Biography of Chandragupta Maurya: Ancestry, Early Life and His Conquest!
The rise of the Maurya Empire was a political phenomenon of great consequence in the history of India. It is as remarkable as captivating.
The hero who ushered in this new age of unity and imperial rule was Chandragupta Maurya.
Chandragupta’s ancestry is not known for certain. In the maze of conflicting literary traditions it is difficult to arrive at any den finite conclusion yet on the basis of modern researches it is possible to arrive at conclusions which stand to reasonable analysis.
The Brahmanical, Buddhist and Jaina traditions are at great variance. The same is true of the Greek source. The earliest available Brahmanical traditions which refer to the origin of the Mauryas are to be found in the Pyranas. In the Puranas there is simple mention that the Nandas were uprooted by the Brahmana Kautilya who anointed Chandragupta as King.
It was a commentator on Vishnupurana who for the first time suggested by way of explaining his title Maury a that Chandragupta was base-born. According to this commentator Chandragupta was the son of Mura, a wife of the Nanda King. From Mura the title Maurya was derived. But according to Panini Mura is the name of a gotra and the word is a masculine word.
It has, therefore, been held that the Commentator of Vishnu Purana was guilty both of fictitious history and bad grammar. This Commentator, however, did not cast any aspersion on the mother of Chandragupta and unlike other writers did not call Mura, a Sudra or a mistress of the Nanda King.
It was in a later drama Mudrarakshasa by Vishakhadatta, Chandragupta had been called a Vrishala, Kulahina which were taken by some writers to mean Sudra and social outcaste. But it has been suggested that epithet Vrishala applied to Chandragupta meant that in regard to certain matters he (Chandragupta) did deviate from strict orthodoxy.
This has also been borne out, by implication, by the Greek evidence that Chandragupta was a follower of sacrificial religion. Further, the Puranic text applies the epithet Vrishala to the Andhra Dynasty which was Brahmin. The expression Kulhina, it has been suggested, means that Chandragupta was only of lowly, i.e. humble origin is not necessarily low born.
A Commentator on Mudrarakshasa, Dhundiraja by name mentions that Chandragupta was the eldest son of Maurya who was the son of Nanda King Sarvarthasiddhi by Mura, daughter of a Vrishala. But when we remember that the expression Vrishala meant no more than ‘unorthodoxy’ then there is no ground to take it to mean Sudra.
Is may be pointed out that nowhere in the Purana texts, the Mauryas have been called Sudra or base born; no slur has as well been cast on the Mauryas. Further, reference to Chandragupta’s consecation as king by Brahmin Kautilya, in the Puranas, leaves us in no doubt that Chandragupta was not a Sudra but a Kshatriya, for it was then the prerogative of the Kshatriyas to be rulers.
This is also in conformity with claim made by the Buddhist Tradition recorded in Mahavasmsa, Jaina Traditions recorded in Parisista-parvana that the Mauryas belonged to the Kshatriya class. In Jaina Parisistaparvana Chandragupta is represented as the son of a daughter of the Chief of a village of peacock-tamers (Mayuraposaka).
In the Divyavadana, Bindusara, son of Chandragupta has been called Kshatriya Murdhabhisikta, i.e. an anointed Kshatriya. As H. C. Roychaudhuri points out the Moriyas were the ruling clan of the republic of Pippalivana during the sixth century B.C. In the fourth century B.C. they were reduced to great straits and Chandragupta grew up among the peacock-tamers in the Vindhya forest.
From the name Mayuraposaka, therefore, was derived the epithet Mauryas. All this will lead to the conclusion that Chandragupta was a Kshatriya who originally belonged to a humble station of life but not of low or base origin.
The Greek source based on the contemporary Indian tradition also points to the same conclusion and fits in well to the story of the rise of Chandragupta. According to Justin Chandragupta was a man of humble origin, but was stimulated to aspire to regal power. Justin’s reference to ‘humble origin’ at best means humble station of life not low born or base-born.
This is in agreement with H. C. Roychaudhuri’s observation that during the fourth century the Mauryas were reduced to great strait and Chandragupta grew up among the Peacock-tamers in the Vindhyas. We may, therefore, conclude that Chandragupta Maurya was a Kshatriya and originally belonged to the ruling clan of the little republic of Pippalivana. This is also borne out by Mahaparinirvana Sutra, a Buddhist composition almost contemporaneous with the Mauryas of Pippalivana and the oldest of our evidences in this regard.
Early Life and Rise to Power:
Alexander’s campaigns had dislocated the Political Organisation of north-west India. This part of India had already passed under the grip and stranglehold of foreign rule. The Eastern India was under the tyrannical rule of the Nanda King Dhanananda. The atmosphere was full of frustration and depression.
A battle of India’s independence was the only way to shake off the yoke of foreign rule as well as to bring an end to the tyrannical rule of the Nandas. All this called for a leader of exceptional ability and vision who could infuse life and enthusiasm among the Indians and organize a national resistance. Fortunately, such a leader emerged in the person of Chandragupta.
The story of Chandragupta’s early life and rise to power is of absorbing interest. On the evidence of the Buddhist traditions Chandragupta’s father who was the Chief of Pippalivana was defeated and killed in a battle with the ruler of the neighbouring kingdom.
This had reduced Chandragupta’s mother, to great straits. Poverty and lack of personal security compelled her to seek shelter in Pataliputra, the Magadhan capital. She was then an expectant mother. In Pataliputra Chandragupta w is born. He was adopted by a cowherd of a nearby village and Chandragupta began to grow among the cowboys.
Here Kautilya saw the boy Chandragupta and having been impressed by certain signs in the boy that promised future greatness Kautilya purchased him from the cowherd on payment of one thousand Karshapanas. There are, however, minor discrepancies in the details given in different works.
Kautilya then took the boy to his native city of Taxila, the most famous seat of learning of the time and had him educated in the humanities and the practical arts and crafts of the time including the military arts and crafts of the time including the military arts. This confirms Plutarch’s statement that Chandragupta as a young man met Alexander in his camp in the Punjab to seek Greek help for ousting the tyrannical Nanda rule in Magadha.
