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Mahavamsa: the great chronicle of Sri Lanka

"Chandragupta Maurya (चन्द्रगुप्त मौर्य) (ruled 322–298 BC), also known as Sandrocottos to the Greeks, which was the founder of the Maurya Empire.

The Maurya empire, whose capital was Pataliputra (modern day Patna) in Eastern India, is acknowledged to be the greatest empire in ancient India, and lasted until 185 BC, fifty years after the death of Chandragupta's famous grandson, Emperor Ashoka the Great.

Prior to Chandragupta's consolidation of power, small regional kingdoms dominated Northern and Eastern India.

Chandragupta is acknowledged as the greatest of ancient Indian rulers, and his kingdom, which spanned from Afghanistan in the West, Bengal in the East, the Deccan plateau in the South and Kashmir in the North, was the greatest power of its day.

Origin or ancestry

"The ancestry of Chandragupta is still shrouded in mystery and not known for certain [1]. There are divergent views regarding the origin, and each view has its own set of adherents.

Nanda Dynasty Affiliation

Indian stamp commemorating the rule of Mauryan Emperor, Chandragupta Maurya.

Some Indian literary traditions connect him with the Nanda dynasty of Magadha. The Sanskrit drama Mudrarakashasa not only calls him Mauryaputra (Act II) but also a Nandanvaya (Act IV). Dhundiraja, a commentator of 18th century on Mudrarakshas states that Chandragupta was son of Maurya who in turn, was son of the Nanda king Sarvarthasiddhi by a wife named Mura, daughter of a Vrishala (shudra). Mudrarakshas especially uses terms like kula-hina other Vrishala for Chandragupta's lineage. This reinforces Justin's contention that Chandragupta had a humble origin [2][3]. On the other hand, the same play describes the Nandas as of Prathita-kula i.e illustrious lineage. The commentator on the Vishnu Purana informs us that Chandragupta was son of a Nanda prince and athe I (Hindi: maid), Mura. Pandit Kshmendra and Somadeva call him Purvananda-suta, son of genuine Nanda as opposed to Yoga-Nanda i.e pseudo Nanda.

Peacock-tamer theory

Other literary traditions imply that Chandragupta was raised by peacock-tamers (Sanskrit: Mayura Poshakha), which earned him the Maurya epithet. Both the Buddhist as well as Jaina traditions testify to the supposed connection between the Moriya (Maurya) and Mora or Mayura (Peacock). While the Buddhist tradition describes him as the son of the chief of the Peacock clan (Moriya), the Jaina tradition on the other hand, refers to him as the maternal grandson of the headman of the village of peacock tamers (Moraposaga)[4]. This view suggests a degraded background of Chandragupta. (The same Jain tradition also describes Nanda as the son of a barber by a courtesan).

According to some scholars, there are some monumental evidence connecting the Mauryas with peacocks. The pillar of Ashoka in Nandangarh bears on its bottom the figures of a peacock which is repeated in many sculptures of Ashoka at Sanchi [5]. According to Turnour[6], Buddhist tradition also testifies to the 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. But scholars like Foucher [7] do not regard these birds as a sort of canting badge for the dynasty of Mauryas. They prefer to imagine in them a possible allusion to the Mora Jataka. Moreover, besides the peacocks, there were also other birds like pheasants, parrots as well as a variety of fishes etc also kept in the parks and water pools of the Mauryas.

Moriya Clan View

Yet there are other literary traditions accoprding to which Chandragupta belonged to Moriyas, a Kshatriya (warrior) clan of a little 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 reduced to great straights in the 4th century BCE under Magadhan rule, and young Chandragupta grew up among the peacock-tamers, herdsmen and hunters.

The Buddhist text of the Mahavamsa calls Chandragupta a scion of the Khatttya (Kshatriya) clan named Moriya (Maurya). Divyavadana[8] calls Bindusara, son of Chandragupta, an anointed Kshatriya, Kshatriya Murdhabhishikta, and in the same work, king Ashoka, son of Bindusara, is also styled a Kshatriya. The Mahaparinnibhana Sutta [9] of the Buddhist canon states that the Moriyas (Mauryas) belonged to the Kshatriya community of Pippalivana. These traditions, at least, indicate that Chandragupta may have come from a Kshatriya lineage.

The Mahavamshatika connects him with the Sakya clan of the Buddha, a clan which also claimed to belong to the race of Aditya i.e solar race. [10]

A medieval age inscription represents the Maurya clan as belonging to the solar race of Kshatriyas. [11] It is stated that the Maurya line sprang from Suryavamsi Mandhatri, son of prince Yuvanashva of the solar race [12].

