Archive of Imagination: Chanakya on Camera: History, Television and Indian Nationalism

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Played on Doordarshan in 1991-92, Chanakya, a 48-episode series, was one of Indian television’s first serious attempts at dramatizing any event or period from recorded history after its highly successful foray into religious and mythological themes in the 1980s. Televised at a time when the State had a complete monopoly over broadcasting, the series credited Chanakya with explicitly building the Mauryan empire, with Chandragupta as king, as a prototype of the modern Indian nation-state after Alexander’s Macedonian invasion had upset the internal political balance, in much the same manner as an independent India arose out of the freedom struggle against the British. Chanakya is a useful entry point to understand how the Indian state has attempted to fashion what it sees as an Indian identity through the use of television. The television series must be situated in a wider canvas painting the pedagogy of Indian nationalism and Chanakya, as a cultural text, was a microcosm of the continuing debates about the idea of India itself. Televised at a time when the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation was convulsing India, Chanakya was criticized in most contemporary accounts because parts of it were interpreted as supportive of right-wing Hindu nationalism. I argue that this critique, while entirely valid, missed the wood for the trees because the interpretation of Chanakya as a freedom fighter and the builder of the first Indian nation is firmly located in the nationalist history that emerged during the early 20th century. The television series was only an artistic rendition of this narrative that is central to the construction of Indian nationalism.

Televised in the period leading up to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, at a time when an upsurge of right-wing Hindu nationalism was convulsing India, Chanakya was criticised by many historians for falsifying history. In most contemporary accounts it is remembered because parts of it were interpreted as supportive of right-wing Hindu nationalism, forcing Doordarshan to edit out some of the offending portions. It was argued that the television version of the Mauryan empire’s formation, with its Hindu motifs, legitimised the discourse of Hindutva and had no basis in actual history. This paper, however, argues that this critique, while entirely valid, missed the wood for the trees because the interpretation of Chanakya as a freedom fighter and the builder of the first Indian nation is firmly located in nationalist historiography that emerged during the early 20th century. The discourse of the Indian nationalist movement that emerged in this period was itself based on this nationalist re-interpretation of historical sources. The televised portrayal of Chanakya, with its major themes of eternal India tracing its lineage back to the Mauryas and a freedom struggle against the Macedonians in service of Mother India, therefore, was only an artistic rendition of a history that is central to the construction of Indian nationalism. This is why it was aired by state television in the first place, because as a popular cultural text it was meant to project a nationalist vision of India to Indian viewers.

Chanakya himself is a figure of legends which assign to him a historical role. He is unknown to the classical Greek accounts of the period. However, in Indian legends he is known as Chanakya, while in his character as the author of Arthaśāstra he is generally referred to by his gotra (clan) name, Kautalya. The sub-continental legends concerning him are preserved in works which, for the most part, are dated to the Gupta or post-Gupta period and therefore are separated from the times to which they refer by many centuries. Nevertheless, there is enough evidence of a popular cycle of tales concerning Nanda, Chandragupta Maurya and Chanakya. Versions of this tale are preserved in Pali, Jain and Kashmiri literature; the Puranas and in the Sanskrit play Mudrārākşasa (The Signet-Ring of the Rākşasa) with its ancillary literature. I argue that the many complexities in the historical story, as we can decipher, of Chanakya and the rise of the Mauryas were completely ignored in a nationalist re-writing of the tale in the early 20th century because of specific political and sociological conditions created by colonialism.

The question of whether nations are invented or have primordial origins is at the heart of the study of nationalism. Among theorists who saw nationalism as a consequence of the modern industrial age, Ernest Gellner has postulated that it is in essence a fabrication – “nationalism invents nations where they do not exist”. In contrast, A.D. Smith traced nations to their pre-modern ethnic origins but saw nationalism itself as an ideological construct: the penetration of the modern state leads to the formation of an intelligentsia who, in their quest for cultural reform, create an idealised past that would be the basis for the emergence of a nationalist ethnic ideology. The television series must be located in this context and situated in a wider canvas painting the pedagogy of Indian nationalism.

As a cultural text, the televised series on Chanakya, and the various debates around it were a microcosm of the continuing debates about the idea of India itself. Being one of Indian television’s first forays into recorded history, the series is a useful entry-point to examine the role of television in modern nationalism and its complex relationship with the state. This paper will use the television portrayal of Chanakya as a case-study to understand the ways by which the Indian state has attempted to fashion what it sees as an Indian identity through the use of television. It will critically analyse Doordarshan’s Chanakya and examine its discourse with respect to modern national pedagogy, cultural identity and nationalist historiography as a means of illustrating not just television’s role in augmenting Indian nationalism but the changing meanings attached to this nationalism itself. I will do this by first providing a brief background to the series itself, locating it within the story of Indian television, and critically examining its discourse in relation to the scholarly historical interpretations of the period it depicts.
Situating Chanakya in Indian Television
Chanakya was Doordarshan’s second dramatisation of a historical theme, following The Sword of Tipu Sultan which aired between 1989 and 1990. Portraying Tipu Sultan as a nationalist freedom fighter, this series dramatised the late 18th century Mysore ruler’s fatal struggle with the British East India Company. Chanakya followed soon after, and it is no accident that both of Doordarshan’s first historical dramas were focused on nationalist themes, as were many others that followed.

The move towards history was an off-shoot of Doordarshan’s extremely popular programming on religious and mythological themes in the mid-1980s. Although television was first introduced in the country in 1959 for educational purposes, under a state that retained monopoly over the medium, it was never aggressively promoted until the 1970s. While the reasons for this are beyond the scope of this paper, it is pertinent to mention that Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru thought it too expensive a toy in a country where more than half the population lived below the poverty line. So while the state retained control on grounds of sovereignty, for this and a variety of ideological reasons, the medium was virtually ignored until the 1970s when it was seen afresh as a tool for development. Indian television only became a mass medium in the early 1980s with the setting up of transmitters across the country and the advent of colour television in the 1982 New Delhi Asian Games. This was part of a vision that saw television as a tool of cultural engineering and for creating an Indian national character. The massification of television that followed was partly a result of the introduction of entertainment programming which, in turn, was closely linked to two related developments: the advent of commercials and the commissioning of programmes to independent producers.

It was one these independent producers, Ramanand Sagar, who produced Doordarshan’s path-breaking Ramayana (1987-1990), followed by Mahabharata, which provided the network an unprecedented economic windfall and paved the way for further programming in this genre. Ramayana quickly turned into “Ramayana fever”, to quote India Today. Contemporary press reports detailed instances of mass devotion and empty streets when the series aired: “In many homes the watching of Ramayana has become a religious ritual and the television set…is garlanded, decorated with sandalwood paste and vermillion, and conch shells are blown.” There is now a substantial literature establishing the crucial role Doordarshan’s Ramayana played in fashioning the setting for the Hindutva revival in the mid-1980s which centered around the Ram Janmabhoomi- Babri Masjid dispute. “Drawing on myth and devotionalism to portray a golden age of tradition that was yet ahead of the modern era in statecraft and warfare, the show which ran from January 1987 to September 1990 adroitly made appeals to diverse social groups, under a symbolic rubric that could be tied to the banner of Hindu assertion…If inhibition and prohibition earlier joined to limit religion’s use for systematic political mobilization, what was offered now was an extra charge in bringing together previously separated realms.” While it is impossible to establish any direct link between the series and the politics of the period, television certainly re-shaped the context in which politics was conceived, enacted and understood creating the framework for a new kind of politics. For instance, the Ramayana has had many variants across India and Romila Thapar has argued that the television version as well as the politics of the Ram Janmabhoomi drove out the versions of the story which did not conform to the Valmiki or Tulsidas renderings, making the public performance of other versions very difficult. This allowed the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to present themselves as the guardians of Rama and allow only one version of the tale as acceptable. The transformation of the Rama image from that of a serene, omnipresent, ever-forgiving God into an angry, punishing one, armed with various weapons was a manifestation of the impact of television and fed into notions of a militaristic and virile Hinduism.

