The Mauryas

Jain Sources

Kalpasutra – Kalpasutra is a Jain text composed by Bhadrabahu. The work is traditionally dated to be composed about one hundred and fifty years after the nirvana of Mahavira. This tradition might be based upon Hemachandra’s Parisistaparvan in which he tells that Bhadrabahu died 170 years after the Nirvana of Mahavira. Kalpasutra was translated into English by Hermann Jacobi in 1879.

Excerpts from the introduction by Hermann Jacobi
“Palaka, the lord of Avanti, was anointed in that night in which the Arhat and Tirthankara Mahavira entered Nirvana. Sixty are (the years) of king Palaka, but one hundred and fifty five (are) of the Nandas, one hundred and eight those of Mauryas and thirty those of Pusamitta (Pushyamitra). Sixty (years) ruled Balamitra and Bhanumitra, forty Nabhovahana. Thirteen years likewise the rule of Gardabhilla, and four are the years of Saka.”

By these statements we found that Chandragupta was anointed 255 years before the start of Vikrama era, therefore that event should be placed in 312 BCE. The gap between the Nirvana of Mahavira and anointment of Chandragupta would come to 215 years.

Jacobi does not agree with 215 years figure between the Nirvana of Mahavira and Chandragupta. He puts forward few references in support of his theory. Avashyakasutra, in chapter uvaghaya nijjutti, gives details of six schisms. These are repeated in the commentary of Uttaradhyanana by Devendraganin dated samvat 1179. There is mentioned that the third schism originated in 214 AV (Mahavira era starting from his Nirvana). The Maurya king of Rajagriha, Balabhadra, brought the heretics back to the right faith. This means that 214 years after the Nirvana of Mahavira, there was ruling a Maurya line at Rajagriha. In that case, how there can be gap of 215 years as stated above.

Another reference in support comes from Mahagiri and Suhasin who were disciples of Sthulabhadra. All Jaina writers agree that Sthulabhadra died 215 AV. After the demise of Mahagiri, Suhastin became the yugapradhana. Demise of Mahagiri is placed 245 years after Nirvana by Merutunga. Suhastin won over Samprati, the grandson and successor of Ashoka. Ashoka died 94 years after Chandragupta’s anoitment, therefore with 215 years gap, the event of Samprati will be placed in 309 AV (215+94) and taking 155 years gap, it would be 249 AV, latter is more possible as Samprati and Suhastin were contemporaries.

Parishishtaparva – Hemachandra (1089-1172 CE) was a twelfth century Jain saint who composed Parishishtaparva (Sthaviravali) as an appendix and commentary on his own work Tri-shashthi-shalaka-purusha-charitra.

Excerpts from the text – sarga 8, verses 194-469 & sarga 9, verses 1-13

In the Golla region, in a village called Canaka, there was once a Brahman named Canin, whose wife was Canesvari. Canin was known from his birth on as a Jain layman and learned Jain monks used to stay in his house. Now one day Canin had a son who was born with a full set of teeth. As soon as he was born, Canin presented him respectfully to those holy men. Told by Canin that the baby was born with teeth, the learned monks said: “This boy will be a king”.

Canin thought that the violence required by kingship would doom his son to hell, so without regard for the pain he was causing, he had the baby’s teeth knocked out. He reported this to the monks, but they replied: “Because the teeth have been knocked out, he will instead become the power behind the throne”. To this son of his, Canin gave the name Canakya, and in time Canakya became a Jain layman thoroughly versed  in all branches of learning. He was always rich in happiness because he served the Jain ascetics and later he obtained one of the daughters of a well-known Brahman as his bride.

Now one day Canakya’s wife returned to her maternal home where there was to be a great wedding celebration for her brother. Her sisters arrived for that great celebration wearing fine clothing and ornaments, for they had rich husbands. They all came in painted carriages, all were surrounded by maid-servants, all had parasols and other signs of high rank, all wore garlands on their heads, all were anointed with the finest fragrant ointments, and all had betel-leaves in their hands. In fact, they were all like miraculous embodiments of the goddess of wealth.

