Chandragupta Maurya

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Chandragupta Maurya
Carving of Chandragupta Maurya
Medieval stone relief at Digambara Jain pilgrimage site Shravanabelagola, Karnataka. It has been interpreted as Bhadrabahu and Chandragupta Maurya,[1] but others disagree.[2]
1st Mauryan Emperor
Reignc. 324 or 321 – c. 297 BCE[3][4]
Coronationc. 324 or 321 BCE
PredecessorDhana Nanda
SuccessorBindusara (son)[5]

Chandragupta Maurya (reign: 321–298 BCE) was the founder of the Maurya Empire in ancient India.[3][8] He was born in a humble family, orphaned and abandoned, raised as a son by another pastoral family, was picked up, taught and counselled by Chanakya – a Hindu Brahmin also known as Kautilya[9] and the author of the Arthashastra.[3] Chandragupta with his counsellor Chanakya thereafter together built one of the largest empires ever on the Indian subcontinent.[3][10][11] According to Jain sources, he then renounced it all, became a monk in the Jain tradition.[10] His grandson was emperor Ashoka, famous for his historic pillars and for his role in helping spread Buddhism outside of ancient India.[12][13] Chandragupta's life and accomplishments are described in ancient Greek, Hindu, Buddhist and Jain texts, but they vary significantly.[14] In Greek and Latin accounts, Chandragupta is referred to as Sandrokottos or Androcottus.[15]

Chandragupta Maurya was a pivotal figure in the history of India. Prior to his consolidation of power, Alexander the Great had invaded the northwest Indian subcontinent, then abandoned his campaign in 324 BCE and left a legacy of several Indo-Greek kingdoms in the northwest ancient India.[16][17] Chandragupta created a new empire, applied the principles of statecraft, built a large army and continued expanding the boundaries of his empire. Greek rulers such as Seleucus I Nicator avoided war with him, entered into a marriage alliance instead, and retreated into Persia.[18] Chandragupta's empire extended from Bengal to most of the Indian subcontinent except for parts that are now Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Odisha.[19][10]

Chandragupta's reign, as well the dynasty that followed him, was an era of economic prosperity, reforms and expansion of infrastructure such as irrigation, roads and mines. In his empire and those of his descendants, many religions thrived in India, with Buddhism, Jainism and Ajivika gaining prominence along with the Brahmanism traditions.[20][21] A memorial to Chandragupta Maurya exists on the Chandragiri hill, along with a 7th-century hagiographic inscription, on one of the two hills in Shravanabelagola, Karnakata.[22]


The historical sources which describe the life of Chandragupta Maurya vary considerably in details. His main biographical sources in chronological order are:[23]

The Greek and Roman texts, but for one exception, do not mention Chandragupta directly. They predominantly mention a mean and cruel king named Nanda, born to a queen after her affair with a barber, one who assassinated the king and came to power by a coup. Chandragupta later removed Nanda from power. The exception that does mention Chandragupta directly is the 2nd-century text by the Roman historian Justin. He states Chandragupta was of “humble origin”, then includes stories of miraculous legends associated with him, such as a wild elephant appearing and submitting itself as a ride to him before a war. The Justin version states Chandragupta and Chanakya defeated and removed the evil Nanda king.[26] The account of Megasthenes, as it has survived in Greek texts that quote him, states that Alexander the Great and Sandrocottos (Chandragupta) met, which if true would mean his rule started earlier than 321 BCE. He is described as a great king, but not as great in his power and reach as Porus in northwestern India or Agrammes (Dhana Nanda) in eastern India.[27]

The pre-4th century Brahmanical (Hindu) Puranic texts mostly mirror the Greek sources. These Hindu texts do not discuss the details of Chandragupta’s ancestry, rather cover the ancestry of the Nanda king he unseated from the kingdom. The Nanda king is described as someone mean and cruel, persecuting people, as one against dharma and sastras, born out of an illicit relationship followed by coup.[28] The Chanakya’s ‘’Arthasastra’’ refers to the Nanda rule as against the “spiritual, cultural and military” interests of the country, a period where intrigue and vice multiplied.[28] Chanakya states that Chandragupta returned dharma, nurtured a diversity of views, and a virtuous rule that kindled love among the subjects for his rule.[28]

