Chanakya Sanskrit: चाणक्य ) (c. 350-283 BC) was an adviser and a prime minister to the first Maurya Emperor Chandragupta (c. 340-293 BC), and architect of his rise to power. Kautilya and Vishnugupta, the names by which the political treatise Arthaśhāstra identifies its author, are traditionally identified with Chanakya. Some scholars consider Chanakya to be "the pioneer economist of the world. He is known as "The Indian Machiavelli" in the Western world. Chanakya was a professor at Taxila University and is widely believed to be responsible for the creation of Mauryan empire, the first of its kind on the Indian subcontinent.
K.C. Ojha puts forward the view that the traditional identification of Vishnugupta with Kautilya was caused by a confusion of editor and originator and suggests that Vishnugupta was a redactor of the original work of Kautilya. Thomas Burrow goes even further and suggests that Chanakya and Kautilya may have been two different people.
Thomas R. Trautmann lists the following elements as common to different forms of the Chanakya legend:
Later on, Ajivikism which was the official religion of the empire since the Kalinga War (261 BC) and for 14 years afterwards, declined and merged into traditional Hinduism. What has been left are a mish mash of contradictory Buddhist and Jaina legends which are even rejected by Sinhalese chronicles.
According to a legend which is a later jaina invention, while Chanakya served as the Prime Minister of Chandragupta Maurya, he started adding small amounts of poison in Chandragupta's food so that he would get used to it. The aim of this was to prevent the Emperor from being poisoned by enemies. One day the queen, Durdha, shared the food with the Emperor while she was pregnant. Since she was not used to eating poisoned food, she died. Chanakya decided that the baby should not die; hence he cut open the belly of the queen and took out the baby. A drop (bindu in Sanskrit) of poison had passed to the baby's head, and hence Chanakya named him Bindusara. Bindusara would go on to become a great king and to father the greatest Mauryan Emperor since Chandragupta - Asoka.
When Bindusara became a youth, Chandragupta gave up the throne and followed the Jain saint Bhadrabahu to present day Karnataka and settled in a place known as Sravana Belagola. He lived as an ascetic for some years and died of voluntary starvation according to Jain tradition.
Chanakya meanwhile stayed as the Prime Minister of Bindusara. Bindusara also had a minister named Subandhu who did not like Chanakya. One day he told Bindusara that Chanakya was responsible for the murder of his mother. Bindusara asked the nurses who confirmed this story and he became very angry with Chanakya.
It is said that Chanakya, on hearing that the Emperor was angry with him, thought that anyway he was at the end of his life. He donated all his wealth to the poor, widows and orphans and sat on a dung heap, prepared to die by total abstinence from food and drink. Bindusara meanwhile heard the full story of his birth from the nurses and rushed to beg forgiveness of Chanakya. But Chanakya would not relent. Bindusara went back and vent his fury on Subandhu, who asked for time to beg for forgiveness from Chanakya.
Subandhu, who still hated Chanakya, wanted to make sure that Chanakya did not return to the city. So he arranged for a ceremony of respect, but unnoticed by anyone, slipped a smoldering charcoal ember inside the dung heap. Aided by the wind, the dung heap swiftly caught fire, and the man behind the Mauryan Empire and the author of Arthashastra was burned to death.
His main philosophy was "A debt should be paid off till the last penny; An enemy should be destroyed without a trace". Ironically, Subandhu followed his main philosophy and destroyed him without a trace.
A South Indian group of Brahmins in Tamil Nadu called Sholiyar or Chozhiyar, claim that Chanakya was one of them. Though all these may sound very improbable considering the vast distance between present day Tamilnadu in the south and Magadha in Bihar, it finds curious echos in Parishista-parvan, where Hemachandra claims that Chankya was a Dramila ("Dramila" is believed to be the root of the word "Dravida" by some scholars).
There is also a claim that Chanakya belonged to the Brahmin group from the present day Kerala who are considered to have been brought there by Parashurama. Considering the fact that Adi Sankara who revived Hinduism by setting up four monasteries in the four corners of India also belonged to that group, now known as Nambudiri Brahmins, this claim too merits attention. This further goes to contradict the story of his death also. In true Hindu tradition he is said to have persuaded King Chandragupta Maurya to forsake his throne and to join him in moving to the last phase of one's life viz. Sanyasa. Accordingly, he took the King along with him to South India where both of them carried prolonged meditation and finally achieved Moksha.
Kautilya was educated at Taxila or Takshashila, in present day Pakistan. The new states (in present-day Bihar and Uttar Pradesh) by the northern high road of commerce along the base of the Himalayas maintained contact with Takshasilâ and at the eastern end of the northern high road (uttarapatha) was the kingdom of Magadha with its capital city, Pataliputra, now known as Patna. Chanakya's life was connected to these two cities, Pataliputra and Taxila.
In his early years he was tutored extensively in the Vedas - Chanakya memorized them completely at a very early age. He was also taught mathematics, geography and science along with religion. Later he travelled to Taxila, where he became a teacher of politics. Chanakya taught subjects using the best of practical knowledge acquired by the teachers. The age of entering the University was sixteen. The branches of study most sought after around India at that time ranged from law, medicine, warfare and other disciplines. Two of his more famous students were Bhadrabhatt and Purushdutt.
Political turmoil in Western India at that time caused by Greek invasion 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 he was soon disliked by Dhanananda. This ended with Chanakya being removed from an official position he enjoyed.
According to the Kashmiri version of his legend, uproots some grass because it had pricked his foot.
Two books are attributed to Chanakya: Arthashastra and Nitishastra which is also know as Chanakya Niti. The Arthashastra discusses monetary and fiscal policies, welfare, international relations, and war strategies in detail. Nitishastra is a treatise on the ideal way of life, and shows Chanakya's in depth study of the Indian way of life.