Chandragupta was then, evidently, living in Taxila with Kautilya. It is also said that Kautilya or Chanakya, went to the Imperial Court at Pataliputra but received insulting treatment at the hands of the Nanda reigning King. He then returned to the Vindhyas where he met Chandragupta who had fled from Alexander’s Camp because of his outspokeness which incurred Alexander’s wrath and who ordered his men to kill the precocious, intrepid youth. It was while living in the Vindhyas at a tramp that a lion licked his sweat while he was asleep. This and some other good omens portended his rise to royal dignity.
The minor discrepancies in details apart, the fact, however, remains that it was the famous Taxilan Brahmin Chanakya or Kautilya who taught and trained boy Chandragupta to grow into the hero of India and first man who thought of independence from the foreign yoke as well as from that of Nanda Tyranny. It was Kautilya who infected his pupil Chandragupta with his hatred of foreign rule as an unmitigated evil and to avenge his personal insult at the hands of the infamous Nanda ruler, ‘detested “and held cheap by his people”.
Chandragupta with the assistance and guidance of Chanakya who came upon some treasure trove underground, raised an army of ‘robbers’ as Justin characterised it. But as McGrindle points out, they were the republican peoples of the Punjab who played a prominent part in resisting Alexander. But that the army raised by Chandragupta included the Choras, or Pratirodhakas, i.e., the robbers and the outlaws, is borne out by Kautilya himself.
The reason for their recruitment was that they were most heroic fighters, obviously because of their habitual daring activities. But the main strength of Chandragupta’s army was derived from the heroic republican military clans whose heroic resistance Alexander had to face and whom Curtius calls fierce nations resisting Alexander with their blood.
Chandragupta’s war of liberation had two distinct parts, namely, to free the north-western India from the Greeks and Eastern India from the tyrannical rule of the Nandas. According to Justin Chandragupta after having raised an army solicited the Indians to overthrow the existing government.
The use of the expression ‘existing government’ necessarily meant the Nanda government and his appeal was to all Indians also point to this conclusion. Anyway, according to Nilkantha Sastri, R. K. Mukherjee and Thomas, Chandragupta directed his attention first to the overthrow of the Greek rule.
But H. C. Roy-chaudhuri is of the opinion Chandragupta’s appeal to the Indians to overthrow the existing government meant overthrow of the Nanda rule and he concurs with the view of Smith that Sometimes after his acquisition of sovereignty Chandragupta went to war with the prefects or generals of Alexander and crushed their power.
It stands to reason that Chandragupta and for the matter of that any other hero in the circumstances would seek to strengthen his position by overthrowing and thereby getting hold of the indigenous royalty before attempting to overthrow the foreign rule in small parts of India.
Nilkantha Sastri places the accession of Chandragupta to sovereignty in 323 B.C., the year of the death of Alexander. It is, therefore, more reasonable to conclude that overthrow of the Greek Governors took place after the death of Alexander and the overthrow of the Nanda rule preceded that of the Greek Governors.
We have seen that Chandragupta raised a formidable army drafting recruits from the heroic republican clans such as the Kshudrakas, Malavas etc. According to Mahavamsa Tika both Kautilya and Chadragupta set out to collect recruits from different places. Chandragupta strengthened his position by an alliance with the Himalayan Chief Parvataka as mentioned in Sanskrit Drama Mudrarakshasa and Jaina text Parishistaparvana. Thus military strength and statesmanship lay at the bottom of success, of Chandragupta. The astute diplomacy of Chanakya and bravery of Chandragupta made the formidable army raised by both of them invincible in every battle field.
The liberation of the Punjab and the overthrow of the infamous Nandas were not the only achievements of Chandragupta. According to Plutarch Chandragupta overran and subdued the whole of India with an army of 600,000 men. But his mission of conquests was aided materially by the prevailing internal condition.
Leaving aside the controversy whether Chandragupta had dealt with the Greek rulers or the Nandas first, it may be pointed out that in both cases his success was aided by the then internal situation. The Nanda ruler ‘was a man of quite worthless character and held in Ho respect’ as Diodorus puts it.
Plutarch also mentions that young Chandragupta reported to Alexander about the hatred of the people to the Nanda ruler for his wickedness and meanness of origin. But the Nanda ruler whom the name Dhana Nanda was given in the Pali Texts, was immensely rich—’a sovereign of untold wealth’ and was very strong in military power.
In Kathasaritsagara there is mention of Dhana Nanda’s having kept 990 millions of gold pieces buried in a rock in the bed of the Ganges. The Buddhist sources compute his wealth at 80 crores. His greed for wealth led him to levy taxes, on Skins, gums, trees and stones. His army as Curtius estimates stood at 600,000 infantry, 20,000 cavalry, 2,000 four-horsed chariots and 3,000 elephants.
He was the sole sovereign (Ekrat) of numerous states such as Aikshakus, Panchalas, Kasis, Haihayas, Kalingas, As-makas, Kurus, Maithilis, Surasenas, Kosala and others. It was, therefore, not an easy task to defeat such a king in an encounter. Even Alexander did not venture an engagement with the Nanda ruler.
From the Buddhist and the Jaina texts we come across some details about the initial defeats, of Chandragupta because of the wrong military strategy followed by him. At first Chandragupta dashed victoriously from the borders, of the Nanda Empire towards its centre without caring to leave any garrison to protect him from the rear.
Because of this mistake in strategy Chandragupta met with defeat at the initial stage of the conquest of the Nanda Empire. Then he corrected the strategy and as he marched ahead, he left garrisons in. Conquered Janapada and besieged Pataliputra, the capital of Magadha, defeated and killed Dhana Nanda.
A different version is given by Pari-sisthaparvana where it is said that Chandragupta forced Dhana Nanda to capitulate and his life was spared and he was allowed to leave Pataliputra with his two wives and one daughter with as much as he could carry in one single chariot.
According to tradition Chandragupta had to engage all his military strength, even Greek mercenaries from the Punjab in his conquest of the Nanda King. In Milindapanhs it is stated that one crore of soldiers, ten thousand elephants, one lac horses, and five hundred charioteers, were killed in the encounter between Chandragupta and the Nanda ruler whose army commander was Bhadrasala. This leaves us in no doubt that the battle between Chartdragupta and the Nanda King was one of the bloodiest battles of India and Chandragupta had to strain his every nerve to win the victory.
