c. 590-c. 647

Harsha Vardhana was born circa 590, the son of King Prabhakara Vardhana of Thanesar (in the Punjab) and Queen Yasovati “in the month Jyaistha, on the twelfth day of the dark fortnight, the Pleiads being in the ascendant, just after the twilight time. ”

For an ancient Indian king, his life is well documented. There are inscriptions, travel records of Hsuan Tsang, a Chinese pilgrim, and Harsha Charita by Bana, the court chronicler. (Most of the quotations in this sketch are from the Harsha Charita. )

His family background is also well documented. He was of the Maukhari dynasty of Kanauj. His father is thought to have been the son of a Gupta princess. He was a petty chief in a district called Sthanvisvara in the land of Srikantha. He fought against the Huns who were invading India around this time, and he conquered much of north India. In the inscriptions it is recorded that he was the “one whose fame spread beyond the four seas, and to whom submitted other kings in power or love. “He called himself Maharajadhiraja (Supreme King of Great Kings) and was the son of Aditya Vardhana and grandson of Rajya Vardhana I who were merely Maharajas.

Harsha had a brother, Rajya, and a sister, Rajyasri, both of whom were older than he was. The sister was married off to Prince Graha Varman, the son of Avanti Varman, king of Kanauj. Shortly after that, Rajya Vardhana, the elder, brother was off fighting the Huns because the king was too old and feeble to do so himself. During this time young Harsha, aged about 16, was hunting lions, tigers and boars in the foot hills. When he learned that his father the king was dying, he hurried to his side. The king’s last words to Harsha were:

“Succeed to this world, appropriate my treasury, make prize of the feudatory kings, support the burden of royalty, protect the people, guard well your dependents, practise well your arms, annihilate your foes. ”

When Rajya arrived on the scene, bandages covering up arrow wounds suffered from Hun arrows, he was so saddened by his father’s death that he resolved to renounce the world and become an ascetic, leaving his throne to his younger brother, Prince Harsha. But Prince Harsha persuaded him to remain on the throne.

He did not remain on the throne long. A servant of Rajyasri, bought word that her husband, Graha Varman, had been killed by Deva Gupta, the “wicked lord of Malwa”, and that the Rajyasri “has been confined like a brigand’s wife with a pair of iron fetters kissing her feet and cast into prison. ”

As if that were not enough, the servant reported that Deva Gupta was planning to attack Thanesar. Rajya immediately mounted a campaign against Malwa, was victorious in short order but afterwards was assassinated by Sasanka, the king of Gauda. The situation that confronted the 16-year-old Harsha was that both Kanauj and Thanesar had been deprived of their kings. At this point in his life Harsha had been contemplating entering a Buddhist monastery, but when the ministers of Kanauj asked him to assume the throne of Kanauj, he was reluctant to accept it.

This point has been disputed by historians. According to Hsuan Tsang, however, he went to consult a statue of Buddha. When he approached it, the statue came to life and asked him what he wanted. He said he was troubled over the deaths of his father and his brother and that he was hesitant to accept the “royal dignity” that was being offered him. Buddha informed him that he had been a hermit in his previous life and that because of meritorious conduct, he had been born a prince in this life. Therefore, he should accept the kingship and “if you give your mind to compassionate the condition of the distressed and cherish them, then before long you shall rule over the five Indies. ”

Harsha Vardhana, king of Thanesar and Kanauj, on accepting the “royal dignity”, was first confronted with two tasks: to rescue his sister and to punish his brother’s murderer.

Rajyasri had managed to escape from her captivity and hide out in the Vindhya Forest. When Harsha found her, it was not a moment too soon. In despair, she was about to throw herself on a funeral pyre. Harsha saved her in the nick of time.

During the next six years (606-612) Harsha waged war against his enemies and established an empire that extended more or less from Gujarat to Assam. Gauda was not subdued until 619.

There is considerable difference of opinion among historians as to the exact dimensions of Harsha’s kingdom. It was not a tightly knit empire. Conquered kings remained on their thrones but were required to pay tribute and homage to Harsha. The area directly under his control consisted of modern Uttar Pradesh and parts of Rajasthan and the Punjab.