In most critical accounts, television is understood in terms of its ideological power, by virtue of the ruling order it springs from, and in terms of the ideas it helps circulate. Domination occurs without viewers being aware of it and this is why a study of the discourses prevalent on television is important. While different viewers interpret the same televised product in different ways, television is a cultural arena where ideas circulate and which has a bearing on the way people think. One example of this kind of study is Lila Abu-Lughod’s ethnographic work on Egyptian television soap operas as they relate to national pedagogy, class politics, religious and gender identity, and modern subjectivities. In the Indian context, “The way in which the state dealt with television reveals that it not only expected it to represent national equality through its messages, but interpreted the medium itself as a representative of the advanced, ideologically balanced and culturally monolithic nation-state. Television had developed from and stood for a standardized national unity…” Commercial entertainment programming had to be accommodated within an ideology that saw television as a tool for furthering the state’s developmental and cultural objectives and therefore each such programme was carefully commissioned to reflect these aims. S.S. Gill who, as Information and Broadcasting Secretary, gave permission to serialise Ramayana and Mahabharata, defended his decision saying the epics were examples of Indian culture, rather than the Hindu religion. He also emphasised that the decision was based on their encapsulation of pan-Indian, and indeed, universal values. “These idiots gave it a religious gloss! If I’d had been there, I’d never have let them do this! Ramayana and Mahabharata are not religious epics!”

With the unprecedented commercial success of the two, Doordarshan moved to history – The Sword of Tipu Sultan and Chanakya being its first experiments in the genre. Both of these were produced by private producers who paid the network a fee while making their own money from commercial advertising. Chanakya’s producer Chandraprakash Dwivedi, who also played the title role, claims that though the series was filmed while Ramayana and Mahabharata were already on air, he had proposed the idea to Doordarashan even before the two mega-epics were ideated. He says he had three basic aims: “to depict that history can be changed by one man’s conviction”, to portray “the forging of the nation in the changing political conditions of 400 B.C. and how the nation was united” and “to re-create that whole universe in its entirety”. Clearly, a story that traced the lineage of the nation back to around 4th century B.C. had good nationalist credentials that appealed to officials at Doordarshan.

Built at a reported cost of Rs 10 lakh per episode, Chanakya soon acquired a life of its own. In the great tradition of mega-epics on Doordarshan, it first aired in the prime time 10am slot on Sunday mornings but was soon picked up by the BBC as part of its Asian programming. From Oct 9, 1993, Chanakya was introduced to British audiences on BBC 2 and its exotic filming led to one particularly gushing article in The Guardian, the writer exulting in his discovery of the Orient:
You’d have to go back to the great Arthur Freed-MGM musicals, with their specially-dyed-for Technicolor fabrics, to approach the rags worn by the merest spear-carrier…its cool, dark palaces where princes frolicked in pools among floating mari-golds were delicious enough, but several episodes were set in exile in a rustic hut, every panel of which was evidently hand-woven, giving the static, two-shot images a lively density. Chanakya challenged all perceptions: visual, emotional and narrative.

In 1996, Dwivedi was hired as the programming chief of the new Hindi private entertainment channel Zee TV and the series got another run on the new channel in 1997.

It is no accident that soon after the second run, a political party called Chanakya Party was formed. Registered by the Election Commission of India, this party avowedly drew inspiration from the tenets of Chanakya and put up candidates for the 1999 general election. Set up by a group of Brahmins that saw in Chanakya’s Brahmin origins an inspirational figure to tie the community together, the Chanakya Party was organised as a votary of Bihar’s Brahmin community. In 2003, the revival of Chanakya took another form with the Brahmins in Patna setting up the Chanakya Vichar Manch (Chanakya Thought Forum) with further plans to form a militant youth wing called the Chanakya Sena (Chanakya Army). It claimed to have a membership of 10,000 with units in every district of Bihar and in the three Jharkhand districts of Ranchi, Jamshedpur and Hazaribagh.

Constructing Chanakya: History and Television
There are four central motifs running through Chanakya: a discourse on eternal India, geographically encompassing the entire sub-continent and, though divided politically, bound by a common civilisational chord; the notion of Maa Bharati (Mother India); the freedom struggle against the Macedonian invaders; and the creation of the Mauryan empire by Chanakya and Chandragupta as a political realisation of the eternal nation.

Chanakya’s first appearance in the series as a grown man is marked by his delivering a powerful eulogy to the nation, encompassing all these concepts, in a graduation speech at a Taxila gurukul (traditional school):
Sons of Maa Bharati [Mother India]…You are returning to your respective motherlands. But today I will not let any Maagadh, any Mallav, any Licchivi, any Kuru, any Panchala to go from here. Today only an Indian will leave here. The Indian land has people speaking numerous different languages and following numerous different religions like a house with different people. Our mother land is certainly divided politically into many janapadas [kingdoms] but culturally it is the same. The sons of Maa Bharti are being fostered in the flow of the same culture. So, how can the boundaries of janapadas divide them? I am warning the sons of Bharat sitting in front of me that do not attempt to divide Indians on the basis of the janpada boundaries. Preserve that cultural link that joins man and man…When students leave they should sing loudly the song of our cultural and national unity…in a united voice so the teachers of the gurukul can believe that they have constructed a nation, not divided it into many parts. May Maa Bharati enlighten your path.

The nationalist overtones couldn’t be clearer. Chanakya is clearly cast as a nation-builder, committed to the idea of a nation built on the principle of unity in diversity, a notion that is central to the idea of modern Indian nationalism. The prominent use of the Maa Bharati motif here is particularly telling because this is a figure that emerged as a central construct of Indian nationalism only in the 19th century. The genealogy of the figure of Mother India has been traced to a satirical piece titled Unabimsa Purana (The Nineteenth Purana), first published anonymously in 1866. Mother India was identified in this text as Adhi-bharati, the widow of Arya Swami, the embodiment of all that is essentially Aryan. This image of the dispossessed motherland then found form in Kiran Chandra Bandyopadhyay’s play, Bharat Mata, first performed in 1873. Jasodhara Bagchi has pointed out that Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s novel Anand Math marked an important turning point in the evolution of this symbol. Chattopadhyaya’s hymn to the nation, Bande Matram, which describes the nation Bharat as mother was originally written for his journal Bangadarshan and later inserted into Anand Math (1882). It was then set to music and sung by Rabindranath Tagore at Beadon Square during the 1896 convention of the Indian National Congress. The Mother India notion soon became a prominent part of nationalist tradition with its iconography shifting to the form of the goddess, the motif of a nascent nationalism “in the process of widening its popular appeal by appropriating prevalent religious culture.” It entered the domain of religious worship in 1936 when a temple of Bharat Mata was opened in Benaras and inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi and then carried on its journey to become a central figure in right-wing Hindu nationalist ideology, as embodied by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). Clearly, it is this tradition of nationalism as invented religion, created in the 19th and early 20th centuries, that is thrown back to Chanakya’s time in the television series with Maa Bharati being only a Sankritised version of Bharat Mata. Chandraprakash Dwivedi, when questioned about the use of this of this motif, defends it:
Because the Sangh [RSS] uses this a lot, people think this is a later construction. But the imagination of the mother from the earth is linked to the earliest times. The question is how you see these perspectives. I have based my creation on the basis of the history I have read, based on people who have written on Chanakya who have nothing to do with either the right or the left wing. All of them used this expression. Who gave this expression, Mother India? This is the foolishness of people who believe that it is a later expression. There are many sayings in Vedic science where the mother is imagined from the earth.”

