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.