Hindu sources are inconsistent. One medieval commentator states Chandragupta to be the son of one of the Nanda’s wives with the name “Mura”.[28] Another Sanskrit dramatic text Mudrarakshasa uses the terms "Vrishala" and "Kula-hina" to describe Chandragupta.[29] The word "Vrishala” has two meanings, one the "son of a Shudra”, another meaning being the "best of kings". A later commentator used the former interpretation to posit that Chandragupta came from a Shudra background. However, historian R. K. Mookerji opposes this theory, and states that the word should be interpreted as "the best of kings”.[29] The same drama also refers to Chandragupta as someone of humble origin, in a manner similar to Justin.[29] According to the 11th-century texts of the Kashmiri Hindu tradition – Kathasaritsagara and Brihat-Katha-Manjari – the Nanda lineage was very short, of two competing Shudra power centers. Chandragupta was a son of Purva-Nanda, the older Nanda based in Ayodhya.[30][31][note 1] The most common theme in the Hindu sources is that Chandragupta came from a humble background and with Chanakya he emerged as a dharmic king loved by his subjects.[33]

The Buddhist texts such as Mahavamsa describe Chandragupta as of Kshatriya origin.[34] These sources, written about seven centuries after his dynasty ended, state that both Chandragupta and his grandson Ashoka – the great patron of Buddhism, were of the same noble family of Sakyas from which the Buddha came, but one that branched off.[35] These Buddhist sources thus attempt to link the dynasty of their patron Ashoka directly to the Buddha – the founder of their faith.[36] The branching, claim these sources, occurred to escape the persecution of a cruel king from Kosala and Chandragupta’s ancestors moved into a secluded Himalayan kingdom known for its peacocks. The Buddhist sources explain the epithet Moriya comes from these peacocks, or Mora in Pali (Sanskrit: Mayura).[35][3] The Buddhist texts are, however, also inconsistent. Some offer other legends to explain his epithet. For example, they mention a city named "Moriya-nagara" where all buildings were made of bricks colored like the peacock's resplendent neck.[37] The Maha-bodhi-vamsa states he hailed from Moriya-nagara, while the Digha-Nikaya states he came from the Moriya clan of Pipphalivana.[38] The Buddhist sources also mention that “Brahmin Chanakya” was his counselor and with whose support Chandragupta became the king at Patliputra.[37]

7th-century Bhadrabahu inscription at Shravanabelagola (Sanskrit, Purvahale Kannada script). This is the oldest inscription at the site, and it mentions Bhadrabahu and Prabhacandra. Lewis Rice and Digambara Jains interpret Prabhacandra to be Chandragupta Maurya, while others such as J F Fleet, V. R. Ramachandra Dikshitar and Svetambara Jains state this interpretation is wrong.[2][24][25]

The 12th-century Digambara text Parishishtaparvan by Hemachandra is the main and earliest Jain source of the complete legend of Chandragupta. It was written nearly 1,400 years after Chandragupta's death. In Canto 8, verses 170 to 469, this text describes the legend of Chandragupta and Chanakya’s influence on him.[38][39]

Other Digambara Jain sources state he moved to Karnataka after renouncing his kingdom and there he performed Sallekhana – the Jain religious ritual of peacefully welcoming death by fasting.[40][10] The earliest mention of Chandragupta's ritual death is found in Harisena's Brhatkathakosa, a Sanskrit text of stories about Digambara Jains. The Brhatkathakosa describes the legend of Bhadrabahu in its story 131, and in it is mentioned a Chandragupta.[41] However, this story makes no mention of the Maurya empire, and mentions that his disciple Chandragupta lived in and migrated from Ujjain – a kingdom (northwest Madhya Pradesh) about a thousand kilometers west of the Magadha and Patliputra (central Bihar). This has led to the proposal that Harisena's Chandragupta may be a later era, different person.[41][2][42]


None of the ancient texts mention when Chandragupta was born. Plutarch claims that he was a young man when he met Alexander during the latter's invasion of India (c. 326-325 BCE). Assuming the Plutarch account is true, Raychaudhuri proposed in 1923 that Chandragupta may have been born after c. 350 BCE.[43] According to other Greco-Roman texts, Chandragupta attacked the Greek-Indian governors after Alexander's death (c. 323 CE) with Seleucus I Nicator entering into a treaty with Chandragupta years later.[44] Seleucus Nicator, under this treaty, gave up Arachosia (Kandahar), Gedrosia (Makran) and Paropanisadai(Paropamisadae, Kabul) to Chandragupta, in exchange for 500 war elephants.[27]

The texts do not include the start or end year of Chandragupta's reign.[45] According to some Hindu and the Buddhist texts, Chandragupta's ruled for 24 years.[46] The Buddhist sources state Chandragupta Maurya ruled 162 years after the death of the Buddha.[47] However, the birth and death of the Buddha varies by source and all these lead to a chronology that is significantly different than the Greek-Roman records. Similarly, Jain sources composed nearly 1,200 years after Chandragupta’s death give different gap between Mahavira’s death and his accession.[47] As with Buddha's death, the date of Mahavira's death itself is also a matter of debate, and the inconsistencies and lack of unanimity among the Jain authors casts doubt on Jain sources. This Digambara Jain chronology, in addition, is not reconcilable with the chronology implied in other Indian and non-Indian sources.[47]