Alternate Views on Maurya Origin

As it can be noticed from above, there is no concrete evidence on Chandragupta's origin and all the above referred to theories are quite divergent. Therefore, additional views have been proposed by an alternative school of scholars.

Scythian Origin View

A Jat writer B.S.Dehiya published a paper titled The Mauryas: Their Identity [13] in 1979 and a book titled Jats the Ancient rulers [14] in 1982, wherein he concludes that the Mauryas were the Muras or rather Mors and were jatt of Scythian or Indo-Scythian origin. It is claimed that the Jatts still have Maur or Maud as one of their clan name.[15]

The Rajputana Gazetteer describes the Moris (Mauryas?) As a Rajput clan [16].

One branch of Mauryas was ruling in Konkan region till late 12th century.Mauryas are considered as one of 96 royal Maratha clan system.

North-western Origin

There is school of scholars like B.M. Barua, Dr J.W. McCrindle, Dr D.B. Spooner, Dr H.C. Seth, Dr Hari Ram Gupta, Dr Ratanjit Pal and others who connect Chandragupta (Sandrokottos) to the north-western frontiers.

B.M. Barua calls him a man of Uttarapatha or Gandhara if not exactly of Taksashila[17].

Based on Plutarch's evidence, Dr J.W. McCrindle and Dr H. R. Gupta write that Chandragupta Maurya was a Punjabi and belonged to the Ashvaka (Assakenoi) territory [18].

Appian of Alexandria (95CE-165CE), author of a Roman History attests that 'Antrokottos (Chandragupta), the king of the Indians, dwelt on river Indus'.[19]

These scholars relate Sandrocottos (or Androcottos) with Sisicottos of the Classical writings. Sisicottos was the ruler of Paropamisos (Hindukush) who had helped Bessus of Bactria against Alexander but later co-operated with the latter throughout the Sogdian campaigns [20]. During Alexander's compaign of Kabol and Swat valleys, prince Sisicottos had rendered great service to Alexander in reducing several principalities of the Ashvakas. During the war of rock-fort of Aornos, where Alexander faced stiff resistence from the tribals, Sisicottos was put in command of this fort of great strategic importance. Arrian calls Sisicottos the governor of Assakenois. It is however not quite clear if this Sisicottos was same as Sandrocottos or if they were brothers or else they were related in someway. Dr J. W. McCrindle and Dr H. R. Gupta think that they both possibly belonged to two different branches of the Ashvakas [21]. Meri was probably another political center of the Mor or Meros people. It is asserted by scholars of this school that the name Moriya or Maurya comes from the Mor (Modern name Koh-i-Mor i.e Mor hill--- the ancient Meros of the classical writings) located in the Paropamisadae region between river Kunar and Swat in the land of Ashvakas (q.v.). It is pointed out that since Chandragupta Maurya belonged to Mor (Meros of classical writings) hence he was called Moriya or Maurya after his motherland. [22] [23]

It is notable that Adiparva of Mahabharata (verses 1/67 / 13-14) also seem to connect Maurya Ashoka with the Ashvakas.[24]

Dr 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 of this kind " [25]. Thus, Dr Spooner's comments also point to the north-western origin of the Mauryas.

It is however interesting to see that the scholars also identify the Ashvakas as a branch of the Kambojas [3]. They were so-called since they were specialized in horse-profession and their services as cavalrymen were frequently requisitioned in ancient wars.


Chanakya, also known as Kautilya or Vishnugupta was a brahmin and a professor of political science at the Takshashila University in Gandhara - one of the two first universities in the world and a renowned one in its time. Among his numerous illustruious students was one named Chandragupta, the future emperor of India.

It is stated that once Chanakya went to Pataliputra for learning and disputation. Apparently King Dhana Nanda, corrupted by power, insulted Chanakya and dismissed him from his court over an insignificant dispute. Thus insulted and disgraced, Chanakya took a silent vow to destroy Dhana Nanda at an appropriate time. On his way back at Takshashila, Chanakya chance-met Chandragupta in whom he spotted great military and executive abilities. At this time, it seems Chandragupta had been released from jail and desired to kill the Nanda king and avenge his family. Chanakya was impressed by the prince's intelligence, and immediately took the young boy under his wing to fullfil his silent vow. Chanakya enrolled him in at the Takshashila University and took particular care in schooling the prince in politics, government and law. [Depending upon the interpretation of Justin's accounts, the second version of the above story is that Chandragupta had also accompanied Chanakya to Pataliputra and himself was insulted by Dhanna Nanda (Nandrum of Justin). If this version of Justin's accounts is accepted, then the view that Chanakya had purchased Chandragupta from Bihar, on his way to Taxila, becomes irrelevant].