Conquest of the Nanda Empire made Chandragupta master of a vast empire to which was jointed the land of the Punjab which, he conquered from the Greek Governors. While the universal hatred towards Dhana Nanda, the greedy, tyrannical ruler of the Magadhan Empire made the internal fabric of the empire weak and incoherent making it comparatively easy for Chandragupta to eventually conquer the empire, the local Greek rule in the Punjab fell into disarray since the murder of Necanor and Philippos in 325 B.C.
The process of Conquest of the Greek ruled areas of the north-west had begun even before the death of Alexander in 323 B.C. It was on the news o£ Alexander’s death reaching India that Sandrahottas, as the Greeks called Chandragupta, shook off the yoke of servitude from the neck of India and put Alexander’s governors to death.
By 321 B.C. when Alexander’s generals after a continued struggle for sharing Alexander’s empire agreed to a second partition treaty of Triparadisus, we find no mention of Indus. Obviously, Indus, then had ceased to be a part of the Greek dominion. This is further borne out by the fact that the Greek Satraps in the Punjab in 321 B.C. lamented that unless strong reinforcement of Greek contingents were sent, it would be impossible for them to withstand the pressure of the Indian rulers.
This leaves us in no doubt that the Indian King of the north-west must have made a common cause with the Kings of the area and furthered the cause of freeing the Punjab from the foreign rule. Had it not been the case how do we explain the absence of any campaign of conquest of the territories of the Indian rulers of the area. The Indian Rajas of the north-west must have accepted the over-lordship of Chandragupta. In any case there is no evidence of any resistance on the part of the Indian rulers of this part to Chandragupta.
After the death of Alexander his empire was partitioned between his generals after a long struggle. The eastern part of the empire fell to Seleukos, one of Alexander’s generals. He became the King of Syria. He carried on several wars to recover other eastern parts of the empire of Alexander.
He took Babylon, subdued the Bactrians and then made an expedition into India to recover the territories now lost to the Greeks. Seleukos reached the Indus about 305 B.C. The Greek writers such as Appianus. Plutarch, Strabo, Justin, etc. curiously enough do not give us any detail of the encounter between Seleukos and Chandragupta but merely record the result of the encounter.
Even when viewed from the results, there can be no doubt that Seleukos could not make much head way and was obliged to conclude an alliance with Chandragupta ratifying it by a matrimonial contract between the two sides. R. C. Mazumder’s observation that Seleukos was worsted in his fight with Chandragupta, therefore, is the only conclusion that one can arrive at.
It is generally accepted that the martimonial contract was a marriage between a daughter of Seleukos and Chandragupta and the cession of Herat (Aria), Kandahar (Arachosia), Makran (Gedrosia) and Kabul (Paropani-sadai), can be rightly regarded as dowry to the bridegroom. But all this is not warranted by known facts. The only reasonable conclusion that we may arrive at is that Seleukos had to purchase peace by ceding to Chandragupta the territories, namely, Herat, Kandahar, Makran and Kabul.
Chandragupta reciprocated by presenting Seleukos 500 war elephants. Several scholars including Tarn have entertained doubts as to the cession of Herat, Kendahar, Makran and Kabul in their entirety to Chandragupta by Seleukos. According to Tarn The Indians occupied a larger portion of Ariana which they have received from the Macedonians.
But from the inscriptions of Asoka, Chandragupta’s grandson proves the inclusion of the Yonas and the Gandharas as vassals of the Maurya Empire. This means that empire of the Mauryas received extension upto Kabul under Chandragupta due to the cession of the territories mentioned above by Seleukos to Chandragupta Maurya because there is no evidence of conquest of these areas either during the reign of Bindusara or that of Asoka.
Chandragupta did not rest content with the overthrow of the Nanda rule; he ousted the Greeks from the Punjab and warded off the invasion of Seleukos. As Plutarch remarks he overran and subdued the whole of India. Justin also observed that Chandragupta was in possession of India. Such remarks leave us in no doubt that Chandragupta brought under his sway almost the whole of India and built up the first all India Empire. That his empire had extended upto Podiyil Hill in the Tinnevelly district in the South is borne out by Mamulanar, a Tamil author.
Certain Mysore inscription refers to Chandragupta’s rule in Northern Mysore and Nellore. Thus when we take together the statements of Plutarch, Justin, Mamulanar and the Mysore inscription we may safely conclude that Chandragupta Maurya had conquered a considerable portion of the Trans-Vindhyan India.
That Saurashtra in Western-India was a province of the Maurya Empire under Chandragupta and was ruled over by his Governor Pushyagupta is borne out by Junagarh inscription ofRudradamana-I.
Smith is, however, of the opinion that Chandragupta’s all out effort to emerge from obscurity to imperial throne in North India left him no time to turn his attention to the South and it was more probable that the South was brought under the Maurya rule by Chandragupta’s son Bindusara.
Obviously Smith relies on the evidence of Taranatha that Bindusara destroyed the nobles and kings of sixteen towns and made him master of all territories between the eastern and the western seas. This has been taken not only by Smith but also by some other scholars such as Hemchandra, Jayaswal, etc, to mean the annexation of the Deccan.
But H. C. Roychaudhuri points out that at the Chandragupta’s time the Maurya Empire extended from Surashtra to Bengal (Gangaridae), i.e., from the western to the eastern seas. There is no early evidence of the conquest of the Deccan by Bindusara. The only reference to military activity under Bindusara was the suppression of the revolt at Taxila where Prince Asoka was sent for the purpose.
It goes without saying that extension of the Maurya Empire to the south was the work of Chandragupta, This, is also in conformity with the view that Nau-Nander-Dera on the Godavari testifies to the extension of the Nanda Empire upto the Godavari. This will mean that Chandragupta Maurya who occupied the Nanda Empire had ipso facto became the ruler upto the Godavari wherefrom it was not difficult to extend the boundary further southward upto Mysore and Nellore.
Jaina tradition is that towards the end of his reign when there was a terrible famine in north India Chandragupta became a Jaina and renounced the world and took a band of Jaina Monks, with him and went to Sravana Belgola in Mysore.
The Maurya Empire under Chandragupta extended towards the north-west upto the borders of the Persia, towards the east upto-Bihar, in the west upto the seas bordering Saurashtra and the south upto the Chital Durg and Nellore districts of Mysore. Thus the whole of India from the borders of Persia upto parts of the Deccan, comprising Uttarpatha, Avanti, Dakshinapatha and Prachya was under Chandragupta. This is in consonance with remarks of Plutarch that Chandragupta subdued whole in India and Justin’s statement that Chandragupta was in “possession of India”.
