THIRD MILLENNIUM LIBRARY
CHANDRA GUPTA MAURYA
GROWTH OF MAGADHA
There were many kingdoms and republics in India when the founder of Buddhism lived. The most famous kingdoms of that period were Magadha, Avanti, Kosala and Vatsa, while the most important republican clans were the Mallas, the Vrijis, the Sakyas and the Moriyas. The ruling dynasties as well as the republican clans generally belonged to the Kshatriya class. The tendency of the time was towards the growth of monarchies and the republics were generally being merged into the existing kingdoms or otherwise coming under the influence of monarchism. Chandragupta himself, the hero of our story and the founder of the greatest Indo-Aryan dynasty known in history, sprang from a republican clan, as we shall see later.
The kingdom of Magadha, which was traditionally founded several centuries before by a king named Brihadratha, was rapidly rising at this period under the rule of a new dynasty whose first important king was Bimbisara. The history of India henceforth is the history of this kingdom's growth, which culminated in the rise of the Maurya empire.
Bimbisara began to reign about 519 BC and established his capital at Rajagriha. He was a contemporary of Gautama and Mahavira, as well as of Pradyota, Prasenajit and Udayana, the rulers of Avanti, Kosala and Vatsa respectively. He conquered the neighbouring territory of Anga and thereby laid the foundation of Magadhan imperialism.
Bimbisara was succeeded by his son, Ajatasatru, in 491 BC. The latter was an ambitious monarch and, according to Buddhist accounts, removed his father from the throne. He waged many wars with Prasenajit, the aged king of Kosala. At last, the latter was constrained to conclude peace according to the terms of which he married his daughter to Ajatasatru, ceding the district of Kasi, which became an integral part of Magadha. Ajatasatru defeated the Vrijis also, and annexed Videha to his dominions.
The son who succeeded Ajatasatru in 466 BC was Darsaka, according to the Puranas. Some scholars doubt his existence because the Jain and Buddhist writers do not know him. His name, however, occurs in Bhasa’s Svapnavasavadatta, an independent Sanskrit drama, which represents him as a contemporary of Pradyota and Udayana, thereby indirectly supporting even the position assigned to him in the list of Magadhan kings by the Puranas. The omission of his name by Jain and Buddhist writers is, in no way, a hindrance. These writers, for example, make Samprati the direct successor of Ashoka, but the Puranas insert Dasaratha in the middle, and nobody doubts the existence of Dasaratha, it being proved by his inscriptions in the Nagarjuni hill caves. The case of Darsaka is also similar, and there is no reason to doubt his existence. Moreover, the Jains, although not mentioning Darsaka by name, offer a chronology which perfectly tallies with the chronology of the Puranas, if we admit the existence of Darsaka. Even the Buddhist chronicles of Ceylon mention a king, named Nagadasaka, whom Professor Bhandarkar has identified with Darsaka. But the learned Professor has maintained the position of Nagadasaka according to the chronicles, little caring that there is no independent proof to support that position. Thus, while admitting the identification proposed by Professor Bhandarkar, we see no reason to reject the testimony of the Puranas, Bhasa and chronology in assigning a position to this king. We are, therefore, justified in treating Darsaka, as the immediate successor of Ajatasatru. According to Bhasa, Darsaka continued the foreign policy of his ancestors by concluding matrimonial alliances with the neighbouring potentates.
Darsaka was succeeded in 441 BC, by Udayi, who was a famous monarch, being celebrated in Jain and Buddhist as well as Hindu works. The Jain and Buddhist writers represent him as a son of Ajatasatru, and it is possible that he was so, the Puranas having made him a son of Darsaka due to the tendency, common to all Indian literature, of making a king the son of his predecessor. Udayi is credited by the Puranic and Jain testimonies with the foundation of Kusumapura or Pataliputra, a city destined to become the capital of one of the greatest empires known in history. The foundation of this city may be dated in the year 438 B.C., following the Puranic account, according to which this event took place in the fourth year of Udayi’s reign. Udayi died in 408 B.C., after a reign of 33 years.