The shrewd Chanakya had trained Chandragupta under his expert guidance and together they planned the destruction of Dhana Nanda, although Chanakya has to be given full credit for his subtle political maneuverings. Chanakya masterminded a series of misunderstandings between several kings who were allies of the Nandas, dividing them and leaving King Dhana Nanda vulnerable and alone. Then Chanayka and Chandragupta befriended another king who was an enemy of Dhana Nanda, who gave Chandragupta his support and his army. The Mudrarakshas of Visakhadutta as well as the Jaina work Parisishtaparvan talk of Chandragupta's alliance with the Himalayan king Parvatka. This Himalayan alliance gave Chandragupta a composite and formidable army made up of the Yavanas, Kambojas, Shakas, Kiratas, Parasikas and Bahlikas

With the help of these frontier warlike clans from the northwest (mainly the Iranians) Chandragupta managed to defeat the corrupt Nanda ruler of Magadha and later, upon Alexander's death, the Macedonian straps of Punjab and Afghanistan, thus laying the foundations of a Maurya Empire in northern India.


When he took over Magadha, Chandragupta Maurya inherited a great army from his predecessor, which he continued to build upon until it reached a total of thirty thousand cavalry, nine thousand war elephants, and six hundred thousand infantry (Megasthenes' book on India Indica, quotes an army of 600,000 with 9000 elephants). With this force, he overran all of Northern India, establishing an empire from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea. He then turned his attention to Northwestern India and the power vacuum left by the departure of Alexander. Starting with the lands east of the Indus River, he then moved south, taking over much of what is now Central India.

The year 305 BC saw Chandragupta back in the northwest, where Seleucus I Nicator, the Macedonian satrap of Babylonia, posed a new threat to the empire. However, Seleucus appears to have fared poorly and ceded all of his south asian holdings, including southern Afghanistan in 303 BC. Seleucus exchanged territory west of the Indus for five hundred war elephants and offered his daughter to Chandragupta. In this matrimonial alliance the enmity turned into friendship, and Seleucus' dispatch an ambassador, Megasthenes, to the Mauryan court at Pataliputra (Modern Patna in Bihar state). As a result of this treaty, Chandragupta's empire was recognized as a great power by the Hellenic world, and the kings of Egypt and Syria sent their own ambassadors to his court.

Jainism & death

Towards the end of his life, Chandragupta gave up his throne and became an ascetic under the Jain saint Bhadrabahu Swami, ending his days in self-starvation at Shravanabelagola, in present day Karnataka. A small temple marks the cave (called Bhadrabahu Cave) where he died [4].


Chandragupta Maurya renounced his throne to his son, Bindusara, who became the new Mauryan Emperor.