The explanation notwithstanding, it is clear that Bharat Mata as an embodiment of the eternal nation is a modern construct and this complex relationship between the nation and religion is projected back into the past as the primary motivation of a retrospective nationhood.

Another telling feature in Chanakya’s discourse on the ancient geographical and cultural unity of India is the discord between the border kingdom of Ambhi (Gandhara is in modern Afghanistan and north-west Pakistan, with its capital at Takshashila) and the great Kaikeya king Paurava (Porus in classical Greek accounts, ruler of modern Punjab). According to classical accounts, Ambhi’s differences with Paurava prompted him to align with Alexander when he reached India, thereby opening the gateway into the sub-continent. The early part of the series is devoted to the discord between the two kingdoms, wherein Ambhi is clearly portrayed as a believer in the idea of India as a single nation and one who sees himself as its protector. It is his son, Ambhi Kumar, who does not believe in this notion and harbours dreams of glory, creates trouble with Paurava and makes an alliance with Alexander. As the border dispute created by prince Ambhi Kumar intensifies, a peace messenger from Paurava greets King Ambhi with the following words: “Maharaj Paurava says Gandhara is a border province of Bharat and we are proud that the weight of protecting India’s border provinces falls on the shoulders of good men like you.” Ambhi’s response, “Tell him I have not been able to do my duties well…,” clearly showcases his belief in the notion that he was a border sentinel of the larger nation. To further drive home this point, when King Ambhi hears of his son’s treaty with Alexander, he commits suicide, but not before admonishing his son: “Fool, you have placed the head of India at his feet to save your own head…Takshashila is an indivisible part of India. The janapadas may have political freedom but are not cut off from the national stream. We, guardians of the border areas, have always been answerable to India and will also remain so.”

The point of this story is that it neatly sidesteps the problems the historical alliance between Alexander and Ambhi created for those wishing to see an ancient Indian nation in retrospect, as opposed to just warring kingdoms. The discourse here is of an eternal nation, betrayed by an errant ruler. Even Paurava’s attack on Ambhi’s kingdom is justified by one of his ministers not on imperial grounds, but on nationalist ones: “Takshashila is the gateway of India. We can’t entrust its security to a ruler like Ambhi.” The ensuing battle between Paurava and Ambhi is clearly interpreted as detrimental to nationalism, a pre-cursor of the many regional rivalries the modern Indian state still grapples with. This is made clear in Chanakya’s dialogue with a minister of Paurava: “In this strife between janapadas, nationalism dies…This self-centred politics of janapadas will be a problem for the nation’s development. This struggle will one day bring the nation to the doors of destruction.”

This conception of a united ancient national consciousness is, of course, hugely problematic. Romila Thapar has pointed out that the Indian concepts of Jambudvipa and Bharatvarsha, which are continually referred to in Chanakya, were not exactly geographical concepts but cosmological ones. Jambudvipa was used as early as the Mauryan period but appears to have included more than the sub-continent. Bharatvarsha was one of its nine divisions but references to it occur much later. Bharatvarsha, in turn, was divided into nine areas, each an island separated by enclosing seas. “Clearly there was not even an attempt at geographical exactitude.” As Thapar says, the terms used for India by West Asians – the Hindush of the Persian kings, the Indoi of the Greeks, the Indica of the Latin writers and the al-Hind of the Arabs – were all names derived from the Indus, and were terms used to refer to the land on the other side. For the Persians, this just meant the north-west of the sub-continent, for the Greeks it became larger as their knowledge expanded and for the Arabs, al-Hind was initially the trans-Indus region and only gradually came to include other areas. Although the sources use the same name for the sub-continent, “none of them speak of the Indians in all these areas as constitutive of a single nation. ‘Indian’ is not a term of national identity in these texts but is essentially a term of proximate geographical placement.”

It is telling that Kautalya himself does not make any reference to anything than can be termed as nationalist reasoning in the Arthaśāstra. Propounding what would now amount to a Hobbsien view of the world, very similar to the modern concept of Realism in International Relations Theory, the Arthaśāstra argues that at any given point of time a kingdom is in a state of decline, stability or advancement. Each kingdom should therefore focus on defending itself, making necessary alliances and solving its internal problems “to progress from decline to stable condition and from stable condition to advancement”. In a state of prosperity, however, a kingdom must advance and conquer its neighbours with no moral qualms. “When in decline as compared to the enemy, [a king] should make peace. When prospering, he should make war.” Kautalya makes it clear that earlier promises or treaties should not hinder conquest. The king’s status in relation to other kings – superior, inferior or equal – determines foreign policy. His idea of mandala, loosely translated in this context as circle of states, had as its central reference point the vijigishu, the ambitious king, and posits as being in constant opposition to him all immediate neighbours of the kingdom who were, therefore, enemies. He deemed the kings beyond the neighbours to be their enemies, and therefore friends of the vijigishu. While, other kinds of kings, who could be non-aligned, were also recognised, the central notion is one of constant flux in which power must be retained and expanded at all costs. This is not a theory of nationalism, this is a theory of survival and realpolitik specific to a land where there are many kings jostling for power. While there is no mention of empire in the text, it is clear that the kingdom must be expanded to ensure its continuance and to attain greater status, not to weld together anything that could be deemed to be a nation.

We have seen, however, that Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s televised Chanakya framed the nation as apriori. Once this was done, it became logical to portray the resistance to Alexander by various sub-continental kingdoms and self-administering units as a national freedom struggle that was channeled by Chanakya and Chandragupta to create a nation-state, the Mauryan empire, that would be the bulwark against future invasions and protect indigenous cultures. And so in episode 11, he tells a minister of Paurava: “Without uniting the land between the Himalayas and the ocean, defeating the Greeks is impossible.” He then becomes a travelling ideologue moving from kingdom to kingdom to start a guerrilla movement, which flounders on the question of leadership.

