Mahamatya Chanakya – Historical Novel of Dhumketu

Insult of Chanakya in the court of Dhananand is a turning point in Indian History. It was not an insult of one person but it was an insult of a Brahman … a traditional Brahman … whose only crime was to dream and try to build a strong nation based on foundation of Arthashastra.

Just like Bhishma’s vow in Mahabharatam changed the course of itihasa, Chanakya’s vow also changed the course of Indian History. Legacy of Chanakya is unforgettable and unmatched. It is indeed beyond our imagination that how much degradation would have happened in India, had Chanakya not ended adharmik rule of Dhananand.

This novel of Dhumketu is first among three in a series of Chanakya and Chandragupt Maurya. Dhumketu has tried to depict initial setup where Chanakya’s dream of unifying India under a dharmik king blossoms. Novel ends at his determination and a grand plan against Dhananand. In modern era, many authors have narrated how Chanakya removes Dhananand but this novel depicts the founding process behind the same in detail. This detailed depiction sets this novel apart from other writings.

Dhumketu – The Author

Dhumaketu 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.

Portrait of Dhumketu (Source – Internet)

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.

One such novels is on one of the most respected and famous personalities of India, Chanakya, who not only corrected the historical course but also re-established rulership as per Dharmashastra. Chanakya is better known for his world-famous works – Arthashastra and Chanakyaniti.

The Novel –

This novel was first published in 1955 by ‘Gurjar Prakashan’. Covering 38 chapters and ~300 pages, it is written in Gujarati language. It is 4th book in the series with Empire at Magadh as the focal point.

Front cover of the book – Earlier Edition (Source – Internet)

Since every novel is connected with the previous one, a reader shouldn’t read any of the novels in isolation. Covering great characters like Chanakya and Chandragupt Maurya are not possible in just one novel. This novel covers initial episodes of Chanakya’s struggle and dream while the 4th novel – Chandragupt Maurya and 5th novel – Samrat Chandragupt, cover remaining history. Thus, Chanakya’s portrayal doesn’t end in this novel but also continues in next two novels in the series.

Sources –

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 –

  1. Chandragupt Maurya And His Times – Radhakumud Mukerji
  2. Ashoka, The Buddhist Emperor of India – VA Smith
  3. Kathasaritsagar – Somadeva
  4. Arthashastra – Kautilya

Jain and Buddhist legends and other sources are also used in the novel wherever Dhumketu has found them useful in the flow of the narration. Once Chanakya introduces himself as chanakatmaja (Son of Chanak) which is found in Jain scholar Hemachandracharya’s work (11th Century CE). Many a times in the novel, Dhananand is referred as son of a barber and a low born. Legend of Chanakya’s broken tooth is also used effectively in one of the chapters. Another such legend – Removal of a blade grass by Chanakya and showing his trait of taking revenge, is also used at appropriate place in the novel. Dhumketu has also rejected or not used many legends and at places, he has mentioned this too.

Sun temple at Multan is also mentioned when Chanakya is returning to Takshashila. Rivers Sindhu and Vitasta find regular mention in the narration. A fierce battle between Alexander and one Indian kingdom lead by Brahmanas is also referred by Chanakya to awaken the Kshatriya spirit in the target audience.

Few events depicted in this novel suggest Dhumketu has also referred material from Greek sources but he has explicitly not mentioned them.

Content of The Novel –

Book starts with the possibility of an attack of Alexander around Gandhar. Local rulers in and around Gandhar, including Ambhi, are in dilemma on how to handle this sudden conundrum. Ambhi has a political rivalry with Puru of Punjab so he is thinking to get support of other local rulers to supress Puru at any cost. This “at any cost” attitude convinces him to join hands with Alexander to defeat and eradicate Puru from his way. Father of Ambhi doesn’t agree with this and ends his own life rather than witnessing such cowardice from his son. Still Ambhi remains firm on his decision.