Historians such as Irfan Habib and Vivekanand Jha assign Chandragupta's reign to c. 322-298 BCE.[48] Upinder Singh dates his rule from 324 or 321 BCE to 297 BCE.[5] Kristi Wiley states he reigned between 320 and 293 BCE.[24]

Early life[edit]

The early life of Chandragupta Maurya is unclear and varies by source. According to the Sinhalese Buddhist tradition, Chandragupta's father - who was the chief of the Moriya clan - was killed in a battle, when his mother was pregnant. His mother escaped to the Puppha-pura (Pushpa-pura, literally "flower city", Patliputra) city with the help of her brothers. For Chandragupta safety, his maternal uncles helped a cattle-raising family adopt him as a baby. He was brought up by a cowherd. When Chandragupta grew up, the cowherd sold him to a hunter, who employed him to tend cattle.[49][50]

According to the Digambara legend by Hemachandra, Chanakya was a Jain layperson and a Brahmin. When Chanakya was born, Jain monks prophesied that Chanakya will one day grow up to help make someone an emperor and will be the power behind the throne.[51][39] Chanakya believed in the prophecy. He began making it true by agreeing to help the daughter of the chief of a peacock breeding community to deliver a baby boy. In exchange, for his fee, he asked the mother to give up the boy and let him adopt him at a later date.[38][39] The Jain Brahmin then went about making money through magic, and returned later to claim boy Chandragupta.[39] He taught and trained him. Together, they recruited soldiers and began their violent attack of the local kingdom. First they failed, but later through alliances, they won the Nanda kingdom and proclaimed Patliputra as their capital.[39]


Influence of Chanakya (Kautilya)[edit]

The Buddhist and Hindu sources present different versions of how Chandragupta met Chanakya. Broadly, they mention boy Chandragupta created a mock game of a royal court wherein his cowherd friends and he played. Chanakya saw the boy making decisions, approached the hunter, paid him off and adopted Chandragupta.[52] He took the young Chandragupta, taught him, and then admitted him in Taxila to study the Vedas, military arts, law and other sastras.[52]

Chandragupta's guru was Chanakya, with whom he studied as a child and with whose counsel he built the Empire. This image is a 1915 artistic portrait of Chanakya.

After Taxila, Chandragupta and Chanakya moved to Patliputra, the capital and a historic learning center in the eastern Maghada kingdom of India. There they met Nanda according to Hindu sources, and Dhana Nanda according to Pali-language Buddhist sources.[53] Chandragupta became a commander of Nanda army, but according to the Roman records of Justin, Chandragupta ("Sandrocottus") offended the Nanda king ("Nandrum" or "Nandrus") because of which the king ordered him to be killed.[51] An alternate version states that it was Chanakya who was publicly insulted by the Nanda king.[54] Chandragupta and Chanakya escaped, and became rebels seeking to remove Nanda from power.[55][note 2] The Mudrarakshasa also states that Chanakya swore to destroy the Nanda dynasty after he felt insulted by the king.[54]

The Roman text by Justin mentions a couple of miraculous incidents involving Sandracottus (Chandragupta) and presents these legends as omens and portents of his destined greatness. In the first incident, when Chandragupta was asleep after having escaped from Nandrum, a big lion came up to him, licked him, and then left. In the second incident, when Chandragupta was readying for war with Alexander's generals, a huge wild elephant came to him, became tame, and offered himself to be his ride to the war.[57]

Building the empire[edit]

According to the Buddhist text Mahavamsa Tika, after the completion of Chandragupta's education at Taxila, he and Chanakya raised an army by recruiting soldiers from different places. Chanakya made Chandragupta the leader of this army.[58] The Digambara Jain text Parishishtaparvan states that this army was raised by Chanakya with coins he minted, and by forming an alliance with Parvataka.[59][60] According to Roman historian Justin, Chandragupta organized an army. Early translators interpreted Justin's original expression as "body of robbers", but states Raychaudhuri, the original expression used by Justin may mean mercenary soldier, hunter, or robber.[61]

According to the Buddhist Mahavamsa Tika and Jain Parishishtaparvan, Chandragupta's army attacked the Nanda capital, but was defeated. The Jain text recites the story that Chanakya realized his mistake when he overheard a woman scolding a kid for being dim-witted by going for the centre of a dish and getting burnt, rather than starting out by eating the cooler edges.[59] Chandragupta and Chanakya then began a campaign at the frontier of the Nanda empire, gradually conquering various territories on their way to the Nanda capital.[62] He then refined his strategy by establishing garrisons in the conquered territories, and finally besieged the Nanda capital Pataliputra. There Dhana Nanda accepted defeat, and was killed by Buddhist accounts,[63] or deposed and exiled by Hindu accounts.[64]

