An artist's impression of Chanakya
|Born||c. 370 BCE|
|Died||c. 283 BCE
|Other names||Kautilya, Vishnugupta|
|Occupation||Professor; advisor of Chandragupta Maurya|
|Known for||Foundation of the Maurya Empire|
|Notable work(s)||Arthashastra, Ethics of Political Rules, also known as 'Chanakya Neeti'|
Originally a professor of economics and political science at the ancient Takshashila University, Chanakya managed the first Maurya emperor Chandragupta's rise to power at a young age. He is widely credited for having played an important role in the establishment of the Maurya Empire, which was the first empire in archaeologically recorded history to rule most of the Indian subcontinent. Chanakya served as the chief advisor to both Chandragupta and his son Bindusara.
Chanakya is traditionally identified as Kautilya or Vishnu Gupta, who authored the ancient Indian political treatise called Arthasastra (Economics). As such, he is considered as the pioneer of the field of economics and political science in India, and his work is thought of as an important precursor to classical economics. His works were lost near the end of the Gupta dynasty and not rediscovered until 1915.
- 1 Origin
- 2 Early life
- 3 Role in the fall of the Nanda empire
- 4 After the establishment of the Maurya Empire
- 5 Death
- 6 Literary works
- 7 Legacy
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Chanakya was born in a Brahmin house. Chanakya's birthplace is a matter of controversy, and there are multiple theories about his origin. According to the Buddhist text Mahavamsa Tika, his birthplace was Taxila. The Jain scriptures, such as Adbidhana Chintamani, mention him as a Dramila, implying that he was a native of South India. According to the Jain writer Hemachandra's Parishishtaparva, Chanakya was born in the Canaka village of the Golla region, to a Brahmin named Canin and his wife Canesvari. Other sources mention his father's name as Chanak and state that Chanakya's name derives from his father's name. According to some sources, Chanakya was Brahmin from north India, scholar in Vedas, and a devotee of Lord Vishnu. According to Jain accounts he became Jain in old age like Chandragupta Maurya.
Sources of information
There is little purely historical information about Chanakya: most of it comes from semi-legendary accounts. Thomas R. Trautmann identifies four distinct accounts of the ancient Chankya-Chandragupta katha (legend):
|Version of the legend||Example texts|
|Buddhist version||Mahavamsa and its commentary Vamsatthappakasini (Pali language)|
|Jain version||Parisistaparvan by Hemachandra|
|Kashmiri version||Kathasaritsagara by Somadeva, Brihat-Katha-Manjari by Ksemendra|
|Vishakhadatta's version||Mudrarakshasa, a Sanskrit play by Vishakhadatta|
The following elements are common to these legends:
- The King Dhana Nanda insults Chanakya, prompting Chanakya to swear revenge and destroy the Nanda Empire
- Chanakya searches for one worthy successor to the Nanda and finds the young Chandragupta Maurya
- With the help of some allies, Chanakya and Chandragupta bring down the Nanda empire, often using manipulative and secretive means
Identification with Kautilya or Vishnugupta
The ancient treatise Arthashastra has been traditionally attributed to Chanakya by a number of scholars. The Arthaśhāstra identifies its author by the name Kautilya, except for one verse that refers to him by the name Vishnugupta. Kautilya is presumably the name of the author's gotra (clan).
K. C. Ojha puts forward the view that the traditional identification of Vishnugupta with Kautilya was caused by a confusion of the text's editor and its originator. He suggests that Vishnugupta was a redactor of the original work of Kautilya. Thomas Burrow goes even further and suggests that Chanakya and Kautilya may have been two different people.
Chanakya was educated at Takshashila, an ancient centre of learning located in north-western ancient India (present-day Pakistan). He later became a teacher (acharya) at the same place. Chanakya's life was connected to two cities: Takshashila and Pataliputra (present-day Patna in Bihar, India). Pataliputra was the capital of the Magadha kingdom, which was connected to Takshashila by Uttarapatha, the northern high road of commerce..