On other side, Vishnugupt (Chanakya) suggests Chandragupt to go and learn the art of war and other tactics of Alexander’s army. So, if required, the same knowledge can be used to defeat him in future. Chanakya himself decides to go to Pataliputra. He spends few days in Vaishali at a learned Brahman’s house where he comes to know about a vishakanya , raised to end the adharmik rule of Dhananand. He gets stunned and impressed by this bold preparation.

While entering into Pataliputra, he observes the grand and robust fortification of the city and understands that it is next to impossible to defeat Dhananand by a military operation (External attack). Later, he meets Shakatal, Prime Minister of Dhananand and gets to know the secret of the bitter relationship between these two. He also learns, in spite of this, why Dhananand is not able to remove Shakatal. During this meeting, Shaktal gets influenced by Chanakya due to his knowledge of Arthashastra and inspires him to eliminate Dhananad by means of an internal conflict.

Some unexpected yet favourable circumstances push Chanakya to meet to Sunanada, queen of Magadh and a mother of 8 stupid sons of Dhananand. She manages to convince Chanakya to become the teacher of her 8 sons. Chanakya agrees just to remain in vicinity of Dhananand and Amatya Rakshas so that he can prepare his plan in a better way.

Shakatal organises a grand ceremony where scholars and artists from other states are invited. That Brahman of Vaishali, Aaryamishra, also comes with his vishakanya but unfortunately the eldest son of Dhananand takes her glimpse and gets captivated in her beauty. Amatya Rakshas comes to know this and he immediately understands the possible sinister ploy against Dhananand. With the help of Dhananand, he tries to convince queen Sunanda in his plan to play a part, albeit unknowingly, so that he can destroy Chanakya and vishakanya , both in one go.

As per the plan, Amatya Rakshas declares that now Pataliputra will have a nagara-shobhini (nagara-vadhu) just like city Vaishali used to have (Amrapali). He wanted vishakanya to come forward so that he can imprison her and save the Nand dynasty from the destruction. He gets succeed too. On other side, this suicidal step of vishakanya, destroys Shaktal’s plan completely. He becomes traumatized and understands that now any time Amatya Rakshas may fix him. After thinking a lot, he finally entrusts Chanakya to win this lost battle for him. He also shares secret of his life with Chanakya. Pushpgupt (upasenapati), trustworthy of Shaktal, also joins hands with Chanakya and agrees to support him.

Amatya Rakshas, by employing a trick, traps Shaktal and gets him sidelined from the future events. Thus, he saves not only Dhananand but also reaches on verge of almost checkmating Chanakya. With his wisdom, Chanakya senses it and flee from the spot. Before escaping, he takes his great and famous vow to tie his shikha only after removing Nand dynasty. Sister of Pushpgup, also a childhood friend of Chandragupt Maurya, Shringaradevi, chief of an army unit, helps Chanakya to escape through a secret tunnel. Chanakya then takes breathtaking trip up to Avanti.

After few days, Chanakya, along with a diamond artist, reaches to Sindhu River and observes that Alexander is returning. Later on, Chandragupt, Chanakya, Shringardevi and others get together near Takshashila. Chanakya opens up about his future plan to put entire India under an able leader like Chandragupt. He also advices not to hesitate in killing Greek representatives (kshatrapa), especially Philip, if needed.

Front cover of the book – Latest Edition (Source – Internet)

As per the plan, Chanakya organises an event at Takshashila to unite all rulers of surrounding areas. He also wants to celebrate the return of Alexander due to valor shown by Puru in the war. In the event, he observes that each local ruler is dreaming to become the lord of the land by removing others. Chanakya also observes fear of Magadh in their eyes. He advises to remove Philip and other such Greek kshatrapa before the united force takes on to Magadh. Since no one agrees, Chanakya declares Chandragupt as the leader.