Around 620 he attempted an invasion of the Deccan, and after his death in about 647, his kingdom disintegrated.

He was a patron of the arts and religion, both Buddhist and Hindu, and he gave a gift of a temple, about 35 metres in height made of brass or bronze, to the famous university at Nalanda.

According to R. C. Majumdar, Harsha “was undoubtedly one of the greatest rulers of ancient India. “Bana, his biographer, paid the greatest tribute:

“Through him the earth does, indeed, possess a true king! Wonderful is his royalty, surpassing the gods!”

Suggested Further Reading

  • Bana.
    Harsa-carita/ tr. by E. B. Cowell and F. W. Thomas. — London : Royal Asiatic Society, 1929.
    xiv, 284 p. ; 22 cm. — (Oriental Translation Fund new series)
  • Hsuan Tsang.
    Si-yu-ki. Buddhist records of the ancient world. — New York : Paragon, 1968.
    2 v. in 1 ; 23 cm.
  • Mukherjee, Radha Kumud.
    Harsha. — London : Oxford University Press, 1926.
    203 p. : ill. , facsims. , fold. map ; 19 cm.

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Chandra Gupta II succeeded to the throne of his father, Samudra Gupta, in about 380 A. D. Whether this was in the natural progression of things, or, as some scholars believe, that it occurred in a more dramatic fashion, is a matter of conjecture.

The story goes that the prince who inherited the throne was a weak prince named Rama Gupta. He agreed to surrender his wife, Dhruvadevi, to a Saka tyrant. His younger brother, Chandra Gupta, saved the family honour by slaying the tyrant, after which he murdered his brother and married his brother’s grieving widow.

Once on the throne, he continued his father’s aggressive policies by conquering the Saka rulers of Ujjain, but he also strengthened his empire by matrimonial alliances. He married his daughter Prabhuvati to the Vataka king, Rudrasena II. When the king died at an early age, she served as regent for the heirs to his throne, thereby increasing Gupta power in that part of the country. He also consolidated his influence with the Naga rulers by accepting the hand of princess Kuberanaga.

Chandra took the title Vikramaditya, meaning “Sun of Valour”, and surrounded himself in his court with the Navaratna (nine gems). These were the great writers who produced lasting works of Sanskrit literature that sparkled in the Golden Age of India. Chief of these was Kalidasa, “India’s Shakespeare”.

One of the celebrated events of the reigned of Chandra II was the arrival of Fa-Hsien, a pilgrim from China. In his journal he spoke highly of conditions in the Ganges Valley:

“The people are numerous and happy . . . . The king governs without decapitation or other corporal punishment; criminals are simply fined, lightly or heavily according to the circumstances. Even in repeated attempts at wicked rebellion, they only have their right hands cut off. ”

On the death of Chandra in 413, Kumara Gupta I succeeded to the throne, followed in 455 by Skanda Gupta who repelled the Huns and took the Vikramaditya title. After his death in 467, the Gupta Empire went into decline, the last of the line being Vainya Gupta who reigned around 510.

Suggested Further Reading

  • Banerjee, Rakhal Das, 1885-1930.
    The age of the imperial Guptas. — New Delhi : Ramanand Vidya Bhawan, 1981.
    250 p. , [16] p. of plates : ill. ; 22 cm.
  • Dandekar, R. N.
    The age of the Guptas and other essays. — Delhi : Ajanta, 1982.
    viii, 391 p. ; 23 cm. — (Select writings ; 4)
  • Ganguly, Dilip Kumar, 1939-
    The imperial Guptas and their times. — New Delhi : Abhinav, 1987.
    xii, 184 p. ; 23 cm.

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The Gupta Age began with the founding of the Gupta dynasty by Chandra Gupta I. He was not the first of the family to rule, but the first to assume the title Maharajadhiraja (Supreme King of Great Kings) and make it stick. This was around in 320 A. D. when he formed a matrimonial alliance with a Lichchavi princess, Kumara Devi. The Lichchavis at that time ruled parts of Bihar and possibly portions of Nepal as well.