Role in the fall of the Nanda empire
Chankaya and Chandragupta have been credited with defeating the powerful Nanda Empire and establishing the new Maurya Empire.
Mudrarakshasa ("The Signet of the Minister"), a play dated variously from the late 4th century to the early 8th century, narrates the ascent of Chandragupta Maurya to power: Sakatala, an unhappy royal minister, introduced Chanakya to the Nanda king, knowing that Chanakya would not be treated well in the court. Insulted at the court, Chanakya untied the sikha (lock of hair) and swore that he would not tie it back till he destroyed the Nanda kingdom. According to Mudrarakshasa, Chandragupta was the son of a royal concubine named Mura and spent his childhood in the Nanda palace. Chanakya and Chandragupta signed a pact with Parvataka (identified with King Porus by some scholars) of north-west India that ensured his victory over the Nanda empire. Kingdom of Nepal provided safe sanctuary to the followers of Chanakya during his operations. Their combined army had Shaka, Yavana (Greek), Kirata, Kamboja and Vahlik soldiers. Following their victory, the territories of the Nanda empire were divided between Parvataka and Chanakya's associate Chandragupta. However, after Parvataka's death, his son Malayaketu sought control of all the former Nanda territories. He was supported by Rakshasaa, the former Nanda minister, several of whose attempts to kill Chandragupta were foiled by Chanakya. As part of their game plan, Chanakya and Chandragupta faked a rift between themselves. As a sham, Chandragupta removed Chanakya from his ministerial post, while declaring that Rakshasa is better than him. Chanakya's agents in Malayaketu's court then turned the king against Rakshasa by suggesting that Rakshasa was poised to replace Chanakya in Chandragupta's court. The activities by Chanakya's spies further widened the rift between Malayaketu and Rakshasa. His agents also fooled Malayaketu into believing that five of his allies were planning to join Chandragupta, prompting Malayaketu to order their killings. In the end, Rakshasa ends up joining Chandragupta's side, and Malayaketu's coaliation is completely undone by Chanakya's strategy.
According to the Buddhist texts, Chandragupta was the son of the chief of the Moriya clan of Pippalivana. Chanakya once saw him leading a band of local youth and was highly impressed. He picked Chandragupta as the leader of the anti-Nanda revolt.
Several modern adaptions of the legend narrate the story of Chanakya in a semi-fictional form, extending these legends. In Chandragupta (1911), a play by Dwijendralal Ray, the Nanda king exiles his half-brother Chandragupta, who joins the army of Alexander the Great. Later, with help from Chanakya and Katyayan (the former Prime Minister of Magadha), Chandragupta defeats Nanda, who is put to death by Chanakya.
Twenty-first-century works such as Chanakya (2001) by B. K. Chaturvedi and Chanakya's Chant (2010) by Ashwin Sanghi also present semi-fictional narratives of Chanakya's life. According to these, Chanakya's father Chanak was a friend of Shaktar, the Prime Minister of the Magadha kingdom, and Chanakya loved Shaktar's daughter Suvashini. Shaktar had lost much of his political clout to another courtier called Rakshasa, and one night, Shaktar was imprisoned by the King Dhana Nanda. The rivalry of the Chanakya's family with King Dhana Nanda started when Chanak openly criticised the misrule of the king. After the execution of Chanak by the King, the former Magadha minister Katyayan sent Chanakya to Acharya Pundarikaksha of Takshashila. Chanakya completed his education at Takshashila and became a teacher there. After some years, he returned to Pataliputra to meet his mother, only to learn that she was dead. He also learnt that the Nanda administration had further deteriorated under the growing influence of Rakshasa, who had made Suvashini his mistress. When Chanakya visited the royal court to advise him, he was insulted and imprisoned by the king. Chanakya was rescued by the men of General Maurya, another person who despised with the king's rule. Chanakya took Chandragupta Maurya to Takshashila, where he trained the young man. King Ambhi, the ruler of Takshashila, had allied with the invader Alexander the Great to defeat Parvataka. Chanakya and Chandragupta gathered a band of people discontented with Ambhi's rule and formed an alliance with Parvataka to defeat the Nanda king. Their initial attempts at conquering Magadha were unsuccessful. Once, Chanakya came across a mother scolding her child for burning himself by eating from the middle of a bowl of porridge rather than the cooler edge. Chanakya realized his initial strategic error: he was attacking Magadha, the center of the Nanda territory. He then changed his strategy and focused on capturing the areas located at the peripharies of the Nanda empire. With help from Suvashini, he drove a wedge between the king and Rakshasa. Finally, he defeated the last Nanda king and established a new empire with Chandragupta Maurya as the emperor.