At the same time, Pushpgupt also reaches to Takshashila and informs that Dhananand is preparing for a march to conquer Punjab and Gandhar with 9000 elephants, 80,000 horsemen and 6 lakhs warriors. Chanakya appoints Pushpgupt as the commander (senapati) of his united force and concludes. Novel ends here.

Characters –

Main characters of this novel are Chanakya, Amatya Rakshas and Mahamantri Shaktal. Supporting characters are Dhananand, queen Sunanada, Pushpgupt, Shringaradevi, Chandragupt Maurya and other kings of North-West India. Minor characters like vishakanya, her mentor Aryamishra of Vaishali, diamond artist and others also play significant roles.

Chanakya is Aacharya of Takshashila university. He is a keen observer and a thinker. He is a stanch believer of taking calculated risk in the plan. He controls Chandragupt’s Kshatriya emotions. After Shaktal got fixed by Amatya Rakshas, Chanakya starts assuming the central role in the novel and exhibits his virtues as a shrewd planner and politician. This continues till the end of the novel. Dhumketu has beautifully woven his knowledge of Arthashastra and politics at appropriate incidents to showcase Chanakya’s prominence and astuteness. Episodes of his escape from Magadh and then breathtaking journey up to Takshashila are a treat for readers. Climax is a beautiful display of Chanakya’s decision power and quick execution skill.

Amatya Rakshas is a powerful, tactful and intelligent. Throughout the novel, his fear born out of such a characterization is constantly looming on almost every character of the novel. He is portrayed as an honest supporter of Nand dynasty and ready to extricate their enemies at any cost. Trapping vishakanya and fixing Shaktal are two episodes where his mastery and political skill are on full display. His only failure, in the novel, is escaping of Chanakya from Magadh.

Mahamantri Shaktal is an aged yet a seasoned politician but without much political support and almost imprisoned in his own palace by Dhananad. In spite of this condition, he keeps Rakshas and Dhananad guessing about his moves. Dhumketu has done a good job in characterizing him. With limited support and resources, he once almost reaches to eradicate Dhananand but intelligence of Rakshas ultimately saves Dhananand. Ploy of Rakshas ends Shaktal’s role. Dhumketu has left enough room for readers to sympathize with Shaktal.

Dhananad, as known, is a king who always thinks of how to collect more wealth in form of gold, diamond and precious gems. He is very smart and calculated while speaking to Shaktal and Sunanda. Due to his dialogues, he leaves an imprint of a cunning king who can go up to any extent to fulfill his desire.

Sunanada is more a mother than a queen. Her world revolves around her 8 sons. She is desperate to make her sons worthy as royal descendants of Dhananand. This desperation gets utilized by Chanakya to build his plan. She is a fearless and capable to speak the truth in front of Dhananand and Amatya Rakshas that had Magadh tried, Alexander’s attack could have been avoided. Once he compares Dhananand with Lankesh Ravan too.

Pushpgupt and Shringaradevi are a brother-sister duo heading important posts in armed force. They not only helped Chanakya to escape from Pataliputra but also join to him to support his vow. Incidents involving them reflects their ability to access the situation well and take quick decision accordingly.

Chandragupt Maurya has a limited presence but still referred by many throughout the novel. Dhumketu has tried to display his abilities and might as a Kshatriya in few incidents to make the reader aware why Chanakya selected and nurtured him.

One noteworthy character is vishakanya. Dhumketu has successfully established enough curiosity and mystery around her. Reader may think she will play an important role but ultimately Amatya Rakshas traps and make her ineffective. Dhumketu must have created this character for giving an insight to readers about the vicious ploys prevalent in that era. Only Amatya Rakshas and Chanakya manage to remain unfazed by her while for many others, coming in contact to her, she remains almost irresistible.

Impact of Arthashastra –

Chanakya and Arthashastra are two sides of a coin. Writing on Chanakya without references from Arthashastra can’t be envisaged. Impact of Arthashastra, in form of terminologies and concepts, are easily observed in this novel which makes this novel more authentic.