As for Canakya’s wife, day and night she wore the same clothing, her only ornament was a modest, plain necklace. Her bodice was old and she wore an old shawl dyed orange with safflower. Her mouth showed no sign of betel-leaf, her only unguent was dust on her body, and her ear-rings were made of tin. Her hands were rough with the work she always did, and her hair were soiled. Her sisters, who had married wealthy men made fun of her. All other people assembled for the wedding laughed at her as well. She felt so ashamed that she hid in a corner and then left the wedding.

Her face dark with despair, she reached Canakya’s house and sat with her tears washing away the kohl from her eyes and spotting the ground around her. When Canakya saw her face as faded as a water-lily in the morning, he was grieved by her pain and spoke these words: “My dear, why are you so distressed? Have you been insulted in some way by me or by a neighbor or in your father’s house?”. But she was so tormented by her disgrace that she was unable to speak. Nevertheless, her husband persisted and so she finally explained.

When Canakya learned the reason for his wife’s suffering, he tried to find some infallible means of procuring money and he thought: “In the city of Pataliputra is king Nanda, who bestows exceptional gifts on Brahmans. I shall go there for that purpose.” Having made this decision, he went there and entered the king’s dwelling where he sat down in the first of the seats that were placed in front. But that first seat taken by Canakya was always graced by the Nanda himself, for it was his throne.

Now, when Nanda and his son entered , the latter remarked: “This Brahman had trampled on the king’s shadow by sitting here.” So one of the king’s maid-servant suggested to Canakya in a conciliatory way: “O Brahman! Please sit here on this second seat”. “My water-jar can rest there,” said he, and put his water-jar on it. But he did not give up the first seat. And as he was repeatedly asked to get up, he occupied in the same way a third seat with his staff, a fourth with his rosary and a fifth with his sacred thread. Finally the maid-servant declared: “Well! This impudent fellow won’t give up the first seat, and what’s even more outrageous, he’s taken over the other seats as well. What’s to be done with this impudent , crazy Brahman?” So with her foot she pushed him to make him get up.

At once Canakys became furious, like a snake jabbed with a stick. With everyone looking on, he made this vow: “I shall uproot Nanda, together with his treasure and his attendants, his friends and his sons, his troops and his chariots, just as a might wind uproots a tree”. Angry as a blazing fire, his face red as heated copper, Canin’s son left the city at once, scowling fiercely. Canakya, foremost of the wise, then recalled the prophecy of the wisemen that he himself would become the power behind the throne. And because he had been insulted, he wandered over the earth looking for some man worthy of kingship. For proud men never forget an insult.

One day this Brahman son of Canesvari came to the place where breeders of king Nanda’s peacocks lived. Dressed in his wandering mendicant’s clothing, Canin’s son entered the village to beg a little food. Now the chief peacock-breeder’s daughter was pregnant and had a morbid carving to drink the moon. Her parents reported her morbid carving to Canakya, and asked how it could be satisfied, to which he replied: “I will satisfy here carving to drink the moon, but only if give me her son as soon as he is born.”

The mother and father were afraid that if the craving were not satisfied, she might lose the child anyway, so they agreed to his request. Then Canakya had a grass shed constructed with a hole in the roof, and had a man, who was to remain hidden, climb on top with a cover for the opening. Beneath the opening he placed a bowl of water in which at midnight during the autumn month the full moon is reflected. When he showed the reflected full moon to the pregnant woman and told her to drink, she began to do so, her face beaming with joy. And as she drank, the hidden man with the cover gradually closed the opening in the roof of grass shed.

In this way her craving was satisfied, and in due time she gave birth to a son, who was given the name Candragupta by his parents. Like the moon for whom he was named, Candragupta grew bigger day by day, brightening the lotus-beds of the peacock-breeder’s family. As for Canakya, he traveled about, determined to acquire gold, and began to seek out people skilled in alchemy.

