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Mudrarakshasa / Rakshasa (the minister) with the signet / Rakshasa and the signet-ring / Rakshasa known by the signet-ring

The city of Pataliputra or Palibothra, the capital of the Nandas, was situated not far from the confluence of the Ganges and the Sone; and was on the southern side of the rivers. Nanda, the last king of the Nanda line, had for his minister the able and experienced Rakshasa. Chandragupta also called Vrishala and Maurya is identical with Sandrakottus represented by the Greek writers as the most powerful Raja in India at the time of Alexander the Great's death. He was a sovereign of dignity and strength of character and had a high respect for his minister Chanakya, the Indian Macchiavelli, who was a crafty, clearheaded, self-confident, intriguing and hard politician, with the ultimate end of his ambition thoroughly well-determined and directing all his clearheadedness and intrigue to the accomplishment of that end. This minister, also called Vishnugupta, is famous as a writer on Nity or "rules of government and polity", and the reputed author of numerous moral and political precepts commonly current in India. Nanda is slain by the contrivances of this wily Brahman, who thus assists Chandragupta to the throne, and becomes his minister. Rakshasa refuses to recognise the usurper and endeavours to be avenged on him for the ruin of his late master.

After the assassination of Nanda, Servarthasiddhi is placed on the throne by Rakshasa but he retires to a life of devotion. Saileswara or Parvataka or Parvateswara, the king of the Mountains, at first the ally of Chandragupta, afterwards befriended his opponents and is therefore slain privily by Chanakya. Vairodhaka, the brother of Parvataka, is killed by Rakshasa's emissaries by mistake for Chandragupta.

Malayaketu, the son of Parvataka, is a prince whose confidence and distrust are alike misplaced, who is thoughtless, suspicious, wanting in dignity, and almost child-like, not to say childish. He leads an army against Chandragupta but without success. He is so rash and inconsiderate as to resolve most hastily to undertake war against five kings at a time.

Rakshasa is a brave soldier but a blundering and somewhat soft-natured politician, whose faithfulnesss to his original master Nanda prompts him to wreak vengeance on Chandragupta and Chanakya. He has ultimately to abandon in despair his self-imposed task, the great aim of his life, being foiled by the arts of his adversary Chanakya. The proximate motive of the abandonment, however, is the duty of repaying favours received by him when he was engaged in his attempts at vengeance. He accidentally acquires a ring.

Chanakya, whose ability and diplomatic skill are of a high order, lays out various plottings and machinations to make Chandragupta the paramount sovereign in India, by winning over the noble Rakshasa to his master's cause. He tries successfully to effect a reconciliation between his protegé, and Rakshasa. With this view Rakshasa is rendered by the contrivances of Chanakya an object of suspicion to the prince Malyaketu with whom he has taken refuge and is consequently dismissed by him.

In this deserted condition he learns the imminent danger of a dear friend Chandandasa whom Chanakya is about to put to death, and in order to effect his liberation surrenders himself to his enemies.

They offer him, contrary to his expectations, the rank and power of Prime Minister, and the parties are finally friends.

The Nanda dynasty thus comes to an end and Chandragupta becomes the founder of the Maurya dynasty.

A curious scene in the last Act may be noticed here. A Chandala or executioner leads a criminal to the place of execution. The latter bears a stake (Sula) on his shoulder, and is followed by his wife and son who use no expressions suggestive of tenderness but only of sacrifice--a stern sense of duty. At the impending execution of her husband, she neither faints nor becomes disconsolate but simply weeps and talks of her duty.

The executioner calls out--"Make way, make way, good people! let every one who wishes to preserve his life, his property, or his family, avoid transgressing against the king as he would, poison." This criminal is Chandan Das who is put into chains with a view to force his friend Rakshsa to yield. He gives up his life and property for the sake of his friend Rakshasa. This conduct is described as casting into the shade the noble acts of even the Buddhas.