This novel – Chandragupta Maurya – is in continuation of the preceding novel – Mahamatya Chanakya (The Book review for which can be read here). In preceding novel (Part 1), Chanakya’s journey from Takshashila to Pataliputra and return journey from there are covered. In between, readers get to know about Chanakya’s insult in court of Dhananand and his great vow to eliminate Dhananand. Readers also get to know about Amatya Rakshas, Shaktal, Pushpagupta, Shringaradevi and many such characters in detail. Here in Part 2, Dhumketu narrates how Chanakya and Chandragupta, together, capture Pataliputra, dethrone Dhananand and establish Maurya dynasty.
Being an Aacharya of Arthashastra, Chanakya could unite local rulers of Gandhar and Punjab regions by giving them political and economical temptation but he was very well aware that he can’t trust them blindly. He also knows that Magadh can’t be defeated in open war by his united force so he had to plan and execute other secret options. He also had to eliminate every person coming in between Chandragupta and Pataliputra to establish the empire as per ancient wisdom depicted in Arthashastra. While reading few initial pages, we come to know how mammoth and almost impossible task this was. Perhaps this is the reason readers will be glued to this novel till the end.
This almost impossible feat of Chanakya and Chandragupta Maurya is not a fable but a turning point in Indian history. It is celebrated in many Indian literary works (Hindu, Buddhist, Jain) including Puranas.
Dhumketu – The Author
Dhumaketu (1892-1965) is a very famous name in Gujarati literature. He has explored almost all forms of literature like Novels, Short stories, Dramas, Essays, Children literature, Philosophy, Rendering of literature of other languages into Gujarati and many more. His short stories are considered master pieces and also part of syllabus in school and universities, in Gujarat, since decades.
[Image of Dhumketu]
Another feather in his cap is his Historical Novels. He has written 29 Historical Novels, in Gujarati, which is a stupendous achievement in itself. These Historical Novels are not only limited to geography and culture of Gujarat but also cover various parts of India. The ancient most such novel goes back to ~6th Century BCE (Pre Maurya era) and the last novel covers the end of Hindu rule in Gujarat (~13th Century CE). In between he covers Maurya, Shunga, Gupt, Chavda, Solanki (Chaulukya) and Vaghela eras of India and Gujarat. Dhumketu is perhaps the only Novelist in India who has written these many Historical Novels covering various royal dynasties.
The Novel –
This novel – Chandragupta Maurya – was first published in 1956 by ‘Gurjar Prakashan’. Written in Gujarati language, book has 40 chapters and ~280 pages. It is 5th book in the series with Empire at Magadh as the focal point.
[Cover Page of The Novel, Modern Edition]
Since every novel is connected with the previous one, reader shouldn’t read any of the novels in isolation. Covering great characters like Chanakya and Chandragupta Maurya are not possible in just one novel. Dhumketu has written three novels covering life of Chanakya and Chandragupta Maurya. This novel is connected with the earlier one – Mahamatya Chanakya – which covers initial episodes of Chanakya’s struggle and determination to unify India under an able ruler Chandraupt. This novel – Chandragupta Maurya – and the next one – Samrat Chandragupta – cover the remaining history of end of Nand dynasty and establishment & flourishment of Maurya dynasty under Chandragupta Maurya.
Dhumketu is known for using historical sources – Books, Epigraphical sources and Literature, in his historical novels. Few such sources found in footnotes of the novel are –
- Chandragupta Maurya And His Times – Radhakumud Mukerji
- Writings of Jain Muni Hemachandracharya
- Writings of VA Smith
- The Art of War in Ancient India – PC Chakravarti
- The Ancient Indian Coinage – Vasudeva Upadhyaya
- Kathasaritsagar – Somadeva
- Arthashastra – Kautilya
- ChanakyaNiti – Chanakya
- Mudrarakshas – Vishakhadatt
- Greek Sources
Few incidents and events related to characters of this novel may also be inspired by few Jain and Buddhist sources. It looks like Dhumketu is very selective in usage of Jain and Buddhist sources as many of them have completely different narratives.
Mentioning historical sources in the historical novel is a bold and honest approach by the author. It also shows that the imaginative narratives are build on historical base. Such boldness and honesty in authors are rare even in modern era.
