About the Book:
The Kautilya-Arthasastra, of which Mr. Shamasastry 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 Brahman Kautilya, also named Visnugupta and known from other sources by the patronymic Canakya who tradition tells us, overthrew the last king of 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 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 modern 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 sourced 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. Shamasastry. 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 Pandit of the Tanjore District to the Mysore Government Oriental Library. From these materials Mr. Shamasastry, 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 so 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. Shamasastry'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. Shamasastry, 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.
Kautiliyasastra or Canakyaniti is analoguous or parri-passu to Mechaevallian treatise on political theology by which he had laid-down the firm foundation of a 'ruler's philosophy,' still in vogue in India of modern times.
The ruler dominant theology was established and propagated in India by a rebel Brahmin Visnugupta who had up-rooted the mighty Nanda dynasty in erstwhile Magadha country (modern Bihar state) in 372 B.C. to establish the Maurya dynasty. The so appointed Emperor Candragupta Maurya, ruled with an iron hand for a full 24 year tenure is still remembered as an outstanding figure in Indian history.
Manipulative Politics: Both the names Kautilya and Canakya are euphemisms that stand for 'manipulative politics' today. Kautilya was a highly learned Brahmin and an Acarya, one of the highest in the echelons of Vedic scholars. It is evident that Kautilya was a past master in 'reflective politics', an expert interpreter of ancient scriptures and a technocrat to warfare theology. His establishing of the Maurya empire is also a high point in the development of male-dominated human history in India.
Needless to emphasise here that the treatise Arthasastra traces the saga of politics to the very beginning of human civilisation and equally the development of human habitation system - the mobility from stone age to barbaric days and from iron age to habitation organisations. The iron age led to age of implements and thereafter entered an era of social institutions-the Hindu Krtayuge, the Tretayuga and the Dvaparayuga.
Canakya in composing his Sastram was not unaware of the developments in Indian social systems-the caste divides, the travails of the depressed classes and the cruel and senseless but necessary domination of the deprived classes by the rather vulnerable upper classes. Perhaps Canakya had sensed in depth, the decline of civilised society in India in the person of sword-wielding Nanda, son of powerful emperor Mahananda through a Sudra woman (of lowest caste), and acted smartly to uproot the powerful dynasty and re-establish the influence of upper castes through a proxy but powerful and intellectual emperor Candragupta Maurya. The implications are hidden in the folds of antiquities of castes.
The Kautiliya Arthasastra unfolds in detail, the status of kings, the responsibility of attendants, the significance of spies, the matters of yoga, administration, justice, alms giving and political behavior with friends and enemies, the appointment of learned pundits and the control of state's economy, defence and increase of borders.
Although the Kings' role in Kautilya's Arthasastra stresses on centrally strong empire-based theology, on the face of it; it is limited to king's authority on 'state criminals.' For the rest, the king is dependant on popular will and bound to fashion his rule accordingly!
There is a fundamental discrepancy in Arthasastra - the foundation of an empire for the good of the populace.
Kautilya manoeuvred the overthrow of Nanda dynasty to begin the Mauryan empire on a philosophy cum an anathema. In fact, the king theoretically ruled with iron hand to brook no rival king, but the bottom line of the philosophy was all set for the well-being of the common man. Philosophy of that excel type, gave us a king in the iron grip of the populace's overriding passions. The impact of this ruling philosophy is clearly visible in modern India with a mass base of poor but docile population in submission to a handful of ruling families.
Kautilya diktat is unmistakable - the king's first duty is towards the subject. In this, his kingship vanishes! The subject is all. The king is reduced to the role of 'manager' who arranges for the comfort of the population and take care of the means and men who would so assist him (Arthasastra p. 62- 63). The excellent qualities vested with a king are rare to find in a single person. These have been described as - noble birth, high intelligence, prowess, divinity, truthfulness, scholarship, gratefulness, idealism, enthusiasm, officiousness, prudence, polity, prosperity, resolution and inquisitiveness. (Arthasastra p.18). Besides, he must have a passion to hear discussions on Sastras, capacity to absorb their essence, able to put them into practice and apt to dive and grip the quint-essence in rational manner.
Simultaneous to his enthusiam a fine blend of gallantry, acumen, intransigence, and expertise, should rest in him in order to understand high ideals of the populace and set in them this own sublimity in application and attitude. This is the working capital of a king's conduct.
King's Virtues: Kautilya lays vehement emphasis on ideal conduct of the king. He should impose restrain on sensual accompaniments, meet the aged, abstain from women and wealth not his own and never resort to violence. Oversleeping, greed, conceit, recklessness and imprudence are worth giving-up. He has to pursue deeds that maintain the high ideals of Dharma (righteous living) and Artha (political management). If the king indulges excess on anyone of the three ideal human pursuits or endeavors viz. Dharma (great deeds), Artha (wealth) and Kama (cupidity), his destruction is certain!
It was Kautilya's belief that subject mimic their king. An idle king will enthuse the subject to mimic the same. They may join the enemy and dethrone him. On its positive side, if the king is liberal, hard working, and discreet, the entire bureaucrat under him will follows his foot prints. Kautilya warns the king to take precaution and employ his mind and hands for undaunted progress of the state.
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