The Mauryas – Hindu Sources

Hindu Sources

Puranas – Puranas are Hindu religious texts which sometimes have historical references. Among scholars, there is no unanimity over the number of puranas as well as on their date and period. It is widely accepted that there are eighteen major Puranas. Among there, the Vayu Purana is very important from historical point of view. Matsya, Vishnu and Bhavishya Puranas are also contain some historical genealogy.

Vishnu Purana (H H Wilson) – The last of the Brihadratha dynasty, Ripunjaya will have a minister named Sunika (Sunaka), who having killed his sovereign, will place his son Pradyota upon the throne (Vayu/Matsya: 23 years). His son will be Palaka (Vayu: 14 yrs/ Matsya: Tilaka or Balaka 28 yrs). His son will be Vishakhayupa (Vyua: 50 yrs/Matsya: 53 yrs). His son will be Janaka (Vayu: Ajaka 21 yrs/Matsya: Suryaka 21 yrs/Bhvaishya: Rajaka). His son will be Nandivardhana (Vayu/Matsya: 20 yrs). These five kings of the house of Pradyota will reign over the earth for 138 years (same number in Vayu and Bhavishya).

The next prince will be Sisunaga, his son will be Kakavarna (Vayu/Matsya: 36 yrs), his son will be Kshemadharman (Vayu: Kshemakarman 20 yrs/Matsya: 36 yrs), his son will be Kshatraujas (Vayu: 40 yrs/Matsya: Kshemajit or Kshemachis 36 yrs/Bhavishya: Kshetrajna),  his son will be Vidmisara (Vayu: Vimbisara 28 yrs/Matsya: Vindhusena or Vindhyasena 28 yrs/Bhavishya: Vidhisara), his son will be Ajatashatru, his son will be Dharbaka (Vayu: Harshaka 25 yrs/Matsya: Vansaka 24 yrs), his son will be Udayasva (Vayu: 33 yrs/Matsya: Udhibi or Udasin 33 yrs), his son will be Nandivardhana and his son will be Mahananda (Vayu: 42 or 43 yrs/Matsya: 40 or 43 yrs). These ten Sisunagas will be kings of the earth for 362 years.

The son of Mahananda will be born of a woman of the Sudra-class, his name will be Nanda, called Mahapadma, for he will be exceedingly avaricious. Like another Parasu-rama, he will be the annihilator of the Kshatriya race, for after him the kings of the earth will be Sudras. He will bring whole earth under one umbrella. He will have eight sons, Sumalya, and others, who will reign after Mahapadma. He and his sons will govern for a hundred years. The Brahman Kautilya will root out the nine Nandas.

Upon the cessation of the race of Nanda, the Mauryas will possess the earth. Kautilya will place Chandragupta on the throne, his son will be Vindusara, his son will be Ashokavardhana, his son will be Susyasas, his son will be Dasaratha, his son will be Sangata, his son will be Salisuka, his son will be Somasarman, his son will be Sasadharman, and his successor will be Vrihadratha. These are ten Mauryas who will reign over the earth for 137 years. A commentator of Vishnu Purana explains the title Maurya, stating that it is metronomic title, Mura being given as the name of one of Nanda’s wives.

Mudrarakshasa – Mudrarakshasa is a Sanskrit play composed by Vishakhadatta. It narrates story of Chanakya and Chandragupta Maurya and the fall of the Nanda dynasty. It has been dated variously between fourth and eighth century CE, majority of scholars take the former as its date of composition.

It is a unique Sanskrit political drama where all actions and movements are made to serve political ends. Notions of right and wrong are subdued to the fulfillment of the political ends. All lines of action converge to one single focus, conciliation of Rakshasa.  depicting political contentions between the guru and minister of Chandragupta and the chief minister, Rakshasha, of the defeated king. The theme of the drama is to reconcile Rakshasa, the minister of the Nanda king who has been defeated by Chandragupta Maurya, to serve the Maurya king.

Dhudhiraja, son of Lakshmana of the Vyasa family,  composed a commentary on this drama, on the suggestion of Tryambaka Adhvarin, the minister of the Bhosle, king Sarfoji of Thanjavur, in Saka 1635 (1713 CE). Few other commentaries on this drama are also available however all are later than that of Dhundhiraja.

