Ask what is leadership and the typical qualities such as courage, patience, compassion, determination...(you name it) and the whole myriad of synonyms come tumbling out. To embody every single quality and constantly paint oneself in the best possible light is...
Ok... maybe not that impossible but it is truly an insurmountable feat to be able to uphold most of the desired values. In such an aspect, Chandragupta Maurya was no different. He was an extraordinary leader who had a vision for his empire and made good use of the opportunities that came his way. However, we feel luck and help from outsources such as his Prime Minister, Chanakya, were determining factors which paved his way towards success.
Birth & Social Hierarchy
Chandragupta Maurya (c.321-c.297 BCE) was the proud founder of the Mauryan Empire, which was known to be the largest and most supreme because of the power of the army. He first started out by defeating the Nanda dynasty of Magadha. Despite the bureaucratic nature of the kingdom, Chandragupta Maurya was still able to defeat the kingdom and take over ("Chandragupta Maurya: The Monarch Who Unified India", pg 14). Following a series of conquests, his prowess and determination to conquer was not just seen within India when he helped to unify it, but out of India, into the Hellenistic World as well.
However, while most sub-continental ancient leaders of that time flourished because of some element of aristocratic royalty in their blood, Chandragupta Maurya was different...
Discrepancies existed in terms of the ancestry within the family as such leading to confusions as to which caste he was born into. For instance, while it is known that he was born around 340 BCE to a Nanda king and a hairdresser of the Sudra caste, little is known of his lineage. While Brahmin beliefs certify him to be a Sudra by origin, Buddhists associate him to be a higher-end rank of the Kshatriya caste.
Examining Chandragupta’s ancestry and caste is crucial. In those days, primarily, the caste system was a definite means of confining an individual via social beliefs and was continually reinforced by the rigid duties each caste performed. As such, this system was a large determining factor as to how one's life would be paved. Chandragupta Maurya however, was seemingly unaffected by it all. The fact that he was unfazed by the repercussions caste system meted out on people exemplifies and enshrines him to be a visionary of sorts as he overcame the social divisions (Varna) and rose to power.
Conquests and Battles
Furthermore, Chandragupta's power was evident when he conquered the Nanda throne. But besides his powerful exterior, lay a shrewd and opportunistic leader who made use of the correct moment- when a civil war struck Punjab- to capture Taxila, the capital of Punjab. While it was a difficult task for Chandragupta Maurya to free Punjab from the tyrannical rule of Mascedonia, the demise of King Porus alleviated the problem and enabled him to do so.
These traits of Chandragupta can also be seen when he defeats Alexander the Great. Alexander's successor, Seleucus, rose in the ranks and eventually emerged as the most powerful among Alexander's generals. Seleucus’s prowess did not daunt Chandragupta Maurya from planning his next attack after his failed invasion with Alexander. After the conquest, he ensured an allegiance was formed by marrying Seleucus’s daughter and signing treaties as a mark of friendship. This was a turning point for India as the extended relations out of India resulted in flourishing of trade and agriculture.
This foresight for the country shows us that Chandragupta Maurya was a visionary who was wise, ambitious and above all – opportunistic.
He may have had 99 problems during his early stages of his life but conquering was definitely not one of them.
Influence of Chanakya
However, one needs to dig deeper to understand the full picture, in isolation from his successes alone. We feel luck may have been in Chandragupta's favor as he was "chosen" by Chanakya because it was believed that he harbored qualities such as courage and charm since young. It is surprising that despite the harsh implications of the caste system, his humble beginnings did not serve as a deterrent to his future successes.
He did not have an easy start and it was with much help of his minister, Chanakya that he managed to rise above the ranks and ultimately unite India. Chanakya guided and coached Chandragupta to utilize the skills taught and advised him on the creation of his army.
As cited in the book, 'Maxims of Chanakya', Chanakya gives advice with regards to War and says,
"One should fight with an inferior but sign a treaty of peace with one's equal and superior". (Maxims of Chanakya- Introduction, pg 11)
Perhaps, this was the motivation behind Chandragupta Maurya's passing of treaties and establishment of friendships after the conquest of Alexander's troops. Having been known for his political wisdom, statesmanship, and psychological intuitions, Chanakya may have guided and influenced much of Chandragupta Maurya's actions and cued him into the tasks laid out for him to accomplish (Maxims of Chanakya- Introduction, pg 9). Thus, much of his success is attributed to Chanakya, who paved the way for Chandragupta Maurya to descent and take charge.
Further insight into the influence of Chanakya on Chandragupta Maurya can be seen in other sources that cite Chanakya to be the "real brain" behind Chandragupta Maurya's success (Chanakya/Kautilya: History, Philosophy, Theater and the Twentieth-century Political, pg 2). While the extent of influence of Chanakya on Chandragupta Maurya and also.... inevitably his success may vary from one source to another, the idea that Chanakya was the catalyst to Chandragupta Maurya's success is one that is of significance to us.
Takeaways and POVs
Leadership- It is difficult. It demands. In short, it is tough to be a good leader and above all, to be an exemplary one. Nevertheless, while Chandragupta was successful in his period of reign and can be regarded as a good leader for his physical prowess and foresight, much of the decision-making and tactics were taught by Chanakya.
(Regarding Chanakya's influence on Chandragupta Maurya):
People say: "Ohhh... but it takes two hands to clap!!!"
We say: "But it only takes one sound to create a resonating impact".
A map of the Maurya Dynasty, showing major ciies, early Buddhist sites, Ashokan Edicts, etc. Vastu at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons