Chandragupta Maurya the great king who defeated the Greeks!

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Have you heard of Chandragupta Maurya? He  was a great king who defeated the Greeks. None of the ancient texts mention clearly when Chandragupta was born. Plutarch claimed that he was a young man when he met Alexander the Great during his invasion of India (326-325 BC). Assuming Plutarch’s reports are true, Ray Chaudhuri a historian claimed in 1923 that Chandragupta may have been born after 350 BC. Chandragupta’s life and accomplishments are described in ancient and historical Greek, Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain texts, though they significantly vary in detail, which is expected. But they agree on the period of his reign (321–297 BC). Chandragupta Maurya was a pivotal figure in the history of India, laying the foundations of the first government to unite most of South Asia.

The early life of Chandragupta Maurya is still unclear and varied by source. According to the Sinhalese Buddhist tradition, Chandragupta’s mother was pregnant when his father, who was the chief of the Maurya clan, was killed in a battle. His mother escaped to Pataliputra (Patna) with the help of her brothers. For Chandragupta’s safety, his maternal uncles allowed a cowherd to adopt him. When Chandragupta grew up, the cowherd sold him to a hunter who employed him to tend cattle. The great philosopher Chanakya was the greatest influence in his life.

The Buddhist and Hindu sources presented different versions of how Chandragupta met Chanakya. The sources mentioned young Chandragupta playing a mock game of a royal court that he and his cowherd friends created near Vinjha forest. Chanakya was impressed by the young Chandragupta giving orders to others, and bought him from the hunter. He adopted Chandragupta. Chanakya taught and admitted him in the famous Taxila University to study the Vedas, military arts, law, and other sastras.

After Taxila, Chandragupta and Chanakya moved to Pataliputra, the capital and a historic learning center in the eastern kingdom of ancient India called Magadh. They met the ruler of Magadh, Dhana Nanda according to Pali language Buddhist sources. Chandragupta became a commander of the Nanda army, but according to the great Roman historian Justin, Chandragupta offended the Nanda king who ordered his execution. An alternate version stated that it was the Nanda king who was publicly insulted by Chanakya. Sources revealed that Chandragupta and Chanakya escaped and became rebels who planned to remove the Nanda king from power. The Mudrarakshasa also stated that Chanakya swore to destroy the Nanda dynasty after he was insulted by the king.

The Roman text by  Justin mentioned a couple of miraculous incidents that involved Chandragupta and presented these legends as omens of his fate. In the first incident, when Chandragupta was asleep after having escaped from Pataliputra, a big lion came up to him, licked him, and then left. In the second incident, when Chandragupta was preparing for war with Alexander’s generals, a huge wild elephant approached him and offered itself to be his steed.

According to the Buddhist text Mahavamsa Tika, Chandragupta and Chanakya raised an army by recruiting soldiers from many places after the former completed his education at Taxila. Chanakya made Chandragupta the leader of the army. Greco-Roman writer Plutarch stated, in his book “Life of Alexander”, that the Nanda king was so unpopular that had Alexander tried, he could have easily conquered India. After Alexander ended his campaign and left, Chandragupta’s army conquered the Nanda capital Pataliputra around 322 BCE with Chanakya’s counsel. Chanakya in other words could be called “king maker”.

Alexander the Great’s invasion ended before Chandragupta came into power. Alexander had left India in 325 BC and assigned the north-western territories to Greek governors. The nature of early relationship between these governors and Chandragupta is unknown. Justin mentions Chandragupta as a rival to Alexander’s successors in north-western India. He said that after Alexander’s death, Chandragupta freed some territories from the Greeks and executed some of the governors.

Appian a historian stated that Selucas Nicator, one of Alexander’s Macedonian generals fought a war with Chandragupta. Seleucus and Chandragupta waged war until they came to an understanding with each other. Seleucus married off his daughter Helena to Chandragupta to forge an alliance. Selecus send Megasthenes as a Greek ambassador in Chandragupta’s court for four years.

After annexing provinces of Selucas, west of the Indus river, Chandragupta had a vast empire extending across the northern Indian sub-continent from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea. Chandragupta began expanding his empire southwards beyond the Vindhya Mountains and into the Deccan Plateau. By the time his conquests were complete, Chandragupta’s empire extended over most of the subcontinent.

Sources state that there was a great economic development, and Art and literature flourished under his rule. Infrastructure was vastly advanced. All these details can be found in the book written by Megasthanes’s called ‘Indica’. It is stated that in his later years he renounced his kingdom and became an ascetic. We should feel proud this great king who saved us from Greek invasion.

Anupama

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