Udayi was succeeded by his son and grandson in turn. According to the Puranas, Udayi’s son and grandson, who ruled after him, were named Nandivarddhanal and Mahanandi respectively. The Buddhists, however, call the son and grandson of Udayi as Anuruddhaka and Munda respectively. It seems to me almost certain that both the authorities mean the same individuals. The apparent difference may either be due to the fact that the same names have been preserved by our authorities under different forms, or that each of the kings bore more names than one, as was not uncommon in ancient India. Both of these kings are shadowy figures, and nothing is known about them. After Munda, the Ceylonese chronicles place Nagadasaka who has been already identified with Darsaka. Thus the grandson of Udayi remains as the last king of this line, in agreement with the Puranas.
The Ceylonese chronicles next place Susunaga who was followed by his son, Kalasoka. Some scholars have identified these two with Sisunaga and Kakavarna of the Puranas. The latter works, it may be mentioned, place these kings considerably before Bimbisara. There are, however, grounds on which the Ceylonese version can be supported. The Puranas make Sisunaga the destroyer of the dynasty of Pradyota. whose connection with Avanti is also acknowledged by those works. As Pradyota of Avanti was undoubtedly a contemporary of Bimbisara, his dynasty could not have been destroyed by Sisunaga, unless we admit that the latter came considerably after Bimbisara. Thus it is certain that either Sisunaga had nothing to do with the Pradyota dynasty or he came considerably after Bimbisara. If the latter alternative be correct, then it is clear that the kingdom of Magadha at this time extended its sway up to Avanti. We cannot, however, be sure until we get further evidence in support of it.
The next family which ruled over Magadha was that of the Nandas. The personal name of the founder of this family seems to have been Nanda, which, in its plural form, became applicable to the whole family, as in other cases (e.g. the Pradyotas). It is obvious from the fact that several authorities give the name of the founder simply as Nanda, and even the Puranic appellation Mahapadma is only an epithet, hinting at the riches of the king, as is apparent from the Bhagavata Purana which dubs the founder in more clear terms as Mahapadmapati (i.e. lord of a vast amount). Mahapadma Nanda had eight sons, whence the family is called as that of the nine Nandas. It is probable, however, that the real ruler throughout was Mahapadma Nanda as, according to many authorities, all the nine Nandas were killed by Chandragupta and Chanakya. The Divyavadana actually mentions only Nanda as having ruled, while Kautilya also calls the ruler dethroned by him simply as Nanda. Even the Greeks give the name of the King of Prassiai as Aggramen, which agrees very well with Ugrasena, an apithet of Mahapadma Nanda according to the Mahabodhivansa. It is true that the Vayu and Matsya Puranas allot a reign of 12 years to the eight sons of Nanda, but that may have been due to the fact that Mahapadma during the last years of his reign rested practically all power in the hands of his sons, who were thus considered virtual rulers during that period—a fact suggested by Dhundhiraja in the introduction to his commentary on the Mudra-Rakshasa. This explains why the Greeks also sometimes speak of the kings of Pressiai in plural.
