April 22

Chanakya – The hand behind the Mauryan empire

Chanakya – The mastermind

Chanakya – The mastermind

Chanakya or Kautilya, is considered to be one of the most prominent ancient Indian philosophers who had a big contribution in moulding Indian History as it is today. He contributed to the downfall of the Nanda dynasty and the establishment of the Mauryan dynasty. He was able to do all this by being the teacher of Chandragupta Maurya, who later became the founder of the Mauryan dynasty.

He is considered to be a person with high intellect and also acted as a strategist, author, jurist, philosopher, and royal advisor. The growth and development of the Indian subcontinent during the Mauryan rule have been credited to him. He became the pioneer of political studies and economics from India by being the author of an ancient Indian political thesis – Arthashasta, which is a detailed account of the management of statecraft, political science, economic policy, and military strategy in a kingdom or nation. His writings have also been considered as novel concepts arising in modern international politics and world order. Arthashastra has been dated to around the 4th century BCE and 3rd century BCE, the time contemporary to the Mauryan Empire.

Early life and the vow:

According to Buddhist texts, Chanakya was a professor at the University of Taxila. He was an intellectual person with a good knowledge of the Vedas, diplomacy, and politics. During his birth, astrologers prophesied that his canine teeth were the mark of royalty. When his mother feared being neglected after him becoming the king, Chanakya broke his teeth. But still, there was the well-known prophecy that he would be the power before the king or would become the Kingmaker.

Once, Chanakya reached Patliputra where a donation drive was held by king Dhanananda. In that ceremony, due to some incidents, Chanakya felt insulted, he broke his sacred threat in anger and cursed the king. He also made the vow to ruin the entire Nanda dynasty. Though Dhanananda ordered his arrest, he escaped by befriending the son of Dhanananda – Pabbata. Pabbata helped Chanakya escape to the forests and Chanakya instigated him to become the new king.

There have been unclear views and controversy regarding the points on which Chanakya was insulted in the royal court. Buddhist texts mention that Chanakya was insulted by his looks and was ordered to be thrown out of the assembly. Whereas the Jain texts mention that Chanakya sat on the royal throne, which was not liked by the king and his followers, so he was thrown out. This was the insult that Chanakya could not handle, being a respected professor forcing him to curse Nanda and take a vow to uproot Nanda and his entire establishment.

As Chanakya knew about the prophecy of his life and believed that he was to be the Kingmaker, he started to find a person who could be worthy of becoming the king.

Conquest of the throne:

Chanakya was in the search of a suitable person who could be worthy enough for the conquest of the throne of Magadha. Through the inscriptions, we know that Pabbata, the son of Dhanananda was probably the first choice of Chanakya and then Chandragupta. There have been unverified claims that Chandragupta was the part of a royal family but was brought up by a hunter after the death of his father.

Chanakya and Chandragupta had their first encounter in the Vinjha forest where Chanakya saw a group of children playing the game in which Chandragupta played the role of the king. Chanakya was impressed by the skills, personality, and decision-making power represented by Chandragupta as the king in the game. Chanakya could watch the traits of the future king in the boy and therefore adopted the young boy 10 years and bought him for a thousand gold coins from his foster father.

He took Chandragupta to Taxila, for providing him with the relevant skills and education for being successful in overthrowing Dhanananda. By now, Chanakya had two people who were worthy enough to succeed Dhanananda, but this was not suitable for Chanakya. So, he decided to take a test to choose one among them. Chanakya gave both of them a charm tied by a woollen thread to be worn around the neck. When Chandragupta slept, he gave Pabbata the task to remove the thread from Chandragupta’s neck without breaking it and without making Chandragupta awake. But Pabbata failed to accomplish this task given by his teacher. On the other hand, Chanakya gave the same task to Chandragupta. The latter accomplished the task by cutting off Pabbata’s head. Thereafter, for the upcoming years, Chandragupta was the only student of Chanakya who was given the proper and required training.

