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.