Even the great vow by Chanakya to uproot the Nanda dynasty of Magadha, which is at the centre of his legend, is twisted to nationalist purposes. Chanakya, in his role as freedom fighter, approaches the Nanda king and appeals for a united front with Paurava against Alexander:
A warrior named Alexander is advancing towards India after uprooting the empires of Egypt and Persia. He has already concluded a peace treaty with Takshashila. Soon he will attack India…India will be ruled by Greeks…India’s borders are unprotected. Only Magadha can protect them. So I have come to pray to you that Magadha takes up the responsibility of protecting India’s borders…To protect India, I beg you for military assistance…India’s borders are calling you, Dhanananda…

When the king ridicules him, saying he would respond to Alexander only when he attacks Magadha, Chanakya unties his knot of hair and takes the vow: “Until I overthrow anti-national kings like Dhanananda, I, Chanak’s son Chanakya, will not tie my choti [knot of hair]” This is shown to be the genesis of the Mauryan empire as a prototype of the united nation.

The clever incorporation of the vow into the grand narrative of a freedom struggle is a significant re-interpretation of the Chanakya story preserved in the sources. All the variants of the Chanakya-Chandragupta-Katha agree that Chanakya was a Brahmin who offended the Nanda king when he arrogantly sat on his throne at an assembly in the royal court at Magadha. When Nanda angrily ordered him out, Chanakya vowed his destruction, the untying of the knot being a symbol of the vow, and fled. With revenge in mind, Chanakya then amassed wealth to hire troops and adopted a boy named Chandragupta Maurya who showed promise as a future king.

While in the historical sources, the revenge is central to the Chanakya story, the television serial makes Alexander’s invasion and the resulting freedom struggle the primary focus. None of the original Indian sources, however, have any mention of Alexander and the role his invasion played in the overthrow of the Nandas. In fact, the complete absence of any memory of Alexander in Indian sources is particularly telling and while it is reasonable to argue that his invasion sparked the political struggle for power that led to the Mauryan empire, it must be remembered that Alexander subjugated only a small part of the country and stayed only for a brief period. In sharp contrast, Alexander’s impact on Persia was so huge that tales of his exploits figured even in medieval writings, most prominently in Firdausi’s 10th century epic, the Shah-Nama, with its hero Iskander (Alexander).

The Arthaśāstra is clear on Chanakya’s motives: “This science has been composed by him, who, in resentment, quickly regenerated the science and the weapon and the earth that was under the control of the Nanda kings.” The Puranas add: “A Brahmin, Kautilya will uproot them all [the Nandas] and, after they have enjoyed the earth one hundred years, it will pass to the Mauryas. Kautilya will anoint Chandragupta as king in the realm.”

The second half of Dwivedi’s Chanakya is based on Viśākhadatta’s Sanskrit play, the Mudrārākşasa, which depicts Chandragupta’s accession to power. The play’s date has been attributed to the Gupta or post-Gupta period, and therefore was separated from the events it depicted by a few centuries. A play in the nātaka tradition, Mudrārākşasa repeats the story of Chanakya’s wrath and the untied knot, depicts the alliance with the hill chief Parvataka and how he was disposed off after victory; and culminates with a final victory over Nanda’s minister Rākşasa. Unlike the modern televised story, the play portrays Chandragupta as one of Nanda’s son and in fact includes the Yavanas (Greeks) as one of the members of Chandragupta’s victorious alliance with Parvataka and various barbarian hordes. When Chandragupta refuses to part with half the kingdom, the alliance turns against him. The rest of the play is about how Chanakya spins a web of intrigue to defuse the alliance. The greater part of the play may be an invention, especially because it mentions the Hunas who were not known to the region till much later in the Gupta period. Although the play was written centuries after the events it depicts, it does represent the political ideas prevalent in India at least in the Gupta or post-Gupta period. It follows then that the struggle against the Nandas was clearly due to internal reasons and the Greeks, if they ever figured in it, functioned as purely ancillary factors to be used when it suited the Indian actors.

It is significant that Plutarch mentions a meeting between the young Chandragupta (Androcuttus, Sandrocuttus in Justin) and Alexander in his account. He holds that Chandragupta often said that Alexander could easily have conquered Magadha, since the king, Nanda, was hated and despised for his “evil disposition and mean origin”. He adds that even to the present day the kings of Praisai (of which Chandragupta was one) cross the river to make offerings on the 12 altars Alexander had constructed to mark the limits of his eastward advance. The second statement may be too much of a stretch but the overall evidence, in balance, makes it possible to argue that Chandragupta could have met Alexander and tried to persuade him to join forces against the Nanda king. This makes the dispute with Nanda his primary motivation, as attested in the Indian sources. He was then, not a retrospective nationalist in the modern sense but a leader who used the fluid political situation to rise to power, very much a product of his times.

We know from Megasthenes’ account that Chandragupta as emperor fought Alexander’s successor in the East, Seleucus Nikator, around 305 B.C. and concluded a peace treaty in 303 B.C., wherein he possibly gained the provinces of Gedrosia, Arachosia, Aria and Paropamisadae in return for 500 war elephants. The question is did he first conquer the Punjab after leading a resistance against Alexander, the later war against Seleucus being its final culmination; or did he first become king of Magadha and then took advantage of the political turmoil after Alexander’s return to expand his empire northwards? Historians are divided on the question of the rise of Chandragupta and it is pertinent to quote Justin here: “This man was of mean origin, but was prompted to aspire to royal power by the divine will. For when he had offended king Nandrus [Nanda] by his impudence, and was ordered by the king to be slain, he sought safety in the swiftness of his feet…gathering together a band of robbers he instigated the Indians to a new sovereignty…Having thus acquired the throne Sandrocottus [Chandragupta] was in possession of India when Seleucus was laying the foundation of his future greatness.” The conclusion seems clear that Chandragupta became king of Magadha by overthrowing Nanda, and then, king of India by defeating Alexander’s prefects. Romila Thapar has put the date of Chandragupta’s accession at 321 B.C. and argues that he consolidated his control in the east after Alexander’s withdrawal. The continuing disintegration of the northern kingdoms must have provided the opportunity for him to conquer them. From there it is likely he moved southwards into central India and by 313 B.C. occupied the area around Avanti. The year 305 B.C. saw him moving to the north again in the campaign against Seleucus, with the treaty of 303 B.C. concluding the war. “To state as some historians have done, that Chandragupta set out to accomplish the unity of India is largely the result of a prejudice. Since there was no national consensus then, involving the entire sub-continent, the only means of holding together such a unit depended on administrative and military strength.”

The televised Chanakya, however, portrays Chandragupta as a revolutionary nationalist who sings patriotic songs and plots against foreign invaders:
We worship the motherland…
With our body, with our mind and with our wealth…
With our body, with our mind, with our wealth and with our life
We worship the Motherland.
We read our past, overturn our history and worry about our
We remember our past eras, when so many instances occurred of
problems overtaking our motherland.
We worship the motherland.

Chandragupta’s soldiers fight the Greek invaders with battle cries of Jai Ma Bharati (Victory to Mother India) and when questioned about the violent struggle, Chanakya’s answer is simple:
The Greeks are the invaders in our land. This is our nation. This is our land…the danger is not just slavery of the Greeks but also that of cultural slavery that will slowly overtake our society…hence, if this nation is not awakened from its stupor soon, if this nation is not united then it will be become very difficult to release it from bondage. Light the flame of the freedom struggle in every house…every village, every town…May Maa Bharati enlighten your path. Arise India.