Content of The Novel –
End of the previous novel, in this series, is the start of this novel. After escaping from Pataliputra, Chanakya returns to Takshashila and assembles all Indian local rulers – Ambhi, Abhisar, Shashigupt, Malayketu (Son of Puru), Saubhutiraj etc. He gives them a dream to become free not only from the suzerainty of Yavan (Greek) dominance but also from the looming threat of powerful empire of Magadh. Chanakya decides to remove the prime Kshatrap – Philip – from the scene so that all the local rulers can be freed and then united force can take on with the mighty Magadh empire.
Chanakya’s search of finding a person, who can kill Philip, ends with Aarshasen. He was the lord of Maskavati (Modern Hazara in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan). After the victory, Alexander has given this province to King Abhiras but choice of people was Aarshasen. Chanakya wanted to utilize the ambition of Aarshasen in his plan. He summons Aarshasen and convinces him to do this. After few days, as per the plan devised by Chanakya, Philip gets killed. How Philip killed remains a secret for others. Chanakya inspires Ambhi to immediately take the charge in blocking the movements of Yavanas in and around Takshashila. As per the advice of Chanakya, Ambhi expels many Yavanas too.
Chanakya utilizes hunger of wealth and ambition of every ruler of his union by applying sama and dana tactics. He promises lordship of entire area east to Hastinapur (Modern Delhi-Haryana) to each prominent king of the union and also takes them in confidence to not to reveal this deal with others. In one of the meetings, Chanakya declares that based on the support from these rulers only they will get the share of victory. Thus, he ends all possibilities of defiance by any of them. Chanakya also establishes Chandragupta as future Emperor of Magadh with this. Without any difficulty everybody accepts him as they are politically intoxicated by Chanakya.
Chanakya is aware that whatever is happening here will reach to Amatya Rakshas by his spies. So, he plans to create ambiguity in mind of Rakshas regarding the expedition and characters of his united force. He devices a strategy by taking Chandragupta, Malayketu, Pushpagupta and Shringaradevi in confidence. This plan is in centre of the entire strategy to fox Amatya Rakshas. Chanakya remains extremely cautious about its implementation. On other side, Amatya Rakshas also gets into action and installs his resources (military, spies, ploys to prevent/damage rival army etc.) at key spots.
As per the plan, Malayketu and Pushpagupta allow a military unit of Magadh to seize them near River Ganga. Pushpagupta explains the situation to Rakshas to regain his lost confidence. After few twists and turns, finally he wins trust of Rakshas. This entire narration is a proof of sheer political skill of Pushpagupta (Guided by Chanakya) because deceiving Amatya Rakshas was almost impossible. But on the other side, Malayketu gets trapped by Amatya Rakshas. Dialogues between both of them are perfect example of how a wolf traps a rabbit without any physical harm.
Malayketu returns to Chanakya and narrates the military preparation by Rakshas but smartly hides his deal with him. He wants to play a double game just to satisfy his ambition but Chanakya senses hidden agenda from Malayketu’s body language and speaking style. Chandragupta declares Ambhi as commander of the united force in place of Malayketu. Chanakya starts monitoring both – Ambhi and Malayketu – to prevent any scuffle. Later on, from the timely input from Bhagurayan (His personal spy), he gets to know about the deal of Rakshas and Malayketu. Chanakya understands the double game of Malayketu and decides to cut his wings at the earliest. Chanakya meets to Helen, a Greek beautiful lady in the unit of Malayketu and get to know about her one directional love towards Chandragupta. He immediately senses the plan of Malayketu to defame Chandragupta using Helen. He starts thinking how to remove Helen from the camp.
In Pataliputra, Pushpagupta reignites the fire of samskara, earlier ignited by Chanakya, in queen Sunanada and her daughter Dharini Devi (Ref. preceding novel - Mahamatya Chanakya). Malayketu informs Chanakya about this and indirectly also conveys that whatever is happening is not hidden from him. To beat him in his own double game, Chanakya suggests to send Helen to Pataliputra as his messenger in form of a dancer, via Malayketu himself, to avoid suspicion from Rakshas (Read again). Malayketu is left with no choice but to say yes.
