Who was Chanakya?
A short summary for those interested ancient Hinduism and its priceless knowledge of how life should be lived and its relevance in each and every persons daily life , the importance of which has unchanged even after more than 2400 years of the summary being written.
For centuries to come and the centuries that went by, which recorded in history talking of the great men and legendary characters who shaped time through their vision and exemplary actions. Chanakya, perhaps is the only personality who has been accepted and revered as a genius both by Indian and Western scholars. He is a historical milestone in the making of India amidst tremendous upheavals and myriad’s of reversals. Celebrated as a shrewd statesman and a ruthless administrator, he comes across as the greatest of diplomats of the world. He had the guts to speak his heart out even in front of the rulers, which shows his strong inclination to democratic values and the audacity to put his views through. Although, he lived around the third century BC, his ideas and principles show concurrence and validity in the present day world. Politics was his forte. Diplomacy in a politically charged environment shows his self-confidence and the ability to stay calm in trying situations.
His foresight and wide knowledge coupled with politics of expediency founded the mighty Mauryan Empire in India. He was a great laureate of economics with a glittering intellect to perceive the intricate dynamics of the various economic activities and principles.
The centuries that succeeded him show distinct effects of his thoughts on the way a kingdom is managed and other facets of economic administration. Even today, one of his maxims on taxation is very much alive and calls for adherence by the governments of the world. According to Chanakya, "Taxation should not be a painful process for the people. There should be leniency and caution while deciding the tax structure. Ideally, governments should collect taxes like a honeybee, which sucks just the right amount of honey from the flower so that both can survive. Taxes should be collected in small and not in large proportions".
Chanakya, apart from being a man of wisdom and unfailing strategies, propounded Nitishastra, the ideal way of living for every individual of the society. He looked at the country like a person surrounded by problems. He worked at the total annihilation of problems by the roots. The re-appearance of troubles only shows its growth. His contribution to foreign policy in the present day world is immense. Universities teach his principles to aspiring foreign policy experts showing the infallability of his principles. Chanakya’s art of diplomacy is well known across India and practiced in the areas of defence, strategy formation and foreign relations.
Quite remarkably, long before Clausewitz came up with the quote, which said "War is only the continuance of state policy by other means", Chanakya had already written it in his book ‘Chanakyaniti’. Most of his views were so farsighted that they appeared to be prophesies. Talking on diverse subjects such as corruption, he commented very rightly, "It’s just as difficult to detect an official’s dishonesty as it is to discover how much water is drunk by the swimming fish".
As a person, Chanakya has been described variously, as a saint, as a ‘ruthless administrator’, as the ‘king maker’, a devoted nationalist, a selfless ascetic and a person devoid of all morals. He created controversy by saying ‘The ends justify the means’ and the ruler should use any means to attain his goals and his actions required no moral sanctions. All his written works namely, ‘Arthashastra’, ‘Nitishastra’ and ‘Chanakyaniti’ were unique because of their rational approach and an unabashed advocacy of real politic. His views were dimensionally novel. He recommended even espionage and the liberal use of provocative agents as machineries of the state. In politics, he even attested the use of false accusations and killings by a king’s secret agent without any ambiguities. The observance of morals and ethics was secondary to the interests of the ruler. Some of his stark views made him into an ambivalent personality for the world.
This great statesman and philosopher has been often compared to Machiavelli, Aristotle and Plato, exemplifying his potentiality and influential status. He has been criticized for his ruthlessness and trickery and praised for his profound political wisdom. Chanakya, the timeless man, was in pursuit of truth fearlessly 2000 years ago and was proved right with Vivekanand’s words, "Arise, Awake, Sleep not till the goal is reached".
Rishi Canak named his son as “Chanakya”. Being a teacher himself, he knew the importance of education. Taxila was one of the world centers for education. At a very early age little Chanakya started studying Vedas. The Vedas; considered to be the toughest scriptures to study were completely studied and memorized by Chanakya in his infancy. He was attracted to studies in politics. In politics Chanakya’s acumen and shrewdness was visible right from childhood. He was a student of politics right from childhood. Known as a masterful political strategist, He knew how to put his own people in the opposite camp and spy the enemy without his knowledge before destroying him forever. Chanakya was an ace in turning tables in his favor irrespective of the circumstances. He never budged to pressure tactics by the ruthless politicians. In this way after studying religion and politics, he turned his attention to economics, which remained his lifelong friend. “Nitishastra”, a treatise on the ideal way of life shows his in depth study of the Indian way of life .
