Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Alexander and Chandragupta Maurya : Did the Titans Clash?

For Illustrative Purpose Only

ALEXANDER was a Macedonian conqueror who wanted to build the largest empire in the world. His juggernaut of conquests was brought to a halt in India.

Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the Maurya dynasty who unified a greater part of India into a single nation state. The man, who is credited with annexing the remnants of Alexander’s conquests into the Mauryan Empire.

Alexander started his India campaign in about 327 BC and was dead 3 years later in June of 323BC. Chandragupta was born in 340 BC and at the age of 16 founded the Mauryan Empire in 324 BC, just a year after the death of Alexander.  Historians have agonized over the possibility that Alexander may have met Chandragupta Maurya who then would have been a teenager of 13 years. The answers are not easy to come by.

Inherently, the idea of a 13 year boy making any dent or impression in the life and times of Alexander seems laughable but we should never forget that backing this boy was the mastermind of the Chanakya. There are sources that paint a picture as though this meeting never happened. The focus of Alexander and the training of Chandragupta was going on in different areas of India. Like many stories, the meeting is the figment of imagination of many later historians who wanted to paint either of the two parties in a favorable light.

Plutarch, the eminent Greek historian on the other hand mentions that the two did meet. They saw each other in the modern day Punjab region. It was not a meeting of any consequence but it does seem that the sight of the majestic Alexander must have had an effect on Chandragupta. He is reported to have said that with the corrupt Nandas ruling at the time, Alexander would have had the backing of local population for ruling. That Alexander may have retreated from a war he could have won.

Another famed story is that a desperate Chandragupta against the advice of Chanakya went to meet Alexander in the Kingdom of Porous. Chandragupta himself was from a lineage of Nanda kings but his family was cheated out of the kingdom. He wanted to explore if Alexander who had just turned back his armies could be persuaded to assist him in exchange of gold. Alexander wanted suzerainty over Nanda Empire and Chandragupta to be a vassal. Chandragupta offered to bear all expenses and give gold in exchange for assistance but wanted to keep independence. Alexander who called himself Supreme Lord of Asia was furious at being asked to do the job a petty mercenary. He ordered the imprisonment of Chandragupta for later sentencing for the offence committed.

How Chandragupta escaped is not fully known. A version goes that Porous who was the host was horrified by this treatment meted out to his guest. “Atithi Devo Bhava” - guest is god. How to ensure that this travesty does not occur while ensuring that Alexander whose vassal he was is not enraged. He used some family members to ensure that Chandragupta escapes from prison in secret. Perhaps this interaction with Alexander steeled Chandraguptas resolve in conquering Alexanders territories. Also, this disastrous outing would have further cemented his trust in Chanakyas judgment.

What is known is just after Alexander’s death, a series of events started the downfall of Alexander’s holdings in India. The areas were administered by Satraps of Alexander who governed in the emperor’s name. Chanakya’s subterfuge and tactical prowess came to the fore. Under his guidance, Chandragupta eliminated some of the lesser Satraps and annexed the territories. The key Satrap was Selecus, who’s iron fist extended from Bactria and Central Asia to the Indus river Basin. Chandragupta slowly and steadily built his army and gave a surprise defeat to Selecus. Territories won and with Selecus daughter wedded, Chandragupta went on to found a prosperous dynasty. This time using charm and magnanimity instead of ruthless warfare to cement peace with Selecus.

Did Alexander and Chandragupta meet or not may be a question none can authoritatively answer. But no one can deny that in this clash of two titans, Chandragupta came out victorious. His name ever cemented in the annals of history of one who rebuffed a foreign invasion.

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