Chandra was the son of Ghatot Kacha and the grandson of Sri Gupta. He conquered most of the Gangetic Plain from Prayoga (Allahabad) to northern Bengal.

Toward the end of his reign, circa 335, he held a assembly of councillors during which he successor, Samudra, was nominated.

Samudra, the greatest of the Gupta rulers, was known outside his kingdom as indicated by the Tantrikamandaka, a Javanese manuscript, and by the action of Sri Meghavarna of Ceylon in sending an ambassador to him to obtain permission to build a monastery for Ceylonese pilgrims at Bodh Gaya.

However, most of the information about him comes from an inscription engraved on the Asokan pillar at Allahabad. It is a eulogy composed by Harisena, and there is also an epigraph which was found in central India. Numerous coins issued during the reign of Samudra tell of his conquests.

Samudra conquered many kingdoms during his reign, the first two being Ahichchhatra in Rohilkhand and and Padmavati in central India ruled by Achutya and Nagasena respectively. Other kings in north and central India defeated by Samudra were Rudradeva, Matila, Nagadatta, Chandravarman, Ganapatinaga, Nandin and Balavarman.

Samudra also invaded the Deccan, defeating Mahendra of Kosala in the Upper Mahanadi Valley, Vraghra Raja (the Tiger King of the wilderness of Mahakantara), Mantaraja of Kurala, Mahendragiri of Pishtapura in the Godavari district, Svamidatta of Kottura in the north of the Tamil country, Damana of Erindapapa, Nilaraja of Avamukta, Hastivarman (the Salankayana king of Vengi which is located between the Godavari and Krishna Rivers), Ugrasenna of Pulakka thought to be in the Nellore district, Kubera of Devarashtra in the Vizagapatam district, Dhanan~jaya of Kusthalapur around North Arcot and Vishnugopa of the Palava kingdom of Kanchipuram in the Chingleput district.

He restored the Deccan kings to their thrones and extracted tribute from them, but in the north he totally uprooted many kings and ruled their lands directly.

It is not only his military conquests for which Samudra Gupta is famous. He was a patron of the arts and a scholar, poet and musician in his own right. One of his coins shows him playing musical instrument, a harp or lyre.

At his death in about 380, Samudra Gupta was succeeded by his son Chandra Gupta II, called Vikramaditya.

Suggested Further Reading

  • A list of books on Samudra and all the Guptas will be found following the sketch of Chandra Gupta II.

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The life of Kanishka, one of the great kings of ancient India, is documented by Chinese sources, inscriptions and coins.

The date of Kanishka was the subject of a two-day seminar in 1913 which fixed it at 58 A. D. The genesis of a debate among historians may never cease. The traditional date of Kanishka, 78 A. D. , is the beginning of the Saka era. Britannica has him flourishing circa 120 A. D. Other scholars have his reign starting as late as 140 A. D. Whatever the date of Kanishka, it is agreed that he ruled 23 years and that his realm included Kashmir and Afghanistan. He was a Kushan (Kuie-Shuang), belonging to one of the five tribes into which the Yue-Chi (Indo- Scythians) were divided after their occupation of Bactria.

Kanishka is thought to have been the successor of Kadphises II, the Kushan ruler who conquered parts of the Indian interior, set up a governor to rule in his name and then became a convert to Saivism. In his time Kanishka increased his domain so that ultimately it extended from Bukhara on the west to Pataliputra on the east and the Pamirs in the north to central India in the south. His capital was at Purushapura (Peshawar).

He was a patron of the arts, as were many of the great kings of ancient India, but his fame rests chiefly on his patronage of Buddhism. He expended large sums toward the construction of Buddhist monuments and convened the fourth Buddhist council at Jullundur under the leadership of his teacher, Vasumitra. The beginning of Mahayana Buddhist is thought to date from this council. The council was called because Kanishka was confused by the many different views expressed by monks who visited him daily. In the Chinese historical records is this account:

“In the 400th year after the Nirvana of Tathagata, Kanishka, king of Gandhara, at the proper time having fulfilled his destiny, his royal influence reached far, so that distant peoples adhered to him. In his spare moments amidst the affairs of government he always studied the Buddhist sutras, and daily invited one monk to enter the palace and to expound the doctrine. But because different explanations of the doctrine were held by the various sects, the king was filled with doubt, and he had no way to remove his uncertainty . . . .