Conquest of the Nanda empire[edit]

Greco-Roman writer Plutarch, in his Life of Alexander, states that the Nanda king was so unpopular that had Alexander tried, he could have easily conquered India.[55][65] After Alexander ended his campaign and left, counseled by Chanakya, Chandragupta's army conquered the Nanda capital Pataliputra around 322 BCE.[51]

Historically reliable details of Chandragupta's campaign into Pataliputra are unavailable and legends written centuries later are inconsistent. According to Buddhist texts such as Milindapanha, Magadha was ruled by the evil Nanda dynasty, which, with Chanakya's counsel, Chandragupta easily conquered to restore dhamma.[66][67] The army of Chandragupta and Chanakya first conquered the Nanda outer territories and finally invaded the Nanda capital Pataliputra. In contrast to the easy victory in Buddhist sources, the Hindu and Jain texts state that the campaign was bitterly fought because the Nanda dynasty had a well-trained, powerful army.[68][67]

The conquest was fictionalised in Mudrarakshasa, in which Chandragupta is said to have first acquired Punjab and then allied with a local king named Parvatka under the advice of Chanakya, and advanced upon the Nanda Empire.[69] Chandragupta laid siege to Kusumapura (now Patna), the capital of Magadha, with the help of mercenaries from areas already conquered and by deploying guerrilla warfare methods.[70][71] Historian P. K. Bhattacharyya states that the empire was built by a gradual conquest of provinces after the initial consolidation of Magadha.[72]

According to the Digambara Jain version by Hemachandra, the success of Chandragupta and his strategist Chanakya was stopped by a Nanda kingdom town that refused to surrender.[73] Chanakya then went in disguised as a mendicant and found seven mother goddesses (saptamatrika) inside. He concluded these goddesses were protecting the town people.[73] The townspeople sought the disguised mendicant's advice on how to end the blockade of the army surrounding their town. According to Hemacandra, Chanakya swindled them into removing the mother goddesses. The townspeople removed the protective goddesses and an easy victory over the town followed. Thereafter, the alliance of Chandragupta and Parvataka overran the Nanda kingdom, then attacked Patliputra with an "immeasurable army", states the Jain version.[73] The Nanda king lost because his treasury was exhausted, intelligence was exhausted, and karma "merit was exhausted", according to Hemacandra.[73]

All these legends state that Nanda king was defeated, but allowed to leave Pataliputra alive with a chariot full of items his family needed.[74] The defeated Nanda's daughter, according to the Jain sources, fell in love at first sight with the new bachelor king Chandragupta, and she married him.[73][38] With the defeat of Nanda, Chandragupta Maurya had founded the Maurya Empire in ancient India.[3][8]

Conquest of north-west regions[edit]

Eastern Satraps
Chandragupta had defeated the remaining Macedonian satrapies in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent by 317 BCE.

The Indian campaign of Alexander the Great ended before Chandragupta came to power. Alexander had left India in 325 BCE and left northwestern Indian subcontinent territories under Greek governors.[75] The nature of early relationship between these governors and Chandragupta is unknown. The Roman historian Justin mentions Chandragupta as a rival of the Alexander's successors in the north-western India.[48] He states that after Alexander's death, Sandrocottus (identified with Chandragupta) freed Indian territories from the Greek servitude and executed some of the governors.[76] According to Boesche, this war with northwestern territories were in part fought by mercenaries of Chandragupta and Chanakya, and these wars may have been the cause of the demise of two of Alexander's governors, Nicanor and Philip.[77] Megasthenes served as a Greek ambassador in his court for four years.[8]

War and marriage alliance with Seleucus[edit]

According to Appian, Seleucus I Nicator, a Macedonian general of Alexander who in 312 BCE established the Seleucid Kingdom with its capital at Babylon, brought Persia and Bactria under his own authority, putting his eastern front facing the empire of Sandrocottus (Chandragupta).[78][79] Seleucus and Chandragupta waged war, states Appian, until they came to an understanding with each other and contracted a marriage relationship.[78]

According to R. C. Majumdar and D. D. Kosambi, Seleucus appears to have fared poorly, having ceded large territories west of the Indus to Chandragupta. The Maurya Empire added Arachosia (Kandahar), Gedrosia (Balochistan), and Paropamisadae ( Gandhara).[80][81][a] According to Strabo, Seleucus Nicator gave these regions to Sandrocottus along with a marriage treaty, and received in return five hundred elephants.[82] The details of the engagement treaty are not known.[83] According to one version, the marriage treaty involved an Indian princess, while a different version states a Seleucid princess married into the Mauryan family.[84]

