Ancestry of Chandragupta Maurya

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Map of India, with Chandragupta's empire in blue
Empire of Chandragupta in 300 BC

Chandragupta Maurya was the founder of the Maurya Empire in India. He overthrew the king Dhananada of the Nanda Empire. There are several theories about his origin.

Identification of Maurya with Sandrokottos[edit]

Concrete pillar with dark, decorated top
Ashoka pillar in Thailand

Little is known about Chandragupta Maurya's origins. For two centuries historians have been attempting to establish the chronology of early India, which includes the question of whether Chandragupta is the figure known in ancient Greek texts as Androkottos.[citation needed] Philologist William Jones began systematic study of early India during the late 18th century.[1] Nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Indologists were reluctant to believe traditional Indian accounts of the past.[2] Subsequent scholars accepted the identity of Sandrokottos with Chandragupta Maurya. James Prinsep deciphered Brāhmī script and was able to read the inscriptions of Piyadassin (Ashoka). George Turnour found in the Ceylonese chronicles that Piyadassin was used as an alternate name for Ashoka, grandson of Chandragupta Maurya. An inscription with Piyadassin as a name for Ashoka was not found until Turnour's era. In 1838 Prinsep found five names of Yona kings in Ashoka's inscriptions and identified them as the five Greek kings, successors of Alexander in the third century BC, who were contemporaries of Ashoka.[citation needed]


Large feet inside a circle inside a square
Legendary feet of Chandragupta on Chandragiri in Karnataka

"The kings before and after Chandragupta Maurya were Dhana Nanda and Bindusara. The kings before and after Chandragupta Gupta were Chandramas and Samudragupta. The phonetic similarity is quite apparent for Chandragupta Gupta and not Maurya."[citation needed] Strabo identifies both Chandragupta and his son Bindusara (Amitraghata; Slayer of Enemies), and connects them to the third-century ambassadors Megasthenes and Deimakos sent to their courts. "Both of these men were sent ambassadors to Palimbothra (Pataliputra): Megasthenes to Sandrocottus ("Chandragupta"), Deimakos to Allitrochades ("Amitraghata") his son". (Strabo II, I, 9)[3] Plutarch also directly connects Chandragupta to Alexander himself: "Androcottus, when he was a stripling, saw Alexander himself, and we are told that he often said in later times that Alexander narrowly missed making himself master of the country, since its king was hated and despised on account of his baseness and low birth." Plutarch 62-3.[4]

Greek records, however, are silent about figures such as Chanakya and Ashoka (whose kingdom was larger than Chandragupta's). They are not said to clearly mention Buddhist monks (common in the Maurya era), but Greek accounts of shramanas are thought to correspond to them. An inscription on a Greek tomb is reported to read, "Here lies Indian Sramanacharya, Shakya monk from Bodh Gaya".[5] However, in 1000 BC the Greeks did not yet use an alphabet and the inscription has been dated to 10 CE. Nicolaus of Damascus wrote an account of a diplomatic mission sent by an Indian king "named Pandion (Pandyan kingdom) or, according to others, Porus" to Caesar Augustus about 13 CE who met with the ambassador at Antioch. The mission had a diplomatic letter in Greek, and one of its members was a Sarmano (Greek: Σαρμανο) who immolated himself in Athens to demonstrate his faith. The event was cited by Strabo[1] and Dio Cassius.[2] A tomb was made for the sarmano (still visible at the time of Plutarch), which read "ΖΑΡΜΑΝΟΧΗΓΑΣ ΙΝΔΟΣ ΑΠΟ ΒΑΡΓΟΣΗΣ" (Zarmanochēgas Indos apo Bargosēs; "The sramana master from Barygaza in India").

The names of contemporary kings found on Ashokan inscriptions are said to include Antiyoka and Tulamaya. It is thought that the edict in question mentions Western Greek kings during the time of Ashoka: "Now it is conquest by Dhamma that Beloved-of-the-Gods considers to be the best conquest. And it (conquest by Dhamma) has been won here, on the borders, even six hundred yojanas (4,000 miles) away, where the Greek king Antiochos (Antiyoka) rules, beyond there where the four kings named Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas and Alexander rule, likewise in the south among the Cholas, the Pandyas, and as far as Tamraparni."[6] In the Gandhari version, Antiochos is called "Antiyoko nama Yona-raja" (literally "The Greek king by the name of Antiochos"), "beyond whom live the four other kings: "param ca tena Atiyokena cature rajani Turamaye nama Antikini nama Maka nama Alikasudaro nama" ("And beyond Antiochus, four kings by the name of Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas and Alexander").[7]

