Time travel: When Alexander the Great met Chanakya

  • Poorva Joshi, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Jun 25, 2016 13:58 IST
Alexander and Roxanne played by Shilpi and Virsy

Alexander the Great and Vedic scholar Chanakya were contemporaries who never met. But what if they had?

Chanakya, the author of Arthashastra — one of the greatest pieces of political, and economic writing from the East — is credited with the rise of the Mauryan empire, considered to be the Golden period of the Vedic Age (15th century). Alexander the Great, on the other hand, represents the western world’s first attempt of conquering the Indian subcontinent. The hugely successful warrior met his end on his way back home, from Punjab, after the Battle of Jhelum, against the Indian king, Porus (by the end of 14th century).

Coincidentally, it was only two years after Alexander’s death, that Chandragupta Maurya, with Chanakya by his side, established the Mauryan empire. “Despite belonging to the same time period and living in proximity (during Alexander’s attempted invasion of India), they never met. That made me restless. I wanted to put both of them in a room and have them talk to each other,” says Abhyuday Tamhankar, 32, a Mumbai-based theatre actor and writer.

So, he imagined a conversation between the two historic icons for a play, titled Alexander vs Chanakya, which is set to premiere this weekend.

Vijay Vikram as Chanakya

Historic storytelling

Though based on historic figures, creating a fictional event around them was Tamhankar’s biggest challenge. “Their meeting had to look organic, taking into account the major battles that took place at the time, and supporting characters who influenced the course of history,” says Tamhankar.

So, he spent a year reading books and academic papers to get a sense of the period. Through his research, a plot began to take shape. “I started with the titular characters meeting in isolation. Characters like Porus, and Alexander’s third wife Roxanne were introduced to the script,” says Tamhankar.

The event also features a discussion on how western and eastern philosophies of democracy, society and justice have taken shape, and in turn, how they affected two distinct cultures.

Abhyuday Tamhankar

Symbols of power

To emphasise on the similarity of their political thought, Tamhankar has used symbolism instead of dialogue. For instance, Alexander carries a flute and stands like Lord Krishna (one leg crossing the other), to reflect how Indian culture influenced his outlook.

“Alexander, by the means of war, wanted to unite the world. Chanakya, too, elaborates on the functions of a successful king on a global level. Both characters were cultural magnets — they absorbed multiple traditions to create something unique. In the process, they married the Eastern thought with Western philosophy,” says Tamhankar.

But he is quick to point out that the cultural confluence is balanced throughout the play. “Both characters were great but flawed. This is re-imagined history and creative liberty has been taken. History, however, has its own story to tell,” he says.

Alexander vs Chanakya will premiere on June 25, at 7pm
At: The Hive, next to Ahmed Bakery, Bandra (W)
Call: 96199 62969
Tickets: Rs 300

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