Freeing India from the Greeks thus becomes just the first step in uniting the nation and Magadha was to be conquered in national interest to forge the Mauryan empire: “Had we been united could they [the Greeks] have crossed the Indus? From Himalayas to the ocean, is our land, our nation. If we even now do not unite and identify ourselves as a nation then invaders can come back and history can be changed…We need to unite under one umbrella, so this nation is self-reliant, is powerful, glorious and we can say that this is a pure land.” Carrying on this vein, the series is replete with patriotic songs revolving around the notion of Maa Bharati and it was here that it ran into trouble. Episode 17 for example, shows a group of Brahmins marching through the streets of Takshashila with saffron flags and singing freedom songs to recruit soldiers against the Greeks. Chanakya’s Brahman soldiers carry saffron motifs, espouse the rhetoric of national honour and sing songs that are similar to those sung in RSS gatherings:
From the high mountains of the Himalayas, the voice of India (Bharati) rises.
Enlightened sons of India, the voice of freedom beckons you.
Brave sons of India, take a vow.
Walk on the path of glory and march ahead.
Countless rays of light are spreading light of courage
Noble sons of the motherland
Don’t stop, courageous sons
Join the ocean of brave soldiers and sacrifice your life.
As brave immortal warriors
Keep marching, keep marching ahead…

It must be stressed that until this point the series had only generated praise in the media as a historic mega-epic, with little notice from academia, but the songs and the saffron motifs squarely parked it within the framework of the Hindu-nationalist upsurge at the time, centred around the rhetoric of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. This sparked off a furious debate and Victoria L. Farmer, among others, has commented that the treatment of the period in Chanakya was part of a series of programmes on state television that have, or could have been, appropriated for communal ends. The televised portrayal, in that sense, provided a platform to bend the past to justify new definitions of Indian-ness. This was based on a magnificent past, essentially a Hindu past, which was portrayed as the genesis of the nation. Embarrassed by the controversy, Doordarshan forced Dwivedi to edit and limit some of the offending portions – the songs and the saffron flags – after threatening him with a ban. Dwivedi defended himself saying these were patriotic songs, “all those songs spoke about nationality only,” though the policy makers at Doordarshan thought that the serial would strengthen the Hindutva perspective.

Despite this, however, in his interview to me in 2005 Dwivedi denied that he was a right-wing ideologue, “I am not right-wing, as is believed…I was labeled by people at the time that I am connected to the RSS, connected to the BJP…that the serial was funded by the BJP. This surprises me even today…Even today when I made the film Pinjar it was seen with same viewpoint. This is a very sad situation.” This assertion needs to be seen in the context of the fact that Dwivedi is a known advocate of the Ram temple at Ayodhya, but it is equally true that Pinjar has been hailed as a plea for secularism and ended with a climax emphasising compassion and forgiveness over communal hatred. What should be looked at more closely is his belief that the duty of the media is to formulate national priorities which should be the frame of reference for Indian citizens. He believes Chanakya was an attempt at creating a pan-Indian identity, which was not acknowledged by Doordarshan. This is why when he moved as programming director to the private satellite channel Zee TV he saw it as an opportunity to provide an alternative view, “Right now we must embark on those programmes, those who can create Indian identity…Today’s generation even questions the validity of Ram…If you don’t project your past in the correct perspective your future generations will totally disregard it…”

Re-interpreting History
The main contention raised by the arguments above, of course, is what constitutes Indian identity and who will define it? This is at the heart of the debate over Chanakya, as Dwivedi himself points out:
Left-wing historians in those days created a lot of noise. They believed that India became a nation only after 1947…That this was the creation of the British. This is a very big philosophical question. What is nationalism? My personal view is that the nation may not have been defined in that period in the same words as people today define it. We have not had a tradition of writing history but the creation of a society has been part of man’s imagination from the beginning. Unfortunately, we have a group of historians which straightaway rejects every greatness associated with ancient India.

Dwivedi’s claim that his Chanakya was based on history, a history written by pre-independence historians with no “right or left leanings”, needs to be seen in the context of how what we understand as Indian history has been written, framed and understood over the years. For this I refer to Romila Thapar’s seminal 1968 essay ‘Interpretations of Ancient Indian History’. Considering the question of the ideological writings inherent in historical writing, Thapar traces how the historical writings on ancient India have undergone a significant series of changes in interpretation over the last two centuries. The historical writings produced by European scholars beginning in the 18th century were formulated in terms of “ideological attitudes then dominant in Europe and were significantly different from the indigenous traditions of ancient India.” These ideologies continued to be influential even after Indian scholars began to write and were only challenged in recent decades. Chanakya is firmly situated at the centre of this debate that has had a strong bearing on the ongoing conflict over Indian nationalism and what it signifies.

As Thapar points out, the first serious history writing on India began in the late 18th century with the work of scholars that have been described as Orientalists or Indologists. For them, the most significant discovery was the relationship between Sanskrit and certain European languages, which led to the Aryans of India being seen as the nearest intellectual relatives of the Europeans and the ancient Indian past interpreted as almost a lost wing of early European culture. This brought into vogue the concept of a timeless, unchanging India with the village community seen as the idyllic centre for the qualities of gentleness, passivity and other worldliness that Westerners associated with India.

The first important history of India, however, came not from the Orientalists but from James Mill in 1817. His History of British India divided Indian history into three main sections: Hindu, Muslim and the British period. For Mill, Indians had no concern for political values and Indian society had remained substantially static and unchanged from the period of its origin to the coming of the British. Heavily influenced by the ideas of rationalism and individualism, Mill opined that the Indian people had been ruled by a succession of despotic and tyrannical rulers but this would change with the British rule. A strong believer in utilitarian principles, Mill believed that British legislation would transform India into a dynamic and progressive society. This view of a society without any virtue was also taken up by the Evangelicals, except that they saw Christianity, not legislation, as the answer. The idea of a static India, ruled for centuries by Oriental despots, was prominent in various philosophies of history during the period. For Hegel, for instance, true history involved dialectical change and development. “Indian history remained stationary and fixed and therefore outside the stream of world history.” This was then taken up by Marx and worked into his thesis on the Asiatic Mode of Production, characterised by the absence of privately-owned land, an emphasis on nearly self-sufficient village economies, and the complete subjugation and exploitation of these by despotic rulers who lived in luxury. As Romila Thapar points out, these assumptions were based on highly unreliable data and lack of knowledge but became a central tenet of historical writing into the early 20th century. Once they became established, source material pertaining to the ancient Indian period was often fitted to conform to these notions. Therefore, Max Müller could say: “The Hindu enters the world as a stranger; all his thoughts are directed to another world; he takes no part even where he is driven to act; and when he sacrifices his life, it is but to be delivered from it.”

The first generation of Indian historians, from the late 19th century onwards, continued the pattern set by European historians. The challenge came from the second generation. These historians – like H.C. Raychaudhuri, K.P. Jaiswal, R.C. Majumdar, R.K. Mookerjee, H.C. Ojha – were writing in the 1920s and 30s and clearly felt the impact of the nationalist movement which had grown in strength from the early 1900s. Their interpretations were clearly based on a nationalist point of view. “There was an unashamed glorification of the Indian past. This was in part a reaction to the criticism of Mill and other writers and in part a necessary step in the building of national self-respect. The glorious past was also a compensation for the humiliating present.” The search for a glorious past included the setting up of Indian culture as spiritual and essentially superior to the materialistic West.

