Saturday, September 19, 2015

Decline of Vedic lifestyle, Shunga period and the advent of Regicide- India in 185 BC

The tenth mandala (10.90) of Rig Veda states:
ब्राह्मणोऽस्य मुखमासीद बाहू राजन्य कृतः।
ऊरु तदस्य यद्वैश्य पद्भयां शुद्रो अजायत॥
This verse describes the perfect human being called "The Purusha". From his mouth came Brahmanas, from his arms came Kshatriyas, from his thighs came Vaishyas and from his feet came the Shudras. This division is called "Varna" system, often misinterpreted as caste system.

Time and again the Varna system created in this verse is misunderstood, misrepresented and many a times mistranslated to show that the ancient Vedic culture (on which present Hinduism is based on) favored evils like untouchability, oppression of weaker classes, evil caste system. The verse, in no way, distinguishes men suggesting one being superior than other. This division is definitely not based on birth. So the whole concept of son of a brahmin should be a brahmin and son of a shudra should be a shudra is absurd. The varna or characteristic comes from karma(deeds) and not by birth.

The Purusha sukta also emphasizes on Yagya(sacrifice) as being the starting point in which the Purusha is used as a means (sadhana). Yagya or the act of sacrifice plays a very vital role in our ancient scriptures. While performing a yagya, the arms does the act of sacrifice (kshatriyas sacrifices the love for life and near and dear ones to protect others), mouth enchants the mantras (brahmins speak for betterment, for imparting knowledge to others), the sitting posture (lap) carries the materials to be used in the yagya (the vaishyas doing the cultivation and producing grains for others) and feet supporting the entire body of the Purusha (shudras assisting others so that they can perform their duties well). The Rig veda states that the devas (Gods) perform the Yagya and the Purusha is being used a means to perform the yagya.

The Vedic culture kept the greater part of the Indian subcontinent intact and bound by faith of belief for a very large span of time. Any social system that binds a large chunk of people always play a pivotal role in politics and path of progress for the society. But the systems fail to stay strong when they are not able to accept changes. "The only constant thing is the world is change". Any belief system should remember and imbibe this eternal truth for its growth.

Vedic period comprised of people leading their lives as prescribed in the vedas. With the progress of time and misrepresentation and wrong interpretation of the vedas, the practice of discrimination against weaker sections of society started. The yagyas became more like a promotion activity of the ruling class. The brahmins used to assist and coordinate yagyas actively only because kings used to give donations and gifts to them. Brahmins thus prospered and society started looking down upon shudras. The society started 'assigning' varnas based on birth rather than profession.The vedic period that started somewhere in 5000 BC begin to lose its grip and luster by mid 500 BC.

The advent of Buddhism in 6th-5th century BC in India changed a lot of things. Buddha's teachings led to adoption of a lifestyle which was very different from Vedic culture. Buddha censured any kind of violence and also preached the dharma of forgiveness and peace.
You can read in detail about various stories of Buddha with my sketches in post:
Buddha: the celebrated Guru

The age-old practices of vedas were being challenged. Some yagyas conducted by kings used to involve animal sacrifices. Buddha desisted violence and he also pitied and supported the weaker sections of the society. The shudras, who were already being exploited by those using corrupted interpretation of Vedic lifestyle, were supported by Buddha. The advent of Mahavira and Jainism also had the similar effect. The ascend of shudra born Mahapadma Nanada (4th century BC) to the throne of Magadha, insult of a brahmin Chanakya in Nanda court were some of the examples.
To know more about Chanakya please visit another post:
Chanakya : The God of Political Science

After the establishment of the Maurya kingdom by Chandragupta Maurya (Chandragupta Maurya: The first emperor of united India) the greater part of India was united into a single great kingdom. The power of vedic lifestyle which was fading could not hold the society together so the might of the king and expansion of his power brought everyone under one umbrella. In such a scenario, the belief system adopted and supported by the king would play a very important role, as the subjects would also tend to follow the same belief system. Chandragupta Maurya and then later his descendant Ashok focused on uniting the Indian subcontinent under one power and under one belief system.
King Ashok is considered to be the greatest king to rule India. (To know more about Ashok, please read my post: Ashoka - The greatest king of Indian history ) Ashok initially followed the policy of expansion of the kingdom through blood and war. However, having being inspired by the teachings of Buddha, he left the path of violence and started promoting Buddhism. The extent of his kingdom was vast. The influence he could have over his subjects was voluminous. With the support of the policies of King Ashok and later Mauryan kings, Buddhism prospered and various Buddhist stupas and monasteries were established throughout the length and breadth of Indian sub-continent.

The later Mauryan kings however, were not as effective as Ashok. The later descendants of Mauryan dynasty failed to hold the uprising and revolt of the kingdoms won by Chandragupta and Ashok. As a result, disintegration started and various kingdoms like Ashmaka(present Maharashtra), Kalinga(Orissa), Madra, Kekaya, Gandhar(in present Pakistan) declared independence from the Magadha empire. On top of that, the Mauryan kings ruling Pataliputra (Patna, Bihar) were supporting and appeasing Buddhism while neglecting the age old Vedic lifestyle.
There was a growing sense of resentment among the people favoring old ways of Vedic lifestyle. All this resulted in a shocking event during the reign of Brihadratha, the last Mauryan king in 185 BC.