For Chandragupta’s administration we have the unique evidence of the Greek ambassador Megasthenes, deputed to his Court at Pataliputra. Megasthenes’s observations on the working of the Maurya administration acquired through personal knowledge have been confirmed in many respects by Arthasastra attributed to Chandragupta’s minister Kautilya. This work although not definitely dated is generally regarded as a document of Maurya history and Prof. Thomas remarks that the work clearly falls within or near the Maurya Period.
The account of Megasthenes containing the details of the geography, products, social and political institutions of India of that period is lost but many extracts from it have been preserved in the writings of the later classical writers. The information obtained from these later classical writers like Strabo, Arrian, Diodorus and others, although fragmentary, is highly interesting and of immense historical value being recorded by an eye witness. These fragments of information quoted in the writings of the later classical writers were collected by Schwanbeck and translated into English by Prof. McGrindle.
True that Megasthenes lndica, as his account was called, contained some mistaken statements. As Prof. Rhys Davids observes, Megasthenes possessed very little critical judgement and was often misled by wrong information received from others or by his Jack of understanding of the Indian System, for example, his misunderstanding of the Indian caste-system. But he is unquestionably it truthful witness in respect of matters which came under his personal observation. In such matters we have corroboration in Kautilya’s Arthasastra and Asokan Edicts.
The King was the supreme head of the state and had fourfold function: military, judicial, executive and legislative. According to Megasthenes Chandragupta was a very hard-working official. He remained in court whole day, did not sleep at day time and even when he would have his body massaged or his hair combed and dressed he attended to public business and gave audience to his ambassadors.
As the highest military commander he would consider plans of operation with his Senapati, i.e., the Commander-in-Chief. Chandragupta maintained a vast standing army of more than 600,000 men. He had an effective control over the military through a War Office comprising thirty members, obviously experts in different branches of military art and science. It was divided into six Boards of five members each ; such as the (i) Board of Admiralty, Boards of (ii) Infantry, (iii) Cavalry, (iv) War-Chariots, (v) War Elephants, and (vi) Transport and Commissariat and Army service.
This scientific division and control of the military administration stood Chandragupta in good stead and while made his army invincible in the battle field spoke eloquently of his efficiency and ability as the supreme head of the military administration.
At the head of the judiciary stood the king himself. He personally adjudicated the cases that came before him. Judging of cases consumed a great part of his time in the court. He would never keep his petitioners waiting. He obviously followed the exhortations of Kautilya, his minister, who observed in his Arthasastra that ‘when in the court, he (the king) shall never cause his petitioners to wait at the door, for when a king makes himself inaccessible to the people and entrusts his work to his immediate officers, he may be sure to invincible in the battle field spoke eloquently of his efficiency and himself a prey to his enemies’.
In his capacity as the head of the executive government, Chandragupta appointed all the high officials of the state such as, the Sachivas or Amatyas, Mantrins or the High Ministers, the Purdhita or the High Priest, Spies, Adhyakshas, maintained correspondence with the Mantriparishad, received envoys Governors and Viceroys, etc.
His legislative functions comprised issuing of rescripts, maintenance of Porana pakiti, i.e., ancient rules and customs. Kautilya calls the King Dharmapravartaka and this could be done by the king by issuing Rajasasana, i.e., royal rescripts.
Chandragupta’s government was divided into two parts, namely, the Central and the Provincial Governments. In the Centre there was the King who was the sovereign head of the state, and the Mantriparishad, Councillors and Assessors that is the Mantrins or High Ministers, Sachivas or Amatyas.
The empire was divided into a number of provinces which were subdivided into districts. The exact number of provinces under Chandragupta is not known but we know that there were five provinces under Asoka, grandson of Chandragupta, including Kalinga. (The last named province Kalinga was conquered by Asoka.
Therefore, if we leave out Kalinga then we may arrive at the conclusion that under Chandragupta there were altogether four provinces. This may be regarded as conclusive as we know that no additional territory was conquered by Bindusara, son of Chandragupta. The four provinces under Chandragupta were Uttarapatha with its capital at Taxila, Avanti with Ujjayini as its capital, Dakshinapatha with its capital Suvarnagiri, and Prachya, the Prasii of the Greeks, with its capital at Pataliputra.
Prachya and the Madhyadesa that is, Eastern and Mid-India were directly ruled by Chandragupta himself. The provinces were under Governors or Viceroys who were princes of the royal blood. Besides imperial provinces, there were a number of territories which enjoyed 6ome measure of autonomy.
At the centre, the king was assisted and advised by the Mantris, the High Ministers and the Mantriparishad. Members of the Mantriparishad occupied an inferior position; this is borne out by the fact that while the Mantrins received 48,000 panas as salary per annum, the members of the Mantriparishad received only 12,000 panas per annum.
Under the High Ministers there were various officers of varied grades who looked after water supply, maintenance of roads and putting milestones along the road, agriculture, forests, mines, metal industries, etc. The Magistrates who looked after towns and cities were called Nagaradhyakshya and those looking after the military were called Baladhyakshas.
According to Megasthenes and later Greek writers like Diodorus, Starbo, Arrian etc. the Mantriparishad was very influential. Besides advising the King in matters of administration, it exercised great influence in the appointment of Governors, Viceroys, Deputy Governors, Treasurers, Generals, Admirals, Judges, Chief Magistrates and other High Officials.
Kautilya’s Arthasastra laid down certain specific tests to determine the suitability of appointment of persons as different Amatyas. In order that the Amatyas in charge of civil and criminal justice might be sufficiently religious-minded to adjudicate cases impartially they had to be purified by religious tests. Likewise those to be appointed as Chancellor of the Exchequer (Samahartri) had to be purified try money test, i.e., Arthopadhasuddha; those appointed to the Pleasure Gardens, had to be purified by love-test, i.e., Kamopadhasuddhas, those who had to be employed in work which needed bold, immediate step had to be purified by fear test, i.e., Bhayopadhasuddha. Sufficiently qualified persons were appointed Ministers plenipotentiary, Ministers of correspondence and Adhyakshas, i.e., Superintendents.
