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Acharya Chanakya: The Wisdom of an Ancient Scholar

Acharya Chanakya: The Wisdom of an Ancient Scholar

Acharya Chanakya, also known as Kautilya or Vishnugupta, was a renowned ancient scholar, political strategist, and economist who lived in the fourth century BCE. His life and teachings have left a lasting impact on Indian history, political thought, and economic theory. Chanakya’s wisdom, insights, and principles of governance, as outlined in the Arthashastra, continue to be of great relevance even today.

In this blog, we will delve into the life of Acharya Chanakya, explore his teachings, and discuss the legacy he has left behind. Radhakrishnan Pillai has written many books related to Chanakya, such as “Chanakya in the Classroom: Life Lessons for Students”, “Chanakya Neeti: Strategies for Success”, “Chanakya in You”, “Chanakya and the Art of War”, “Corporate Chanakya”, “Corporate Chanakya on Management”, and “Corporate Chanakya on Leadership”. One notable fictional account of Chanakya’s life as a political strategist in ancient India is Ashwin Sanghi’s “Chanakya’s Chant”.

The Life of Acharya Chanakya

Chanakya’s early life and education laid the foundation for his future role as a political architect. His early years were marked by a quest for knowledge, power, and a higher ministerial purpose. Growing up, he delved deep into the normative texts of the time, absorbing the wisdom of the great scholars of the era, including the teachings of Chanakya Niti. This early education shaped his intellectual prowess and prepared him to become a learned shravaka, ready to face the challenges that lay ahead.

Early years and education

Chanakya’s early life has inspired many, reflecting the transformation of a learned scholar into a political strategist. His education, rooted in normative texts and a higher purpose, laid the foundation for his future role as a political architect. The formation of the Mauryan Empire, particularly in the context of Chanakya’s early life, marks a significant chapter in Indian history.

Young Acharya Chanakya pursuing spiritual learning prior to becoming an advisor

According to the Jain tradition, Chanakya came into this world as the child of two Jains named Chanin and Chaneshvari. He was born in a village called Chanaka, located in the Golla region. The exact location of “Golla” is uncertain. Hemachandra suggests that Chanakya hailed from South India based on his Dramila origins. His early years and education offer a glimpse into the making of a great mind, eventually shaping the fate of a kingdom. [motilal banarsidass]

The Mauryan Empire connection

Under the guidance of Chanakya, the Mauryan Empire saw the fusion of economic theory, political strategy, ethical considerations, and the visionary leadership of the first Mauryan emperor Chandragupta, who played a crucial role in the formation and establishment of the Maurya Empire. His association with the dynasty reflects a chapter of great significance in the annals of Indian history.

The Mauryan Empire, a turning point in the history of ancient India, owes much of its success to the strategic acumen of Chanakya and the visionary leadership of Chandragupta, the first Mauryan emperor. Chanakya’s assistance to Chandragupta in his rise to power was instrumental in the formation of the Maurya Empire. In 321 BCE Chanakya provided support to Chandragupta, the initial emperor of the Mauryan Empire helping him ascend to power. Many acknowledge Chanakya as a figure, in the formation and establishment of the Maurya Empire.

Anecdotes from Chanakya’s Life

Chanakya’s life is replete with fascinating anecdotes, showcasing his political acumen, strategic thinking, and unwavering determination. One of the most renowned stories from his life is the encounter with Dhanananda, the king of the Nanda dynasty. This confrontation tested Chanakya’s resolve, wisdom, and strategic acumen.

It marked a turning point in his life, leading to a series of transformative events, such as the rise of Chandragupta Maurya, the first Mauryan emperor. Several modern adaptations of the legend of Chanakya, like the play “Chandragupta” by Dwijendralal Ray, narrate his story in a semi-fictional form, extending these legends. There was even a TV series called “Chandragupta Maurya” on NDTV Imagine, which portrayed the life of Chandragupta Maurya and Chanakya, with Manish Wadhwa playing the character of Chanakya in the series.

