Chanakya (TV series)

Chanakya (Devanagari: चाणक्य) is a 47-part epic Indian television historical drama written and directed by Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi that was originally telecast on DD National from 8 September 1991[1] to 9 August 1992.[2][3][4] Produced by Prakash Dwivedi, the series is an account of the life and times of 4th century BCE Indian economist, strategist and political theorist Chanakya (also known as Vishnugupta) and is based on events occurring between 340 BCE and 321/20 BCE, starting with Chanakya's boyhood and culminating in the coronation of Chandragupta Maurya. Chandraprakash Dwivedi played the title role of Chanakya.

DVD cover of Chanakya with English subtitles
GenreHistorical drama
Created byChandraprakash Dwivedi
Written byChandraprakash Dwivedi
Directed byChandraprakash Dwivedi
StarringChandraprakash Dwivedi
Dinesh Shakul
Suraj Chaddha
Surendra Pal
Prakash Dwivedi
JD Majethia
Narrated bySalim Arif
Opening themeAsato mā...
Composer(s)Ashit Desai
Country of originIndia
Original language(s)Hindi
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes47 (list of episodes)
Producer(s)Prakash Dwivedi
Production location(s)Film City, Mumbai
CinematographyRajan Kothari
Editor(s)Mohan Kaul
Rajeev Khandelwal
Running time45 minutes
Production company(s)Shagun Films
Original networkDD National
Original release8 September 1991 (1991-09-08) 
9 August 1992 (1992-08-09)

The series is divided into three major parts:

  • The early life of Vishnugupta in the kingdom of Magadha and the circumstances leading to his self-imposed exile, particularly the persecution (and subsequent death) of his father at the hands of Dhanananda, King of Magadha.
  • The invasion of northwestern India by Alexander, his death and the rebellion led by native Indian kingdoms under the leadership of Chandragupta Maurya against Alexander's successors in India. The Greek invaders are defeated.
  • The attack on and overthrow of the Nanda rule in Magadha and the crowning of Chandragupta as the King of Magadha.

Within this framework, Dwivedi portrays the politics and backstabbing that governed relations between kings and officials of that time. He covers the workings of the early Indian republics and the way of life of ordinary Indians.

Chanakya is critically acclaimed and has been hailed as a "milestone on Indian television." At the same time, it has been the subject of political controversy. It has been televised in many countries around the world and has won five Uptron Awards.[2] The series was widely praised for its authenticity, casting and grandeur.[5]



Dwivedi spent more than nine years researching Chanakya and read over 180 books on the subject including the Arthashastra.[6] For him, Chanakya was "the first man with a national consciousness."[3] And that is what made him take up the project:

Chanakya started out as an idea for a film. But Dwivedi abandoned the plan and decided to make it into a television series because it was not possible to meet "telecast deadlines" if it had been shot as a film.[7] Dwivedi didn't conceive of the series as a "purely factual account" of Chanakya's life and times. But he did want "to present a work of fiction based on historical evidence—unlike the serials Ramayan and Mahabharat which presented history with a touch of masala." He didn't want to "[create] false drama just to appease popular sentiments."[8] Episodes 11, 12 and 14 were based on McCrindle's book The Invasion of India by Alexander the Great as described by Arrian, Q. Curtius, Diodoros, Plutarch and Justin,[8] while the final episodes dealing with Chanakya's scheme to win over Dhanananda's minister, Rakshasa, were based on Vishakhadatta's 4th century CE play, Mudrarakshasa.[3]

I want to prove that it is not only persons in high places who have changed the course of history but seemingly ne'er do wells like Chanakya from whom there had been no expectations whatever. To present Chanakya in such a light that you or me can, on seeing the serial, exclaim even I could have done that.

Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi to Surya India magazine.[6]

Initially, Dwivedi was associated with the project only in his capacity as writer while his brother, Prakash Dwivedi, was the producer. Dwivedi decided to direct the series after continued differences of opinion with the original director, Rajiv Singh, who later filed a case against the producers.[7][9] Dwivedi submitted his script to Doordarshan in April 1986 and shot the pilot after receiving the approval sometime in 1988. He submitted it to the channel in December 1988 and got the final approval by the end of the year.[6] BR Chopra, the producer of Mahabharat had been interested in the series and had submitted a proposal of his own to Doordarshan. However, Doordarshan preferred Dwivedi's project to Chopra's proposal which had been "found wanting."[6]


The pilot was shot at a cost of INR 1.8 million (15 million in 2009, as estimated by Dwivedi).[10] Doordarshan initially allotted 26 episodes for the series and an extension was promised if "the quality was up to the mark."[6] In early 1992, a further 21 episodes were sanctioned as against the 26 demanded, after the extension was initially (controversially) revoked, for a total of 47 episodes.[11][12] The first 17 episodes were shot over nine months at an estimated average cost of INR 900,000 per episode.[8] A huge cast of about 300 actors were involved with the production.[7]

