Chanakya, also known as Kautilya or Vishnugupta, was born in Pataliputra, Magadh (modern Bihar), and later moved to Taxila, in Gandhar province (now in Pakistan). He was a professor (acharya) of political science at the Takshashila University and later the Prime Minister of the Emperor Chandragupta Maurya. He is regarded as one of the earliest known political thinkers, economists, and king-makers.
He was the man to envision the first Indian empire by the unification of the then numerous kingdoms in the Indian sub-continent and provide the impetus for fights against the Greek conqueror Alexander.
Chanakya is perhaps less well known outside India compared to other social and political philosophers of the world like Confucius and Machiavelli. His foresight and wide knowledge coupled with politics of expediency helped found the mighty Mauryan Empire. in India. He compiled his political ideas into the Arthashastra’, one of the world’s earliest treatises on political thought and social order. His ideas remain popular to this day in India.
In Jawaharlal Nehru’s Discovery of India, Chanakya has been called the Indian Machiavelli. Three books are attributed to Chanakya: Arthashastra, Nitishastra, and Chanakya Niti. Arthashastra (literally ‘the Science of Material Gain’ in Sanskrit) is arguably the first systematic book on economics. It discusses monetary and fiscal policies, welfare, international relations, and war strategies in detail.
Many of his nitis or policies have been compiled under the book title Charralrya. Niti. Nitishastra is a treatise on the ideal way of life and shows Chanakya’s in-depth study of the Indian way of life. According to a legend, while Chanakya served as the Prime Minister of Chandragupta Maurya, he started adding small amounts of poison to Chandragupta’s food so that he would get used to it.
The aim of this was to prevent the Emperor from being poisoned by enemies. One day the queen, Durdha, shared the food with the Emperor while she was pregnant. Since she was not used to eating poisoned food, she died. Chanakya decided that the baby should not die; hence he cut open the belly of the queen and took out the baby. A drop (Bindu in Sanskrit) of poison had passed to the baby’s head. and hence Chanakya named him Bindusara.
Bindusara would go on to become L great king and to father the greatest Mauryan Emperor since Chandragupta – Asoka. When Bindusara became a youth; Chandragupta gave up the throne and followed the Jain saint Bhadrabahu to present-day Karnataka and settled in a place known as Sravana Belagola. He lived as an ascetic for some years and died of voluntary starvation according to Jain tradition. Chanakya meanwhile stayed as the Prime Minister of Bindusara.
Bindusara also had a minister named Subanclhu who did not like Chanakya. One day he told Bindusara that Chanakya was responsible for the murder of his mother. Bindusara asked the nurses who confirmed this story and he became very angry with Chanakya.
It is said that Chanakya, on hearing that the Emperor was angry with him, thought that anyway he was at the end of his life. He donated all his wealth to the poor, widows, and orphans and sat on a dung heap, prepared to die by total abstinence from food and drink. Bindusara meanwhile heard the full story of his birth from the nurses and rushed to beg forgiveness of Chanakya.
But Chanakya would not relent. Bindusara went back and vent his fury on Subandhu, who asked for time to beg for forgiveness from Chanakya. Vasubandhu, who still hated Chanakya, wanted to make sure that Chanakya did not return to the city So he arranged for a ceremony of respect, but unnoticed by anyone, slipped a smoldering charcoal ember inside the dung heap.
Aided by the wind, the dung heap swiftly caught fire, and the man behind the Mauryan Empire and the author of Arthashastra was burned to death. His main philosophy was “A debt should be paid off till the last- penny; An enemy should be destroyed without a trace”. He seemed to have lived – and died – by his philosophy.