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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Question of Ethics: Chanakya, Dharma and Ashoka

Hi All Ashoka Lovers,

When some of the greatest thinkers like Chanakya and Ashoka are involved, can questions on ethics be far behind? But this present post is limited to a discussion of the ethics of Dharma relinquishing all rights over Ashoka and handing them over to Chanakya in the TV show. 

Please note that this post has nothing to do with history nor does it endorse the view that Dharma did give away Ashoka to Chanakya in reality. 


In Friday's (13th Feb, 2015) episode, Chanakya admits to his feelings of guilt on separating a mother and her son, half to himself and half to his faithful disciple. It was a poignant moment yet it filled me with a sense of relief. Till that moment, i had wondered if Chanakya didn't feel at all the immense sorrow of Dharma and Ashoka at being unable to meet or even acknowledge each other, just because those had been his orders. It seems he did feel the grief but his overwhelming loyalty to the Mauryan empire and its future was more important to him. 

In his own words, he admitted that he would be pronounced guilty by history and labeled selfish and indeed, he felt he was selfish but he was doing it all for the greater good of the Mauryan empire and, if on the road to securing the future of the empire, he had to sacrifice a few relationships or use some people as pawns, so be it. 

{Do ends justify means? This is the question here. It is true that a mighty empire needs a mighty emperor to keep it together and expand it in all possible ways. It is also true that emperors are generally made and not born. If Chanakya saw the future of Magadh in Ashoka and wanted to nurture it, there's nothing wrong with it. But the way he is going about it is questionable, if not downright objectionable. 

The second question that arises is who is more important  - the state or the individual? Should an individual be used as a pawn to strengthen an empire, irrespective of his / her own wishes? What about the rights of a citizen?  


It may have been my imagination but i felt that Chanakya was trying to fool himself into believing his own words. He sounded as someone who was trying desperately to assuage his guilty conscience that what he was doing was not wrong because it would ultimately result in the good of the empire. 


Dharma had shielded Ashoka from his destiny all these years but now that destiny had come searching for him to his doorstep and wouldn't take No for an answer. She also possibly knew in her heart that she would never be able to give a secure life to Ashoka, the kind of life Chanakya could succeed in providing. She trusted Chanakya implicitly and, more so, after his efforts to prove her son innocent in the assassination attempt on King B. It may also have been her desire that at least her son should enjoy the love and company of his father.

In any case, it is exceedingly tough for a mother to part from her son for anything in the world, even the future of her husband's empire. Esp a mother who has no one except that son in her world and has learned to revolve her life around him. To see your son in front of you every day and still remain away from him as if he were a stranger is like twisting a sharp knife thru your insides and not even be able to cry about it. 

It is said every person must be recompensed for anything they give. Chanakya must be well aware of this principle. So it remains to be seen how he compensates Dharma for sacrificing her son. Or does he feel that the fact that her son would be king one day is enough recompense to her?

Think of Dharma's ordeal in Tuesday's episode (Feb 17, 2015) when she learns that her son has been kidnapped by a demon. She cannot even cry openly nor seek help from anyone in this regard. 


What about the little kid, Ashoka himself? I feel the most for him - a pawn in a political game, who is paying a heavy price without even knowing or understanding why. A child who is being politically used by blackmailing him emotionally thru his mother and by holding his mother captive so that he cannot try any tricks or escape. 

The scene when Dharma tells him that from then on, he must listen to everything Chanakya says just the way he obeyed his mother in the past without questioning her, moved me to tears. Ashoka is not given any explanation or reason as to why he must stay away from his mother, why he must never acknowledge that she is his mother and why he must remain bonded to Chanakya. And the amazing love for his mother shines thru here when he accepts his mother's decision and gives her his word in this regard, even though his heart is dull with pain and his sharp mind must be swirling with many questions

This kind of blind faith in his mother and acceptance of her words without questioning was also seen in the scene where he is being tortured by Bindusar's men just before his trial in the assassination attempt case. His mother makes him promise that he would not reveal her identity and he agrees EVEN in that condition when he is facing death. It was a stunning revelation about his relationship with his mother and makes it so easy to believe when he says that his universe lies at the feet of his mother. 

But why then does the mother need to extract promises from him? Doesn't she trust him as much as he does?

Scenes like this make us stop and think that Ashoka was one of those rare people who ARE born great. To him, the only ethical question is whether he is able to keep his mother happy or not. It doesn't matter to him that she is handing him over to a relative stranger to an uncertain future. (To a child, future with his mother would seem more certain and secure than anything else.) 

