Chandragupta And Chanakya. The Maurya Empire Established
Buddhism spread gradually in India. Although in origin a Kshatriya movement, and representing a conflict between the ruling class and the priests, its ethical and democratic aspect, and more especially its fight against priest-craft and ritualism, appealed to the people. It developed as a popular reform movement, attracting even some Brahmin thinkers. But generally Brahmins opposed it and called Buddhists heretics and rebels against the established faith. More important than the outward progress was the interaction of Buddhism and the older faith on each other, and the continuous undermining of Brahmins. Two and a half centuries later, the Emperor Ashoka became a convert to the faith and devoted all his energies to spreading it by peaceful missionary efforts in India and foreign countries.
These two centuries saw many changes in India. Various processes had long been going on to bring about racial fusion and to amalgamate the petty states and small kingdoms and republics; the old urge to build up a united centralized state had been working, and out of all this emerged a powerful and highly developed empire. Alexander’s invasion of the north-west gave the final push to this development, and two remarkable men arose who could take advantage of the changing conditions and mould them according to their will. These men were Chandragupta Maurya and his friend and minister and counsellor, the Brahmin, Chanakya. This combination functioned well. Both had been exiled from the powerful Nanda kingdom of Magadha, which had its headquarters at Pataliputra (the modern Patna); both went to Taxila in the north-west and came in contact with the Greeks stationed there by Alexander. Chandragupta met Alexander himself; he heard of his conquests and glory and was fired by ambition to emulate him. Chandragupta and Chanakya watched and prepared themselves; they hatched great and ambitious schemes and waited for the opportunity to realize them.
Soon news came of Alexander’s death at Babylon in 323 B.C., and immediately Chandragupta and Chanakya raised the old and ever-new cry of nationalism and roused the people against the foreign invader. The Greek garrison was driven away and Taxila captured. The appeal to nationalism had brought allies to Chandragupta and he marched with them across north India to Pataliputra. Within two years of Alexander’s death, he was in possession of that city and kingdom and the Maurya Empire had been established.
Alexander’s general, Seleucus, who had inherited after his chief’s death the countries from Asia Minor to India, tried to re-establish his authority in north-west India and crossed the Indus with an army. He was defeated and had to cede a part of Afghanistan, up to Kabul and Herat, to Chandragupta, who also married the daughter of Seleucus. Except for south India, Chandragupta’s empire covered the whole of India, from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal, and extended in the north to Kabul. For the first time in recorded history a vast centralized state had risen in India. The city of Pataliputra was the capital of this great empire.
What was this new state like ? Fortunately we have full accounts, both Indian and Greek. Megasthenes, the ambassador sent by Seleucus, has left a record and, much more important is that contemporary account—Kautilya’s ‘Arthashastra,’ the ‘Science of Polity,’ to which reference has already been made. Kautilya is another name for Chanakya, and thus we have a book written, not only by a great scholar, but a man who played a dominating part in the establishment, growth and preservation of the empire. Chanakya has been called the Indian Machiavelli, and to some extent the comparison is justified. But he was a much bigger person in every way, greater in intellect and action. He was no mere follower of a king, a humble adviser of an all-powerful emperor. A picture of him emerges from an old Indian play—the Mudra-Rakshasa—which deals with this period. Bold and scheming, proud and revengeful, never forgetting a slight, never forgetting his purpose, availing himself of every device to delude and defeat the enemy, he sat with the reins of empire in his hands and looked upon the emperor more as a loved pupil than as a master. Simple and austere in his life, uninterested in the pomp and pageantry of high position, when he had redeemed his pledge and accomplished his purpose, he wanted to retire, Brahmin-like, to a life of contemplation.
There was hardly anything Chanakya would have refrained from doing to achieve his purpose; he was unscrupulous enough; yet he was also wise enough to know that this very purpose might be defeated by means unsuited to the end. Long before Clausewitz, he is reported to have said that war is only a continuance of state policy by other means. But, he adds, war must always serve the larger ends of policy and not become an end in itself; the statesman’s objective must always be the betterment of the state as a result of war, not the mere defeat and destruction of the enemy. If war involves both parties in a common ruin, that is the bankruptcy of statesmanship. War must be conducted by armed forces; but much more important than the force of arms is the high strategy which saps the enemy’s morale and disrupts his forces and brings about his collapse, or takes him to the verge of collapse, before armed attack. Unscrupulous and rigid as Chanakya was in the pursuit of his aim, he never forgot that it was better to win over an intelligent and high-minded enemy than to crush him. His final victory was obtained by sowing discord in the enemy’s ranks, and, in the very moment of this victory, so the story goes, he induced Chandragupta to be generous to his rival chief. Chanakya himself is said to have handed over the insignia of his own high office to the minister of that rival, whose intelligence and loyalty to his old chief had impressed him greatly. So the story ends not in the bitterness of defeat and humiliation, but in reconciliation and in laying the firm and enduring foundations of a state, which had not only defeated but won over its chief enemy.
The Maurya Empire maintained diplomatic relations with the Greek world, both with Seleucus and his successors and with Ptolemy Pliiladelphus. These relations rested on the solid foundation of mutual commercial interest. Strabo tells us that the Oxus river in central Asia formed a link in an important chain along which Indian goods were carried to Europe by way of the Caspian and the Black Sea. This route was popular in the third century B.C. Central Asia then was rich and fertile. More than a thousand years later it began to dry up. The Arthashastra mentions that the king’s stud had ‘Arabian steeds’!
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