Chanakya or Visnugupta is considered to be the prime minister of Chandragupta Maurya. The accession of Chandragupta to the throne of Magadha is generally accredited to Chanakya. There has been a controversy about Chanakya’s existence. Some say he is just a virtual character created by the 8th Century Sanskrit Drama called Mudra Rakshas. This drama was about the political planning of Chanakya. The basis of this drama was taken from Buddhist text. And since there is very little description of Chanakya in Buddhist text, i.e. nothing about his family, past, marriage or death, he is considered to be a fictitious character.
Whatever little we know about him comes from the Jain text. Chanakya was born to a Brahmin, Chanak. Once Chanak was giving alms to a Jain monk, who told Chanak that he will be blessed with an extraordinary son who will become a great king when he grows old. A few years later Chanak was blessed with son, Chanakya. On birth Chanakya had teeth in his mouth. Chanak, the father of Chanakya, found it really strange and removed the teeth from the child’s mouth. The Jain monk, when coming across this, told Chanak, “Now your son would rule the King of Kings. He would become the prime man of the state. He would become the Kingmaker.”
When Chanakya turned into a young man he was married to Yashomati. Once Yashomati was insulted by her family members because of her husband’s poverty. When Chanakya came to know about this insult he decided to change his life. He became determined to become someone very powerful in life.
He started analyzing various intellectual text and came up with various strategies of ruling an Empire. He became a professor in the University of Takshila (Taxila).
When Alexander and his army invaded the parts of North-Western India, he went to Patliputra to warn King Dhanananda although he was insulted and thrown out of the Palace. He went back to Taxila and started forming his own team (which was lead by Chandragupta Maurya) to counter the foreign threat. Chanakya was also quite single-minded to take revenge from Dhanananda for his insult. In 321 BC, under a famous rebellion, Chandragupta Maurya overthrew Dhanananda within a single day and sent him for an exile in the Jungle. Dhanananda was never heard of after that.
Death of Chanakya
In his later years, Chanakya converted to Jainism.
After the death of Chandragupta, Bindusara became the emperor of Magadha. It is said that one of the ministers of Bindusara was particularly jealous of Chanakya. Once Chanakya, along with a number of Jain monk went to meditate in the forest. Bindusara’s Minister in order to kill Chanakya burn down the whole forest, thus, ending the life of Chanakya.
Chanakya and young Samarat Ashoka
It is said that Ashoka was one of the most skillful son of Bindusara. Chanakya was able to understand the proficiency of Ashoka at his very early age. Although initially Chanakya’s first choice was Susima, Ashoka’s elder brother, much like the king Bindusara. But later on Chanakya realized the real potentials of Ashoka and started training him to attain the throne. Later, after the death of Chanakya, Ashoka was finally able to become the king of India and later became one of the major ruler of Indian History, Ashoka the Great.
Is Chanakya a Myth?
Although a lot is known about the Mauryan kings, not much is known about Vishnugupta. Greek ambassador Megasthenes stayed in the court of Chandragupta Maurya for more than ten years. He wrote so much about Chandragupta and other members of the court but his text never referred to any Prime Minister or Kingmaker of Chandragupta. Buddhist text also did not write any description of Chanakya. The only major highlighting for Chanakya’s life was the drama Mudra Rakshas which was witten 1200 years after Chandragupta Maurya. Therefore, there is a feeling that Chanakya might have never existed at all!
We will leave it to one’s own discretion.