The key point for our purposes is that nationalism entailed a desire to stress the political unity of India to the earliest times. “Thus the rise of the Mauryan empire in the third century B.C. and its extension over almost the entire sub-continent was seen as an expression of an all-India consciousness.” Writers like Radha Kumud Mookerji hailed Chandragupta as the “leader of a revolution”, a “freedom struggle” against the Greeks, who brought “liberation” and glory to India. The empire was equated with a prototype nation for a magnificent past justified the ideology of nationalism; it was easier to believe in a nation that existed from posterity than one that was a creation of the colonial masters. Chanakya and Chandragupta Maurya, in this context, were now seen as early heroes who welded the nation together.

The discovery of the Arthaśāstra in 1905, when an anonymous Pandit handed over a manuscript to the chief librarian of the Mysore Government Oriental Library, was a seminal event in this process. Chanakya’s treatise on governance challenged the picture of a changeless India, its inhabitants preoccupied with meditation and metaphysical speculations, neither experiencing history nor taking part in it. It became a stimulus for the new nationalist thought that was emerging the period and generated great interest in ancient Indian political theory. The existence of strongly centralised empires and indigenous schools of political thought not only fortified nationalist sentiment, it also forced a re-appraisal by at least some European scholars. Hermann Jacobi, for instance, hailed Chanakya as an Indian Bismarck. It is little wonder then that Jawaharlal Nehru wrote in Discovery of India, 1945:
Soon news came of Alexander’s death at Babylon in 323 B.C., and immediately Chandragupta and Chanakya raised the old and ever new cry of nationalism and roused the people against the foreign invader…The appeal to nationalism had brought allies to Chandragupta, and he marched with them across North India to Pataliputra. Within two years of Alexander’s death, he was in possession of that city and kingdom and the Maurya empire had been established….For the first time in recorded history a vast centralized state had arisen in India.

Clearly, the belief in an age-old nationalism, fulfilled first by Chanakya and Chandragupta, had by this time become a central tenet of nationalist discourse. The idea of a nationalist freedom struggle against the Greeks was crucial to this and the televised Chanakya, should be seen as merely an extension of this framework. This is precisely what the series portrays. It is no accident that Alexander and the Macedonians in the televised series are all shown as speaking English. They could as easily have spoken Hindi but the use of English by the invaders juxtaposed the ancient freedom struggle with the modern one against the British, making it easier for viewers to make the connection.

When I questioned Dwivedi about his sources for Chanakya, he named, among others, Hindu Polity by Kashi Prasad Jaiswal and Radhakumand Mukherjee’s Chandragupta Maurya and his Times and Ancient Education System – all studies written in the nationalist phase and part of the new discourse which focused on the defence of an ancient, pristine culture/nation against invaders. This is why Dwivedi can claim that his version was “based on history” and “quite correct” because these ideas have seeped into the core of the nationalist construction of India. Nehru himself believed in this construction of a primordial nationalism predicated on Hinduism:
But now [the Gupta period] periodic invasion by strange peoples with strange customs had shaken her [India] up, and she could no longer ignore these interruptions, which not only broke up her political structure but endangered her cultural ideas and social structure also. The reaction was essentially a nationalist one. That mixture of religion and philosophy, history and tradition, custom and social structure, which in its wide fold included almost every aspect of the life of India then, and which might be called Brahmanism or (to use a later word) Hinduism, became the symbol of nationalism. It was indeed a national religion with its appeal to all those deep instincts, racial and cultural, which form the basis of nationalism everywhere today.

Romila Thapar has argued that the tendency to see the ancient period as one of prosperity and contentment also meant that Mill’s periodisation of Indian history into Hindu, Muslim and British periods was greatly strengthened. The ancient period became synonymous with the Hindu period; the medieval period with Muslims; and the modern with British. “This distinction was emphasized by the rather arbitrary association of the most acceptable achievements of the Indian past with Hindu culture. Not surprisingly, nationalism was replaced by a form of militant Hinduism…It was maintained that Hinduism in its Sanskritik form was the essential culture of India, and other forces were in a sense an intrusion.” The distinct division of Indian history according to the religion of the dominant rulers opened the doors for identity politics based on religion and contributed to the tense communal politics of the 1930s and 40s. Once Great India became synonymous with Hindu India it was but a small step to argue that real Indian-ness lay in the ancient Hindu past and this explains Chanakya’s saffron motifs. Chandragupta, even though he converted to Jainism during his reign, was associated with a great Hindu past and seen, along with Chanakya, to represent a great Hindu empire.

I have argued that Chanakya has to be contextualised in the larger narrative of Indian nationalism, the need to develop an Indian version of history, as a corrective to earlier perceptions of India produced by outsiders. The nationalist project in the early 20th century was predicated on the idea that India was not an alien, imported concept; that it had existed for centuries and only needed to be re-awakened. The historical re-construction of Chanakya and the Mauryan empire, as an early nationalist project, was at the heart of this discourse. It is no accident that the lion seal of the Mauryas was adopted by independent India as its official symbol. While this was largely due to the non-violent ethic seemingly adopted by Chandragupta’s grandson Ashoka, this action also stressed a national continuity from the time of the Mauryas to the present day. The televised portrayal of this story followed this framework and was part of the ideology of the state.

The controversy over the saffron motifs has served to obfuscate this fact and is a pointer towards the fuzzy boundary line between nationalism and cultural nationalism. The Hindu nationalist discourse emerged from the imagining of a golden age, synonymous with Hindu India, which is also at the heart of the nationalist discourse. This is based on a desire to seek authenticity for the present by creating what has been termed an archive of imagination from the past. Recent debates over Hindu communalism have tended to blur this fact by representing Hindu nationalism and secular nationalism as completely separate entities locked in combat. Thapar, for instance, has criticised BJP state governments for producing school text-books projecting Indian nationalism stretching back to the Mauryan period, saying that this is “distorting history”. It is certainly a distortion, but I have drawn a link between Thapar’s own thesis on re-interpretations of Indian history and the nationalist movement to point out that this is as much a secular nationalist distortion as it is a Hindutva distortion. The cultural nationalists of Hindutva simply added another layer to the re-interpretation of the past that the secular nationalists, including Nehru, had already conducted. While both sides believed in the idea of a great Hindu past, the Hindu nationalists went on to see the advent of Islam as the problem.

The televised Chanakya exemplified this process. As a relational idiom, the television series embodied the various debates that continue to swirl around the idea of India; how it was constructed and how it continues to change. Television has always been seen by the Indian state as a tool for fashioning the nation and the discourse of ancient national identity in Chanakya was part of this. This is a framework that continues to dominate television programming not just on Doordarshan but also on the 300 or so private satellite channels Indian viewers have gained access to in the past decade.