United alliance of Chanakya reaches near to Pataliputra. Robust fortification of Pataliputra (Ref. preceding novel – Mahamatya Chanakya) forces Chandragupta to think out of the box. From here onwards, he takes the command of the war in his hand. Before commencing the war, Chandragupta gives everybody an option to clarify their stand and even allows to change the side too. Dhumketu compares this with Bhishma’s act in Mahabharatam where Bhishma asks the same to his force. He also establishes his supremacy over entire force with his Kshatriya spirit. On other side, Rakshas warns his commander Bhadrashal that this war from Chandragupta is guided by Chanakya so take every step with full caution. Bhadrashal is confident on his 9000 elephants.
Chanakya and Chandragupta, outside of Pataliputra, and Pushpagupta, inside of Pataliputra, play their roles smartly. Rakshas wants to take Ambhi on his side by giving him elusive offers. He entrusts Pushpagupta to execute his plan. Chanakya and Chandragupta were waiting for this moment. Through a secret path, along with Ambhi and few guards, Pushpagupta takes Chandragupta also inside Palace of Dhananand. With the help of Shringaradevi, Pushpagupta and few selected warriors, Chandragupta captures Dhananand from his “cave of gold” and put entire Nand family in confinement. Rakshas luckily escapes and reaches to Bhadrashal’s camp. In early morning, Chandragupta informs Bhadrashal to surrender. Finally, with the efforts of Rakshas to save Nand family, Bhadrashal agrees to surrender. Entire Nand family is given a safe passage to go out of Pataliputra with required stuff to live in a jungle. Dharani Devi, daughter of Dhananand, denies to go and returns. She wants to marry to Chandragupta.
There, Ambhi gets trapped in the palace itself and killed by Helen in an unplanned manner. In all these, Rakshas manages to flee from the scene. Chandragupta orders to find him out. Chanting of Vedamantras by Brahmanas expel the darkness of Pataliputra. People and other officers not only accept but also celebrate this historical change and new king. Malayketu senses that sooner he may also be killed like Ambhi so one night, along with Shashigupt and others, he escapes from Pataliputra. Chanakya sends Nipunak and Bhagurayan (his personal spies) behind them.
Bhadrashal, as per his vow, ends his life by entering into River Ganga. Other important warriors are given proper treatment and wealth by Chandragupta so they easily get assimilated into a new military system. Pushpagupta becomes the commander of Magadh army. Scholars and Brahmanas delighted to see goddess of knowledge becoming free from clutches of darkness. Chanakya sends Helen back to Gandhar with proper arrangement and at the last moment, reveals that he knows that she is the daughter of seleucus, the Greek commander, who has still kept Alexander’s dream alive.
Chandragupta initiates major reforms in the administration and also gets involved in it. On other side, Chanakya is trying to find Rakshas and विषकन्या (Honey trap) whom he captured earlier (Ref. preceding novel – Mahamatya Chanakya). He knows that Rakshas will definitely use her against Chandragupta so he appoints Shringaradevi to protect Chandragupta from any such honey trap. Once again, he reminds Chandragupta about importance of इन्द्रियजय (Victory over senses) for a king.
To seize the venomous weapon of Rakshas, vishakanya, Chanakya plans a mega event in Pataliputra where artists across the states get an open invitation. Here, Chanakya plays the same trick which Amatya Rakshas played previously (Ref. preceding novel – Mahamatya Chanakya). Vishakanya comes disguised as the dancer of Vaishali city. Bhagurayan identifies her. Alerted Chanakya send her to Malayketu’s place instead of Chandragupta. Thus, he not only saves Chandragupta but also eliminates Malayketu and captures vishakanya.
Novel ends with one important aphorism inspired from Arthashastra – इन्द्रियजयस्तु राज्यम् (राज्यमूलं इन्द्रियजयः).
Main characters of this novel are Chanakya, Amatya Rakshas and Chandragupta Maurya. Supporting characters are Pushpagupta, Ambhi, Malayketu and Helen. Minor characters like Bhadrashal, Nipunaka & Bhagurayan (Spies of Chanakya in form of astrologers and fortune tellers), Shringaradevi and others also play significant roles.
Chanakya is depicted as much lethal as possible in implementing his strategies and plans. Since he is chasing not only his personal dream but also want to establish dharmarajya, his approach is not soft anywhere in the novel. He is so focused that, at times, he doesn’t reveal everything even to Chandragupta. His confidence on ancient treatise of Arthashastra is worth mentioning and inspiring to readers too. Most importantly, he is shown always ready with plan B. Unlike preceding novel, Chanakya surpasses Amatya Rakshas in every move. Utilizing and guiding resources without wasting time in his favor is a unique trait which readers will definitely enjoy.
