Chandragupta Maurya

Chandragupta Maurya (reign: 321–297 BCE) was the founder of the Maurya Empire in ancient India. Born to a humble background, he was taught and counselled by the philosopher Chanakya, who had great influence in the formation of his empire. Together, Chandragupta and Chanakya built one of the largest empires on the Indian subcontinent. According to Jain sources, he later renounced his empire and became a Jain monk. Chandragupta's life and accomplishments are described in ancient Greek, Hindu, Buddhist and Jain texts, but they vary significantly. In Greek and Latin accounts, Chandragupta is referred to as Sandrokottos or Androcottus.

Chandragupta Maurya was a pivotal figure in the history of India. Prior to his consolidation of power, Alexander the Great had invaded the northwest Indian subcontinent before abandoning his campaign in 324 BCE and left a legacy of several Indo-Greek kingdoms in northwest ancient India. Chandragupta created a new empire, applied the principles of statecraft, built a large army and continued expanding the boundaries of his empire. Greek rulers avoided war with him; one of them, Seleucus I Nicator, entered into a marriage alliance instead, and retreated into Persia. Chandragupta's empire extended from Bengal to most of the Indian subcontinent except for the regions that are now Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Odisha.

Chandragupta's reign, as well the dynasty that followed him, was an era of economic prosperity, reforms, and infrastructure expansion. Many religions thrived in India within his and his descendants' empire; Buddhism, Jainism and Ajivika gained prominence along with the Vedic traditions. A memorial to Chandragupta Maurya exists on the Chandragiri hill along with a 7th-century hagiographic inscription.

Chandragupta's life and accomplishments are described in ancient and historical Greek, Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain texts, though they significantly vary in detail.[8] The historical sources which describe the life of Chandragupta Maurya vary considerably in details. His main biographical sources in chronological order are:[9]

The Greek and Roman texts do not mention Chandragupta directly, except for a 2nd-century text written by the Roman historian Justin. They predominantly mention the last Nanda king, who usurped the king before him. Justin states Chandragupta was of “humble origin” and includes stories of miraculous legends associated with him, such as a wild elephant appearing and submitting itself as a ride to him before a war. Justin's text notes Chandragupta and Chanakya defeated and removed Nanda from his rule.[12] Megasthenes' account, as it has survived in Greek texts that quote him, states that Alexander the Great and Chandragupta met, which if true would mean his rule started earlier than 321 BCE. He is described as a great king, but not as great in power and influence as Porus in northwestern India or Agrammes (Dhana Nanda) in eastern India.[13]

The pre-4th century Brahmanical (Hindu) Puranic texts mostly mirror the Greek sources. These texts do not discuss the details of Chandragupta’s ancestry, but rather cover the ancestry of the last Nanda king. The Nanda king is described to be cruel, against dharma and shastras, and born out of an illicit relationship followed by a coup.[14] The Chanakya’s Arthasastra refers to the Nanda rule as against the “spiritual, cultural and military” interests of the country, a period where intrigue and vice multiplied.[14] Chanakya states that Chandragupta returned dharma, nurtured a diversity of views, and ruled virtuously that kindled love among the subjects for his rule.[14]

Hindu sources are inconsistent. One medieval commentator states Chandragupta to be the son of one of the Nanda’s wives with the name “Mura”.[14] Other sources describe Mura as a concubine of the king.[15] Another Sanskrit dramatic text Mudrarakshasa uses the terms "Vrishala" and "Kula-hina" to describe Chandragupta.[16] The word "Vrishala” has two meanings: one is the "son of a Shudra”; the other means the "best of kings". A later commentator used the former interpretation to posit that Chandragupta had a Shudra background. However, historian Radha Kumud Mukherjee opposed this theory, and stated that the word should be interpreted as "the best of kings”.[16] The same drama also refers to Chandragupta as someone of humble origin, in a manner similar to Justin.[16] According to the 11th-century texts of the Kashmiri Hindu tradition – Kathasaritsagara and Brihat-Katha-Manjari – the Nanda lineage was very short. Chandragupta was a son of Purva-Nanda, the older Nanda based in Ayodhya.[17][18][note 1] The common theme in the Hindu sources is that Chandragupta came from a humble background and with Chanakya he emerged as a dharmic king loved by his subjects.[20]