Pushyamitra Shunga was the commander-in-chief of Brihadratha's army. He was a brahmin and a strong follower of Vedic lifestyle. It is said that he was extremely unhappy with the way Brihadratha was running his kingdom. He was also not happy with the appeasement policy towards Buddhism. The appeasement and inaction of the Magadha not only led to independence of provinces but also led to military campaigns by foreign invaders. The Macedonian kings (Indo-Greek) who were vanquished by Chandragupta and who never dared to enter Indian sub continent during the reign of Ashok, attacked and captured a large portion of North western region (Gandhar, Kekaya, etc). It is said that Menander-I, also known as Milind, was ruling Sakala (Sialkot) at that time.
The Macedonians were marching against different Indian states including the Magadha empire. Some of the Indo-Greek kings were followers of Buddhism so there was a general sentiment that the king of Magadha Brihadratha would hardly show any resistance.
Frustrated by the lethargic attitude of the king, decline of the Vedic culture and favoritism of Buddhism above Vedic beliefs, Pushyamitra and his army started believing that Brihadratha is not fit to rule. In a fit of rage, one day Pushyamitra Shunga killed the king Brihadratha while he was inspecting the army. This was the advent of Regicide in Indian history.
 Pushyamitra Shunga killing Brihadratha
Pushyamitra Shunga killing Brihadratha, 185 BC 

After killing the Maurya king, Pushyamitra declared himself the king. He was supported by the army and he established what the history knows today as the Shunga Empire. Soon after ascending the throne, Pushyamitra made his intentions clear. He started the Ashwamedha Yagya, a vedic sacrifice ritual conducted to extend the boundaries of the kingdom through the might of arms. He annexed many kingdoms which declared independence from the Magadha empire rule. His empire included Mathura, Sanchi and also Ujjaini and Sialkot according to some sources. It is said that Macedonian king Milind died in a military campaign and it is also said that he attacked Pataliputra at that time. There could be a possibility that Milind did attack Pataliputra but was defeated and killed by Shungas or Pushyamitra attacked Sakala and conquered it and killed Milind there. Milind was not able to conquer Magadha for sure as Shunga's descendants ruled there for some time. Whatever be the case, it is quite evident that Pushyamitra's reign must have witnessed one or more battle with the Macedonians.
Not only the Indo-Greek kings, Pushyamitra Shunga did also fight many wars with the neighboring Shatavahanas and Kalingas. However, the Shungas were able to defend the territories of Magadha against invaders.
The Shunga Empire (185 BC-73 BC)

Pushyamitra Shunga is often portrayed as villain in some Buddhist texts as he allegedly destroyed many stupas and monasteries because of his hatred towards Buddhism. Some other sources including some Buddhist sources, however, suggest that he was quiet tolerant towards Buddhism. The only thing he promoted was long lost ways of Vedic lifestyle. But by that time, the vedic culture was already corrupted. The culture of "Samanta" (Nobility) started and discrimination of varnas like Shudras started.

However, Shunga empire did contribute a lot in the cultural and literary growth of our country. The third and most famous commentary on compilation of grammatical rules of Sanskrit language(written by an ancient acharya named Panini) was done by an acharya known as Patanjali during this period. This commentary was called "Mahabhashya".
Much of that era must have been documented. So much so that son of Pushyamitra, Agnimitra was a chief character in a play written by Kalidasa 450 years later. The play "Malavikagnimitra" by Kalidasa tells the story of king Agnimitra smitten by the beauty of a royal courtesan dancer named Malavika by just looking at the painting. He organizes a dance competition among the best of royal dance trainers just to get a chance to see Malavika in person. On a parallel track there is a story of a military expedition of Magadha towards Ujjain. While the queens of king try to keep Malavika away from the sight of the king, Agnimitra finally is able to meet Malavika with the help of his jester. Furious queen imprisons Malavika only to know that Malavika is actually a princess of Ujjain. Acknowledging the royal lineage of Malavika, the queen agrees for the marriage between king and Malavika. In the end Malavika and Agnimitra marry.
Malavika and Agnimitra Shunga from Kalidasa's play

So, the credit for keeping the Vedic lifestyle alive, keeping the foreign forces at bay and for the immense contribution towards art and literature, Shungas will always be remembered for giving a glorious past to our country between 185 BC and 73 BC. The main blot on the names of Shunga is the way they usurped the throne. The culture of regicide started by Shunga was continued for many generations later and Shungas line itself ended when the last Shunga king was killed by his own minister.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Ashoka - The greatest king of Indian history

The history of India can never be told without referring to the greatest king who ever ruled on our lands. King Ashoka, or Samraat Ashoka ruled most of the Indian subcontinent from 269 BC to 232 BC. He was the only king in our history to have ruled over a vast majority of land.

Ashoka (or "Ashok", I would omit this extra 'a' as it is not an English word) was the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of Maurya dynasty. I have written much about Chandragupta Maurya in my earlier post, Chandragupta Maurya: The first emperor of United India.

Chandragupta Maurya's son was Bindusar and Bindusar had number of queens. One of his queens was Shubadrangi (also known as Dhamma). It is believed that Shubadrangi was from a poor family and her reputation as compared to other queens was very low and she was unpopular. So much so, Bindusar himself never gave much importance to Shubhadrangi. Ashok was born to Shubadrangi in 304 BC. He was among the many sons Bindusar had. When he was born, his mother said that now I am 'shoka-mukta' (devoid of all sorrow) hence the child was named as 'Ashok'. Ashok displayed extra ordinary skills in fighting and military tactics at an early age. A legend also says that he killed a lion without any weapon in his teens. Being the son of a king he was given royal training, and he soon proved to be all worthy of succeeding the king.

Some legends say that Bindusar had a century of sons. He favored his one particular son whom many stories name Sushim. Bindusar wanted Sushim to succeed him as a king after his death. The ministers however wanted Ashok. Thanks to his military tactics and his persona he displayed at a younger age, Ashok was able to impress many nobles and ministers of his father.

When Bindusar learnt about his sons valor and the intentions of his minsters that they wanted Ashok to rule the kingdom after his death, he got scared of the might of his own son and sent him to curb revolt in other kingdoms. It started with Ujjain (the then existing Avanti kingdom, in modern Madhya Pradesh). After Ashok curbed a revolt in Ujjain, he was appointed as a governer for Avanti. Later when his brothers fail to curb another great revolt in  Takshashila (in modern Pakistan) Ashoka was sent there.

Meanwhile Bindusar's time had come. On his death bed, he wanted Sushim to be crowned as king. On learning this, the ministers called for Ashok to come to Magadha at once. It is said that Ashok entered the capital riding the royal elephant and he was crowned as the new king. Many sources confirm that Ashok went on a killing rampage and annihilated all his brothers. Some sources say that he spared the youngest one named Tissa, who later joined Buddhism.

Ashok was an ambitious king who believed in the power of might. He led many military expeditions in the kingdoms across Indian continent and challenged, fought and killed countless people. It is believed that he had a secret torture chamber called 'Ashok's Hell' where his executioner used to perform unspeakable torture acts to the captives. For all these acts of his, he was named as 'Chanda' Ashok (barbaric Ashok)
King Ashoka-drawn by Mrinal Rai
Ashok won many kingdoms in east, west, north, south. His empire established through the power of sword stretched from Western Iran in the West to Bangladesh, Bhutan in East, Kashmir, South-east Turkmenistan, South Uzbekistan, Tajikistan in the North and as far as Tamil-Nadu in the South. He actually ruled almost the entire stretch of present Indian sub-continent.
The only kingdom which still wasn't included in his territories was Kaling (modern Orissa). Kalinga was ruled by independent local leaders. Ashok waged a war against the Kaling. The Kalingas retaliated with force and Ashok's general was killed. Furious at this, Ashok ordered full strength assault on Kaling. Kaling was decimated by Ashok's forces. With the victory over Kaling, Ashok expanded his kingdom and included the territories which even his grand father could not win.
Ashoka's empire stretch
However, when he saw the amount of bloodshed that took place in the war (its is said that around 10000 people died in the war), he felt ashamed. He understood the futility of war and bloodshed. He left the path of violence started following Buddhism. He was very affected by the teachings of Buddha. He decided to undo all his evil deeds. He burnt his chamber of torture and started working for betterment of his subjects and vast empire.
Kalinga war transformed Ashoka-drawn by Mrinal Rai
His administrative system was anyway flawless following the footsteps of his mighty grandfather. His administrator structure followed division of the vast land that he ruled in smaller administrative bodies much like the present hierarchical  structure. Though autonomy in lifestyle was allowed in different provinces, no province was allowed to go as far as a revolt. However, Ashok took steps to reduce the harshness of the punishment. The teachings of Buddha transformed him from 'Chanda' Ashok to sympathetic Ashok, who promoted the equality of men. He also appointed special ministers to take care matters of people following different lifestyles and belief systems.

Ashok also undertook the massive project of constructing structures to depict his lifestyle and teachings of Buddhism and the main pillars of his administrative style, called 'edicts'. Ashok constructed tall 20-30 feet high stone structures called 'edicts' across his empire. Most of those edicts have been demolished  in the course of time. The image of Lion symbolises the Mauryan empire. One of the Ashok's edicts showed the four lions standing back to back with a circle of 24 spokes. These symbols have been recognised as national symbol of India. The 24 spoke wheel finds its place in Indian national flag.
King Ashoka and his edicts-drawn by Mrinal Rai
Ashok also did great work for which he finds special place in Indian history and perhaps world's history. He send emissaries across his kingdom and outside his kingdom to spread Buddhism. He is responsible for promotion and establishment of Buddhism in China and Sri Lanka and other neighbouring countries.

Many legends are also associated with Ashok. The story of his life is depicted in 'Ashokavadana' a 2nd century text of Buddhism. Some believe that Ashok was an ardent follower of Buddha from the beginning. Some believe that he erected those edicts throughout his empire with inscriptions describing all the good things of his reign only to wash off the guilt of all the wrong things he had done.
There is yet another legend associated with Ashok about the secret society of nine unknown men whom he entrusted with knowledge of power that different areas of sciences, technology possess which could endanger or threaten the existence of life and harmony on the earth. Ashok believed that the power of certain knowledge should be protected as if they fell in wrong hands, could led to disaster.
These areas are:

  1. Propaganda and Psychological warfare, which can entice people to go for war by getting instigated because of a planned propoganda and brainwashing Psychology.
  2. Physiology power, knowing the touch of death. It is believed that art of Judo originated from here.
  3. Microbiology. It is believed that chemical weapons developed using this knowledge.
  4. Transmutation of Gold and other metals through knowledge of Alchemy
  5. Communication with extra terrestrials; researched but still unexplored
  6. Gravity and Anti-Gravity (Vimana) sciene; the Airforce and Airplanes are examples.
  7. Cosmology; the science of space travel; still unexplored through humans
  8. Light and technology to modify the speed of light; still unexplored 
  9. Sociology; including laws of predicting rise and fall of empire.: Well, this is debatable.
Ashoka and secret society of Nine unknown men - drawn by Mrinal Rai
This legend is the subject of the novel "The Nine Unkown" by Talbot Mundy published in 1923.

It is believed that none of the sons of Ashok proved to be worthy successor. His son Kunal was blinded by one of his jealous wives. Kunal's son was worthy to be a king as seen by Ashok, but he was too young at that time. Another of Ashok's grandson Dashratha succeeded him.

Ashoka died at a very old age peacefully in around 232 BC. After his death, Dasharatha was not able to control the declaration of autonomy by various kingdoms and imperial rule of Mauryan Kingdom started on its downward curve.

Ashok as a king and as a person will always remain as a great example for those who want to be in any administrative position or who want to give up their vices. He was indeed the greatest king of India and perhaps one of the greatest kings of the world. I salute him.


Friday, March 7, 2014

Kurukshetra Yuddha - Ek Mahayuddha ki Mahakatha (a novel and graphic nov...

This video is an introduction to my novel "Kurukshetra Yuddha" dedicated to the warriors of great war of our epic Mahabharata. It contains my paintings from the novel.

Please like and share..

Monday, February 10, 2014

Chandragupta Maurya: The first emperor of united India

Chandragupta Maurya - sketch done by me
Mauryas were the first dynasty to rule over a unified India. Chandragupta Maurya was the first emperor of India. He created one of the largest empire of his time and no other king of India after him (barring his own grandson) could rule over a land of that stretch.

His kingdom ranked third among the list of ancient empires with a population of 68 million.
My analysis - Source: Wikipedia
To give a background on the story of Chandragupta Maurya, let me talk about Magadha a bit. Kingdom of Magadha in central eastern India was ruled by Nanda dynasty in around 340 BC. This was the third powerful dynasty in the northern Indian region ruling Magadha after the times of Mahabharata. Before this dynasty, a dynasty named Shishunga used to rule the kingdom of Magadha. The last king of Shishunga dynasty had many sons. One of them from a Shudra woman named MahaPadma Nanda. As per the society following Vedic lifestyle that time, shudras were considered those with humble origin. MahaPadma Nanda was a powerful contender of the the throne of Magadha but he was despised by his half brothers. Later MahaPadma Nanda killed all of his half brothers and became the sovereign ruler of Magadha and later by defeating the different dynasties ruling the other northern and north western regions and formed the biggest kingdom of that time on the Indian land.

Since Nandas were believed to be of humble origin, the growth of MahaPadma Nanda was seen as beginning of Kali Yuga (the age where impurity will grow). This was indeed manifested by Nanda's son, Dhana Nanda who, as per various records, was corrupt and cruel ruler.

The story of Chandragupta what we know of today is mostly attributed to western historians and some contradictory pointers mentioned in our puranas.Many sources claim that Chandragupta was related to the Nanda dynasty and was one with low birth. But since, Nandas themselves are considered as shudras, we can believe that Chandragupta was born in a family or to a mother who was at a social level even below among the shudras.
Greek historians also mention about Chandragupta with the name "Sandracottos" or "Andracottus". It is said that at a younger age, he was spotted and later recruited by a learned brahmin named Chanakya. Chanakya, who was a professor in Taxila, the ancient university in Gandhar, then trained Chandragupta. It was common desire of both Chanakya and Chandragupta to usurp the kingdom of Magadha from Dhana Nanda though their intentions were far beyond Magadha. They wanted to have a kingdom stretching from Gandhar to Anga (present West Bengal) and wide and strong to oppose any foreign attack.

(To know more about Chanakya and his tactics please read my blog posts about Chanakya and Alexander-Hydespas battle, here: Porus - the unsung hero , Chanakya - God of Political Science , Chanakya TV series - tweaking history with noble intentions)

Dhana Nanda had a massive army at his disposal in Magadha. The sheer size of the army was enough to scare the soldiers of the mighty Alexander.
It is said that Alexander left India after conquering north western kingdoms and without entering Magadha. Before leaving he appointed his satraps (perfects) Phillips and Eudemes for the territories he had won.

After Alexander's departure, Chandragupta with the advice of Chanakya attacked the satraps of Alexander and played part in the killings of Nicanor and Phillip. Upon Alexander's death later, he focused on Magadha and after making powerful army out of north western kingdoms raged war against  Dhana Nanda. After series of battle with Dhana Nanda and his commader Bhadrasala, he finally was managed to defeat and kill Dhana Nanada in 321 BC and took over Magadha.
Thus Chandragupta formed a great and strong kingdom. His empire extended from Bengal and Assam in the east, to Afghanistan and Balochistan, eastern and south-east Iran in the west, to Kashmir in the north, and to the Deccan Plateau in the south.