The meeting of the Mantriparishad was also attended by the Maha-Mantrins or the High Ministers. The King would consult the Mantriparishad in all matters of importance and emergency. Although the Mantriparishad was an advisory Council, and the King was at liberty either to accept or reject its advice, yet it is easy to understand that King would honour the decision of the Mantriparishad remembering as we do that it was attended by no less a person than Kautilya.
The municipal administration of Pataliputra, the capital city of Chandragupta, was of a unique character. From Megasthenes, corroborated by Arthasastra, we know that the Municipal Board comprised thirty members of six Boards of five members each. Each of these Boards was in charge of a particular type of function. The First Board was in charge of Industrial Art. It had to look after production of commodities, keep watch on the quality of raw materials used, decide the fair value of the articles produced and stamp the finished articles as evidence of their suitability to be marketed.
The Second Board was in charge of looking after the foreigners. Strabo, Diodorus state that the Maurya Government took special care-of the foreigners. Among the Indians officers are appointed even for foreigners, whose duty is to see that no foreigner wronged. Should any one of them lose health, they send Physicians to attend him and take care of him otherwise, and if he dies they bury him and deliver over such property as he leaves to his relatives.
The Third Board was in charge of vital statistics. This Board would enquire how deaths occurred and register every birth and death. The third Body consists of those who enquire when and how births and deaths occur, with a view to not only levying a tax, but also in order that birth and deaths among both high and low may not escape the cognizance of Government.
The Fourth Board looked after trade and commerce. It kept watch over the weights and measures and saw to it that commodities were sold out before their quality did not deteriorate. It also saw that seasonal products were sold by public notice. No one was allowed to deal in more than one commodity but one could do so by paying double or three times the tax as according to the number of commodities dealt with.
The Fifth Board supervised the manufactured articles. Public notice had to be given for the sale of manufactured articles. This Board kept strict watch so that newly manufactured articles were not mixed or piled with the old stock.
The Sixth Board was in charge of collection of one-tenth of the prices of the articles or produce sold, as tax. Any fraud in payment of this tax was punishable with death.
Megasthenes referred to the Municipal Board of the capital city of Pataliputra where he stayed, but it may not be unreasonable to conclude that similar Municipal Councils and Boards were there in other cities of the time such as Taxila, Ujjaini, Kaushambi, Pundra-nagar, etc. which were important cities under Chandragupta.
The Arthasastra calls officials of the Military and Municipal Boards as Adhyakshas whom Megasthenes called Astynomoi, the Magistrates of Strabo. Smith is of opinion that Boards described by Megasthenes were unknown to Kautilya and the creation of the Boards might have been an innovation made by Chandragupta. But Roychaudhuri points out that Smith’s confusion is due to his ignoring nagaradhyakshas and other officials referred to in the Arthasastra.
At the top of the judiciary stood the King. But besides the Royal Court which was the highest in the State there were tribunals of justice both in cities and the country sides. The city tribunals were presided over by Vycwaharika Mahamatras and the Coventry tribunals were presided over by Rajukas. From the classical source we know that the judges also decided cases in which foreigners are concerned, with greatest care and would come down sharply on those took unfair advantage of them.
Punishment to persons held guilty by the court were very severe, Decapitation, amputation of limbs, fines and forfeitures were the different types of punishment prevalent at that time. Inhuman torture was resorted to for extorting confession from the criminals.
The revenue of the State was mainly of two kinds:
Bhaga and Bali. Bhaga was the King’s share of the produce of the soil which was normally one-tenth. In special cases is was one-fourth or reduced to one-eighth. All lands were property of the Crown and the husbandmen paid, according to the Greek source, a land tribute besides one-fourth of the produce of the soil.
Bali was originally this land tribute. In any case Bali was an extra import over and above Bali, one-tenth of the prices of the commodities sold is another important source of revenue. In certain areas, the main sources besides tithes on the sale of commodities were birth and death duties, fines and forfeitures, etc.
A considerable part of the revenue was spent for the maintenance of the army, the war horses, war elephants and war-chariots. The artisans also received maintenance from the royal exchequer. Herdsmen were paid grains from the royal granary for their labour in clearing the land of wild beasts and fowls. The Philosophers, i.e., the Brahmanas and the Sramanas received royal bounty. Construction of roads, buildings, forts, repairs of the existing constructions, etc. claimed a good part of the expenditure during the rule of Chandragupta.
The land tax was collected by a class of officials called Agranomoi by Megasthenes. He also refers to various other classes of officials who superintended the rivers, measure the land; inspect the sluices by which water is let out from the main canals into their branches so that everyone may have an equal supply of it. Apart from such officers Megasthenes also mentions others who were in charge of Agriculture, Forestry, Timber Works, Metal Foundries, Mines, Roads, etc.
Chandragupta maintained a body of spies called Overseers—the Episkopoi of the Greek writers who kept watch on what was going on throughout the country and the cities and report to the King. Strabo says that the Ephori i.e., the Inspectors (Spies) were appointed from the most faithful persons. Appointment of different classes of spies is also borne out by Arthasastra which refers to stationary spies (Samsthah) who are posted permanently at places and wandering spies (Sancharah) who wandered from place to place for collecting secret information.
At the head of the Provincial administration was the Governor. During the rule of Chandragupta there were four Provinces into which the Maurya Empire was divided. These were Uttarpatha. Dakshinapatha, Prachya and Avanti. Both Kautilya and the classical writers mention the existence of autonomous tribes and cities during Chandragupta’s time. Thus it may be said that the Maurya system of Government was a combination of monarchy and autonomy.
Besides the Governor or Viceroy who was at the head of the provincial administration and who would almost invariably be the Prince of the royal blood, there were a hierarchy of officials. The province was divided into Janapadas each under a Pradestri and a Samahartri. One-fourth part of a Janapada was put under an officer called Sthanika.
A group of five to ten villages would be placed under an officer called the Gopa. Every village again was under an officer elected by the villagers and was responsible for the village administration. This officer was called Gramika. The Maurya administration was thus structurally in the nature of a pyramid with the Gramika at the bottom and the Emperor at the top.
According to the Jaina traditions, Chandragupta became a Jaina convert in his old age towards the end of his reign a terrible famine stalked the land. According to the Hindu belief, famine or such other calamity was then regarded as the Divine visitation for the sin of the reigning King. Chandragupta Maurya abdicated his throne in favour of his son Bindusara when the famine overtook the land and repaired to Sravana Belgola in Mysore where he is said to have laid down his life by voluntary starvation as prescribed in the Jaina religion, in the year 300 B.C.