The Buddhist texts such as Mahavamsa describe Chandragupta to be of Kshatriya origin.[21] These sources, written about seven centuries after his dynasty ended, state that both Chandragupta and his grandson Ashoka – a patron of Buddhism – were from a branch of the Shakya noble family, from which Gautama Buddha descended from.[22] These Buddhist sources attempt to link the dynasty of their patron Ashoka directly to the Buddha.[23] The sources claim that the family branched off to escape persecution from a king of the Kosala Kingdom and Chandragupta’s ancestors moved into a secluded Himalayan kingdom known for its peacocks. The Buddhist sources explain the epithet Moriya comes from these peacocks, or Mora in Pali (Sanskrit: Mayura).[22][3] The Buddhist texts are inconsistent; some offer other legends to explain his epithet. For example, they mention a city named "Moriya-nagara" where all buildings were made of bricks colored like the peacock's neck.[24] The Maha-bodhi-vamsa states he hailed from Moriya-nagara, while the Digha-Nikaya states he came from the Moriya clan of Pipphalivana.[21] The Buddhist sources also mention that “Brahmin Chanakya” was his counselor and with whose support Chandragupta became the king at Patliputra.[24]

The 12th-century Digambara text Parishishtaparvan by Hemachandra is the main and earliest Jain source of the complete legend of Chandragupta. It was written nearly 1,400 years after Chandragupta's death. In Canto 8, verses 170 to 469, it describes the legend of Chandragupta and Chanakya’s influence on him.[21][25] Other Digambara Jain sources state he moved to Karnataka after renouncing his kingdom and performed Sallekhana – the Jain religious ritual of peacefully welcoming death by fasting.[26][27] The earliest mention of Chandragupta's ritual death is found in Harisena's Brhatkathakosa, a Sanskrit text of stories about Digambara Jains. The Brhatkathakosa describes the legend of Bhadrabahu and mentions Chandragupta in its 131st story.[28] However, the story makes no mention of the Maurya empire, and mentions that his disciple Chandragupta lived in and migrated from Ujjain – a kingdom (northwest Madhya Pradesh) about a thousand kilometers west of the Magadha and Patliputra (central Bihar). This has led to the proposal that Harisena's Chandragupta may be a later era, different person.[28][2][29]

None of the ancient texts mention when Chandragupta was born. Plutarch claims that he was a young man when he met Alexander during the latter's invasion of India (c. 326-325 BCE). Assuming the Plutarch account is true, Raychaudhuri proposed in 1923 that Chandragupta may have been born after 350 BCE.[30] According to other Greco-Roman texts, Chandragupta attacked the Greek-Indian governors after Alexander's death (c. 323 CE) with Seleucus I Nicator entering into a treaty with Chandragupta years later.[31] Seleucus Nicator, under this treaty, gave up Arachosia (Kandahar), Gedrosia (Makran) and Paropanisadai (Paropamisadae, Kabul) to Chandragupta, in exchange for 500 war elephants.[13]

The texts do not include the start or end year of Chandragupta's reign.[32] According to some Hindu and the Buddhist texts, Chandragupta ruled for 24 years.[33] The Buddhist sources state Chandragupta Maurya ruled 162 years after the death of the Buddha.[34] However, the Buddha's birth and death varies by source and all these lead to a chronology that is significantly different than the Greek-Roman records. Similarly, Jain sources composed nearly 1,200 years after Chandragupta’s death give different gaps between Mahavira’s death and his accession.[34] As with the Buddha's death, the date of Mahavira's death itself is also a matter of debate, and the inconsistencies and lack of unanimity among the Jain authors casts doubt on Jain sources. This Digambara Jain chronology, in addition, is not reconcilable with the chronology implied in other Indian and non-Indian sources.[34]

