From ancient times, great aims of human life, also termed as Purusharthas in India have been classified into four, namely Dharma/ Moral behavior, Artha/ Wealth, Kama/ Worldly pleasures, and Moksha/ Salvation. According to Kautilya, the greatest master of the science, the term Artha has much wider significance than merely a word concerning wealth. Material well-being of an individual is a part of it. As Kautilya says in the text, “The source of livelihood of men is wealth”.
Through his ideology, he states that;
“Arthamulau Hi Dharmakamau”
(Wealth is the primary stage for morals and pleasures).
Somnath dhar in his book, ‘Kautilya and the Arthashastra’ appreciates the text in the following words; “The Arthashastra is less of a theoretical work on polity, on concepts and fundamentals of the political science or administration but it is certainly more of a manual for the king and the administrator”.(Dhar.1981) Based on the original writing in text, Mr. Dhar interprets and translates Kautilya’s saying as; “This Arthashastra or science of polity has been made as a compendium of all those Arthashastras which as guidance to kings acquiring and maintaining the earth have been written by ancient teachers.”(Dhar.1981) It speaks of problems of the government and describes the machinery and the functions in war and peace. According to Somnath Dhar, the exhaustiveness of treatment is missing from the previous and the later work, except for Sukranitee.
About the author
A Brahmin named Chanakya also known as Vishungupt or Kautilya wrote the Arthashastra. The name Kautilya shows that he belonged to the gotra or the family of Kutila, Chanakya shows him to be the son of Chanaka and Vishungupta was his personal name. Except for few traditionally transferred facts and stories, very little is known about his past and personal life. One legend says that, he was a Brahmin from Kerala, impoverished and lean who somehow found himself in the court of the Nanda king at Pataliputra. Another says that he was a Brahmin from North India, born and educated in the very famous university town of Takshashila, came to Pataliputra to win an honor in philosophic disputation. According to a Buddhist source, Kautilya was known for his proficiency in three Vedas, his policies, his skill in stratagem and for his physical ugliness, complexion and deformity in legs and other limbs. After he faced an insulting encounter with the Nanda king (Dhanananda), he left his court and vowed not to forelock his knot of hair until he would destroy the Nanda dynasty from its root. He then wandered as an ascetic, searching for a suitable person who could help him to achieve his objective.
The king to whose court Kautilya came, was known to be a misery, in addition some reports also state that Porus who defeated Alexander, wrote to him that the Nanda king was not merely a man with no royal family background, but even of the very meanest condition. In fact, his father was a barber who later became the lover of the queen of the state, assassinated the king and killed all his children while acting as their guardian.
He originally came from a royal line, but was fostered by a cowherd. While roaming, kautilya saw this boy playing with his companions on the village grounds. The boy was acting the role of a king giving orders to ministers and dealing with justice. Kautilya got impressed with the boy when he easily gave away a decision for an issue came over by someone else’s cow. Kautilya liked his leadership qualities and he brought the boy then for 1000 panas (the then currency), took him to Takshashila and gave him an education suitable for him to be a future king.
Available resources say that, Kautilya has written some texts other than the Arthashastra, i.e. Laghu-chanakya, Vruddha-chanakya to spread the knowledge about administration to the leaders.
The controversies related to the text are not concerned about the content but are straightly focused over the period of the author and the text. Experts also have raised an argument question the existence of kautilya in person. When it comes to the date of the text a number of authorities such as R. Shyama Shastri, N.N. Law, Vincent Smith, J.F Fleet, Ganapathi Shastri and C.P. Jaiswal stand for the opinion that the work was authored by Chanakya; the minister of Chandragupt Maurya. Whereas on the other hand J. Jolly, M. Winternitz, D.R. Bhandarkar and A.B. Keith, are of the opinion that the text is a much later work and can be placed in the earlier years of the Christian era between 1st and the 3rd century A.D. Ramchandra Jain in a way supports the previous assumption, and states that the Arthashastra has close alliance with the Nitee sara of Kamandaka, which was composed in the 4th century A.D., and hence the former is placed in the 3rd century A.D. Referring to the enumeration in the Arthashastra of the famous individuals such as; Bhoja, Dandaka, Karala, Janamejana, Aila, Ajabindu, Ravana, Duryodhana, Arjun of Haihaya, Vatap, Agastya, Dvaipayan, Aambarisha and Babhaga and since, these are Mahabharata figures, the text must be placed after 2nd century A.D.
