Kautilya Arthashastra

by R. Shamasastry | 1956 | 174,809 words | ISBN-13: 9788171106417

The English translation of Arthashastra, which ascribes itself to the famous Brahman Kautilya (also named Vishnugupta and Chanakya) and dates from the period 321-296 B.C. The topics of the text include internal and foreign affairs, civil, military, commercial, fiscal, judicial, tables of weights, measures of length and divisions of time. Original ...

Little that is reliable is known of the author of the Arthaśāstra. He subscribes himself as Kauṭilya at the end of each of the hundred and fifty chapters of the work, and narrates in a verse at its conclusion the overthrow of the Nanda dynasty as one of his exploits. Another name by which the author is known is Viṣṇugupta, and it is used only once by the author himself, in the concluding verse of the work. A third name by which he is designated by later writers is Cāṇakya.

That Kauṭilya overthrew the Nandas and placed Ghandragupta on their throne, is also evident from the following passage of the Viṣṇupurāṇa (IV, 24):

“(First) Mahāpadma; then his sons, only nine in number, will be the lords of the earth for a hundred years. Those Nandas Kauṭilya, a Brāhman, will slay. On their death, the Mauryas will enjoy the earth. Kauṭilya himself will install Candragupta on their throne. His son will be Bindusāra, and his son Aśokavardhana.”

From Indian epigraphical researches it is known beyond doubt that Candragupta was made king in 321 b.c. and that Aśokavardhana ascended the throne in 296 b.c. It follows, therefore, that Kauṭilya lived and wrote his famous work, the Arthaśāstra, somewhere between 321 and 300 b.c.

What Kāmandaka has stated about our author and his work in the introduction to Nītisāra supports the same view.

He says:

“To him who shone like a thunderbolt and before the stroke of the thunderbolt of whose witchcraft the rich mountain-like Nandas fell down, root and branch; who alone, with the power of diplomacy like Indra with his thunderbolt, bestowed the earth on Candragupta, the moon among men; who churned the nectar of the science of polity from the ocean of political sciences—to him, the wise and Brahma-like Viṣṇugupta, we make salutation. From the scientific work of that learned man who had reached the limits of knowledge, the favourite learning of the kings, brief yet intelligible and useful in the acquisition and maintenance of the earth, we are going to extract and teach kings in the manner acceptable to those learned in the science of polity.”

In I, 14, Kāmandaka speaks of the long reign of a benevolent Yavana king. It is possible that this refers to Kaniṣka. Rājendralāla-Mitra, in the introduction to his edition of the Nitisāra, says that with the Hindu inhabitants of the island of Bali, who emigrate thither from Java somewhere about the fourth century of the Christian era, the Nitisāra is a favourite work next to the Mahābhārata.

Like Kāmandaka, Daṇḍi also ascribes the Arthaśāstra to Viṣṇugupta, and quotes some passages from it in his Daśakumāracarita (II, 8) with the object of exciting the laughter of the womenfolk of the imaginary royal court.

This is what he says:

“Learn then the Science of Polity. Now this has been by the revered teacher Viṣṇugupta abridged into six thousand ślokas in the interests of the Maurya (king) that, when learnt and well observed, it can produce the results expected from it.”

This statement appears to be supported by internal evidence from the Arthaśāstra itself; for the author says, in the concluding verse of the tenth chapter of the Second Book, that he collected the forms of writing in vogue in the interests of the king or kings (Narendrārthe), and it is probable that Viṣṇugupta meant by the word “Narendra” the Maurya king Candragupta.

The genuineness of the Arthaśāstra, as we now have it, is also supported by Daṇḍi; for it is of about the same extent as stated by Daṇḍi, i.e. 6,000 slokas, and this is also referred to at the close of the first chapter of this work.

Further, the passages presented to humour the womenfolk run as follows:

(1) To cook this much rice this much firewood (is required).

(2) The whole mass of receipts and expenditure should be heard in the first eighth part of the day.

(3) They (the officials) with the fabricating power of their mind can render into a thousand dubious ways the forty modes of

(4) During the second one-eighth part of the day to those quarrelling with each other; during the third to bathe and dine; and during the fourth to receive gold.embezzlement explained by Cāṇakya.

