Chandragupta Maurya was born in 340 BC, in Patliputra (Patna) in Bihar. According to the brahmanical tradition, he was born of Mura, a shudra woman in the court of the Nandas.
Chandragupta was the founder of the Maurya dynasty (reigned c. 321–c. 297 BCE) and the first emperor to unify most of India under one administration. He is credited with saving the country from maladministration and freeing it from foreign domination.
Family Of Chandragupta Maurya
Chandragupta Maurya married Durdhara and was leading a happy married life. Parallelly, Chanakya was adding small dosages of poison in the food consumed by Chandragupta Maurya so that his emperor wouldn’t be affected by any attempts of his enemies who might try to kill him by poisoning his food. The idea was to train Chandragupta Maurya’s body to get used to poison. Unfortunately, during the last stage of her pregnancy, queen Durdhara consumed some of the food which was meant to be served to Chandragupta Maurya. Chanakya, who entered the palace at that time, realized that Durdhara would no longer live and hence decided to save the unborn child. So, he took a sword and cut open Durdhara’s womb to save the child, who was later named as Bindusara. Later, Chandragupta Maurya married Seleucus’ daughter Helena as part of his diplomacy and entered into an alliance with Seleucus.
Foundation of Mauryan Empire
The Maurya Empire was founded in 322 BCE by Chandragupta Maurya, who had overthrown the Nanda Dynasty and rapidly expanded his power westward across central and western India in order to take advantage of the disruptions of local powers in the wake of the withdrawal by Alexander the Great ‘s armies.
Around 324 BC, Alexander the Great and his soldiers had decided to retreat to Greece. However, he had left behind a legacy of Greek rulers who were now ruling parts of ancient India. During this period, Chandragupta and Chanakya formed alliances with local rulers and started defeating the armies of the Greek rulers. This led to the expansion of their territory until finally the establishment of the Maurya Empire
Administration of Chandragupta Maurya
The system of the Maurya administration, as under Chandragupta, had been more or less ascertained. The following were the important features of the Maurya administration.
The Maurya king was the head of the State and of the administration as in most ancient monarchies. The Nanda kings before Chandragupta were powerful monarchs. The legacy of that power continued. But, under new conditions, Chandragupta’s kingship had to rest on greater powers.
The kings of ancient India under Hindu polity enjoyed limited power. They ruled in accordance with the principles of Dharma, social customs and usages. They worked as the guardians of the Law, but were not the law-givers themselves. But in Chandragupta’s time monarchy assumed a new character. According to Kautilya: “Dharma, contract, custom and royal decree are the four legs of law. Of these, each later item is of superior validity to its predecessor.” This means that the King’s order or decree was above all other forms of Law.
The King’s Palace and the Capital Administration:
The palace of Chandragupta Maurya symbolised the wealth and power of his empire. According to the Greek sources, the splendour of the palace of Pataliputra excelled that of the Persian palaces of Susa and Ekbatana. ” The palace is adorned with gilded pillars clasped all round with a vine embossed in gold, while silver images of those birds which most charm the eye diversify the workmanship.”
The Structure of Central Administration
The central administration of the Mauryas represented a comprehensive system. “Administration cannot be work of one man, just as one wheel cannot drive a chariot.” says Kautilya.
The central administration was divided into several departments. Kautilya mentions of a large number of departments which looked after such important subjects as Revenue, Exchequer, Stores, Armoury, prisons, Accounts, Agriculture, Mines, Metals, Mint, Salt, Forests, Cattle, Pastures, Passports, Shipping, Ports, Commerce, Trade-routes, Customs, Frontiers, Excise, Weights and Measures, Spinning and Weaving, Religious institutions, and Intelligence Service, etc. The department of finance was given greater attention since, according to Kautilya, “All undertakings depend upon finance. Hence, foremost attention shall be paid to the Treasury.” The rich were required to pay more as a matter of principle.
The Mantri Parishad conducted its business in all seriousness. The king and even the provincial viceroys consulted the ministers in matters of administration. There was a secretary in charge of the office of the ministers, known as the Mantri-Parishad- Adhyaksha.
It was the work of the central government of discharge welfare duties for the benefit of the unemployed, widows, destitute and orphans, and even of musicians and dancers. There were elaborate functions for the department of works and construction all over the empire.
