He vowed to dethrone the haughty king who was harassing the people of the land. After fulfilling that vow, he made Chandragupta, the Emperor. He brought Amatya Rakshasa from the enemy camp to serve as Chandragupta’s Prime minister. His ‘Arthashastra’ is a classic of statecraft and is reverently studied even in Europe and elsewhere. Chanakya is the personification of statesmanship, political craft, the spirit of adventure and unyielding perseverance.
On the banks of the river Ganga, stood the city of Pataliputra, also called Kusumapura. In front of a choultry in the city, a man walked as if in haste, on a hot afternoon. He was a brahmin, with bright and shining eyes.
The Grass Uprooted
In his hurried walk, he stumbled on a stump of grass and was about to fall. He became very angry. The roots of that type of grass go deep into the earth. But he was undeterred. He wrath would brook no opposition. He sat down right there in that burning sun, removed that grass to its root from the earth, and then resumed his journey.
His name was Chanakya.
Seeing all this stood another man, at the door of the choultry. He was young but looked bright.
He was Chandragupta and was the officer in charge of the choultry. And he thought, “What a determined man! Such a person’s help is worth having.”
He went to Chanakya, addressed him very respectfully, and took him into the choultry with all courtesy.
Chanakya made inquiries about him and asked, “Who are you? You seem to be worried.”
“The Kingdom is yours”
The officer with great reverence said, “Sir, my name is Chandragupta.”
“You look as if you have gone through a lot of suffering and have great worries. You can tell me why.”
“I am in dire trouble, Sir,” said Chandraguta.
“But should I worry you with my troubles?”
“Still you can tell me. I shall see if I can help you,” said Chanakya, with a degree of assurance.
I am the grandson of king Sarvarthasiddhi, Chandragupta began his tale of woe. “He had two wives, Sunandadevi and Muradevi. Sunanda got nine sons called the Navanandas. Mura had only one son called Maurya and he was my father.
We were a hundred brothers. The Nandas, out of jealousy, tried to kill all of us. All others were killed and somehow I have survived. I am really disgusted with all that has happened. This is my painful story. I have suffered much because of the Nandas. Would you help me to come out of my agony?”
Chanakya was greatly moved by this tale of woe. He thought that somehow he must help Chandragupta. I will get you the Kingship Chandragupta, he consoled him. “But look, these Nandas have not directly offended me in any way. With some ruse, I will first see that they ill-treat me. And then, you may feel sure, your work is done.”
“Till I Destroy Your Family”
It was a hot and sultry afternoon. It was lunch-time in the choultry. Banana leaves and been spread in many rows. Hundreds of people were sitting there for their lunch.
Just nearby was also a throne. Chanakya had his bath and going straight to the throne, sat on it. Just then the Navanandas also came there. They were very angry that on the throne where kings should be seated, an ordinary man was sitting.
They had Chanakya pushed out. Chanakya’s tuft became untied and the hairs were loosened. He was in a fury. Hissing like a cobra he said, “You wicked fellows, I will not tie up my hair until I destroy your whole family. This is my oath.
Remember it!” Thundering like that, he walked off with resounding steps. The Nandas were not afraid. “What nonsense from a begging Brahmin!
It is prattle to be ignored,” they said contemptuously and went back to the palace.
The Nandas had a very intelligent minister.
He was Amatya Rakshasa. He was brave and capable. In statecraft, he was highly experienced.
He protected the Nandas as eyelids do an eye.
But Chanakya was not discouraged. He singly stood opposed to the might of the Nandas and the brain of Amatya Rakshasa. He dethroned the Nandas, put Chandragupta on the throne, and also installed Amatya Rakshasa, who was trying his utmost to destroy Chandragupta, as the minister. This is the story about Chanakya, popular in our country for hundreds of years. However, according to historians, this is not completely true.
Whether all the events took place as this story mentions them or not, the one thing that has to be accepted is that it truly reflects the nature of Chanakya.
Chanakya was a very brilliant person. He was full of determination in achieving any objective.
He was well versed in all ‘Shastras’ or branches of knowledge, an expert economist; a statesman par excellence. He was a master in the four methods – of persuasion, enticement, sowing dissension, and punishment or war. He was mature in the strategy of war, and very intelligent. None could makeup what was going on in his mind. So secretive was he in his method, and far-sighted.
