kautilya took him to Taxila to educate and train him with an object of the destruction of the Nanda dynasty.
Chandragupta received education in humanities, arts, crafts and military science under the care and guidance of Kautilya. Chanakya had a very sad experience with the ruling king Dhana Nanda at Pataliputra. Chanakya was a learned Brahmin of Taxila who had come to Pataliputra for higher recognition. But Dhana Nanda humiliated him for his ugly appearance. His personal dignity was so much affected that he took a vow that he should try to destroy the Nanda king. It was at that time he came across Chandragupta whom he utilized for the purpose.
Chandragupta came to the lime light of politics sometimes in 326 B.C. or 325 B.C. when he came to the camp of Alexander in Punjab. Both Plutarch and Justin, the Greek classical writers, mention that Chandragupta came to the camp of Alexander and requested him for the other throw of the Nandas. However Alexander felt so angry with his courage that he ordered for his arrest and execution. Chandragupta saved his life by a speedy flight.
Justin tells that after this incident Chandragupta fled to the forest tract of Vindhya region. Then he raised an army from among the brave tribes of north-west and Punjab. Thus by strengthening his position, Chandragupta started his career of conquest. We can divide the conquest of Chandragupta into four phases, viz., war of liberation from the Greeks, political revolution against the Nandas, the war with Seleucus, and other conquests.
War of Liberation:
It was not an easy task for Chandragupta to liberate north-west from the yoke of Greeks. The Greek Satrapas of Alexander were exercising their control with the help of Macedonian garrison. However an undercurrent of Indian protest was working in the North-West as it is evident from the murder of Greek Satrapas Nicanor and Philoppos in 323 B.C. The death of Alexander and the conflict among his generals made the position of Greeks weak in India. Chandragupta took full advantage of the situation. Justin describes the story of liberation as follows. “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 author of this liberation was Sandrocottus (Chandragupta).”
Conquest of Sind:
Chandragupta first liberated Sind from the yoke of Macedonians. Sind was a part of Alexander’s empire. In the Partition Treaty of Taiharadisus, 321 B.C. the Greek Governor of Sind was transferred to the North-West and as such the post was lying vacant. Chandragupta used Lower Sind as the base of his operation and by 321 B.C. the whole of Sind was conquered by him.
Conquest of Punjab:
After establishing his authority over Punjab, Chandragupta looked towards Punjab. The situation in Punjab was favourable for Chandragupta. By that time, Ambhi of Taxila passed into oblivion. King Porus was assassinated by the Greek general Eudemus who had also fled from India. The decline of Ambhi, murder of Porus and the flight of Eudemus made the task easy for Chandragupta. He conquered Eastern Punjab upto Jhelum.
Then he marched towards the west as far as the river Indus and conquered the land between Jhelum and Indus. This is confirmed by the remark of Pliny that, “Indus skirts the frontier of Prasic (Magadha)”. Thus Chandragupta liberated North Western India, i.e. Sind and Eastern Punjab upto the river Indus from the Greeks.
2. The Overthrow of the Nandas:
Chandragupta then turned his attention towards the overthrow of the Nandas. His task became easy as Agrammes or Dhana Nand was very unpopular with his subjects. Chandragupta adopted various strategies to overthrow the Nanda power. According to Jaina and Buddhist traditions, Chandragupta, at first committed the blunder of attacking the centre of Magadha itself, but failed.
Mahavamsa Tika narrates a story in this regard that after this defeat while Chandragupta concealed himself in an old woman’s hut, he overheard the old woman scolding her child who had burnt his fingers for eating the cake from the middle and not from one side. Chandragupta took it as a lesson and commenced the second attack from the frontier, guarded his rear and then besieged Pataliputra and killed Dhana Nanda. According to the Jaina writer Hemachandra, Dhana Nanda was not killed, but was allowed to leave the capital. By his conquests of Punjab, Sind and Magadha, Chandragupta made himself the master of the entire Indo-Gangetic plains and beyond, as far as the Hindukush.