Historians such as Irfan Habib and Vivekanand Jha assign Chandragupta's reign to c. 322-298 BCE.[35] Upinder Singh dates his rule from 324 or 321 BCE to 297 BCE.[5] Kristi Wiley states he reigned between 320 and 293 BCE.[10]

The early life of Chandragupta Maurya is unclear and varies by source. According to the Sinhalese Buddhist tradition, Chandragupta's mother was pregnant when his father - who was the chief of the Moriya clan - was killed in a battle. His mother escaped to Patliputra with the help of her brothers. For Chandragupta's safety, his maternal uncles helped a cowherd adopt him. When Chandragupta grew up, the cowherd sold him to a hunter who employed him to tend cattle.[36][37]

According to the Digambara legend by Hemachandra, Chanakya was a Jain layperson and a Brahmin. When Chanakya was born, Jain monks prophesied that Chanakya will one day grow up to help make someone an emperor and will be the power behind the throne.[38][25] Chanakya believed in the prophecy and fulfilled it by agreeing to help the daughter of a peacock breeding community chief deliver a baby boy. In exchange, he asked the mother to give up the boy and let him adopt him at a later date.[21][25] The Jain Brahmin then went about making money through magic, and returned later to claim young Chandragupta,[25] whom he taught and trained. Together, they recruited soldiers and attacked the Nanda kingdom. Eventually, they won and proclaimed Patliputra as their capital.[25]

Chandragupta's guru was Chanakya, with whom he studied as a child and with whose counsel he built the Empire. This image is a 1915 artistic portrait of Chanakya.

The Buddhist and Hindu sources present different versions of how Chandragupta met Chanakya. Broadly, they mention young Chandragupta creating a mock game of a royal court that he and his cowherd friends played. Chanakya saw him give orders to the others, bought him from the hunter, and adopted Chandragupta.[39] Chanakya taught and admitted him in Taxila to study the Vedas, military arts, law, and other sastras.[39][40]

After Taxila, Chandragupta and Chanakya moved to Patliputra, the capital and a historic learning center in the eastern Maghada kingdom of India. They met Nanda there according to Hindu sources, and Dhana Nanda according to Pali-language Buddhist sources.[41] Chandragupta became a commander of the Nanda army, but according to Justin, Chandragupta offended the Nanda king ("Nandrum" or "Nandrus") who ordered his execution.[38] An alternate version states that it was the Nanda king who was publicly insulted by Chanakya.[42] Chandragupta and Chanakya escaped and became rebels who planned to remove the Nanda king from power.[43][note 2] The Mudrarakshasa also states that Chanakya swore to destroy the Nanda dynasty after he felt insulted by the king.[42]

The Roman text by Justin mentions a couple of miraculous incidents that involved Sandracottus (Chandragupta) and presents these legends as omens and portents of his fate. In the first incident, when Chandragupta was asleep after having escaped from Nandrum, a big lion came up to him, licked him, and then left. In the second incident, when Chandragupta was readying for war with Alexander's generals, a huge wild elephant approached him and offered itself to be his steed.[45]

According to the Buddhist text Mahavamsa Tika, Chandragupta and Chanakya raised an army by recruiting soldiers from many places after the former completed his education at Taxila. Chanakya made Chandragupta the leader of the army.[46] The Digambara Jain text Parishishtaparvan states that this army was raised by Chanakya with coins he minted and an alliance formed with Parvataka.[47][48] According to Justin, Chandragupta organized an army. Early translators interpreted Justin's original expression as "body of robbers", but states Raychaudhuri, the original expression used by Justin may mean mercenary soldier, hunter, or robber.[49]

The Buddhist Mahavamsa Tika and Jain Parishishtaparvan records Chandragupta's army unsuccessfully attacking the Nanda capital. [47] Chandragupta and Chanakya then began a campaign at the frontier of the Nanda empire, gradually conquering various territories on their way to the Nanda capital.[50] He then refined his strategy by establishing garrisons in the conquered territories, and finally besieged the Nanda capital Pataliputra. There Dhana Nanda accepted defeat, and was killed by Buddhist accounts,[51] or deposed and exiled by Hindu accounts.[52]

