The rise of Chandragupta to power is mostly known from the Buddhist sources and the description of the Western classical writers.
Superstitious stories are mixed up with historical accounts which make the subject fascinating. According to Buddhist accounts, the boy Chandragupta was living in Pataliputra in hardship and poverty, and was employed by a hunter to look after his cattle.
But while playing with other boys he showed extraordinary intelligence. He held mock courts and delivered judgments like a learned judge.
It was at that time that the wise Chanakya (Kautilya) one day saw the boy while he was playing the role of a king among his fellow-players and giving Judgement. Chanakya was no ordinary man. A vastly learned Brahmin of Taxila he had come to Pataliputra for higher recognition. But the ruling king of Magadha, Dhana Nanda, neither paid him respect nor accepted him for a position to which others had selected him. Instead, the king offended and insulted him to wound his feelings deeply. Chanakya’s vanity and personal dignity were so much affected that he took a vow for revenge.
When Chanakya saw the boy Chandragupta in his game, he felt impressed at his intelligence as well as his individuality. He took the boy with him from Pataliputra to far-away Taxila to educate and train him there for a big role in future with an aim at the destruction of the Nanda dynasty. Thus that Chandragupta spent his youth in the frontier city of Taxila, undergoing military training and acquiring knowledge at that great centre of learning.
Chandragupta was indeed a bold and brave man as Chanakya was shrewd and crafty. Both of them must have felt shocked and distressed when Alexander led his army through the city of Taxila on India’s frontiers. Both Plutarch and Justin, the classical writers, mention that the youthful Chandragupta came to the camp of Alexander and met the Greek hero.
Though the purpose of the visit is not known, the visit itself speaks of Chandragupta’s daring character. Even Alexander was surprised to see his bold conduct and felt angry enough to order for his arrest and execution. But the Indian youth escaped through the ring of Alexander’s forces by a remarkable feat of physical strength and sharpness of mind.
Soon thereafter began the rapid rise of Chandragupta to power. Alexander’s departure from India left the North West in political turmoil. The presence of the Greek generals and garrisons did not create any fear in Chandragupta’s mind. He could think of driving out the foreigners with his own forces. In Magadha, by then, the Nanda monarch was so oppressive and despotic that the people felt restless against his misrule.
The time and situation were greatly favourable to Chandragupta to start a vigorous military campaign to capture power. It is obvious, that he raised a big fighting force with men from the heroic tribes of the northwest and the Punjab, as well as from the fallen republican states of those areas. About the rise of Chandragupta, Justin left the following description, a mixture of facts, fantastic accounts, and also of malice:
“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). This man was of humble origin but was stimulated to aspire to regal power by supernatural encouragement; for having offended Alexander by his boldness of speech and orders being given to kill him, he saved himself by swiftness of foot; and while he was lying asleep, after his fatigue, a lion of great size having come up to him, licked off with his tongue the sweat that was running from him and after gently waking him, left him. Being first prompted by this prodigy to conceive hopes of royal dignity he drew together a band of robbers, and solicited the Indians to support his new sovereignty. Sometime after, as he was going to war with the Generals of Alexander, a wild elephant of great bulk presented itself before him of its own accord and, as it tamed down to gentleness, took him on its back and became his guide in the war and conspicuous in fields of battle. Sandrocottus thus acquired a throne when Seleucus was laying the foundations of his future greatness.”
It is not very clear if Chandragupta first expelled the Greek garrisons from the Punjab and the North-West and next overthrew the Nandas from the throne of Magadha, or he first captured Magadha and next destroyed the Greek power. It is clear that even as Alexander was leaving India, and soon after his departure, the Indians started fighting against the Greeks. And, by the time he died within two years, Chandragupta was powerful enough to defeat and drive out the Greeks from the Indian soil. The extermination of the foreigners and the liberation of the Punjab and the North-West were remarkable achievements of Chandragupta Maurya.
Either immediately before this or soon after, Chandragupta destroyed the Nanda rule. As the date of Chandragupta’s accession to the throne is accepted as 324 B.C., both from Greek evidences and Buddhist sources, his triumph over the Nanda ruler as well as over the Greeks of the North-West must have been a most speedy work following the departure of Alexander from India in 325 B.C., and before his death in Babylon.
The last Nanda king, Dhana Nanda, was powerful but not popular. His oppressive rule was resented by the people. Advised and assisted by Chanakya, Chandragupta adopted different strategies to overthrow the Nanda power. It is gathered from the Buddhist and Jaina sources that he at first attacked the centre of Magadha itself, but failed. Next, he started attacks from the frontier areas of the empire and advanced towards the centre, after conquering several janapadas on his way.
Keeping those conquered territories under the control of his army, he finally invaded the capital Pataliputra. After a fierce struggle in which many people died. Chandragupta won the battle and captured Pataliputra. The Nanda king surrendered himself to the victor. According to Jaina tradition, his life was spared and he was allowed to leave the capital. But according to Buddhist accounts, the Nanda King died in the battle.
By his conquests of the North-West and the Nanda Empire, Chandragupta became the master of the entire Indo-Gangetic plains and beyond, as far as the Hindukush. The conquests did not stop thereafter, but continued for long till most of the Indian sub-continent came under his sway. Truly enough he became the first Chakravarti King of India in historical times, with his political umbrella covering the landmass from the Himalayas to the far south.
