Nov 24, 2007

Chandragupta Maurya came, saw and used what he saw to conquer.

BY DOUG TSURUOKA

Chandragupta Maurya came, saw and used what he saw to conquer.

The first ruler to unify most of India used his keen powers ofobservation to win an empire.

In 325 B.C., historians say, a young Chandragupta watched the army of Alexander the Great parade through the city of Taxila in northwest India. Alexander had invaded India after conquering the Persian Empire. Taxila would mark the eastern limit of Alexander's empire before he turned back to his capital in Babylon in what's nowIraq.

Chandragupta, at the time, was an exile living in Taxila. He'd fled there after launching a failed coup against the ruler of his native state of Magadha in northeast India.

Chandragupta's origins are obscure. Historian H.G. Rawlinson says hemight've been the illegitimate son of the ruling monarch of Magadha. Others say Chandragupta's father was a warrior who'd been killed ina civil war before he was born.

Watching the soldiers of the Macedonian phalanx file by with their long spears, Chandragupta saw the Greeks had a superior system of tactics and military organization. He decided to learn as much as he could about the Macedonian art of war.

Chandragupta struck up friendships with Alexander's officers. He questioned them closely about their weapons, training and strategy. Chandragupta was even granted an audience with Alexander. He tried to persuade Alexander to conquer his home state of Magadha and install him as viceroy.

Alexander, facing a mutiny from his tired troops, was wary ofanother 1,000-mile march to the east to take Magadha. He refused Chandragupta's entreaty.

But Chandragupta waited for his opportunity. When Alexander died in Babylon two years later, Chandragupta and some followers overturned the small Greek garrison in Taxila.

He then built an Indian army modeled on Macedonian lines, drilling his troops in the techniques he'd learned. He taught them to mass in the tight lines of Alexander's phalanx and field cavalry.

He also studied other successful military strategies, and incorporated the best into his plan. He wove traditional chariots and elephants of Indian warfare into his battle lines, bringing them together as a single unit.

Chandragupta then marched on Magadha. With his superior warriors, he easily defeated its army and killed its king in battle.

The victory made Chandragupta ruler of Magadha and laid the cornerstone of the Mauryan Empire. At its height in 250 B.C., his grandson Ashoka would rule thousands of square miles of India from the Bay of Bengal in the east to the Arabian Sea in the west, almost to the tip of southern India.

More Than A Warrior

The Macedonians who inherited Alexander's empire weren't happy that Chandragupta wiped out their garrison in Taxila.

In 305 B.C., Seleucus Nicator, who became ruler of western Asia after Alexander's empire was partitioned, tried to retake Taxila.

Chandragupta was unafraid. He used his Macedonian-style army to defeat Seleucus, beating the Greeks at their own game.

But Chandragupta knew that diplomacy was longer lasting than brute force in the political field. He also seems to have felt kindly toward the Macedonians, having learned so much from their military tactics and culture. He negotiated with Seleucus, persuading him to cede large parts of Afghanistan that had been conquered by theGreeks. But knowing that Seleucus was fighting rivals in the west for the right to succeed Alexander, Chandragupta eased the pain by giving Seleucus 500 Indian war elephants as a gift.

Seleucus (who was nowhere near as good as Alexander in war) needed all the help he could get. He accepted the elephants graciously. And the two rulers sealed their alliance with marriages and other aid.

A Greek diplomat named Megasthenes visited Magadha and wrote that Chandragupta's strict, highly centralized government resembled the one used by Alexander to rule the Persian Empire.

Though king, Chandragupta never gave in to luxury. He threw himself into the task of ruling his empire and was rarely idle.

He apparently kept a strict schedule. Megasthenes says Chandragupta woke at dawn every day. After religious rites, he visited his lawcourts and audience hall. There, he received ministers, heard reports from spies and did correspondence.

In the evening, Chandragupta inspected his troops and forts. To ensure he got exercise daily, he often went hunting before going to bed.

He kept careful records of his successes and failures, compiling a manual of politics and statecraft called the Arthashastra during his reign. The document provided a model for later Indian kings.

Though much of its advice is harsh, it also contains the following passage: "In the happiness of his subjects lies a king's happiness. In the welfare of his subjects, his welfare."

Military Innovator

Chandragupta constantly looked for new techniques in war, and he excelled as a military innovator. He created an army that was readyto fight at a moment's notice.

He came up with the idea of not letting soldiers have personal possessions. The government issued everything, including equipment, food and sundry pleasures, noted the Greek historian Nearchus.

As such, Chandragupta reasoned, the soldiers had nothing to tie them down when the time came to fight.

Chandragupta also realized that pomp and splendor could be effective in winning the obedience of his subjects. He often rode through the streets on the back of an elephant emblazoned with gold and silver. He wore fine muslin robes embroidered in purple and gold and had a flock of trained parrots that flew around his head at state events.

Chandragupta's methodical nature helped him survive countless plots against his life. He never slept twice in the same bed and tested all his food and drink against poison.

But Chandragupta eventually tired of absolute rule. He converted to Jainism, an Indian sect that opposes all violence and killing, abdicating his throne in 298 B.C. to become a Jain monk.

Legend has it that he died while fasting.

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