Greco-Roman writer Plutarch stated, in his Life of Alexander, that the Nanda king was so unpopular that had Alexander tried, he could have easily conquered India.[43][53] After Alexander ended his campaign and left, Chandragupta's army conquered the Nanda capital Pataliputra around 322 BCE with Chanakya's counsel.[38]

Historically reliable details of Chandragupta's campaign into Pataliputra are unavailable and legends written centuries later are inconsistent. Buddhist texts such as Milindapanha claim Magadha was ruled by the Nanda dynasty, which, with Chanakya's counsel, Chandragupta conquered to restore dhamma.[54][55] The army of Chandragupta and Chanakya first conquered the Nanda outer territories before invading Pataliputra. In contrast to the easy victory in Buddhist sources, the Hindu and Jain texts state that the campaign was bitterly fought because the Nanda dynasty had a powerful and well-trained army.[56][55]

The conquest was fictionalised in Mudrarakshasa, in which Chandragupta is said to have first acquired Punjab and allied with a local king named Parvatka under the Chanakya's advice before advancing on the Nanda Empire.[57] Chandragupta laid siege to Kusumapura (now Patna), the capital of Magadha, by deploying guerrilla warfare methods with the help of mercenaries from conquered areas.[58][59] Historian P. K. Bhattacharyya states that the empire was built by a gradual conquest of provinces after the initial consolidation of Magadha.[60]

According to the Digambara Jain version by Hemachandra, the success of Chandragupta and his strategist Chanakya was stopped by a Nanda town that refused to surrender.[61] Chanakya disguised himself as a mendicant and found seven mother goddesses (saptamatrika) inside. He concluded these goddesses were protecting the town people.[61] The townspeople sought the disguised mendicant's advice on how to end the blockade of the army surrounding their town. Hemacandra wrote Chanakya swindled them into removing the mother goddesses. The townspeople removed the protective goddesses and an easy victory over the town followed. Thereafter, the alliance of Chandragupta and Parvataka overran the Nanda kingdom and attacked Patliputra with an "immeasurable army".[61] With a depleted treasury, exhausted merit, and insufficient intelligence, the Nanda king lost.[61]

These legends state that the Nanda king was defeated, but allowed to leave Pataliputra alive with a chariot full of items his family needed.[62] The Jain sources attest that his daughter fell in love at first sight with Chandragupta and married him.[61][21] With the defeat of Nanda, Chandragupta Maurya founded the Maurya Empire in ancient India.[3][63]

The Indian campaign of Alexander the Great ended before Chandragupta came into power. Alexander had left India in 325 BCE and assigned the northwestern Indian subcontinent territories to Greek governors.[64][65] The nature of early relationship between these governors and Chandragupta is unknown. Justin mentions Chandragupta as a rival of the Alexander's successors in north-western India.[35] He states that after Alexander's death, Chandragupta freed Indian territories from the Greeks and executed some of the governors.[66] According to Boesche, this war with the northwestern territories were in part fought by mercenaries hired by Chandragupta and Chanakya, and these wars may have been the cause of the demise of two of Alexander's governors, Nicanor and Philip.[67] Megasthenes served as a Greek ambassador in his court for four years.[63]

According to Appian, Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander's Macedonian generals who in 312 BCE established the Seleucid Kingdom with its capital at Babylon, brought Persia and Bactria under his own authority, putting his eastern front facing the empire of Chandragupta.[68][69] Seleucus and Chandragupta waged war until they came to an understanding with each other. Seleucus married off his daughter to Chandragupta to forge an alliance.[69]

R. C. Majumdar and D. D. Kosambi note that Seleucus appeared to have fared poorly after ceding large territories west of the Indus to Chandragupta. The Maurya Empire added Arachosia (Kandahar), Gedrosia (Balochistan), and Paropamisadae (Gandhara).[70][71][a] According to Strabo, Seleucus Nicator gave these regions to Chandragupta along with a marriage treaty, and in return received five hundred elephants.[72] The details of the engagement treaty are not known.[73] According to one version, the marriage treaty involved an Indian princess, while a different version states a Seleucid princess married into the Mauryan family.[74]

