The accession of King Chandragupta Maurya is a great event in the history of India. He was the first ruler who practically established an empire encompassing almost the whole of India.
We can learn about his career from the Buddhist and the Jain literature, accounts given by Megasthenes, the Arthashastra etc. Thus a variety of sources illuminate us about Chandragupta Maurya.
Ancestry of Chandragupta Maurya: There is a great deal of controversy regarding the parentage of Chandragupta. However it is generally believed that Chandragupta Maurya belonged to the Kshatriya clan which is referred to as Moriyas of Pippalivana. The name Maurya was derived probably from the clan-name Moriya.
Early career of Chandragupta
No authentic detail is known about the early life of Chandragupta. At any rate he was a bold adventurer and an ambitious man in his early life. He cherished a dream of becoming the ruler of Magadha. Tradition says that in this ambition he received support of a resourceful Brahmana, named Chanakya or Kautilya. Probably Chanakya assisted him in recruiting an army. With the help of this army Chandragupta started a career of conquest.
Chandragupta’s career of conquest consisted of four phases: (i) overthrow of the Nanda dynasty, (ii) liberation of the Punjab from the Greek rule, (iii) conquest of the South and (iv) his successful war against Seleucus.
It is difficult to say whether Chandragupta Maurya began his career with the overthrow of the Nandas or the expulsion of the Greeks from India. Most probably he at first liberated the Punjab and north-west India from the Greek rule. Having driven the Yavanas beyond the Indus, Chandragupta turned his attention to Magadha and routed the Nanda army completely. He then ascended to the Magadhan throne round about 322 B.C.
Gradually he extended his empire to other parts of the country.
War with Seleucus
At about 305 B. C. Seleucus Nicator, a former general of Alexander and king of Babylon tried to recover north-west India from Chandragupta. But he failed in his attempt, possibly was defeated and concluded a peace treaty with Chandragupta. According to the terms of the treaty Seleucus ceded Herat, Kandahar, Beluchistan and Kabul. In return he got five hundred elephants. The Greek king also sent an ambassador, Megasthenes, to the Mauryan court at Pataliputra. Megasthenes wrote a detailed account of India in a book named Indika which was a mine of information regarding the country. This treaty also provided for a matrimonial alliance between the two families.
Penetration in the south
After establishing himself comfortably in the North, Chandragupta Maurya decided to penetrate in the South. From the Junagarh Inscription it was clear that the western India was under his control. From the location of an Ashokan Rock Edict it appears that Chandragupta’s empire was extended up to the Tinnevelly District in the South.
Death of Chandragupta
According to Jain traditions Chandragupta adopted Jainism in the later part of his life. It is said that in true Jaina tradition Chandragupta fasted unto death at a place called Sravana Belgola in Mysore. It probably died in around 298 B.C.
Achievement of Chandragupta
Chandragupta Maurya was an extraordinary person. He occupied a unique position in the history of ancient India. From a humble position he became the emperor of Magadha by his own prowess. He liberated India from the domination of the Greeks. Later he repulsed another Greek invasion very successfully. In a true sense of the term he was the first Rajachakravarty of India. He realised the ideal of political unity of the country that had been cherished by the Indians since the Vedic Age. Chandragupta was not only a great conqueror, but he was a very abele administrator as well.
Chandragupta, the first empire-builder and the liberator of the country will always be remembered for his achievements.