In any endeavor, his calculations never went wrong and he never missed his aim. He was at the same time very religious and given to strict renunciation. Apparently of harsh nature, he could employ various methods carefully at the right time to destroy enemies. There was no branch of knowledge, which he had not mastered. He was widely experienced in the world.
There seemed to be nothing, which he did not know. He was, in other words, a conglomeration of all things that make a genius. Considered in any way, persons equal to Chanakya are very rare in the world. An expression “like the strategy of Chanakya” has become proverbial. He is the memorable man who destroyed the despotic Nanda kings, put Chandragupta on the throne and brought into being the great Maurya dynasty of rules.
Chanakya had the other name of Kautilya also. Some say that he got the name Chanakya because he was born in China. A great book that clearly shows his genius is still extant. It is called the “Artha-Shastra.” It has been translated into many other languages including English, French, and German.
Unfortunately, what is authentically known about him is not much. We can only add various points and scattered material available in several books and present what could perhaps be his biography.
Student at Takshashila
Chanakya had his education at a famous school in a city well known in those days as Takshashila (corrupted later into ‘Taxila’, also read about Nalanda University here). The teachers at Takshashila were great scholars known all over the world. Students from different parts of Bharat went there for their education. Even kings sent their sons for education there. It is said that a certain teacher there had one hundred and one students and all of them were princes!
Generally, a student entered the University of Takshashila at the age of sixteen. The four Vedas, archery, hunting, elephant-lore, and eighteen arts were being taught there.
The faculties there, which taught law, medicine and warfare, were famous not only in Bharat but also abroad.
Such was the center where Chanakya had his education. With this education, his inherent brilliance becomes like a polished diamond.
“I Will Dethrone You”
Chanakya went from Takshashila to Pataliputra, which was famous as a center of learning and was known to honor scholars. Pataliputra sheltered scholars who were intellectual giants in different branches of knowledge. Chanakya went There to get recognition for his scholarship.
One of the Nandas by name Dhanananda was the king there at that time. He was very avaricious. He was never satisfied with the amounts of money he received, never content with the number of taxes to collect money. People were complaining that there was a tax on hides, tax on wood and tax even on stone. No one knew how much wealth Dhanananda himself had amassed.
It was believed that he had buried all his wealth under a boulder in the bed of the river Ganga.
By the time Chanakya came to Pataliputra, there was a change even in Dhanananda. He was giving gifts also. He had formed a trust or committee to administer his gift and charities.
A great scholar would be the president of the trust. Even the other members of the trust would be well-known scholars. It is said that the president had powers to make gifts up to ten million gold coins. The junior-most member of the trust would make gifts up to one-lakh gold coins.
Chanakya possessed an extraordinary scholarship. The scholars of Pataliputra recognized his genius and honored him. Chanakya became the president of the ‘Sangha’ (Trust).
The work of the Sangha was to administer the king’s grants and charities. Therefore the president of the Sangha had to meet the king often.
When the president of the Sangha met the king for the first time, the king felt disgusted at the ugliness of Chanakya. He developed contempt towards Chanakya. There was no refinement in the words and conduct of Chanakya.
He always spoke bluntly and straight. He was, besides, filled with intense egotism.
The king had been receiving only praise and obedience from all. So he did not like the ways of the new president. He removed Chanakya from the presidentship.
Chanakya was very angry. He had not committed any mistake. All other scholars had accepted that his scholarship was extraordinary.
In his anger Chanakya erupted like a volcano and told the king:
“Your position has made you arrogant. You have removed me from presidentship for no fault of mine. You think that there is none to question you, whatever injustice you commit and however you behave. You have removed me from my rightful place, and I shall also dethrone you.”
The King, of course, would not keep quiet hearing such words. He was also very angry. He ordered that Chanakya be arrested. Chanakya disguised himself as a sanyasi, a monk, and fled from the capital.
You can watch the below video with apt dialogues. The conversation goes like this…
This is The Man
Later Chanakya met Chandragupta.
Even of Chandragupta, very little is known.
Several things are said about his family. Probably he belonged to the Moria community. (He got the name of Chandragupta Maurya afterward and his royal lineage came to be known as the Maurya dynasty). His mother was perhaps a daughter of a village headman. His father, king of a forest area called Pippatavana, died in a war.