Chandragupta sent 500 war elephants to Seleucus, which played a key role in Seleucus' victory at the Battle of Ipsus.[75][76][77] In addition to this treaty, Seleucus dispatched Megasthenes as an ambassador to Chandragupta's court, and later Antiochos sent Deimakos to his son Bindusara at the Maurya court at Patna.[78]

After annexing Seleucus' provinces west of the Indus river, Chandragupta had a vast empire extending across the northern Indian sub-continent from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea. Chandragupta began expanding his empire southwards beyond the Vindhya Range and into the Deccan Plateau.[38] By the time his conquests were complete, Chandragupta's empire extended over most of the subcontinent.[79]

Two poetic anthologies from the Tamil Sangam literature corpus – Akananuru and Purananuru – allude to the Nanda rule and Maurya empire. For example, poems 69, 281 and 375 mention the army and chariots of the Mauryas, while poems 251 and 265 may be alluding to the Nandas.[80] However, the poems dated between 1st-century BCE to 5th-century CE do not mention Chandragupta Maurya by name, and some of them could be referring to a different Moriya dynasty in the Deccan region in the 5th century CE.[81] According to Upinder Singh, these poems may be mentioning Mokur and Koshar kingdoms of Vadugars (northerners) in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, with one interpretation being that the Maurya empire had an alliance with these at some point of time.[82]

A modern statue depicting Chandragupta Maurya, Laxminarayan Temple, Delhi

Greek writer Phylarchus (c. 3rd century BCE), who is quoted by Athenaeus, calls Chandragupta "Sandrokoptos". The later Greco-Roman writers Strabo, Arrian, and Justin (c. 2nd century) call him "Sandrocottus".[83] In Greek and Latin accounts, Chandragupta is known as Sandrakottos (Greek: Σανδράκοττος) and Androcottus (Greek: Ανδροκόττος).[84][85]

The king's epithets mentioned in the Sanskrit play Mudrarakshasa include "Chanda-siri" (Chandra-shri), "Piadamsana" (Priya-darshana), and Vrishala.[83] Piadamsana is similar to Piyadasi, an epithet of his grandson Ashoka.[86] The word "Vrishala" is used in Indian epics and law books to refer to non-orthodox people. According to one theory, it may be derived from the Greek royal title Basileus, but there is no concrete evidence of this: the Indian sources apply it to several non-royals, especially wandering teachers and ascetics.[87]

There are no records of Chandragupta's military conquests and the reach of his empire. It is based on inferences from Greek and Roman historians and the fictional and religious Indian texts written centuries after his death. Based on these, the northwest reach of his empire included parts of present-day Afghanistan that Seleucus I Nicator ceded to him including Kabul, Kandahar and Gandhara.[70][88] These are the areas where his grandson Ashoka left the major Kandahar rock edict and other edicts in the Greek and Aramaic languages.[89][90]

In the west, Chandragupta's rule over present-day Gujarat is attested to by Ashoka's inscription in Junagadh. On the same rock, about 400 years later, Rudradaman inscribed a longer text sometime about the mid 2nd–century.[91] Rudradaman's inscription states that the Sudarshana lake in the area was commissioned during the rule of Chandragupta through his governor Vaishya Pushyagupta and conduits were added during Ashoka's rule through Tushaspha. The Mauryan control of the region is further corroborated by the inscription on the rock, which suggests that Chandragupta controlled the Malwa region in Central India, located between Gujarat and Pataliputra.[92]

There is uncertainty about the other conquests that Chandragupta may have achieved, especially in the Deccan region of southern India.[92] At the time of his grandson Ashoka's ascension in c. 268 BCE, the empire extended up to present-day Karnataka in the south, so the southern conquests may be attributed to either Chandragupta or his son Bindusara. If the Jain tradition about Chandragupta ending his life as a renunciate in Karnakata is considered correct, it appears that Chandragupta initiated the southern conquest.[93]