Excerpts from the play, majorly taken from translation by K H Dhruva

  • The same people, who saw Chanakya’s ousted from the principal seat, grieving with downcast faces, witnessed that Nanda with his family similarly hurled down from the throne by Chanakya
  • Chanakya’s vow in public to tie hair after extirpating the Nanda family
  • Chanakya uprooted the nine Nandas from the soil, who were like barbs in the heart
  • Rakshasa’s, the minister of Nanda, alliance with Malayaketu, son of Parvataka
  • Parvataka’s plan to assail Chandragupta with the help of Mlechchha chiefs reinforced by Malayaketu
  • Sarvarthsiddhi, the last Nanda family member, had been killed by Chanakya, though the former had retired to forest for penance
  • Vrishala – there have been contentions over the meaning of this phrase among scholars
    • It is told (in the play) that why Chandragupta is vrishala to Chanakya – “It is wholly the (powerful) influence of the passion of desire subject to which even those persons who never tell a lie, talk glibly and ever unwearied, belaud meanly the king of virtues which he does not possess. Otherwise, the king is as much an object of disregard as a straw to those who are free from desire.”
    • Bull among men or great – Dr Satyavrata Singh
    • K H Dhruva did not comment on ‘vrishala’ and used the phrase as it is in his translation
  • The mlechchha chiefs assembled with Malayaketu, the five most prominent were
    • Chitravarman of Kuluta
    • The king of Malayadesa
    • Pushkaraksha of Kasmira
    • Sindhusen of Sindhudesa
    • Megha Kosha of Parasikas
  • All three names of Chanakya are present; Chanakya, Kautilya and Vishnugupta
  • Rakshasa refers Chandragupta as kula-hina (base-born)
  • The army of Chandragupta & Parvataka was composed of
    • Sakas
    • Yavanas
    • Kiratas
    • Kambojas
    • Parasikas
    • Balhikas
  • Bhagurayana told Malayaketu that Rakshasa would not mind serve under Chadragupta as the latter is from the family on Nanda

Kathasaritsagara – Kathasaritsagara is 11th century CE Sanskrit work composed by Somadeva. Though nothing is known about the author, however it was composed for the queen Suryamati of the Kashmir king Anantadeva. This fixes the location of the author and environs under which this composition was made.

It is believed that this work is based upon an earlier work, Brhat-katha of Gunadhya, written in Paisachi dialect. It was translated into English by C H Tawney in two volumes in 1880 & 1884. N M Penzer later expanded this translation with notes comparing similar stories from different cultures.

Excerpts from Kathasaritsagara

King Nanda was the lord of 99 crores of gold pieces. When he died his body was re-animated by a person proficient in Yoga and, since then, he was known as Yogananda. Sakatala, the minister, hated Yogananda thinking him to be an imposter.

Yogananda, having known it, punished Sakatatala on a false plea. Since then Sakatala became definitely against him. One day, while brooding on his plan of revenge, he observed a Brahman digging in a meadow, and asked him the reason for doing that. Chanakya, the Brahman, replied, “I am rooting out this grass which has hurt my foot’ The minister was struck at the reply and regarded that angry firm-minded Brahman as the fit person to accomplish the death of Yogananda.

He then engaged him by the promise of a reward of one hundred thousand suvarnas to come and preside at the sraddha which was to be celebrated in the palace of Nanda. Chanakya accompanied him to his house and on the appointed day went to preside at the Sraddha. Another Brahman, Subandhu, however, was desirous of getting precedence for himself and Nanda was persuaded by Sakatala to believe that Subandhu was a fit person to be given precedence.

Thereupon Nanda gave orders to remove Chanakya from the place which he occupied. Sakatala communicated the orders to Chanakya, pleading his own innocence in the matter. Burning with rage, Chanakya loosened the knot of his sikha, and took a vow to kill Nanda within seven days, after which alone he would tie his sikha again. On hearing this Nanda was enraged, but Chanakya escaped and was secretly sheltered by Sakatala.

Thereafter, Chanakya being supplied with all materials, practised a magical rite in which he was an adept, and by which on the seventh day Nanda was deprived of life. Sakatala effected the destruction of Yogananda’s son Hiranyagupta also, and raised Chandragupta, the son of the genuine Nanda, on the throne. Chanakya became the prince’s minister, and Sakatala having obtained the only object of his existence retired to spend his last days in the woods.

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  1. Dhruva, K H (1923). Mudrarakshasa. Oriental Book Supplying Agency. Pune.
  2. Tawney, C H (1880). The Katha Sarit Sagar. The Baptist Mission Press. Kolkata.
  3. Telang, K T (1915). Mudrarakshasa. Nirnaya Sagar Press. Mumbai.