Friday, 27 June 2014

Chandragupta Maurya

The story of Alexander the Great is very familiar to most Indians (at least we think we do).  We are taught in history classes that Alexander invaded India in 326 BCE.  He fought a fierce battle with King Porus (battle of the Hydaspes River) in modern day Pakistan.  Porus was defeated but Alexander spared his life and allowed him to rule the area under his name.  Alexander then reached the Beas River in Himachal Pradesh and decided to turn back after his army started revolting (many people in the ancient world including the Greeks also believed that India was the end of the world and it would not make sense to keep advancing).

As Alexander started his long journey back to Macedonia he awarded most of the lands captured by him to various Satraps (Persian name for governors).  Over the course of time many of these Satraps became emperors controlling large tracks of land themselves.  Unfortunately very little is taught in Indian schools about these satraps appointed by Alexander or the lasting legacy that they left on the long history of India.

Indian history teaches that the Mauryan Empire came into existence immediately after Alexander’s arrival in northwestern India.  Chandragupta Maurya (340 BCE to 298 BCE) is credited with founding the Maurya Empire and establishing the first “Indian” empire by defeating the Greek Satraps. How do we explain such a major Indian empire coming into existence just 15 years after Alexander’s arrival at the Beas River?

In Greek and Latin Chandragupta Maurya is known as Sandrokottos or Androcottus. Very little is known about him or his lineage.  Some Indian historians claim that he is the illegitimate child born to a Nanda prince and a maid.  Others claim that he was raised by peacock tamers.  But history is murky.  The dates attributed to reign of Chandragupta Maurya are not set in stone and that is what makes his story very interesting.

Noted Indian historians like Dr. Ranjit Pal (Ph.D from IIT Kharagpur and life member of “Indian Society for Greek and Roman Studies”) are now beginning to make a compelling case about revising the history of India during the time of Alexander (I recommend reading his book “Non-Jonesian Indology and Alexander).  The main area of contention is the location of the city of Pataliputra (which is mentioned in the classic work by Greek writer Megasthenes called Indica).
When Alexander the Great died in 323 BC, Chandragupta turned to Northwestern India, now in the hands of Greek generals left in charge by Alexander. By 316 BC, Chandragupta had conquered everything East of the Indus River. Chandragupta continued his expansion into Seleucid Persia, the most powerful of the territories left by Alexander. Seleucus I Nicator entered confrontation with Chandragupta in 305 BC, eventually going to war with him. Seleucus did not do too well in battle, and Seleucus had to cede a large amount of territory east of the Indus to Chandragupta. This stretched the Mauryan Empire into Pakistan and Afghanistan. Chandragupta is said to have married Seleucus's daughter to formalize the alliance, which would explain the 500 war-elephants that Chandragupta sent to Seleucus. These elephants helped Sleucus to win the Battle of Ipsus in 302 BC against other generals of Alexander. After expanding in the Northwest, Chandragupta moved to the South, on the Deccan Plateau, where he conquered most of the kingdoms there as well. 

In 298 BC, Chandragupta gave up his throne to become an ascetic. Chandragupta migrated to southern India to what is now Karnataka. A temple marks the Bhadrabahu cave, the place where Chandragupta is said to have died while fasting. After he left, Chandragupta's son, Bindusara, took over the throne of the Mauryan empire. Chandragupta's grandson, Ashoka the Great, is said to have been one of the most influential kings in the history of India and the world. Chandragupta Maurya is on our list for founding on of the greatest empires in Indian history and in the world. Maurya tried to build an empire at the same time and place as Alexander the Great, and succeeded.

  • Then came Ashoka the Great, who was also known as Ashokabardhan Maurya.  Ashoka would have remained the Ashokabardhan for the whole of his life if he would not have come to the noble realization that he had when he visited the battlefield where the Kalinga war was fought. Ashoka invaded Kalinga and became victorious claiming the lives of at least 100000 soldiers and civilians. Nearly ten thousand soldiers who were fighting for Ashoka, also lost their lives. Ashoka was overwhelmingly pained at the loss of so many lives.

    With an area of 5,000,000 km, Mauryan Empire was one of the world's largest empires in its time, and the largest ever in the Indian subcontinent.  It is also one of the strongest and geographically widespread dynasties of all times.  The Mauryan empire stretched its reign along Himalyas throughout North and towards East up to what is presently known as Assam.

    After the Kalinga War, Asoka began to spread the teachings of Buddha which propagated not only religion but his ideas on society as well.  The rock edicts and inscriptions spread Buddhism and values of virtue and peace. This he called Dhamma or Sanskrit Dharma. Asoka also spread the teachings of Buddhism to his neighbours by sending envoys to various places including Sri Lanka, Burma and other Southeast Asian countries.

    The Mauryan empire lasted for over 50 years and saw signs of decline after the death of Asoka. Financial crisis, brahmmanical reaction, weak successors and neglect of the northwest frontier are some of the reasons for the decline of the Mauryan empire.
    Very little information is known about his early life. It is believed that he was born around 340 BCE in Patna, Bihar. His mother was Mura. It is also told that the Maurya came from his mother name Mura.

  • Chandragupta was great warrior and leader from his childhood. His abilities were first identified by the famous teacher Chanakya. He taught Chandragupta different lessons on politics and war. Later with the help of Chanakya, he established Maurya Empire defeating Dhana Nanda of Nanda Empire. At that time he was only 20 years old.

  • After establishing the Maurya Empire, Chandragupta started to unify the India. He was able to conquer every part of the Indian subcontinent except for the Kalinga of Orissa and some southern subcontinent.

  • After unifying India, Chandragupta with the help of Chanakya established a strong central administration patterned empire. His empire was one of the highly organized bureaucratic structure with a large civil service.

  • During his reign Greek diplomat Megasthenes visited India.

  • At the age of 42 he handed over his throne to his son Bindusara. He accepted Jainism and made saint Bhadrabahu his guru. He travelled to the southern india and meditated without eating and drinking until his death (this process is called sallekhana or santhara).


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