The Arthasastra summarizes the political thoughts of Kautilya. The book contains detailed information about specific topics that are relevant for rulers who wish to run an effective government. Diplomacy and war (including military tactics) are the two points treated in most detail but the work also includes recommendations on law, prisons, taxation, irrigation, agriculture, mining, fortifications, coinage, manufacturing, trade, administrations, diplomacy, and spies.
The Arthasastra explores issues of social welfare, the collective ethics that hold a society together, advising the king that in times and in areas devastated by famine, epidemic and such acts of nature, or by war, he should initiate public projects such as creating irrigation waterways and building forts around major strategic holdings and towns and exempt taxes on those affected. The text was influential on other Hindu texts that followed, such as the sections on king, governance and legal procedures included in Manusmrti.
Likely to be the work of several authors over centuries, Kautilya, also identified as Visnugupta and Canakya, is traditionally credited as the author of the text. The Arthasastra was influential until the 12th century, when it disappeared. It was rediscovered in 1905 by R. Samasastri, who published it in 1909. The first English translation was published in 1915.
The present book contains Original Sanskrit text, verse by verse English translation and notes of R. Samasasti along with an exhaustive Introduction by Dr. Ashok Kumar Shukla.
The Kautilya-Arthasastra, of which Mr. Samasastri gives us here his translation, is a work of exceptional interest and value. In the first place, it ascribes itself in unmistakable terms to the famous Brahmin Kautilya, also named Visnugupta and known from other sources by the patronymic Canakya who tradition tells us, overthrew the last king of the N anda dynasty, and placed the great Maurya Candragupta on the throne: thus, the two verses with which the work ends recite that it was written by Visnugupta, who from intolerance of misrule rescued the scriptures, the science of weapons, and the earth which had passed to Nanda King and that he wrote it because he had seen many discrepancies on the part of previous commentators; and, in conformity with a common practice of Indian writers the name Kautilya figures constantly through the book, especially in places where the author lays down his own views as differing from others which he cites. The work accordingly claims to date from the period 321-296 B.C.: and its archaic style is well in agreement with the claim. Secondly, as regard its nature and value, Kautilya is renowned, not only as a kingmaker, but also for being the greatest Indian exponent of the art of government, the duties of kings, ministers and officials, and the methods of diplomacy. That a work dealing with such matters was written by him is testified to by various more or less early Indian writers, who have given quotations from it. But the work itself remained hidden from modem eyes until it was found in the text of which this is the translation. The topic of this text is precisely that which has been indicated above, in all its branches, internal and foreign, civil, military, commercial, fiscal, judicial and so on including even tables of weights, measures of length and divisions of time. And it seems to be agreed to by competent judges that, though the existing text is, perhaps, not absolutely word for word that which was written by Kautilya, still we have essentially a work that he did compose in the period stated above. The value of it is unmistakable: it not only endorses and extends much of what we learn in some of its lines from the Greek writer Megasthenes, who, as is well known, spent a long time in India as the representative of the Syrian king, Seleucus I at the Court of Candragupta, but also fills out what we gather from the epics, from other early writings, and from the inscriptions, and explains statements and allusions in those last-mentioned sources of information which are otherwise obscure: in short, it throws quite a flood of light on many problems in the branch of Indian studies to which it belongs.
For our introduction to this work we are greatly indebted to Mr. Samasastri. A manuscript of the text, and with it one of commentary on a small part of it by a writer named Bhattasvamin, was handed over by a Pandita of the Tanjore District to the Mysore Government Oriental Library. From these materials Mr. Samasastrt, who was then the Librarian of that Library, gave a tentative translation in the pages of the Indian Antiquary and elsewhere, in 1905 and following years. By the enlightened encouragement of the Mysore Durbar, he was enabled to publish the text itself in 1909, as Vol. 37 of the Biblothecea Sanskrita of Mysore. And under the same appreciative patronage he now lays before us a translation which has been improved in various details, in addition to being brought together in a connected and convenient form. His task has been no easy one. For the formation of his text, as for this translation of it, he has had only the one manuscript and the partial commentary which have been mentioned above: and the text is by no means a simple one: it is laconic and difficult to a degree. In these circumstances, it could hardly be the case that anyone should be able to give us a final treatment of the work straightaway. It seems that as a result of the attention which Mr. Samasastri's labours attracted at once, two or three other manuscripts of the work have now been traced. So it may be hoped that eventually another step may be made, by giving us a revised text, based on a collation of materials, which will remove certain obscurities that still exist. Meanwhile, it is impossible to speak in too - high terms of the service rendered by Mr. Samasastri, in the first place by practically discovering the work, and then by laying the contents of it before us so satisfactorily, in spite of the difficulties confronting him, which can only be appreciated by anyone who tries to understand the text without the help of his translation. We are, and shall always remain, under a great obligation to him for a most important addition to our means of studying the general history of ancient India.
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