After the Salenkdian War an era of peace and friendly relations began between the Maurya Emperor Chandragupta and the Syrian Court. Megasthenes was sent to the Court of Chandragupta by Selencos as an ambassador. Megasthenes was originally working at Arachosia with the Satrap Sibytrios where from he was sent to Pataliputra where he stayed in Chandragupta’s Court and left an account of the Indian, affairs of the time.
The work of Megasthenes has been lost but fragments of his work survive in the works of later classical writers such as Strabo, Arrian, Diodorus, and others which have been collected by Schwanbeck and translated into English by McGrindle.
Although in certain aspects of his statements Megasthenes betrayed lack of critical judgment in cases of his secondary information, as Prof. Rhys Davids puts it, yet in matters which came under his direct observation he has been truthful.
The most important piece of information that we have from Megasthenes is the description of the capital city of Pataliputra. Megasthenes’ Palimbothra, i.e Pataliputra stood on the confluence of the rivers Son and the Ganges, and was nine and half miles (80 Stades) in length and one and three-fourths miles (15 Stades) in breadth. The city was surrounded by a wooden wall and by a ditch 606 feet wide and 30 cubits in depth. The wooden wall of the city had 570 towers and 64 gates.
Pataliputra was not the only city of the Maurya Empire. Arrian remarks that It would not be possible to record with accuracy the number of the cities oh account of their multiplicity. Those which were situated near the river or the sea were built of wood ; for if they were built of brick they could not long endure on account of ram and because the rivers overflowing’ their banks fill the plains with water. But those which have been founded on commanding places are of mortar. The most important cities of Chandragupt’s time were Taxila, Kausambi, Ujjaini and Pundranagara (in North Bengal).
The account of Aelian based on Megasthenes contains descriptions of the royal palace. Chandragupta’s palace within the city of Pataliputra was, according to Megasthenes, the finest in the whole world and forced admiration. Neither Susa nor Ekbatana— the Persian Palaces could vie with the royal palace in Pataliputra. The palace had gilded pillars adorned with golden vines and silver birds.
In the Palace Park tamed Peacocks, Parrots and domesticated Pheasants were kept. There were shaded groves and trees deftly interwoven by the woodmen. Artificial ponds were dug within the palace grounds which contained fishes of enormous size. The imperial palace is supposed to have stood near to the modern village of Kumrahar where ruins of Maurya pillar-hall have been unearthed.
From Strabo we learn that the King had female guards for his protection within the palace and it was 6n four occasions only, namely in times of war, while sitting as a judge in the royal Court, to offer religious sacrifice and while going on hunting expeditions that the King would go out of the Palace.
Megasthenes left us a detailed description of both Municipal and Military Councils of Chandragupta’s time; Each of the councils had six Boards with well-defined functions to perform. This gives us an impression of the highly developed urban administration as also scientific military administration prevalent during Chandragupta’s time Some details of the equipment of the army are also given by the Greek ambassador. The foot soldiers carried a bow equal in length to the man who bears it. There is nothing which can resist an Indian archer’s shot. Some are equipped with Javelins instead of bows, but wear a sword which is broad in the blade.
About the peace and prosperity of the people Megasthenes observes that the inhabitants having abundant means of subsistence grew taller than the ordinary stature as might be expected of people who inhale pure air and drink the finest of water. They are well-skilled in various arts.
Referring to the fertility of the soil Megasthenes mentions that profusion of rivers and streams facilitates growth of cereals and plants of various kinds. Abundant rainfall enables harvesting of two crops. Megasthenes was so much impressed by the contentment and prosperity of the people that he made the sweeping remark that “famine has never visited India and that there has never been a general scarcity in the supply of nourishing food”.
Megasthenes, however, justifies this, remark by stating that even in times of war the Indians would never ravage the cultivated soil as was done by other nations but would fight their battles, away from agricultural fields allowing the tillers of the soil to carry on cultivation even when battles were raging. The Indians regarded the husbandmen as sacred and inviolable. Besides, they neither ravage an enemy’s land with fire nor cut down its trees.
It may be pointed out here that Megasthenes’ observation regarding absence of famine is factually incorrect, for there are references in literary works to the occurrences of famine in India. A terrible famine stalked the land within years of Megasthenes’ departure from India.
Due to agricultural prosperity by far the most numerous classes in the society was formed of the husbandmen. But they did not prevent the growth of town’s and. cities. Megasthenes observed that the number of cities was so large that ‘it cannot be stated with precision’. Cities near rivers or seas were built of wood in order to save them from destruction by flood and rains, but those built on heights and away from rivers or seas were built of bricks and mud.
Megasthenes refers to the frugal nature of the Indians but remarks that they were fond of fineries and jewelleries which fostered growth of trade and industry. A large number of persons were employed in production of weapons of war, ships for the navy as well as maritime trade and human transport. Sailors of state owned ships, and skilled persons appointed for building of war ships and manufacture of weapons, were paid from the State coffers.
Megasthenes mentioned existence of Seven Castes in the then Indian Society which was contrary to the traditional fourfold division of the Caste-System then prevalent. In fact, Megasthenes’ division of the people into the Seven Castes, viz.: Philosophers, Husbandmen, Hardsmen, Artisans, Soldiers, Overseers and Councillors, obviously was a division with reference to the professional pursuits of different sections of the society.
Megasthenes perhaps did not realise the import of the fourfold division of the society into Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras. He, in all probability, was led by his knowledge of the division of the ‘Egyptian Society into Seven Castes, on professional basis’. Prof. Rhys Davids observes that Megasthenes betrayed lack, of critical judgment. This was one such instance.
Megasthenes polices a general contentment among the people and the treatment of the underdogs of the society then must have been so liberal that he observed that slavery was unknown to India. Even the foreigners were not converted into slavery by-the Indians. But here again, there is a factual error.
Obviously it was the benignity of treatment of the slaves, their right to private property and source freedom unlike those of the Greek Slaves who were no better than chattels of their master that must have been responsible for this error in observation but the fact remains that slavery existed in India at that time. This is borne out by the Arthasastra which says that no Arya or freeman could be reduced to slavery. Reference to Dasas, i.e., the slaves in Asokan inscriptions also bear testimony to the existence of the institution of slavery in Maurya India.