Just like preceding novel, here also Amatya Rakshas exhibits same fearsome and cunning traits in stopping and trapping Chanakya’s resources. His devotion towards Nand family is on display. Unlike preceding novel, here he gets foxed by not only Chanakya but also by Pushpagupta. In the climax, he successfully escapes from the scene and becomes a post war headache for Chanakya.
Unlike preceding novel, here Chandraupt Maurya assumes important role, in patches, and readers can experience his Kshatriya qualities on full display. His authoritative control over every local ruler is clearly visible all over the novel. Before the start of the war, he takes control of the army and exhibits quick actions which impress Chanakya. Even his post war actions are also impressive. It is his ability and bravery only due to which Dhananand gets captured alive. His tuning with Chanakya is simply divine.
Pushpagupta is again in supporting role but here expectation and weightage on his character is much more. In fact, it is his smartness and intelligence only which allow Chanakya to execute plan B at the right moment. Had he not confused and convinced Amatya Rakshas, Chandragupta would never had entered into the palace of Nand and seized him. He is someone who is very agile, sharp yet calm and calculative. Perhaps touch of Chanakya is the reason in ignition of his sleeping talent.
Ambhi is a cunning, self centered and an opportunist king whose sole aim is to become an undisputed ruler of Gandhar and Punjab. His jealousy towards Puru, Malayketu and Chandragupta is clearly visible in many narratives. Chanakya diligently uses Ambhi’s opportunism in his own favor throughout the novel and keeps him guessing. He is depicted as a short-sighted ruler who eventually gets trapped in his own opportunism.
Malayketu is even more short-sighted warrior with childish behaviour. He becomes a football in between Rakshas and Chanakya due to his over ambitious nature. Although, in few incidents, he plays double game and shows his hidden talent. He is so much influenced by his own ambition that even if escaped alive from the clutches of Chanakya and Chandragupta, he accepts to return to Pataliputra and makes Chanakya’s life easy in the climax. His first meeting with Rakshas exposes his political shallowness badly.
Helen is a daughter of Seleucus, a Greek commander of Alexander’s army. She is depicted a super excited girl in love with Sandrocottus (Chandragupta) and also influenced by Indian civilization. She is the only source of शृङ्गाररस in the novel but in the end, she shows his skill as a warrior by killing Ambhi.
Bhadrashal is a commander of Nand army and depicted a true Kshatriya. His staunch belief in controlling the situation by applying strict actions makes his presence noteworthy. His self confidence and audacity make him apart from others. Bowing down to an enemy is against his nature so after surrendering to Chandragupta, he ends his life in River Ganga. Even if his character is small in the novel, it leaves a powerful impact in reader’s mind.
Nipunak & Bhagurayan are small but very important characters in the novel. This spy duo is like a bridge for Chanakya joining his dream and Pataliputra. From start to end, they both play significant roles at various places in various conditions without fear. Their characters prove that spies are the eyes of a king.
Impact of ChanakyaNiti & Arthashastra –
Chanakya and his works – ChanakyaNiti and Arthashastra – are two sides of a coin. Impact of both of these works, in form of situational quotes (Sanskrit verses), terminologies and concepts, are easily observed in this novel which make this novel authentic.
Quotes & Aphorisms
Before the start of the first chapter, Dhumketu has written two aphorisms taken from ChanakyaNiti. The first one says ““The one is an idiot indeed, if he knows what is written in scriptures but doesn’t know the ground reality” while the second aphorism says “The intelligent has (finally) no enemy (By applying intelligence, one can win over his enemy)”. These two aphorisms are an echo of the entire novel. This is where readers should understand what they are going to experience.
At one place, Chanakya is teaching to his students and quoting few Sanskrit aphorisms. The first is शास्त्रज्ञोऽप्यलोकज्ञो मूर्खतुल्यः (The one is an idiot indeed, if he knows what is written in scriptures but doesn’t know the ground reality). The second aphorism is स्वहस्तोऽपि विषदिग्धश्छेद्यः (Cut the poisonous hand, even if it is your own). Both of these quotes are from ChanakyaNiti. They are in reference of Chanakya’s first success in his plan.