The mother came to Pataliputra with her son.
The boy grew up as a village lad among other village boys. But he was a leader by birth. Even as a boy he was accepted as a leader by all other boys. His word was a law to them.
Chandragupta and other boys used to play in a field. There was a tall boulder. The boy Chandragupta would be seated on the rock. In their games, he was always the king.
The other boys were all his subjects. They would bring up their quarrels and disputes before him. He would hear the arguments on both sides and pronounce his degree.
Once Chanakya was passing that way. He was attracted by the dignity with which the boy was seated and the radiance of his face. He stood watching the play.
Chanakya was astonished by the sharp intellect and the style of the boy’s speaking while judging the disputes.
‘If king Nanda were dethroned, the realm would need an able king. Chanakya thought this boy would make a good king.
He stood there until the game was over. Then he spoke to the boy. Chanakya’s physical features were ugly. That was why king Nanda had treated him with contempt. But the boy Chandragupta became aware of the intellect behind that face and developed a great respect for Chanakya.
Chanakya spoke to him affectionately. He came to know who he was and his circumstances.
He went with the boy to his house and spoke to his mother and other elders.
He said, “Send the boy with me. He will have his education at Takshashila.” Chandragupta’s mother was at first unwilling to send the boy with a stranger. But what future did the boy have in a village? And how to educate this fatherless boy?
Schooling in Takshashila would be a boon, a divine gift. This chance might not come again.
She was highly impressed by the brilliance of the stranger’s face and also by his good words.
Chandragupta left for Takshashila with Chanakya.
For seven or eight years Chandragupta had his education there, and that, with teachers selected by Chanakya. The art of warfare and the art of government were mastered by him equally well.
The Greek Invader
By then, significant events in the history of Bharat were taking place under the very eyes of Chanakya and Chandragupta. A young prince came from Greece with a big army. He had already conquered many realms. He was Alexander (you can read how Alexander was defeated by an Indian king here).
Even as Chanakya and Chandragupta were looking on, the soil of Bharat was going under a foreign yoke. The people of Bharat did fight bravely. It looks as if even women took part in the fight. But not being united, they were defeated.
In Chanakya’s eyes, foreign rule was poison.
It was his belief that alien rulers would exploit, loot and impoverish the country.
It is said that Chandragupta met Alexander.
As he talked boldly and defiantly, Alexander was enraged and ordered his arrest. But Chandragupta somehow escaped.
Chandragupta’s education was over, and Chanakya thought that their first task should be to drive out the Greeks.
Troops Are Amassed
Details are not available as to how exactly Chanakya and Chandragupta fought against the Greeks, but the plan can be watched from the below video.
Chandragupta was not a king, nor had he any position. It would by no means be easy for such a one to gather a big army. But even this seemingly impossible work was made possible because of Chanakya’s expertise. Both of them toured in different areas. They gathered soldiers mainly from the mercenary communities.
Chanakya felt that this was not enough. He befriended a king by name Parvataka, or Parvetesha of the Himalayan region and secured his help for Chandragupta. Thus Chandragupta could get the support of the strong Himalayan soldiers.
Alexander had settled some Greeks wherever he went. But they did not wish to stay there and wanted to return to Greece. Alexander had divided the realms he conquered in India into some regions and had appointed ‘Satrraps’ to rule them. Some of them were Greeks and some were Indians. The Greeks always lived in the fear of mutinies and murders. As soon as Alexander left a Satrap in charge of a province, there would be rebellion and sometimes the Satraps would be murdered. Philip, who was very able and experienced, was thus killed. Alexander who was at a distant place could not do anything. Satraps who were Indians were burning with frustration.
They were only waiting for the proper time to rebel and become free. After Alexander went out of India and died suddenly in distant Babylon in 323 B.C., all his Satraps declared themselves independent.
Freedom from the Greeks
By now Chanakya had made the rustic boy playing the role of kings in boyish games into a great leader educated at Takshashila. He had made him a military commander too.
The source of strength for Chandragupta and his army was the power of the mind and the towering personality of Chanakya. In that war of independence for Northern India, Chandragupta was the physical instrument, while its thinking brain was Chanakya.
