The Arthashastra (more precisely Arthaśāstra) refers to a tradition of political statecraft that arose in India, which is epitomized by the treatise on rulership, economic policy and military strategy written by Kautilya (c. 350-283 B.C.E.). Kautilya was a professor at Taxila University and later the prime minister of the Mauryan Empire. He is known as the Indian Machiavelli because of his ruthless and shrewd tactics and policies, which reflect a "Realist" approach to Political Science, statecraft and warfare. His Arthashastra text counseled that no means were beyond the scope of a ruler to expand his territory or seek power including the unscrupulous ethics of allowing torture, trickery, deceit, and spying as legitimate means to gain territory, wealth and power.
While the Arthaśāstra tradition played a key role in the establishment of one of India's greatest empires, the Mauryan Empire, its calculating and unscrupulous teachings were rejected by the mainstream voices of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, which promoted dharma (right conduct) and ahimsa (non-injury) as their highest ethical ideals of Indian religion and civilization.
The traditional identification of Kauṭilya and Vishnugupta with the Mauryan minister Cāṇakya would date the Arthaśāstra to the fourth century B.C.E. However, certain references that would be anachronistic for the fourth century B.C.E. suggest assigning the Arthaśāstra to the second through fourth centuries C.E. Thomas R. Trautmann and I.W. Mabbett concur that the Arthaśāstra is a composition from no earlier than the second century C.E., but based on earlier material: "If the Kauṭilīya Arthaśāstra in its present form is not so old as it pretends, the śāstra itself is certainly old, predating the dharma smṛtis.".
The content of the text is consistent with authorship in about the third century, C.E., and raises some questions which must be answered if it is to be assigned to the fourth B.C.E. Against this must be set the verses naming and characterizing Kauṭilya, and the references in later literature. What emerges is that there is no necessary incompatibility between the essential claims that Cāṇakya was responsible for the doctrines of the Arthaśāstra, and that the text we know is a product of the later time. These do not conflict. The work could have been written late on the basis of earlier teachings and writings. Sanskrit literature being so full of derivative, traditional and stratified material, this possibility is a priori strong. Those who favor the early date usually admit the probability of interpolations…. Those who favor a later date usually admit the probability that the work draws on traditional material. The controversy is therefore spurious. It is entirely possible that the Mauryan Kauṭilya wrote an arthaśāstra and that a later editor rewrote his work, or compressed it, or compiled a text from the teachings of his school.
K.C. Ojha puts forward the view that the traditional identification of Viṣṇugupta with Kauṭilya was caused by a confusion of editor and originator and suggests that Viṣṇugupta is in fact a redactor of the original work of Kauṭilya. Thomas Burrow goes even further and says that Cāṇakya and Kauṭilya are actually two different people:
T. Burrow ("Cāṇakya and Kauṭalya," Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute 48–49 (1968), 17 ff.) has now shown that Cāṇakya is also a gotra name, which in conjunction with other evidence makes it clear that we are dealing with two distinct persons, the minister Cāṇakya of legend and Kauṭilya the compiler of the Arthaśāstra. Furthermore, this throws the balance of evidence in favor of the view that the second name was originally spelt Kauṭalya and that after the compiler of the Arthaśāstra came to be identified with the Mauryan minister it was altered to Kauṭilya (as it appears in Āryaśūra, Viśākhadatta and Bāna) for the sake of the pun. We must then assume that the later spelling subsequently replaced the earlier in the gotra lists and elsewhere.
Different scholars have translated the word "arthaśāstra" in different ways.
Roger Boesche describes the Arthaśāstra as "a book of political realism, a book analyzing how the political world does work and not very often stating how it ought to work, a book that frequently discloses to a king what calculating and sometimes brutal measures he must carry out to preserve the state and the common good."
Centrally, Arthaśāstra argues for an autocracy managing an efficient and solid economy. It discusses the ethics of economics and the duties and obligations of a king. The scope of Arthaśāstra is, however, far wider than statecraft, and it offers an outline of the entire legal and bureaucratic framework for administering a kingdom, with a wealth of descriptive cultural detail on topics such as mineralogy, mining and metals, agriculture, animal husbandry, medicine and the use of wildlife. The Arthaśāstra also focuses on issues of welfare (for instance, redistribution of wealth during a famine) and the collective ethics that hold a society together.
Arthashastra is divided into 15 books:
Arthashastra deals in detail with the qualities and disciplines required for a Rajarshi (a wise and virtuous king):
In the happiness of his subjects lies his happiness; in their welfare his welfare; whatever pleases himself he shall not consider as good, but whatever pleases his subjects he shall consider as good."