Maurya with his counsellor Chanakya together built one of the largest empires ever on the Indian subcontinent.[3][27][94] Chandragupta's empire extended from Bengal to most of the Indian subcontinent except for parts that are now Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Odisha.[95][27]

After unifying much of India, Chandragupta and Chanakya passed a series of major economic and political reforms. Chandragupta established a strong central administration from Pataliputra (now Patna).[96] Chandragupta applied the statecraft and economic policies described in Chanakya's text Arthashastra.[97][98][99] There are varying accounts in the historic, legendary, and hagiographic literature of various Indian religions about Chandragupta's rule, but Allchin and Erdosy' are suspect; they state, "one cannot but be struck by the many close correspondences between the (Hindu) Arthashastra and the two other major sources the (Buddhist) Asokan inscriptions and (Greek) Megasthenes text".[100]

The Maurya rule was a structured administration; Chandragupta had a council of ministers (amatya), with Chanakya was his chief minister.[101][102] The empire was organised into territories (janapada), centres of regional power were protected with forts (durga), and state operations were funded with treasury (kosa).[103] Strabo, in his Geographica composed about 300 years after Chandragupta's death, describes aspects of his rule in his chapter XV.46–69. He had councillors for matters of justice and assessors to collect taxes on commercial activity and trade goods. He routinely performed Vedic sacrifices,[104] Brahmanical rituals,[105] and hosted major festivals marked by procession of elephants and horses. His officers inspected situations requiring law and order in the cities; the crime rate was low.[106]

According to Megasthenes, Chandragupta's rule was marked by three parallel administrative structures. One managed the affairs of villages, ensuring irrigation, recording land ownership, monitoring tools supply, enforcing hunting, wood products and forest-related laws, and settling disputes.[107] Another administrative structure managed city affairs, including all matters related to trade, merchant activity, visit of foreigners, harbors, roads, temples, markets, and industries. They also collected taxes and ensured standardized weights and measures.[107] The third administrative body overlooked the military, its training, its weapons supply, and the needs of the soldiers.[107]

Chanakya was concerned about Chandragupta's safety and developed elaborate techniques to prevent assassination attempts. Various sources report Chandragupta frequently changed bedrooms to confuse conspirators. He left his palace only for certain tasks: to go on military expeditions, to visit his court for dispensing justice, to offer sacrifices, for celebrations, and for hunting. During celebrations, he was well-guarded, and on hunts, he was surrounded by female guards who were presumed to be less likely to participate in a coup conspiracy. These strategies may have resulted from the historical context of the Nanda king who had come to power by assassinating the previous king.[108]

During Chandragupta's reign and that of his dynasty, many religions thrived in India, with Buddhism, Jainism and Ajivika gaining prominence along with the Brahmanism traditions.[109][110]

Silver punch mark coin of the Maurya empire, with symbols of wheel and elephant (3rd century BCE)

The empire built a strong economy from a solid infrastructure such as irrigation, temples, mines, and roads.[111][112] Ancient epigraphical evidence suggests Chandragupta, under counsel from Chanakya, started and completed many irrigation reservoirs and networks across the Indian subcontinent to ensure food supplies for the civilian population and the army, a practice continued by his dynastic successors.[100] Regional prosperity in agriculture was one of the required duties of his state officials.[113]

The strongest evidence of infrastructure development is found in the Junagadh rock inscription of Rudradaman in Gujarat, dated to about 150 CE. It states, among other things, that Rudradaman repaired and enlarged the reservoir and irrigation conduit infrastructure built by Chandragupta and enhanced by Asoka.[114] Chandragupta's empire also built mines, manufacturing centres, and networks for trading goods. His rule developed land routes to transport goods across the Indian subcontinent. Chandragupta expanded "roads suitable for carts" as he preferred those over narrow tracks suitable for only pack animals.[115]

