We have the tendency to interpret and understand history by looking at events through a narrow snapshot in time. At every snapshot, there always invariably is a point where India seems to be riddled with societal, cultural and religious dissensions that cause the nation to crumble from within. Always in these most difficult times, one great leader is born who has the capacity to transform the society and reinvigorate societal and cultural ethos and re-instate dharma to its rightful place. During the period of Alexander’s invasion in India, not only were the small kingdoms divided, but also the social fabric had disintegrated. Meaningless and misinterpreted rituals were rampant and selfishness was dominant. At this critical juncture, one man, single-handedly, vowed to unite the vast country and establish a new dharmic social order and revive India to her rightful position as beacon of knowledge to the entire world. This extraordinarily talented man was none other than Chanakya.

Chanakya was a well known professor at the world-famous Takshasila University . He graduated from the same university in his early youth. He was aware of the corrupt practices of the Nanda king who was the ruler of Pataliputra (present-day Patna, Bihar) in the Magadha kingdom. The Nanda king was imposing unreasonable taxes on his citizens and was hoarding his treasure, while the people were dying from famine and impoverishment. Similar to the Magadha kingdom, all other kingdoms around the country were divided and they attacked one another without ever developing a feeling of belonging to the same larger nation. In this divided state, it was becoming easier for foreign invaders like Alexander to politically play one kingdom against another and annex territories. Chanakya identified that this lack of unity was detrimental to national security. When Chanakya picked up some leads about Seleucus’ plan to invade India, he realized that the only way to save the nation and its people from the impending invasion would be to give up teaching and set out to unite the countrymen first. He began his first mission with the task of addressing the issue of the corrupt Nanda king of Magadha. He marched into the capital city of Pataliputra after several weeks of journey. Chanakya’s reputation gained him an entry into the presidential office of the Magadha kingdom and thereby he began his massive social reform. He restructured the taxation system, magnanimously redistributed the wealth among the needy and strived to eradicate corruption within the system. However, like in any corrupt system evil elements plotted against Chanakya and had him removed from the post. Dhanananda did not defend Chanakya but took the side of the evil plotters and hence Chanakya was thrown out of the presidential post without reason. Angered by this adharmic action Chanakya vowed to defeat Dhanananda and his entire dynasty.

This was the critical point in history where the deep friendship between the legendary Chandragupta Maurya and Chanakya began. After leaving the palace in great anger, Chanakya sat down near the boundary of Pataliputra in deep thought, when he noticed a queer little boy intelligently playing strategic games with his other friends. On further inquiry this young boy was found to be the son of a street worker and he was Chandragupta. Chanakya knew that this smart young boy was the tool that he was going to use to unite the country. Through intense training Chanakya transformed the young boy into a brilliant strategic warrior and together, they slowly went from one small kingdom to another to build a strong army of supporters to overthrow Dhanananda and finally Dhanananda was overthrown in war. Dhanananda represented the bigger evils of society like corruption, greed, avarice, neglect of citizens, etc. So even though it appears that he used his army to merely defeat the Magadha ruler, Chanakya had ultimately succeeded in uniting hundreds of other kingdoms in the spirit of dharma. Chandragupta – Chanakya’s disciple was declared the king of Magadha and also the supreme emperor of all its allies. A strong united nation was now able to defend itself from foreign invaders.

It is documented in several books in history that Chanakya’s constant military and political training enabled Chandragupta to achieve great heights. Together they made an invincible team and their most impressive strategy was completely based on dharma. It is known that Chanakya fed Chandragupta small amounts of poison with his food every meal without his knowledge, so that he would become immune to poison and hence an enemy’s effort to poison Chandragupta would be rendered futile. However, the unassuming Chandragupta on a particular occasion fed some of the food from his plate to his pregnant wife. The queen was not accustomed to the daily dose of poison and it was clear that she was going to die before childbirth. But Chanakya acted fast. He skillfully removed the foetus from the womb of the dying mother, so that the kingdom is not left heirless. But a small drop of  the fast spreading poison had somehow entered the head of the foetus, but his life was saved. This prince was named Bindusara (Bindu – Drop, Sara – head; meaning a drop of poison in the head). Bindusara followed the footsteps of his father as an unparalleled dharmic emperor of the country under the tutelage of the genius Chanakya. However, there was another scheming evil minister in the court of Bindusara who was plotting against the removal of Chanakya as the chief advisor of the emperor. This bad man Subandhu was jealous of Chanakya’s closeness with Bindusara. No one in the country had told Bindusara the story of his birth. Subandhu decided to distort the story and told Bindusara about how the man he trusted most had in fact actually killed his mother. This immensely angered Bindusara and without further questioning, he banished Chanakya from the kingdom. The elderly Chanakya by now realized that he had succeeded in his goal of uniting the country, and he was confident about the abilities of his student Bindusara to take on the task of maintaining unity and peace going forward. Time had come for Chanakya to retire to the forest in meditation.

