Book Review: Emperor Chandragupta by Adity Kay

By Dr. Rajan Kaushal


Emperor Chandragupta by Adity Kay is a well-researched novel based on the life of Chandragupta Maurya. Published by Hachette India, the novel has shades of Walter Scott’s historical novels with an Indian flavour. The subtitle “Can One Man Build an Empire” suggests that it was not just Chandragupta who founded such a great empire but there was somebody else too. It was his political Guru and strategist Chanakya who chose a boy called Moriya, raised by a tribe of peacock tamers and christened him as Chandragupta. As he wanted to take revenge against the ruthless ruler of Magadha, he trained Chandragupta and helped him emerge as a great leader under his tutelage. Most of the time, youngsters are taught to develop leadership qualities but an example is never presented in front of them. This book delineates lucidly the rise of a leader because he was willing, and learnt to be a leader.

Every page in the novel creates a mystery, as if the author is going to whisper a secret into the ears of the readers soon, and this very fact makes the novel gripping. The book presents a stimulating tale of how, despite many obstacles, the protagonist fights to overcome them and faces all the challenges in his life. The very first page illustrates the positions of various empires like Magadha, Kashi, Anga and Vanga etc. and sets the tone and setting for the readers to go on an odyssey into the unexplored annals of Indian history. The book has been divided into three parts, the first, “The Lost Prince of Magadha”, the second, “The Warrior King of Magadha”, the third, “Dharma”.

The first part, “The Lost Prince of Magadha” has been further divided into ten sections narrating the story of Moriya, a mere teenaged boy becoming Chandragupta, the great warrior and emperor. It is a story which inspires and motivates youngsters, and tells them that it is not because of destiny but because of hard work, the will to excel and rock-hard determination that one becomes an emperor. It is his vision for the future that makes him different from others. It is his demeanor that converts a ferocious lion and bandits into his allies.

The second part, “The Warrior King of Magadha” is divided into eighteen chapters and recounts the story of Chandragupta’s imbibing of a number of qualities from the great emperor Alexander while living in his camp. It narrates the saga of his valour and heroism. While fighting the battle to be a king, Chandra once tells Chanakya that after becoming the king, he will sleep, but Chanakya’s answer is, “A king never sleeps. Or no one knows if he does, or where.” At every step, it is Chanakya’s counsel that keeps him going on the path of becoming a majestic emperor of an invincible kingdom. He keeps winning the battles at Taxila, Mathura, Shravasti and Kanyakubja and ultimately deposes the tyrant ruler of Magadha, Dhana Nanda to be the ruler of the City of Dreams. That is the beginning of a new dawn in Magadha and Pataliputra.

The third part, “Dharma”, has nine chapters and it narrates how Chandragupta loses queen Durdhara and marries Seleucus’ daughter Helen. There is an exquisite description of his didactic conversations with Megasthene. In the end, he realizes that he has conquered everything but not himself, and so, he crowns his son Bindusara as the king and starts following the Jain monk Bhadrabahu to the forest. Even Chanakya, who has had all the answers about how to be a great king, is absolutely clueless because this journey is beyond becoming a great king and about detaching himself from everything he owns as a king. Here, his journey comes to an end after completing a cycle from a commoner to a materially successful king and eventually a spiritual seeker.

The author, being a veteran journalist, has described everything in minute detail but with a journalistic precision. The enthralling narrative technique of the novel reminds one of the eminent Hindi authors of historical fiction Acharya Chatursen Shastri. On the whole, the novel is captivating and gives us an insight into the socio–political set-up of ancient Indian history. It must find a place in public and private libraries and readers’ bookshelves, being a precious gem of great historical and literary value.

The reviewer is an Assistant Professor of English at the Government Degree College in Shillai, Himachal Pradesh. His area of specialisation is Cultural Studies. He writes short stories and poems in English and Hindi. 

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