Gradually Chandragupta and Chanakya assembled a powerful army that could combat the army of Dhanananda. Though the army tried invading the kingdom of Dhanananda but was failing even after several attempts. Gradually, they both understood that where they were lacking behind was the strategy. They had been following the faulted strategy. The strategy that they had followed during the first invasion was that they tried to acquire the entire Magadha from its centre itself. This proved to be a wrong strategy as when the army started to gain power from the centre, it was eventually crushed by the opposing army in the frontier region.

The strategy that they had applied during the second invasion was to start the acquisition from the frontiers themselves. But this time too, the army of Chandragupta was unsuccessful. The reason was that no garrisons were posted in the conquered regions. Therefore, the defence became impossible as the people from the rear created trouble.

The strategy adopted during the third invasion led to the success of Chandragupta. Learning the lessons from his failures, he laid down a properly planned strategy that was of acquisition of Magadha by capturing Rashtras and Janapadas on the frontiers and establishing the garrisons on all the acquired regions. After frontiers, he headed toward the capital – Patliputra, and captured the capital by overthrowing the Nanda dynasty.

Chanakya describes this war to be the “Dharm-yudh” as he targeted the elimination of the rebels and robbers from Magadha.

Chanakya as the Prime Minister:

Chanakya was made the Prime minister of the kingdom, as he trusted his master. As Chanakya was a great diplomat, economist, and strategist, he pushed the Mauryan Empire toward development. He started consolidating power for himself by eliminating all the loyal people to Dhanananda. He made the empire free from rebels and insurgents and filled the royal treasury by establishing economic well-being in the state.

The writing of Chanakya in Arthashastra and Chanakya-Neeti, are considered training manuals which transformed Chandragupta from a common boy to the position of monarch. These writings not only raised Chandragupta to power but also instructed him about the management of administration, maintaining it, and passing it to the son Bindusara and the grandson Ashoka. Even the entire initial success of Ashoka, before adopting Buddhism has been attributed to Arthashastra. It has also been compared with Plato's Republic and Sun Tzu's The Art of War.

Chanakya also used to put little doses of poison in Chandragupta’s food, to make his immunity against the poison strong. Once Chandragupta, who was not aware of this, shared his food with the pregnant queen who was just seven days away from delivery. Chanakya arrived on the spot but soon realised that the queen was about to die and decided to save the unborn prince. To do so, he cut off Queen’s head and cut open Queen’s belly to take out the premature foetus. For the next seven days, the foetus was placed in the belly of a freshly cut goat each day. After seven days, Chandragupta’s son was born. He was named Bindusara as his body was spotted with the blood of a goat.

Chanakya during the reign of Bindusara:

After Chandragupta left the throne vacant for becoming the Jain monk, Chanakya appointed Bindusara as the new king. During the reign of Bindusara too, Chanakya remained in the highest position.

Once Chanakya instructed Bindusara to appoint a person named Subandhu as one of his ministers. This might be considered as Chanakya’s mistake as the same person planned a conspiracy against Chanakya. Subandhu was greedy and jealous of Chanakya’s position, and to bring him down from the higher position, he told Bindusara that Chanakya was the one responsible for the death of his mother. Bindusara confirmed the allegations and started to hate Chanakya. Chanakya, who was by this time very old, decided to retire and starve himself to death. But when Bindusara came to know about the consequences of his birth, he ordered Subandhu to convince and bring Chanakya back to the position. But on the other hand, Subandhu burned Chanakya to death and then reached his home in the hope to find wealth and precious jewels.

This all was predicted by Chanakya and hence he left a curse trap for Subandhu. He had left a box with 100 locks in his home, and when Subandhu broke the locks in hope of wealth, he found a perfume and inhaled it. As soon as he inhaled, he saw a slip on which it was written, “The person who smelled this perfume will either have to become a monk or face death”. This was true. When Subandhu tried the perfume on another person, he died after being fed luxurious food after smelling the perfume. Hence, this became a compulsion for Subandhu and he fell into the trap of Chanakya and became a monk forcefully.

Some other sources also suggest that Chanakya might have accompanied Chandragupta to the forest during his retirement. 


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