The Military Forces Of Mauryan Empire
The Maurya Empire possessed a large army. In the days of Chandragupta, it contained 6, 00,000 infantry, 30,000 horsemen, 36,000 men for elephants, and 24,000 men for chariots. The total number of the fighting force thus came to nearly 6, 90,000, besides many thousands of helpers and attendants. The empire required this big army to maintain internal peace and to face external threats.
This army required a sound system of management. Megasthenes, who observed the Maurya military power from close quarters, left an account of its administration. According to him, there was a War-Office or War Council having 30 members, divided into 6 Boards of 5 members each. The army was divided into six departments each under the control of one Board. The six departments were (1) The Infantry, (2) The Cavalry, (3) The War-Chariots, (4) The War-Elephants, (5) The War-Transport, and (6) The Fleet.
In battles, the soldiers, elephants and horses were all protected by defensive armour. The soldiers were arranged in squads of ten, companies of hundred, and battalions of thousand men in each. The elephants and chariots usually carried the archers. Various arms like big swords, spears and javelins, and bows and arrows were used, besides some advanced weapons like the Sataghni or the ‘Slayer of a hundred’.
The Judiciary Of Mauryan Empire
Chandragupta Maurya, as the ruler of a great empire, made the administration of justice thorough. The Law was binding on all and carried the fear of punishment for the breakers of Law.
At the top of the judicial system were the king as the highest court of appeal, and the king’s court. Kautilya defined the duty of the king as a judge in the following way: “He shall, therefore, personally attend to the business of gods, of heretics, of Brahmanas learned in the Vedas, of cattle, of sacred places, of minors, the aged, the afflicted, the helpless, and of women, all this in order or according to the urgency or pressure of those works. All urgent calls he shall hear to once.”
There were smaller courts of justice right from the village tribunals at the bottom. The village headman and the village elders usually looked into smaller disputes within their local areas.
The Maurya system of punishment was severe. Methods of torture could be applied to get confessions. There were various types of punishment depending on the nature of the crime. Fines, forced labour, whipping, mutilation, and execution were included in the chart of punishment. Kautilya refers to a number of prevailing modes of torture, and suggests that “Those whose guilt is believed to be true shall be subjected to torture.”
The extensive Maurya Empire was divided into some big provinces. The administration of the provinces was placed either in hands of governors or the princes of the royal house acting as viceroys, and called as Kumaras.
The exact number of the provinces at the time of Chandragupta is not known. The Asokan Inscriptions refer to the headquarters of some provinces. They were Kausambi, Ujjayini, Takshasila, Suvarnagiri, and Tosali. Since Kalinga with its capital Tosali was the only territory conquered by Asoka, it is most probable that except Tosali the other four places were the provincial capitals of Chandragupta’s empire.
The provinces were divided into districts or Janapadas, having their administrative officers.
The Village Administration
The Indian villages from time immemorial managed their internal affairs in a smooth and orderly manner. At the time of Chandragupta the same traditional village system continued. Every village had a headman named usually as the Gramika. He was assisted by the village elders in looking to the disputes among villagers and keeping peace in the village. They enjoyed the confidence of the people because of their impartiality and devotion to truthful deeds. The village headman was not an officer of the government, but was the chosen leader of the villagers. A number of villages also formed themselves into groups under a superior headman called Gopa. Many villages constituted a Janapada managed by state officers.
Thus that India under Chandragupta Maurya enjoyed a strong and sound administration based on valid principles, systematic organisation and the rule of Law. No doubt the king was the chief executive, the supreme law-maker and the fountain of justice, yet he was only the head of a governmental structure which stood on the foundations of ancient traditions and the needs of the time.
Death of Chandragupta
Around 297 BC, under the guidance of his spiritual guru Saint Bhadrabahu, Chandragupta Maurya decided to give up his mortal body through Sallekhana. Hence he started fasting and on one fine day inside a cave at Shravanabelagola, he breathed his last, ending his days of self-starvation. Today, a small temple sits on the place where once the cave, inside which he passed away, is believed to have been located.
Successor of Chandragupta
Chandragupta Maurya’s son Bindusara succeeded him to the throne. Bindusara fathered a son, Ashoka, who went on to become one of the most powerful kings of the Indian subcontinent. In fact, it was under Ashoka that the Maurya Empire saw its complete glory. The empire went on to become one of the largest in the entire world. The empire flourished across generations for more than 130 years.