Chandragupta Maurya (reign: c. 321 – c. 297 BCE) was the founder of the Maurya Empire in ancient India. He was born in a humble family, orphaned and abandoned, and raised as a son by another pastoral family.
He was picked up, taught, and counselled by Chanakya, the author of the Arthashastra. Chandragupta built one of the largest empires ever on the Indian subcontinent. According to Jain sources, he then renounced it all, and became a monk in the Jain tradition.
Chandragupta is claimed, by the historic Jain texts, to have followed Jainism in his life, by first renouncing all his wealth and power, going away with Jaina monks into the Deccan region (now Karnataka), and ultimately performing Sallekhana – the Jain religious ritual of peacefully welcoming death by fasting.
His grandson was emperor Ashoka, famous for his historic pillars and for his role in helping spread Buddhism outside of ancient India. Chandragupta's life and accomplishments are described in ancient Hindu, Buddhist and Greek texts, but they vary significantly in details from the Jaina accounts. Megasthenes served as a Greek ambassador in his court for four years.
Chandragupta Maurya was a pivotal figure in the history of India. Prior to his consolidation of power, Alexander the Great had invaded the northwest Indian subcontinent, then abandoned further campaigning in 324 BCE, leaving a legacy of Indian subcontinental regions ruled by Indo-Greek and local rulers. The region was divided into Mahajanapadas, while the Nanda Empire dominated the Indo-Gangetic Plain.
Chandragupta, with the counsel of his Chief Minister Chanakya (the Brahmin also known as Kautilya), created a new empire, applied the principles of statecraft, built a large army and continued expanding the boundaries of his empire. Greek rulers such as Seleucus I Nicator avoided war with him, entered into a marriage alliance instead, and retreated into Persia.
After unifying much of India, Chandragupta and Chanakya passed a series of major economic and political reforms. He established a strong central administration from Pataliputra (now Patna), patterned after Chanakya's text on governance and politics, the Arthashastra. Chandragupta's India was characterised by an efficient and highly organised structure. The empire built infrastructure such as irrigation, temples, mines and roads, leading to a strong economy. With internal and external trade thriving and agriculture flourishing, the empire built a large and trained permanent army to help expand and protect its boundaries. Chandragupta's reign, as well the dynasty that followed him, was an era when many religions thrived in India, with Buddhism, Jainism and Ajivika gaining prominence along with the Brahmanism traditions. A memorial to Chandragupta Maurya exists on the Chandragiri hill, along with a 7th-century hagiographic inscription, on one of the two hills in Shravanabelagola, Karnakata.