Chandragupta sent 500 war elephants to Seleucus, which played a key role in the victory of Seleucus at the Battle of Ipsus.[85][86][87] In addition to this treaty, Seleucus dispatched an ambassador Megasthenes to Chandragupta's court, and later Antiochos sent Deimakos to his son Bindusara at the Maurya court at Patna.[88]

Southern conquest[edit]

After annexing Seleucus' provinces 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 then began expanding his empire southwards beyond the Vindhya Range and into the Deccan Plateau.[51] By the time his conquests were complete, Chandragupta's empire extended over most of the subcontinent.[89]

Two poetic anthologies from the Tamil Sangam literature corpus – Akananuru and Purananuru – allude to the Nanda rule and Maurya empire. For example, poems 69, 281 and 375 mention the army and chariots of the Mauryas, while poems 251 and 265 may be alluding to the Nandas.[90] However, these poems dated between 1st-century BCE to 5th-century CE, do not mention Chandragupta Maurya by name, and some of them could be referring to a different Moriya dynasty in the Deccan region in the 5th century CE.[91] According to Upinder Singh, these poems may be mentioning Mokur and Koshar kingdoms of Vadugars (northerners) in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, with one interpretation being that the Maurya empire had an alliance with these at some point of time.[92]

Names and titles[edit]

A modern statue depicting Chandragupta Maurya, Laxminarayan Temple, Delhi

Greek writer Phylarchus (c. 3rd century BCE), who is quoted by Athenaeus, calls Chandragupta "Sandrokoptos". The later Greco-Roman writers Strabo, Arrian, and Justin (c. 2nd century) call him "Sandrocottus".[93] In Greek and Latin accounts, Chandragupta is known as Sandrakottos (Greek: Σανδράκοττος) and Androcottus (Greek: Ανδροκόττος).[15][94]

The king's epithets mentioned in the Sanskrit play Mudrarakshasa include "Chanda-siri" (Chandra-shri), "Piadamsana" (Priya-darshana), and Vrishala.[93] Piadamsana is similar to Piyadasi, an epithet of his grandson Ashoka.[95] The word "Vrishala" is used in Indian epics and law books to refer to non-orthodox people. According to one theory, it may be derived from the Greek royal title Basileus, but there is no concrete evidence of this: the Indian sources apply it to several non-royals, especially wandering teachers and ascetics.[96]


There are no records of Chandragupta's military conquests and the reach of his empire. It is based on inferences from comments left by Greek and Roman historians, and the fictional and religious Indian texts written centuries after his death. Based on these, the northwest reach of his empire included parts of present-day Afghanistan that Seleucus I Nicator ceded to him including Kabul, Kandahar and Gandhara.[80][97] These are the areas where his grandson Ashoka left the major Kandahar rock edict and other edicts in the Greek and Aramaic languages.[98][99]

In the west, Chandragupta's rule over present-day Gujarat is attested to by the Ashoka's inscription in Junagadh. On the same rock, about 400 years later, Rudradaman inscribed a longer text sometime about the mid 2nd–century.[100] Rudradaman's inscription states that the Sudarshana lake in the area was commissioned during the rule of Chandragupta through his governor Vaishya Pushyagupta, and conduits were added during the rule of Ashoka through Tushaspha. The Mauryan control of the region is further corroborated by on the same rock. This also suggests that Chandragupta controlled the Malwa region in Central India, which was located between Gujarat and his capital Pataliputra in Magadha.[101]

There is uncertainty about the other conquests that Chandragupta may have achieved, especially in the Deccan region of southern India.[101] At the time of his grandson Ashoka's ascension in c. 268 BCE, the empire extended up to present-day Karnataka in the south, so the southern conquests may be attributed to either Chandragupta or his son Bindusara. If the Jain tradition about Chandragupta ending his life as a renunciate in Karnakata is considered correct, it appears that Chandragupta initiated the southern conquest.[102]

Maurya built one of the largest-ever empires on the Indian subcontinent.[3][103][104]


After unifying much of India, Chandragupta and Chanakya passed a series of major economic and political reforms. Chandragupta established a strong central administration from Pataliputra (now Patna).[105] Chandragupta Maurya applied the statecraft and economic policies described in Chanakya's text Arthashastra.[104][106][107] There are varying accounts in the historic, legendary and hagiographic literature of various Indian religions about Chandragupta's rule but Allchin and Erdosy, these claims are suspect. They state, "one cannot but be struck by the many close correspondences between the (Hindu) Arthashastra and the two other major sources the (Buddhist) Asokan inscriptions and (Greek) Megasthenes text".[108]