Life as a student
Takshashila, (later corrupted as Taxila),one of the topmost centers of education at that time in India became Chanakya’s breeding ground of acquiring knowledge in the practical and theoretical aspect. The teachers were highly knowledgeable who used to teach sons of kings. It is said that a certain teacher had 101 students and all of them were princes! The university at Taxila was well versed in teaching the subjects using the best of practical knowledge acquired by the teachers. The age of entering the university was sixteen. The branches of studies most sought after in around India ranged from law, medicine, warfare and other indigenous forms of learning. The four Vedas, archery, hunting, elephant-lore and 18 arts were taught at the University of Taxila. So prominent was the place where Chanakya received his education that it goes to show the making of the genius. The very requirements of admission filtered out the outlawed and people with lesser credentials. After acquiring vast knowledge in various branches of study he wanted everybody to get benefited. He believed in the broadcasting of knowledge and not in the storage of it. So famous was Chanakya in the vicinity of the university that he had many nicknames. He was called variously by different people, namely – Vishnugupta, Kautilya and Chanakya. The whole nation was bewildered by the cleverness and wit of this seemingly small boy who went on to single handedly unify the country with the sheer power of his character. He lived his life working to his capacity in pursuit of his vision of a happy strong and prosperous India.
At a time when the Dark Ages were looming large, the existence of a university of Taxila’s grandeur really makes India stand apart way ahead of the European countries who struggled with ignorance and total information blackout. For the Indian subcontinent Taxila stood as a light house of higher knowledge and pride of India. In the present day world, Taxila is situated in Pakistan at a place called Rawalpindi. The university accommodated more than 10,000 students at a time. The university offered courses spanning a period of more than eight years. The students were admitted after graduating from their own countries. Aspiring students opted for elective subjects going for in depth studies in specialized branches of learning. After graduating from the university, the students are recognized as the best scholars in the subcontinent. It became a cultural heritage as time passed. Taxila was the junction where people of different origins mingled with each other and exchanged knowledge of their countries. The university was famous as "Taxila" university, named after the city where it was situated. The king and rich people of the region used to donate lavishly for the development of the university. In the religious scriptures also, Taxila is mentioned as the place where the king of snakes, Vasuki selected Taxila for the dissemination of knowledge on earth.
Here it would be essential to mention briefly the range of subjects taught in the university of Taxila.
(4) Grammar of various languages
(10) Surgical science
(11) Agricultural sciences
(12) Archery and Ancient and Modern Sciences.
The university also used to conduct researches on various subjects.
Commotion in Taxila
Gandhar Republic was not able to come out of the shock of the comprehensive defeat at the hands of the province of Porus, when a new contingency starred in the eyes of Taxila. Thousands of refugees poured in Taxila as a result of the widespread attacks of the armies of Alexander. These people were not productive for the state as they didn’t come to Taxila to acquire knowledge or in search of jobs. They didn’t have money or any kind of assets to buy themselves the essential commodities. To resolve the problem, a meeting was convened by the rulers of the neighboring countries and the king of Taxila. The knowledgeable people who gathered to give their opinions on the problem faced by Taxila, gave out their suggestions. At the end of the meeting, it was decided that the refugees must be given cover under humanitarian grounds. So, in line with the decision taken, a stretch of land outside Taxila was allotted for the refugees. They were allowed to enter Taxila after proving their identity with the sentry. In this way what appeared to be a calamity was appeased without much ado. The incident was just a precursor to a series of events which reverberated across India as a result of the attacks of Alexander.
Move towards Patliputra
Though Chanakya was just a professor in the Taxila University which seemed to be far away from the happenings in the country, he actually was able to influence sthe governments in a big way. His students looked at him as an ideal teacher who inspired and exemplified great knowledge. His students respected him and were ready to fight at any moment at his orders. Two of his students who have been mentioned at various instances were Bhadrabhatt and Purushdutt. In the events that unfolded in the life of Chanakya, these two played a pivotal role in the achievement of his goals. It is rumored that they acted as spies for Chanakya, collecting information about his enemies.
