Friday, August 31, 2018

Founders: Who was Chandragupta Maurya?

As Alexander the Great’s Generals carved out their own kingdoms from the vast Macedonian Empire, it sent ripple effects that led to a creation of another empire in India. The mysterious Chandragupta Maurya (r. 321 - 297 BCE) emerged from obscurity, established his own dynasty that ruled over much of modern India for more than a century.
Chandragupta Maurya entertains his bride from Babylon
Early Life

Mystery shrouded the past of Chadragupta Maurya. Multiple sources detailed different origins for the founder of the Maurya Empire. Some sources suggested he descended from a Kshatriya (Warrior Caste) Clan while another suggested he came from Sudra (Laborer Caste) parents. His grandson Ashoka, meanwhile, unfoundedly claimed he had Buddha as his ancestors. Whatever the case, the lack of definitive background meant an absence of remarkable background.

Stories narrated Chandragupta grew up raising cattle before being discovered by India’s Machiavelli Kautilya otherwise known as Chanakya. According to legend, while Chandragupta played with his friends, Kautilya found him displaying exemplary leadership and charisma deciding to adopt the future founder.
Modern depiction of Kautilya
Kautilya had high hopes and ambitions for Chandragupta. He groomed and trained the child to overthrow the ruling Nanda Dynasty of the Magahda Region. He once worked under the Nandas, but later his career soured and faced disgraced. Bitter, he dreamt of the dynasty’s downfall. A dream he placed into the young Chandragupta.

Rise to Power

Chandragupta, with Kautilya’s help, received quality education. Kautilya tutored him on basic Hindu text before sending him to Taxila (in modern day Pakistan), where also studied, for further instruction. According to legends, Chandragupta met with Alexander the Great during his time in Taxila that inspired him to emulate the great Macedonian leader’s empire.
The Phalanx Attacking the Centre
in the Battle of the Hydaspes
by André Castaigne
After receiving his education, he entered into the service of the Nanda Kings rising to the ranks before finally launching a rebellion as hoped by Kautilya for long time. During the rebellion, Chandragupta received advice and support from Kautilya. Together they gained popular support, hired mercenaries, built up an army, and negotiated an alliance with a Himalayan ruler King Parvatka.

In 323 BCE, Chandragupta came upon an opportunity to unleash his army and establish his base. News of Alexander the Great’s death spread and Chandragupta swept in to take Punjab and other Greek-held lands east of the Indus River. After taking Punjab and Greek-occupied territories, he turned his attention back to the Nanda Kings. In 322 BCE, he threw the last blow to the Nanda Dynasty killing their King and capturing their capital Pataliputra. In effect he controlled lands from Bengal in the east to the Indus River in the west establishing the Mauryan Empire.

Consolidation of Power

With the Mauryan Dynasty established, Chandragupta, who usurped power from the Nanda Kings, must then secure his hold into power. Once again, he relied in his indispensable mentor Kautilya who he made his chief minister and adviser. In turn, Kautilya wanted to mold Chandragupta into the King he idealized in his renowned Indian political treatise called the Arthashastra or the Science of Material Gain.

Chandragupta and Kautilya then moved to secure their position. They eliminated opposition, critics, and rivals. They extended their control over their dominion through spies serving as his secret police. They strengthened their authority through establishment of administrative order, one based on Achaemenid Persia and the Arthashastra. They divided the empire into 4 provinces each with a prince or governor serving upon the good graces of Chandragupta.

While Chandragupta secured the internal affairs of the empire, in an age of constant war and aggressive ambitions, he had also to protect his Empire from external threats – primarily from the neighboring Seleucid Empire and its Greek ruler Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great’s generals. In 305 BCE, Chandragupta had to protect his realm from the Greek ruler’s dream of reconquest of Alexander’s Indian lands. He successfully repulsed the Greek invasion forcing a peace treaty in his favor. He received Seleucus’ daughter as his bride as well as lands that encompassed parts of modern day Iran, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. In exchange, he had to send 500 elephants to Seleucus, with some serving in the Battle of Ipsus in 301 BCE. As a result, Chandragupta had a stable and peaceful frontier in the west.

Chandragupta also welcomed an emissary of Seleucus to his court. Megasthenes served as the emissary and he became a major source with regards to India in the western perspective with his work Indika.

Later Years

With the internal and external threats dealt with, Chandragupta continued his reign and bring development to his empire. He improved the infrastructure of the empire and expanded the army to maintain its stability. Inspired by Persian Royal Road, Chandragupta ordered the construction of roads connecting the capital Pataliputra and other major cities such as Taxila.

He also built a power huge army as a show of might to deter any thoughts of rebellion. The army, according to Greek records, comprised of 500,000 soldiers. In addition, it had a cavalry force of 30,000 and 9,000 war elephants. An army meant more to intimidate rather than to facing enemies head on.

Legends once again shrouded Chandragupta’s later years. Jain stories suggested Chandragupta welcomed a Jain sage, Bhadrabahu, who prophesied a 12-year famine. The Mauryan Empire tried to prevent the worst effects of the famine, but only partially successful. In sorrow, he abdicated his throne in favor of his son and converted to Jainism retreating to Jainist holy city of Shravanabelagola. In 297 BCE, he fasted in hope it would ease his people’s suffering. He fasted in a cave until he succumbed to starvation and passed away.


Chandgragupta Maurya placed himself in history as a founder of the earliest empire that would dominate much of modern day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. He became the unexpected consequence of Alexander the Great’s attack on India and becoming the role model of power, glory, and empire. His successors built upon his foundations through which the greatest Indian ruler, Ashoka, emerged, and continued to inspire modern day India. Chandragupta went out from obscurity with the help of his indispensable Kautilya and gave India the earliest taste of imperial glory.

See also:

“Chandragupta Maurya.” In Cultural India. Accessed on August 26, 2018. URL:

Szczepanski, Kallie. “Chandragupta Maurya, Founder of the Mauryan Empire in 320 BC.” In ThoughtCo. Accessed on August 26, 2018. URL:  

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannia. “Chandragupta.” In Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed on August 26, 2018. URL:

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