“The king the issued an edict to assemble saintly and wise men from far and near. Thereupon people from the four quarters came together like the spoke at the hub . . . “The proceedings of the council were engraved on copper plates.

Kanishka was tolerant of all religions because his coins honoured Brahmanic, Zoroastrian and Greek gods — and the Buddha.

Suggested Further Reading

  • Narain, A. K.
    From Alexander to Kanishka. — Varanasi : Banaras Hindu University, 1967.
    vi, 117 p. , plates ; 26 cm. — (Department of Ancient Indian Culture & Archaeology. Monographs ; No. 1)

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The date of Asoka’s birth is not known, and not many historians are brave enough to hazard a guess. What is known is that he was the grandson of Chandragupta who founded the Maurya dynasty in approximately 324 B. C. (not long after Alexander left India) and the son of Bindusara, the second of the Maurya line.

On the death of Bindusara in circa 273 B. C. , Asoka became ruler of the Maurya kingdom for a reign of about 40 years. He was officially enthroned at Pataliputra (modern Patna) about four years after Bindusara’s death. What we know of his life and works is gleaned from his inscriptions and edicts and literary tradition. In the inscriptions he is often referred to as Devanampiya (“Beloved of the Gods”) or Priyadarsin (“Of Benevolent Appearance”).

During his father’s lifetime, Asoka is believed to have been viceroy on the northwestern region which included Kashmir and the Punjab with its capital in Taxila. After that he was viceroy of the western region with its capital at Ujjain. According to a Sinhala legend, Asoka was in Ujjain at the time of his father’s death.

In the first eight years of his reign he continued the aggressive policies of his father — who was called “Slayer of Foes” by Greek historians — and grandfather, under whom the Mauryan Empire had grown to include most of both Afghanistan and India. His first major action was that of putting down a revolt in Taxila.

But his war with the Kalingas in southern Orissa changed him forever. It is said that after a great victory he surveyed the battlefield and was appalled by the death and suffering he viewed there; whereupon, he gave up his violent ways and adopted a policy of peace.

An edict recording this event reads in part:

His Majesty King Priyadarshin the ninth year of his reign conquered the Kalingas.One hundred and fifty thousand were thence carried away captive, one hundred thousand were slain, and many times that number perished.

Ever since the annexation of the Kalingas, His Majesty has zealously protected the Law of Piety, has been devoted to that law, and has proclaimed its precepts.

His Majesty feels remorse on account of the conquest of the Kalingas, because, during the subjugation of a previously unconquered country, slaughter, death and taking occur, whereat His Majesty feels profound sorrow and regret . . . .

After the Kalinga War Asoka became an upasaka (lay Buddhist), steeped himself in Buddhist teachings and altered his policies radically. Instead of conquest by armed force, there would be “conquest by morality. “The “reverberation of the war drum” would be replaced by the “reverberation of the law. ”

Not content with peaceful policies within his own empire, Asoka sent forth missionaries to neighbouring kingdoms. However, he never tried to force his beliefs on others, and he maintained tolerant, if not friendly, relations with Hindu communities within his realm and with nearby kingdoms.

He opposed animal slaughter, whether for providing food or for sacrificial purposes, and he discouraged the royal hunt. In one of his edicts he states:

Obedience must be rendered to mother and father, likewise to elders; firmness (of compassion) must be shown towards animals; truth must be spoken: these same moral virtues must be practised.In the same way the pupil must show reverence to the master, and one must behave in a suitable manner towards relatives.

During the 13th year after his coronation, Asoka began a program of circuits by which his officials, every five years, would proclaim the moral law throughout the land.

There is no record of the last eight years of his life, except that he died in 232 B. C. and that he was succeeded by two of his grandsons: Dasaratha who ruled the eastern and Samprati the western parts of his empire. His empire survived him, but not for long.