Additional theories[edit]

Entrance to cave dug into a rock
Cave in Karnataka said to be the death place of Chandragupta

According to Greek accounts Xandrammes was deposed by Sandrokottos, son of Sandrokottos. Chandragupta Maurya had opposed Dhanananda of the Nanda dynasty; his son was Bindusara. These names (Dhanananda and Bindusara) are dissimilar to the names Xandrammes and Sandrocyptus in the Greek accounts. However, as in the case of Amitraghata (Bindusara), Greek sources mention secondary (Sanskritic) names for Indian kings. The Greek accounts contain statements from Greek and Roman writers from the fourth century BC to the second century CE. None mention Kautilya or Ashoka. Kautilya, according to tradition, helped Chandragupta to the throne. Ashoka's empire was larger than Chandragupta's. Colebrook has pointed out that the Greek writers did not say anything about the Buddhist Bhikkhus (although that was the predominant religion of the time) due to Ashoka's patronage.[citation needed] Herodotos, in his Histories, about 420 BC, mentions ascetics in the Punjab.

Theories about Maurya origins[edit]

Arthashastra on Chandragupta[edit]

The conclusive and most ancient evidence of Chandragupta's kshatriya origin is provided in a book by Chanakya explaining the preference for a poor kshatriya (Chandragupta) over an adharmic (Nanda) king. Chanakya describes himself as a protector of religion because he destroyed the Nanda and gave the empire to the kshatriya Chandragupta.[8][9]


The Puranas are clear on the Kshatriya lineage of Chandragupta Maurya. The Matsya Purana describes a King Moru, who will restore kshatriya rule in India and found the Morya (or Maurya) dynasty (which would be followed by the Shunga Empire). The Vishnu Purana also mentions King Moru, who would reestablish kshatriya rule in India by destroying the shudra Nanda. The Vayu Purana states that the Yuga Morya dynasty would restore the Suryavansha in India and be followed by the Shunga Empire.[10][11][12] The medieval commentator Ratnagarbha, in his commentary on the Vishnu Purana, concludes that Chandragupta is the son of a Nanda emperor. However, the Vishnu Purana maintains that Chandragupta has link to the Nanda kings; a militant Brahmin (Chanakya) would protect dharma (religion), uprooting the Shudra Nanda with the help of a royal man(Chandragupta) with a claim to be emperor of India.[13]

Peacock-tamer theory[edit]

Other literary traditions imply that Chandragupta was raised by peacock-tamers (Sanskrit: Mayura-Poshakha), which earned him the Maurya epithet. Buddhist and Jain traditions attest the connection between the Moriya (Maurya) and Mora, or Mayura (Peacock). While Buddhist tradition describes him as the son of the chief of the peacock clan (Moriya kshatriya), Jain tradition refers to him as the maternal grandson of the headman of the village of peacock tamers (Moraposaga).[14] This view suggests a humble background for Chandragupta; the same tradition also describes Nanda as the son of a barber and a courtesan. The pillar of Ashoka in Nandangarh has the figure of a peacock (repeated in many sculptures of Ashoka at Sanchi) on its bottom.[15] According to Turnour,[16] Buddhist tradition also attests a connection between Moriya and Mora (or Mayura, or peacock). Aelian informs us that tame peacocks were kept in the parks of the Maurya palace at Pataliputra. Scholars such as Foucher[17] do not regard these birds as a symbol of the Maurya dynasty, preferring to imagine an allusion to the Mora Jataka. In addition to peacocks, other birds (such as pheasants and parrots) and a variety of fishes were also kept in the parks and pools of the Mauryas.