Additionally, the 2015 Colors TV drama, Chakravartin Ashoka Samrat, features Chanakya during the reign of Chandragupta’s son, Bindusara. The inclusion of the Colors TV drama showcases the continued popularity and influence of Chanakya’s story in contemporary media. Chetan Pandit portrayed the character of Chanakya in the historical-drama television series Porus in 2017–2018.

The encounter with Dhanananda

Chanakya’s encounter with Dhanananda, the reigning king, set the stage for a conflict of ideologies, power, and the pursuit of a higher purpose. The encounter with Dhanananda, the king of the Nanda dynasty, including King Dhana Nanda, marked a turning point in the life of Chanakya, leading to a series of transformative events. Feeling insulted by the Nanda king, Chanakya vowed not to tie his top knot (Shikha) until the destruction of Nanda.

Based on the Mudrarakshasa account King Nanda once decided to dismiss Chanakya from his position, in the kingdom. This could be referring to Chanakya being expelled from the king’s assembly. This incident fueled Chanakya’s determination to overthrow Nanda and install Chandragupta as the new king. The confrontation with Dhanananda, the powerful and influential ruler of Pataliputra, the capital of Nanda, is a tale of political intrigue, strategic planning, and the pursuit of a higher ministerial purpose, much like a great wind uproots a tree.

The rise of Chandragupta Maurya

Chanakya strategizing Chandragupta Maurya's rise to power

The rise of Chandragupta Maurya, guided by the wisdom of Chanakya, is a saga of political ambition, strategic alliances, and the pursuit of power. Chandragupta Maurya’s ascent to power, under the tutelage of Chanakya, is a testament to the transformative impact of a mentor’s influence. After Chandragupta abdicated the throne to become a Jain monk, the partnership between Chanakya and Chandragupta Maurya, heralded a new era of governance, conquest, and the establishment of a powerful empire, showcasing the remarkable life of Chandragupta Maurya.

Teachings from the Arthashastra

Chanakya sharing wisdom from the Arthashastra with King Chandragupta Maurya

The Arthashastra, a compilation of economic theory, political strategy, and ethical considerations, forms the foundation of Chanakya’s teachings. It offers a blueprint for effective leadership, administrative policies, and statecraft. The principles of governance, economic policies, and ethical considerations, as elucidated in the Arthashastra, reflect the wisdom, strategic acumen, and ethical imperatives of Chanakya. In 2009, many eminent experts discussed the various aspects of Kauṭilya’s thought in an international conference on the Arthashastra held at the Oriental Research Institute in Mysore (India) to celebrate the centenary of the discovery of the manuscript of the Arthashastra by R Shamasastry. Most of the papers presented at the Conference have been compiled in an edited volume by Raj Kumar Sen and Ratan Lal Basu.

Principles of governance

The principles of governance, as outlined in the Arthashastra, provide valuable insights into the art of ruling, diplomacy, and the exercise of political power. They lay the groundwork for effective, ethical, and strategic leadership. Chanakya’s principles of governance emphasize the importance of moral governance, justice, and the welfare of the people.

Economic policies

The economic policies advocated in the Arthashastra encompass a wide range of fiscal measures, trade regulations, and resource management strategies. They provide a holistic framework for economic governance, wealth management, and sustainable development. Chanakya’s economic policies offer a nuanced understanding of trade, taxation, and the pursuit of economic prosperity.

Ethical considerations

Ethical considerations, as articulated in the Arthashastra, form the bedrock of Chanakya’s vision for a just, equitable, and morally upright society. His emphasis on ethical governance underscores the significance of virtuous leadership, righteous conduct, and the well-being of society.

The Person Behind the Intellect

Behind the intellectual prowess of Chanakya lay a man of great respect, wisdom, and higher purpose. He served as a national security advisor to the Mauryan dynasty, authoring some normative texts, such as the Arthashastra. His compilation of earlier texts reflects a display of power, shaping modern economic theories. Chanakya was amazed, by the abilities of the boy. To show his appreciation he generously rewarded the boy’s father with 1000 gold coins and then took Chandragupta under his wing promising to impart valuable skills and knowledge to him.

