Chandragupta Maurya, the king who is universally accepted as the first “Historical” Emperor of India, and the progenitor of Maurya Dynasty. Along with the glory, there are few myths that have been doing rounds about him, one of them being about his supposed birth in the lower class.
Here we will Discuss the Historicity of this myth.
The Myth supposedly says that Chandragupta Maurya was a shudra By birth. It is widely known that in the Varnashrama Dharma system, shudras formed the 4th class and were excluded from royalty.
However the myth of His low Birth Has led to severe confusion in society and appropriation of the name “Maurya” by certain sections of society. We shall discuss this Myth and It’s origins in Following Order:
Chandragupta and his contemporary society as shown in ancient Greek records, and conclusions drawn from them; Chandragupta Maurya as described in Indian works of various categories and conclusions therefore.
- Proving the Myth of Low Birth as False
- Examining the Origins of This Myth.
In our Journey to find out about origin of Chandragupta Maurya, we primarily consult 2 types of sources.
- Foreign accounts, which are more closer to reign of Chandragupta Maurya.
- Indian works of various categories.
Let’s start with foreign accounts first.
From Curtis (1st Century AD): “The present Nanda King was not merely a man of no distinction, But even of very meanest condition. His father, In fact, was a BARBER.”
From Diodorus : “Porus Informed Alexander that present (Nanda) King is Son of a Barber.”
This Gives us a rather unique information which is not known in popular culture. Now we know that Nanda King himself was a low born.
Justin Again Informs us that Sandrocottus was the leader who gave India it’s freedom. It also says that he was born in a humble life.
It is important to understand that this statement only points out that Chandragupta was born into a poor household and not in a lower caste.
Furthermore, If Chandragupta was out to remove The Unjust low born king, how could he do that if he himself was of base birth?
Now we shall look at Indian Works. Puranas confirm what is stated by foreign accounts.
Puranas also say that This race of irreligious kings will be uprooted by a certain dvija. That Dvija is None other than Kautilya. It is also worth Noting that Kautilya himself in his work “Arthashastra” has Specifically mentioned that he’d Ppefer a kshatriya as a ruler over someone of Low birth.
Then, it seems impossible that Same Kautilya would work To Displace One king of Low Birth (Nanda king) from the Throne Only to Give it to Another King of Low Birth.
Now, let’s take a look at Buddhist Tradition.
Important Buddhist Works, Mahavamsa, Digha Nikaya and Divyavadana, All Agree Unanimously that Chandragupta Maurya was a Kshatriya King.
Now, that we have already established that Chandragupta Maurya was not Shudra by birth, we should look at how this narrative was built.
It all started when a Commentator on Puranas, In order to explain the word “Maurya” Assumed on his own, that Maurya was the son of a women called Mura who was one of the wives of Nanda king.
It is important to note that it is impossible to form The word “Maurya” from “Mura”. The Formed word Would be “Maureya” (This Word is Also Mentioned by Panini)
Supporters of This Myth, often give reference of a Play called ‘Mudrarakshasa’ of ‘Vishakhadatta’, which uses the term “Vrishala” for Chandragupta. The General meaning of the Term is “One of Low Birth, (shudra). But,The point that is generally Ignored is That this Word has 2 meanings, One of Which is “Bull
If one looks at the context, he will find out that the term “Vrishala” has been used as a Compliment to Chandragupta rather than an Abuse.
Later, a 17th Century Commentator of The Same Play “Mudrarakshas” named Dhundhiraja, Invented a fact on his own, that, “There were 2 wives of Nanda King: Sunanda and Mura and by Mura Chandragupta was born.
It has been proved that all such claims were baseless and wrong as there is NO PROOF of any wife of Nanda king by this Name.
Now, I shall summarize the conclusions drawn so far:
- Nanda king, dethroned by Chandragupta was of Low birth, as well as Immoral.
- Chandragupta was NOT Shudra By birth, as it is supported by both Indian and Foreign Accounts.
This narrative of Chandragupta being of low birth is based on incorrect readings of Mudrarakshas in parts. It is the result of invention of some imaginary characters by the commentators.
In the end, I’d like to specifically state that Intent of this article is not to demean the people of lower sections of society, but to call out the appropriation of history.
Chandragupta Maurya and his times, by Radha Kumud Mukherjee
Book itself Refers to Following Sources:
Alexander in India: Part of work of Curtius
Justin: Epitome of philippic history of pompeius trogus
Bibliotheca historica, of Diodorus Siclucus.
Arthashastra of Kautilya.
MudraRakshas of Vishakhadatta.