There is another opinion that links Kautilya to Panini, by saying that, in the text Kautilya speaks of only four parts of the speech, whereas, Panini refers to eight. Hence, apparently we may conclude that Panini’s grammar had not become dominant at the time of Kautilya. Hence, considering the point, it may be stated that Kautilya lived in 4th century B.C. and not A.D.
The reference to Kamboja, Mallas, Lichch, and the Madras in the Book XI (Chapter 1) of the Arthashastra also supports the view that, the work was written in early Mauryan age, because in this period those republics were in existence. The reference to the work of Mahavisi/Mahavrisha of the Vedas for imports and exports of wines from Afghanistan, weight and measures of Sibi, further proves that it is Mauryan and not post Christian era. A realistic view, of the then prevailing city-states and republics is secured via the accounts left by the Greek historians. The writings of Magasthenes despite the fact that it has survived in fragments, is still very valuable to the students of Mauryan administration, which can be excelled only by Kautilya’s Arthashastra.
“Who was Kautilya?” is yet another debate for the scholars. According to Dr. J.Jolly, the real author of Arthashastra was a theoretician and not a minister. He also adds that, “Kautilya” is a fictitious name since the traditional accounts of Kautilya did not refer to him. He also points out that, the Greek ambassador Magasthenes, who had visited India, during the reign of Chandragupt Maurya, did not mention Kautilya. The Greeks at the time were not experts of any part of India and hence the omission of Kautilya’s name by Magasthenes is held to be noteworthy. In addition, other authorities have mentioned about, Patanjali’s Mahabhashya, where there is reference found about Chandragupt or the other Mauryas, but none about kautilya. An analysis of the content of the text leads to an assumption that, it was not a work of a statesman nor was it composed by an individual, but was worked upon by a learned Pandit and composed by a school of scholars.
Mr. Jain disagrees with D.R. Bhandarkar, furnishing proof that, Kautilya was a contemporary of Chandragupt Maurya. He refers to the Jain Nandisutra, redacted in the 5th century A.D. and presents an all-new possibility. According to this “Kautilya is not a name of a person but of a science, discovered or taught by Kutila (literally meant “wicked”).
He also says that, there is no mention of Chanakya or Kautilya or even Vishnugupta (the original name of Chanakya) in the Buddhist Tripitakas or Jatakas. By pointing out that, the Mahabharata does not mention Kautilya or his Arthashastra, ‘Jain holds safely’ that, the text was definitely collated after the redaction of the Greek epic. A further point made by Ramchandra Jain, is that, there is no evidence available to identify Kutila, the author of the Kautilya Arthashastra with Chanakya. The Arthashastra does not mention Vishungupta in the main body at all. Uniting all his findings, Ramchandra Jain, concluded that, Chanakya was a historical person, but a minor associate of Chandragupt Maurya in his political acts against the Nanda rule. He further says that, Kautilya is no human being but the term stands for the science of an anonymous teacher designated Kutila. When Kautilya says that the domain of Chakravartin extends from Himalaya to the great seas it is clear that he was referring to a big empire, which could be the Mauryan Empire. The reason why he does not specify the organization of the bigger empire is apparently it was a solitary phenomenon. On the other hand, the lack of mention of Kautilya by Magasthenes would have some validity in case the entire work of the Greek ambassador, historian had survived. However the possibility of assuming Magasthenes reference to be accepted as an evidence is countered by L.N. Rangarajan stating that; “the indika of Magasthenes is not available in its entirely but only in its few fragments in any case he is not reliable because the indika is a mixture of fact and fable, history and hearsay”.( Rangarajan.1992)
The argument that Patanajali does not mention Kautilya cannot be a reason to prove the non-existence of such a character; there was no occasion, just as there was none for him to refer to Ashoka or Bindusara. However, the evidence to the statement that, Kautilya is the author of the text is provided in the writings of some ancient as well as modern sasnksrut scholars. Some of them are as follows; The author of Kamandaka nitee-sar in his book says that, “Kamandakiya is based upon a text written by a scholar, because of whom a mountain-like, firm rule of Nanda was destroyed from its root. Who made Chandragupt a king, who has drawn Nitee Shastra from the Arthashastra, which is vast as a sea. I respect and praise Vishungupta”. (Prananath1823) The writer of Pancha-tantra indicates in a statement, which clearly says that, Kautilya was the author of Arthashastra. (“ARTHASHASTRANI CHANAKYADINI”. Also in Nandi-sutra, the reference saying that Kautilya authored Arthashastra is mentioned. L.N. Rangarajan in his book, “Kautilya the Arthashastra”, speaks of a reference from the workshop organized by the Indian council for historical research, which says that; “the Arthashastra was a compilation made by a scholar Kautilya, in 150 A.D.”
