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Chandragupta Maurya - The Founder of Mauryan Empire

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Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the Mauryan Empire and the first unifier of India is believed to have lived between 340 BC and 298 BC. He was successful in conquering most of the Indian subcontinent and consolidated power from many small regional kingdoms. The unified Mauryan empire extended from Bengal and Assam in the east, to modern day Afghanistan in the west, to Kashmir and Nepal in the north, and to the Deccan plateau in the south.

Chandragupta is associated with the Nanda dynasty of Magadha (modern day Bihar in eastern India). According to one legend, he was the son of the Nanda king Sarvarthasiddhi and a dasi named Mura, daughter of a Vrishala (Shudra). This indicates that the great king had very humble origins As per another legend, Chandragupta belonged to a Kshatriya clan names Moriya (Maurya) of Pippalivana. Yet another legend connects him to the Shakya clan of Gautam Buddha, a clan which belongs to Surya vamsha (descendants of the Sun god).

Not much is known about the early life of Chandragupta. A few references about his youth are found in some classical Sanskrit literature, as well as some classical Greek and Latin sources in which he is known as Sandrokyptos, Sandrokottos or Androcottus.

Chandragupta's early rise to power was a result of his association with the shrewd and wise Chanakya. Also known as Kautilya, Chanakya was his teacher and later became his Prime Minister and advisor. With Chanakya’s help, Chandragupta Maurya started laying the foundation of the Maurya Empire. The story goes that when Chanakya was thrown out of the Nanda court by the king, he swore revenge. While in Magadha, he met Chandragupta by chance and spotted great military and executive abilities in the young price. Chanakya was impressed by Chandragupta’s personality and intelligence, and immediately took the young boy under his wing to fulfill his silent vow.

Chanakya trained Chandragupta under his guidance and together they planned the destruction of the Nanda Empire.  They were initially rebuffed by the Nanda forces. Regardless, in the ensuing war, Chandragupta faced off against Bhadrasala – commander of Dhana Nanda's armies. He was eventually able to defeat Bhadrasala and Dhana Nanda in a series of battles, ending with the siege of the capital city, Pataliputra, and the conquest of the Nanda Empire around 321 BCE. This laid the foundation for the powerful Mauryan Empire in Northern India by the time Chandragupta was just about 20 years old.

By 317 BC, Chandragupta conquered Macedonian territories (satrapies) in the Northwest of the Indian subcontinent (modern day Pakistan) and defeated generals of Alexander The Great, who were settled in Gandhara (Kamboja Kingdom), today's Afghanistan.

Next, Chandragupta extended the borders of his empire towards Persia after his conflict with Seleucus, circa 305 BC. Seleucus I Nicator, a Macedonian general  of Alexander had reconquered most of Alexander's former empire as far east as Bactria and the Indus. This changed around 305 BC after he entered in a war with Chandragupta. While the exact details of the war are not known, scholars believe that Seleucus fared poorly and ceded large territories west of the Indus to Chandragupta. Then they came to an understanding with each other and contracted a marriage relationship. It is generally thought that Chandragupta married Seleucus’ daughter, or a Greek Macedonian princess, a gift from Seleucus to formalize an alliance. In a return gesture, Chandragupta sent 500 war elephants, a military asset which would play a decisive role at the Battle of Ipsus in 302 BC. In addition to this treaty, Seleucus dispatched an ambassador, Megasthenes, to Chandragupta, and later Deimakos to his son Bindusara, at the Mauryan court at Pataliputra. Later, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, the ruler of  Ptotemaic Egypt and contemporary of Ashoka The Great also sent an ambassador named Dionysius to the Mauryan court.

After annexing Seleuces' eastern Persian provinces, Chandragupta set his sight towards the South. He began expanding his empire beyond the Vindhya mountain ranges and into the Deccan Plateau, except the Tamil kingdoms of Pandya, Chera, Chola, Satyaputra and Kalinga in modern day Orissa.

Chandragupta gave up his throne towards the end of his life and became an ascetic under the influence of Jain saint Bhadrabahu. His son Bindusara succeeded the throne, followed by Emperor Ashoka, who is another prominent figure in Indian history.

Chandragupta moved to the south and stayed at Shravanabelagola in Karnataka during his last days. A small temple marks the cave (Bhadrabahu Cave) where he is said to have died by fasting. Even after two thousand years, the amazing accomplishments of Chandragupta Maurya in unifying India stand out prominently.

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Chandragupta Maurya - The Founder of Mauryan Empire

Quit India Movement – 1942

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Quit India Movement

The Quit India Movement was the next major milestone after the Salt Satyagraha in the history of Indian independence struggle. It was a civil disobedience movement launched in August 1942 with Gandhiji’s call for immediate independence. It is also known as the Bharat Chodo Andolan or the August Kranti.

