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Bindusara was India’s second Mauryan Emperor, reigning from c. 297 to c. 273 BCE. He was the son of Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the Mauryan dynasty, who was assisted in building the Maurya Empire by the famed Indian teacher, economist, and philosopher Chanakya, who is considered as the pioneer of political science and economics in India. Bindusara retained Chanakya as his chief counselor. Bindusara was the father of Ashoka, the great Indian monarch who ruled practically the whole Indian subcontinent from c. 268 to 232 BCE, expanding the empire to include what is now Bangladesh in the east and Afghanistan in the west. Some sources claim Bindusara was a capable monarch who succeeded in consolidating his father’s empire, while others claim he successfully campaigned in the Deccan and ended his quest near present-day Karnataka, presumably due to the Mauryas’ camaraderie with the Cholas, Cheras, and Pandyas ruling the extreme southern territories. He was also successful in suppressing uprisings against his administration in Takshashila and the northern mountain kingdoms by enlisting the help of his capable son Ashoka.

Accounting Bindusara’s Life Sources

Bindusara’s life is not as well chronicled as that of his father Chandragupta and son Ashoka. The majority of the information about his life and reign may be found in several Jain tales about Chandragupta and Buddhist legends about Ashoka. The Hindu Puranas mention Bindusara as well.

These legendary narratives of Chandragupta and Ashoka from ancient and medieval times are not entirely trustworthy and can only be used to infer his rule.

The 12th-century Sanskrit maha kavya ‘Parishishta-Parvan’ by Jain scholar, poet, and polymath Acharya Hemachandra, and the 19th-century Jain scholar, Devachandra’s ‘Rajavali-Katha’ reference Bindusara.

Samantapasadika, Vamsatthappakasini, Divyavadana, Mahavamsa, and Dipavamsa are among the Buddhist writings that mention him.

His birth, ancestry, and linked to legends

Bindusara was born to Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the Mauryan Empire, according to many Puranas and the ‘Mahavamsa.’ Bindusara’s mother is mentioned as Durdhara in the Jain classic ‘Parishishtaparvan’ written by Hemachandra in the 12th century CE.

Other sources, on the other hand, disagree about Bindusara’s ancestry and present contradictory facts. For example, he was born to King Shushunaga, the founder of the Shishunaga dynasty of the Magadha Empire, according to Sri Lanka’s oldest historical document, the ‘Dipavamsa.’

In the prose form of the Indian Sanskrit-language literature ‘Ashokavadana,’ he is identified as the son of Nanda and a 10th generation descendant of Magadha King Bimbisara from the Haryana dynasty.

Although no evidence exists to support this theory, it is also thought that he was born to a Greek or Macedonian woman because his father Chandragupta entered into a marriage arrangement with the Seleucids.

His name is mentioned in several religious books in various ways. ‘Vindusar’ appears in Hindu literature such as the ‘Vishnu Purana,’ while ‘Bindusaro’ appears in Buddhist works such as the ‘Mahavamsa’ and ‘Dipavamsa.’ In the Jain text ‘Rajavali-Katha,’ his birth name is given as Simhasena. He was granted the title Deva-name Priya (“The Beloved of the Gods”).

In one of the Hindu Puranas, the Bhagavata Purana, the name of Chandragupta’s successor is stated as Varisara or Varikara.

Athenaeus of Naucratis, a famous Greek rhetorician, and grammarian, referred to Chandragupta’s son as Amitrochates, while Strabo, a Greek geographer, historian, and philosopher, referred to him as Allitrochades.

In the 4th century BCE commentary ‘Mahabhashya,’ Chandragupta’s successor is referred to as Amitra-ghata, which means destroyer of adversaries.

According to legends contained in Buddhist and Jain writings, Chanakya, Chandragupta’s chief advisor, and minister worked to make the emperor resistant to poisoning attempts. In order to accomplish this, he would put a small amount of poison in the emperor’s food.

Chandragupta, unaware of this, shared the poisoned meal with his pregnant wife, who was only seven days away from giving birth to the couple’s kid. The legends in both religions’ writings correspond up until this point, however, the origin of his name differs.