Meanwhile Candragupta played each day with the other boys, continually bestowing on them villages and other gifts, as if he were a king. He climbed on the backs of the other boys, treating them like elephants or steeds. There are usually eraly indications like these of future royal dignity. In due course Canakya in his wanderings returned and was greatly astonished to see this child behaving as he did. So in order to test him, Canakya said to him: “ O King! Bestow something on me, too.”. Candragupta replied: “If it pleases you, O Brahman, take these village cattle. Who will dare object if I give them to you?”. Smiling Canakya asked: “How can I take these cows? I am very much afraid of the cows’ owners, who will surely kill me.” “Don’t be afraid!” answered Candragupta. “By all means, take the cattle I offer you. The earth is there to be enjoyed by heroes.”

Canakya said to himself: “Well, well, this boy is certainly worldly-wise,” and he asked the other boys nearby who he was. The children explained: “He is the son of a wandering mendicant. When he was already in the womb, his mother promised him to a mendicant.” Then Canakya recognized him as the boy he had arranged to take for himself, so he said to him: “ I am the one whom you belong. Come with and I will give you a kingdom.”

Eager to be a king, Candragupta took hold of his hand; Canakya ran off with him at once, just like a thief. Canakya was determined to destroy Nanda utterly; so with the wealth he had acquired by alchemy, he assembled an army complete with foot-soldiers. Then with all his assault troops, those forces complete with foot-soldiers, he attacked Pataliputra from all sides. But the king made a sortie, and since Canakya’s troops were relatively weak, Nanda was able to crush all of them easily as a flock of goats. So Canakya fled with Candragupta, for he knew what was right for that moment. One should save one’s life by escaping, if need be; for where there’s life, there’s hope.

But a king does not tolerate those who covet his kingdom, so Nanda ordered his best horsemen to pursue Candragupta. Meanwhile, Nanda himself, proud of his victory, returned to his city where the citizens held a celebration befitting their wealth. Not far away, one of the pursuing horsemen on his swift steed had nearly caught up with Candragupta. Seeing that rider approaching from afar, quick-witted Canakya gave the following orders to Candragupta: “dive into this pond adorned with lotus-beds as if you were a water bird, and don’t come out until I call you.”

So Candragupta at once plunged into the deep water as calmly as if he knew the magic art of making water turn solid. As for himself, Canakya sat motionless on the bank of the pond and made believe he was a meditating yogin, indifferent to the world. Then Nanda’s horsemen arrived with the speed of wind, his horse’s hooves pounding on the ground like drum-sticks on a drum. And he questioned Canakya, saying: “Venerable father! Tell me quickly, did you see just now a very young man?” Canin’s son, pretending to be afraid of breaking his meditation, gave an irritable grunt and pointed towards the pond. The horseman meant to plunge into the water and catch Candragupta, so he began to remove his armor, as a dancing girl might remove her skirt.

Chanakya, in the meanwhile, got hold of the cavalier’s sword, and cut off the latter’s head, as if to offer to the Water goddess. Then, as he shouted to Chandragupta, the latter came out of the water, as the moon rises from the ocean. Then having made Chandragupta mount on the horse of the cavalier, Chanakya asked him as to what he thought to himself when was pointed out to the cavalier.

Chandragupta said that, although he might not understand, he saw nothing but good in what his teacher did. Chanakya, on hearing this, thought to himself that such an obedient pupil would never betray him. While they were thus going on, they were again followed by a swift cavalier of Nanda coming like a messenger of Yama.

Seeing him, Chanakya again asked Chandragupta to act as before which he did. Chanakya then persuaded a washer-man standing there to believe that King Nanda was angry on his guild, and it was best for him to run away, lest he should be killed by the cavalier that was drawing near. The washer-man too, seeing the cavalier coming from afar with drawn sword, believed the truth of Chanakya’s statement, and fled for his life. Chankaya then began to wash the clothes which the washer-man had left behind. The cavalier coming near asked Chanakya (mistaking him to be a washer-man) about the fugitives. The quick-witted Chanakya, acting as before, killed that cavalier also. Then Chanakya and Chandragupta resumed their wanderings.

