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The Mudrarakshasa (The Signet of the Minister) is a historical play in Sanskrit by Vishakhadatta that narrates the ascent of the king Chandragupta Maurya (r. 322BC - 298BC) to power in India.

Mudrarakshasa is dated variously from the late 4th century[1] to the 8th century.[2]


Chanakya's pact with lord of the Himalayas, Parvateshwar, popularly known as Porus, from the Northwest ensures his victory over Nanda.

Parvateshwar and Chandragupta plan to divide up the old possessions of Nanda Empire. Next, Parvateshwara dies poisoned by a vishakanya and his son Malayaketu succeeds him. Malayaketu, together with Rakshasa, the last minister of Nanda, demands the inheritance of all the old territories of the Nanda. Rakshasa, has also vowed to avenge the murder of his master Nanda and kill Chandragupta for that crime. He plans an attack on his capital with the help of Malayaketu. In Vishakahadatta's play the challenge before Chanakya is to somehow bring Rakshasa to accept the office of the Prime minister of Chandragupta. He cannot do it by force for the fear of harming Rakshasa. No inducement can work either. So he employs the strategy of isolating Rakshasa from his allies. This he does by fabricating evidence to show that Rakshasa is willing to sacrifice Malayaketu and join Chandragupta's camp. Malayaketu falls for this deceit and debunks Rakshasa. The second part of Chanakya's strategy is to force Rakshasa to surrender and accept Chandragupta's ministership. This he achieves by announcing death penalty for Chandanadasa, an old friend of Rakshasa. Circumstances bring Rakshasa to the city of Pataliputra where his friend is about to be put to the gallows. Rakshasa obtains his release by surrendering himself and agreeing to become the Prime minister to Chandragupta. The title of the play is explained as 'the play in which Rakshasa is caught with the help of a ring.' Rakshasa's official signet ring plays a very significant role in Chanakya's overall strategy to discredit Rakshasa in Malayaketu's eyes. A chance discovery of Rakshsa's official ring by Chanakya's spy helps Chanakya to prepare and authenticate a fake letter purportedly addressed by Rakshasa to Chandragupta. His seal then seals his fate. A unique plot in world literature full of complex political strategies, very unlike the general tone of Sanskrit plays which are largely based on love stories.

The historical authenticity of the Mudrarakshasa is somewhat supported by the description of this period of history in Classical Hellenistic sources: the violent rule of the Nanda, the usurpation of Chandragupta, the formation of the Maurya Empire.


Dhundiraja, the author of Jataka Bharanam, had written a commentary on Mudrarakshasa.


There is a Tamil version based on the Sanskrit play[3] and Keshavlal Dhruv translated the original into Gujarati as Mel ni Mudrika (1889).

The later episodes of the TV series Chanakya were based mostly on the Mudrarakshasa.

A film in Sanskrit was made in 2006 by Manish K. Mokshagundam, using the same plot as the play but in a modern setting.[4]

The play was performed (as Rakshasa's Ring) by students of the Missouri Southern State University's theatre program in November 2002.[5]



  1. ^ Manohar Laxman Varadpande (1 September 2005). History Of Indian Theatre. Abhinav Publications. pp. 223–. ISBN 978-81-7017-430-1. Retrieved 6 June 2012. 
  2. ^ Upinder Singh (1 September 2008). A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century. Pearson Education India. pp. 30–. ISBN 978-81-317-1120-0. Retrieved 6 June 2012. 
  3. ^ Viśākhadatta; S. M. Natesa Sastri (1885), Mudrarakshasam: A tale in Tamil founded on the Sanskrit drama, Madras School Book and Vernacular Literature Society 
  4. ^ Film promo
  5. ^ The India Semester at MSSU