The Mudrarakshasa (IAST: Mudrārākṣasa, The Signet of the Minister) is a Sanskrit-language play by Vishakhadatta that narrates the ascent of the king Chandragupta Maurya (r. c. 324 – c. 297 BCE) to power in India. The play is an example of creative writing, but not entirely fictional. It is dated variously from the late 4th century to the 8th century CE.
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Parvata and Chandragupta plan to divide up the old possessions of the Nanda Empire. Next, Parvata dies poisoned by a Visha Kanya 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.
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.
The historical basis 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.
According to the Sanskrit play Mudrarakshasa, Malayaketu was the king of Pauravas kingdom in Punjab located between the Jhelum and the Chenab (Sanskrit: वितस्ता and चंद्रभागा; Greek: the Hydaspes and the Acesines) and dominions extending to Hyphasis.[not in citation given] Mudrarakshasa states that army of Malayaketu included people from Khasas, Magadha, Gandhara, Yavana, Saka, Chedi and Huna.
Dhundiraja, the author of Jataka Bharanam, had written a commentary on Mudrarakshasa.
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.
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- Kashinath Trimbak Telang (1884), Mudrarakshasa With the Commentary of Dhundiraja (written in 1713 CE) edited with Sanskrit text, critical and explanatory notes, introduction and various readings, Tukârâm Javajī. Second edition 1893, Fifth edition 1915. Sixth edition 1918, reprinted 1976 and by Motilal Banarsidass, 2000.
- Ludwig Fritze (1886), Mudrarakschasa: oder, Des kanzlers siegelring (German translation), P. Reclam jun.
- Victor Henry (1888), Le sceau de Râkchasa: (Moudrârâkchasa) drame sanscrit en sept actes et un prologue (French translation), Maisonneuve & C. Leclerc
- Moreshvar Ramchandra Kāle (1900), The Mudrárákshasa: with the commentary of Dhundirája, son of Lakshmana (and a complete English translation)
- K. H. Dhruva (1923), Mudrārākshasa or the signet ring: a Sanskrit drama in seven acts by Viśākhadatta (with complete English translation) (2 ed.), Poona Oriental Series (Volume 25). Reprint 2004, ISBN 81-8220-009-1 First edition 1900
- Vasudeva Abhyankar Shastri; Kashinath Vasudeva Abhyanker (1916), Mudraraksasam: a complete text; with exhaustive, critical grammatical and explanatory notes, complete translation, and introduction, Ahmedabad
- Ananta Paṇḍita (1945), Dasharatha Sharma (critical introduction), ed., Mudrarakshasapurvasamkathanaka of Anantasarman (with an anonymous prose narrative), Bikaner: Anup Sanskrit Library
- P. Lal (1964), Great Sanskrit Plays, in Modern Translation, New Directions Publishing, ISBN 978-0-8112-0079-0
- J. A. B. van Buitenen (1968), Two plays of ancient India: The little clay cart, The minister's seal, Columbia University Press Review
- Sri Nelaturi Ramadasayyangaar (1972), Mudra Rakshasam, Andhra Pradesh Sahitya Academy (In Telugu script, with Telugu introduction and commentary) Another version
- Michael Coulson (2005), Rākṣasa's ring (translation), NYU Press, ISBN 978-0-8147-1661-8. Originally published as part of Three Sanskrit plays (1981, Penguin Classics).
- Romila Thapar (2013). The Past Before Us. Harvard University Press. p. 403. ISBN 978-0-674-72652-9.
- Manohar Laxman Varadpande (1 September 2005). History Of Indian Theatre. Abhinav Publications. pp. 223–. ISBN 978-81-7017-430-1. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
- 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.
- Arrian Anabasis of Alexander, V.29.2
- Mookerji 1988, p. 27.
- Viśākhadatta; S. M. Natesa Sastri (1885), Mudrarakshasam: A tale in Tamil founded on the Sanskrit drama, Madras School Book and Vernacular Literature Society
- Film promo