(Last Updated on : 14/05/2012)
Chandragupta Maurya was the ruler, who is credited to have unified the major parts of Indian subcontinent. When Chandragupta Maurya appeared in the political scenario, the entire northwestern part was under the Macedonian king Alexander
and the oppressive king Dhananada
controlled the rest of northern India. At this juncture of Indian history, Chandragupta Maurya appeared as a valiant general and liberated India from the oppression of Dhananada as well as from the shackles of the alien king, Alexander.
The early life of Chandragupta Maurya is still shrouded in mystery and the little, which is known from the classical Sanskrit, Greek and Latin Literature indicates that he was the quintessence of the next rulers in the throne of Magadha. The historical records of the life and career of Chandragupta Maurya are available from the accounts of the classical writers and the epigraphic records of the Mauryas. But none of the historical accounts could provide adequate information about the correct name and pedigree of the first Maurya. Moreover there is a prolonged controversy among the historians regarding the name of the first Maurya king. The Greek and the Latin writers have recorded the name of Chandragupta Maurya in a corrupt form, while the contemporary Mauryan records do not even mention the name "Chandragupta". It was the classical writers, like Arrian and Justin, who mentioned the founder Maurya king as "Sandracottus", but in the indigenous historical accounts and inscriptions, the first Maurya is mentioned under the names of Chandra Sri, Piadasana and Vrishala. However Sir William Jones solved these controversies identifying satisfactorily the corrupted forms used by the classical writers and recognized him as Chandragupta Maurya.
As far as the historical records are concerned, Chandragupta and his descendants belong to the "Maurya" lineage. Though the historians have unanimously named the family of Chandragupta, as "Maurya" there is no authentic recognition of the original ancestry of Chandragupta Maurya. There are two theories approached by the historians, which throw some light to the parentage or ancestry of Chandragupta, one is the Brahmanical theory and the other is the theory approached by the classical writers.
According to the Brahmanical writers, Chandragupta was Sudra by origin. But the Buddhist ascribe him a high Kshatriya lineage. Ratnagarbha, a critic of Vishnu Purana,
advocated the theory that Chandragupta had a base origin and his title "Maurya" is derived from Mura, who was one of the wives of a Nanda king and mother of Chandragupta Maurya. The theory of Chandragupta's base origin was elaborated in the drama "Mudrarakshasha"
and he is mentioned with a disparaging soubriquet as "Vrishala, Kulahina Mauryaputra". A detailed interpretation of this term however indicates the Sudra origin of Chandragupta Maurya. Dhundiraja, another exponent of the Brahmanical theory and the commentator of Mudrarakshasha propounded that Mura was a Sudra woman, who was the wife of a Nanda King. Hence Chandragupta Maurya, according to Dhundiraja belonged to Nanda origin. In spite of having ample records in support of the Brahmanical theory, the scholars in the later years on the basis of various other evidences have challenged the Brahmanical theory.
The theories as approached by the scholars defying the Brahmanical view, interpret that the drama Mudrarakshasha is less reliable because it was composed eight centuries after the First Maurya. Hence it is likely to be impossible to present an authentic record of the first Maurya ruler. Moreover according to the laws of Manu, the term "Vrishala" means a Kshatriya family that did not believe in the Brahmanical rites. The term "Kulahina" according to the modern scholars does not necessarily interpret the low birth. The scholars refute the theory propounded by Dhundiraja on the ground that the theory of Nanda kinship of Chandragupta was advocated by him and is not corroborated from Puranas, Katha-Sarita-Sagara and any other text of the contemporary period. Furthermore the Puranas, the earliest Brahmanical records do not mention anything about Mura or the Nanda lineage of Chandragupta Maurya. Except the term "Sudra like irreligious" there is nothing in the Puranas supporting the base origin of Chandragupta Maurya. On the contrary the Puranas indirectly points out the noble origin of Chandragupta Maurya and elaborated the ceremony of his consecration or "abhiseka". In addition, Kautilya's Arthashastra,
the authentic record of the contemporary period, pronounces Kautilya's unequivocal verdict for a king of dignified heredity and expressed his abhorrence for Sudra king. Depending on these facts the modern scholars have challenged the Brahmanical theory regarding the origin and ancestry of Chandragupta Maurya.
In spite of the controversy and disputes, regarding the origin and ancestry of Chandragupta, the classical sources are of highest importance and mostly applicable in the present days. Among the classical writers only Justin somehow mentioned about the humble origin of Chandragupta Maurya, though he did not advocated for the base origin of Chandragupta. To follow the views of Justin,
Chandragupta might be a commoner without any royal kinship. Furthermore Justin did not attach him with the Nanda dynasty either legitimately or illegitimately. The evidences as provided by the other classical writers indirectly points to the non-Sudra origin of Chandragupta Maurya. According to Plutarch,
Chandragupta himself revealed to Alexander the base pedigree and the unpopularity of the Nandas. It is therefore inferred by the historians that unless Chandragupta himself was of a noble birth he could not have disdained at the low origin of the Nandas.
The Buddhist texts however are no less important as the contemporary records of the Mauryan king Chandragupta. According to the Buddhist text, the parentage of Chandragupta Maurya in no indecisive terms is mentioned as Kshatriya origin. The "Mahaparinibbana Sutra", the ancient extant canonical text of Buddhist describes the Mauryas as the ruling Kshatriya clan of Pipphalivana, a region in the Nepalese Terai. According to Fa-hien, Maurya is a clan, which existed even before Chandragupta Maurya. The Jaina "Kalpasutra" narrates the concentration of the Maurya clan in the eastern India. The Jaina "Parisistaparvan" narrates that Chandragupta was born of a woman, who was a daughter of a village chief, who was a peacock tamer. The Jaina version of Chandragupta's origin somehow has relevance with the Buddhist tradition. As the Jaina accounts depict, Chandragupta while took shelter in the village, met Chanakya, who helped him to be the king and Chandragupta established the Mauryan dynasty.