(5) Until the food eaten has undergone digestion, the fear of poison never leaves him.

(1) Twenty-five palas of fire wood will cook one prastha of rice.

(2) During the first one-eighth part of the day he shall post watchmen and attend to the accounts of receipts and expenditure.

(3) Their means of embezzlement are forty.

(4) During the second part he shall look to the affairs of both citizens and country people; during the third he shall not only bathe and dine, but also study; during the fourth he shall not only receive revenue in gold, but also attend to the appointment of superintendents.

(5) When the flame and smoke turn blue and crackle,... the presence of poison shall be inferred.

Likewise what Bāṇa, the author of the Kādambarī, says, condemning the science of Kauṭilya, seems to strengthen the authenticity of the work and the identification of Kauṭilya as the author of it. This is what he says (p. 109, Kāda., Bombay Education Society Press):

“Is there anything that is righteous for those for whom the science of Kauṭilya, merciless in its precepts, rich in cruelty, is an authority; whose teachers are priests habitually hard-hearted with practice of witchcraft; to whom ministers, always inclined to deceive others, are councillors; whose desire is always for the goddess of wealth that has been cast away by thousands of kings; who are devoted to the application of destructive sciences; and to whom brothers, affectionate with natural cordial love, are fit victims to be murdered?”

Furthermore, the author of the Pañcatantra ascribes the authorship of the Arthaśāstra to Cāṇakya.

He says in the Introduction to his work:

“Then the Dharmaśāstras are those of Manu and others, the Arthaśāstras of Cāṇakya and others, the Kāmasūtras of Vātsyāyana and others.”

Vātsyāyana also seems to have modelled his Kāmasūtra on the Arthaśāstra, as he has used, wherever possible, many of its phrases and sentences.

The following are some of the phrases common to both:

Besides using the words Gavādhyakṣa, Sūtrādhyakṣa, Paṇyādhyakṣa and Ayuktaka (V, 5) in the sense of a government officer, he has used the word “Arthacintakā” (I, 2), professors of the Arthaśāstra. It may possibly refer to Kauṭilya among others, as the quotation preceding that word appears in the Arthaśāstra of Kauṭilya.

Mallināthasūri also has in his commentaries freely quoted from the Arthaśāstra to explain certain technical terms used by Kālidāsa, both in the Raghuvamśa and the Kumārasambhava.

The passages quoted run as follows:

Of these quotations, the first is intended to explain the word “Svargābhiṣyandavamana,” which occurs both in the Raghuvamśa and the Kumārasambhava; the second to expound the words “niyoga” and “vikalpa”; the third “Prakṛtivairāgya”; the fourth “śakyeṣu yātrā”; the fifth “Parābhisandhāna”; the sixth “daṇḍopanatacaritam”; and the seventh to point out the three branches of knowledge, “tisro vidyā.”

Again, in defence of hunting as a good sport for kings, Kālidāsa uses in the Śākuntala almost the same words that are used by Kauṭilya for the same purpose:

A few of the words are evidently peculiar to works on political science, and the author has himself stated in the last chapter of the work that the use of the word “Prakṛti,” in the sense of an element of sovereignty, has been his own; and has also said in VI, I, that each sovereign state must contain seven members (aṅga), such as the king, the minister, the country, the fort, the treasury, the army, and the friend; and eight elements (prakṛtis) with these and the enemy. Amarasiṃha calls (II, 8, 17) them seven members (rājyāṅgāni) or elements (prakṛtis), and to designate the enemy or enemies he has not used the word prakṛti. So Kauṭilya may be credited with having coined the word prakṛti to designate an element of sovereignty, and to have extended the denotation of it so as to cover enemies also, as “prathamā prakṛti,” first inimical element; “dvitīyā prakṛti,” second inimical element; and “tṛtīyā prakṛti,” third inimical element; and so on, as stated by him. Likewise, Kāmandaka calls (I, 16, 17) them members, and uses the word prakṛti to designate these seven members and also enemies (VIII, 4, 20, 25). It would appear, therefore, that writers on political science before Kauṭilya used the word “aṅga,” member, as a general term to designate any of the seven constituents of a state, and had no such general term as “prakṛti,” element, to denote the seven constituents as well as the inimical elements. It follows, therefore, that the use of the word “prakṛti” in the sense of an element of a sovereign state including enemies also is a proof that the author using that word must be posterior to Kauṭilya. In the Manusmṛti, now extant, the word “prakṛti” is used (VII, 156) in the general sense, as in Kauṭilya, and it can therefore be taken to be posterior to Kauṭilya. It follows also that Kālidāsa must have been indebted to Kauṭilya’s Arthaśāstra for the political technical terms noted above, and that Mallināthasūri could find their explanation in no other political work than that of Kauṭilya. If this holds good, it follows that Kālidāsa must also be posterior to Kauṭilya.