While thus wandering, Chanakya, accompanied by Chandragupta, reached a village in the evening, as a bird retires to its nest. In that village, roaming for the sake of alms, he approached the house of a certain old woman, who was serving fresh cooked hot food to her children. There a child, feeling very hungry, got his fingers burnt due to his carelessness. On the child’s screaming the old woman remarked: “You are as foolish as Chanakya himself.”

Chanakya, overhearing, entered her house and asked the matron the reason for her comparison of the child to Chanakya. The old woman replied, “Chanakya in his folly, attacked Nanda’s capital, before getting control of the frontiers as a result of which he perished. This child, too, put his hand in the center before slowly eating from the sides and thus got his fingers burnt. Chanakya thinking that even a woman was more intelligent than him (and realizing his mistake) went to the Himalayan regions, and there formed alliance with a chief named Parvataka, with a view to secure his help.

One day, Chanakya suggested to Parvataka the idea of conquering king Nanda and dividing his kingdom between themselves. Parvataka agreed to this, and then Chandragupta, Chanakya and Parvataka started to conquer the kingdom of Nanda.

On their way, they besieged a town, but could not capture it. Thereupon Chanakya entered the town in the disguise of a mendicant. There Chanakya saw seven goddesses and thought that it must have been due to them that the town was safe. While he was thinking of the way of removing the images, certain citizens came to him and requested him to predict as to when the town would be free from the invaders. The preceptor of Chandragupta replied that so long as the goddesses were there the town would not be secure from enemies.

The citizens then quickly removed the images, for there is nothing which a troubled person will not do specially under the influence of a crafty fellow. Chandargupta and Parvataka then retreated at the hint of Chanakya, and the citizens became very glad. But the two warriors again came back like a seaside and entered the town. Having thus captured this town both the warriors conquered the country of Nanda also, with

Chanakya as charioteer. Being guided by Chanakya, the two heroes at last besieged Pataliputra also with a large army. King Nanda at that time had become destitute of sufficient treasuries and army and counsel and valor, due to his unvirtuous acts, for prosperity retires with virtue. He (being defeated) requested Chanakya to grant him a safe retirement for he ever does not value his life, Chanakya also allowed him to leave the city with only one chariot and assured him that none would stop him if he retired as directed.

Then king Nanda having taken with him his two wives and a daughter and a sufficient amount of wealth left the city. The daughter of Nanda, at that time was attracted by the appearance of Chandragupta and gazed at him unwinked like a goddess. By thus gazing by her side glances the daughter of Nanda proved that she had fallen in love with Chandragupta, Nanda too, having understood, asked his daughter to choose her husband according to her will, as was the custom among kings. Accordingly he asked her to get down from his chariot, wishing her well.

Being thus asked she got down from that chariot, and began to mount the chariot of Chandragupta, as a result of which the spokes were broken, as a sugar cane breaks when pressed by a yantra. Chandragupta thinking it inauspicious tried to remove her from the chariot. Chanakya, however, forbade Chandragupta from doing so, telling him that it was a good omen, not only for Chandragupta but also for his descendants. Then Chandragupta and Parvataka having entered Nanda’s palace began to divide the huge wealth of that king.

There was also the daughter of Nanda whom the latter had slowly fed on poison, and Parvataka became so enamored of her that he treated her like an angel. The preceptor of Chandragupta agreed to confer her upon Parvataka and preparations for marriage were started.

But the sweat produced by the nuptial tire caused the transmission of poison in the body of Parvataka, (who took the hand of the girl). Being thus afflicted by the agonies of poison his body began to loose energy and he cried to Chandragupta to procure a doctor lest he should die. But Chanakya whispered to Chandragupta to let him alone.