The Maurya rule was a structured administration; Chandragupta had a council of ministers (amatya). Chanakya was his chief minister.[109][110] The empire was organised into territories (janapada), centres of regional power were protected with forts (durga), and state operations were funded with treasury (kosa).[111] Strabo, in his Geographica composed about 300 years after Chandragupta's death, describes aspects of his rule in his chapter XV.46–69. He had councillors for matters of justice, and assessors for collecting taxes on commercial activity and trade goods. He routinely performed Vedic sacrifices,[112] Brahamanical rituals,[113] and hosted major festivals marked by procession of elephants and horses. His officers inspected law and order situation in the cities, and the crime rates were very low.[114]

According to Megasthenes, Chandragupta rule was marked by three parallel administrative structures. One managed the affairs of villages, ensuring irrigation, recording land ownership, monitoring tools supply, enforcing hunting, wood products and forest-related laws, and settling disputes.[115] The city affairs were managed by another administrative body. These overlooked all matters related to trade, merchant activity, visit of foreigners, harbors, roads, temples, markets, industries, and ensured standardized weights and measures.[115] They also collected taxes. The third administrative body overlooked the military, its training, its weapons supply, and the needs of the soldiers.[115]

Chanakya was concerned about the safety of Chandragupta and developed elaborate techniques to prevent assassination attempts. According to various sources, Chandragupta frequently changed bedrooms to confuse conspirators. He left his palace only for certain tasks: to go on military expeditions, to visit his court for dispensing justice, to offer sacrifices, for celebrations, and for hunting. During celebrations, he was well-guarded, and on hunts, he was surrounded by women guards who were presumed to be less likely to participate in a coup conspiracy. These strategies may have resulted from the historical context of the Nanda king who had come to power by assassinating the previous king and a brutal coup.[116]

During Chandragupta's reign and that of his dynasty, many religions thrived in India, with Buddhism, Jainism and Ajivika gaining prominence along with the Brahmanism traditions.[117][21]

Infrastructure projects[edit]

Silver punch mark coin of the Maurya empire, with symbols of wheel and elephant (3rd century BCE)

The empire built infrastructure such as irrigation, temples, mines and roads, leading to a strong economy.[118][119] Ancient epigraphical evidence suggests Chandragupta Maurya, under counsel from Chanakya, started and completed many irrigation reservoirs and networks across the Indian subcontinent to ensure food supplies for the civilian population and the army, a practice continued by his dynastic successors.[108] Regional prosperity in agriculture was one of the required duties of his state officials.[120]

The strongest evidence of infrastructure development is found in the Junagadh rock inscription of Rudradaman in Gujarat, dated to about 150 CE. It states, among other things, that Rudradaman repaired and enlarged the reservoir and irrigation conduit infrastructure built by Chandragupta and enhanced by Asoka.[121] Chandragupta's state also started mines, manufacturing centres, and networks for trading goods. His rule developed land routes for transporting goods across the Indian subcontinent. Chandragupta expanded "roads suitable for carts", preferring these over narrow tracks suitable for only pack animals.[122]

Didarganj Yakshi, discovered in 1917 buried in the banks of the Ganges. Some scholars date it to the Maurya Empire era,[123] others range from the 3rd century BCE,[124][125] to the 2nd century CE.[126][127][128]

According to Kaushik Roy, the Maurya dynasty rulers beginning with Chandragupta were "great road builders".[119] The Greek ambassador Megasthenes credited this tradition to Chandragupta with the completion of a thousand-mile-long highway connecting Chandragupta's capital Pataliputra in Bihar to Taxila in the north-west where he studied. The other major strategic road infrastructure credited to this tradition spread from Pataliputra in various directions, connecting it with Nepal, Kapilavastu, Dehradun, Mirzapur, Odisha, Andhra, and Karnataka.[119] According to Roy, this network boosted trade and commerce, and helped move armies rapidly and efficiently.[119]

Chandragupta and Chanakya seeded weapon manufacturing centres, and kept them a state monopoly of the state. The state, however, encouraged competing private parties to operate mines and supply these centres.[129] They considered economic prosperity essential to the pursuit of dharma (virtuous life), adopting a policy of avoiding war with diplomacy yet continuously preparing the army for war to defend its interests and other ideas in the Arthashastra.[130][131]

Arts and architecture[edit]

The evidence of arts and architecture during Chandragupta's time is mostly limited to texts such as those by Megasthenes and Kautilya's Arthashastra. The edict inscriptions and carvings on monumental pillars are attributed to his grandson Ashoka. The texts imply the existence of cities, public works, and prosperous architecture but the historicity of these is in question.[132]