  1. Thomas R. Trautmann has used the statistical method to argue that the Arthaśāstra, as we know it, was compiled by a single person but had no single creator. He also cites other evidence to date the compilation to around 250 A.D. See Thomas R. Trautmann, Kautilya and Arthaśāstr: A Statistical Investigation of the Authorship and Evolution of the Text, (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1971). Scholarly debates about the dating of the manuscript range from the fourth century B.C. to the fourth century A.D. Romila Thapar, taking all the evidence in balance, has argued that it was originally a Mauryan document and the author was prime minister to Chandragupta Maurya. Citing the similarities between the text and the Asokan edicts, she argues that the main body of the treatise was written during or about the time of Chandragupta, though the book was edited and rewritten in subsequent centuries. Romila Thapar, Asoka and the Decline of the Mauryas, (Delhi: OUP, Rev. ed. 1997), p. 9.
  2. The Mudrārākşasa refers to Kautilya, the cunning, and this formed the basis of a belief that Chanakya was given that pseudonym because of his wily nature. Doordarshan’s televised version, whose last 24 episodes are based on the Mudrārākşasa, follows this idea and this is explicitly referred to. But T. Ganapati Shastri has shown that this is a mistake and Kautalya referred to Chanakya’s gotra name, descended from the Kutala gotra. Cited in Radhakrishna Chowdhary, Kautilya’s Political Ideas and institutions, (Varanasi: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office, 1971), p. 4. Therefore, the word Kautalya, and not Kautilya, should be used.
  3. In Pali literature, neither Chanakya nor Chandragupta are known to the earliest Ceylonese chronicle, the Dīpavamsa. But they are both mentioned in Mahāvamsa and the legend is detailed in the commentaries, Vamsatthappakāsini or Mahāvamsa Tīkā, In the Jain version, the tale is found in several works of the Śvetāmbara canon. Hemacandra’s narrative of the Jain elders posterior to Mahavira, Sthavirāvalīcarita, also called Pariśişţaparvan are often quoted. In the Kashmiri version, the tale is preserved in Somadeva’s Kathāsaritsāgar and Ksemendra’s Bŗhatkathāmaňjari as it was presented in an earlier Kashmiri version of the lost Bŗhatkathā of Guņādya. The Sanskrit Mudrārākşasa is a play by Viśākhadatta in seven acts and is dated to the Gupta period or post-Gupta period. All references to this literature are from Thomas R. Trautmann, Kautilya and Arthaśāstr.
  4. Ernest Gellner, Thought and Change (London: Weidenfeld &Nicolson, 1964), p. 168. Also see Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Blackwell: Oxford, 1983).
  5. See A.D. Smith, Theories of Nationalism (London: Gerald Duckworth, 1971); The Ethnic Origins of Nations (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986).
  6. The Sword of Tipu Sultan was based on Bhagwani S. Gidwani’s book by the same name and produced by private producer Sanjay Khan. See Bhagwan S. Gidwani, The Sword of Tipu Sultan (New Delhi: Allied Publishers, 1978).
  7. P.C. Chatterjee, Broadcasting in India, (New Delhi: Sage, 1987) p. 52. Also see Robin Jeffrey, ‘Why the Mahatma didn’t Like Movies and Why it Matters: Indian Broadcast Policy, 1927-1991’, Paper presented at International Conference of Asia Scholars, Shanghai (22 Aug. 2005).
  8. This started with a developmental vision espoused by Vikram Sarabhai, chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission, where satellite technology was seen as a means of speeding up development. The Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) of 1975-76, wherein satellite technology was used to provide developmental programming in 2,400 villages in the least developed regions of India, was a result of this idea. It led to the development of India’s satellite programme and the launch of the INSAT series of satellites that ultimately resulted in the creation of a nationwide television network in the early 1980s. For more on SITE see K.E. Eapen, ‘The Cultural Component of SITE’, Journal of Communication, vol. 29, No. 4, 1979, pp.106-113; Bella Mody, ‘Programming for SITE’, Journal of Communication, Vol. 29, No. 4, 1979, pp.90-98 and Snehlata Shukla, ‘The Impact of SITE on Primary School Children’, Journal of Communication, Vol. 29, No. 4, 1979, pp.99-105.
  9. Lavina Melwani, ‘Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana Serial Re-Ignites Epic’s Values’, India Worldwide, February, 1988, pp.56-7. Quoted in Philip Lugendorf, ‘All in the (Raghu) Family: A Video Epic in Cultural Context’ in Lawrence Babb and Susan S. Wadley (eds.) Media and the Transformation of Religion in South Asia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995) p. 224.
  10. Arvind Rajagopal, Politics After Television: Religious Nationalism and the Reshaping of the Indian Public (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001) p. 15.
  11. Romila Thapar, ‘In Defence of the Variant’, Seminar 413, Jan. 1994, p. 31.
  12. Victoria L. Farmer , ‘What a TV Epic did to India’, The Hindu (17 Nov. 1996)
  13. Lila Abu-Lughod, Dramas of Nationhood: The Politics of Television in Egypt (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2005).
  14. Britta Ohm, ‘Doordarshan: Representing the Nation’s State’ in Christiane Brosius and Melissa Butcher (eds.) Image Journeys: Audio-Visual Media and Cultural Change in India (New Delhi: Sage, 1999), p. 78.
  15. Quoted in Victoria L. Farmer, ‘What a TV Epic did to India’.
  16. Ramayana is estimated to have netted Doordarshan Rs. 24.40 crores and Mahabharata reportedly earned Rs. 57.42 crores. Chanchal Sarkar, ‘In the Media’, Seminar 374, Oct. 1990, p. 27.
  17. Personal interview with Chandraprakash Dwivedi, Mumbai (Recorded on phone from Melbourne), 16 June 2005. The interview was conducted in Hindi and I have translated the text into English
  18. Madhu Jain, ‘Teletalk’, India Today ( New Delhi: 31 Aug, 1991) p. 144.
  19. ‘UK: Asian Programming on BBC’, Media Monitor (15 Oct. 1993.) and ‘BBC Produces Asian Programming’, Broadcast, (8 Oct. 1993).
  20. ‘Hindi Serials: Waking up Beyond the Doors of Perception’, The Guardian (7 March 1997).
  21. VJ Thomas, ‘India has Largest Number of Parties’, The Times of India, 26 July 1999. The Chanakya was registered by the Election Commission of India but not recognized. Under Indian law, a political party must win four per cent of the popular vote or 1/25 of the total seats in a state to be recognized as a state party. A party which gets four percent of the total valid votes or 1/25 of the seats in four or more states is recognized as a national party. The Chankaya Party was de-registered by the Election Commission in 2001 vide Circular No.56/2001/Jud. III, 23 Jan 2001.
  22. Times of India News Service, ‘Brahmins Asked to Vote for ‘Able’ Candidates’, The Times of India (16 Aug. 1999).
  23. ‘Brahmins Itching to Get Out of Margin’, The Times of India (27 Dec. 2003).
  24. The italics denote emphasis in the speech. Chanakya, Episode 7. Directed by Chandraprakash Dwivedi, Produced by Shagun Films, Reproduced in Indo-American Video Corporation Collectors Series
  25. Sadan Jha, ‘The Life and Times of Bharat Mata: Nationalism as Invented Religion’, Manushi, 142 (Aug. 2004), [accessed 15 Sep. 2005].