According to Kaushik Roy, the Maurya dynasty rulers were "great road builders".[112] The Greek ambassador Megasthenes credited this tradition to Chandragupta after the completion of a thousand-mile-long highway connecting Chandragupta's capital Pataliputra in Bihar to Taxila in the north-west where he studied. The other major strategic road infrastructure credited to this tradition spread from Pataliputra in various directions, connecting it with Nepal, Kapilavastu, Dehradun, Mirzapur, Odisha, Andhra, and Karnataka.[112] Roy stated this network boosted trade and commerce, and helped move armies rapidly and efficiently.[112]

Chandragupta and Chanakya seeded weapon manufacturing centres, and kept them as a state monopoly of the state. The state, however, encouraged competing private parties to operate mines and supply these centres.[122] They considered economic prosperity essential to the pursuit of dharma (virtuous life) and adopted a policy of avoiding war with diplomacy yet continuously preparing the army for war to defend its interests and other ideas in the Arthashastra.[123][124]

The evidence of arts and architecture during Chandragupta's time is mostly limited to texts such as those by Megasthenes and Kautilya. The edict inscriptions and carvings on monumental pillars are attributed to his grandson Ashoka. The texts imply the existence of cities, public works, and prosperous architecture but the historicity of these is in question.[125]

Archeological discoveries in the modern age, such as those Didarganj Yakshi discovered in 1917 buried beneath the banks of the Ganges suggest exceptional artisanal accomplishment.[117][118] The site was dated to 3rd century BCE by many scholars[117][118] but later dates such as the Kushan era (1st-4th century CE) have also been proposed. The competing theories state that the art linked to Chandragupta Maurya's dynasty was learnt from the Greeks and West Asia in the years Alexander the Great waged war; or that these artifacts belong to an older indigenous Indian tradition.[116] Frederick Asher of the University of Minnesota says "we cannot pretend to have definitive answers; and perhaps, as with most art, we must recognize that there is no single answer or explanation".[126]

The circumstances and year of Chandragupta's death are unclear and disputed.[2][10][11] According to Digambara Jain accounts that first appear from 10th century CE onwards, Bhadrabahu forecasted a 12-year famine because of all the killing and violence during the conquests by Chandragupta Maurya. He led a group of Jain monks to south India, where Chandragupta Maurya joined him as a monk after abdicated his kingdom to his son Bindusara. Together, states a Digambara legend, Chandragupta and Bhadrabahu moved to Shravanabelagola, in present-day south Karnataka.[127] These Jain accounts were written more than 1,200 years after Chandragupta's death and appear in texts such as Brihakathā kośa (931 CE) of Harishena, Bhadrabāhu charita (1450 CE) of Ratnanandi, Munivaṃsa bhyudaya (1680 CE) and Rajavali kathe.[128][129][130] Chandragupta lived as an ascetic at Shravanabelagola for several years before fasting to death as per the Jain practice of sallekhana, according to the Digambara legend.[131][26][132]

Along with texts, several Digambara Jain inscriptions dating from the 7th–15th century refer to Bhadrabahu and a Prabhacandra or Samprati Chandragupta together; these inscriptions are inconsistent. Later Digambara tradition identified the Prabhacandra as Chandragupta, and some modern era scholars have accepted this Digambara tradition while others have not, calling it a cherry picking of the Jain legends to suit a prejudiced version and misidentification of different individuals with the same names: Bhadrabahu, Prabhacandra, and Chandragupta.[2][10][11] Several of the late Digambara inscriptions and texts in Karnataka state the journey started from Ujjain and not Patliputra (as stated in some Digambara texts). In the epigraphical versions, Bhadrabahu never came to Shravanabelagola and he died near Ujjain. Before his own death, he sent other Jain monks to south India.[10][11]

Jeffery D. Long – a scholar of Jain and Hindu studies – says in one Digambara version, it was Samprati Chandragupta who renounced, migrated and committed sallekhana in Shravanabelagola. Long states scholars attribute the disintegration of the Maurya empire to the times and actions of Samprati Chandragupta – the grandson of Ashoka and great-great-grandson of Chandragupta Maurya. The two Chandraguptas have been confused to be the same in some Digambara legends.[133]