But forming such a big kingdom is not an end of it. You also have to protect and administer it. Seleucus I Nictar, a Macedonian satrap of Alexander came to reclaim the lost lands. He had a great battle with Chandragupta but was defeated. Seleucus gave his daughter in marriage to Chandragupta and formed an alliance. Chandragupta too, in gesture of friendship, gave some elephant troops to Seleucus. Seleucus sent an ambassador Megasthenes to Chandragupta. The later records of Megasthenes tell us the wealthy lifestyle of Magadhans at that time.

Chandragupta with his excellent administrative skills undertook major political and economic reforms. Due to strong military position, there was stability and trade thrived. There was an all round development in India in fields of economics, art, culture, trade, productivity, etc.
He had a son named Bindusara, whom he ascended to throne in 298 BC.

At the age of 42, Chandragupta felt inclined to Jainism and became a disciple to a Jain monk Bhdrabahu. He went in forest and led his remaining life as a Jain saint. He left his mortal body at Shravan Belagola in Karnataka. The place where he died is called Chandragupta Basadi.

The personality of Chandragupta Maurya is amazing. Though he has been drawn by many artists and has been portrayed by many actors in various adaptations based on his life, one thing that always stands out when I think of him is that he was a great visionary and a great achiever. Imagine he was quite young when he captured those kingdoms and he became the first emperor of unified India at a very young age.
I also tried to sketch him by putting a trademark peacock feather on his turban which is popularly associated with his image linking the word 'Maurya' derived from Mayura (peacock).

Indian Government honored Chandragupta by issuing a postal stamp in his name in 2001. He was the first hero of India as per recorded history and indeed was a legend and I salute him.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Chanakya : The God of Political Science

When I am to write about the great legendary historic personalities of our country, I should start it with them who established the first united kingdom in India and those who supported them.
Chanakya is a very popular figure in Indian history. He and his works have inspired not only Indians but also various historians and intellectuals world wide.

I have already written about Chanakya and his story in my posts dedicated to a television serial which used to come long ago. You can read the posts here: part 1 and part 2.

Chanakya was a scholar and philosopher who was responsible for the establishment of the first dynasty which ruled India as a unified India. Though not real historical evidences are present of that era, many religious texts and available scriptures and documents and study of various historians give a fair idea about the story of Chanakya.

Chanakya was a teacher in Takshashila, the most revered university of India and the one of earliest universities of the world. (Takshashila is situated near Rawalpinidi in Pakistan at present). He was a professor of political science and economics. This was in around 327 BC. It is quite possible that Chanakya was teaching at Takshashila at the time of Alexander's entering India when the king of Takshashila supported him.
Various historical and other tales suggest that Chanakya was once insulted by Dhana Nanda, the last of the Nanda kings, who were ruling the powerful kingdom of Magadh. He was thrown out of Dhana Nanda's court. At that time Chanakya took vow of vengeance that he will uproot the Nandas out of Magadh.
The kingdom of Magadh was very vast stretching from south west region of present Pakistan and going up to Eastward region of present West Bengal. The Nandas had an extensive army comprising of numerous war elephants enough to scare the army of Alexander the Great. It is believed that Alexander went back to his kingdom from Beas river when his army revolted against march to fight the Nandas (however, this is debatable). It was difficult to defeat the powerful Nanda kingdom.

It is believed that Chanakya once saw a boy of low caste playing with his friends. Impressed by the leadership skills of that boy Chandragupta, he decided to make Chandragupta Maurya his disciple. He got Chandragupta trained in Takshashila. Between 325 BC to 321 BC Chandragupta under the able guidance of Chanakya tried to win over the kingdoms where Alexander had left his satraps. Then building a good army and with help of other kings (including the king Parvateshwar aka Porus) he began to attack fiercely the Nanda capital.
Their initial attempts were unsuccessful. It is said that once Chanakya overheard a mother scolding her son who was trying to eat hot rice from the center of the plate. The mother scolded that rice is hottest at the center. It is better to separate the center rice portion from the rice at the sides and should first target the rice near the edges of the plate.
Chanakya got the idea. He made Chandragupta to win over the neighboring small kingdoms and forming a formidable army to attack Nandas when they were weakened. Chandragupta eventually overthrew the Nandas in 321 BC and Dhana Nanda was killed. Chanakya had his vow fulfilled.

Chanakya then helped Chandragupta to establish his kingdom, the Maurya Kingdom, the first kingdom of united India which stretched from present Kashmir region to the entire Deccan plateau covering the entire present Nepal and present Pakistan. Looking at the outcome of his policies, it can be deduced that Chanakya had a vision of united India. He would have felt it threatened at the time of Alexander's invasion. His dream of a united strong India fortified from enemies was realized by his disciple.

The most important contribution of Chanakya to Indian history apart from helping in formation of the Mauryan empire was the writing of Arthashastra.
Arthashastra is the oldest treatise on Political Science and Economics. It is believed to be written by someone named "Kautilya" which many believe to be none other than Chanakya. However there are debates and contradictions. I won't go into that. For me the discussion on content of the treatise is more important than discussing who really wrote it. Arthashastra was written many years ago and had been preserved for long. It is quite possible that even if Kautilya was not Chanakya, Chanakya's work had definitely inspired to write the book.