After the establishment of the Maurya Empire
Chanakya continued to serve as an advisor to Chandragupta after the establishment of the Maurya Empire. According to a popular legend mentioned in the Jain texts, Chanakya used to add small doses of poison to the food eaten by Emperor Chandragupta Maurya (mithridatism) in order to make him immune to the poisoning attempts by the enemies. Unaware, Chandragupta once fed some of his food to his queen, Durdhara, who was seven days away from delivery. The queen, not immune to the poison, collapsed and died within a few minutes. In order to save the heir to the throne, Chanakya cut the queen's belly open and extracted the foetus just as she died. The baby was named Bindusara, because he was touched by a drop (bindu) of blood having poison.
When Bindusara was in his youth, Chandragupta gave up the throne and followed the Jain saint Bhadrabahu to present day Karnataka and settled in the place of Shravana Belagola. He lived as an ascetic for some years and died of voluntary starvation according to Jain tradition. Chanakya meanwhile stayed in the court as an advisor to Bindusara.
According to one legend, Chanakya retired to the jungle and starved himself to death. According to another legend mentioned by the Jain writer Hemachandra, Chanakya died as a result of a conspiracy by Subandhu, one of Bindusara's ministers. Subandhu, who did not like Chanakya, told Bindusara that Chanakya was responsible for the murder of his mother. Bindusara asked the nurses, who confirmed the story of his birth. Bindusara was horrified and enraged. When Chanakya, who was an old man by this time, learned that the King was angry with him, he decided to end his life. In accordance with the Jain tradition, he decided to starve himself to death. By this time, the King had found out the full story: Chanakya was not directly responsible for his mother's death, which was an accident. He asked Subandhu to convince Chanakya to give up his plan to kill himself. However, Subandhu, pretending to conduct a ceremony for Chanakya, burned Chanakya alive.
The Arthashastra discusses monetary and fiscal policies, welfare, international relations, and war strategies in detail. The text also outlines the duties of a ruler. Some scholars believe that Arthashastra is actually a compilation of a number of earlier texts written by various authors, and Chanakya might have been one of these authors (see above).
Chanakya is regarded as a great thinker and diplomat in India. Many Indian nationalists regard him as one of the earliest people who envisaged the united India spanning the entire subcontinent. India's National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon praised Chanakya's Arthashastra for its clear and precise rules which apply even today. Furthermore, he recommended reading of the book for broadening the vision on strategic issues.
The diplomatic enclave in New Delhi is named Chanakyapuri in honour of Chanakya. Institutes named after him include Training Ship Chanakya, Chanakya National Law University and Chanakya Institute of Public Leadership. Chanakya circle in Mysore has been named after him.
Film and television
- Television series Chanakya is archetypal account of the life and times of Chanakya, based on the play Mudra Rakshasaa (The Signet Ring of "Rakshasaa")
- Indian popular Hindi channel NDTV Imagine started a Biographical series on the life of Chandragupta Maurya and his teacher, Chanakya, produced by Sagar Arts. The series is named Chandragupta Maurya.
- The song "Make My" by The Roots from their 2011 album undun features a quote attributed to Chanakya: "A man is born alone and dies alone; he experiences the good and the bad and the consequences of his karma alone; and he goes alone to hell or the Supreme Abode"
- The story of Chanakya and Chandragupta was taken as film in Telugu language in 1977 entitled Chanakya Chandragupta. Akkineni Nageswara Rao played the role of Chanakya, while N. T. Rama Rao portrayed as Chandragupta.