The War with Seleucus Nikator:
Chandragupta’s Conquests were not confined only to the natural frontiers of India. He conquered territories outside the geographical boundaries of India. Seleucus Nikator, one of the generals of Alexander became the master of western Asia after the death of his master. After reorganizing his empire from Syria to Afghanistan, he proceeded to reconquer the Indian parts of Alexander’s conquests in 305 B.C. Appianus describes that Seleueus crossed the Indus and waged war on Androcottus (Chandragupta).
Curiously enough, the classical writers do not give any details of conflict between Chandragupta and Seleucus Nikator. They simply mention the terms of the treaty concluded between Chandragupta and Seleucus. In this war Seleucus was defeated miserably and handed over to Chandragupta, Paropanisadai, Arachosia and Aria with their respective capital at Kabul, Kandahar and Herat. He also ceded Gedrosia (Baluchistan) or at least a part of it to Chandragupta.
The victorious king Chandragupta probably married the daughter of Seleueus and presented him a gift of five hundred war elephants. As a mark of friendship, Seleucus sent his ambassador; Megasthenes to the court of Chandragupta Megasthenes stayed at Pataliputra and wrote his famous work “Indika”, describing many things about India. About this conquest R.K. Mukherji writes, “Chandragupta was able to add another glorious feather to his cap. He extended his empire beyond the frontiers of India upto the borders of Persia.”
Other Conquests of Chandragupta in Western and Southern India:
Conquest of Western India:
Chandragupta extended his empire further by the conquest of western and southern India. Chandragupta conquered Saurastra and Kathiawar in western India. This fact has been proved by the Girnar Rock Inscription (Modern Junagadh) of Rudradaman. Chandragupta also annexed the neighbouring province of Avanti and its capital Ujjain became a seat of Maurya viceroyalty. The discovery of Asokan Rock Edict in Sopara in Konkan region of Maharashtra refers to the conquest of a part of Maharashtra. Thus in Western India Chandragupta conquered Saurastra, Avanti and Konkan of Maharashtra.
The Conquest of South:
Chandragupta by his conquest of Southern India had achieved the political unification of India. But the extent of Chandragupta’s conquest of the South is a controversial question because in the opinion of Dr. V.A. Smith, Chandragupta was so busy in consolidating his empire in the north that he could not have found time for the conquest of the south and the conquest of South was the work of his son Bindusara. But this view of Dr. Smith is rejected by the scholars on the ground that Bindusara is not famous in history as a conqueror.
It is certain that Chandragupta extended the Maurya empire in the South up to the Mysore and Nellore. From the Rock Edicts II and XIII it is known that Asoka’s empire was extended up to Mysore and Nellore in the South. But as Asoka made only one conquest in his life, i.e. Kalinga and Bindusara had no conquest to his credit, it is certain that the extension of Maurya empire in the South was the work of Chandragupta.
Kautilya’s Arthasastra refers to a brisk trade between the North and South India in the early Mauryan period. Similarly the Tamil poet Mamulanar and Paranan have mentioned that the Vamba Moriyar or Maurya upstarts advanced as far as Podiyeil Hill in Tinnevelley district. The Jaina tradition also associate Chandragupta’s name with the Mysore country. According to Jaina tradition towards the end of his political career Chandragupta became a jaina devotee and migrated to Sravana Belgola in Mysore where he practiced penance and died in 298 B.C.
Three minor Rock Edicts of Asoka have been found in Chital drug districts of Mysore which is not very far from Sravana Belgola. The discovery of Asokan edicts proves that Mysore was included within Chandragupta’s empire. All these references amply testify that Chandragupta conquered a portion of Southern India.
The Extent of Chandragupta’s Empire:
According to Plutarch and Justin Chandragupta had the whole of India under his possession. But this statement appears to be an exaggeration of facts. According to H.C. Roychoudhury, “Chandragupta Maurya is the first historical founder of a great empire in India.” Thus the Maurya Empire under Chandragupta Maurya extended up to the borders of Persia in the north-west; in the east it consisted of Magadha and probably Bengal, in the west it was bounded by the western sea near Saurastra; in the south it extended up to the Chitaldrug district of Mysore and Nellore district of Madras with Pataliputra as its capital.