Asoka was one of those rare phenomena in Indian history, and indeed in the history of the world, who combined in one person the qualities of both greatness and goodness.

Suggested Further Reading

  • Bhandarkar, Devadatta Ramkrishna, 1875-1950.
    Asoka. — 4th ed. — [Calcutta] : University of Calcutta, 1969.
    xxx, 366 p. ; 23 cm. — (Carmichael lectures ; 1923)
  • Gokhale, Balkrishna Govind.
    Asoka Maurya. — New York : Twayne, [1966]
    194 p. : map ; 21 cm. — (Twayne’s rulers and statesmen of the world series ; 3)
  • Smith, Vincent Arthur, 1848-1920.
    Asoka : the Burdhist emperor of India. — Oxford : Clarenden, 1901.
    204 p. : port. ; 20 cm. — (Rulers of India ; v. 28)

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The story of Chanakya (or Kautilya or Visnugupta), the author of the Arthashastra might more appropriately belong in the Part which contains sketches of illustrious writers, both ancient and modern.

However, his life and work is so closely identified with that of Chandragupta Maurya that it may fit better here.

His origin, like that of the king he so nobly served, is obscure. It is unanimously conceded, however, that he was a Brahman. It is not known where or when he was born or where he acquired his understanding of statecraft, which is the subject of his great work; but at some point he is supposed to have offered his services to Dhanananda, the king of Magadha, the capital of which was Pataliputra.

(Pataliputra was the Sanskrit name of the present city of Patna, the capital of Bihar. In Chanakya’s time it was known by the Greeks as Palibotra. This name survived several centuries, and early Ptolemaic maps of India show a city called Palibotra on the Ganga River, which the Greeks called Ganges River. )

Dhanananda rejected Chanakya’s offer of service, and the next we learn of Chanakya is that he is in the area of the Vindhya Hills. He is in a village common when he notices some children playing a game game in which one of them (Chandragupta) takes the part of a king.

Chanakya saw something in the character of this make-believe king, bought him from his owner, a hunter, for 1,000 karshapanas and took him to Taxila for his education.

The education lasted seven or eight years, after which Chanakya gathered an army to fight the Greeks who were left to rule the country on the departure of Alexander. The army was financed, according to legend, by a conveniently-found buried treasure.

Chandragupta defeated Greek rulers in the Punjab and then turned his attention to Magadha where Chanakya had a score to settle. Chanakya made an alliance with Parvataka, the king of the Himalayan kingdom, Himatvatuka, and marched on Pataliputra, defeated Dhanananda whose armies were led by Bhadrasala.

With Chandragupta on the throne, Chanakya served as his adviser and chief minister. Like many ancient manuscripts, the date of its writing is not certain, and even its authorship is in dispute. The German school (Jolly, Winternitz, Schmidt) puts the date of the Artashastra in the fourth century A. D.

That Chanakya (Kautilya) was responsible for defeating the Nanda king and enthroning Chandragupta is found in this passage from the Vishnupurana:

(First) Mahapadma; then his sons, only nine in number, will be lords of the earth for a hundred years. Those Nandas Kautilya, a Brahman, will slay. On their death, the Mauryas will enjoy the earth. Kautilya himself will install Chandragupta on their throne. His son will be Bindusara, and his son Ashokavardhana.

It is deduced from epigraphical evidence that Chandragupta became king in 321 B. C. and that Asoka ascended the throne around 273 B. C. ; so it can therefore be reckoned that the Arthashastra was written some time during that interval.

The Arthashastra was not the only work on ancient Indian polity. In the concluding verse are these words:

Drshtva vipratipattim bahudha sastreshu bhashya-karanam, Svayam eva Vishnuguptas cakara sutram ca bhashyam ca. *The Arthashastra is divided into 15 books:

  • Book I: Concerning Discipline
  • Book II:The Duties of Government Superintendents
  • Book III: Concerning Law
  • Book IV:Removal of Thorns
  • Book V: Conduct of Courtiers
  • Book VI:The Source of Sovereign States
  • Book VII: The End of Sixfold Policy
  • Book VIII:Concerning vices and Calamities
  • Book IX:The Work of an Invader
  • Book X: Relating to War
  • Book XI:The Conduct of Corporation
  • Book XII: Concerning a Powerful Enemy
  • Book XIII:Strategic Means to Capture a Fortress
  • Book XIV: Secret Means
  • Book XV:The Plan of a Treatise

Book I is a table of contents, explaining what is going to be in the subsequent books. Book XV explains how a treatise should be written. It should consist of 15 Books, 150 chapters, 180 sections and 6,000shlokas, each shloka having 32 syllables.