That Megasthenes’ account although available to us in fragments referred to by later classical writers, is, to say the least, a unique document and the good words that he said about the administration, people and the political, social economic and cultural life of the Indians under the first Maurya redounds to the credit of our four-bears of the time. It is particularly gratifying to read praxes of the country and the people in the account of a foreigner.
Chandragupta: His Personality and Estimate:
Alexander’s invasion of India in the last quarter of the fourth century before Christ brought out in bold relief two diametrically opposite characters of the Indian rulers of the time, one of craven heartedness and betrayal to the cause of the country, and the other of intrepidity, patriotism and defence of the cause of the country and the people.
If Ambhi of Taxila and many others had betrayed the cause of the country by buying Alexander’s over-lordship, without any compunction, there were kings like Poros, republican tribes like the Mala-vas and Kshudrakas, who preferred death to dishonour and offered stubborn resistance to the Macedonian conqueror.
But by far the greatest defender of freedom was the intrepid Chandragupta Maurya who rising from an obscure station of life won double freedom for the country and successfully defended it from one of Alexander’s generals who possessed all knowledge of Alexander’s military strategy. He freed the parts of the country from the Greek rule, overthrew the tyrannical Nandas bringing liberty to the people and warded off the invasion Seleukos.
As a youth of no much experience he thought of invoking Alexander’s help in overthrowing the vicious Nandas of Magadha and unknowingly was about to play the part of Sangram Singha who invited Babur to put an end to the rule of Ibrahim Lodi. But fortunately the plan did not materialise and in the bargain he gave offence to the proud Macedonian conqueror and had to flee for life.
All this did not damp his spirit. He organised an army with the assistance of his mentor Kautilya and eventually put an end to the foreign rule in the Punjab and overthrew the infamous Nanda ruler. Likewise attempt of Seleukos to recover the Greek conquests in India was foiled by inflicting a crushing defeat on him.
All this shows Chandragupta as an intrepid soldier, a military organizer, a patriot and a great defender of the freedom of the country and the liberty of the people. With his vast army Chandragupta has extended his empire from Afghanistan to Mysore. But if he had created the first politically United Indian Empire he did not fail to give it an efficient administration, profusely praised by Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador sent to Pataliputra by Seleukos.
Chandragupta’s military prowess and the friendly relations that had ushered in with the, Greek world after Seleukos’s defeat opened up a long and continuous process of friendliness with the West in general and the Greeks in particular.
Chandragupta’s government was a commendable compromise between autocracy and democracy capitalism and State socialism. Theoretically the king was the sovereign head of the State and his powers comprised legislative, executive, judicial and military decisions of ultimate nature. But although not bound theoretically by the advice of the Mantriparishad, in practice he could not flout it, remembering as we do that person of Kautilya’s eminence was a member of the Mantriparishad.
Further, from the Arthasastra we know that the king had to be guided by the majority opinion (Bhuyishthah). In matters concerning war or army development the king would consult the Commander-in-Chief (Senapati). It is needless, therefore, to say that Chandragupta’s government was personal in character but not despotism, it was autocracy without authoritarianism, it was tempered by democracy. Well-being of the people was the fundamental principle of the Government.
Kautilya’s administrative scheme what must have been the basis of Chandragupta’s administration provided for a large measure of nationalisation of industries. The state owned vast estates and forests held State monopoly of mines and marketing of produce of the mines.
The Government established factories for turning raw materials into finished goods; it also dealt in vast quantities of agricultural products and maintained a central reserve of food grains for current needs and for meeting natural calamities like famine etc. Chandragupta’s government, therefore, had a very modern outlook and economically it was a mixture of capitalism arid State Socialism—as some writers hold.
The elegance of the court life, the wonderful decorations in the gilded pillars studded with golden vines and silver birds, the palace garden with tamed peacocks and pheasants, artificial ponds with large fishes, trees and shrubs deftly done into beautiful shapes by woodmen betray a great artistic and aesthetic sense on the part of Chandragupta. Evidences are there that Chandragupta held discourses with Brahmana and Jaina Philosophers and folk lores (gathas), Sutras (sullas) etc. were composed during his time.
Chandragupta spent long hours in attending to the business of the Court and administration. He showed both knack and ability to keep an administrative control over the different branches of the government. He was rightly considered to be the greatest of all kings of the country by Aelian.
Bindusara (300-273 B.C.):
Chandragupta Maurya was succeeded by his son Bindusara in 300 or 299 B.C. According to Rajavalikathe, a Jaina text, name of Bindusara was Simhasena. In Hemchandra’s Parisisthaparvana, Bindusara was the son of Chandragupta’s queen named Duradhara. But historians like H. C. Roychaudhuri are of opinion that the name cannot be accepted as genuine.
Bindusara was also known by his epithet Amitraghata or Amitrakhada i.e., killer of enemies or devourer of enemies. Obviously this epithet was earned by him because of his success against enemies, but details are lacking. But whether the title or epithet Amritraghata or Amitrakhada was added to his name due to any spectacular success against any enemies is doubtful, for in Patanjali’s Mahabhasya the word Amitraghatin occurs as an epithet of princes and warriors in respect of their success against enemies.
The Greeks called Bindusara Amitrachates or Allitrochates which Dr. Charpentier rendered into Amitraghata as well as Amitrakhada. In Arya-Majusri-Mula-Kalpa as also in the works of Hemchandra and Taranatha there are references to Chanakya’s outliving Chandragupta and serving as Bindusara’s minister and procuring destruction of 16 towns and making the master of all the territory between the Eastern and Western Seas.
This was taken by some scholars such as Smith to mean Bindusara’s conquest of the Deccan but from Rudradamana’s inscription we know that Chandragupta’s empire had already extended from Surashtra to Bengal, i.e., from the Western to the Eastern Seas. From Divyava dana we know that Taxila revolted during the reign of Bindusara and Prince Asoka was despatched to put it down.
We may, therefore, conclude that at least one town was restored to the empire under Bindusara. That Bindusara was not of soldierly habits and was rather of a happy-go-lucky disposition, given to ease and luxury is corroborated by contemporary evidence. At best Bindusara succeeded in keeping the Maurya Empire as he succeeded from his father Chandragupta intact, but he can hardly be credited with making any addition to the empire.