  26. Sadan Jha, ‘The Life and Times of Bharat Mata: Nationalism as Invented Religion’. Also see Jasodhara Bagchi, ‘Representing Nationalism: Ideology of Motherland in Colonial Bengal’, Economic and Political Weekly, 20-27 Oct. 1990, pp.WS-65-71 and Sugata Bose, ‘Nation as Mother: Representations and Contestations of ‘India’ in Bengali Literature and Culture’, in Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal (eds.) Nationalism, Democracy and Development: State and Politics in India (New Delhi: OUP, 1999).
  27. Personal interview with Chandraprakash Dwivedi, Mumbai (Recorded on phone from Melbourne), 16 June 2005.
  28. Takshashila is the Sanskrit name for Taxila in modern day west Punjab, Pakistan. I shall use the former spelling because that is the pronunciation and spelling used in Chanakya.
  29. The five Classical Alexander-historians are Diodorus, Curtius, Justin (who followed Trogus), Plutarch and Arrian.
  30. Chanakya, Ep. 5,
  31. Chanakya, Ep. 9.
  32. Chanakya, Ep. 6.
  33. Chanakya, Episode 7.
  34. Romila Thapar, ‘The Perennial Aryans’, Seminar, 400, Dec. 1992, p. 24.
  35. Roger Boesche, The First Great Political Realist: Kautilya and His Arthashastra (New York: Lexington Books, 2002), pp. 3-4, 99-102.
  36. George Modelski, ‘Kautilya: Foreign Policy and International System in the Ancient Hindu World’, The American Political Science Review, Vol. 58, No. 3 (Sep. 1964), pp.549-560.
  37. The emphasis in ‘anti-national’ is mine. Chanakya, Episode 12.
  38. Thomas R. Trautmann, Kautilya and Arthaśāstr, pp. 47-48.
  39. G.M. Bongard-Levin, Mauryan India, (New Delhi: Sterling, 1985), p.64.
  40. Quoted in Thomas R. Trautmann, Kautilya and Arthaśāstr, p. 4.
  41. Mudrārākşasa of Viśākhadatta in Michale Coulson (tr.), Three Sanskrit Plays (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981).
  42. R.C. Majumdar, The Classical Accounts of India (Calcutta: Firma K.L. Mukhopadhyay, 1960), pp. 198-9.
  43. In this context, Buddha Prakash has speculated that Porus’s friend, Meroes (mentioned by Arrian) who convinced him to give up the battle of the Hydaspes and meet Alexander was Chandragupta Maurya. See Buddha Prakash, ‘The Relations of Candragupta Maurya with Alexander the Great’ in Buddha Prakash,
    Studies in Indian History and Civilisation (Agra: Shiva Lal Agarwala and Co., 1962). Prakash has also speculated that the Indian king Keid, whose letter to Iskander (Alexander) is mentioned in Firdausi’s Shahnama could be Chandragupta. Keid had a wizard named Mihran, which could have been a corruption of ‘brahmana’. Buddha Prakash, ‘Candragupta Maurya in the Shah-Nama of Firdausi’ in Buddha Prakash,Studies in Indian History and Civilisation. The historical veracity of this is doubtful but it is an intriguing notion.
  44. Cited in Thomas R. Trautmann, Kautilya and Arthaśāstr, pp.56-7.
  45. Romila Thapar, Asoka and the Decline of the Mauryas, p. 16.
  46. Chanakya, Episode 12.
  47. Chanakya, Episode 17.
  48. Chandgragupta’s speech to his allies in Chanakya, Episode 21.
  49. Victoria L. Farmer , ‘What a TV Epic did to India’.
  50. Christiane Brosius, ‘Packaging Cultural Nationalism’ in Christiane Brosius and Melissa Butcher (eds.) Image Journeys: Audio-Visual Media and Cultural Change in India (New Delhi: Sage, 1999), p.111.
  51. Dwivedi produced a critically acclaimed film Pinjar in 2003. This was based on Amrita Pritam’s celebrated novel by the same name and its plot revolves around the Partition of India in 1947. Personal interview with Chandraprakash Dwivedi, Mumbai (Recorded on phone from Melbourne), June 16, 2005.
  52. Meenakshi Shedde, ‘…Ram Will Run Away From There’, The Times of India, (11 Nov. 2002)
  53. Christiane Brosius, ‘Packaging Cultural Nationalism’, p.112
  54. Personal Interview, Chandraprakash Dwivedi Mumbai (Recorded on phone from Melbourne), June 16, 2005.
  55. Romila Thapar, ‘Interpretations of Ancient Indian History’, History and Theory, Vol. 7, No. 3(1968),pp. 318-335.
  56. I have condensed Thapar’s description for this section. For more on Hegel see G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on Philosophy of History, Translated from the 3d German ed. by J. Sibree, (London : G. Bell, 1881).
  57. Max Müller, A History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature, so far as it Illustrates the Primitive Religion of the Brahmans (Varanasi: Chowkhamba, 1968, first published 1859), p. 18.
  58. H.C. Raychaudhuri, Political History of Ancient India: From the Accession of Parikshit to the Extinction of the Gupta Dynasty (New York: AMS, 1973, first pub. 1923); K.P. Jaiswal, Hindu Polity: A Constitutional History of India in Hindu Times (Bangalore: Bangalore Print & Publishing, 1955, rev. ed) Also see Nilakanta Sastri, The Age of the Nandas and Mauryas (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, 1967, 2nd ed.)
  59. Romila Thapar, ‘Interpretations of Ancient Indian History’, pp. 326-7.
  60. Radha Kumud Mookerji, Chandragupta Maurya and His Times, Madras University Sir William Meyer Lectures, 1940-41 (Delhi: Moti Lal Banarsidas, 1966, 4th ed.), p. 31.
  61. The librarian was R. Shamasastry. Between 1905-1909 he published by installments an English translation of the manuscript in Indian Antiquary and the Mysore Review. The text itself was first published in 1909. The only known northern manuscript of the text was later discovered at Patan Bhandar in Gujarat and published in 1959.
  62. See Johannes Voigt, ‘Nationalist Interpretations of the Arthaśāstra in Indian Historical Writing’, St. Antony’s Papers, no. 18, South Asian Affairs, no. 2, 1966.
  63. Cited in Thomas R. Trautmann, Kautilya and Arthaśāstr, p. 3
  64. The emphasis is mine. Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India, 1945 (New York: Anchor, 1960, edited by Robert I. Crane), p. 79
  65. This is true in all depictions of the invaders in the series, except in Episode 13, when Alexander’s speaks Greek during his famous dialogue with Porus after the battle of the Hydaspes, where he asked Porus how he should be treated and Porus replied, “like a king”. Alexander then said, “Ask something for yourself,” to which Porus replied, “The first includes everything.”
  66. Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India, p. 92.
  67. Romila Thapar, ‘Interpretations of Ancient Indian History’, History and Theory, Vol. 7, No. 3(1968)
  68. Romila Thapar, The Perennial Aryans’, p. 24.


– Abu-Lughod, Lila, Dramas of Nationhood: The Politics of Television in Egypt (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2005).
– Babb, Lawrence and Wadley, Susan S. (eds.) Media and the Transformation of Religion in South Asia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995).
– Bagchi, Jasodhara, ‘Representing Nationalism: Ideology of Motherland in Colonial Bengal’, Economic and Political Weekly, 20-27 Oct. 1990.
– Boesche, Roger, The First Great Political Realist: Kautilya and His Arthashastra (New York: Lexington Books, 2002).
– Bongard-Levin, G.M., Mauryan India, (New Delhi: Sterling, 1985).
– Bose, Sugata and Jalal, Ayesha (eds.) Nationalism, Democracy and Development: State and Politics in India (New Delhi: OUP, 1999).
– Broadcast
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By Nalin Mehta in Biblio: A Review of Books - October 27, 2006

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