It is notable that Chanakya's emphasis on leaders' serving their followers predates Jesus' encouragement to his disciples on serving the people.
According to Kautilya, a Rajarshi is one who:
Such a disciplined king should: -
Kautilya says that artha (Sound Economies) is the most important; dharma and kama are both dependent on it. A Rajarishi shall always respect those councilors who warn him of the dangers of transgressing the limits of good conduct, reminding him sharply (as with a goad) of the times prescribed for various duties and cautioning him even when he errs in private.
If the king is energetic, his subjects will be equally energetic. If he is slack (and lazy in performing his duties), the subjects will also be lax and thereby eat into his wealth. Besides, a lazy king will easily fall into the hands of enemies. Hence, the Maharaj should himself always be energetic. He shall divide the day and the night, each into eight periods of one and half hours, and perform his duties as follows:
|First period after sunrise||Receive reports on defense, revenue, expenditure|
|Second period after sunrise||Public audiences, to hear petitions of city & country people|
|Third period after sunrise||Personal: bath, meals, study|
|Last period before noon||Receive revenues, tributes, appoint ministers and other high officials & allot tasks to them|
|First period after noon||Write letters and dispatches, confer with councilors, receive secret information from spies|
|Second period after noon||Personal: recreation, time for contemplation|
|Third period after noon||Inspect and review forces|
|Last period before sunset||Consult with Chief of Defense|
|First period after sunset||Interview with secret agents|
|Second period after sunset||Personal: bath, meals, study|
|Three periods||Retire to the bed chamber to the sound of music, sleep|
|Second period after midnight||After waking to the sound of music, meditate on political matters & on work to be done|
|Third period after midnight||Consult with councilors, send out spies|
|Last period before sunrise||Religious, household and personal duties, meetings with his teacher, adviser on rituals, purohitas, personal physician, chief cooks and astrologer|
Or some other time table which suits the king. Thus, an ideal king is one who has the highest qualities of leadership, intellect, energy and personal attributes. An energetic king is one who is valorous, determined, quick, and dexterous.
As regards personal attributes, an ideal king should be eloquent, bold and endowed with sharp intellect, a strong memory and a keen mind. He should be amenable to guidance. He should be well trained in all the arts and be able to lead the army. He should be just in rewarding and punishing. He should have the foresight to avail himself of the opportunities (by choosing) the right time, place and type of action. He should know how to govern in normal times and in times of crisis. He should know when to fight and when to make peace, when to lie in wait, when to observe treaties and when to strike at an enemy's weakness. He should preserve his dignity at all times and not laugh in an undignified manner. He should be sweet in speech, look straight at people and avoid frowning. He should eschew passion, anger, greed, obstinacy, fickleness and backbiting. He should conduct himself in accordance with advice of elders.
Quarrels among people can be resolved by winning over the leaders or by removing the cause of the quarrel - people fighting among people themselves help the king by their mutual rivalry. Conflicts (for power) within the royal family, on the other hand, bring about harassment and destruction to the people and double the exertion that is required to end such conflicts.
Hence internal strife in royal family for power is worse than quarrels among people. The king must be well versed in discretion and shrewd in judgement.
Vices (Corruption) are due to ignorance and indiscipline; an unlearned man does not perceive the injurious consequences of his vices. He summarizes: subject to qualification that gambling is most dangerous in cases where there is more than one entity sharing power, the vice with the most serious consequence is addiction to drink, followed by, lusting after women, gambling, and lastly hunting.
Importance of self-discipline Discipline is of two kinds - inborn and acquired. (There must be an innate capacity for self-discipline for the reasons given below). Instruction and training can promote discipline only in a person capable of benefiting from them, people incapable of (natural) self-discipline do not benefit. Learning imparts discipline only to those who have the following mental facilities - obedience to a teacher, desire and ability to learn, capacity to retain what is learned, understanding what is learned, reflecting on it and (finally) ability to make inferences by deliberating on the knowledge acquired. Those who are devoid of such mental faculties are not benefited (by any amount of training) One who will be a king should acquire discipline and follow it strictly in life by learning the sciences from authoritative teachers.
With improving his self-discipline, he should always associate with learned elders, for in them alone has discipline its firm roots. For a trained intellect ensues yoga (successful application), from yoga comes self-possession. This is what is meant by efficiency in acquiring knowledge. Only a king, who is wise, disciplined, devoted to a just governing of the subjects & conscious of the welfare of all beings, will enjoy the earth unopposed.
A conducive atmosphere is necessary for the state's economy to thrive. This requires that a state's law and order be maintained. Arthashastra specifies fines and punishments to support strict enforcement of laws. The science of law enforcement is also called Dandaniti.
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