  • In the 9th century AD, Sanskrit author Vishakhadatta penned a seven-act play on Chandragupta's life called, Mudra Rakshasa (Sanskrit: Signet Ring of the Rakshasa, the chief minister of the last Nanda king).
  • In 2001, the Indian Postal Department issued a Rs. 4 stamp commemorating the rule of Chandragupta.
  • A myth says that after not being able to seize control in his first attempt, Cahndragupta roamed the wilderness of India. Here, he watched through a window, a mother and a child. The child kept burning his hand while trying to eat a roti. The mother scolded the child to eat from the edges, not the center, because the center will always be hotter. Chandragupta realized that the Nanda Empire could be considered as that roti. This caused him to change his tactics for seizing power.
Preceded by:
Nanda dynasty
Mauryan ruler
322-298 BC
Succeeded by:
  1. Political History of Ancient India, 1996, p 236, Dr H. C. raychaudhury, Dr B. N. Mukherjee; Ancient India, 2003, p 284, Dr V.D. Mahajan
  2. "He (Seleucus) next made an expedition into India, which, after the death of Alexander, had shaken, as it were, the yoke of servitude from its neck, and put his governors to death. The author of this liberation was Sandrocottus, who afterwards, however, turned their semblance of liberty into slavery; for, making himself king, he oppressed the people whom he had delivered from a foreign power, with a cruel tyranny. This man was of mean origin, but was stimulated to aspire to regal power by supernatural encouragement; for, having offended Alexander by his boldness of speech, and orders being given to kill him, he saved himself by swiftness of foot; and while he was lying asleep, after his fatigue, having a lion of great size come up to him, licked off with his tongue the sweat that was running from him, and after gently waking him, left him. Being first prompted by this prodigy to conceive hopes of royal dignity, he drew together a band of robbers, and solicited the Indians to support his new sovereignty. Some time after, as he was going to war with the generals of Alexander, a wild elephant of great bulk presented itself before him of its own accord, and, as if tamed down to gentleness, took him on its back, and became his guide in the war, and conspicuous in fields of battle. Sandrocottus, having thus acquired a throne, was in possession of India "(Justin" Epitome of the Philippic History "XV-4)
  3. There is, however, a controversy about Justin's above mentioned account. Justin actually refers to a name Nandrum, which many scholars believe is reference to Nanda (Dhana Nanda of Magadha), while others say that it refers to Alexandrum, i.e. Alexender.It makes some difference which version one believes
  4. Parisishtaparvan, p 56, VIII239f
  5. A Guide to Sanchi, pp 44, 62, Sir Johmn Marshal.
  6. Mahavamsa (Mahawamsa), xxxix f.
  7. Monuments of Sanchi, 231.
  8. Edited by Cowel and Neil., P 370
  9. Mahaparinnibhana Sutta, page 409
  10. also Avadanakalpalata, No 59.
  11. Epigraphia Indica, II, 222.
  12. For prince Mandhatri, son of prince Yuvanashva, please refer to Mahabharata 7/62 / 1-10
  13. Vishveshvaranand Indological Journal, Vol. 17 (1979), pp.112-133.
  14. Jats the Ancient rulers, Dahinam Publishers, Sonipat, Haryana, by B. S. Dahiya I.R.S.
  15. This view may become creditable only if it is accepted that the Jatts evolved from the Madras, Kekayas, Yonas, Kambojas and the Gandharas of the north-west borderlands of ancient Indian sub-continent. This is because King Ashoka's own Inscriptions refer only to the Yonas, Kambojas and the Gandharas as the most important people of his north-west frontiers during third century BCE. They do not make any reference whatsover, to the Sakas, Shakas or the Scythians. See: Rock Edict No 5 [1]otherRock Edict No 13 [2] (Shahbazgarhi version).
  16. II A, the Mewar Residency by Major K.D. Erskine, p 14.
  17. 'To me Candragupta was a man of the Uttarapatha or Gandhara if not exactly of Taksashila' (Indian Culture, vol. X, p. 34, B. M. Barua).
  18. Invasion of India by Alexander the great, p. 405. Plutarch attests that Androcottos had seen Alexander when he (Androcottos) was a lad and afterwards he used to declare that Alexander might easily have conquered the whole country (India); What is Chandragupta Maurya a Punjabi? Article in Punjab History Conference, Second Session, Oct 28-30, 1966, Punjabi University Patiala, p 32-35
  19. Appian (XI, 55). Some historians state that he belonged to Kunar and Swat valleys. See: The Kambojas Through the Ages, 2005, pp 150-51, Kirpal Singh.
  20. Arrian. iv, April 30th
  21. Invasion of Alexander, 2nd Ed, p 112, Dr J. W. McCrindle; Op cit., P. 33, Dr H. R. Gupta; Dr McCrindle further writes that modern Afghanistan was the ancient Kamboja and that the name Afghanistan is evidently derived from the Ashvakas or Assakenois of Arrian See: Megasthenes and Arrian, p 180; Alexander's Invasion of India, p 38; Dr J.C. Vidyalankar identifies Sisicottos as a Kamboja ruler: See Itihaas Parvesh, pp 133-34, Dr J.C. Vidyalankar; Kamboj Itihaas, 1973, pp 58-59, H. S. Thind.
  22. Op. cit., pp 32-35, Dr H. C. Gupta; Also: The Kambojas Through the Ages, 2005, pp 149-154.
  23. 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 " (Ref: Article in Sunday Tribune, January 10, 1999 They taught lessons to kings, Gur Rattan Pal Singh; So cf: What Chandragupta Maurya a Punjabi?, Punjab History Conference, Second Session, Oct 28-30, 1966, Punjabi University Patiala, p 33, Dr H. R. Gupta)
  24. yastvashva iti vikhyAtaH shrImAnAsInmahAsuraH |. Ashoko nAma rAjAsInmahAvIryaparAkramaH. || 14 || tasmAdavarajo yastu rAjannashvapatiH smR ^ itaH |. daiteyaH so.abhavadrAjA hArdikyo manujarShabhaH || 15. || (See English Translation): "That great Asura who was known as Aswa became on earth the monarch Asoka of exceeding energy and invincible in battle. "
  25. op cit., (Part II), p.416-17, Dr D. B. Spooner "

[Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chandragupta_Maurya. - Accessed on 2006-04-10]