Born in a humble family, Chandragupta Maurya rose to build the largest empire on the Indian sub-continent with a prosperous economy and a powerful army under the shrewd guidance of Chanakya
WORDS: MADHURI. Y
Once Chanakya, who would later write the Arthasastra, had arrived from Takshashila at the court of the powerful Nanda rulers on the Gangetic plains. Insulted by King Dhana Nanda, Chanakya swore revenge and was leaving in fury when young Chandragupta sought to meet him. It was this chance meeting that led to one of the greatest partnerships of all times and the creation of the Mauryan Empire.
Known to the Greeks as Sandrokottos or Androkottos, Chandragupta’s reign is known for its prosperous economy and was driven by Chanakya’s shrewd grasp of statecraft and economics. With a strong central administration from Pataliputra, Chandragupta ruled over nearly the entire Indian sub-continent through an organised, efficient structure. The focus was on building economic prosperity, connectivity by land, diplomacy and a powerful army that was in permanent readiness. Religions thrived, with Buddhism, Jainism and Ajivika living along with Hinduism.
RISE OF CHANDRAGUPTA
It was the end of Alexander the Great’s conquests. When his armies refused to cross
the River Beas and move eastward into the Indian sub-continent, Alexander chose not to wage war against the powerful Magadha kingdom of the Nandas. Leaving his troops west of the River Indus, he returned to Babylon in 323 BC. It is said that a young Chandragupta had met Alexander, but that held no significance in the Mauryan’s rise.
In 323 BC, it had been a year since Alexander’s retreat. Under Chanakya’s shrewd guidance, Chandragupta formed a small army of his own and through alliances with local rulers, defeated the Greek-ruled cities in the region. By 322-321 BC, he began rising in prominence.
To the East were the powerful Nandas who had been ruling the region since 345 BC. In preparation for a war against the professional Nanda army, Chandragupta, under Chanakya’s guidance, formed more alliances and strengthened his army.
After forming an alliance with Parvataka, a ruler in the Himalayan region, his march towards Magadha on the Gangetic plains began.
After an initial rebuff at the hands of the Nandas, the capital Pataliputra fell into Chandragupta’s hands, ending the Nanda dynasty. With the Gangetic plain under his rule, Chandragupta may have formed alliances with the Kings of Rajputana on the west and Kalinga in the south.
According to Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador’s records, Chandragupta’s army would number at least 400,000 when he gained full control, compared to the 200,000-foot troops of the Nandas.
Meanwhile Alexander died in Babylon in 323 BC. Chandragupta looked towards the west. Alternately assassinating or defeating the governors that Alexander had left behind, Chandragupta expanded his empire into the northwest.
ALLIANCE WITH SELEUCUS
Alexander’s Macedonian general, Seleucus I Nicator had established the Seleucid kingdom in 312 BC with Babylon as his capital.
A powerful ruler, he had conquered almost all of Alexander’s Asian empire, including Bactria and Indus. This brought him into conflict with Chandragupta.
Seleucus crossed the Indus and the two armies battled each other. Soon, the two kings arrived at peace through a marital alliance in which Chandragupta married a Seleucid princess. Not only did he have peace with Seleucus, he had also annexed some of the latter’s provinces. In return, he sent 500 elephants to Seleucus which enabled the latter to win the Battle of Ipsus in which he, in alliance with others, defeated the Macedonian Greek rulers. At this point, the Greek ambassador Megasthenes arrived in Chandragupta’s court.
Chandragupta turned his eye south of the Vindhyas, conquering the Deccan Plateau. At its peak, Chandragupta’s Empire extended over almost the entire Indian subcontinent.
Chanakya’s Arthasastra, which is known for his shrewd principles of administration and economics, was implemented in governing the Empire. Chandragupta ruled with the aid of a ministerial council, the ministers themselves were called amatya. The empire was structured into janapadas, that is, territories and regional centres which were protected by forts. The royal treasury funded the state functioning as well as the army.
Paying heed to Chanakya’s wisdom, Chandragupta had many reservoirs and networks built, facilitating irrigation which in turn ensured reliable food supplies to his citizens and to the army. In fact, his officials were given the duty of ensuring regional prosperity through agriculture. His irrigation works were so well-planned that 400 years later these works, built by Chandragupta and strengthened by Ashoka, continued to function, and were repaired and enlarged by later rulers.
Economics and safety took precedence over arts and architecture, and there is no conclusive evidence that archaeological findings of artefacts dating back to the period can be credited to Chandragupta Maurya.
Chandragupta renounced his throne in 298 BC and went to the south with the Jain teacher Bhadrabahu, leaving his son Bindusara as the emperor. Ashoka would rise to the throne after Bindusara.
Chandragupta lived in Shravanabelagola and eventually, followed the Jain practice of fasting to his death in 297 BC.
Chandragupta’s birth is unrecorded. It is quite possible that Greek sources are authentic in their narrative that Chandragupta did not come from a warrior background. Jain and Buddhist sources, which were written centuries later, stated that he was from noble lineage, at the least from a village chief.
The most likely event is that Kautilya, whose real name was Chanakya and who originated from the north-western region, had trained Chandragupta at Takshashila.
The Mauryan economy was very developed for its time. The existence of a stable centralized government and the unity of the sub-continent made by the emperor resulted in an advanced trade. Land routes were built to transport goods with roads suitable for the movement of carts. The Empire was no longer dependant on the trickle of movement through mules or on water transport. In fact, a 1000-mile highway connected Pataliputra to Takshashila. Others connected the capital to Kapilavastu, Kalsi, Sasaram, Kalinga, Andhra and Karnataka. With this, Chandragupta achieved not only extensive trade, but also rapid movement of his army.
State-owned weapon-manufacturing centres were another of Chanakya’s ideas. Chanakya’s principle was that prosperity is necessary to pursue Dhamma, that is, morality. He also states in his Arthasastra that diplomacy must prevail over war and if that is not possible, an army that is always ready has to be maintained.