Chanakya, also known as Kautilya or Vishnugupta, was an Indian polymath. He was the writer of the ancient Indian political treatise, the Arthashastra. Apart from being a writer, he was also a teacher, strategist, philosopher, economist, jurist, and royal advisor. Chanakya understood the complexities of political science and economics. He was fond of these two subjects, and most of his works are also related to economics and political science.
Chanakya was also considered the kingmaker as he assisted the first Mauryan emperor Chandragupta in his rise to power. It is believed that Chanakya polished him in different ways to become one of the finest emperors of India. He worked as a chief advisor in the ministry of Chandragupta. Chanakya was a crucial pillar in the establishment of the Mauryan empire. After the death of Chandragupta, Chanakya served as the chief advisor to his son Bindusara.
Chanakya was born in a Brahmin family. As he grew up, Chanakya joined Taxila University to get formal education. He delved deeper into various subjects, including medicine and astrology. It is also believed that he had sound knowledge of Greek and Persian learning. Some authorities believe that Chanakya was greatly influenced by Zoroastrians.
There is very little documented information available about Chanakya. Most information about him comes from semi-legendary accounts. His life history is divided into four versions, and each version narrates a different story. However, the familiar part in each section is that Chanakya was insulted by the Nanda King and vowed to destroy him. To fulfill his desire, he made Chandragupta the new ruler of Patliputra. The Maurya Empire scaled to new heights under his supervision.
Four Versions of Chanakya’s story
Chanakya’s story is divided into four parts covered under Jain, Buddhist, Kashmiri, and Vishakhadatt versions.
- Jain Version
The Chandragupta-Chanakya legend was documented by the 12th-century writer Hemachandra. The legend is based on the Prakrit kathanaka literature composed between the 1st century CE and mid-8th century CE. It is believed that the Jain version of the Chanakya-Chandragupta story is older and more reliable than the Buddhist version.
- Buddhist Version
The legend of Chanakya and Chandragupta is documented in the Pali language. Mahavamsa is the oldest Buddhist scripture that has mentioned the tale of Chanakya.
- Kashmiri Version
Chanakya’s life history is documented in two 11th-century Kashmiri Sanskrit collections.
- Vishakhadatta Version
The Vishakhadatt version contains narratives that are not mentioned in other versions. Therefore, relying on these sources may not be an accurate decision.
Role of Chanakya in the Foundation of the Maurya Empire
Chanakya became the chief advisor of Chandragupta, who was the founder of the Maurya empire in the Pataliputra region (modern-day Patna). He wrote a book on political science that served as a guide for Chandragupta. The 15 sections of the book deal with a phase of government, which Chanakya calls the “science of punishment.” In the book, he has favored the development of an elaborate spy system within the state that covers all levels of society.
Chanakya wrote two books: Arthashastra and Chanakya Niti. However, his work was lost, but later researchers found his book Arthashastra in 1905. The book was discovered by a librarian Rudrapatna Shamasastry in an uncatalogued group of ancient palm-leaf manuscripts. This manuscript was donated to the Oriental Research Institute, Mysore by an unknown pandit.
Chanakya is regarded as one of the greatest thinkers and diplomats in India. He had a strong opinion on power distribution which is visible in his literary work Arthashastra. His work is timeless and is relevant in many fields. Anyone willing to broaden their views on strategic issues can refer to his literary works.
Today, many books and TV shows talk about the achievements of Chanakya and how he guided the formation of one of the greatest empires in Indian history. There are multiple plays, TV shows, and books on him.
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