Administration of Chandragupta Maurya:
Chandragupta Maurya was not only a great conqueror and an empire builder but also he was one of the efficient and greatest administrators of India. He had organized a very elaborate system of administration. We know about it from the account of Megasthenes and the Arthasastra of Kautilya.
Besides the Indika of Megasthenes and Arthasastra of Kautilya, the inscription of Asoka and Rudradaman and literary sources like Divyavadana and Mudrarakshyasa also throw light on Mauryan administration. On the basis of these sources we can form an idea about the Mauryan administration. The Mauryan administration can be divided into three branches namely Central Administration, Provincial Administration and Local Administration.
The central administration consisted of the king, the council of ministers, advisers and other high officials.
The Maurya king was an absolute ruler. He was at the apex of administration. His ideal of kingship was benevolent despotism. The main principle of administration was welfare of the people. He was the head of the executive, the law giver, and the supreme judge. He was also the supreme commander-in-chief. With all these powers, the king was working as an enlightened despot for all practical purposes.
Council of Ministers and Other High Officials:
In the work of administration the king was assisted by a council of Ministers or Mantri Parishada who were noted for wisdom. Besides the Mantri Parishada, there was a smaller body of advisers or counselors known as Mantris constituting the inner cabinet. It consisted of the Mantrin (Prime Minister), the Purohit (Royal Priest), the Senapati (commander-in-chief) and Yuvaraja (Crown prince).
There were also other high officials who supervised different branches of administration. They were Samharta (Collector General), Sannidhata (Officer incharge of treasury), Darvarika (Gate Keeper), Antarvesika (Officer in charge of harem), Prasathi (Inspector General of Prisons), Pradestri (Divisional Commissioner), Nayaka (City constable), Paura (Governor of the capital),Vyavaharika (Chief justice), Mantri Parisadadhyakshya (President of the council) Dandopala (Police chief), Durgapala (Officer in charge of home defences), and Antapala (Officer in charge of frontier defenses).
From Kautilya’s Arthasastra it is known that there were about 26 departments managed by the ministers. Different departments were the Kost (Treasury), Akara (Mines), Loha (Metal), Lausana (Mint), Lavana (Salt), Suvarna (gold), Kosthagara (Store house), Ayunhadhagara (Armory), Pautava (weights and measure), Mana (measurement of time and space), Sulka (tolls), Sutra (Spinning and weaving) Seta (Cultivation of crown lands), Sura (liquor) Suna (Slaughter houses), Mudra (Passports), Vivita (Pastures), Dyuta (Gambling), Bandhanaghara (jails), Gau (cattle), Nau (Shipping), Pattana (Ports), Ganika (Countesans), Samastha (trade) Devata (religious institutions) and the army superintendents those of Patts (infantry), Asva (Horse), Hasti (elephant) and Ratha (Chariots).
Thus the Maurya administration was a highly centralized bureaucracy. The Ministers discharged their duties for the welfare of the unemployed, widows, destitute, orphans, and Musicians etc. The Government of Chandragupta paid much attention to the welfare works.
The Administration of Justice:
The king was at the apex of judicial administration. There were chains of courts right from the village tribunals at the bottom. The village headman and village elders usually settled the smaller disputes within their local areas. There were two types of higher courts namely civil and criminal.
The civil courts were known as the “Dharmasthaniya” courts. The civil courts were presided over by three Amatyas assisted by three learned Brahmins called Dharmasthas. These courts dealt with cases of disputes as on marriage, divorce, dowry, inheritance of property, houses, lands, boundaries, debts, contracts etc. The criminal courts termed as the “Kantakasodhana” courts were presided over by three Amatyas assisted by a number of spies and agents. These courts tried murderers, traitors to the country, political offenders, thieves, violators of Laws, and criminals.