In the primary task of elimination the Satraps, one Satrap by name Nicossar was killed even when Alexander was alive, and another, Philip, was killed after his death. After Alexander’s death in Babylon, all his Satraps were either killed or dislodged, one by one. Alexander’s lieutenants divided his empire among themselves in 321 B.C.
No realm east of the Indus – the river Sindhu was mentioned in that settlement. It meant that the Greeks themselves had accepted that this region had gone out of their rule.
The First Mistakes
The next task before Chanakya and Chandragupta was to dethrone the Nanda King. The Nanda kings were ruling cruelly and imposing taxes as they liked on the subjects, and had earned the hatred of the people. People were praying for liberation from their oppression.
Chanakya’s fight against the king was not merely because of personal insult, which had been meted out to him, but also with a desire to free the people from unbridled taxation and the oppression.
But dethroning the Nanda king was not an easy task. The Nanda king had conquered several kingdoms and built a vast empire. He had a powerful army. His army consisted of two lakh foot soldiers, twenty thousand horses, two thousand chariots and three thousand elephants.
Chanakya and Chandragupta had to contend with this mighty force.
Unfortunately, even about this great fig, no historical details are available.
In the early stages, they had to suffer defeat.
Chandragupta began his fight in the middle of the kingdom. He was defeated. Then he changed his strategy.
There is a story about this.
A spy of Chandragupta was functioning in a village. He happened to be in a hut where a woman gave a chapati (wheat- cake) to her child.
The boy ate the middle portion and threw away the edges. “You eat the chapati in the fashion of Chandragupta waging his war,” said the mother.
“How did Chandragupta wage the war?” the boy asked.
The spy now was all ears. “You ate only the middle portion of the chapati and threw away the edges. Now Chandragupta wants to be king.
Instead of beginning his attack from the borders of the kingdom and taking in the towns on the way, he has begun the fight in the central parts.
His army is encircled and beaten into bits,” the mother explained.
The words reached Chanakya through the spy. He was impressed and changed the method of his attack.
This is a story handed down from the old days. It is difficult to say how much of it is true.
The defeat of the Nanda King
With the change in strategy, Chanakya and Chandragupta began the attack on the borders of the Magadha Empire. Again there were mistakes. The troops were not stationed in the areas conquered. So when they marched forward, the people of the conquered areas joined together again and encircled their army. Thus those who had been defeated had to be fought again and again.
Chandragupta and Chanakya learned lessons from these mistakes. They now stationed troops in the conquered regions so those enemies would not rise and cause any trouble. Chanakya with his cleverness had earlier won the friend-ship of King Parvataka (or Porus Second). Now Parvataka, his brother Vairochaka and son Malayaketu came with their armies to help them.
The Nanda king had the support of a big army.
The other equally important support was the guidance of his very able minister, Amatya Rakshasa. This minister was very intelligent and had unlimited loyalty to the king. Chanakya knew that defeating Amatya Rakshasa was as important and necessary as vanquishing Nanda’s army.
Chanakya told his friend Indusharma, “My dear friend, you must disguise yourself and be in the company of Amatya Rakshasa. Pretend to be a friend and be his astrologer. Change your name to Jeevasiddhi. Keep me informed of all developments there through your disciples very carefully. Your help is very necessary for me to destroy the Nandas. And be very cautious.” So he sent Indusharma to Amatya Rakshasa.
Disciples of Indusharma, Vegasharma, Siddhartha, and Masopavasi also took up jobs under Amatya Rakshasa and under army officers.
The Nandas and Amatya Rakshasa made all preparations to face the attack of Chandragupta and Chanakya. Details are not clearly known regarding the war between the Nandas on the one hand and Chandragupta and Chanakya on the other. But it was a keen and bitter fight. The Nanda king died. His sons and relatives also died.
Even Amatya Rakshasa became helpless. Chandragupta was victorious. The only survivor was Sarvarthasiddhi, the father of the Nandas. He was very old. “I do not want anything. I will go to the forest for meditation. Please permit me,” he begged. Chanakya and Chandragupta agreed.
The old king and his wife retired to the forests.
It is said that after some days Chanakya had the old king and his wife killed because he thought that if Amatya Rakshasa made them take a son by the rites of adoption, then there would be claimants to the throne: he wanted that the lineage of the Nandas should be totally eliminated.
Please view the below video about the plan:
But personal revenge was not the aim of Chanakya. He wanted that the kingdom should be secure and that the administration should go on smoothly, bringing happiness to the people.