Yājñyavalkya, however, seems to use (I, 344, 352) the word “prakṛti” as synonymous with “aṅga,” and has not extended its sense like Kauṭilya to denote also an inimical element of a sovereign state. But a comparison of his Vyavahārakāṇḍa with the Third and Fourth Books of the Arthaśāstra, as pointed out in footnotes both in the text and translation, will not fail to raise the question whether Yājñyavalkya borrowed from the Arthaśāstra or whether Kauṭilya from the Smṛti, or both from a common source. As Yājñyavalkya uses the word Arthaśāstra, and Kauṭilya the word Dharmaśāstra, all the three alternatives are possible. But considerations of style and phraseology seem to point to the indebtedness of Yājñyavalkya to Kauṭilya.

The following passages deserve to be considered in this connection:

Here the three important points to be considered are the style and commission and omission, if any, on the part of the two writers. While Kauṭilya, following the Sūtra style, prefers prose to verse, and uses words some of which are obsolete and a few against the rules of Pāṇini, Yājñyavalkya uses verse with words modern and in accordance with the rules of Pāṇini. While Kautilya uses a single compound word, “akṣudrapariṣatka,” “having a council of ministers of no mean magnitude,” Yājñyavalkya uses two different words, “akṣudra” and “aparuṣa,” meaning “neither mean,” “nor cruel.” This may be accounted for as due to the discontinuance of the council of ministers by the kings of his time or as due to the copyist having erroneously transcribed “pariṣad” as “paruṣa.” While Kautilya uses the word “Śapathavākyānuyoga” in the technical sense of “the trial of a criminal on oath,” Yājñyavalkya interprets and uses it in the modern sense of “an improper oath.” Again, while Kauṭilya uses the words “yukta,” “a government officer”; and “ayukta,” “one other than a government officer,” as used in the inscriptions of Aśoka,[1] Yājñyavalkya translates them by the modern words “yogya” and “ayogya,” meaning “proper” and “improper,” and his commentator, Vijñāneśvara, interprets them likewise. Also while Kauṭilya makes (death due to) surgical operation of a boil other than dangerous boils punishable, Yājñyavalkya makes operation on boils in general a punishable offence. I presume that these points indicate a later time, and place Yājñyavalkya far later than the time of Aśoka.

Furthermore Kauṭilya does not seem to have been aware of the planets and of the belief in their influence over the destinies of men and kings, and in the concluding verses of IX, 4, he refers only to stars, condemning the frequent consultation of the sidereal astrology (uḍudaśā) on the part of the kings, and does not make even a remote reference to the use of the zodiac in measuring time; but Yājñyavalkya makes a distinct reference to the planets (grahas I, 295, 307) and asks the kings to worship them, since, in his opinion, their prosperity depends upon the planets.