Arthashastra talks about the Duties of a king, the knowledge he must possess, the type of ministers he must keep, etc. I will not be discussing the entire book here as I am in the process of reading it. However there are few interesting points:

  • Kautilya said that the thread ceremony should be done for Brahmins at the age of 8, for Kshatriyas at the age of 10 and for Vaishyas at the age of 12; followed by 16 years of compulsory education
  • Kautilya says that Economy is meant to create and enhance Military might and it is fear of danda (punishment) that friends and foes behave properly
  • Kautilya mentions 4 pillars of Governance as Wisdom, Wealth, Punishment and Secrecy
  • Kautilya has written many chapters dedicated to Secret services and espionage. It is said that the falling of Nanda empire was a result of its weaking because of a conspiracy engineered by Chanakya and involving heavy usage of spy network, which may contribute to the opinion that Kautilya and Chanakya are the same person.
  • Kautilya's text surprisingly does not derogate women and people of low caste. He has said that single women and physically handicapped people can also become great spies.
  • Kautilya has said that income tax collected should comprise of 1/6th of the total agricultural produce, 1/10th of commercial profit, small portion of gold from citizens, 1/6th from ascetics of what they collect through alms or in forest.
  • He has also mentioned about duties of the king, princes and even duties towards harem
  • He has also mentioned about the individual duties of the superintendents of various departments like agriculture, tax department etc.
At the end of Arthashastra, it is mentioned that 'Having seen discrepancies in many ways on the part of the writers of commentaries on the Sástras, Vishnu Gupta himself has made (this) Sútra and commentary' and the name 'Vishnu Gupta' is popularly associated with Chanakya.

It is said that when Chandragupta's wife was pregnant, he fed him some of the meals prepared for him out of affection, unaware of the fact that Chanakya was mixing small quantities of poison in his food to make him immune of any toxics. Chandragupta's wife got sick after eating that food and was about to die. When Chanakya came to know of this he cut the queen open and saved the fetus. Since the child was believed to be touched by a drop of poison, he was called "Bindusar".

Little is known about Chanakya's later life. Jain text tells a story that after Chandragupta's retirement into Jainism as a monk, Bindusar's ministers who were jealous of Chanakya, misguided Bindusar to that Chanakya was responsible for his mother's death and Bindusar expelled Chanakya from his ministry and Chanakya too became a monk like his disciple. Then the jealous minister set the forest in which he went on fire and Chanakya died with other monks. When the minister went to Chanakya's house to see some secret documents he believed the clever brahmana has hidden in a box, as soon as he opened the box he died of some poisonous gas kept inside it already by Chanakya. Thus Chanakya had already planned his revenge.

The concept of using Sama (conciliation), Dama (offer money/ material wealth) Danda (punishment or violence), Bheda (cause dissension) tactics for dealing with enemies find prominence in Chanakya's methods. Chanakya had all the methods to deal with the enemies once and for all. He once stepped on a thorn. Without showing slightest pain, he removed the thorn and the thorn plant. Then he poured a mixture of milk and honey on the spot where the thorn plant used to be. The milk would be absorbed by the remaining roots of the plant under the soil and this would attract ants and ants will make sure that remaining roots are destroyed. This is complete annihilation of enemy.

The teachings of Chanakya tells a very basic and core value. The strength of a man or king or a kingdom is through knowledge and favorable surroundings (Vedic knowledge for man and king, trusted and loyal advisers for king and kingdom/ country) and a man or king or a country falls because of internal weakening (submitting to senses pleasure for man and king, internal weakening because of spies, terrorists within the country or a kingdom).

After many thousands of years, the teachings of Chanakya (or if you want to call him Kautilya or Vishnu Gupta) and his personality still shines and his theories are applicable for large sized businesses, organization and administration of the country. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Porus - the unsung hero

In 326 BC, the famous battle of Hydespas was fought between the God like figure from Greece, Alexander 'the great' and an Indian king Porus. King Porus used to rule kindom near Jhelum river, which according to various puranic sources is Gandhar or Kekaya regions. The Jhelum river was also called "Hydespas".
King Alexander of Macedonia (Greece) was on his quest for victory. He had already won a large number of kingdoms in bloody battles covering the entire eastward region beyond Greece.
When he entered India, he was greeted by the king of Takshashila (Taxila), Ambhi. Ambhi had bitter relations with his neighbor king Porus (sometimes called as Parvateshwar or Purushottam). It is said that he helped Alexander to rage a battle against the mighty Porus.
The ever present sad mentality of people of our country to even help an outsider to settle scores with the known ones was exploited by Alexander. Alexander's army was habitual of fighting large cavalry but was never accustomed to fight war elephants and Indians were known for the use of elephants in the battle. Huge elephants with tusks dipped in poison used to carry number of archers, kings, commanders and these warriors would use the height as an advantage to attack the enemy.