Structure and content
The text contains 150 Adhyay, 180 prakaran and around six thousand verses. It deals with internal as well as external factors, maybe termed as an “Ancient Indian gazetteer of India” or as a “Manual of political economy and polity”. The content of this work can be given as per the Adhikarana/sections as follows; (banerji.2000)
Book I- upbringing and education of a prince, appointment of ministers and ministerial officers, spies, emissaries, counsels and measures for the personal safety of a king.
Book II- duties of a vast army and superintendents
Book III- laws discussed.
Book IV- repression of evil-doers by police action and heavy penalties, deceitful doctors and tradesman, artificial increase of price, adulteration, use of false weights (are some of the practices condemned).
Book V- means of getting rid of an undesirable minister, extortion of taxes for filling up the treasury, remuneration of the royal entourage
Book VI- description of the seven elements of politics, interstate relations.
Book VII- the six Gunas or political expedients.
Book VIII- evils arising from a king’s addiction to vices, misfortune which water, fire etc may bring on a land.
Book IX and X – war.
Book XI- dissention and destruction among warriors
Book XII- means by which a weak king may aggrandize himself.
Book XIII- the secret part consisting of recipes to enable one to murder or to cause blindness or madness and so on.
Book XV- plan of the work with 32 methodological principles used in discussions.
The Kautilya Arthashastra text itself was not available in modern times until a full text written on a palm leaf in the grantha script along with an old fragment Commentary by Bhattaswamin, came into the hands of Dr. R. Shamashastri of Mysore in 1904. He published not only the text (1909) and an English translation (1915), but also an index in three volumes listing the occurrence of every word in the script. There is an edition of the text with a complete sanskrut commentary written by T. Ganapathi Shastri. The study on a comparison of various translations and the texts was done by Dr. R.P. Kangle of the Bombay (Mumbai) University. His monumental three volume edition was published somewhere between 1960-65. The set contains a definitive critically edited text with precise numbering of the sutras and verses, an English translation with detailed notes. Along with a translation of the text in german with voluminous notes by J.J.Meyer, a Russian translation the text is translated in various Indian languages as well.
Jain literature and Arthashastra
There is a mutual relation between the text and Jain literature. Hence, Somadevasuri (a Jain writer of the 10th century), closely followed the text in his book, Niteevakyamruta. The Jain chronicle books like Nandi sutra refer to the text and the author Chanakya. On the other hand, the text shows its acquaintance with Jain literature (old Jain tales), it mentions the names of Jain deities, and it does consist of some specific terms belonging to the Jain works. (Dr. J. Jolly in his book, ‘Kautiliyam Arthashastram’, has written notes over the books/chapters, which does involve the references). According to Hemachandra (a Jain author, who wrote the Arhanniti), Chanakya was of Jain origin, favored Jain teachers and tried to starve himself to death in his old age like a true Jain saint.
Kautilya and Plato–
There is a resemblance between both in assigning to each individual in the social hierarchy, corresponding duties and responsibilities. Plato visualizing his ideal state, provides for three classes of people; the statesman, the warrior and the class of artisan, each with their own duties. Plato holds an opinion that, unless political power and philosophy meet together there will be no elimination of the problems. To him, democracy was the very negotiation of moral government. Whereas, Kautilya’s thoughts are opposite and yet relatively liberal. He says that an individual enjoys unlimited freedom, within the limitations set by Dharma. As far as the king was concerned, he was supposed to provide all basic amenities to his subjects, so that they could attain the highest objective within their reach. However if he fails to do so, he would lose his right to be the king and he has an option to quit the country. The saintly king as preached by Kautilya is similar to that of Plato which says that, a king should see through his spies, should acquire wisdom by keeping company with elders, establish safety and security by being active every moment, maintain his subjects under observance of their duties.