The production team included well-known technicians such as art director Nitish Roy and costume designer Salim Arif who had previously been involved with Shyam Benegal's Bharat Ek Khoj.[6][13] Arif was also part of the cast, as narrator and as the character Sidhartak. Roy remained art director for the first 25 episodes, and Nitin Chandrakant Desai, who was assisting him, took over Episode 26 onwards.[10][14]

"Magnificent sets" were erected at Film City, Bombay (now Mumbai) for the series and an amount of INR 7 million was budgeted to build three cities including Pataliputra and Takshashila.[6] Chanakya was Desai's first independent project and "[he] had to recreate the ancient grandeur of Pataliputra" for the series. Desai spent weeks at the Asiatic Library and Bombay University researching the period. The university librarian even had a separate desk installed for him in the arts and culture section after noting his "constant presence at the library, even during lunch hour, for weeks at an end."[15][16] The result was a town with "26 structures, four main lanes and six bylanes," all part of a single set.[17]

Close attention was paid to detail when it came to costumes and weaponry, so much so that a piece of armor worn by Chandragupta was procured for over INR 8,000.[8] According to Muneesh Sappel, associate costume designer, the costumes "were based on books by Alkazi Raushan (costume advisor for the serial Mullah Nasruddin), Dr. Moti Chandra (former director of the Prince of Wales Museum), N. P. Joshi (author of Life in Ancient Pataliputra) and K. Krishnamurthy’s Early Indian Archaeology."[8][18] Terracotta sculptures from the 1st century CE, the museums at Sarnath, Patna and Lucknow, and the caves at the Borivali National Park were other sources of inspiration.[8] In a 2009 interview, Salim Arif considered his work on Chanakya to be better than that on Bharat Ek Khoj.[13]


Dwivedi chose stage actors to play the parts in the series. Pramod Moutho, Suraj Chaddha, Ragini Shah, Ajay Dubey, Arun Bali, and Himanshu Gokani were among the first to be selected.[6] While Dwivedi played the central role of Chanakya, he faced a problem when he looked for someone to play the adolescent Vishnugupta. It was then that his friend Akshay Vyas introduced him to Mitesh Safari. "One look at Mitesh and [Dwivedi] knew he had found his Chanakya. [He] did not even take Mitesh's screen test and told him to report directly for the shooting."[19]


  • Mohan Kaul – Editing
  • Rajeev Khandelwal – Re-Editing/Editing
  • Rajan Kothari – Cinematography
  • Subhash Agarwal – Audiography
  • Ashit Desai – Music
  • Nitish Roy – Art Director
  • Nitin Chandrakant Desai – Associate Art Director
  • Salim Arif – Costume Designer
  • Muneesh Sappel – Assistant Costume Designer


Chanakya and his Associates

The Greeks


Pre-self-exile period

  • Pramod MouthoMaha Mantri Shaktar
  • Himanshu Gokani – Maha Amatya Vakranas
  • Surendra Sharma – Shishupal (Shaktar's spy)
  • Vimal Verma – Paur Milind
  • Ragini Shah – Chanakya's mother
  • Ajay Dubey – Acharya Chanak (Chanakya's father)
  • S.P. Dubey – Acharya Abhinavgupta (Chanakya's guru)
  • Meenakshi Thakur – Bhamini (Shaktar's wife)
  • Mahendra Raghuvanshi – Kaaljayi (Dhanananda's spy)
  • Ankur Merchant – Young Ajeya
  • Punit Shukla – Young Kartikeya
  • Utkarsha Naik – Chandragupta's mother
  • Laxmikant Karpe – Chandragupta's uncle
  • Mihir Bhuta – Young Katyayan
  • Susheel Parashar – crematorium grounds-keeper
  • Shikha Diwan – Angad's mother

Post-self-exile period

  • Irrfan KhanSenapati Bhadrashaal
  • Ashok LokhandeAshwadhyaksha Purushdutt
  • Naresh Suri – Senadhyaksha Balgupta
  • Ishan Trivedi – Acharya Ajeya
  • Renuka Israni – Maitree (Ajeya's wife)
  • Manoj Joshi as Mantri Shriyak (Shaktar's son)
  • Vipin Sharma – Maha Mantri Varruchi
  • Chand Dhar – Acharya Rudradev
  • Trilok Malhotra – Bhagurayan (Head of Detective Department)
  • Jairoop Jeevan – Susidhartak (Undercover Spy)
  • Salim Arif – Sidhartak / Narrator
  • Neena GuptaRaj Nartaki Shweta
  • Prakash Dwivedi – Monk Jeevasiddhi

