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WITH the Maurya dynasty begins the period of continuous history in India, a transition due to a concurrence of causes. In the first place, the invasion of Alexander and some other occasions of contact with the West furnish chronological limits of relative definiteness, to which certain archaeological and literary circumstances readily conform. Secondly, the establishment of a single paramount power in Hindustan, embracing a part even of the country south of the Vindhya mountains and standing in relation to the still independent areas, supplies a unity which previously was lacking and which, in fact, was rarely realised in later ages. The personalities also of two of the members of the dynasty stand out more clearly than is usual in India, in the case of one, indeed, with a vividness which would be remarkable even in the West.

The literary material gain is of exceptional variety and authenticity. Not to mention the information afforded by the histories of Alexander's Indian campaign and the accounts of the Seleucid empire, we have in the memoirs of Megasthenes, a Seleucid envoy at the court of the first Maurya, a picture, unfortunately fragmentary, of the country, its administrative and social features, which research continues to verify in all its main details. Ashoka’s own rescripts, graven upon rocks and pillars, are documents of unassailable fidelity. The recently recovered Arthashastra ascribed to Kautilya, otherwise named Chanakya and Vishnugupta, though in principle it conveys no new conception of an Indian polity, is in virtue of its date, which clearly falls within or near the Maurya period, and of the abundant light which in detail it sheds upon the life of the people, especially upon the arts of peace and war, perhaps the most precious work in the whole of Sanskrit literature. Finally, a most skilfully constructed political drama, the Mudrarakshasa of Vishakhadatta, preserves, in spite of a relatively recent date, some outlines of the events which attended the foundation of the dynasty.

The invasion of Alexander found the Punjab, as we have seen, divided among a number of relatively inconsiderable tribes, a state of things which had probably always subsisted. He left it substantially unchanged, except that he recognised two of the larger states, that of Takshashila (Taxila), which had facilitated his entrance into India, and the rival kingdom of Porus (Paurava or the king of the Purus), whom he had conquered. The former was maintained in the region between the Indus and the Hydaspes (Jhelum), while the latter was made to embrace all the more easterly territory as far as the Hyphasis (Beas). The two kings were reconciled and united by a matrimonial alliance. Alexander further confirmed, under the title of Satrap, Abhisares, ruler of the Himalayan districts of the Punjab. The nations occupying the large extent of country about the confluences of the five rivers were placed under Philippus as satrap, and Sind under Pithon.

The limit of Alexander’s easterly advance was the Beas. The last kingdom with which he came in contact was that of Phegelas, adjoining the river, whether on the right or left bank does not appear, possibly it was the country between that river and the Sutlej. The mutiny which arrested the victorious progress occurred in a region which - broadly defined - has in all periods of Indian history been pivotal. The desert of Rajputana, running up towards the mountains, leaves only a narrow neck joining the Punjab to the rest of Hindustan. Here to the east was the country of the Kurus and Panchalas, the scene of the legendary wars of the Mahabharata; here was Thanesar, where arose in the sixth century A.D. the dynasty of Harsha; and here are Panipat and Delhi. Alexander would have had, so he was told, to cross a desert of eleven days march, in order to reach the Ganges, beyond which lay two great peoples, the Prasii and Gangaridae, whose king Agrammes, or Xandrames, kept in the field an army of 20,000 cavalry, 200,000 infantry, 2000 chariots, and 3000 (or 4000) elephants. Upon inquiry, Alexander was informed by Phegelas and Porus that the king was a man of worthless character, the son of a barber, and that he had obtained the throne by the murder of his predecessor, whose chief queen he had corrupted.

We learn from Megasthenes and Ptolemy that the Gangaridae occupied the delta of the Ganges. The name Prasii, or Prachyas, ‘Easterns’, would properly denote the peoples east of the Middle Country or Central Hindustan, which extends as far as the confluence of the Ganges and Jumna at Allahabad. Either, therefore, the name ‘Easterns’ was used by Alexander’s informants in a more general sense, as the correlative of ‘Westerns’, or it reflects what in any case is the fact, that the Panchalas, Shurasenas, Kosalas and other peoples of the Middle Country had fallen under the domination of the power of Magadha (S. Bihar), with its capital Pataliputra, at the junction of the Ganges and the Son.