Moriya clan theory[edit]

Octagonal, embossed coins
Silver punch-marked coins from the Mauryan empire, with symbols of a wheel and elephant (third century BC)

Other literary traditions exist in which Chandragupta belonged to the Moriyas, a kshatriya (warrior) clan of the small, ancient republic of Pippalivana (located between Rummindei, in the Nepalese Tarai, and Kasia in the Gorakhpur district of Uttar Pradesh). Tradition suggests that this clan was decimated during the fourth century BC under Magadhan rule, and Chandragupta grew up with peacock-tamers, herdsmen and hunters. The Buddhist text Mahavamsa calls Chandragupta a scion of a Khattya (kshatriya) clan named Moriya (Maurya). Divyavadana[18] calls Bindusara (Chandragupta's son) an anointed kshatriya (Kshatriya Murdhabhishikata); in the same work, Ashoka (son of Bindusara) is also called a kshatriya. The Mahaparinibbana Sutta[19] of the Buddhist canon states that the Moriyas belonged to the kshatriya community of Pippalivana. This tradition indicates that Chandragupta had a kshatriya lineage. Plutarch confirms the kshatriya origin of Chandragupta.[20]

The Mahavamsa connects him to the Sakya clan of Gautama Buddha, a clan which also claimed to belong to the race of Aditya.[21] The ancient Jain text Punyashrava Katha Kosh refers to Chanragupta as kshatriya.[22] A medieval inscription represents the Maurya clan as part of the "solar race" of kshatriyas,[23] saying that the Maurya line sprang from Suryavamsi Mandhatri (son of prince Yuvanashva of the solar race).[24]

Other theories[edit]

Although most sources indicate that Chandragupta was of east-Indian origin, alternative theories have been proposed by scholars. Some relate Sandrocottos (or Androcottos) to Sisicottos of classical literature. Sisicottos was the ruler of Paropamise (Hindu Kush) who helped the last Persian satrap (Bessus of Bactria) against Alexander, later co-operating with the latter during the Sogdian campaigns.[25] During Alexander's campaigns in Kabul and the Swat River valley, Prince Sisicottos helped him defeat several principalities of the Ashvakas. During a battle at the fortress of Aornos in which Alexander faced stiff resistance from the local population, Sisicottos was put in command of the strategically important fort and Arrian refers to Sisicottos the governor of Assakenoi. However, it is unclear whether Sisicottos was Sandrocottos or if they were related. J. W. McCrindle and H. R. Gupta hypothesize that "they both possibly belonged two different branches of the Ashvakas".[26][27][28][29][30] Meri may have been another political centre of the Mor (Meros) people. The name "Moriya" (or Maurya) may have come from Mor (Koh-i-Mor; "Mor hill), the ancient Meros of classical literature in the Paropamisade region between the Kunar and Swat Rivers in the land of Ashvakas. (This name, refers to the Meru mountain of Chitral, Tirich Mir; there is also a Deva-Meru in modern Diamar). It is claimed that since Chandragupta Maurya could have belonged to Mor, he "was called Moriya or Maurya after his motherland".[30][30][31][32] Spooner observes, "After Alexander's death, when Chandragupta marched on Magadha, it was with largely the Persian army (Shaka-Yavana-Kamboja-Parasika-Bahlika) that he won the throne of India. The testimony of the Mudrarakshasa is explicit on this point, and we have no reason to doubt its accuracy in matter[s] of this kind".[33] This theory contradicts the Mudrarakshasa, which examines Malayketu's alliance with the Persians (not Chandragupta). According to the Mudrarakshasa, Malayaketu, Rakshasa (the last minister of Nanda) and his Persian allies wanted to invade Pataliputra, the capital of Chandragupta. Their alliance was undone by Chanakya, who attracted Rakshasa to the Maurya side.[citation needed]

Shakya origins[edit]

Shakya was an independent state with an elective monarchy in the foothills of the Himalayas with its capital at Kapilavastu. Gautama Buddha was a member of the Shakya clan lineage and one of its kings. The Mahavamsa (II, 1–24) traces the origin of the Shakya clan to the Ikshvaku clan of Ayodhya into which Rama was born.

Shakya kshatriyas considered themselves the purest breed of kshatriya. To protect their purity they performed Gotriya (Sagotriya) marriages, which were prohibited by Hinduism. This led to a massacre by the king of Kosala. Pasenadi was the suryavanshi kshatriya king of Kosala with its capital at Sravasti. He was a Buddhist, building many monasteries. After defeating the Shakya, he asked to marry a Shakyan girl, promising that their son would be the next king of Kosala. He married Vasavkhattiya, who gave birth to a boy, Virudhaka, who became the prince of Kosala. Virudhaka overthrew Pasenadi as king of Kosala.[34][35]