According to V. R. Ramachandra Dikshitar – an Indologist and historian, several of the Digambara legends mention Prabhacandra, whom had been misidentified as Chandragupta Maurya particularly after the original publication on Shravanabelagola epigraphy by B. Lewis Rice. The earliest and most important inscriptions mention Prabhacandra, which Rice presumed may have been the "clerical name assumed by Chadragupta Maurya" after he renounced and moved with Bhadrabahu from Patliputra. Dikshitar stated there is no evidence to support this and the Digambara history provides evidence that refutes the hypothesis. Prabhacandra was an important Jain monk scholar who migrated centuries after Chandragupta Maurya's death.[2] John F Fleet, an Indologist and epigraphist, agreed with Dikshitar and stated Rice's interpretation and analysis of Shravanabelagola inscriptions were wrong and ahistorical.[11] Other scholars have taken Rice's proposal of Chandragupta Maurya retiring and dying in Shravanabelagola as the working hypothesis, since no alternate historical information or evidence is available about Chandragupta's final years and death.[2]

Scholar of Jain studies and Sanskrit Paul Dundas says the Svetambara tradition of Jainism disputes the ancient Digambara legends. According to a 5th-century text of the Svetambara Jains, the Digambara sect of Jainism was founded 609 years after Mahavira's death, or in 1st-century CE.[134] Digambaras wrote their own versions and legends after the 5th-century, with their first expanded Digambara version of sectarian split within Jainism appearing in the 10th-century.[134] The Svetambaras texts describe Bhadrabahu was based near Nepalese foothills of the Himalayas in 3rd-century BCE, who neither moved nor travelled with Chandragupta Maurya to the south; rather, he died near Patliputra. These Digambara stories about Bhadrabahu and Chandragupta Maurya were anachronistically invented later, according to the Svetambara Jains.[10][135][136]

The 12th-century Digambara Jain legend by Hemachandra presents a different picture than the Buddhist and the Svetambara Jain sources. The Hemachandra version includes stories about Jain monks who could become invisible to steal food from royal storage and the Jain Brahmin Chanakya using violence and cunning tactics to expand Chandragupta’s kingdom and increase royal revenues.[25] It states in verses 8.415 to 8.435, that for 15 years as king, Chandragupta was a follower of non-Jain "ascetics with the wrong view of religion" (non-Jain) and "lusted for women". Chanakya persuaded Chandragupta to convert to Jainism by showing that Jain ascetics avoided women and focused on their religion.[25] The legend mentions Chanakya aiding the premature birth of Bindusara,[25] but makes no mention of Chandragupta’s migration or sallekhana. It states in verse 8.444 that "Chandragupta died in meditation and went to heaven".[137] According to Hemachandra’s legend, Chanakya committed sallekhana by first fasting and then burning himself on a dungheap in a motionless posture, and was "reborn as a Jain goddess in that place".[137]

In accordance with the Digambara tradition, the hill on which Chandragupta is stated to have performed asceticism is now known as Chandragiri hill, and Digambaras believe that Chandragupta Maurya erected an ancient temple that now survives as the Chandragupta basadi.[1] While this evidence is very late and anachronistic, historian Mukherjee believed that there was no evidence to disprove the idea that Chandragupta converted to Jainism in his later life. Mukherjee quoted Vincent Smith and concluded that Chandragupta's conversion to Jainism provided an adequate explanation of abdication, sudden exit, and death at what is estimated to have been a relatively young age of "under fifty" and at the height of his power.[138][139] According to historians Irfan Habib and Vivekanand Jha, the Jain narrative is a "possible, though implausible" story.[127]

According to Roy, Chandragupta's abdication of throne may be dated to c. 298 BCE, and his death to c. 297 BCE.[58]

His grandson was emperor Ashoka who is famed for his historic pillars and his role in helping spread Buddhism outside of ancient India.[140][141]

A memorial to Chandragupta Maurya exists on Chandragiri hill in Shravanabelagola, Karnakata.[142] The Indian Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp honouring Chandragupta Maurya in 2001.[143]