The beginnings of this suzerainty appear already in the early Buddhist books; and the dynasty ruling in Pataliputra, which city was founded by Udayin, grandson of Buddha's contemporary Ajatashatru, is recognised in the Brahman literature as representative of Indian sovereignty. Whether it held also the countries stretching westward to the south of the great desert, and in particular the famous realm of Malwa, with its capital Avanti, or Ujjain, we have no means of knowing : but a negative answer is probable. This region, as also the continuation to the western coast of Kathiawar and Gujarat, escaped the purview of Alexander and his historians. Both were well within the horizon of his Indian informants, since the trade connection between Bengal and the coast regions of Shurparaka and Surashtra had been from of old no less familiar than was the northern route of scholars and traders journeying to Takshashila and Kabul.

In the Agrammes, or Xandrames, of the Greek writers there has been no difficulty in recognising the Dhana-Nanda of the Sanskrit books; and the very name, in the form Nandrus, has been conjecturally restored to the text of Justin. It is the name of his dynasty, which according to the Puranas ruled during exactly a century; Chandramas would be the equivalent of his Greek appellative. His overthrow, which Alexander was prevented from attempting, resulted from the conditions which the invasion left behind. It established the supremacy of the Mauryas under Chandragupta.

The details of this peripetia are matter for inference; but the antecedents of the two chief actors in the drama are sufficiently certain. Chandragupta is represented as a low-born connection of the family of Nanda. His surname Maurya is explained by the Indian authorities as meaning ‘son of Mura’, who is described as a concubine of the king. A more flattering account makes the Mauryas an Himalayan offshoot of the noble sept of the Shakyas, the race of Buddha; and, apart from this connection, the supposition of a tribal name seems probable, since a tribe of Morieis is mentioned by the Greeks and will perhaps be identical with the Moriyas of the Pali books. However that may be, Chandragupta had incurred the displeasure of Nanda, whom he had served in the office of senapati, or Commander-in-Chief. He is said to have made an attempt against his master, instigated by the Brahman Vishnugupta, Chanakya, or Kautilya, who in his person, and perhaps also as representing a disloyal priestly movement, had been disrespectfully treated by the king. The case of Jehu offers a familiar parallel; but the outcome was otherwise.

Chandragupta fled with his fellow conspirator, who figures in literature as the Machiavelli of India. In the movement which subsequently led to the overthrow of Nanda Chanakya is represented as the directing mind. The abortive attempt must have preceded the invasion of Alexander, whom Chandragupta is said to have met in the Punjab.

The Overthrow of Nanda

At that time Nanda still reigned. The dating of the subsequent events depends upon the correctness of the account of them contained in the Mudrarakshasa. According to this authority it was as head of a confederacy, in which the chief ally was the king of the Himalayan districts in the Punjab, that Chandragupta invaded the Magadhan empire. The play dates from perhaps the seventh century AD; but we need not question its evidence, which we are justified by some analogies in regarding as a genuine theatrical tradition : moreover there exists a Buddhist and Jain story which makes Chandragupta's second attempt begin with the frontiers. Further, a conquest of the Punjab by Chandragupta with forces from Eastern Hindustan has little inherent plausibility : before the British power the movement had been consistently in the opposite direction.

A precise date for the overthrow of Nanda seems with our present evidence impossible. It can hardly have been effected without the co-operation of the kingdom of Porus. We have then two alternatives. Either Porus participated in the invasion and is the Parvataka, the ally of Chandragupta, in the drama, in which case the year 321 BC would be not unlikely, as the death of Porus seems to have followed that of Alexander by no long interval. Or his successor, whether a member of his family or Chandragupta himself, was a participator : and then we have no means of dating, unless we allow the indications of the drama to persuade us that Eudamus, the assassinator of Porus, who in 323 succeeded Philippus as Alexander’s representative and who retired from India in about 317, was also a partner in the exploit. As regards the incidents of the campaign, we have no trustworthy information. Nanda was defeated and killed, and his capital occupied.