According to Megasthenes, the Maurya system of punishment was very severe and crimes were extremely rare. Fines, forced labour, whipping, mutilation and execution were methods of punishment. Kautilya refers to a number of prevailing modes of torture, and suggests that, “those whose guilt is believed to be true shall be subjected to torture”.
In the time of Asoka justice was tempered with kindness. Asoka instructed his Mahamatras to avoid causeless imprisonment and harassment of people. Several officials were employed by Asoka to tour the provinces after three or five years and it was their duty to see that no injustice was done to the people.
Megasthenes refers to war office which consisted of 30 members. The 30 members were divided into 6 Boards of 5 members each. The first board was in-charge of navy. The second board was in-charge of transport, commissariat, and army service. The third board was in-charge of infantry. The fourth board dealt with cavalry.
The fifth board was concerned with war-chariots and the sixth board was in-charge of elephants. From Kautilya’s Arthasastra it is known that entire army worked under the control of the Senapati or the commander-in- chief. There were other army officers of rank next to the Senapati like the Prasasta, the Nayaka, and the Mukhya. There were also forts to defend the frontiers of the empire as well as its capital.
As regards the revenue of the state, taxes were collected both in cash and in kind. The local officers collected the revenue. The land revenue was the chief source of income of the state. It was collected at the rate of one fourth of the produce of the land. Revenues were also collected from trade custom, excise tolls, forests and mines. The house tax, water tax, coinage, birth and death tax also constituted the sources of revenue.
Kautilya laid emphasis on finance. According to him, “All undertakings depend upon finance. Hence, for most attention shall be paid on the Treasury. The officer in-charge of the revenue department was called Samaharta. The revenue thus collected was spent on the maintenance of king’s palace, court, the army the officials and also on public works like roads, buildings, irrigation.
For the administrative convenience the extensive Maurya Empire was divided into five provinces like Magadha, Taxila, Swarnagiri (Songiri) and Tosali (Dhauli) and Kausambi. Since Tosali was the only territory conquered by Asoka, it is probable that except Tosali the other four territories were conquered by Chandragupta Maurya.
While Magadha was directly ruled by the emperor, the other four territories were under the control of the governors or viceroys who were directly responsible to the emperor. Several classes of officials were also appointed for the work of administration. A well regulated spy system was introduced by Chandragupta Maurya for the smooth conduct of administration.
Kautilya’s Arthasastra mentioned about various kinds of spies employed by the emperor, viz., house- holders, merchants, ascetics, poisoners, women of various kinds. During Asoka’s time, the provincial administration became more elaborate for the welfare of the people as it is cleared from his statement, “All men are my children and as I desire for my children that they enjoy every kind of prosperity and happiness, so also do I desire the same for all men.”
It was for the administrative convenience, that the province was divided into some janapadas or districts, each Janapada into some Ganas or Sthanas and each Sthana into some villages. The Sthanikas and Gopas carried out the administration of the district. While the Sthanika was in charge one greater district or Janapada, the Gopa was in charge of five to ten villages. The Sthanikas and Gopas were responsible to Samaharta, the Minister of finance and interior. The village was the lowest unit of administration. The Gramik was the village headman who carried the administration of each village with the help of village elders. Villages enjoyed autonomy.
Megasthenes has given a description of the administration of the capital city of Pataliputra by a municipal commission of thirty members. They were divided into Six Boards with five members each. The Six Boards were en-trusted with the following duties respectively.
The first board was to look after everything relating to industrial art; the second board to take care of the foreigners, besides controlling the inns and taking care of the resident in the city; the third board to record the births and deaths; the fourth board to superintend the trade and commerce; the fifth board to supervise the manufactured articles; the sixth board to collect the tax of ten percent charged on the sales. But apart from all these functions, the commission, in its collective responsibility, looked after matters of general interest, such as the supervision of markets, harbours, temples, and keeping of public buildings in proper repair.
According to F.W. Thomas, this system of municipal administration differed from city to city. But Kautilya is silent about this municipal administration. He has mentioned that the city administration was in charge of an officer, called Nagaraka. Thus the Maurya empire enjoyed a very sound administration based on enlightened despotism.