Ashoka seems aware that Chanakya has some big gameplan up his sleeve; he doesn't yet know just what it is but he is willing to play along just because his mother trusts this man. And he has his own dreams of becoming an emperor one day and he may be of the belief that being close to the king would enable him to spot opportunities to move closer to his dream. 

But still, it is amazing how Ashoka is able to maintain a cheerful disposition in spite of his circumstances. The other day, when he was hurt in the race with Sushima and was treated briefly by his mother, it was such a tender yet heart-wrenching moment. How much Ashoka would have wanted to share news of his win with his mother, how much he would have wanted to be pampered by her. How much she would have wanted to hug him and kiss his tears away. Chanakya wanted to send him to a dispensary for treatment but the self-respecting boy declined. Nurses could heal his injuries but only his mother could heal the hurt in his heart. And if he couldn't be healed by her touch, he didn't want to be healed at all.

The question is, is it possible for Ashoka to go on like this, away from his only emotional anchor, when he is in his teens, when he needs a mother's guidance and love the most? 

Would he be able to keep his love for her alive, in spite of her staying away from him? Or will resentment slowly make its way into his heart and embitter his soul against her?

What do you feel?

This is a strange, uneasy relationship among these three. Each has accepted this relationship for their own reasons, putting the ethics of it all in the background. 

But for us, ignoring the question is not easy. Please share your thoughts on this question and whether you think they are justified in their stands. 

Previous Post - Episode 1 and 2 | Feb 2 and 3 | The Stage is Set...Discussion

This article has been posted under the Ashoka Maurya section of history_geek's blog.

No copyright claimed for the pictures used.
Credits for pictures used, lies with the original creator.

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  1. Radhika,

    A power packed post. !!

    As usual you have brought forth the least
    thought about points in your post. Your post reflects majority of my
    opinion, hence you have left very little to be said by me here. Still, let me give what i feel like in brief. :)

    Post has nothing to do with REAL History in strict sense, as these circumstances are
    creation of much dreaded weapon which every PH has armed itself with these days , i.e., - > " Natkiye Rupanter " . :-P

    About Chanakya

    is acting in the manner he ought to be. We should remember that the
    FIRST Dharma of a Guru is NOT to flow in his emotions but to guide his
    disciple in order to attain the maximum level of perfection. Everything
    comes at a cost and so is Perection. And that, Chanakya can only do by
    keeping Ashoka close to him.

    with being a Guru to the first 2 Mauryan Emperors, he also happens to
    be the one who laid the foundation of Mauryans in Bharat. He is like a
    Prime Minister(mahamatya). The role which is played by Chanakya here has multiple shades. HE is the Guru, the Mahamatya(pseudo), the guide, the protector of throne of Magadha, the Kingmaker, and what not..!

    About Dharma
    I think she has understood that it is in the best interests of -
    1. Magadh
    2. Bindusara
    3. And in the interest of his own son

    agree, getting separated from her son, and watching him close to
    enemies and dangers is not an easy task for a mother, but but but, at
    the same time, she has expressed her complete faith in Chanakya as well.

    is well aware of the fact that in order to guard Ashoka and proof him
    innocent, he took an arrow on his own chest. I some how feel, inspite of
    some occasional moments of anxiety and worry, which are natural for any
    mother when she watches her kid in problems, Dharma is very much
    composed lady.

    About Ashoka
    This Kid knows nothing right now. He is simply thinking that he has to pay 50 Pans
    as his punishment amount and will get free after that. Little does he
    knows that he is being trained implicitly by the same person he detests
    the most - Chankaya -> The person whom he has planned to get "measured" by the means of him getting fined and flogged(how many times ?). LOL

    do consider that being a child and separating him from his mother is
    not right. I do not agree with the makers when they showed Chanakya in a feeling of guilt for separating the mother son.

    In ancient times, we
    had the concept of GuruKuls, where any how a child had to be separated
    from his mother. We saw this in the show PRC where Prithviraj Chauhan
    was enacted by a young Rajat Tokas. So, this bit about separation of
    Ashoka and Dharma can be understood in some sense in this regard as
    well. :)

    is the bane of being a ruler. Many a times, you have to keep your
    emotions behind and think and work for the betterment of the land to
    which one belongs and ought to rule.