“If an illness goes away on its own, there’s no need for medicine. If this plague Parvataka goes away without your intervention, just let him go. Keep quiet and wait, for you’ll be well off without him.” “He who does not kill an ally who takes away half his kingdom will himself be killed. So if this one whom you must kill anyway dies away by himself, you are indeed lucky.”

Admonishing Candragupta Maurya and signaling to him with frowns and scowls, Canakya, foremost of wisemen, stopped him from getting help. Then king Himavatkuta went to his death, and in this way Candragupta gained sovereignty over two kingdom. And so, one hundred and fifty five years after the death and liberation of glorious Mahavira, Chandragupta became king.

Now in Candragupta’s kingdom, certain men who were still followers of Nanda stayed in the rugged countryside and lived as robbers. So Canakya went off in search of some man capable of protecting the city, and he came upon a man of low caste. This man was just then engaged in setting fire to a termite nest. When Canakya asked him what he was doing, he replied: “ I’m busy killing off these evil termites that hurt my children. Evil creatures don’t deserve any better.”

Canakya thought to himself: “For a low caste man, he shows remarkable intelligence and energy”; and then he returned to Candragupta. Canin’s son, a skillful teacher, had Candragupta send for the low caste man and put him in charge of the city. Once in charge, he first reassured Nanda’s thieving supporters with gifts of food and the like, and then killed them. So Canakya’s plan was, as usual, effective.

Now a long time before, the Mauryan’s teacher had once failed to obtain alms in a particular village, so he summoned the householders residing there. Still angry with them, Canin’s son with malicious intent gave them the following order: “Make a bamboo mango fence.” So acting on Canakya’s instructions, the village householders cut down the bamboos and made a fence for the mango trees. The Mauryan’s teacher pretended to be angry and said: “You fools! What I told you to do was make a fence for the bamboos out of the mango trees.”

In this way Canakya contrived to put the householders at fault, and in his wrath he had the village burned, complete with its children and old people. One day, concerned with Candragupta’s treasury was empty, Canakya filled a bowl with gold coins and announced to the public: “Play at dice with me. Whoever beats me will win this bowl full of gold coins. That is my stake. But anyone I beat will give me just one gold coin. Men, this offer is as firm as if it were carved in stone.”

Then Candragupta’s teacher began to gamble with people day and night, and since the dice were loaded, he beat them all. But the way of acquiring wealth was slow and produced very little, so to try a different scheme he sent for all the townsmen. First he fed them and then he gave them excellent wine to drink. And during the drinking bout, he had noisy dance music played. Now Canakya was skillful about ways of acquiring wealth, so laughing, dancing and singing, he pretended to be drunk, and he recited: “I’ve got two garments dyed red, the triple staff of a mendicant, a golden water-pot and a submissive king, so sound the lute!”

And then, when the musicians had played the lute music, a drunken townsman, waving his arms, declared: “Ha! Every step an elephant takes on a journey of a thousand leagues I could honor with a thousand gold pieces, and I could do it every day.” As before, after the lute was sounded, another man announced: “If you sow a bushel of sesame seeds and they all sprout and produce lots of sesame seeds, that’s how many thousands of gold pieces there are in my house. Nobody could count them all.”

As before, after the lute was sounded, someone else declared: “With the butter produced in a single day from my cows I could build a dam to stop the flow of the rushing mountain streams swollen with water during tree with a web.” As before, after the lute was sounded, another said: “With the hair from the manes growing on my new colts of fine breed born on a single day, I could wrap up the whole city of Pataliputra as a spider might wrap a tree with a web”.

As before, after the lute was sounded, someone else spoke: “In my house there is a single rice plant that, each time it is cut, generated grains of rice. Another plant, called donkey-rice, reproduces itself again and again whenever it is split. Such is this pair of gems, you people!”. As before, after the lute was sounded, another man, excited by drunkenness said: “I am free of debt, and in my house there are valuables to be counted in thousands. I smell nice because I’m smeared with excellent sandal paste. My wives are always obedient. Nobody is as well-off as I am.”