Somehow, Chanakya came to know that there was a chance of foreign invasion. Europe’s great warrior Salukes was readying his armies to attack the weakened republics of India. There were grave designs threatening the unity and integrity of the nation. In such a scenario the ruler of Patliputra, Mahanand was squeezing the common man of his wealth with an object of enriching his own exchequer. Chanakya was aware of the internal and external threats of the country. On the one hand, the rulers of the neighboring countries were looking for the slightest of chance to annex the prosperous regions of the country and on the other hand, foreign invaders started moving towards the country with an expectation of easily smothering the country. These thoughts gave Chanakya sleepless nights. He envisioned his country clutched in the chains of slavery and defeated because of internal squabbles and differences. So he decided on the historical day, thus saying,"Now the time has come to leave the university. The scrupulous rulers of the country must be uprooted and there is a need to strengthen the country politically and economically. My first and foremost duty is to save the country of the foreign invaders and salvage this dangerous proposition."
With these thoughts in mind, he left Taxila University for Patliputra which paved the way for watershed changes in the politics of India and Patliputra.
Patliputra – The city of fortunes
Patliputra, (presently known as Patna) has been historically a very important city politically and strategically. Like Delhi, Patliputra has seen the ups and downs of development and great reversals. The well known Chinese traveler Fahian, who visited the city in 399 BC described it as prosperous city endowed with rich natural resources. At the same time, another Chinese traveler Huen sang described it as a city of rubbles and ruins.
Shishunagvanshi established the city on the southern bank of the Ganges. It was addressed with different names at different times. To. illustrate a few names, Pushpapur, Pushpanagar, Patliputra and Patna.
The city was industrious in producing essential commodities and luxurious goods for the rich. When Chanakya entered the city, it was known for respecting knowledgeable people and scholars. The intellectuals from across the country were warmly invited for the intercourse of new ideas and development of the state. It was virtually the city of fortunes as it recognized the true talent and rewarded richly for the work done by an individual. No wonder Chanakya decided to start his glorious campaign from Patliputra.
"I will destroy you"
Dhanananda, the ruler of Patliputra was unscrupulous and cruel by nature. He was always busy gathering money without thinking about consequences. He was always dissatisfied with the amount of money he had. Collecting taxes exorbitantly, he was a villain in the public eye. There was public outrage on the taxes which were collected on unwanted things. The main aim of collecting taxes was to serve the selfish interests of the king. There were taxes on hides, tax on wood and tax even on stone! The amount of money which Dhanananda had was unimaginable.
When Chanakya arrived at Patliputra, there was a change in the way he ran his kingdom. He gave gifts to the poor and was on the way of becoming lenient in administration. He had formed a trust or committee to administer his gifts and charities. The committee was headed by scholars and influential people of the society. It is said that the president had the powers to make up to ten million gold coins.
Since Chanakya was a great scholar from Taxila, he was included in the committee for charity. Chanakya later on became the president of the ‘Sungha’ (Trust). The Sungha used to help the king in the distribution of the money allotted for charity to the different sections of the society. In the process of delegation of the funds for charity, the president of the trust had to meet the king frequently. When Chanakya met the king for the first time, he was disgusted at the ugly appearance of Chanakya. As time passed he developed contempt for Chanakya. There was no refinement in words and conduct. To increase the fire between Dhanananda and Chanakya, the courtiers dissuaded the king from having a cordial relationship with Chanakya. Chanakya acted like a thorough professional and avoided praising the king. He always spoke bluntly and tersely. The king did not like the way Chanakya behaved with him. The king removed Chanakya from the post of president without any reasons. Chanakya was enraged at the proposition of being exploited by the less knowledgeable king. So, he erupted like a volcano on the king, and said, " Arrogance in you has eroded the respect which I had for you. You have removed me from the presidentship for no fault of mine. You can’t act in a way detrimental to the demeanor of a king. You think there is none to question you? You have removed me from my rightful place and I will dethrone you !"