Archeological discoveries in the modern age, such as Didarganj Yakshi discovered in 1917 buried beneath the banks of the River Ganges suggest exceptional artisanal accomplishment.[124][125] The site has been dated to the 3rd century BCE by many scholars[124][125] but later dates such as the Kushan era (1st-4th century CE) have also been proposed. The competing theories state that the art linked to Chandragupta Maurya's dynasty was learnt from the Greeks and West Asia in the years Alexander the Great waged war; or that these artifacts belong to an older indigenous Indian tradition.[123] According to Frederick Asher, "we cannot pretend to have definitive answers; and perhaps, as with most art, we must recognize that there is no single answer or explanation".[133]

Succession, renunciation and death[edit]

Shravanabelagola relief created nearly 1,300 years after the death of Chandragupta. Some consider it about the legend of his arrival with Bhadrabahu, while others state this is about a different Bhadrabahu.[2][24][25]
A statue depicting Chandrgupta Maurya (right) with his spiritual mentor Acharya Bhadrabahu at Shravanabelagola.

The circumstances and year of Chandragupta's death are unclear and in dispute.[2][24][25] According to Digambara Jain accounts that first appear in and after the 10th-century, Bhadrabahu forecasted a 12-year famine because of all the killing and violence during the conquests by Chandragupta Maurya. Bhadrabahu led a migration of Jain monks to south India. Chandragupta Maurya joined him as a monk, after renouncing his kingdom and handing over the power to his son Bindusara. Together, states a Digambara legend, Chandragupta and Bhadrabahu moved to Shravanabelagola, in present-day south Karnataka.[134] These Jain accounts were written more than 1,200 years after Chandragupta Maurya's death, and appear in texts such as Brihakathā kośa (931 CE) of Harishena, Bhadrabāhu charita (1450 CE) of Ratnanandi, Munivaṃsa bhyudaya (1680 CE) and Rajavali kathe.[135][136][137] He lived as an ascetic at Shravanabelagola for several years before fasting to death as per the Jain practice of sallekhana, according to this Digambara legend.[138][139][140]

Along with texts, several Digambara Jain inscriptions dating from the 7th–15th century refer to Bhadrabahu and a Prabhacandra or Samprati Chandragupta together. These inscriptions are inconsistent. Later Digambara tradition identified the Prabhacandra as Chandragupta, and some modern era scholars have accepted this Digambara tradition while others consider it as incorrect, a cherrypicking of the Jain legends to suit a prejudiced version, and misindentification of different individuals with same names: Bhadrabahu, Prabhacandra and Chandragupta.[2][24][25] Several of the late Digambara inscriptions and texts in Karnataka state the migration started from Ujjain and not Patliputra (as stated in some Digambara texts). In the epigraphical versions, Bhadrabahu never came to Shravanabelagola and he died near Ujjain. Before his own death, he sent other Jain monks to south India.[24][25]

According to Jeffery D. Long – a scholar of Jain and Hindu studies, in one Digambara version, it was Samprati Chandragupta who renounced, migrated and committed sallekhana in Shravanabelagola. Scholars attribute the disintegration of Maurya empire to the times and actions of Samprati Chandragupta – the grandson of Ashoka and great-great-grandson of Chandragupta Maurya, states Long. The two Chandraguptas have been confused to be the same in some Digambara legends.[141]

According to V. R. Ramachandra Dikshitar – an Indologist and historian, several of the Digambara legends mention Prabhacandra, which has been misidentified as Chandragupta Maurya particularly after the original publication on Shravanabelagola epigraphy by B. Lewis Rice. The earliest and most important inscriptions mention Prabhacandra, which Lewis Rice presumed may have been the "clerical name assumed by Chadragupta Maurya" after he renounced and moved with Bhadrabahu from Patliputra. Dikshitar states there is no evidence in support of this, and the Digambara history provides evidence against this hypothesis. Prabhacandra was an important Jain monk scholar in his own right and one who migrated centuries after Chandragupta Maurya's death.[2] John F Fleet, an Indologist and epigraphist, concurs with Dikshitar and states Lewis Rice's interpretation and analysis of Shravanabelagola inscriptions were wrong and ahistorical.[25] Other scholars have taken Lewis Rice's proposal of Chandragupta Maurya retiring and dying in Shravanabelagola as the working hypothesis, since no alternate historical information or evidence is available about Chandragupta's final years and death.[2]

According to Paul Dundas – a scholar of Jain studies and Sanskrit, the Svetambara tradition of Jainism disputes the Digambara legends of antiquity. According to a 5th-century text of the Svetambara Jains, the Digambara sect of Jainism arose only 609 years after Mahavira's death, or in the 1st-century CE.[142] To Svetambara's version of Jain history, Digambaras responded with their own versions and legends after the 5th-century, with their first expanded Digambara version of sectarian split within Jainism appearing in the 10th-century.[142] According to Svetambaras, the 3rd-century BCE Bhadrabahu was based near Nepalese foothills of the Himalayas, who neither moved nor travelled with Chandragupta Maurya to the south, rather he died near Patliputra. These Digambara stories about Bhadrabahu and Chandragupta Maurya were anachronistically invented later, according to the Svetambara Jains.[24][143][144]