Mahapadma Nanda usurped the throne of Magadha about 353 BC. According to the Puranas he was the son of the last descendant of Bimbisara by a Sudra woman, but the Jains and the classical writers unanimously represent his father to have been a barber. All the authorities, however, agree that he was a low-born and ambitious monarch. The Puranas assert that many of the dynasties which ruled contemporaneously with the predecessors of Nanda, fell at his rise. These dynasties were the Maithilas, the Kasis, the Ikshvakus, the Kurus, the Panchalas, the Surasenas, the Vitihotras, the Haihayas, the Asmakas and the Kalingas, whose dominions comprised the whole of the Gangetic valley as well as western India and Orissa. Some of them had already been overthrown by previous kings and it was left for Mahapadma to subdue the rest. The conquest of Kalinga was almost certainly accomplished by Mahapadma. In the Hathigumpha inscription, king Kharavela mentions the conquest of Kalinga about 300 years before his time by a king named Nandaraja, who must have been none other than Mahapadma. Some scholars have identified him with a predecessor of Mahapadma by reading a passage as dating the inscription in the 165th year of Muriya Kala, which they interpret as the era of Chandragupta. But even if the reference to the Maurya era has been correctly read, it is not necessary to interpret it as the era of Chandragupta and thereby place the Nandaraja of the inscription considerably before Mahapadma, whose family of nine members is the only Nanda family recognized by all forms of tradition. Moreover, Chandragupta can hardly be credited with the foundation of an era in view of the fact that his grandson Ashoka uses his own regnal years. It is more probable that the era referred to is that of Chandragupta's descendant Samprati, who ruled about a century after his famous ancestor and who is actually known to have founded an era. We may, therefore, believe that the arms of Mahapadma reached up to Kalinga.
Late in the period of the Nanda family, Alexander the Great invaded India. After subduing the countries to the west, he crossed the Indus in 326 BC. We possess a pretty vivid account of the condition of Northern India at that time, as the Greeks, who came with the invader, as well as the Indians contribute to our knowledge in this case.
The Indus valley at this time was parcelled out among a number of small kingdoms and republics. In the extreme northwest was the kingdom of Taxila, ruled by king Ambhi, who gave a good reception to Alexander, regarding it a fair opportunity for revenge against his rival, Porus, who was perhaps the most powerful king in the Punjab at that time. Porus ruled on the other side of the Jhelum and gave a strong resistance to the invader, but was defeated. Alexander proceeded up to the Beas river and then made a retreat. The retreating army was confronted, among others, by the powerful republican tribes of the Malavas and the Kshudrakas, who gave a severe fight to the invader. Mutual jealousies, however, proved to be ruinous as usual. Alexander thus became master of the country up to the Seas river.
The whole of the Ganges valley up to Magadha was under the rule of the Nanda family. The Nandas were at the height of their power at the time of the invasion of Alexander the Great. Plutarch informs us that the kings of the Gangaridai (Ganges delta) and the Prassiai (Prachi) were reported to be waiting for him with an army of 80,000 horses, 200,000 foot, 8000 war chariots and 6000 fighting elephants. They were extremely rich and, according to a passage of the Kathasaritsagara, possessed 990 millions of gold pieces. They were, however, very unpopular. The chief reason of their unpopularity was the lowness of their origin. They were also hated on account of their heterodox disposition. The possession of such a huge amount of wealth also probably implies a great deal of extortion on the part of the Nandas.
There are reasons to believe that the great empire built by Mahapadma Nanda showed signs of revolt during the closing period of his reign when he rested all power in the hands of his incapable sons, specially Dhana. The kingdom of Kalinga certainly revolted and regained its independence, for if it had remained a part of the Nanda empire, it is unlikely that it could have escaped the iron grip of Chandragupta, whose absence of control over it is implied in a passage in one of the inscriptions of Asoka, its conqueror'. Several other kingdoms might have similarly reasserted their independence.
Such was the condition of India when Chandragupta came on the scene. Magadha had already built up a considerable empire, but the worthlessness of its ruler and the invasion of a foreign king had made the conditions extremely unsettled, and a deliverer was needed. Thus, there were three factors which contributed to the rise of the Maurya empire. The first factor consisted of the conquests effected by the previous rulers of Magadha. The second factor was the unpopularity of the Nandas, coupled with foreign invasion. The third factor was the genius of Chandragupta. If the first factor provided Chandragupta with the resources needed for building a great empire, the second gave him the opportunity to rise. But, above all other things, the main cause of the rise of the glorious Maurya empire was the genius of Chandragupta, without which he would not have been able to utilize the resources and the opportunity provided by the first two factors.