This historical movement played out in the backdrop of World War II. The British government entered India in the war unilaterally and without consultation with the Indian people. This angered Indians terribly. In March 1942, faced with an increasingly dissatisfied sub-continent, only reluctantly participating in the war, the British government sent a delegation to India under Stafford Cripps, in what came to be known as the Cripps' Mission. The purpose of the mission was to negotiate with the Indian National Congress a deal to obtain total co-operation during the war, in return of progressive devolution and distribution of power from the crown and the Viceroy to elected Indian legislature. The talks failed because they did not address the key demand of a timetable of self-government and of definition of the powers to be relinquished. It offered only limited dominion-status that was wholly unacceptable to the Indian movement.

On July 14, 1942, the Indian National Congress passed a resolution demanding complete independence from Britain and massive civil disobedience. On August 8, 1942, the Quit India Resolution was passed at the Bombay session of the All India Congress Committee.  The British, already alarmed by the advance of the Japanese army to the India/Burma border, responded the next day by imprisoning Gandhi at the Aga Khan Palace in Pune. All the members of the Congress Party's National Leadership were arrested and imprisoned at the Ahmednagar Fort. Due to the arrest of major leaders, a young and till then relatively unknown Aruna Asaf Ali presided over the AICC session on August 9, and hoisted the flag. Later, the Congress party was banned. These actions only created sympathy for the cause among the population.  Inspired by Gandhiji’s "Do or Die" speech, the common masses eagerly jumped into the movement, despite lack of direct leadership. Large-scale protests and demonstrations were held all over the country. Workers remained absent and strikes were called. Not all the demonstrations were peaceful. At some places bombs exploded, government buildings were set on fire, electricity was cut, and transport and communication lines were severed.

The British swiftly responded with mass detentions. A total of over 100,000 arrests were made nationwide, mass fines were levied, and demonstrators were subjected to public flogging. Hundreds of resisters and innocent people were killed by police and army fire. Many national leaders went underground and continued their struggle by broadcasting messages over clandestine radio stations, distributing pamphlets, and establishing parallel governments. The British sense of crisis was strong enough that a battleship was specifically set aside to take Gandhi and the Congress leaders out of India, possibly to South Africa or Yemen, but such a step was ultimately not taken, out of fear of intensifying the revolt.

The entire Congress leadership was cut off from the rest of the world for over three years. Gandhiji's wife, Kasturba Gandhi, and his personal secretary, Mahadev Desai, died in a short space of months, and Gandhi's own health was failing. Despite this, Gandhi went on a 21-day fast and maintained a superhuman resolve to continue his resistance. Although the British released Gandhiji on account of his failing health in 1944, he kept up the resistance, demanding the complete release of the Congress leadership.

By early 1944, India was mostly peaceful again, while the entire Congress leadership was incarcerated. The movement died down, and when the British granted independence on August 15, 1947, they cited revolts and growing dissatisfaction among Royal Indian Armed Forces during and after the war as the driving force behind Britain's decision to leave India. However, the political experience gained by the Indian people through activities such as the Quit India movement laid the foundation for the strongest enduring tradition of democracy and freedom in post-colonial Africa and Asia.

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Quit India Movement – 1942

Birbal's Khichadi

Read more Akbar Birbal stories here.

On a cold winter day Akbar and Birbal took a walk along the lake. A thought came to Birbal that a man would do anything for money. He expressed his feelings to Akbar. Akbar then put his finger into the lake and immediately removed it because he shivered with cold.

Akbar said "I don't think a man would spend an entire night in the cold water of this lake for money."

Birbal replied "I am sure I can find such a person."

Akbar then challenged Birbal into finding such a person and said that he would reward the person with a thousand gold coins.

Birbal searched far and wide until he found a poor man who was desperate enough to accept the challenge. The poor man entered the lake and Akbar had guards posted near him to make sure that he really did as promised.

The next morning the guards took the poor man to Akbar. Akbar asked the poor man if he had indeed spent the night in the lake. The poor man replied that he had. Akbar then asked the poor man how he managed to spend the night in the lake. The poor man replied that there was a street lamp near by and he kept his attention affixed on the lamp and away from the cold. Akbar then said that there would be no reward as the poor man had survived the night in the lake by the warmth of the street lamp. The poor man went to Birbal for help.

The next day, Birbal did not go to court. The king wondering where he was sent a messenger to his home. The messenger came back saying that Birbal would come once his Khichri was cooked. The king waited hours but Birbal did not come. Finally the king decided to go to Birbal's house and see what he was upto.

He found Birbal sitting on the floor near some burning twigs and a bowl filled with Khichri hanging five feet above the fire. The king and his attendants couldn't help but laugh.

Akbar then said to Birbal "How can the Khichri be cooked if it so far away from the fire?"

Birbal answered "The same way the poor man received heat from a street lamp that was more than a furlong away."

The King understood his mistake and gave the poor man his reward.

Read more Akbar Birbal stories here.

Birbal's Khichadi

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