Who is Chandragupta Maurya?

When we discuss ancient history, parts of the world often get overlooked in favor of those which we’re more familiar with here in the west. The Indian Emperor Chandragupta Maurya was the first to rule the Mauryan Empire from 322 BCE until 298 BCE. At its peak, the Mauryan Empire was the largest to ever grace Indian lands and rivaled the other largest empires of the time period. This empire was important for the region because smaller states ruled independently prior to Chandragupta, who helped unify them into what could be considered a more cohesive country with an organized government and prosperous economy.

The road to success was a difficult one, and while on it Chandragupta crossed paths with one of history’s better-known figures–Alexander the Great.

Only four years before Chandragupta put together his empire, Alexander the Great fought with King Porus, a ruler of one of India’s local states located in Paurava (what we know today as Punjab). Alexander eventually managed to defeat this new rival king, and in doing so created a powerful new ally. He made King Porus ruler of those regions of India that had already been conquered and were thus under Macedonian rule.

Chandragupta was in exile while these events played out, and happened to be living his life as a fugitive within one of Alexander’s camps. His opposition to Macedonian influence was clear, and he eventually put together an army. Although his forces were small in comparison to those he fought, he managed to overcome the odds through careful manipulation of other factors. He manufactured the conditions necessary to throw the Magadha kingdom into civil war and then swept in with his own forces to seize power.

The Mauryan Dynasty that Chandragupta created lasted through 185 BCE and India prospered during this time. He was an efficient ruler, and his empire saw the building of roads, mines, irrigation canals, and temples, all of which led to a robust economy.

Religious diversity also prospered under his rule. Buddhism, Ajivika, and Jainism all gained traction in the decades that followed. Chandragupta himself became a Jainist monk. In doing so, he should have forsaken wealth and power–which he obviously did after his rule had ended. Jains were known to be vegetarians because they believe in all living creatures striving to help one another as part of an ancient dharma. Today, there are still millions of Jains who practice in similar ways to the ancient religion, and most still live in India.

Chandragupta passed the throne to his son Bindusara in 298 BCE and perhaps died of self-starvation in a cave around 297 BCE. No one knows for sure, but that’s where his story ends.