He thought there were two ways to ensure this: First, Amatya Rakshasa had to be made Chandragupta’s minister; secondly, a book must be written, laying down how a king should conduct himself, how he should protect himself and the kingdom from the enemies, how to ensure law and order, and so on.
To bring Amatya Rakshasaas Chandragupta’s minister! Chanakya’s thought appears at first sight very strange indeed. Amatya was totally loyal to the Nandas. Would he agree to be Chandragupta’s minister?
It appears even after the death of Nandas, Amatya Rakshasa made several attempts to get Chandragupta killed; and Chanakya had to protect Chandragupta with the utmost care until he finally made Amatya Rakshasa agree to be the minister. This is the theme of a famous drama entitled “Mudra Rakshasa” written by Vishakhadutta. All that this literary work expounds cannot be accepted as history. But by and large, it portrays the struggle between the two statesmen, each of which was an intellectual giant.
Amatya Rakshasa tried in many ways to have Chandragupta killed. Once when Chandragupta was getting a new palace called “Kumara Bhavana” constructed, Amatya sent for an official by name Bhuvanapala and told him – “My friend, you must help me in a big way. Please decorate Kumara Bhavana on a very grand scale. Let it have all royal amenities for Chandragupta to live therein. In the bedroom, fix large full-size mirrors near the cot, and behind them let there be niches in the wall so that armed soldiers can hide there. They must wait for the right times to kill him. Let this be done very secretly. Here is a bag of gold for you.”
Bhuvanapala made these arrangements in Kumara Bhavana as suggested by Amatya Rakshasa, without giving room for any suspicion to Chandragupta.
When Chandragupta expressed his desire to change his residence to Kumara Bhavana, Chanakya said – “Yes, but I will first see that place.
If everything is all right, you can move in there on an auspicious day. “
Chanakya went with some trusted soldiers to Kumara Bhavana. The decorations were all really good. Yet his eyes were very sharp. He said – “This mirror does not suit the place. Shift it there. That portrait should not be there. Bring it here.” And then the soldiers hiding in the niches with drawn swords were discovered. They had been stationed there by Amatya Rakshasa to kill Chandragupta. Chanakya had them arrested and executed.
Chandanadasa to the Gallows
When Amatya Rakshasa fled from Pataliputra, he could not take his wife and children with him. His wife was pregnant. He left his wife and children with Chandanadasa who was a very intimate friend of his.
Chanakya tried very hard to find out where Amatya was hiding. He found that his wife and children were in Chandanadasa’s house. He sent for Chandanadasa and talking of sundry matters, he suddenly asked, “By the way, Amatya Rakshasa’s wife and children are in Your house, aren’t they’?
Chandanadasa trembled. He understood why he had been sent for. He could guess that his very life was at stake now. ‘What if?’ he thought.
‘One should never betray a friend. To surrender Amatya Rakshasa’s wife and children would be against all canons of good conduct and virtue.
Chanakya is a very cruel person. He might not hesitate to do anything to them. Even if I die, I should not betray my friend.’ So resolving, Chandanadasa said, “Your Honour, I do not know anything about them”.
Chanakya’s eyes were red with anger. He said,
“Think well and speak the truth, Chandanadasa.
Remember that traitors to the king get only one punishment, namely death. “ Chandanadasa knew that his end was near. He saluted Chanakya and replied, “Sir, your pleasure.
You are capable of doing anything. But I can only say that I do not know anything about Amatya Rakshasa’s family.”
Chanakya in his heart appreciated his loyalty.
He thought, ‘Whatever the circumstance, this true friend will not betray. He should not be killed. Anyone must appreciate his loyalty to his friend. Killing one with such loyalty is no virtue.
But if an order is proclaimed that he is being hanged, and if it is made to reach Amatya, then he will surely come here.” In outward anger, he thundered, “Throw this traitor into prison.” He proclaimed that Chandanadasa would be hanged.
Chanakya saw to it that the news, that Chandanadasa would be hanged, did reach Amatya Rakshasa. His spies were there, even near Amatya.
Hearing it, Amatya was in an agony. Since this was the direct result of Chandanadasa’s giving shelter to his wife and children, Amatya’s grief knew no bounds. He was determined to save his friend and came to Pataliputra.