Dhumketu has mentioned, in initial chapters, that Arthashastra is Chanakay’s own creation where he has not only collected teachings of Manu and others but also presented his own novel thoughts. Having a good ambassador is a part of strong polity for the king mentioned in Arthashastra. Dhumketu has created one such character who plays an important role in changing king of Gandhar – Ambhi’s mind. Dialogues between him and Ambhi are testament. Further, in the chapters of Chanakya’s entry into Pataliputra, Dhumketu narrates various forts and types of construction in and around Pataliputra for its security. This narration takes almost 4 pages as a part of creating a mega impact of a well secured Pataliputra on mind of readers. In his first meeting, Shaktal examines Chanakaya and readers witness few important aphorisms which are considered pillars of the polity explained in Arthashastra. Also, few dialogues regarding “secret discussion (mantrana)” has its root in Arthashastra. While meeting to Dhananad, Shaktal displays more such gems which are found in Arthashastra.

Apart from concepts, many terminologies like pana (Unit of money), saarthavaha (Merchant), vishakanya, sannidhata (Tax collector), karshana (Taking monetary support from wealthy merchants), mooshika-kara (Tax related to rats), kushilava (Theater Artist), kantaka-shodhaka (Police Officer), lakshanadhyaksha (Officer related to Gems/metals) are directly taken from Arthashashastra. Only one liberty is taken to describe royal spy/agent as charapurusha instead of ghoodhapurusha. Reader may get such more usages while reading.

Literary Aspects –

Language used in the novel is almost refined except few colloquial usages. Language contains many popular and lesser known idioms and phrases. Use of figure of speech and ornated sentences at few places lift the level of the novel. Situational quotes from certain powerful characters makes the reading valuable for us. Word play to create desired impact is also observed at few places.

While sending Chandragupt to Alexander’s camp to learn the tactics of Yavana army, Chanakya gives example of Kacha going to Shukracharya (Guru of Asura) to learn sanjeevani-vidya. What a wonderful comparison!

Uniting egoistic local rulers in and around Punjab is a futile task without an able leader. To convey this, Chanakya says – Union of such rulers is a distant dream. Such union never lasts long and if it lasts, it only creates internal destruction. Union of such people can never create anything good. People following to Indian politics may easily relate this.

How a Brahman guest should to be treated in another Brahman’s house, in Indian culture, is beautifully captured by Dhumketu in Chanakya’s visit to Aryamishra’s house in Viashali. This is a very small incident but it shows Dhumketu’s deep understanding of Indian culture and to relate it appropriately in the novel.

Interaction of Chanakya with 8 stupid sons of Dhananand is also a noteworthy incident where Dhumketu has given a simple yet intelligent story of an elephant to convey the situational change in Chanakya’s approach considering the audience. One can corelate it with Panchatantra.

At one place, Amatya Rakshas speaks – This Brahman Chanakya must be removed from here (Pataliputra) otherwise more than any weapon (shastra), he will kill our people with speech (shaastra-vachan). Here, by using word play, Dhumketu creates a wonderful impact.

Concluding Remarks –

Stitching Historical sources, legends and fables into a meaningful writing is always a commendable effort. Moreover, writing on a legendary character is always a tough task considering society’s attachment with it on various levels. Toughest is to recreate the era using all resources and taking the reader back to that time period. This novel is not only recreating the ancient era but also inspiring to read next novels in the series where other half of Chanakya’s life awaits to mesmerise readers.

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.

If you are a student of politics, administration or history, you will surely enjoy the political stunts, mind games, word plays and many such impetus taken from Arthashastra. 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.

References –

  1. Mahamatya Chanakya, Dhumketu, Gurjar Prakashan
  2. Arthashastra, Kautilya

Note – This book analysis is published by MyIndMakers on 21-Aug-2020. Link is https://myind.net/Home/viewArticle/book-review-of-dhumaketus-mahamatya-chanakya

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