In the 4th century B.C., Nanda kings ruled Magadha dynasty and this dynasty was the most powerful kingdom of the north. A Brahman minister called Chanakya also known as Kautilya, trained a young man i.e.Chandragupta Maurya. Chandragupta organized his own army and overthrew the Nanda king Dhana Nand in 322 B.C.
Therefore, Chandragupta Maurya is supposed to be the first king and also founder of the Mauryan dynasty. His mother’s name was Mur, so he was called Maurya in Sanskrit which means the son of Mur, and thus, his dynasty was called Maurya dynasty.
Some Important Rulers of the Magadha Empire:
Chandragupta Maurya (322 – 298 B.C.)
Scholars suggest that he was only 25 years when he captured Patliputra from the ruler of Nanda Dynasty i.e. Dhana Nanda. First of all he established his power in Indo-Gangetic plains and later marched towards northwest. Chandragupta soon conquered the whole region of Punjab. Seleucus Nicator, a Greek general of Alexander, held some of the land in the extreme north. Therefore, Chandragupta fought a long battle against him and at last defeated him around 305 B.C. and a treaty was signed. According to this treaty, Seleucus Nicator ceded the trans-Indus territories – namely Aria (Heart), Arachosia (Kandahar), Gedrosia (Baluchistan) and Paropanishae (Kabul) – to the Mauryan Empire and in exchange Chandragupta made a gift of 500 elephants to Seleucus. He (Seleucus) also gave his daughter in marriage to the Mauryan prince or it is supposed that Chandragupta married Seleucus's daughter (a Greek Macedonian princess) as a gift from Seleucus to formalize an alliance. In this way he took his control over Indus region, some part of which is now in modern Afghanistan. Later he moved towards Central India and occupied the region, north of Narmada River.
In addition to this treaty, Megasthenese was sent by Seleucus to the court of Chandragupta and Deimakos to Bindusar’s court as Greek ambassadors. Chandragupta embraced Jainism towards the end of his life and stepped down from the throne in favour of his son Bindusara. Later he (Chandragupta) along with Jain monks led by Bhadrabahu went to Sravana Belgola, nearby Mysore and starved himself to death in typical Jaina fashion.
Bindusara (297 – 272 B.C.)
Chandragupta ruled for around 25 years and after that he left his throne for his son Bindusara. Bindusara was called by the Greeks as “Amitraghata” meaning Slayer of enemies. According to some scholars Bindusara have conquered the Deccan upto Mysore. Bindusara conquered 16 states comprising ‘the land between the two seas’ as confirmed by Taranatha, the Tibetan monk. According to Sangam Literature Maurya invaded up to far south. Therefore it can be said that during the rule of Bindusara, the Mauryan dynasty extended as far as Mysore and therefore included almost the whole India but excluded a small portion of unexplored trial and forested regions near Kalinga (Odisha) and the kingdoms of extreme south were not the part of empire.
Bindusara also had contact with the Seleucid Syrian king Antiochus I, who sent Deimachus as ambassador to his (Bindusara) court. Bindusara asked to Antiochus I asking for sweet wine, dried figs and a sophist. The later sent all but not a sophist because sending a sophist was prohibited by the Greek law. Bindusara kept interest in the Ajivikas, a religious sect. Bindusara appointed his son Ashoka as the governor of Ujjain who later suppressed a revolt at Taxila.
Ashoka the Great (268 – 232 B.C.)
Under Ashoka, Mauryan Empire reached its climax. For the first time, the whole subcontinent, leaving out the extreme south, was under imperial control.
There was an interval of four years between Ashoka’s accession to the throne (273 B.C.) and his actual coronation (269 B.C.). Therefore, it appears from the available evidence that there was a struggle for the throne after Bindusara’s death.
However, it is clear that the succession of Asoka was a disputed one. The most important event of Asoka’s reign was his victorious war with Kalinga in 261 B.C. There was no evidence about the actual cause of the war but both the side suffered heavy losses. Ashoka was saddened by the wounds and he himself described the effects of war in the Rock edict XIII. Right after the completion of war he (Ashoka) annexed Kalinga to the Mauryan Empire and decided further no more wars. Another most important effect of the Kalinga war was that Asoka embraced Buddhism under the influence of Buddhist monk, Upagupta.
While he maintained a large and powerful army to maintain peace and authority, Ashoka expanded friendly relations with states across Asia and Europe, and sponsored Buddhist missions. Missionaries to the kingdoms of Cholas and Pandyas and five states ruled by Greek kings were sent by Ashoka. He also sent missionaries to Ceylon and Suvarnbhumi (Burma) and also parts of South East Asia.
Mahendra, Tivara/Tivala (the only one mentioned in an inscription), Kunala and Taluka were prominent among Ashoka’s sons. Two of his daughters Sanghamitra and Charumati were known.
Later Mauryans (232-184 B.C.)
The Mauryan Empire was divided into two parts after the death of Ashoka in 232 B.C. These two parts were Eastern and Western. Kunala, son of Asoka ruled the western part where as eastern part was ruled by Dasaratha, one of the grand sons of Ashoka and later by Samrati, Salisuka, Devaraman, Satadhanvan and finally by Brihadratha. Brihadratha, the last Maurya ruler was assassinated by Pushyamitra Sunga in 184 B.C. Pushyamitra Sunga later established his own dynasty i.e. Sunga dynasty.