Storm from Taxila – The Asoka Trilogy Book 2 – The winds of war howl over the sub-continent, blowing every last person one way or the other.
For many centuries the holy books of the Aryas have preached everything from eternal unity of one’s own kind to selfless service to one’s family and society. But aeons after they were written, we still cannot practice what we preach…
Our lands lie fragmented, divided by everything from regionalism to tribal sentiment and the petty selfishness of individual rulers. Our Rajas had fought over everything from women, to land and pride; so much so that wars with their neighbours has become a habit. And every time some powerful Arya rises above these squabbles and seeks to unify our lands, he turns out to be an evil monster rather than a rightful Samrat. Be it Jarasandha of yore or the tyrannical Nandas of our times, those who have tried to unify our lands have always brought pain and misery upon the people.
It is not that the learned men of our society have accepted or become resigned to this state of affairs. They have always attempted to stand against these evil rulers. Be it Lord Krishna of a thousand years ago, or I the humble servitor of my people in these unsettled times.
My name is Arya Chanakya, though I am known as Kautilya these days. Few are privy to my past so take heed of what I say; then hold the words sealed within your breast.
I was born eight decades ago in the northwest of our subcontinent, where the Land of the Aryas ends and those of foreigners like the Mlechhas and the Yavanas begin. For my entire youth I strived for only two things – to accumulate knowledge of our world; and unite our race as a single entity.
People considered me foolish and stubborn. The Rajas laughed at my advice and continued to fight meaningless wars for worthless reasons. For three decades of my life my efforts were in vain as I tried and failed to instill the virtues of unity and service in our rulers.
Then, everything changed. I recognized my mistake. I had been counting on changing the mindset of our people from within. What I should have realized long before was that change of such proportions can only be brought about by a powerful external force.
Fifty years ago, that powerful force arrived at the boundaries of our Bharat, armed with insurmountable power. His name was Alexander, and he came from beyond the seven seas, from the lands of the Greeks. His objective was simple – to conquer the whole wide world. And our lands were next – the doorway to the far East.
The Rajas of the northwest reacted as I had expected. They made deals with this foreign foe in order to destroy the enemies of their own race. Even Raja Ambhi of Taxila, did so. Only one man refused to succumb to Alexander. His name was Puru, the mightiest Raja of the region.
But even Puru’s might was no match for Alexander’s tactics and deceit. On the banks of the holy Jhelum, everyone gasped with horror as Puru lost the battle to the Greeks – everyone except me; I just smiled.
As Alexander spent time consolidating power in the northwest, I travelled east to the greatest city of the known world – to Patliputra, ruled by the Nandas. My plan was simple: to ask the Nanda Maharaja to take his army northwest to defeat the Greeks. The people of the northwest were disgusted by the unmanly conduct of their Rajas, almost all of whom had surrendered without a fight. If The Nandas fought and won against the Greeks, the people of the northwest would accept them as their saviours, thereby uniting the subcontinent, north and south, east and west.
But my plan had a serious flaw. While everyone knew the Nandas had the largest standing army in the world, what few people beyond their borders knew was how they used it. I discovered that the army was used to terrorize their subjects. The Nandas were tyrannical kings who ruled with the force of an equally tyrannical army. I witnessed and experienced their tyranny first hand. I was imprisoned and tortured by Nanda lieutenants in Patliputra.
But I was rescued by an Ancient Brotherhood that had dwelled in the tunnels below the city for five centuries. Since its founder, Maharaja Ajatshatru, had laid down its mission, the brothers of the order had zealously safeguarded the interests of the Arya race, secretly. They rescued me from prison and inducted me into their ranks. They bestowed upon me their mission: To bring down the evil Nandas from their thrones.
As a Brother of the Order, and armed with its power and influence, I returned to the northwest.
Fortune ever favours the brave. Two of my old students had started a rebellion in the Rajya of Taxila, against the Greeks and their vassal Kings. Under my guidance, Chandragupta and Dileepa stormed the city of Taxila and killed Raja Ambhi. Chandragupta was hailed as their liberator by the people and they recognized him as the new Raja of Taxila.
As Chandragupta rose, Alexander fell. His weary army refused to fight more battles and forced him to turn back for home, to Greece. As Alexander left, I sensed the great opportunity that was upon us. The people of the northwest were already chanting the names of Chandragupta and Dileepa after their heroic actions in Taxila. I knew that I could use their popularity with the people to unite the whole northwest for one cause.