Some of the chapters contain a code of laws, laying down appropriate punishments, such as fines, mutilation and torture, for malefactors. Other portions are concerned with protocol, conduct and administrative duties of government servants.

Books VI-X and XII-XIV have to do with sovereignty, diplomacy and military strategy. “Whatever pleases himself the king shall not consider as good,” says Chanakya, “but whatever pleases his subjects he shall consider as good. ”

Book VI says a good king should be “born of high family, godly, possessed of valour, seeing through the medium of aged persons, virtuous, truthful, not of a contradictory nature, grateful, having large aims, highly enthusiastic, not addicted to procrastination, powerful to control his neighbouring kings, of resolute mind, having an assembly of ministers of no mean quality, and possessed of a taste for discipline — these are the qualities of an inviting nature. ”

Chanakya has advice which should be taken seriously by rulers even in this century:

* (Having seen discrepancies in many ways on the part of the writers of commentaries on the Sastras, Vishnugupta himself has made this Sutra and commentary. )

“A wise king can make even the poor and miserable elements of his sovereignty happy and prosperous; but a wicked king will surely destroy the most prosperous and loyal elements of his kingdom.”Hence a king of unrighteous character and of vicious habits will, though he is an emperor, fall prey either to the fury of his own subjects of to that of his enemies.

“But a wise king, trained in politics, will, though he possesses a small territory, conquer the whole earth with the help of the beautiful elements of his sovereignty, and will never be defeated. “

Suggested Further Reading

  • Kautilya.
    Kautilya’s Arthasastra / tr. by R. Shamasastry. — Mysore : Mysore Printing and Publishing House, [1961]
    xxxix, 484, iii p. ; 22 cm.
  • Law, Narendra Nath.
    Aspects of ancient Indian polity. — Oxford : Clarendan, 1921.
    xx, 228 p. ; 23 cm.

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The origin of Chandragupta is obscure, and documentation on it comes from varied sources: Greek and Roman historians, the Puranas, Pali chronicles from Sri Lanka, and Jain and Buddhist tradition.

Even the Sanskrit play Mudrarakshasa contains reference to him as being vrishala (of low birth, a sudra); however, this term can also mean a Kshatriya who broke away from Brahmanical traditions.

Justin describes Sandracottus (Chandragupta) as being of “low origin”, and both he and Plutarch claim he had an encounter with Alexander. According to Jain tradition, Chandragupta was born of a family which raised peacocks. On the other hand, Buddhist tradition says he from a Kshatriya clan called Moriyas, derived from the word for peacock. *

This tradition says his father, chief of his tribe, died in a border skirmish, after which the widow sought refuge in Pataliputra, where she gave birth to Chandragupta. In his childhood he was abducted by a cowheard who later sold him to a hunter. In turn he was purchased by Chanakya (also known as Kautilya), a political adviser, for 1,000 karshapanas.

The story goes that Chanakya had offered his services to the Nanda king of Magadha but had been rudely and summarily turned down. One day he happened upon some children who were playing a game in which one of them (Chandragupta) pretended to be the king. Chanakya saw potential in the young “king”, bought him from the hunter, took him to Taxila and taught him the art of kingship. As a child, then, Chandragupta would have been in Taxila at the time Alexander passed through; so it is entirely possible that he may have seen him, if not have actually had a personal encounter with him. One version of the encounter is that he offended Alexander and was sentenced to die, but escaped.