Kautilya and Machiavelli
Kautilya has often been compared with Nicolo Machiavelli, an Italian political thinker who authored “The Prince”. The two books perhaps are the most famous treaties on the art of kingship and both of the writers analyze the methods by which a king may rise to supreme power and maintain it against all uncooperative circumstances. It is another interesting speculation whether Machiavelli found his inspiration in Kautilya. It may be looked at as a possibility, that some Europeans had brought an Arabic or other language translation of the Arthashastra which Machiavelli drew upon but did not disclose its credit. Machiavelli wrote his book the prince with an objective to make Lorenzo de Medici develop himself into the master of all Italy in the beginning of the 15th century. Much earlier to Kautilya, who was seized of the sad fact of India in the second half of the 4th century B.C. being subjected to foreign domination.
The two political philosophers nurtured a conviction in the definite superiority of the political and other institutions of the ancient world. Both believed that, through a proper, critical study of history, one could deduce not only the causes but also the cures of maladies of the society. Both were in support of power, admired efficiency in man as well. However, there was a vital difference between the practical applications of their respective political theories. Machiavelli’s hero, Cesar Borgia or the prince, acquired power by force and fraud. He completely separated the study of politics from the study of ethics. He favored sacrificing ethics for the sake of political gain. On the other hand, to Kautilya, the king was obliged to follow his Rajdharma even though a king was the source of all sovereign power. He had firmer basis in morality. To Machiavelli the state was all in all, however, in the opinion of Kautilya, the state was subordinated to the society, which it did not create but which it existed to secure. Also for him, the happiness of the society and the adoption of welfare measures for less privileged classes did not matter much as compared to Kautilya. However, they have some more facts in common that, their ideologies are much more flexible, suiting the changing circumstances, their approach is pragmatic as they keep within the confines of practical concern.
Kautilya and Aristotle
Tradition mentions that Kautilya and Chandragupt Maurya shared a same bond, as did Aristotle and Alexander. Just as Kautilya never refers to the conquests of Maurya, Aristotle does not refer to the campaigns and conquests of Alexander. The Aristotelian concept equals with Kautilya’s keenness to establish Rajdharma as a science that has permanent validity. Both ideologies stress on human nature, moved as men are by passions, identifiable crisis, upheld the expediency of a policy that had succeeded in the past. Hence, the policy that has stood the test of time should predetermine the present, for history tends to repeat. To Aristotle, as to Kautilya, a state may be exalted to the principle of power and greatness, by the mighty efforts of the king who learns the precious lessons by the historical instances and examples. Kautilya gives examples of great monarchs of the Indian past.
The Arthashastra is much similar to the philosophy of Aristotle than to Machiavelli. Like Aristotle, Kautilya was a keen student of the contemporary and earlier republican governments. In addition to the above, the judicial and the administration systems that prevailed in India resembled the system in Greece.
- Shamashastri R. 1915. Kautilya’s Arthashastra- translated by R. Shamashastri with an introductory note by Dr. J.F. Fleet. Bangalore. Government press.
- Vidyalankar Prananath. 1823. Kautilya Arthashastra- Saral aur saragarbhit Hindi bhashanuvad. Lahore. Motilal Banarasi.
- Dr. Jolly J. 1923. Kautiliyam Arthashastram- Arthashastra of Kautilya. Motilal Banarasi Das.
- Banerji Sures chandra. 2000 (in India). The cultural glory of ancient India. New Delhi. D.K. Print world.
- Dhar Somnath. 1981. Kautilya and the Arthashastra. New Delhi. Marwah publication.
- Rangarajan L.N. 1992. Kautilya the Arthashastra (edited rearranged, translated and introduced by L.N. Rangarajan). New Delhi. Penguin classics.