    As , Uncle Ben of our very own ' Spidy ' says in the First edition -> ""With greatER power
    comes GREATER responsibilities."
    Same is the case here. The trio of
    Chanakya-Dharma-Ashoka is at some serious work for the welfare of
    Magadh, and Bharat, of course. :D

  2. good post abhay :):):) I did watch some scenes of ashoka and was literally confused to know abt the proceedings when history is considered ... yet the show, is interesting with the fact that ashoka himself aspires to be king even without knowing he is truly a son of king bindusaar !!!! And that angle of dharma, who loves her son so much that she willed to give his custody to chanakya for his safety was truly endearing !!!

  3. Welcome Suganya. So you are watching the show or not ? :)
    BTW, This post is by Radhika.
    Happy Maha Shivratri to all. :)

  4. Wonderful Radhika....:)
    The show itself is awesome and bonus are the posts u r making. :)

  5. Yeah ... ;);) though I missed some scenes n read wu's to compensate :D
    so radhika di made this post , she indeed has given power packed post!!

  6. Radhika,
    As usual, u hv brought forward ethical points seemingly unnoticed by everyone.:) As far as Dharma is concerned, Radhika I feel in Bharat we hv a universal rule i.e.Woman, especially the mother is or has to be an idol of sacrifices, 'tyagamurthi'. By making her Goddess n keeping her on the pedestal people take her feelings for granted.But I agree with Abhay that in those days children used to go to Gurukul at a very young age, so no big deal fr them.! But let me tell u the same Chanakya bought Chandragupta frm his matula, uncle fr 100 mudras. For these Mudras he had to sell his Works.Uncle was not ready to let go Chandragupta, saying 'gaay kaun charayega'. But at this time, however Chandragupta's mother blessed him n sent him with this stranger to make a better life.
    As far as Ashoka , he is still a child having set only one goal of becoming Samrat not knowing how to go abt it. We give vaccination to children to keep them away frm diseases.Child may not like it, as long as the goal is lofty, the pain doesn't matter.
    Aur Chanakya ke baare me kya kahoon.! It seems the phrase 'everything is fair in war' has it's root in his neeti. His goal was protection of Magadh, n Bharatvarsh frm invaders.To attain that he played many games,ethical,as wll as unethical, got Chandragupta's enemies killed, set differences among them.Became protective shield fr Chandragupta n Ashoka fr no personal profit or so.He sent out the message that faced with the dilema of choosing between Raja n Rajya it shud always be the Rajya, the Matrubhoomi, n not the Raja.

  7. Beautiful Post. Just got a chance to read Radhika and everyone's comments. I am loving the show so far. I believe both Dharma and Chanakya both are right in their own Places. Ashoka as of now knows nothing about it.

  8. Suganya

    Great point - Dharma is a mother who loves her son so much that she is even willing to sacrifice her right to be his mother! It is a TREMENDOUS sacrifice for a person who had NOTHING in her life except her son and she is giving up her rights over him too.

  9. Kamal

    So you are also watching Ashoka? Great! :)

    It's a lovely compliment that you liked the post. Pls share your views about the show when you get time. :)

  10. Shivani

    Fantastic write-up! Loved reading it :) Esp these 3 points that you have elucidated so well:

    1. Chanakya's personal turmoil though he is able to conquer it most of the time

    2. Dharma's determination to secure her son's safety at any cost to herself

    3. Ashoka's grudging admiration for Chanakya and his inborn leadership skills.

    It's not necessary to reveal the identity of Dharma or Ashoka right now. Yet their secrecy is NOT ensuring their Ashoka's safety. In some way or the other, he is landing into trouble esp with Sushim, in spite of his identity remaining veiled. This is destiny. Ashoka has to face off Sushim to get to the throne. And this face off has already started. Charumitra too now has some fears that Ashoka may eclipse her son's chances of being the heir though she does not yet know that he stands a chance of being the next heir.

  11. Geeta

    Thanks for sharing the story of Chandragupta Maurya :)

    See my reply to Abhay above where I have explained some points you raised here :)

  12. Ayushi

    Well written :)

    Gurus are of different types. The gurus you mentioned are very different from the type of guru Chanakya is. He can be unethical at times but the other gurus were always ethical.

    Pls see my reply to Abhay above regarding your points about sending a child to a gurukul and about Ashoka being in front of Dharma's eyes. :)

    Pls see my reply to Shivani above regarding the safety of Ashoka. True his identity needs to be kept hidden but that is not keeping him safe. He is still the target of Sushim's ire.

