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Arthashastra

Definition

The Arthashastra is the title of a handbook for running an empire,


written by Kautilya (also known as Chanakya, c. 350-275 BCE) an
Indian statesman and philosopher, chief advisor and Prime Minister of
the Indian Emperor Chandragupta, the first ruler of the Mauryan
Empire. The title Arthashastra is a Sanskrit word which is normally
translated as The Science of Material Gain, although Science of
Politics or Science of Political Economy are other accepted
translations for Kautilya’s work.

CONTENT

The Arthashastra summarizes the political thoughts of Kautilya. This


book was lost for many centuries until a copy of it, written on palm
leaves, was rediscovered in India in 1904 CE. This edition is dated to
approximately 250 CE, many centuries after the time of Kautilya, but
the main ideas in this book are largely his. 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.
KAUTILYA OPENLY WRITES ABOUT CONTROVERSIAL
TOPICS SUCH AS ASSASSINATIONS AND HOW TO
MANAGE SECRET AGENTS.

The ideas expressed by Kautilya in the Arthashastra are completely


practical and unsentimental. Kautilya openly writes about
controversial topics such as assassinations, when to kill family
members, how to manage secret agents, when it is useful to violate
treaties, and when to spy on ministers. Because of this, Kautilya is
often compared to the Italian Renaissance writer Machiavelli, author
of The Prince, who is considered by many as unscrupulous and
immoral. It is fair to mention that Kautilya's writing is not
consistently without principles in that he also writes about the moral
duty of the king. He summarizes the duty of a ruler, saying, “The
happiness of the subjects is the happiness of the king; their welfare is
his. His own pleasure is not his good but the pleasure of his subjects is
his good”. Some scholars have seen in the ideas of Kautilya a
combination of Chinese Confucianism and Legalism.

Kautilya’s book suggests a detailed daily schedule for how a ruler


should structure his activities. According to his view, the duties of a
ruler should be organized as follows:

 First 90 minutes, at sunrise, the ruler should go through the


different reports (revenue, military, etc.).
 Second 90 minutes, time for public audiences.
 Third 90 minutes for breakfast and some personal time (bath,
study, etc.).
 Fourth 90 minutes for meeting with ministers.
 Fifth 90 minutes for correspondence.
 Sixth 90 minutes for lunch...

Kautilya goes on to describe an exhausting schedule in which the king


has roughly four and half hours to sleep and the rest of the time is
almost entirely involved in running the kingdom.
Kautilya

The Arthashastra offers a list with the seven components of the state:
The king, the ministers, the country (population, geography and
natural resources), fortification, treasury, army, and allies. Kautilya
goes on to explain each of these individual components and stresses
the importance of strengthening these elements in one’s kingdom and
weakening them in the enemies’ states by using spies and secret
agents.

One of the most interesting ideas presented by Kautilya is the


“Mandala theory of interstate relations”. A mandala is a schematic
visual representation of the universe, which is a common artistic
expression in many Asian cultures. Kautilya explains that, if we can
imagine our kingdom in the centre of a circular mandala, then the
area surrounding our kingdom should be considered our enemies’
territory. The circle surrounding our enemies’ territories belongs to
our enemies’ enemies, who should be considered our allies since we
will share many interests with them. The circle surrounding our
enemies’ enemies territory will be the allies of our enemies. Kautilya
then goes on analysing twelve levels of concentric circles and offers
detailed advice on how to deal with each state according to the layer
they belong to in the mandala construct.

The various types of foreign policy are also explained in


the Arthashastra: peace, war, neutrality, preparing for war, seeking
protection and duplicity (pursuing war and peace at the same time
with the same kingdom).

Mauryan Empire

LEGACY

Kautilya was a pioneer in diplomacy and government administration.


His merit was based not only on
coming up with very important practical advice for government, but
also in organizing his theories in a systematic and logical fashion.
Kautilya’s political vision had a heavy influence on Chandragupta,
the first Indian ruler who unified Northern India under a single
political unit for the first time in history. Even today,
the Arthashastra is the number one classic of diplomacy in India and,
within this category, it is one of the most complete works of
antiquity. A number of institutions in India such as universities and
diplomatic offices have been named after Kautilya in honour of his
work. Even important political figures like Shivshankar Menon, who
became the National Security Advisor of India in 2010 CE, have been
influenced by Kautilya’s ideas.