Chanakya had concerns that the intelligent Subandhu might outshine him in Chandragupta’s court. So, he got Chandragupta to imprison Subandhu, whose son Tekicchakani escaped and later became a Buddhist monk. According to another Jain text – the Rajavali-Katha –, Chanakya accompanied Chandragupta to the forest for retirement, once Bindusara became the king Nanda. Chanakya played a role as the primary counsellor, for both Chandragupta and his son Bindusara serving as their chief advisor.

Chanakya’s traits

Chanakya’s traits were crucial in his endeavours to expand the empire. He showed his resourcefulness and cunning when he disguised himself as a Shaivite mendicant and entered one particular town that offered strong resistance during the siege. In this town, he declared that the siege would end if the idols of the seven mothers, including the chief architect of Pataliputra, were removed from the town’s temple. In the meantime, Chandragupta had been supporting the Jain monks. Chanakya decided to demonstrate to him that these individuals were not deserving of his support.

He scattered powder on the floor, in the vicinity of the women’s chambers within the palace. Left the non-Jain monks in that area. Additionally, he strategically filled the dining room with thick smoke during the next meal, causing the monks’ eyes to water and washing off the ointment. While they were being chased by an enemy officer they came across a lake. With the help of a signet ring given by the prince, Chanakya successfully executed his escape plan and fled the town without being caught.

Chanakya’s approach towards life and problems

Chanakya approached life and problems with a corporate mindset, emphasizing the role of economic theory, political strategy, and a higher purpose. His teachings focused on the important role of a higher minister in a kingdom, the help of influential contacts, and the pursuit of a higher purpose.

Legacy of Acharya Chanakya

Chanakya’s legacy is far-reaching, extending across Indian political thought, modern economic theories, literature, and popular culture. His teachings have shaped classical economics, influenced an important precursor of modern economic theory, and left a significant impact on the field of political science. Chanakya’s life, wisdom, and compilation of earlier texts continue to inspire the modern world. His works were lost near the end of the Gupta Empire, a time when his ideas were not widely known or studied. However, they were rediscovered in the early 20th century, allowing scholars to fully appreciate the depth and significance of his contributions. The area, in New Delhi where diplomatic missions are located is called Chanakyapuri, which is named after Chanakya.

Impact on Indian political thought

Chanakya’s teachings have shaped the classical economics of Indian history, influencing important precursors of modern economic theory. His compilation of earlier texts has left a profound impact on the earliest Buddhist legends of the Mauryan empire, reflecting the enduring relevance of his political thought.

Influence on modern economic theories

Chanakya’s economic theory has influenced classical economics of the early 20th century, acting as a precursor to modern corporate economics. His compilation of earlier texts has played a significant role in the formation of modern economic theories, shaping the field of political science, and influencing eminent experts.

Chanakya’s life and wisdom have been the subject of some modern adaptations, books, and fictional accounts of his legend. His compilation of earlier texts has inspired TV dramas, such as “Chakravartin Ashoka Samrat,” and continues to captivate the modern world of corporate economics.

Decoding Chanakya’s Vocabulary

Deciphering Chanakya’s Lexicon Exploring Chanakya’s terminology reveals insights into governance and ethics, offering perspectives on rulers, advisors, and the governed in ancient India.

Exploring Chanakya’s unique terminologies

Chanakya’s compilation of earlier texts offers a compilation of some earlier texts, a Kashmiri version of the legend of Chanakya, a normative text, parallel stories, and different terms, shaping modern economic theory, political science, and corporate economics.

The relevance of Chanakya’s vocabulary today

Chanakya’s compilation of earlier texts continues to display power, parallel stories, normative text, and pioneers of political science, influencing modern economic theory, political science, corporate economics, and international relations.

Can Modern Governance Learn from Chanakya’s Wisdom?