He reached the garden skirting the city and sat for a while there beneath a tree, thinking of what should be his course of action. He was so familiar with every area in that city. He had come back to the capital after such a long time.
Remembering the glory days he had spent with the Nanda kings, and the royal splendor of those days, his eyes were flooded with tears.
It was all God’s game, he thought. Just then he heard someone shout, ‘The traitor Chandanadasa will be hanged today.’ He was stunned.
He heard the sounds of crying. Chandanadasa ‘s wife and children were walking with a loud wail, as the soldiers marched Chandanadasa towards the gallows. “All of you, go back,” the soldiers shouted hoarsely, with drawn swords.
Seeing al this, Amatya approached the soldiers and said, “Leave him, he is my friend. You can hang me in his place, and I am ready.” The soldiers said, “But we need a royal order. The reverend Chanakya should agree. If he permits, it can be done. Alright, till then we shall not execute the traitor.” Four of them brought Amatya Rakshasa to Chanakya’s hermitage.
Amatya and Chanakya, face to face with each other! Two who fought each other for a long period with obstinacy, each equally loyal to one side!
And the life of Amatya was now in the hands of Chanakya!
Chanakya got down from his seat and walked towards Amatya. He spoke to him with great respect.
Amatya Rakshasa was amazed. He thought within himself, ‘What brilliance there is on the face of this great man! And a sage with renunciation, and with such wealth of wisdom!’
Chanakya offered him a seat, and then asked,
“Amatya, don’t you wish that your good friend Chandanadasa should live?”
“Certainly,” replied Rakshasa. “He is more than a friend. He is my life.” his voice was choked.
“Then you have to do something. There is one condition,” said Chanakya, in a firm voice. Rakshasa was surprised and also apprehensive. What would Chanakya say further?
“All right,” he replied.
And Chanakya told him – “You must agree to be the Prime Minister in the Empire of Chandragupta. You must, day and night, work for the welfare of the realm.”
Rakshasa could not believe his own ears. He said, “What? I must be Chandragupta’s Prime Minister! ?”
And Amatya Rakshasa accepted the high post of Prime Minister of the Maurya Empire (also read about Ashoka the great here) with a full heart.
The next day the coronation of Chandragupta took place according to rituals.
Chanakya’s vow was fulfilled. And also the kingdom of Magadha had got a good king. What happened to Chanakya later is not known with certainty. Some say that he continued with Chandragupta and later with his son Bimbasara for some time as minister. Some also say that after a few years Chandragupta became a Jain and then differences arose between the two. It is also said that after Chandragupta’s coronation he went away for penance.
According to a few books of Jainism, the Chandragupta came to Shravanabelugola along with his Guru-Bhadrabhaus Bhattaraka and he took Salekana Vratha. Later he ends his life in Shravanabelugola – Karnataka. Regarding this point, even Meghastanis ‘India’ gives insufficient details.
The great book ‘Artha-Shastra’ written by Chanakya is world-famous. Even European politicians, sociologists, and economists study this book with interest.
It begins with a narration of how to bring up royal princes and how their education should be. How to choose ambassadors and how to use spies is then explained. How to protect a king against dangers and risks is also dealt with.
Law and order, the duties of the police, how to control the wealthy citizens and motivate them to make gifts for charitable purposes, methods of preventing wars, duties of the astrologer, the priest and others, tricks to be employed to eliminate enemy kings, ways of inducing sleep in human beings and animals, these and numerous other subjects are discussed by Chanakya in the treatise. The wide range and variety of subjects is itself surprising.
His sharp intellect is astonishing. According to Chanakya, the primary duty of a king is to protect “Dharma” or righteousness in society.
That king who upholds righteousness and virtue will have happiness in this world and also in the next. Another significant statement made by Chanakya is that a king who uses his power improperly and unjustly also deserves to be punished.
“The sacred task of a king is to strive for the welfare of his people incessantly. The administration of the kingdom is his religious duty. His greatest gift would be to treat all as equals.”
“The happiness of the commoners is the happiness of the king. Their welfare is his welfare. A king should never think of his personal interest or welfare, but should try to find his joy in the joy of his subjects.”
“These words were written two thousand and three hundred years ago by Chanakya, the expert statesman, and wise sage. And Chanakya is also another name for courage and perseverance.