A convenient mix of democracy and sycophancy, combined with the serendipitous rise of Narendra Modi, is on the verge of solving a riddle that has troubled historians for nearly 2500 years: Who was Chandragupta Maurya?
Since the beginning of history, the exact genealogy of the founder of the Mauryan Dynasty (321-185 BCE) has been a mystery because of contrasting narratives and contradictory claims. There is some unanimity on the name Maurya, derived from Moriyas, ostensibly because the great ruler came from a village with lots of peacocks. But scholars, Indian as well as Greek and English, have not been able to conclusively establish if Maurya was a Kshatriya, a Shudra, a Vaishya, a Buddhist or a Modi, well, somebody from the Indian PM's clan.
In her controversial book, The Hindus -An Alternate History, Wendy Doniger writes: “Chandragupta Maurya usurped the Nanda throne in 321 BCE…Buddhist texts say that Mauryas were Kshatriyas of the clan of Moriyas and Shakyas (the clan of Buddha himself), while Brahmin texts says they were Vaishyas or even Shudras, and heretic.”
Even the Jats believe he was one of their own. “His mother Mura is said to belong to a low caste family. Nevertheless, he held a high rank in Nanda army. Be what it was, the Jain traditions have settled the issue that he was a Kshtriya belonging to a Jat Clan named Maurya,” argues the community’s popular website Jatland.com.
Some historians refer to the use of word ‘kulahina’ in Vishakhadatta’s Mudrarakshasa for Chandragupta to infer that his origin was unknown. In the end, confusion has prevailed.
History, as the old saying goes, is written from the point of view of winners. So, while historians keep debating and Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Jats continue claiming the Mauryas as their own, a filmmaker has already settled the issue: the founder of one of the earliest and greatest empires of India was from Prime Minister Modi’s community of oil-pressers.
Pune-based producer Suresh Suresh Chaudhari is producing a serial for Doordarshan on Modi’s community, claiming that it has had such illustrious figures as Chandragupta Maurya, his grandson Ashoka and, of course, Modi.
According to the Indian Express, ‘The muhurat of serial Diye Jalte Hain took place in Gandhinagar on Monday with the Prime Minister’s eldest brother Somnath, better known as Sombhai Modi, as guest.
The serial is likely to be telecast on Doordarshan by October. It will narrate the history of the Ghanchi-Teli community by weaving biographies of its famous members.
“Doordarshan has in the first phase sanctioned 128 episodes and the serial is likely to run for about 10 years. It will give the message that one should be proud of the community that has produced so many great personalities,’’ Chaudhari said.’
So, for ten years—longer than any other serial in the history of Indian TV—viewers would be fed the winner’s view of Maurya genealogy, even if is disputed. And his fans would be left to savour the idea that the PM, destined as he was to become India’s ruler, could well have been Emperor Narendra Maurya had democracy not intervened.
Elections are round the corner in day Bihar, which in its BCE avatar was part of Maurya dynasty’s Magadha Empire. The BJP may not mind propaganda that connects the PM with the dynasty that once ruled Magadha. A Maurya, after all, has a reasonable claim over the state’s legacy.
Even if this wasn’t a classic case of distorting history, usurping the heritage of a great empire and its heroes to thrust more greatness on the PM, magnify his halo, the idea of a caste/community based programme that would run on state-owned TV alone is deplorable.
Tomorrow other communities may want a share of Doordarshan primetime to glorify their history and ancestors. The Kashmiri Pandits, for instance, may want a 128-episode serial on their heroes, including the Nehru-Gandhis, and some other great kings whose disputed ancestory is up for grab. Given India’s diversity and history, each one of the thousands of communities, castes and sub-groups is capable of churning out dozens of episodes on their version of history. Will the Prasar Bharati be justified in limiting it to just the Maurya-Modis?
To be fair to the PM, he has never shown any inclination to dress up his ancestory. If anything, he has been proud of his humble origins and gone out of his way to remind the world that how the son of a tea-seller went on to become one of modern India’s greatest politician. The serial must be the idea of a sycophant, who would have made an offer pliant babus in Prasar Bharati found difficult to refuse.
But at least the wise men in the ministry of information and broadcasting should have remembered this: Chandragupta Mauraya belonged to no one in particular; and Modi represents all of India.
Updated Date: May 06, 2015 07:14:06 IST