Gandhara / Takshashila / Taxila

  • Sudhir Dalvi – Ambhiraj, King of Taxila
  • Adarsh Gait – Ambhikumar, Prince of Taxila and son of ambhiraj and next king of Taxila
  • Chandramohan Bounthiyal – Anujdev
  • Brij Mohan Vyas – Kulpati Acharya Taponidhi
  • Siraj Syed – Maha Mantri Sushen
  • Namrata Sahani – Princess Alka (Ambhiraj's daughter and ambhikumar's sister)


  • Arun BaliKing Purushottam or Porus, King of pauravrashtra* Ashok BanthiaMaha Mantri Indradutt
  • Malvika Tiwari – Kalyani (Porus' daughter)
  • Kirti Azad – Ashtavakra (Spy in Taxila)
  • Kumar Ram Pravesh – Chakravak (Spy in Taxila)
  • Anita Kanwal – Subhada (Spy in Taxila)
  • Kamal Chaturvedi – Mrityunjay (Spy in Taxila)
  • Chandrakant Beloskar – Minister Pishuna
  • Ashish Deshpande – Maharaj Bamni, father of Porus
  • JD Majethia – Malayketu, son of Porus


The series gathered much praise for its authenticity, particularly the way it used costumes and similar artistic devices.[8] Journalist and media critic Sevanti Ninan, bemoaning the lack of attention paid to authenticity and aesthetics in Indian mythological serials, wrote in a 2000 column in The Hindu — "'Chanakya' still stands out in one's memory for its period authenticity."[20]

The series was commercially successful for Doordarshan, bringing in INR 180  million in advertising revenues.[21] While thinking about opening up the organization's second channel, DD Metro, to private producers in lieu of license fees, it took the Chanakya experience into consideration with a Doordarshan official commenting that "quality programmes can attract enough advertising support to sustain even small producers who could be bidding for time slots on the metro channel."

Chanakya brought instant and lasting recognition to the director and chief protagonist, Dwivedi,[2] who is often referred to as "Dr. Chandraprakash 'Chanakya' Dwivedi."[22][23]


The series faced criticism for having a pro-Hindutva subtext and a nationalist agenda, something that Dwivedi strongly denied.[8] Questions were raised about the "liberal use of saffron and 'Har Har Mahadev' slogans" in the series and Dwivedi's links to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).[8] Then BJP chief LK Advani had visited the series' Film City sets in 1991,[24] and journalist Madhavi Irani noticed in Dwivedi's office, during an interview with him, "a large laminated photograph of the BJP supremo ... posing with doctor sahib and his brother, serial producer Prakash Dwivedi."[8]

Critic Maithili Rao, while accepting the "tasteful and authentic" nature of the series, termed as unhistorical the story arc dealing with "akhand Bharat" (undivided India). "In the fourth century B.C., people did not have to unite against a foreign force. [Dwivedi] is trying to create a Pan-Indian identity at a time when there was none," she said.[8]

Another critic, Iqbal Masud, took aim at Kautilya and his magnum opus, the Arthashastra, and questioned the "amoral treatise's" relevance in the present time and age. "[The serial] is the spiritual justification of the BJP's forthcoming rath yatra from Srinagar to Kanyakumari. In the existing cauldron of hatred, the serial's image of shaven heads and Vedic mantras is only bound to ignite passions.... [There is no] beating around the bush that the ideology Chanakya preaches is the ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the BJP,” he said.[8]

V. Geetha, in an editorial in the Deccan Herald, wrote:

Other critics referred to some other (non-political) inaccuracies. Script writer Govind. P. Deshpande (who scripted the episodes on Chanakya, Shivaji and Mahatma Phule for Bharat Ek Khoj) thought that the series had failed to "correctly identify and interpret the concepts of dharma and rashtra as they existed from the Vedic to the Mauryan times," and that the philosophies of the time, both Vedic and otherwise, had not received in-depth treatment.[8] Dwivedi did receive support from veteran actor Dr. Sriram Lagoo who said that "[the series] portrays the period of Vedic culture quite accurately and one imagines there was quite a bit of saffron going around even then."[8]

The controversies, including "accusations of religious propaganda," resulted in Doordarshan pulling the serial off air, but only after the series completed the allotted number of episodes thanks to legal action by the producers.[26] “I still feel that people didn’t understand the kind of work I did in Chanakya. Nobody saw the pains behind making a serial set in a period about which there was practically nothing on record. But controversies were raised, so people didn’t watch it seriously," Dwivedi said in an interview years later (1996).[27]


6th Uptron Awards, 1992 (for 1991)

7th Uptron Awards, 1993 (for 1992)


Chanakya premiered on Doordarshan's main channel, DD National, in September 1991. In 1993, it was picked up by the BBC and telecast in the UK on BBC2 as part of the Saturday morning Asia Two slot.[29] Zee TV re-ran it in 1997[3] when Dwivedi was the channel's programming head, and 9X in 2007–08. Since 2008, Amrita TV runs a dubbed (into Malayalam) version titled Chanakya Tantram. The series has been broadcast in the USA, Canada, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Mauritius and Nepal.[2]

Since 1993, the complete series has been available on home video in formats including a set of 16 VHS video cassettes,[30] 47 VCDs, and 12 DVDs.