Porus, was believed to be of Puru clan. Puru clan is mentioned in Rig Vedas and also in Hindu epic Mahabharata. It was believed to be started by king Puru, who was a son of king Yayati. The descendants of Puru like, Bharatas, Kurus, Pauravas used to rule various North Indian kingdoms. Porus is mentioned as the king ruling near Jhelum river, which most possibly could be Gandhar and Kekaya kingdoms.

Porus, though being a mighty figure in the story of Alexander, is somehow I believe, an unsung hero. He is mentioned as a tall 7 ft. man with huge physique. He was a great warrior. Sitting on the back of his elephant, he along with his army created havoc in the Macedonian ranks. Battle of Hydespas is believed to be most difficult, bloody and also the last battle fought by Alexander. He lost his dear horse at the hands of Porus.

The history as we read today generally says that Alexander's army though being routed by forces of Porus, eventually was able to defeat Porus because of Alexander's military tactics. It is said that Porus lost his son in the battle and Alexander asked Ambhi to bring Porus to him alive. Ambhi, who went to take Porus as prisoner, narrowly escaped the fury of the Paurava hero.
Later when Greek army was able to subdue Porus, he was brought in front of Alexander. Alexander asked him "How should I treat you Porus ?" to which Porus proudly replied, "treat me, O Alexander, as a king !".
It is said that Alexander was so much impressed by these words and also with the bravery of Porus that he not only gave him his kingdom back and also added few of his won territories to his kingdom and appointed him as his general, who were called at that time as 'satraps'.

Porus surrenders to Alexander - art by Mrinal Rai
Now there has been a lot of debate about was Alexander actually able to defeat Porus ? or is it fabricated history that we are reading. Of course, I believe that history is written by winners and all that we know about Alexander and of his era is mainly from western historians. There are lot of things to take into consideration. I did a little research from my side over Internet and there are few points to consider:
  • It is said that after defeating Porus, Alexander wanted to defeat the powerful Nanda empire in Magadha. But the soldiers of Alexander already frightened by the war elephants of Porus, became paranoid of the Nanda army when they came to know of its strength in numbers. It is said that the soldiers rebelled against the idea of marching ahead and asked Alexander to return home. Alexander tried to persuade them but in vain. It is said that Alexander returned back from the Beas river to his land without fighting the Nandas in 326 BC. Before his departure he appointed his general Phillip as satrap of the provinces he won in west of Hydespas, and Porus and Ambhi were asked to act as satraps too.
  • Phillip was murdered soon, a year later in 325 BC, as part of a conspiracy. Alexander appointed Eudemus and Taxilas as satraps till he appoint any replacement for Phillip. But Alexander died in 323 BC from illness, which left Eudemus and Taxila started ruling on their own.
  • It is mentioned in Indian history that a king named Chandragupta Maurya defeated the satraps left by Alexander and overthrew the Nanda king in 321-320 BC and became the emperor of Magadha. It is said that he took help of a king from mountain regions (sometimes mentioned as a Himalayan king) Parvateshwar, who also claimed a share in Magadha kingdom. The clever minister of Maurya, Chanakya conspired and get this king Parvateshwar killed by sending a Vishkanya (poison maiden), or sometimes it is mentioned that he was killed by giving poison. This story is particularly backed up by an ancient play called 'Mudra Rakshas'.
  • It is mentioned in Greek history that Eudemus went to help another Greek hero Eumenes in a war against a Macedonian general Antigonus in 318-317 BC. It is said that he went from India, never to return, with a plenty of war elephants that he has got from kingdom of Porus after 'treacherously murdering him'.
  • It is said that after conquering Magadha, Maurya successfully routed all the Macedonians by 316 BC

King Parvateshwar (sometimes identified as Porus) killed in a conspiracy by Chanakya- art by Mrinal Rai
Keeping all these points in place, it seems that  the king who helped Chandragupta Maurya to defeat the Nandas was none other than the king Porus himself who was later killed in a conspiracy by the mastermind of Chankya.  
Maurya did fight against a number of Macedonian satraps. He may have fought Eudemus too. Eudemus may have sought for a peace treaty and Chandragupta may have given the war elephants to him in his fight against Eumenes, and these he may have procured after capturing Magadh and killing Porus treacherously (should be somewhere between 319-317 BC).

Now to get to our point whether Alexander actually defeated Porus or not, lets take the scenario where Alexander was unable to defeat Porus. He might have surrendered and Porus may have let him go (as general gesture of Indian kings, example, Prithvi Raj Chauhan), or, Porus, who was eyeing for Magadha might have asked Alexander to help him defeat Nanda, to which his army mutinated fearing another defeat and he was forced to go back.
It must be noted that Alexander appointed Phillip as satrap of provinces west of Hydespas and Porus's kingdom was in the east. Phillip's muder can be linked to Chanakya and Chandragupta again as they were trying to win the territories in that region that time.
Timeline of the events
According to those who believe that Porus defeated Alexander at Hydespas, this entire theory of treating Porus like a king even after defeat is so 'unlike' Alexander who had a lust of victory. Returning a defeated king with his kingdom and helping him annex other territories and then suddenly started feeling 'home sick' after a great victory sounds a bit absurd. May be westerners don't want to belittle their God like figure.

Moreover it is mentioned that army of Porus was carrying figure of Herakles, who can be made synonymous with Krishna of India.

