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Sunday, January 10, 1999
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They taught lessons to kings
By Gur Rattan Pal Singh

CHANDRAGUPTA MAURYA and Alexander the Great had Chanakya and Aristotle, respectively, as their teachers. Evaluation of the influence the teachers exercised over their students, who later on became the most powerful kings in world history, can be quite interesting.

Most historians are of the view that Chandragupta Maurya belonged to Bihar, and that he called himself Maurya because his mother was the keeper of royal peacocks (mor) at Pataliputra. He came to Punjab and conquered it. Afterwards, with the help of the Punjab army he seized the Nanda empire. However, there are reasons to believe that Chandragupta belonged to the Kshatriya caste of the ruling Ashvaka tribe of the Koh-i-Mor territory. He called himself Maurya after his homeland.

McCrindle, in his book on Alexander’s invasion says: "From the remark of Plutarch that in the early years he had seen Alexander, we may infer that he was a native of the Punjab."

Chanakya was born in a Brahmin family at Takshashila (Taxila in Rawalpindi district), the capital of Gandhara, in about 346 B.C. His original name was Vishnugupta, but his parents called him by the pet name of Chanakya. He had studied all the constitutions of numerous states existing at that time in Punjab. After pain-staking work and thought, he wrote Arthashastra which was to serve the purpose of a guide or manual for kings, enabling them to acquire power and preserve it. His mother wanted him to be a teacher, so that his intellect could outshine his ugliness.

Hari Ram Gupta explains at length as to how the relations of the Nanda king with Chanakya and Chandragupta turned hostile. "At Pataliputra, the capital of Magadha, there was a high council of learned professors. It had been in existence for a long time. Anybody who wrote something of value or discovered some scientific truth had to appear before this body to establish the merit of his own work. If the judges approved of it, he was awarded a prize of one thousand gold coins, freedom from payment of taxes and other state contributions for life and a roll of honour. The emperor of Magadha was its patron. Chanakya applied for the prize and left Takshashila for Pataliputra. Chandragupta seems to have accompanied his teacher. He was still in this teens."

Chanakaya appeared before the council and succeeded in getting a prize as he convincingly explained the efficacy of the principles of state-craft and diplomacy contained in the Arthashastra." It was a tradition at Pataliputra that the prize-winners were awarded the prize and other distinctions by the emperor at a special function. Chanakya reached the hall rather early and occupied an empty seat in the front row. This seat was meant for some body else. When the emperor arrived, one of his courtiers asked Chanakya to vacate the seat. When he refused to do so, some attendants used force to get Chanakya out.

The emperor expressed displeasure at Chanakya’s behaviour. Chanakya grew furious and abused the court for the ill-treatment meted out to him. Chandragupta joined his teacher in the protest. Chanakya left the hall without receiving the prize. He was determined to root out the Nanda dynasty."

According to the Greek writer Justice (quoted by McCrindle), Chandragupta, by his insolent behaviour, had offended the King Nanda. He ordered that Chandragupta be put to death. Chandragupta came back to Takshashila and met Chanakya. Like Bismarck, Chanakya was fired with patriotism for his homeland, Gandhara. He had written in the Arthashastra that anyone abusing Gandhara and its people must be punished. He resolved to see Chandragupta, a Gandhara prince, on the throne of the Nanda empire. Acting under the guidance of his astute Brahmin preceptor, Vishnugupta, (better known as Chanakya) Chandragupta, (who had been exiled from Magadha) attacked the Macedonian officers commanding the garrisons in the Indus basin after Alexander’s death. With the aid of the northern nations, he destroyed them .

About the same time, the youthful adventurer and his wily counsellor effected a revolution at Pataliputra (Patna), the capital of the Magadhan monarchy, and exterminated the Nanda family.

Chandragupta succeeded to the throne of Pataliputra, secured his position against all enemies, and established a gigantic empire. He is the first person who can historically be termed as the Emperor of India.

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) known as the "Master of them that know" and one of the greatest philosophers, the world has ever produced, was about 37 when Plato died in 347 B.C. When Spensippus, Plato’s nephew, was chosen to head the prestigious Academy at Athens, Aristotle is said to have felt disappointed. He was invited by Philip II of Macedon to educate his 13-year-old son Alexander. Aristotle’s father was the court physician to King Macedonia, the grandfather of Alexander.

Aristotle was gifted with a vast intellectual range covering most of the sciences and the arts. Until the 19th century, the pioneering work done by Aristotle in zoology — both observational and theoretical — could not be surpassed by any one. For about eight years, from 343 to 335 B.C., Aristotle imparted lessons to Alexander in botany, physics, chemistry, biology, political and literary theory, rhetoric and formal logic.

No trace of Aristotle’s influence can be discovered in the career of Alexander the Great. Actually, both the teacher and the taught had too original a mind to be influenced by the other.

Aristotle was the exponent of the doctrine of "natural" distinction between the free Hellene and the "barbarian" for whom it was better to be a slave. He advocated the supremacy of the Greeks over non-Greeks, and wanted his pupil to keep the non-Greeks in servility and to refrain from any assimilation with them.