Extent of Chandragupta’s Empire:
According to Plutarch, Chandragupta Maurya “overran and subdued the whole of India with an army of six hundred thousand.” The descriptions of Justin lead to the same conclusion. The literary and epigraphic evidences inside India also prove that Chandragupta’s empire was vast and extensive.
From the Junagadh Rock Inscription of Rudradaman it is known that Chandragupta appointed a Vaisya governor named Pushyagupta to rule over Saurashtra in Western India. The Kathiawar region having been included in his empire, the Maurya Empire extended to the Arabian Sea in the west. The Jaina tradition refers to Chandragupta’s conquest of Avanti or Malwa.
According to the Tamil Texts and traditions of the south, the ‘Vamba Moriyar’ or the Maurya Upstart invaded the South with a large army and came as far as the podiyeil Hill in Tinnevelly district. The description ‘Upstart’ indicates that it was Chandragupta Maurya, the first ruler of the maurya dynasty. Obviously, he conquered a large part of the Deccan. This theory is supported by other evidences. The jaina traditions uphold Chandragupta’s association with the Deccan in a religious way.
It is said the Maurya king of Pataliputra, Chandragupta, abdicated the throne towards the end of his political career, became a jaina monk, and followed the saint Bhadrabahu to Mysore. There, he lived in a small hill at Sravana Belgola, which came to be known as Chandragiri after the name of Chandragupta. The cave over the hill is named as Bhadrabahu. There are some small inscriptions carrying the memory of the saint and the monarch. It is believed that Chandragupta built a temple there, named as Chandraguptabasti.
A much more convincing evidence of Chandragupta’s conquest of the sourth is found from the inscriptions of Asoka, his grandson. The famous Asokan Inscriptions at Maski in the former Hyderabad State, and the Yerragudi Inscriptions in the Kurnool district show the extent of the Maurya Empire in the far south. Asoka himself conquered only one territory, namely Kalinga.
That being so, the southern conquests of the Mauryas were clearly the works of his grandfather, Chandragupta. Chandragupta’s son Bindusara, though powerful, was not known to be a great conqueror. The descriptions of Asoka in his inscriptions indicating the southern limits of his empire are also a proof of the extent of the Maurya Empire.
He gives the names of the neighbouring peoples who lived just across the Maurya frontiers in the farthest south, and they were the Cholas and the Pandyas, the Satyaputras and the Keralaputras. The South was thus a part of the Maurya Empire.
In the east, beyond Magadha, Chandragupta’s rule seems to have extended as far as the river Brahmaputra. From the Hindukush to the Brahmaputra, and from the Himalayas in the north to Mysore in the south, the first Maurya emperor ruled almost over the whole of India, except the farthest south and the easternmost areas beyond the Brahmaputra and, of course, the powerful state of Kalinga. It can be said that Chandragupta Maurya fulfilled the dream of Kautilya about the political unification of India in shape of Chakravartikshetra.
Conquests from Seleucus (Seleukos) Nikator:
The conquests of Chandragupta were not confined only to the natural frontiers of India. One of his greatest achievements was his conquests outside, from the most powerful Greek ruler of that time.
At a time when Chandragupta was expelling the Greek garrisons from the north-west and was destroying the Nanda
Empire, outside the frontiers of India, Seleukos Nikator, a renowned general of Alexander, was laying the foundation of his future greatness. Alexander’s vast empire was being partitioned among his generals, and the eastern part of that empire fell to the share of Seleukos. As the master of Syria and Babylon, he was powerful enough to extend his empire from the Mediterranean sea towards the frontiers of India and assumed the title of king.
Ambitious Seleukos finally thought of reconquering the lost territories of Alexander on the soil of India. His eyes fell on the provinces to the east of the river Indus.
It was towards the close of Chandragupta’s reign, in 305 B.C., that Seleukos advanced towards India and crossed the river Indus. Chandragupta by then was the ruler of a very powerful empire, and he took up the challenge of the Greeks bravely. The Greek historians who described the invasion of Seleukos with pride did not describe the actual battle between their leader and the Indian ruler.
But, their accounts of the treaty of peace which followed the war clearly prove that Seleukos Nikator suffered a disastrous defeat and was forced to agree to a humiliating treaty with the Indian Emperor. Under that treaty, Seleukos surrendered to Chandragupta four provinces of his kingdom, namely, the Satrapies of Paropanisadai that is Kabul, Arachosia or Kandahar, Ariana that is Herat and Gandhara, and Gedrosia or Baluchistan. The surrender of such a huge territory speaks of the nature of victory which Chandragupta won over his Greek enemy.
On his part, Chandragupta gave to Seleukos a token present of 500 elephants. According to the classical writers like Appian, a matrimonial alliance was effected between the two royal houses in which the victorious Chandragupta most likely married the daughter of Seleukos. The Greek King also sent an ambassador in the person of Megasthenes to the court of Chandragupta in Pataliputra. Megasthenes most probably stayed in the Maurya capital between 304 and 299 B.C.
Chandragupta’s rule beyond the geographical frontiers of India is further proved by the existence of the Asokan Inscriptions in the Kabul valley.
Thus that Chandragupta Maurya marked his greatness in history as an empire-builder of remarkable ability. Regarding his territorial possessions in Kabul, Kandhar, Herat and Baluchistan, historian V.A. Smith commented, “The first Indian emperor, more than two thousand years ago, thus entered into possession of that scientific frontier sighed for in vain by his English successors and never held in its entirety even by the Moghul monarchs of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.”