Chanakya meets Chandragupta
Just after getting humiliated from the king, Chanakya scampered through the streets of Patliputra. In a hurried walk, he stumbled upon a stump of grass and was about to fall. Chanakya the great scholar had his own style of handling things. He looked at the roots of the grass and quickly got into action. Though he was angry, he never let his anger to get out of control. He directed the anger in the right direction. Calmly, he sat down in the burning sun, removed that grass from the roots from the earth. After making sure that not even a single strand of grass is left, he resumed his journey.While Chanakya was engrossed in removing the grass from the ground, a young man was closely watching the act f Chanakya. The young man was Chandragupta, the would be emperor of the Mauryan Empire. He looked bright. Looking at the determination of Chanakya, he was impressed and wanted to talk to the knowledgeable man.
He went to Chanakya, addressed him respectfully, and took him into the choultry. Chanakya asked him about his family background beginning his talk by asking, "Who are you? You seem to be worried."
The young man stepped forward with great reverence and said, "Sir, my name is Chandragupta. Yes, you are correct I am in great trouble but should I trouble you with my worries?" Chanakya calmed down the young man by saying, "You can tell me about your troubles with freewill and without any ambiguities. If I am capable enough, I’ll definitely help you."
"I am the grandson of king Sarvarthasiddhi, He had two wives, Sunandadevi and Muradevi. Sunanda got nine sons called the Navanandas. Mura, had only one which was my father. The Nandas tried to kill my father time and again. We were more than hundred brothers. The Nandas out of jealousy, tried to kill all of us. Somehow I survived and I am totally disgusted with my life. I want to take revenge on the Nandas who are ruling over the country presently."
Chanakya who was freshly wounded by the Nandas found a companion to destroy the distraught king. Chanakya was greatly moved by the tale of woe. He was emotionally charged listening to the story of Chandragupta and vowed to destroy the Nandas and get Chandragupta his rightful place as a king of Patliputra. Chanakya said "I will get you the kingship, Chandragupta. From that day on Chanakya and Chandragupta worked in tandem to destroy the corrupt and unscrupulous rule of the Nandas.
Chandragupta has not been well documented. The place of birth, family background and several details regarding his life are not available. Several things have been said and written about his family and parents. Probably, he belonged to the Moria community. He might have got the name Chandragupta Maurya afterwards and his royal lineage was known as the Maurya dynasty. His mother was perhaps the daughter of a village headman. His father was the king of a forest area called Pippatavana, who died in a war. Chandragupta came to Patliputra along with his mother. As a boy Chandragupta was a born leader. Even as a boy, he was accepted as a leader by all. As a boy he used to mimic the king’ court. His bravery and shrewdness were visible right from childhood. As Chanakya was moving along the streets of Patliputra, he saw little Chandragupta enacting the king. Sitting on the large throne, the little boy shouted against injustice and corrupt practices of the kings and people in general. Looking at the bright face of Chandragupta, he was impressed at the intellect and wisdom in the boy’s voice. For seven or eight years Chandragupta had his education there, and that too with selected teachers shortlisted by Chanakya himself. The art of warfare and the art of governance were mastered by Chandragupta with equal expertise.
The Greek invader
The relationship between Chandragupta and Chanakya bloomed through the years developing into a strong force for their enemies. Most of the historical events took place right under the eyes of Chanakya and Chandragupta. The troops of Alexander and the umpteen number of invaders who ravaged the subcontinent for decades around India. It is said that Chandragupta met Alexander. The bold and arrogant talk by Chandragupta enraged Alexander as a result of which Chandragupta was arrested. Chanakya’s training to Chandragupta was over by now and he thought it to be the right occasion to let Chandragupta taste the practical aspect of warfare. Chanakya closely observed the movement and strategies employed by Alexander. He also became aware of the weaknesses of the Indian rulers.
Freedom from the Greeks
The rustic boy that Chandragupta was, now had matured into a sound military commander. The source of strength for Chandragupta and his army was the power of 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.
The deterioration of the prowess of Alexander happened because of the weakening of Satraps or the commanding officers. Niccosar, a Satrap was killed even when Alexander was alive. Another formidable Satrap called Philip, was killed weakening Alexander like never before. 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 BC. 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.