Books and academia
- An English-language book titled Chanakya on Management contains 216 sutras on raja-neeti, each of which has been translated and commented upon.
- A book written by Ratan Lal Basu and Rajkumar Sen deals with the economic concepts mentioned in Arthasashtra and their relevance for the modern world.
- In 2009, many eminent experts discussed the various aspects of Kautilya's thought in an International Conference held at the Oriental Research Institute in Mysore (India) to celebrate the centenary of discovery of the manuscript of the Arthashastra by R. Shamasastry. Most of the papers presented in the Conference have been compiled in an edited volume by Raj Kumar Sen and Ratan Lal Basu.
- Chanakya's Chant by Ashwin Sanghi is a fictional account of Chanakya's life as a political strategist in ancient India. The novel relates two parallel stories, the first of Chanakya and his machinations to bring Chandragupta Maurya to the throne of Magadha; the second, that of a modern-day character called Gangasagar Mishra who makes it his ambition to position a slum child as Prime Minister of India.
- Kautilya's role in the formation of the Maurya Empire is the essence of a historical/spiritual novel Courtesan and the Sadhu by Mysore N. Prakash.
- Chanakya's contribution to the cultural heritage of Bharat (in Kannada) by Shatavadhani Ganesh with the title Bharatada Samskrutige Chanakyana Kodugegalu.
- Pavan Choudary. Chanakya's Political Wisdom. Wisdom Village Publications Division. ISBN 978-81-906555-0-7., a political commentary on Chanakya
- V. K. Subramanian (1980). Maxims of Chanakya: Kautilya. Abhinav Publications. pp. 1–. ISBN 978-0-8364-0616-0. Retrieved 2012-06-06.
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- Mabbett, I. W. (1964). "The Date of the Arthaśāstra". Journal of the American Oriental Society (American Oriental Society) 84 (2): 162–169. doi:10.2307/597102. JSTOR 597102. ISSN 0003-0279.
- L. K. Jha, K. N. Jha (1998). "Chanakya: the pioneer economist of the world", International Journal of Social Economics 25 (2–4), p. 267–282.
- Waldauer, C., Zahka, W.J. and Pal, S. 1996. Kauṭilya's Arthashastra: A neglected precursor to classical economics. Indian Economic Review, Vol. XXXI, No. 1, pp. 101–108.
- Tisdell, C. 2003. A Western perspective of Kauṭilya's Arthasastra: does it provide a basis for economic science? Economic Theory, Applications and Issues Working Paper No. 18. Brisbane: School of Economics, The University of Queensland.
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- Trautmann, Thomas R. (1971). Kautilya and the Arthaśhāstra: A Statistical Investigation of the Authorship and Evolution of the Text. Leiden: E.J. Brill. p. 10.
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- Trautmann 1971:5 "the very last verse of the work...is the unique instance of the personal name Vishnugupta rather than the gotra name Kautilya in the Arthaśhāstra.
- Trautmann 1971:10 "while in his character as author of an Arthaśhāstra he is generally referred to by his gotra name, Kautilya."
- Mabbett 1964: "References to the work in other Sanskrit literature attribute it variously to Vishnugupta, Chanakya and Kautilya. The same individual is meant in each case. The Panchatantra explicitly identifies Chanakya with Vishnugupta."
- Trautmann 1971:67 'T. Burrow ("Cāṇakya and Kauṭalya", Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute 48–49 1968, p. 17 ff.) has now shown that Cāṇakya is also a gotra name, which in conjunction with other evidence makes it clear that we are dealing with two distinct persons, the minister Cāṇakya of legend and Kauṭilya the compiler of the Arthaśāstra. Furthermore, this throws the balance of evidence in favor of the view that the second name was originally spelt Kauṭalya, and that after the compiler of the Arth came to be identified with the Mauryan minister, it was altered to Kautilya (as it appears in Āryaśūra, Viśākhadatta and Bāna) for the sake of the pun. We must then assume that the later spelling subsequently replaced the earlier in the gotra lists and elsewhere.'
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