As before, the lute was sounded. In this way, Canin’s son, that ocean of intelligence and learning, discovered the riches of all the rich men. Then gold pieces equal to the number of footsteps of an elephant going just one league; as many thousands of gold pieces as the number of sesame seeds produced by a single plant; each month the clarified butter produced in a single day from the fresh butter of cow’s milk; the colts of fine breed born on a single day; and as much rice as would fill the store-rooms – all this had to be given by the wealthy to Canakya, for he had learned all their secrets.

With this wealth, the son of Canin made the Mauryan very powerful; for a minister who is an ocean of wisdom can be veritable wishing-well for kings. Now during a time of terrible hardship lasting twelve years, a holy teacher name Susthita was dwelling in Candragupta’s city. Because the shortage of food made it impossible to survive, he sent his own school of followers to another country while he remained behind. But two of the young monks turned around and went back to him. And when their teacher asked why they had returned, they declared: “We are simply unable to bear separation from our venerable teacher. Therefore, if we can just be at your side, it will be fine with us if we live or die.”

The teacher said” “What you have done here is not good. You two fools will sink in a bottomless ocean of imperfections.” Yet after their teacher had said this, he gave them permission to say; so they remained there serving him, like two bees at his lotus-like feet. Due to the severity of the famine, these two obtained very little by begging; and since they ate only after feeding their teacher, they began to waste away. These young monks, never satiated, perishing with hunger, at last look counsel together in secret: “Once we heard our teacher speaking to ascetic who had completed their studies, telling them about the divine, magic eye-ointment that makes people invisible.”

(Cantos 386 to 402 are not available with me at the moment, once these are available then I will complete this section.)

All the eye-ointment that made them invisible was immediately washed off by their streaming tears and carried away like so much mud. Once the ointment was gone from their eyes, they could be seen eating from the dish by the king’s attendant, who all frowned angrily. Yet from fear of Canakya, nobody said anything to shame to those two, and Canakya himself was afraid of showing disrespect for the monks, so he said: “Worthy fathers, you are gods in the form of ascetics. Please be gracious to us and go back to your own adobe.”

When those two had gone, the king said in despair: “I have been polluted by eating food left on the plate by those two.” But Canakya replied: “Don’t misinterpret an advantage as an offense. You have acquired merit by sharing your food with sages.” “Fortunate is he who gives food to a wandering ascetic! Will you not be spoken of even more highly now that you have shared your plate with guests who were sages?” Canakya instructed the Mauryan with these words, but he also went to the worthy teacher and reproached him for unseemly behavior of these young monks.

The holy teacher replied: “What fault is it of these two young monks if people like you, the layman of the religious community, care only for filling your own bellies?” then Canakya apologized for his own misdeeds and bowing to that holy teacher, he replied: “You are right. I have been thoughtless and you have instructed me. From now on, whatever benefit holy men, – food, drink, and other means of subsistence, – will be made available in my house.” Canakya took this vow and remained firm in his decisions from then on, fulfilling his responsibilities as a householder.

It happened that Candragupta was devoted to the false ideas of the heretics, so Canakya, who loved him like a father, set about educating him: “These wicked ones lack self-control and are by their very nature lecherous. They are not fit even to talk to, let alone revere. They are like trees on which the birds of passion roost. Any gift to these ungrateful, evil men produces no benefit, like rain showered on salty soil. If you rely on them, they will make you sink in the ocean of worldly existence as if you had boarded a boat made of iron. Therefore you must not put your faith in them.”

(Canto 419 onwards are not available with me, once these are I will complete this section.)

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  1. Granoff, Phyllis (1990). The Clever Adulteress and Other Stories: A Treasury of Jaina Literature. Motilal Banarasidass. New Delhi. ISBN 812081150X
  2. Jacobi, Hermann (1932). Sthaviravalicarita or Parisistaparvan. Baptist Mission Press. Kolkata.