Hum karein Rashtraaradhan

In episode 12, while Chanakya is out of Takshila gurukul trying to counter Alexander's invasion of Indus kingdoms, his students, anxious about the recent developments, sing a song Hum karein Rashtraaradhan (हम करें राष्ट्राराधन ). This song has gained popularity ever since and has become a song widely sung in RSS gatherings.[31]

See also


  1. "Television". The Indian Express. 8 September 1991.
  2. "Celebrating humanity". Screen Weekly. 26 September 2003. Archived from the original on 3 August 2004. Retrieved 22 April 2012.
  3. Uma Chakravarti (2000) [1998]. "Inventing Saffron History". In Mary E. John, Janaki Nair (ed.). A question of silence: the sexual economies of modern India. pp. 243–268.
  4. "Television". The Indian Express. 9 August 1992.
  5. "Lessons From History". Indian Express. 21 August 2009. Retrieved 13 March 2013.
  6. "And Now Chanakya". Surya India. 14: 58. 1989.
  7. Sukanya Verma (23 October 2003). "'Neither the Indian nor the Pakistani government will gain from Pinjar'".
  8. Madhavi Irani (1 December 1991). "Saffron for breakfast". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011.
  9. "Pre-planned sabotage of 'Chanakya'". Organiser. 28 June 1992.
  10. Chaya Unnikrishnan (21 August 2009). "Lessons from history". Screen Weekly. Archived from the original on 11 April 2010.
  11. S. P. Agrawal, ed. (1991). Development/digression diary of India: 3D companion volume to Information India 1991–92. 45. Concept Publishing Company. p. 118. ISBN 978-81-7022-305-4.
  12. "India Today, Volume 17, Part 1". India Today. Thomson Living Media. 17: 72. 1992.
  13. Arjun Narayanan (20 December 2009). "Next work, your own catcall". The New Indian Express. Archived from the original on 18 May 2012. Retrieved 17 March 2010.
  14. "Nitin Chandrakant Desai". Joint Scene. Archived from the original on 7 January 2010.
  15. Piyus Roy (14 April 2007). "The Set Maker". Indian Express.
  16. Deepa Karmalkar (25 July 2008). "Set for big times". Screen Weekly. Archived from the original on 20 August 2010.
  17. Aruna Vasudev, ed. (1995). Frames of mind: reflections on Indian cinema, Volume 44 of Indian horizons. UBSPD. p. 132.
  18. Ashish Mitra (12 March 2004). "Art Directors gaining recognition". Screen Weekly.
  19. Parag Maniar (7 November 2008). "The baton passes on". Mumbai Mirror. Archived from the original on 23 February 2012.
  20. Sevanti Ninan (16 July 2000). "Television gods". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 17 March 2010.
  21. Askari H. Zaidi (1 August 1992). "DD Metro Channel council soon". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 25 July 2011.
  22. Menka Shivdasani (2 July 2001). "Building programmes". The Hindu Business Line.
  23. "Missing stars take shine out of Delhi CM's meet". Indian Express. Express News Service. 24 February 1998.
  24. "Business India, Issues 355–360". Business India. A.H. Advani: 52. 1991.
  25. V. Geetha (7 December 1991). "Chanakya – Dangerous images". Deccan Herald. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 17 March 2010.
  26. A. L. Chougule (5 September 2003). "Danger of Saffronisation". Screen Weekly.
  27. Suresh Nair (7 November 1996). "'I haven't earned anything from television'". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011.
  28. Data India, 1993
  29. Claire Frachon; Marion Vargaftig (1995). European television: immigrants and ethnic minorities. John Libby. p. 265.
  30. Henrietta L. Moore (1996). The future of anthropological knowledge. Routledge. p. 57. ISBN 978-0-415-10786-0.
  31. "Chanakya Episode 12".


  • "And Now Chanakya". Surya India. A. Anand. 14: 58. 1989.
  • Uma Chakravarti (2000) [1998]. "Inventing Saffron History". In Mary E. John, Janaki Nair (ed.). A question of silence: the sexual economies of modern India. Zed Books. pp. 243–268. ISBN 978-1-85649-892-0.
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