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Chandragupta Maurya

Like China during its Warring States period, India was fragmented politically into numerous independent states. Thus it was when young Chandragupta Maurya began his rule in 321 BCE in Magadha in India's northeast.

Chandragupta had an advisor, Chanyaka, whom legend describes as the author of a book titled Arthasastra, a book on how to exercise power that included advice that India should be united by conquest. It was claimed that India united by a great conqueror was the best defense against recurring foreign intrusions.

The book described aggrandizement as human nature, that a power superior in strength to another power should launch a war against that power, and that war keeps a nation's blood circulation regular. Alexander the Great had recently pushed into India, presenting a picture of conquest and empire — Alexander beginning his journey back to Baghdad in 325 BCE.

Chanakya was aware that in the Indus Valley were tribal republics and monarchies that had been weakened by war against Alexander. Alexander had demonstrated that a disciplined and strong force could conquer the region. In 323 (the year that Alexander died), Chandragupta sent an army of infantry, cavalry, charioteer-warriors and elephants to the Indus Valley, extending his rule there and beyond into the Hindu Kush. By 320 Chandragupta's empire was, according to, here.

A Macedonian former general under Alexander, Seleucus I, tried to recover lands taken by Chandragupta that he, Seleucus, thought was now his part of Alexander's empire. But in the year 305 BCE, Chandragupta turned back Seleucus' drive. Seleucus was forced to settle with Chandragupta. And Chandragupta conquered northward from Magadha, into the Himalayas, and he conquered the rest of northern India.

At his capital, Pataliputra (today, Patna) Chandragupta established a strong central administration patterned on Chanakya's text on governance and politics. The empire was divided into districts, which were administered by his closest relatives and most trusted generals. But it was to remain more of an empire than a nation. Local princes, peoples and identities were tolerated so long as they adhered to Chandragupta's laws.

Chandragupta's central government held trade monopolies and owned slaughter-houses, gambling halls, mines, shipbuilding operations, armament factories and spinning and weaving operations. It oversaw the standardization of weights, measures and coinage. It controlled prices and trade, including trade in liquor and prostitution. It obliged drinking places to have couches, scents, water and other amenities, and drinking places and "public houses" were not to be near each other. Agriculture flourished, as did internal and external trade, but not yet extensively with Rome.

As it was to be with China's great conqueror, Shihuangdi, Chandragupta feared revenge and assassins. He had a network of spies. People considered dangerous to his rule might disappear without a trace. He had food tasters to avoid being poisoned. He never slept in the same bed two nights in succession.

Eliciting confessions by torture remained a normal method in police work. Punishment depended on class: Brahmin's were not tortured, but upon conviction of a crime they could be branded, exiled or sent to work in the mines.

Toward the end of his more than twenty years of rule, Chandragupta surrounded himself with dancing girls and courtesans — women who also worked as housemaids, cooks, garland makers, shampooers and who fanned Chandragupta or held an umbrella for him. He seldom left his palace, except for an occasional festival. But legend describes him as a man of faith and as concerned about his subjects.

According to legend he was converted to Jainism by a sage who had predicted a twelve-year drought. With the drought came famine. In 301 BCE he abdicated in favor of one of his son, Bindusara, and he withdrew with the Jainist sage to a religious retreat in India's southwest. There, according to legend, while appealing to God for relief from the drought, he fasted to death.

CONTINUE READING: A Buddhist Emperor and the end of Mauryan Rule

Copyright © 2017 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.