Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Chanakya: part II- Tweaking of history with noble intentions

Chanakya is a story of Magadha, the then existing Patna in Bihar. The great king Mahapadam Nanada of Nanda dynasty ruled the Magadha empire and Pataliputra was its capital. This kingdom was vast and very strong. So strong to fear away the soldiers of Alexander who has penetrated deep in the then existing Indian Subcontinent.

The administration of Pataliputra under the Nanda rule, consisted of a council of ministers, the prime minister, the senapati (commander-in-chief) and a special position of Amatya; who sometime acts a chief advisor of the king and sometimes as the principal administrative head under the king.

Though very little is known about the story of Chanakya, various sources confirm this flow: Chanakya a.k.a. Vishnugupta was a Brahmin and a learned scholar and acharya of Taxila, a great university of that time, and Chanakya was thrown out of the Magadha court after being insulted by the king Dhana Nanda, the son of Mahapadam Nanda. Infuriated Vishnugupta swore revenge and later he helped a brave man named Chandragupta Maurya to overthrow the Nanda dynasty and established him as the ruler of Magadha.

The serial has expanded to this basic story by telling that Dhana Nanda was an unjust and corrupt ruler (which most historic sources agree with). The chief minister of Dhana Nanda rebels against him and is imprisoned. Then an acharya Chanak, a friend of the minister, rebels against the king and he too is imprisoned and later dies in cell. Vishnu Gupta is the son of Chanak, who leaves Pataliputra and reaches Taxila where he learns Vedas by heart and becomes a great acharya himself in Taxila.

It was a time of the invasion by Alexander the great in India. Taxila was the northwestern frontier of the then existing Indian subcontinent and the security of all Indian kingdoms were dependent on the protection provided by Taxila. But the ambitious king of Taxila forms alliance with Alexander and opens the gates of India for him. Vishnu Gupta Chanakya was annoyed by the ideologies of the then existing small kingdoms in the Indian Subcontinent (which were called janapadas) which was limited to safeguarding their own boundaries. Disregarding his hatred he begs help to Magadha king Dhana Nanda and his ministers and asks them to lead the forces against the Greek incumbent forces, but affluent with his position, king Dhana Nanda insults Chanakya and throws him out of his court.

A furious Chanakya vows revenge and opens his shikha (hair), an act which was consider unworthy for a Brahmin, and swears that unless he uproots the Nanda king and all those who will be hurdle in establishment of a united and fortified India, he will not tie his hair.

Vishnu Gupta takes with him to Taxila, a cowherd boy Chandragupta from Pataliputra after watching possibilities of him in becoming a king. He teaches Chandragupta and several other Brahmins about the national integrity and sovereignty.

Meanwhile after defeating many kingdoms in India Alexander defeats mountain king of Kekaya, Parvateshwar, popularly known as Porus. Porus accepts the friendship of Alexander which only turns out to be a slavery of his men when he has left India. Alexander’s forces tired of fighting and fearing of encountering another huge force similar to that of Porus again in India, refuse to march ahead and Alexander had to return and he appoints his chieftains, known as satrap, in the provinces he has won.

Chandragupta and Chanakya’s mission starts after Alexander’s departure. With the help of growing rebels Chanakya compels king of Taxila to help him and he forms a small army under the leadership of Chandragupta. Chanakya’s strategies led to the assassination of the satrap of Alexander and after the death of Alexander in Greece, Chandragupta leads a force and frees all the kingdoms previously won by Alexander. With the help of the his long time friend and minister in Kekaya, Chanakya makes king Porus an ally of Chandragupta and under the alliance, many kingdoms of Northern mountain countries come under the leadership of Chandragupta and with the advice of Chanakya, Chandragupta marches with that army towards Magadha to overthrow the Nanda king.

But Magadha was not an easy target. With exceptional military strategies, spy networks, dedicated loyal army chieftans, an honest prime minister and the ever watchful Amatya Kartikeya, popularly known as Amatya Rakshasa, it was not possible to uproot Magadha. But Chanakya returns to Pataliputra with a plan. He exploits the deep rooted corruption in the system led by the aging and retiring king Dhana Nanda, corrupt Commander-in-chief and jealous princes. He creates a situation of civil war and the sons of the king and the commander is killed and king has to leave the city. Amatya Rakshasa goes in hiding seeking plot to revenge the downfall of Nanda dynasty.

When Chandragupta enters Pataliputra, he faces no opposition. Chanakya is appointed as new amatya and he appoints to the council all those loyal to Magadha. Meanwhile, the supporter kings of Chandragupta want a share of either kingdom or wealth of Magadha. Chief among them is Laghu Paurav, the nephew of king Porus. Paurav is looking for a way to remove Chandragupta to become sole ruler of Magadha. For this, he takes help of amatya Rakshasa who is living in hiding. But Chanaky plays above all of them. He, with his guile and techniques, kills all the enemies of Chandragupta and compels amatya Rakshasa to surrender before him. When he does so, Chankaya humbly appoints him the amatya of Chandragupta and thus King Chandragupta is crowned as ruler of Magadha.

Now the serial does tweak a lot with the historical information that we know. But since most of the information about that period is either ambiguous or unconfirmed so it does no harm in accepting Dr. Dwivedi’s version. There are many differences.

The most startling difference is the mentality of unity of Indian subcontinent by Vishnu Gupta which does not seem possible at that time because the concept of Indian subcontinent and something known as “Maa Bharati” was not known at that time. Chanakya’s motives as the historians put it, was to overthrow Nanda king. But the serial shows hiss motive of united and protected India, which is very soothing.

Another difference is that Chandragupta is mentioned as a cowherd boy and not a Kshatriya. Most sources say that Chandragupta was a Kshatriya and was dissatisfied with Nanda king.

Perhaps the greatest difference is the overthrowing of Nanda. The historical sources say that Chandragupta does fight series of wars in guerilla techniques with the Nanda army and Chanakya’s initial attempt to defeat Nanda failed and then he changed his strategies by weakening enemy at around its edges. In the serial, however, Dhana Nanda’s empire is brought down in just one night by a series of activities happening outside the king’s palace which are actually result of Chanakya’s strategies. Infact Chandragupta did not fight at all with the Nanda king or his army. Rather it is shown that the army starts the civil war as it gets divided between the supporters of the commander-in-chief Bhadrashaal (beautifully portrayed by Irrfan Khan) and army chief Balabhadra (played by Narendra Suri).

Another difference is related to an old Sanskrit play “Mudra Rakshasa”. The later episodes of Chanakya which tells the story of post-Nanda is based on this play where Chanakya tries to win over the equally intelligent amatya Rakshasa who is living in hiding and seeking plot for revenge. According to the play, Rakshasa sends a poison damsel popularly known as Visha kanya to Chandragupta to kill him but Chanakya makes her kill Paurav king who was anyway a hurdle in Chandragupta’s ascending to throne. In the TV serial it is shown that Rakshasa does send a dancer played by Neena Gupta to kill Chandragupta as part of a plan formed by amatya Rakshasa and laghu Paurav. But before the dancer could kill Chandragupta, Chanakya reveals that laghu Paurava was already under his watchful eyes through spy networks and then Paurava is murdered and the dancer is sent back.

The story of the serial is gripping followed by excellent performances by lead actors. I would particularly quote the performance of Dr. Dwivedi as exceptional and a result of immense hard work. His silent glances, movements, walking style makes him a perfect Vishnu Gupt. Equally commendable performance was by veteran actor Surendra Pal, popularly known for his portrayals of Dronacharya in Mahabharata, Kilvish in Shaktimaan and Vikranta Jabbaar in ZEE horror show. Surendra Pal’s personality, tall figure, deep voice and very expressive face made the character of amatya Rakshasa loveable.

Also the producer of the serial, Prakash Dwivedi played two roles in the serial. One was Jeevasiddhi, Buddhist monk and another was of the wicked laghu Paurav. The latter was an awesome portrayal.

Popular actors Irrfan Khan, Sanjay Mishra, Manoj Joshi, Deepraj Rana, Sooraj Chaddha played important roles in the serial.

The flow of the serial was however flawed. I read over internet that there was some controversy over the serial and channel was not giving extension for further episodes so Dr. Dwivedi completed the serial in a hurry, it seems. The later episodes based on Mudra rakshasa does not gel well with the former episodes. Most importantly the serial doesnot show whether Vishnu Gupt was able to fulfill his vow.

But if these flaws can be ignored, the television serial is worth watching and the one thing that we learn from producers and directors of that age is that for providing good knowledge and imparting values, even if we have to tweak with history or to add items from our own side for non existing pieces or to club some historical facts, then its not only Ok but quite commendable work.


Anonymous said...

I think alexander wasn't able to win any provinces in India,his first encounter was with King Puru, the emperor of the kingdom (Janapad) of Purteshwar.His army was able to defeat alexander which led to alexander's army running back to their homelands. Many western historians have shown reluctance to the fact that alexander was squarey defeated in the bloody battle and suggest that alexander just turned towards his home as he felt homsick, which is a very absurd argument. I guess notions of racial superiorty acts as an obstacle for these westerners of the blatant facts, forcing them to fabricate history "to save face".

Anonymous said...

thanx for sharing the info

MR said...


MR said...


Yajnavalkya Sinha said...

the western historians mi8 well 've fabricated history & made us believe that Alexander the gr8 indeed defeated Porus the brave; but what prove do v Indians 've 2 justify such thought processes ---- none; so lets go wid logic/reasoning then in da8 case!! Had Alex the gr8 lost 2 Porus squarely, it is quite believable that he started returning back 2 his homeland in Macedonia ----- but, taking in2 consideration Alexander the gr8's character, I rather think da8 he rather would've fought a 2nd battle against Porus & I do not think that the Macedonian Army waz scared of the army of Porus --- they rather were frightened of the army of Magadha & perhaps da8z y they thought better 2 leave India az there waz practically almost no hope of conquering the whole of India since Magadha alone could've decimated the Macedonian ranks with aplomb.

Anonymous said...

very well wwritten sir. you are learned, and you ar also pragmatic. some people do just one good job and that one good job becomes a landmark. such is the serial chanakya. and i am glad that he never got a chance to do anything else. doing anything else is a stepdown. even he cannot match his own master piece. i still wish you or someone could write the whole story of chanakya as i never feel i have had enough. i woud like episode stories itself. for eg was porus bad? who was the kuru king? etc have a nice day.

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