If we believe that Porus did defeat Alexander, the personality of this great king deserves a bow. The king who may have defeated the greatest conqueror who ever walked on this earth, was defeated and killed in a treacherous way.
Whether the theory is true or not, I would say that king Porus was definitely a legend of India and deserve due respect. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Buddha: the celebrated Guru

Today 22nd July is the Guru Poornima, a day we dedicate to accept the magnanimity of all teachers in the world. I have big respect for all those who have taught me something or anything in any field. I consider teachers to be the most important people in this world.
Guru Purnima is celebrated by Hindus to celebrate the birth of a great Rishi and teacher, sage Vyas. Vyas wrote many purans including Mahabharat.

Buddhists celebrate this day to honour Lord Buddha. It is believed that Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath on this day. The life of Gautam Buddha is inspiring and well known to people across the world. He gave birth to a new sect, a new religion when Vedic system had practically declined to an end.
Buddha is definitely one of the greatest teachers who ever walked on this earth. He inspired lives of many. Here I will outline some of the famous stories associated with Buddha and his period.

  • Angulimal: The story of bandit Angulimal is very well known. A bandit, who kills every traveller that would come to his jungle and would cut his victims' fingers and wear a garland of those fingers around his neck. This man represents the fierce and deformed face of humanity. Buddha, who was a messenger of peace and non-violence met him in the forest. When Angulimal saw Gautam Buddha walking on the path, he rushed to kill him. But in spite of running fast he couldnt catch to the speed of Buddha who is walking slowly and calmly. This represents the hysteria and frenzy that violence carries with it, against the sober calmness of peace and non-violence. When frustrated Angulimal asked Buddha to stop, Buddha replied that he had already stopped and it was now Angulimal's turn to stop. When Angulimal asked the explanation, Buddha replied that the act which involves suffering and pain of others should be stopped and he (Buddha) has already stopped doing that (by taking path of non-violence). Now, it was Angulimal's turn to do the same. Angulimal was moved. He came to a realization that violence serve no purpose. He renounced his weapons and the life of bandit and he became a monk.
Buddha and Angulimal

  • Amrapali: Amrapali, the famous royal courtesan of  Vaishali, described by Acharya Chatursen as 'Vaishali ki nagar vadhu' (the bride of the city, Vaishali) was the most beautiful woman in her town. The king of Magadha, Bimbisar was in love with her and because of her love he abandoned the mission of attacking and destroying Vaishali. He stayed with Amrapali at her house and Amrapali bore him a son. The love between two souls again conquered the bloody imperialist mindset. Bimbisar had to bear the blame of being a coward for not being able to defeat his enemies. His other son Ajatshatru imprisoned him and invaded Vaishali. Meanwhile Amrapali was convicted by her own people for she gave shelter to an enemy. She was imprisoned. It is said that Bimbisar's son Ajatshatru was so moved by the beauty of Amrapali that he burned the city of Vaishali as a revenge for imprisoning her. When Amrapali saw the carnage caused because of her, she renounced the worldly affairs. It is said that once she invited Gautam Buddha at her house for meal. Buddha, to much dismay of others, accepted the invitation. After meeting Buddha, Amrapali realized the nothingness of worldly attachments. It is said that later she too became a monk.


  • Virudhak: King Prasenjit of Kosal once attacked the Shakya republic, from where Buddha originally belonged. Prasenjit demanded a princess from Shakyas. The devious Shakyas sent a girl; daughter of a salve Shakya woman (Dasi). Prasenjit married that girl and the son born to them was Virudhak. When Virudhak came to know of real identity of his mother and the different treatment slaves used to get at that time, he became furious. He decided to attack the Shakya republic. Virudhak was fueled with rage and went to Shakya capital and ordered his troops to kill all the Shakyas. Some versions say that Buddha tried to stop him and some say that he attacked Shakyas after Buddha's death.An old man from Shakya republic, (Virudhak's own grandfather according to some sources) told Virudhak that he will submerge himself in water and asked the soldiers to launch attack only if he is not able to sustain for long in the water and come out. Looking at the poor state of the old man, Virudhak agreed. The old man dipped himself in the water but didn't come out for a long time. When the soldiers of Kosal dived in, they found that the man had tied his leg to a stone and had died. But the old man's sacrifice couldn't save the Shakyas and Virudhak and his army killed every single Shakya man, woman and child. It is said that Virudhak along with his army too get swooped away in a flood soon after the annihilation of Shakyas. 

    King Virudhak and the annihilation of Shakya

These three stories tell about the basic teachings of Buddha.
Buddha described dukh (grief) as "Birth is dukh, Life is dukh, death is dukh". At the core of the dukh is Trishna (lust/attachments for fruits). Only f you leave trishna, could you go on path of knowledge..

Angulimal had a lust of violence. He saw the dukh in life of a bandit, and retaliated with lust of violence. Amrapali saw the dukh in death of her people. The attachment she bore was being the nagar vadhu and royal status, which she later renounced. Virudhak, on the other hand, saw dukh in birth, core of which was lust for revenge. However, he could not suppress the lust; may be because he did not get the blessings of Buddha.

"Guru" literally means the one who removes the darkness with the light of knowledge. Gautam Buddha, the legendary guru of all times was a source of light for all those who have been blinded by lust and who have seen pain and suffering in life..