एरण्डमलम्ब्य कुञ्जरं न कोपयेत् (By using castor plant, an elephant can’t be disturbed) is another quote taken from ChanakyaNiti and uttered by Amatya Rakshas.
At one place, Chanakya takes inspiration from his own work Arthashastra in form of one important aphorism राज्यमूलम् इन्द्रियजयः (Root of a steady state is in conquest of senses) to control his curiosity.
Terminologies & Concepts
यामतूर्य terminology is used only once in Arthashastra in the sense of modern understanding of Curfew. This is perhaps the earliest reference of curfew in Indian literature. Dhumketu has beautifully used it in one of the narrations. This shows author’s in depth reading of Arthashastra.
“Enchantment born out of delusion is more effective tool in victory than military operation” says Chanakya while explaining his plan, to Chandragupta, in keeping the disintegrated Indian rulers under one roof. This is a direct application of the four-fold approach – sama, dana, bheda and danda – covered in Arthashastra.
“Without conquering senses, all other conquests are meaningless”. This is directly inspired from Arthashastra’s इन्द्रियजयः principle.
शून्यपाल is a term used in this novel which is also taken from Arthashastra. It means an officer with power of attorney from the emperor/king in certain policy matters.
In Arthashastra, it is advised to construct temporary structures and pathways to assist the marching army and also building traps for rival army. The same concept is taken here. Amatya Rakshas has shown doing all these as a part of preparation of war.
अमित्रदर्शन (Hostility) and सुवर्णाध्यक्ष (Head of Gold treasury) are two terminologies directly taken from Arthashastra. These terminologies play significant role in the very first meeting of Malayketu and Amatya Rakshas. In the same meeting, a reader gets to know one important principle of ancient Indian polity – “A king, entered into another territory for his personal purpose, should not be killed”.
महापथ , a pathway built primarily for elephants with ~20 hand unit wideness, is found in Arthashastra. This term is aptly used in one of the chapters as a supplement to one important incident.
स्कन्धावार is one of the important terminology in Arthashastra used for a military camp of a marching army. In fact, a full chapter is given by Kautilya on planning, construction, security and many other aspects of such military camp. The same concept is also used here for the marching army of united force of Chandragupta Maurya. Related terms like वप्र (Construction for security of camp), स्थान (Meeting place of royal spies), सत्री (Mobile Spy) and Female Spies are also beautifully woven in the narration. Noteworthy terminology here, taken from Arthashastra, is of trained कपोत (Pigeon) to communicate messages.
Commander of Magadh, Bhadrashal, believes in only one approach – danda (दण्ड). In Arthashastra, Kautilya has mentioned that followers of Ushanas (उशनस्) believes in दण्ड only. So indirectly, Bhadrashal is shown as the follower of Ushanas branch of Arthashastra.
श्रेणी is a unit of trained warriors mentioned in Kautilya’s Arthashastra. When Chandragupta put Dhananand in confinement, this term is used for the warriors of Chandragupta.
After the win, immediately Chandragupta removes two taxes – Tax on rats (मूषिककर) and salt (लवणकर). Both these taxes are referred in Arthashastra. Tax on rats also appears in the preceding novel – Mahamatya Chanakya.
लक्षणाध्यक्ष (Head of Gems/Metals Dept.) and his few duties are also beautifully covered in one of the narrations related to standard कार्षापण (Currency) implementation in the empire.
Literary Aspects –
Language used in the novel is almost refined except for few colloquial usages. Language contains many popular and lesser known idioms. Use of figure of speech and ornated sentences at places lift the level of this novel. Situational quotes from certain powerful characters makes the reading valuable for us.
Quotes, Similes and Contrasts
On the very first page, policy of local “non united” Indian rulers is referred as “Sightless”, not even “Short-sighted”. Perhaps the reason why they succumbed to Alexander.
In one of the dialogues, Chanakya compares strategic moves of Ambhi with Cheetah and says one can never know when will he move/act but whenever he does, he does it suddenly and swiftly.
While taunting to Ambhi’s adharmic ambition, Chanakya says “Desire to dominate (On a specific geography) makes you a slave (of Yavanas) but it is your self respect only which can make you a king”. This is a situational quote which reader can understand while reading the relevant portion.
