Chanakya was born around 350 BC in the city of Magadha during the reign of the Nanda Dynasty. He is also known as Kautilya or Vishnugupta. He was the son of an acharya (teacher) named Rishi Canak who died when Chankya was an infant; he was brought up by his mother.

At a very early age little Chanakya started studying and memorizing Vedas considered to be the toughest scriptures to study. However, Chanakya’s acumen and shrewdness was visible right from his childhood in politics. Known as a masterful political strategist, he knew how to put his own people in the opposite camp and spy the enemy without his knowledge before destroying him forever. Chanakya was an ace in turning tables in his favor irrespective of the circumstances. He never budged to pressure tactics by the ruthless politicians. In this way after studying religion and politics, he turned his attention to economics, which remained his lifelong friend. “Nitishastra”, a treatise on the ideal way of life shows his in-depth study of the Indian way of life.

Takshashila, (later corrupted as Taxila), one of the topmost centers of education at that time in the Subcontinent became Chanakya’s breeding ground of acquiring knowledge in the practical and theoretical aspect. The teachers were highly knowledgeable who used to teach sons of kings. It is said that a certain teacher had 101 students and all of them were princes. The university at Taxila was well versed in teaching the subjects using the best of practical knowledge acquired by the teachers. The branches of studies mostly taught ranged from law, medicine, warfare and other indigenous forms of learning. Moreover, archery, hunting, elephant-lore and 18 arts were also taught at the University of Taxila. So famous was Chanakya in the vicinity of the university that he had many nicknames. He was called variously by different people, namely – Vishnugupta, Kautilya and Chanakya.

When the Greek invasion caused political turmoil in Western India, forced Chanakya to leave the University environment for the city of Pataliputra (presently known as Patna, in the state of Bihar, India), which was ruled by the Nanda king Dhanananda. Although Chanakya initially prospered in his relations with the ruler, being a blunt person Chanakya was removed from highly official position he enjoyed. Soon after, Chanakya met Chandra Gupta Maurya the founder of Maurya Dynasty and became his personal advisor and guide. Chandra Gupta under the aegis of his teacher was able to found the Mauryan Empire. As the Prime Minister of Chandergupta Maurya, he was the man, who envisioned the first Indian Empire by unification of the numerous monarchies in the sub-continent.

Chanakya whose dexterity in overthrowing his enemies was matchless became himself a prey to a court intrigue and died by burning alive in 275 BC, while he was still serving as the Prime Minister to Bindusara, son of Chandra Gupta Maurya. Chanakya is famous for three major works he authored: Arthashastra, Nitishastra and Chanakya Niti. Arthashastra literally meaning ‘the Science of Material Gain’ in Sanskrit is arguably the first systematic book on economics. It discusses monetary and fiscal policies, welfare, international relations, and war strategies in details. Many of his nitis or policies have been compiled under the book title Chanakya Niti.

This article was last updated on Monday, Jan 03, 2005