But how to create that cause? I turned to the Ancient Brahminical Order. In its ranks I found men more than willing to safeguard the future. Assassins from the Order killed Dileepa and made it seem like the Nandas had him killed. Chandragupta and the people of Taxila rose in rage, swearing vengeance. In one swift stoke, I united all the Rajyas of the northwest against the Nandas. When rulers like Puru refused, I reminded them that their own Generals loved Chandragupta above; that flimsy traditional bonds alone held them in place.
We marched against the Nandas. The Ancient Brahminical Order supported us secretly. The Nandas never stood a chance. The oppressed people of the empire rose with us against their older masters. Chandragupta was hailed as Samrat from the Jhelum to the Ganges. It seemed that peace and progress had finally come to Bharathvarsha
But I was wrong. Chandragupta’s son, Bindusar, was nothing like his father. A lazy man, he was more devoted to carnal pleasure than anything else. Although he did continue his father’s expansionist policies by launching the Southern Wars against the non-Arya kingdoms in the south, he did not have his father’s warrior skill. The Southern Warswere a disaster cloaked in victory, won at the cost of a generation of Aryas of Madhya Bharath.
Bindusar bred nothing but drunkards and lechers like himself. He fathered a hundred sons, nearly all of whom them were unworthy of even a merchant’s position. Bindusar’s sins finally came to haunt him as his health declined because of his carnal obsession. The great question loomed: Who would succeed him as the Samrat of the Aryas?
Only Sushem, the eldest son, seemed to possess the ability to succeed his father. He had been Governor of Taxila for a decade and had done well. He knew how to administrate. Alas, he was half Greek by birth. The army did not support him due to his foreign lineage and he in turn hated the army. Sushem’s ascension to the throne would have caused turmoil.
I watched the crumbling Samrajya from afar. Bindusar had ousted me from his court and I had lost my powers. But I still had my old connections with the Order. And Bindusar’s Steward, Radhagupta, viewed me as a Guru.
With Radhagupta, I began working once again to save the land of the Aryas from imminent destruction. Our task was now harder than before. Earlier, I had the capable Chandragupta at hand. Now, none of the Samrat’s sons were able enough to rule. All seemed lost. But then we discovered Asoka.
Asoka was nothing a Prince was supposed to be. He had never had his father’s love; his mother was a Vaishya. He had spent most of his life in the army. He had no money, and had no influence. But he did have one thing –friends – comrades from the Southern Wars.
When the old province of Avanti rose in rebellion, Radhagupta and I, managed to have Asoka sent there as leader of the expedition. At Vidishanagri, Asoka found the city had been secretly taken over by the Buddhist Merchant’s Guild and its leader, Hardeo. Asoka had formed a romantic relationship with Hardeo’s daughter, Devi, and now reached the Guild Master using her and his friend Kanakdatta, now Hardeo’s right hand man.
The leader of the Avanti rebellion, Shiva of Ujjain, turned out to be Asoka’s old friend from the Wars as well. The rebellion ended without a drop of blood being shed. Asoka’s popularity soared.
But Sushem turned out to be more intelligent than I had anticipated. He offered Asoka his hand in friendship. Though the brothers had always been distant, the relationship between them had never been strained.
Something had to be done to turn Asoka against his elder brother. I turned once again to the Ancient Brahminical Order. We recruited Asoka’s Captain and bodyguard as an assassin. Sushem’s Prime Minister, Hariharan, already one of the Order, worked with us, making it seem that it had been his master, Sushem, who had sent the assassins after Asoka.
Enraged, Asoka went after the thing Sushem cared about the most – his Ashwamedha stallion, which was roaming the subcontinent in open display of his grandiose objective to be the next Samrat. Having killed the stallion, Asoka forged a quick alliance with Shiva of Ujjain, based on their friendship, and with Hardeo of Vidishanagri, by promising to marry his daughter.
Then he set out towards Patliputra, Devi in tow, to claim the throne.
We were waiting for him….
Sushem hadheard what had happened to his Ashwamedha stallion. He quickly gathered his mercenary army and set out for Patliputra too.
We were waiting for him as well…
Sushem’s path was akin to Chandragupta’s and mine fifty years ago. Like us, he too, set out from Taxila to conquer the greatest city in the world. He had more men than Chandragupta then had…much more money…and better connections at court.
But he lacked one thing: Me, Kautilya.
And so the great question loomed once again as it had half a century before: Who would be the next Samrat of the holy lands of the Aryas? To find out more. read ‘Storm from Taxila’.