“A true politician can use even the dead bodies” is another bold and situational quote uttered by Chanakaya to mould Ambhi in his plan. Remember, this novel is written in 1956, during the first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehu’s regime.
“Wise enjoys even after losing his half but unwise (by remaining stubborn) loses everything” is another quote by Chanakya while convincing Ambhi, after Philip gets killed, to give up his support to Yavanas and to act as per Chanakya’s strategy.
At one place, Chanakya says “Erecting victory towers (of adharmic rule) is a tradition of a non-Arya while an Arya builds lakes/ponds, temples and patronises good thoughts and poetry”. This quote has sarcasm as well as tradition too. An intelligent reader can easily understand it.
Quote on moon light is also noteworthy. “Moon light gives peace to wise people, dream to poet, intoxication to dreamer, slumber to sluggish, liveliness to lover and new sight to sages”. During the political discussion, this quote, for a while, creates a peaceful poetic sense in mind of the reader.
“Desire and ability to rule are fine but having a great dream to rule is above all. Campaign of the one with only desire is blind in nature and such a person gets destroyed easily” is another powerful quote by Chanakya on importance of a great king.
“Royal horse of king does a paltry job at potter’s house” is a translation of a popular Gujarati proverb used in the novel to communicate the irony of being in a political situation. This proverb is now rarely used in colloquial usage so modern reader may find it bit rusty. Dhumketu has used many such proverbs.
“There are two types of people who drink poison – One drink happily and the other out of compulsion. Third type of people are fools (idiots) who neither feel happiness nor sadness because they are generally sleeping” is a situational quote by dhumketu in the climax of the novel. At the same place, Dhumketu compares Chanakya’s thinking of seizing vishakanya, last weapon of Rakshas, with seizure of Karna’s weapons in Mahabharatam.
Sanskrit Verses, Idioms and Maxims
शठं प्रति शाठ्यम् (Tit for tat) is a famous Sanskrit idiom which Chanakya suggests while justifying his plan of killing Philip. This is in reference with the mass killing of Indians by Yavanas (Greek army) during Alexander’s campaign.
Another Sanskrit idiom षट्कर्ण (Six ears) is a popular usage in Sanskrit literature to represent more than two persons in a secret talk. It indicates risk in keeping the secret. This word is rarely used in Gujarati literature but gives a beautiful touch to the narration.
A Sanskrit maxim देहली-दीपक-न्यायः (Achieving two targets at a time) is used to demonstrate the strategy of Ambhi to satisfy his ambition to become an unchallenged king of Gandhar and Punjab.
प्रथम ग्रासे मक्षिका (Hurdle in the very first attempt) is another popular Sanskrit idiom used in this novel. It is also frequently used in classical literature of many Indian languages. Another such usage is महाजनहासः न कर्त्तव्यः (Good person shouldn’t be ridiculed) used along with a similar Gujarati idiom.
A Gujarati idiom translated as “Cat sees the milk but not the stick” is appropriately used for depicting the successful deceit of Malayketu by Amatya Rakshas.
वृषल word used for Chandragupta, in the novel, is influenced by Mudrarakshas (मुद्राराक्षस) – a famous ancient Sanskrit play of Vishakhadatt. This play is one of the important sources regarding life of Chanakya and Chandragupta Maurya.
Concluding Remarks –
Stitching Historical sources, legends and fables into a meaningful writing is always a commendable effort. Moreover, writing on legendary characters are always a tough task considering society’s attachment with them on various levels. Toughest is to recreate the era using all resources and taking the reader back to that time period. Dhumketu’s ability of easily doing all these are soul to these novels.
Dhumketu’s ability to create parallel characters to Chanakya is also refreshing for the reader. It avoids overdose of a single character and keeps the interest alive. At places, reader may compel to compare them while at places, reader may wonder to know their hidden traits. Even few small characters in this novel leave their mark on reader’s mind which speaks volume about creativity of Dhumketu as a writer.
If you are a student of politics, administration or history, you will surely enjoy the political stunts, mind games, ancient narratives and many such impetus taken from Arthashastra and other literary and historical sources. If you are interested in language and literature, you will love the usage of idioms, figure of speech and quotes. Lucid language will definitely keep you in flow of reading.