The 12th-century Digambara Jain legend by Hemachandra presents a different picture than the Buddhist and the Svetambara Jain sources. The Hemachandra version includes incredible stories about Jain monks who could become invisible to steal food from royal storage, the Jain Brahmin Chanakya using violence and cunning tactics to expand Chandragupta’s kingdom and increase royal revenues.[39] It states in verses 8.415 to 8.435, that for 15 years as king, Chandragupta was follower of "ascetics with the wrong view of religion" (non-Jain), ascetics who "lusted for women". Chanakya persuaded Chandragupta to convert to Jainism by showing Jain ascetics avoided women and focused on their religion.[39] The legend mentions Chanakya aiding the premature birth of Bindusara – the son Chandragupta and his dying queen,[39] but makes no mention of Chandragupta’s migration or sallekhana (voluntary fasting to death). It states in verse 8.444 that "Chandragupta died in meditation and went to heaven".[145] According to the Hemachandra’s legend, it was Chanakya who committed sallekhana by first fasting and then burning himself on a dungheap in a motionless posture, and was "reborn as a Jain goddess in that place".[145]

In accordance with the Digambara tradition, the hill on which Chandragupta is stated to have performed asceticism is now known as Chandragiri hill, and Digambaras believe that Chandragupta Maurya erected an ancient temple that now survives as Chandragupta basti.[1] While this evidence is very late and anachronistic, historian Mookerji believes that there is no evidence to disprove the idea that Chandragupta converted to Jainism in his later life. Mookerji quotes Vincent Smith and concludes that Chandragupta's conversion to Jainism provides adequate explanation of abdication, sudden exit and death at what is estimated to have been a relatively young age of "under fifty", and at the height of his power.[146][147] According to historians Irfan Habib and Vivekanand Jha, the Jain narrative is a "possible, though implausible" story.[134]

According to Roy, Chandragupta's abdication of throne may be dated to c. 298 BCE, and his death to c. 297 BCE.[70]


A memorial to Chandragupta Maurya exists on Chandragiri hill in Shravanabelagola, Karnakata.[148] The Indian Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp honouring Chandragupta Maurya in 2001.[149]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Mudrarakshasa is a political drama in Sanskrit by Vishakadatta composed 600 years after the conquest of Chandragupta – probably between 300 CE and 700 CE.[70]
  • D. L. Roy wrote a Bengali drama named Chandragupta based on the life of Chandragupta. The story of the play is loosely borrowed from the Puranas and the Greek history.[150]
  • Chanakya's role in the formation of the Maurya Empire is the essence of a historical/spiritual novel The Courtesan and the Sadhu by Dr. Mysore N. Prakash.[151]
  • The story of Chanakya and Chandragupta was made into a film in Telugu in 1977 titled Chanakya Chandragupta.[152]
  • The television series Chanakya is an account of the life and times of Chanakya, based on the play "Mudra Rakshasa" (The Signet Ring of "Rakshasa").[153]
  • In 2011, a television series called Chandragupta Maurya was telecast on Imagine TV.[154][155][156]
  • In 2016, the television series Chandra Nandini was a fictionalized romance saga.[157]
  • In 2018, a television series called Chandragupta Maurya portrays the life of Chandragupta Maurya.[158]
  • He is a leader of the Indian civilization in the Civilization VI expansion Rise and Fall and Gathering Storm .[159]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ According to Kaushik Roy, Chandragupta Maurya was a Shudra lineage king.[32]
  2. ^ Some early printed editions of Justin's work wrongly mentioned "Alexandrum" instead of "Nandrum"; this error was corrected in philologist J. W. McCrindle's 1893 translation. In the 20th century, historians Hem Chandra Raychaudhuri and R. C. Majumdar believed "Alexandrum" to be correct reading, and theorized that Justin refers to a meeting between Chandragupta and Alexander the Great ("Alexandrum"). However, this is incorrect: research by historian Alfred von Gutschmid in the preceding century had clearly established that "Nandrum" is the correct reading supported by multiple manuscripts: only a single defective manuscript mentions "Alexandrum" in the margin.[56]
  1. ^ According to Grainger, Seleucus "must ... have held Aria" (Herat), and furthermore, his "son Antiochos was active there fifteen years later". (Grainger, John D. 1990, 2014. Seleukos Nikator: Constructing a Hellenistic Kingdom. Routledge. p. 109).


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]