Here begins the action of the drama. According to this authority, Chanakya, the instigator of Chandragupta, contrives the death of Parvataka, the chief ally, and then of his brother Vairodhaka, which causes the son of the former, Malayaketu, along with the remaining allies to withdraw their troops to a distance. They are joined by Rakshasa, the faithful minister of the Nandas and by others from the capital, in some cases with the connivance of Chanakya. What follows is a complicated intrigue. In the end Malayaketu becomes suspicious of his allies, whom he puts to death, and also of Rakshasa. The latter has no longer any option but to accept the offers of Chandragupta, who allows Malayaketu to retire in peace to his own dominions.

At this point the Indian tradition takes leave of Chandragupta and his mentor. The latter, his vow of vengeance accomplished, returns to his Brahman hermitage. For Chandragupta the ensuing years must have been strenuous. The great military progress of Seleucus, whereby he sought to consolidate the eastern part of his dominions, brought him to the Indus about the year 305. He found Chandragupta, now master of all Hindustan, awaiting him with an immense army. For Seleucus the task proved too great : he crossed the Indus, but either no battle ensued, or an indecisive one. Seleucus was content to secure a safe retirement and a gift of 500 elephants by the surrender of all the Greek dominions as far as the Kabul valley. Upon these terms a matrimonial alliance was arranged. Thus the year 305 saw the empire of the successful adventurer of Pataliputra safely established behind the Hindu Kush on the north and the Afghan highlands rising above Herat on the west.

At what period it came to include also the western provinces of Sind, Kathiawar, and Gujarat, which, as well as Malwa, we find in the possession of his grandson, we are not informed. But probably these also were acquired by the founder of the dynasty.

Chandragupta maintained his friendly relations with the Greeks. Seleucus received gifts from him; and his envoy Megasthenes resided for some considerable time, and perhaps on more than one occasion, at the court of Pataliputra. He was a friend of Sibyrtius, who in 324 was appointed by Alexander to the Satrapy of Gedrosia and Arachosia, and in 316 was again appointed by Antigonus. The date, or dates, of his mission must naturally be later than the campaign of Seleucus (c. 305) and earlier than the death of Chandragupta (c. 297); but the time is otherwise undetermined. It is to Megasthenes that the classical peoples were indebted for nearly all the precise information which they have transmitted concerning the Indian peoples.

According to Justin the rule of Chandragupta was oppressive; but the judgment is not supported by details or by Indian evidence. The consensus of Sanskrit writings on policy discountenances excessive leniency, and insists upon the retributory function of the ruler, who in maintaining order and protecting weakness should not shrink from severity; while in time of need he is entitled to call upon his people to bear ‘like strong bulls’ a considerable burden of taxation.

The duration of the reign is stated by the Puranas, in agreement with the Buddhist books, at twenty-four years. It would be uncritical, however, to regard these testimonies as from the beginning independent, or to attach any special credence to the exact figure. Moreover, the initial date is uncertain, the Jains presenting a date equivalent to 313 (312) BC, while the Buddhists of Ceylon give 321, and the Brahman writings withhold any reference to a fixed era. It would be idle to dwell further upon a matter of so much uncertainty. Our defective knowledge of the chronology is in striking contrast to the trustworthy information which we possess concerning the country and its administration.

The extent of the dominions of Chandragupta has already been stated. But his authority cannot have been everywhere exercised in the same manner or the same measure. Indian conquerors do not for the most part displace the rulers whom they subdue, nor was the example of Alexander in India to the contrary. Accordingly we may assume that the empire of Chandragupta included feudatory kingdoms; and even the presence of his viceroys would not necessarily imply, for example in Taxila or Ujjain, the extinction of the local dynasty. It has been acutely remarked by Lassen that in a number of cases Megasthenes states the military power of particular provinces; and he infers that these are instances of independent rule. The inference may have been carried too far; but it has an undeniable validity as regards the kingdoms south of the Vindhya mentioned by Megasthenes, namely the Andhras and Kalingas, as well as their western neighbours the Bhojas, Petenikas, and Rishtikas, who all down to the time of Chandragupta's grandson Ashoka remained outside the regular administration. The districts beyond the Indus, Gandhara, Arachosia, and Kabul were similarly frontier states.