Defeat of the Nanda king
Before defeating the Nandas, Chanakya had to employ various strategies before victory. Chanakya firstly tested the policy of attacking the core of the city. The policy met with defeats again and again. 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 learnt lessons from these mistakes. They now stationed troops in the conquered regions. So those enemies would not raise and cause any trouble. Chanakya with his cleverness had earlier won the friendship of king Parvataka (or Porus Second). Now Parvataka, his brother Vairochaka and son Malayeketu 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 getting Amatya out of his way was the only way of defeating King Nanda. Chanakya devised a plan which involved planting of spies in the enemy camp. In a very short span of time, the weaknesses of the Nandas became visible. Parallely, the Nandas and Amatya Rakshasa made plans to counter any attacks by Chanakya.
Details are not available 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 was helpless. Chandragupta was victorious proving the foresight of Chanakya regarding his abilities. The old king and his wife retired to the forest. It is said that after sometime Chanakya had the old king and his wife killed , because he thought that if Amatya Rakshasa made them take a son by the rights of adoption, there would be claimants to the throne. He wanted the lineage of the Nandas should be totally eliminated.
The true aspect of Chanakya
The momentous life of Chanakya reminds us of a revengeful saga where the individual is obsessed by the idea of taking revenge. 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 that there were two ways of ensuring the happiness of the people. Firstly, 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.
By writing "Arthashastra" and "Nitishastra", Chanakya has become a never ending phenomena. He has truly guided the generations with his wisdom . It would ideally suit the closing of the life of Chanakya with a couple of quotations by Chanakya "The secret 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 2300 years ago by Chanakya, the expert statesman and wise sage. And Chanakya is also another name for courage and perseverance.
Chanakya envisioned India as a nation which would place itself as the forerunner – politically, economically and socially. His magnum opus, "Arthashatra", depicts in many ways the India of His dreams. When he wrote this volume of epic proportion, the country was ridden in feudalism and closed and self-sufficient economy. The economy based on indigenous ways of production; was in a transitional phase, moving towards the advanced aspects of distribution and production. Culture and regional politics directed the way in which trade was done. The main activities of the economy were agriculture, cattle rearing and commerce. Among the three, Chanakya considered agriculture to be the most important constituent of the economy. It’s a fact today that the Indian economy of today is an agro based one. Covering various topics on administration, politics and economy, it is a book of law and a treatise on running a country which is relevant even today.
People who think that the society in which we live will remain the same; are dissuading themselves of the truth. Society is a complex and dynamic system changing constantly leaving those people behind who say no to change.
Broadly speaking, Chanakya dreamt of a country reaching the following levels of development in terms of ideologies and social and economic development:
A self sufficient economy which is not dependent on foreign trade.
• An egalitarian society where there are equal opportunities for all.
• Establishment of new colonies for the augmentation of resources. He also advocated the development of the already annexed colonies. His imperialistic views can be interpreted as the development of natural and man made resources.
• According to Chanakya, the efficient management of land is essential for the development of resources. It is essential that the state keeps an eye on the occupation of excess land by the landlords and unauthorized use of land. Ideally the state should monitor the most important and vital resource – Land.
• The state should take care of agriculture at all times. Government machinery should be directed towards the implementation of projects aimed at supporting and nurturing the various processes; beginning from sowing of seeds to harvest.
• The nation should envisage to construct forts and cities. These complexes would protect the country from invasions and provide internal security. The cities would act as giant markets increasing the revenue of the state.
• Internal trade was more important to Chanakya than external trade. At each point of the entry of goods, a minimal amount of tax should be collected. The state should collect taxes at a bare minimum level, so that there is no chance of tax evasion.
• Laws of the state should be the same for all, irrespective of the person who is involved in the case. Destitute women should be protected by the society because they are the result of social exploitation and the uncouth behavior of men.
• Security of the citizens at peace time is very important because state is the only savior of the men and women who get affected only because of the negligence of the state. Antisocial elements should be kept under check along with the spies who may enter the country at any time.
• Chanakya envisioned a society where the people are not running behind material pleasures. Control over the sense organs is essential for success in any endeavor. Spiritual development is essential for the internal strength and character of the individual. Material pleasures and achievements are always secondary to the spiritual development of the society and country at large.
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