Journal : A Page From History

Source :

Chandragupta Maurya has been praised by Indian and foreign authors alike for bestowing prosperity upon his country. Thus, Visakhadatta, the author of the Mudrarakshasa, has treated him as a deity descended upon earth to restore peace in the country, then troubled by barbarians.

Among foreign writers the only one who has accused Chandragupta of tyranny is the Roman historian Justin. But his opinion is in contradiction with the earlier account of Megasthenes, who everywhere refers to the prosperity of the Indian people.

Chandragupta Maurya1

Chandragupta distinguished himself in many dimensions. He was the conqueror of a vast territory, the emancipator of his country, the capable administrator of a great empire, and the harbinger of peace to his people. Considered to be the first historical emperor of India, he was undoubtedly the mightiest ruler of his time and one of the most lustrous stars in the firmament of monarchy.

It is not easy to embark upon a comparison, but as it is one of the best ways of understanding a person, it would be worthwhile to compare Chandragupta with three of the world’s greatest kings : Alexander, Akbar and Napoleon.

Alexander the Great was undoubtedly a great conqueror. We are bound to be dazzled when we recall to mind his wide conquests in a brief space of time, for he died quite young. Yet the truth is that much of what Alexander accomplished had already been planned by his father, Philip, a man of uncommon ability. Alexander had found his field prepared by his father, and thus had little difficulty to face at the outset of his career. In the words of Mr. H. G. Wells ” the true hero of the history of Alexander is not so much Alexander as his father Philip/’

Moreover, the countries conquered by Alexander gained nothing by the change of masters. It may be argued that he had schemes of organisation which were frustrated by his early death. But this is hardly borne out by his career. His vanity was insuperable, and his purpose seems to have been to dazzle the world by his valour. His purpose accomplished, he literally drank himself to death.

Chandragupta, on the other hand, was a man of a different metal. As brave and couragous as Alexander himself, his sole purpose seems to have been to bring peace and honour to his country. He had no advantages of birth and was actually an exile at the outset of his career. He too was a young man when he came on the scene, but in a brief space of time he had not only conquered but thoroughly organized a vast empire, giving all the advantages of a good government to his people.

Akbar, the Moghul monarch, was indeed much like Chandragupta. He has often been compared with Asoka, but in many respects his genius was more aligned with that of Chandragupta. Like Chandragupta, he was a man of ‘blood and iron’. Like him again, he was a great conqueror and a great administrator. But it must be remembered that Akbar had inherited the resources needed for forming a great empire as against Chandragupta who struggled from poverty and exile to power.

The success of Akbar’s administration was more due to the personal qualities of his ministers than to his thorough organisation and even Dr. Vincent Smith has admitted that” Akbar’s machine of government never attained the standard of efficiency reached by the Mauryas eighteen or nineteen centuries before his time.”

Napoleon certainly was one of the most brilliant figures in history. He resembles Chandragupta in as much as he also rose by dint of merit, and not by virtue of his birth. In his early youth he dreamt of an independent Corsica, much as Chandragupta seems to have dreamt of the independence of his country. Later though, Napoleon intent coiled up around mere ambition for conquest, and he actually failed to maintain the consequent empire. In fact, his country gained nothing by his splendid exploits.

Chandragupta was thus, on the whole, an uncommon genius. He was the founder of the greatest Hindu dynasty, to which also belonged the most famous Buddhist and Jain monarchs.

*** * ***

Provision In Respect Of Slavery  in Arthashastra …

A Manual For Social, Political & Economic Administration

Author : Kautilya, Chandragupta’a Prime Minister

“In regard to slavery, Kautilya’s attitude stands apart as a glowing light of liberalism and humanity in a barbaric age. While his contemporary Aristotle was justifying slavery as a divine and a beneficient human institution not only sanctioned by nature, but justified by the circumstances of social existence, Kautilya denounced it and strove to abolish it, characterising it as a custom which could exist only among the savage Mlechchhas ( a term for Greeks in his time).

“He boldly enunciated that among Aryas (free-born) none should be unfree or enslaved. His definition of the Arya was not narrow. According to him, the Sudra was equally an Arya, along with members of the higher castes/’  Chanakya (as Kautilya, came to be known) was one of the pioneers to include the Sudra within the Aryan fold, and his motive must have been to strengthen Aryavarta, the country of Bharata.

“His view on other social matters are also generally liberal and commendable. He was, hence, not without admirers, for Kamandaka, the author of Nitisara, has praised him highly.”

* * *

According to Megasthenes, Greek King Seleukos Nikator’s ambassador in Chandragupta’s court, all Indians were free and not one of them was a slave. But in the light of Arthasastra, we have to modify this statement. As a matter of fact, slavery did exist but a perusal of Arthasastra makes it clear that it was so different from the slavery which prevailed in the west, that a Greek could hardly notice it.

It was forbidden to sell an Arya or freeman (including Sudra) into slavery except at the person’s own option and dire necessity.

“It is no crime/’ says Kautilya, “for Mlechchhas to sell or mortgage the life of their own offspring, but never shall an Arya be subjected to slavery/’ He then proceeds to say that if a man is enslaved for inevitable reasons, he should be soon redeemed.

“But in order to tide over family troubles, to find money for fines or court decrees, or to recover the (confiscated) household implements, if the life of an Arya is mortgaged, they (his kinsmen) shall as soon as possible redeem him (from bondage); and more so if he is a youth or an adult capable of giving help/’

Moreover, a slave in the west had no personal rights; his person was dead. In India, a dasa was little worse than a servant as long as he was not redeemed. His offsprings were free even during his period of bondage. A dasa could even earn independently if he had time from his master’s work, and could regain his Aryahood if his independent savings became equal to the value for which he was purchased.

If a man abused or caused hurt to his slave, or employed the latter to do an ignoble work, the slave became free. Thus it is clear that although there were dasas in India, the kind of slavery prevalent in the west was non-existent in India.

Chandragupta Maurya - Map


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