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Chandragupta was the founder of the Maurya dynasty, which ruled ancient India for about 140 years. His troops conquered one northern Indian kingdom after another and claimed lands that stretched as far as west as Afghanistan. In this way, Chandragupta united northern India under one ruler for the first time in history. He established the first territorial empire in ancient India, covering most of the Indian sub-continent. He was assisted by his political adviser, KAUTALYA, who also set out the rules for the administration of the country. This broad framework of the administrative organization was adopted by many succeeding dynasties. Chandragupta Maurya’s origins were shrouded in mystery. Having been brought up by peacock tamers, he could be of low caste birth. According to other sources, Chandragupta Maurya was the son of a Nanda prince and a dasi called Mura. It is also possible that Chandragupta was of the Maurya tribe of Kshatriyas. Much of what is known about his youth is gathered from later classical Sanskrit literature, as well as classical Greek and Latin sources which refer to Chandragupta by the names ‘Sandracottos’ or ‘Andracottus’.
Chandragupta Maurya was born into this changing ancient land, near Pataliputra, where, in the sixth century BCE, Magadha rulers had raised armies to conquer widely and create the first large state in the region. From the obscure Moriya clan, Chandragupta may have owned some land around Magadha before he led Magadha armies to conquer janapadas as far west as Punjab and Sind. In doing so, he had crossed a cultural divide. Agro-pastoral warrior lineages controlling various janapadas had diverse cultural identities, but later Vedic sources indicate that some had embraced Aryan culture as far east as Prayaga (Allahabad). Magadha lay further east on the outer fringe of Aryan culture, and it was here in the east that Buddha Gautama had composed a spiritual and ethical path that diverged from Aryan Brahmanism. Having conquered local competitors, the armies of Magadha expanded west. Victorious commanders subordinated janapadas under an imperial authority whose main work was to maintain its military strength. This rudimentary imperial scaffolding provided a framework for Chandragupta’s ambition.
In the far west, Magadha troops faced Achaemenid Greek armies marching across Persia. As Greek soldiers marched east and Magadha troops marched west, they both knew they were following old routes of long-distance travel, but they did not know that they were creating a new world of politics that would stretch from Greece to Assam. Routes from Europe to the Orient and from Magadha to Persia met in Punjab; thus the Indus became the symbolic western border of a region that Greeks called ‘India’.
The original division of Asia and Europe, East and West, Orient and Occident derived from military competition over routes and resources flowing across ancient Eurasia. Ancient empires thus invented cultural boundaries that we still live with today; how these territorial identities came down to the present is a long story that we will follow in the coming chapters. Chandragupta won wars for Magadha in Sind and may have fought Alexander the Great in Punjab before Alexander’s army mutinied to force a Greek retreat down the Indus in 327 BCE.
Alexander then sailed to Mesopotamia and died in Babylon at age thirty-four. After Alexander died in 323 BCE, Chandragupta, turned his attention to Northwestern India (modern Pakistan), where he defeated the satrapies (described as “prefects” in classical Western sources) left in place by Alexander. Chandragupta marched east, conquered his overlords, and became South Asia’s first emperor. He launched his Maurya imperial dynasty by building on Magadha victories to incorporate janapadas in a structure of military command that eventually deployed nine thousand elephants, thirty thousand cavalry, eight thousand chariots, and several hundred thousand soldiers on its many battlefields. Supporting its war machine with taxes, troops, provisions, commanders, and victories preoccupied the Maurya state, which sustained an official elite that was the first of its kind. Elite intellectuals became the brains of the empire. One legendary figure was Kautilya, known as the author of the Arthasastra, a manual of statecraft and administration. This text was not completed until the Gupta age, six hundred years later, and thus it constitutes one of many links between the two classical empires of the Ganga basin.
The Mauryan Empire, which Chandragupta founded, owes its name to the house of the Mauryas, under whose rule the Indian subcontinent saw, for the first time in history, a considerable degree of political unity. The empire lasted until 187 BC.
The Mauryan Empire was very strong and independent because it had some kind of political unity. Everything starts at the Mauryan capital. The Mauryan capital was at Pataliputra (present-day Patna), the chief city of the old kingdom of Magadha.
The economy, in all its important aspects, was controlled by the state, and mines, forests, large farms, munitions, and spinning industries were state-owned and managed. The people were divided into seven endogamous groups– philosophers, peasants, herdsmen, traders, soldiers, government officials, and councilors. The army was composed of the four traditional Indian divisions: forces mounted on elephants, on chariots, cavalry, and infantry, and tended to be large (Chandragupta’s forces reputedly numbered 600,000 men).
The religious life of the empire may perhaps best be characterized as pluralistic. The general religious policy of the Mauryas was to encourage tolerance. In modern times the Maurya Empire is remembered as one of the golden ages of Indian history, a time when the country was united and independent.
Chandragupta Maurya renounced his throne to his son, Bindusara, who became the new Mauryan Emperor. Chandragupta then became an ascetic under the Jain saint Bhadrabahu Swami, migrating south with him and ending his days in self-starvation at Shravanabelagola, in present-day Karnataka.