(Chanakya would later be remembered in history as an early day Machiavilli and the author of the Arthashastra, a treatise on statecraft. )

In the Buddhist text, Mahavatsa-tika, Chanakya, following the completion of Chandragupta’s education, raised an army and put Chandragupta in command of it. Justin’s version has it that his army was a band of robbers. It is more likely that Arrian’s description of the recruits as persons from republican, or king- less, tribes (known as Arashtrakas), then found in the Punjab.

Chandragupta, with his new-found army, fought against the Greeks following the departure of Alexander. To quote Justin:

“India, after Alexander’s death, as if the yoke of servitude had been shaken off her neck, had put this Prefect (Philip) to death. Sandracottus was the leader who achieved this freedom . . . . He was born in humble life . . . . Having collected a band of robbers, he instigated the Indians to overthrow the existing government . . . He was thereafter prepared to attack Alexander’s Prefects, mounted on an elephant which fought vigorously in front of the army. ”

* It is noteworthy that the family crest of Asoka, Chandragupta’s grandson, contains a peacock.

Following his success in the Punjab against foreign rule, Chandragupta turned his attention to Magadha which was the under the corrupt rule of the Nandas.

He marched on the capital, Pataliputra, but in doing so, committed serious errors. In the Buddhist version:

“In his ambition to be a monarch, without beginning at the frontier and taking towns as he passed, he invaded the heart of the country and found his army surrounded by people on all sides and routed: like a child eating the middle part of a cake and not eating from the edges, which were thrown away. ”

He tried a second time and made a second mistake. He began operations from the frontiers and conquered several states, but neglected to post garrisons to hold his conquests.

On his third try he succeeded, posting garrisons along the way. He conquered Pataliputra in a great battle, seized the government of Magadha and put its king, Dhanananda, to death.

The Jain version of this campaign reads:

“Like a child burning his finger which he greedily puts in the middle of a dish, instead of eating from the outer part which was cool, Chanakya had been defeated because he had not secured the surrounding country before attacking the stronghold of the enemy. Profiting by this advice, Chanakya went to Himatvatuka and entered into an alliance with Parvataka, the king of the place . . . . They opened the campaign by reducing the provinces. ”

The kingdom of Magadha, now ruled by Chandragupta, extended roughly from the Punjab to Bihar and as far south as the Tinnevelli district. Tamil tradition speaks of a “Mauryan upstart” who advanced that far.

In 304 B. C. Seleukos, one of Alexander’s generals, tried to reconquer India. Chandragupta defeated him in battle and in the treaty of peace acquired Parapondisadae (Kabul), Aria (Herat), Arachosia (Kandahar) and Gedrosia (part of Afghanistan and modern Baluchistan). For his part, Seleukos acquired 500 elephants and was authorised to place a Greek ambassador named Megasthenes in the court of Chandragupta.

Between the writings of Chanakya and Megasthenes, we are given a a fairly clear picture of India during the early years of the Mauryan Empire. (Only fragments of Megasthenes’ writings are extant, but he was widely quoted by other later writers. )The kingdom was divided into provinces, each with its own adhipati (governor). The smallest unit of government was the grama (village) ruled by a gramani and groups of 10, 20, 100, and 1,000 villages were ruled by dasi, vimsi, satesa and sahasresa. These officials collected revenue and enforced the laws. The villages were largely self-governing and functioned like republics. Every ten villages were served by a market town called a samgrahana, and every 300 or 400 villages had their county towns called kharvataka and dronamukha.

Megasthenes gave a vivid description of the city of Pataliputra and said that the king was carried in a golden palanquin adorned with tassels of pearls. He was attended by armed female guards.

The principal royal sport was the hunt, and popular sports consisted of fights of bulls, rams, elephants, rhinos and ox races. The reign of Chandragupta lasted about 24 years. According to Jain tradition, toward the end Chandragupta abdicated, converted to the religion of Mahavira and lived out his last days in Sravana Belgola in Karnataka. This tradition is contradicted by Greek writers who say he never lost his taste for the hunt.

He died in 296 B. C. and was succeeded by his son, Bindusara, known to the Greeks as Amitraghata, “the Slayer of Foes”.