When Alexander ascended the throne in 336 B.C. he totally discarded, rather opposed, the advice of his teacher and married Statira, daughter of Darius and Parysatis (daughter of Achus), belonging to the Persian nobility. He thereby, set an example to his high-ranking officials to do likewise. Alexander the Great, being more realistic, wanted to unite all races in a cosmopolitan empire through the fusion of races.

At Susa, Alexander held a feast to celebrate the seizure of the Persian empire at which, in furtherance of his policy of fusing Macedonians and Persians, into a master race, he married the Persian wives. About 80 of his officials also took Persian wives. Thus, Alexander deviated from his teacher’s narrow precept that non-Greeks should be treated as slaves.

The different political ideologies adopted by the teacher and the taught created an unbridgeable gulf separating Aristotle from his student, Alexander.

Alexander the Great tried to gratify his teacher by rebuilding the town of Stagira, Aristotle’s birth place, which Philip II had destroyed. Alexander also collected and despatched to his teacher specimen of rare animals from Persia and India. The relations between the teacher and the taught were far from cordial.

Aristotle was also opposed, in principle, to Alexander the Great’s imperial policy because it diminished the importance of the city state. Their relations became all the more embittered by the execution of Aristotle’s nephew, the historian Callisthenes of Olynthus. The latter was charged with treason while accompanying Alexander to Persia in 328 B.C. since he wrote a chronicle of the campaign.

Actually, Alexander intended to take revenge on Aristotle himself as the latter was a blood relative of the victim, however, he could not do so because of his pre-occupation with the invasion of India.

Aristotle was a senior contemporary of Chanakya and he died in 322 B.C., about the time when Chanakya was plotting to overthrow the Nanda. R.P. Kangle is right when he says that the Alexander’s conquests had no influence on Aristotle’s teaching, which was centred on the conception of the city-state. That conception ceased to have any meaning as a result of the conquests. In a similar manner, it seems Chanakya shows no awareness (in his work) of Chandragupta’s conquests. He contents himself mainly with the politics of a moderate-sized state.

In comparison to the unhappy, even bitter, relations between Aristotle and Alexander the Great, the equation between Chanakya and Chandragupta Maurya was an ideal one.

  A day for worship
By Rahul Mehta

MAKARA Sankranthi marks the entry of sun in the constellation of Capricorn — makara, as per the Hindu zodiac. As sun is believed to be the life sustaining force on earth, catching its first rays on this auspicious day is considered most propitious. This year it is on January 14.

Traditionally, the festival is celebrated with an early morning ritual bath in a pond or river where offerings are made to the Sun God. Haridwar, Allahabad and other temple towns on the banks of the Ganges, which host the Kumbh mela are popular pilgrimage spots on the occasion.

The festival also marks the change of seasons, from winter to spring, when the day lengthens and nights shorten. This is when the winter crops are harvested and the produce from the fields on Makara Sankranthi day is offered to the gods.

In south India, where the festival is celebrated as Pongal, this act of Thanksgiving constitutes an elaborate rate ritual with freshly harvested rice allowed to boil over while cooking so as to suggest divine intervention at promising better crops the following year.

The rice is usually sweetened with molasses and shared with family members and friends. This delicacy is somewhat similar to partishepta, another rice dish made by agrarian communities in Bengal and other parts of eastern India, especially on Sankranthi day.

In other parts of India, distributing sugar cane, molasses, pumpkins, boiled beans and cooked lentils (depending on the predominant crop of the region) is customary. Women greet one another by applying a turmeric tikka on the foreheads.

Another common practice is to decorate farm animals, particularly bullocks and cows, with fancy patchwork blankets and colourful headgear. On this one day, nobody minds if these "messengers of god" should accidentally stray into neighbourhood farms.

In many communities, the festival is celebrated over three days, beginning with the cleaning up of the house, collecting of old clothes and unused stuff and burning them. The walls are painted white (usually with lime) and farm animals given an elaborate bath.

The second day is marked for prayer and worship. In rural areas, food is cooked outside the house in clay pots with family members gathered around. The stoves are made of stones and wood is used as fuel, just as in ancient times.

This is also the day of exchanging greetings and visiting one another’s homes with sweets. Fairs and competitions are organised in villages, the most popular being kite-flying. These days, Makara Sankranthi is associated with the kite-flying festival all over India.

The third day is the day of farm animals. In villages of Tamil Nadu, bull-fights (locally known as manju virattu are organised, more as a demonstration of machismo than performance of a religious rite. Women are completely excluded from this sport.

Fierce bulls with colourful neckbands are brought into the arena and let loose in the assembled crowds. The neckband actually contains money staked by the owner of the bull. Effectively, he challenges the public to take his bull by the horns and take the "victory cloth" off its neck.

The bulls, one by one, are provoked by drumbeats, whistle and shout till they make a maddening dash at the delirious crowds. Accidents occur all the time, often leading to deaths. At times the bull may be defeated and the owner has to treat the village to a feast.

There are still families in Tamil Nadu who rear "warrior" bulls in their backyard, especially for the Makara Sankranthi celebrations. These animals are not put on any farm work. They are fed with good food, out for daily exercises and their horns are sharpened every other day.

Tradition holds that the warrior bull represents the status of a family and should it lose a fight, the owner loses in society. More often than not, the animal is gifted to the young man who manages to claim the victory cloth. — (MF)

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