Bindusara maintained friendly relationship with the Greek rulers initiated during his father’s time. From Greek writer, Hegesender, we know of the most cordial relation between Bindusara and Antiochos, Greek King of Syrian to Diodoros. Bindusara has great love for the Graecians. Bindusara once asked Antiochos I, Soter, son of Seleukos to send some ‘sweet wine, figs and a philosopher’.
Antiochos complied with the request by sending sweet, wine and figs but expressed regret that law of his country did not permit deporting any Philosopher from the country. Antiochos sent Deimachos to the Court of Bindusara to succeed Megasthenes as ambassador. Pliny mentions that another Greek King Ptolemy Philadelphos of Egypt sent Dionysius as ambassador to the Court of Bindusara.
The period of Ptolemy’s rule was from 285 to 247 B.C. from which some historians think that Dionysius was accredited to Bindusara’s Court, although there is no clear evidence to dispel the doubt whether Dionysius presented his credentials to Bindusara or his son Asoka.
We have no details about the administration or reign of Bindusara. We have noticed that he had sent Asoka, his ablest son to quell the rebellion at Taxila which was caused by the tyrannical conduct of the local officials (Dustamatyas). Asoka was also placed as his Viceroy at Ujjaini, capital of Avanti.
Bindusara placed his eledest son Susima also called Sumana as Viceroy at Taxila and when rebellion broke out there and situation went out of Susima’s control, Asoka was sent to quell the (rebellion. Bindusara appears, to have followed Chandragupta’s system of appointing princess of royal blood as Viceroys and governors of imperial provinces.
Arthasastra: Date and Authorship:
Science of Polity in ancient India was called by various names such as Arthasastra, Nitisastra, Rajniti, Dandaniti etc. which included political theory and organisation and matters related to State and Society.
Kautilya’s Arthasastra was regarded as the standard work on the subject and had cast into shade all the previous works of as many as thirteen individual writers, due to masterly treatment and well-deserved reputation of Arthasastra.
The book was somehow completely lost and it was not till the beginning of the present century that a copy was discovered by Dr. Sham Sastri from a pandit in Tanjore district. Two other manuscript of Arthasastra was later found in the Munich Library and another Seems to exist in Calcutta.
Translation of some extracts of the manuscript of Arthasastra was published by Sham Sastri in 1905, a second edition in 1908. Translation of the book in full-fledged form appeared in 1915.
The traditional Indian view is to regard the book as the work of Kautilya, also known as Chanakya and Vishnugupta, the minister of the first Maurya ruler. Keith is the foremost among the scholars who place the treaties in C. 300 A.D. According to him That the work was a product of C. 300 A.D. written by an official attached to some Court is at least plausible, if it cannot be proved. But Keith’s view suffers from infirmity because elsewhere he himself assigned the work to the first century B.C. while the matter, very probably, is older by a good deal than that.
But in the Puranic text there is a passage which refers, to the revolution effected by Chandragupta with the help of Brahmin Kautilya who consecrated him. The dynastic change that took place as a result of the revolution is also referred to in Kautily’s Arthasastra, Kamandaka’s Niti Sastra, the Mudrarakshasa, the Chanda Kausika, and the Ceylonese chronicles.
Johnston, however, remarks that Kautily’s Arthasastra is not separated by a great interval from Asvaghosa and is distinctly earlier than Jatakamala of Aryasura who flourished in the fourth Century A.D. This naturally means that the Arthasastra was a work of a period later than the time of the First Maurya.
Precludes the possibility of a date earlier than the middle of the third century B.C. ‘The great silk-producing country (China) was clearly out of the horizon of the early Mauryas. Further, the imperial title Chakravarti mentioned in the Arthasastra is not found before the inscriptions of Kharvela.
The researches of the German scholars, however, clearly established that the Arthasastra is a genuine ancient work of the Maurya period and rightly attributed to Chanakya or Kautilya, minister of Chandragupta Maurya. Hermann Jacobi remarks that the Arthasastra is the work of the famous minister of Chandragupta, as established by both external and internal proofs.
It may also be pointed out that many passages in the text of the Arthasastra expressly describe it as the composition of Kautilya who uprooted the Nandas, thereby clearly identifying him with the Prime Minister of Chandragupta. Roychaudhuri, however, remarks that Nevertheless a critical examination of the contents has convinced some sholars that the text as it were not the work of a single individual but of a school of politics, and that it could not be composed in the third century B.C. but probably received its present from three or four centuries later. Although the view is now greatly accepted some distinguished scholars still regard the text as genuine and long lost work of Kautilya.
Although the German scholars, on the basis of their researches are more categorical about the authenticity of the work and its composition by Kautilya, the Prime Minister of Chandragupta Maurya, Smith points out that The German verdict, of course, does not exclude the possibility, or probability that the existing text may contain certain interpolations of later date, but the bulk of the book certainly dates from the Maurya period.
But certain points have to be considered before any positive conclusion is reached:
(1) The language used in Arthasastra is Sanskrit and not Prakit which was used by the Mauryas.
(2) The wall of Kautilya’s fort (Durga) was to be made of bricks and Kautilya had horror of wooden structure as fire finds a happy abode in it but from Megasthenes we learn that such cities as were situated on the banks of rivers or sea coasts were built of wood instead of brick. Pataliputra was girded by wooden walls.
(3) There is reference to the royal titles adopted by the Mauryas in the Arthasastra. On the contrary title like lndra-Yama-Sthanametat mentioned in the Arthasastra is very much akin to the titles referred to in the Allalhabad Prasasti.
(4) Some of the official designations were found to be in use under the Mauryas but two important designations, viz., Samahartri and Sannidhatri were found in inscriptions of later times.
(5) Chinapatta, Chinabhumi and Kambu, i.e., Cambodia wherefrom silk came into India, referred to in the Arthasastra shows that the treatise did not belong to the early Mauryas since China and Cambodia were outside the horizon of the earliest Mauryas”. India’s contact with China before the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to 200 A.D.) is not indisputable. In view of these points raised about the date of the composition of the Arthasastra remains still controversial and awaits solution.
We may, therefore, conclude that although, it is generally accepted that the work was of Kautilya the Prime Minister of the First Maurya, Chandragupta, it contained references to contents of earlier works on the subject now lost, as well as certain later interpolations. In any event the treatise contains to be controversial and a subject matter for further researches.