Chandragupta was the first ruler to bring much of India into one kingdom, but his mighty empire would last only a few generations.

Suggested Further Reading

  • McCrindle, John Watson, 1825-1913.
    Ancient India as described in the classical literature. — Westminster : Constable, 1901.
    xii, 226 p. ; 23 cm.
  • Nilakanta Sastri, Kallidaikurichi Ayah Aiyar.
    The age of the Nandas and the Mauryas. — Banaras: Motilal Banarsidas, 1952.
    xii, 438 p. : plates, fold. maps ; 23 cm.

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356-323 B. C.

Alexander III, king of Macedonia, was born in 356 B. C. at Pella in Macedonia. He died thirty-three years later (13 June 323) in Persia and is known to history as Alexander the Great.

As a teenager his tutor was Aristotle who imbued him with a love of Greek culture which never left him. He won his first battle at the age of 14, and when 16 he commanded forces of his father’s army at the Battle of Chaeronea which was won by Macedonia.

His father, Philip II, was assassinated in 336, and Alexander succeeded to the throne with the support of the army. He then engaged on a career of conquest which took him through Persia, to Egypt and ultimately to India. For the purposes here, the concern is his activities in India.

Alexander fought four great battles. At Granicus (334) he defeated the Persians, at Issus (333) he defeated Darius and his Persian army, at Gaugamela (331) he defeated them again, and finally at the Jhelum River (326) he defeated King Porus and his Indian army in what is known as the Battle of the Hydaspes.

Alexander had left Bactra in 327 and proceeded through what is present day Afghanistan. He crossed the Hindu Kush and invaded India, but to secure his lines of communication he had established garrisons near modern Kabul. He spent the winter of 327-326 fighting tribes in the Kunar and Swat Valleys and eventually conquered the city of Nyasa.

At Taxila he met Raja Ambhi with whom he arranged for support in the form of elephants and troops in return for aid against Taxiles’ enemy Porus.

Prior to the battle Alexander was on the east bank on the Jhelum and Porus on the west. The monsoons had begun, and Porus did not believe Alexander would attack until after the monsoons were over because he thought the river was unfordable, which it was. However, Alexander found a place about twenty-two kilometres north, and crossed at the point. He then attacked Porus in a ferocious battle during which Porus’ elephants panicked and trampled friend and foe alike.

According to Plutarch, after the battle Alexander asked Porus how he wished to be treated; and Porus answered: “As a king. “This so impressed Alexander that he made Porus satrap of his Indian conquests.

Alexander wished to push farther east at this point, but his troops, who were weary of battle and not a little homesick, came close to mutiny. He decided to return to Persia. He went by land with part of his army while his admiral, Nearchus, went by sea with the remainder of the army.

Alexander’s last years were spent consolidating his empire and trying to solve problems which had remained unsolved while he was busy fighting battles. That he cried because he had no more worlds to conquer is probably more apocryphal than true.

Alexander’s influence on world history is difficult to underestimate. The period which followed his death is known as the Hellenistic Age.

When it was over, the Age of Rome took its place. Greek had become the lingua franca of the Mediterranean region, and this facilitated the spread of Christianity there.

It cannot be said that Alexander the Great’s influence in India was great. The extent to which he may have influenced Indian political and social institutions is negligible, and the same can probably be said of Greek influence on Indian learning. To quote the French scholar Sylvain Levy, “The name of Alexander the Great which has maintained the same prestige in the traditions of the Near East as in those of the West has not yet been discovered even in a single Indian text. ”

However, in Gandhara and Taxila are found works which combine the best of Indian art with the best of Greek art.

Can this be the only legacy of Alexander in Greater India?

— Henry Scholberg

Suggested Further Readings

  • M’Crindle, John Watson, 1825-1913.
    The invasion of India by Alexander the Great . . . — New York : Barnes & Noble, [1939]
    xxxix, 432 p. : ill. , maps ; 23 cm.
    Reprint of 1896 ed.
  • Tarn, William Woodthorpe, Sir, 1869-1957.
    Alexander the Great. — Cambridge (England) : University Press, 1948.
    2 v. : fold. map ; 23 cm.

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