  1. ^ Hindu Books Universe - Content
  2. ^ Arthur A. MacDonell wrote,[citation needed] "Early India wrote no history because it never made any. The ancient Indians never went through a struggle for life like the Greeks, the Persians and the Romans. Secondly, the Brahmanas early embraced the doctrine that all action and existence are a positive evil and could therefore have felt but little inclination to chronicle historical events."
  3. ^ "Strabo II,I, 9". Retrieved 2012-09-24. 
  4. ^ Plutarch 62-3
  5. ^ "Sramanacharya went to Greece with his Greek pupils. The tomb marks his death about 1000 BCc, which means Buddha existed before 1000 BC." Antiquity and Continuity of Indian History (Part 3) by Prasad Gokhale
  6. ^ Rock edict Nb13 (S. Dhammika)
  7. ^ "Gandhari original of Edict No. 13 (Greek kings: Paragraph 9)". Early Buddhist Manuscripts Project. Archived from the original on 16 February 2006. Retrieved September 4, 2013. 
  8. ^ Pran Nath Chopra (2003-12-01). A Comprehensive History of India: Comprehensive history of ancient India. Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd. p. 66. ISBN 978-81-207-2503-4. Retrieved 2012-09-24. 
  9. ^ Mookerji 1988, p. 14.
  10. ^ Helene Petrovna Blavatsky; G. R. S. Mead (2003-03-01). Theosophical Glossary. Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7661-4711-9. Retrieved 2012-09-24. 
  11. ^ Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (2004-12-31). The Theosophist Part Five 1883 to 1884. Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4179-1003-8. Retrieved 2012-09-24. 
  12. ^ G. R. S. Mead (2003-03-01). Five Years of Theosophy. Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7661-4561-0. Retrieved 2012-09-24. 
  13. ^ Mookerji 1988, p. 8.
  14. ^ Parishishtaparvan, p 56, VIII239f
  15. ^ A Guide to Sanchi, pp 44, 62, Sir Johmn Marshal.
  16. ^ Mahavamsa (Mahawamsa), xxxix f.
  17. ^ Monuments of Sanchi, 231.
  18. ^ Edited by Cowel and Neil., p 370
  19. ^ Mahaparinnibhana Sutta, page 409
  20. ^ Radhakumud Mookerji (1966). Chandragupta Maurya And His Times. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. ISBN 978-81-208-0405-0. Retrieved 2012-09-24. 
  21. ^ also Avadanakalpalata, No 59.
  22. ^ Indian History Ancient India. Upkar Prakashan. Retrieved 2012-09-24. 
  23. ^ Epigraphia Indica, II, 222.
  24. ^ For prince Mandhatri, son of prince Yuvanashva, see Mahabharata 7/62/1-10
  25. ^ Arrian. iv, 30. 4.
  26. ^ Invasion of Alexander, 2nd Ed, p 112, Dr J. W. McCrindle. McCrindle further writes that modern Afghanistan was ancient Kamboja and that the name Afghanistan is evidently derived from the Ashvakas or Assakenois of Arrian.
  27. ^ Megasthenes and Arrian, p 180
  28. ^ Alexander's Invasion of India, p 38
  29. ^ J. C. Vidyalankar identifies Sisicottos as a Kamboja ruler: See Itihaas Parvesh, pp 133-34, Dr J. C. Vidyalankar
  30. ^ a b c "Was Chandragupta Maurya a Punjabi?", Punjab History Conference, Second Session, Oct 28-30, 1966, Punjabi University Patiala, p 32–35, H. R. Gupta
  31. ^ also The Kambojas Through the Ages, 2005, pp 149-154.
  32. ^ Tribune writes: "Most historians are of the view that Chandragupta Maurya belonged to Bihar, and that he called himself Maurya because his mother was the keeper of royal peacocks (mor) at Pataliputra. He came to Punjab and conquered it. Afterwards, with the help of the Punjab army he seized the Nanda empire. However, there are reasons to believe that Chandragupta belonged to the Kshatriya caste of the ruling Ashvaka tribe of the Koh-i-Mor territory. He called himself Maurya after his homeland" (Sunday Tribune, January 10, 1999, "They taught lessons to kings", Gur Rattan Pal Singh)
  33. ^ D. B. Spooner (1915). "The Zoroastrian Period of Indian History". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland: 405–455. doi:10.1017/S0035869X00048437. 
  34. ^ Bhagwan Buddha ke Samkalin Anuyayi tatha Boddha Kendra - By Tripatkacharya, Mahopadhyaya Bhiksu Buddhamitra (P. 23-25)
  35. ^ India : From Indus Valley Civilisation to Mauryas by Gyan Swarup Gupta (p. 185)