Chandragupta Meets Alexander
To preserve and augment the nascent Magadhan empire, to “unify the innumerable fragments of distracted India” and to protect the country against foreign menace, India would require a leader of greater prominence and vision than the previous figures that had heretofore “strutted about the Indian stage” as Sastri puts it. Such a man, as recorded by Plutarch and Justin, first appeared before Alexander in the Punjab (326-325 BCE) as a adolescent “about whom tradition records signs and portents of an august destiny.”
While most traditions record that Chandragupta was of royal extraction, some, notably Jain, attest that he was a novus homo
born of the daughter of a peacock-tamer (a mayuraposhaka
) of an obscure village. Buddhist sources on the other hand place him with the ruling family (the “Moriyas”) of the republican city-state of Pipphalivana who, expelled in an attack by a neighboring raja
, settled in a new home which abounded in mayuras
or peacocks (thus the peacock became the symbol of the Maurya clan). The place was presumably located in Magadha, because when king Mahapadma Nanda ascended the Magadhan throne, the Moriyas suffered the same fate as other Kshatriya clans and Chandragupta’s father was killed. While pregnant, it is said, Chandragupta’s mother fled with her father’s relatives and lived at Pataliputra under the guise of peacock-tamers … a fitting and ironic disguise, as the symbol of the peacock was the only remaining vestige of the family’s royal status.
Chandragupta’s uncommon intelligence in his boyhood is related in several of the stories. One of them is repeated by Bhargava:
“The king of Simhala sent to the court of the Nandas a cage containing a lion of wax so well made that it seemed to be real. He added a message to the affect that anyone who could make that fierce animal run without opening the cage should be acknowledged to be an exceptionally talented man. The dullness of the Nandas prevented their understanding the double meaning contained in the message, but Chandragupta […] offered to undertake the task. This being allowed, he made an iron rod red hot and thrust it into the figure, as a result of which the wax soon ran and the lion disappeared.”
This legend, which has Chandragupta living for some time in the Nandan court, is not corroborated by any other source and thus belongs to the realm of legend. But the independent Buddhist and Jain traditions, however, agree that at some point in his early life his path and that of Chanakya’s crossed. Perhaps the boy’s precocity, combined with his noble Kshatriya extraction, presented in the shrewd Brahmin’s mind an opportunity, a figure around which to rally a Kshatriya-based rebellion against the hated Nandas.
In any case, in 326-25 BCE Chandragupta left Magadha, having fled the Nandan court after implication in sedition against it according to some accounts, and found himself in the Gandharan capital of Takshashila. While on the western frontier Chandragupta meets Alexander of Macedon, a fact recorded by both Justin and Plutarch. The young Maurya is reported to have offended Alexander by his impudent tone, in which he informs the conqueror that he had “narrowly missed making himself master of the country [India],” since its rulers in the East – the Nandas – were despised by their subjects for their weakness, stupidity, and mean origin. Alexander gave orders to kill the boy.
Thus, Chandragupta emerges from obscurity to into the full view of Western history. But he meets an arguably more important figure in terms of his immanent destiny with Indian history. Fleeing Takshashila and taking refuge in a forest tract, he began drawing together there a band of mercenaries and armed malcontents, solicited to overthrow the government in Gandhara. Among them he meets another political refugee of the Nandan court, the Brahmin Chanakya. The young noble and the older man, the shrewd political creature who would become his mentor, begin their struggle to uproot the Nandans. Here ends the historical and military background for
Notes from the Designer. The subsequent installments will begin where the game Chandragupta does, with historical notes and synopses for the battles of the game, starting with the battle of Pataliputra. Next week: The Scenarios -- Pataliputra.
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