After he left for the forest, the others in the court narrated the real story of his birth to the emperor, and he felt deeply ashamed about himself. Subandhu, still being a trusted courtier of the emperor was sent on the mission to convey the emperor’s apology and bring back Chanakya to the kingdom. The story now becomes very clear. Subandhu hunted down Chanakya’s hermitage in the forest and pretended to convey an apology, underestimating Chanakya’s ability to see through the trick. However, the older Chanakya had given up on life and did not defend himself. On the way out, Subandhu secretly set fire to Chanakya’s hermitage while he was asleep. This was the unfortunate way in which the great Chanakya died.

Chanakya has been recorded in history as the legendary character that shaped a nation through his focused vision, impeccable judgment and exemplary actions. Chanakya authored  books about far-sighted ideas on nationhood, foreign policy and warfare, the principles of which were later adopted by other regional authors like Machiavelli from the 15th century Italy and Clausewitz from the 18th  Century Germany. During his political partnership with Chandragupta, Chanakya produced his masterpieces – the Niti-Shastra: a treatise on political science, and Artha Shastra: a treatise on statecraft, economic policy and military strategy. Chanakya also wrote under the names of Kautilya and Vishnugupta. Chanakya was not only a shrewd statesman and a ruthless (yet dharmic) administrator but also probably the smartest diplomat in the history of the human race.

Chanakya Quotes:

  • A good wife is one who serves her husband in the morning like a mother does, loves him in the day like a sister does and pleases him like a prostitute in the night.
  • A man is born alone and dies alone; and he experiences the good and bad consequences of his karma alone; and he goes alone to hell or the Supreme abode.
  • A man is great by deeds, not by birth.
  • A person should not be too honest. Straight trees are cut first and honest people are condemned first.
  • As a single withered tree, if set aflame, causes a whole forest to burn, so does a rascal son destroy a whole family
  • As long as your body is healthy and under control and death is distant, try to save your soul; when death is imminent what can you do?
  • As soon as the fear approaches near, attack and destroy it.
  • Before you start some work, always ask yourself three questions – Why am I doing it, What the results might be and Will I be successful. Only when you think deeply and find satisfactory answers to these questions, go ahead.
  • Books are as useful to a stupid person as a mirror is useful to a blind person.
  • Do not be very upright in your dealings for you would see by going to the forest that straight trees are cut down while crooked ones are left standing.
  • Do not reveal what you have thought upon doing, but by wise council keep it secret being determined to carry it into execution.
  • Education is the best friend. An educated person is respected everywhere. Education beats the beauty and the youth. 
  • Even if a snake is not poisonous, it should pretend to be venomous
  • God is not present in idols. Your feelings are your god. The soul is your temple.
  • He who is overly attached to his family members experiences fear and sorrow, for the root of all grief is attachment. Thus one should discard attachment to be happy. 
  • He who lives in our mind is near though he may actually be far away; but he who is not in our heart is far though he may really be nearby. 
  • If one has a good disposition, what other virtue is needed? If a man has fame, what is the value of other ornamentation? 
  • It is better to die than to preserve this life by incurring disgrace. The loss of life causes but a moment’s grief, but disgrace brings grief every day of one’s life.
  • Never make friends with people who are above or below you in status. Such friendships will never give you any happiness. 
  • O wise man! Give your wealth only to the worthy and never to others. The water of the sea received by the clouds is always sweet