According to the Buddhist stories ‘Mahavamsa’ and ‘Mahavamsa Tikka,’ Chanakya arrived shortly after the queen consumed the poisoned morsel, and upon realizing the situation, he vowed to save the unborn child. In order to remove the fetus, he first severed the queen’s head and then her belly.

Chanakya would put the fetus in the belly of a newly slain goat for the next seven days, and this is how the prince was born. Bindusara was given to the prince because his body was marked with drips (Bindu) of goat blood.

The Jain book ‘Parishishta-Parvan’, on the other hand, claims that when Chandragupta’s wife Durdhara collapsed after eating the food, Chanakya entered the chamber and sliced the dead queen’s belly to remove the baby.

However, a poison drop (Bindu) hit the baby’s head during that moment, prompting the name Bindusara, which means “the might of the drop.”

Bindusara’s Domain

Bindusara was enthroned in 297 BCE, according to historian Upinder Singh.
The realm he inherited from his father and the conquests he undertook is described differently by different accounts.

While some, like K. Krishna Reddy, believe he expanded his domains, others, such as Sailendra Nath Sen and Alain Daniélou, believe he simply succeeded in retaining and consolidating Chandragupta’s territories without gaining any new territory.

Taranatha, a Tibetan Buddhist scholar, exponent, and Lama of the Jonang school, claimed that Bindusara conquered the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal with the help of Chanakya, who defeated the kings and nobles of sixteen towns.

Some historians interpret this as Bindusara’s conquest of Deccan, while others interpret it as his suppression of uprisings.

Chanakya’s relationship

According to the Jain text ‘Rajavali-Katha,’ after Chandragupta abdicated the throne and Bindusara was crowned Maurya Emperor, the former retired to the jungle with Chanakya.

According to ‘Parishishta-Parvan,’ Chanakya continued to serve as the new monarch’s prime minister. Chanakya’s death is described in a legend written by Hemachandra in the 12th century Sanskrit maha kavya.

Vasubandhu, a minister in Bindusara’s administration, was envious of Chanakya and yearned for a better ministerial position. By informing Bindusara that Chanakya hacked open his mother’s belly, he poisoned Bindusara’s ears towards Chanakya.

After that, Chanakya retired and resolved to do Sallekhana, which entails starvation until death. Bindusara, on the other hand, pleaded with Chanakya to resume his post when the true circumstances and act of Chanakya connected to his birth became evident to him.

Bindusara ordered Subandhu to appease Chanakya after he refused the request, but Subandhu burned Chanakya to death. Vasubandhu, however, withdrew after a short time and became a monk as a result of Chanakya’s curse.

Bindusara’s Reign

Bindusara’s administration had 500 royal councilors, according to ‘Ashokavadana.’ It further says that Bindusara dispatched Ashoka to siege Takshashila without any weapons or chariots.

The gods then gave soldiers and weapons to Ashoka, and when he arrived in Takshashila, he was met by locals who told him that they were not against the king, but rather his cruel ministers. In Takshashila, Ashoka was successful in quelling the insurrection and entered the city without opposition.

The ‘Ashokavadana’ describes two officials, Khallataka and Radhagupta, who assisted Ashoka in taking the throne following Bindusara’s death.

Bindusara appointed Ashoka as viceroy of Ujjayini, according to the epic poem ‘Mahavamsa.’
Bindusara was renowned as a ruler who maintained cordial relations with the Greeks.

He was a philosopher with a taste for culture and tolerance for all religions.

Personal History and Legacy

Bindusara had 101 sons from 16 women, according to the ‘Mahavamsa,’ with Ashoka and Tishya being born to the same mother.

Sushma, Ashoka, and Vigatashoka were Bindusara’s sons, according to the ‘Ashokavadana.’ The latter two were born through a Brahmin lady named Subhadrangi.

Again, in a legend in ‘Divyavadana,’ Ashoka’s mother is referred to as Janapadakalyani, but in ‘Vamsatthappakasini,’ she is referred to as Dhamma.

Bindusara’s death date and information concerning Ashoka’s accession to the throne vary between sources. While historical records place his death in the 270s BCE, Sailendra Nath Sen, Alain Daniélou, and Upinder Singh all place it at 273-272 BCE, 274 BCE, and 273 BCE, respectively.

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