Insights on Statecraft and Reflections of Ancient Indian Society
By Sayem Islam
This paper investigates the Arthashastra and its implications for ancient Indian
society, as well as the rationale behind the principles underlying the text.1 It is necessary to bear in mind that the Arthashastra, “the science of wealth and warfare,”2 was just discovered and translated in the past century in Mysore by R. Shamasastry, and that until then, there was no knowledge of any such compilation, despite scant allusions made to an “Arthashastra,” and its alternative names “Nitisastra” and “Dandaniti,” in the Mahabharata.3 Thomas Trautmann dates the text to c.150 A.D. and, through rigorous statistical analysis, he concludes that the Arthashastra had several authors spanning a wide range of dates,4 which adds to the puzzle of how historically obscure the text has been for over the past two millennia. Nevertheless, its secretive nature adds credence to its function as a handbook on efficient statecraft for kings and high-level ministers. This
This paper is based on political economist L.N. Rangarajan’s translation of the Arthashastra: L.N. Rangarajan, Kautilya: The Arthashastra (New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 1992). All of the quotations taken directly from the Arthashastra text in this paper will include the page number in Rangarajan’s work, followed by the relevant verse number in R. P. Kangle, The Kautiliya Arthasastra, Part II (Bombay University Press, 1963) in order to facilitate the reader. For example, (1.1.1) would indicate Book 1, Chapter 1, verse number 1 in Kangle’s translation. Furthermore, in regard to Rangarajan’s work, square brackets [ ] will be enclosed around his additions and comments within the Arthashastra text. 2 Rangarajan, Kautilya: The Arthashastra, 100; (15.1.2). 3 R. P. Kangle, The Kautiliya Arthasastra, Part III: A Study, (Bombay University Press, 1965), 3. 4 Thomas R. Trautmann, Kautilya and the Arthasastra: A Statistical Investigation of the Authorship and Evolution of the Text, (Leiden, Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1971), 174, 183. The Arthashastra on the other hand, claims to have been authored by a single person named Kautilya, who is traditionally identified with Chanakya – the Brahmin minister who, according to legend, engineered Chandragupta’s rise to power and the unprecedented success of the Mauryan empire (321-185 BC). Whether such individuals and stories are actually real is difficult to say, but what is significant is that they illustrate the role that secular Brahmin ministers played in immensely shaping the state and economy. Nevertheless, Trautmann’s analysis indicates that the text is the compiled result of several different authors throughout history.
paper will focus on the following three themes in the text: (1) the utilitarian function of the state, (2) the intellectual and strategic leadership of Brahmin high government officials, and (3) the preservation of the status quo and political legitimacy; all of which will reveal that the Arthashastra was the eventual product of the large-scale centralization and tremendous growth experienced by Indian polities during the pre-Gupta period. Artha has always been regarded as one of the four purusharthas,5 yet its teachings have been relegated to animal fables and folklore. No such shastras seem to have been compiled for public knowledge, as was the case of the Dharmashastras and Kamashastras. In stark contrast to the latter, the manuscript discovered in 1902 by Shamasastry was compiled as a guidebook for kings and high-level officials, rather than the average individual. The result is a perspective advocating a top-down style of governance with little or no representation held by the general populace, and the continual maintenance of such a state with energetic leadership and extensive secret service.6 Though the king and upper echelons of society involuntarily accepted such authority because of...