Chanakya – Indian Machiavelli


One of the greatest figures of wisdom and knowledge in the Indian history is Chanakya. Chanakya (c. 350-283 BCE) was an adviser and a prime minister to the first Maurya Emperor Chandragupta (c. 340-293 BCE), and architect of his rise to power.

Chanakya, also known as Kautilya or Vishnugupta, was born in Pataliputra, Magadh (modern Bihar), and later moved to Taxila, in Gandhar province(now in Pakistan). He was a professor (acharya) of political science at the Takshashila University and later the Prime Minister of the Emperor Chandragupta Maurya. He is widely believed to be responsible for the creation of Mauryan empire, the first of its kind on the Indian subcontinent.

He is regarded as one of the earliest known political thinkers, economists and king-makers. He was the man to envision the first Indian empire by unification of the then numerous kingdoms in the Indian sub-continent and provide the impetus for fights against the Greek conqueror Alexander. In Jawaharlal Nehru’s Discovery of India, Chanakya has been called the Indian Machiavelli.

arthashastraHis famous work called Arthashastra is a classic example of statecraft and politics and is read in Europe even today. It is arguably the first systematic book on economics. It discusses monetary and fiscal policies, welfare, international relations and war strategies in detail. It basically consists of the principles of politics and how the state works. An able ruler has to be a ruthless leader to make sure that the state works smoothly and efficiently. He believed in four ways Enticement, Sowing dession, Punishment or war. He was the master of shrewd act of diplomacy.

Another book attributed to Chanakya was Nitishastra which is also known as Chankya Niti. Many of his nitis or policies have been compiled under this book. Nitishastra is a treatise on the ideal way of life, and shows Chanakya’s in depth study of the Indian way of life.

The legends associated with Chanakya are very interesting and provide a testimony of his greatness.


• When Chanakya was born he had a full set of teeth, which is a sign that he would become a king or an emperor. But since he was born in a Brahmin family, it was considered inappropriate. Thus, his teeth were broken and it was predicted that he would make another person a king and rule through him.

• Even as a child, Chanakya had the qualities of a born leader. His level of knowledge was beyond children of his age.

• Chanakya was thrown out of the court of King Nanda as he was a blunt man and spoke his mind clearly. Chanakya swore he would take revenge.

• Chanakya comes across Chandragupta as a young child. Even at that age, he was a born leader and showed the qualities of an able Emperor. He was the guiding force behind Chandragupta and the vital person who made him an able Emperor.

• Chanakya adds poison in little amounts daily in Chandragupta’s food in order to make him immune to poison, lest some enemy tries to poison him.

• However Chandragupta was unaware about this and once gave a little food to his wife who was in the ninth month of pregnancy. She didn’t survive but Chanakya cut open her belly and took out the baby.

• This baby grew up to become an able emperor named Bindusara. He had a minister named Subandhu who did not like Chanakya. He told Bindusara that Chanakya had killed his mother.

• Without assessing facts, Bindusara confronted Chanakya. On knowing the whole story, he felt ashamed at his hasty actions and begged for forgiveness. He asked Subandhu to go and apologize and make Chanakya come back.

• Subandhu was very cunning and on the pretext of going to apologize to Chanakya, he killed him. Thus, ended the life of a great person like Chanakya just because of political rivalry.

His main philosophy was “A debt should be paid off till the last penny; An enemy should be destroyed without a trace”. He seemed to have lived – and died – by his philosopy.



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  • Saying “Chanakya – Indian Machiavelli” is merely a reference point for those who know Machiavelli and not Chanakya. It is not Comparison at all if you read the article.

  • Maurya empire was from 1534 to 1216 BC as per Puranas. Then it was Shunga dynasty till 916 BC, Kanva till 831 BC. After that, there was attack by Assyrian king Nabonassir (Lavanasura) in 824 BC who reached till Saket as per Patanjal Mahabhashya. They were routed at Mathura by elephant army of Kharavel (11 year of his rule-Kharavel inscriptions. To take revenge of defeat, queen Semiramis collected 35 lakh army with cooperation of all states of central & west Asia & north Africa. In addition, 20,000 camels were disguised as elephants. To counter this, a federation of 4 kings-Paramar, Pratihar, Chahman, Chalukya was formed under king Shudraka of Malva in 756 BC (start of Shudraka shaka-Jyotish Darpana of Yallaya), The army was routed by this federation, called Malava Gana. This continued till Sriharsh Shaka in 456 BC-called 300 years of democracy by Megasthenes. Finally Chahman king of Delhi called king of Medes (Madhya desh) of east of Indus routed Assyrian capital of Nineve. Then, Alexander attack of 326 BC was repulsed by Chandragupta of Gupta empire described in Devi-Chandraguptam. Megasthenes has written names of last Andhra king and first 2 Gupta kings. Their fore father Ghatotkach Gupta name has been translated as Barber.

  • How can you compare Chanakya with Machiavelli ! It seems that author has zero or very little knowledge about chanakya. Chanakya was a person of high character and moral values while latter was a cunning man.

  • Jawaharlal Nehru is better not quoted anywhere when one wants to write about India because he was not a true Indian and apart from that he had great admiration and affinity for everything that was Western. And, unfortunately, most of our writers today are so steeped in the colonial teachings that their temptation to quote Westerners or Western names does not know end. It’s sad even this, otherwise very wonderful, magazine cannot resist that temptation. Secondly, can you please ask all of your writers to ALWAYS give proper references for ALL of their writings. This will help apply credibility to the writings.