  13. Sindhu,

    Thanks :) Ashoka is just getting to know that winning his freedom and getting back together with his mom is not going to be easy.

    Do see my replies to Abhay and Shivani for more. :)

  14. Thanks everyone for your wonderful responses. Hope you all had a good time yesterday on Maha Shivaratri. :)

  15. Sankaran SatheedeviFebruary 18, 2015 at 9:30 PM

    Hi Abhay, i am regular in watching Ashoka, what I feel is that Chanakya somehow knows that Dharma's life is in danger that's the reason for hiding her identity,as for Ashoka,to ascend the throne he has to be taught with disciples and harsh control as you can see he is way ahead in his thinking and too straight forward which will be his down fall in the conceited royal attain both the future king and the safety of the mother it might be necessary for Chanakya to follow his way. This is what I think !

  16. Sankaran SatheedeviFebruary 18, 2015 at 9:34 PM

    By the way I don't know anything about Ashoka' history apart fr the Movie. Please excuse my ignorance but still trying to know about him as I am still getting to know about Jodha Akbar! Tks

  17. Radhika!

    An amazing post! However, I had a query. Did Ashoka really begin a secret society to safeguard human interests? I was reading an article on conspiracy theories and it came up that this society exists till date, and they passed down 9 books containing important information with regards to warfare, sociology, communication, alchemy, death, microbiology, light, gravity and cosmology for safety of the human society....

  18. Quite Valid Points Sankaran.!
    In short this is the crux, and POV of Chanakya. :)
    But, Radhika wants to ask that is this correct from Ashoka and Dharma's POV also ?
    PS : This post is written by Radhika. :)

  19. Sankaran,
    A separate page has been created for Ashoka's History.
    Here is the Link:
    You will get the links of posts on Ashoka on this page. :)

  20. Not sure about this Samanika. At the moment, i am not aware of anything of this sort. Can you share more details ? :)

  21. Sankaran SatheedeviFebruary 19, 2015 at 7:56 PM

    Hi Radhika, as for Ashoka whatever his mum tells him is the ultimate last word for him because she is the only constant person in his life who brought him up single handedly by herself, gave him everything he needs till this day.does he understand why his mother is doing this to him, No, but he knows himself what ever his mother is asking, saying or doing has to have a very good reason behind. Ashoka in this show is portrayed as an intelligent boy who understands people's emotions without explaining to him the reason,he is shown as very mature thinking boy with the usual naughtiness and playfulness as a growing teen. The love he has for her is beyond his own pain. This is what I derived from the show!

  22. Sankaran SatheedeviFebruary 19, 2015 at 7:59 PM

    Hi Radhika, as a mother myself to my 2 boys 14 and 12, I would not be able to see my boys suffer in any mishaps but if their future depends on a right path with a reliable guru wouldn't any mother want their sons have that constant stability which she could not provide? They say a mother's love can't be seen or understand or felt until that child comes to know the sacrifices the mother made for him or her. Yes, Dharma is suffering but why is she not stopping it because she knows deep down in her heart that for Ashoka to have the right teaching,guidance , the command of respect and maybe eventually to have his father's love, she has to choose between for her own good or for the good of her son's future. A mother's happiness , love and strength is always her child first. This is my opinion on Dharma watching the show! Sorry if I made any mistake.

  23. Sankaran SatheedeviFebruary 19, 2015 at 8:00 PM

    Thank you Abhay for the updates on Ashoka! Really appreciate your awesome updates!!

  24. I had just seen this as a part of an article on conspiracy theories and there were just about 3-4 lines given about it. I'll try my best to dig out more :)

  25. Hi everyone,

    Thanks for your lovely comments. :) Busy at the moment but will reply definitely to every comment :)

    Loved Sankaran's comment. Pls do not apologize. Your remarks are very insightful and I enjoyed reading them. In 18th Feb episode, Dharma realizes that God is pulling hte strings from above and everything is happening as per His Will and for a good reason, which she doesn't understand at the moment. But she is willing to take a chance and accept whatever is happening as the destiny of Ashoka and herself. :)
    Loved what you wrote about the emotional intelligence of Ashoka :)

  26. Reply at leisure Radhika, when you get time. I am also enjoying reading comments on this post. :)

  27. Please try Samanika. It seems quite interesting. :)