Can contemporary governance benefit from the wisdom of Acharya Chanakya? His teachings stress ethical governance, while his “Arthashastra” offers timeless insights. Chanakya’s strategies for statecraft hold relevance even today, and his concept of “Matsya Nyaya” parallels modern international relations theory. The role of the king as a “Dharmaraja” continues to influence discussions on leadership and ethics.

Who was Acharya Chanakya and why is he important?

Acharya Chanakya, also known as Kautilya or Vishnu Gupta, was an ancient Indian scholar and advisor to the emperor Chandragupta Maurya. He played a crucial role in the establishment of the Mauryan Empire and is renowned for his wisdom, strategic thinking, and contributions to political science and economics.


Acharya Chanakya, the ancient scholar, left behind a legacy that continues to inspire and influence. From his teachings in the Arthashastra to his personal traits and approach towards life, Chanakya’s wisdom transcends time. His impact on Indian political thought and modern economic theories is undeniable. Even today, we can learn from his unique vocabulary and apply it to our lives, understanding its relevance in the present day. Can modern governance benefit from Chanakya’s wisdom? It’s worth exploring.

In conclusion, Acharya Chanakya’s life and teachings serve as a reminder of the power of knowledge, strategy, and ethical considerations. His wisdom has found its way into literature and popular culture, showcasing the enduring appeal of his ideas. If you want to delve deeper into the world of History, be sure to check out our blog for more insights and information. CLICK HERE


Q: What is Chanakya best known for?

A: Chanakya is best known for serving as the chief advisor to Emperor Chandragupta Maurya, architecting statecraft and economic policies, and authoring the Arthashastra on leadership and governance.

Q: When did Chanakya live?

A: Based on available historical accounts, Chanakya is believed to have lived c. 350 – 275 BCE during the rise of the Maurya Empire.

Q: Where was Chanakya originally from?

A: Available records suggest Chanakya was likely originally from South India, possibly modern-day Kerala. Details about his early life and upbringing remain uncertain.

Q: How did Chanakya influence Chandragupta?

A: As Chandragupta’s mentor, Chanakya guided him to build the Maurya Empire through shrewd strategy and governance principles outlined in the Arthashastra. This essentially provided the blueprint for ruling and administration.

Q: What does the Arthashastra teach?

A: Chanakya’s Arthashastra contains his compiled wisdom on economics, politics, diplomacy, military strategy, and techniques of governance like law enforcement and taxation.

Q: What happened to Chanakya in his final years?

A: According to Jain records, in his final years, Chanakya accompanied Chandragupta as they both retired as monks in the forest towards the end of their lives.

Q: Who wrote plays and TV shows about Chanakya?

A: Chanakya’s legacy has inspired works like Dwijendralal Ray’s Chandragupta play and TV series like Chakravartin Ashoka Samrat which reference his influence through semi-fictionalized accounts of the era.

Q: Was Chanakya a Jain?

A: There are conflicting accounts about Chanakya’s religious affiliations. Some records suggest he was raised in a family of lay Jains (shravaka) indicating he likely grew up under Jain influence. However, his own specific adult beliefs are not documented and could have evolved as he shaped his political thought.

Q: At what age did Chanakya die?

A: The exact age of Chanakya at the time of death is not reliably documented. Given the era he lived in (350 – 275 BCE), average life expectancies may suggest he was between 50-70 years old at the time of passing. But no direct record confirms his precise age.

Q: Did Ashoka ever meet Chanakya?

A: No, Emperor Ashoka ascended the throne of the Maurya Empire around 270 BCE, after Chanakya died in 275 BCE. So there is no historical evidence to suggest the two ever met in person. Chanakya’s statecraft teachings did influence the later Maurya rulers like Ashoka through his enduring policy texts.

Q: Was Chanakya intelligent?

A: Chanakya is regarded as exceptionally intelligent given his foresight, shrewd strategy, insightful policymaking, and impact advising figures like Chandragupta across economics, politics and ethics. His cunning tactics combined with his wisdom, advisory acumen and written works testify to a visionary and highly skilled intellect.