What still more strikingly proves the priority of the Arthaśāstra to the Smṛtis of Manu and Yājñyavalkya, as now extant, is the marked difference between the states of societies presented in them. The state of society portrayed in the Arthaśāstra is in the main pre-Buddhistic, though Kauṭilya wrote long after the time of Buddha, while the Smṛtis depict the ideal of the Hindu society as reconstructed and reformed consequent on its struggle for existence against the all-victorious, but just then decadent, Buddhism. The Smṛtis allude to the previous existence of the state of society described by Kauṭilya, either by condemning some of its political, social and religious practices, or by discrediting the Arthaśāstra and other Smṛtis which authorised the practices characteristic of it. Owing partly to the influence of the highly moral and philanthropic teachings of the Buddhists, and partly to the precepts of the Dharmaśāstra and the Vedānta of the reviving or reformed Brāhmaṇism, a number of practices and customs previously existent seem to have gradually disappeared between the birth of Buddha and the close of the third or fourth century of the Christian era. The political practices which disappeared during this period appear to be the institution of espionage with its evil consequences;[2] the vices of the harem life resulting in the cold-blooded murder of kings, princes, ministers and other high officers;[3] the evils of the passport system;[4] the taking of census of men, women, children and beasts;[5] the levy of a number of taxes, benevolences and special taxes to replenish empty treasuries;[6] oppressive taxes on trade;[7] the exaction of religious taxes and the robbing of temple money by imposing upon the credulity and superstition of the people;[8] the confiscation of the property of the rich under the plea of embezzlement or of tiding over famine and other national calamities;[9] the slaughter of beasts on a large scale for the supply of flesh to the people, including even the Brāhmans;[10] state-owned drinking saloons to supply liquor to men, women, and children of all castes;[11] torture of criminals to elicit confession;[12] deceitful treaties and treacherous battles;[13] the evils wrought by spies in creating distrust between man and, man and man and woman;[14] and the use of destructive gases, medicines and poisons to murder people or to render them infirm either in war or in peace.[15]

The social customs that fell out of practice seem to be divorce due to enmity between husband and wife;[16] re-marriage of women whose husbands had long been absent abroad or had died;[17] marriage of maidens at their own option after puberty;[18] marriage of a śūdra-wife by a Brāhman in addition to the three wives chosen from the upper castes;[19] flesh-eating and drinking of liquor among Brāhmans;[20] the embracing of the military profession by Brāhmans.[21]

Among religious observances, the worship of Vaiśravaṇa, Mahākaccha, and Saṅkarṣaṇa, and the practices of Atharvaṇic witchcraft and sorcery, seem to have been given up.[22] These appear to be the practices and customs which Bāṇa has succinctly condemned in the six pregnant sentences of his Kādambari quoted above.

The next author in point of date who refers to Viṣṇugupta is Varāhamihira. He ascribes a verse (Bṛhatsaṃhitā II, 4) advocating superstitious reliance on the influence of the planets to Viṣṇugupta. But it does not occur in the Arthaśāstra, nor can it find a place in a work given to the condemnation of the auspicious or inauspicious influences of the stars.

The verse runs as follows:

It is likely, therefore, that there was another person bearing the name Viṣṇugupta. This is also evident from what Bhaṭṭotpala says regarding Viṣṇugupta in his commentary on two other verses of Varāhamihira in the Bṛhajjātaka.

The verses, together with their commentary, run as follows:

Here, in his commentary on the first verse, Bhaṭtotpaia says that both Viṣṇugupta and Cāṇakya say, “which sign of the zodiac has no similar divisions,” etc., and in the commentary on the second verse he says that Viṣṇugupta, bearing the other name “Chāṇakya,” has said as stated in the verse.

The Arthaśāstra is noticed by Jaina writers also. Somadevasūri, who flourished at the time of King Yaśodhara, as stated by himself at the conclusion of his work, seems to have based his Nītivākyāmṛta on the Arthaśāstra of Kauṭilya, and mentions Cāṇakya in the following passage of his work:

The following are a few parallel passages found in the two works:

Next the Nandisūtra refers to Cāṇakya and the Arthaśastra as follows:

“Kṣapaka, Amātyaputra, Cāṇakya and Sthūlabhadra are personages famous for their keen intellect).[23]

“The Bhārata, the Rāmāyaṇa, the Bhīmasūriya and the Kauṭilya (are false sciences).”[24]

Finally it has to be noted that the civil and constitutional laws explained in the work are strikingly similar to those recorded by Megasthenes and other Greek writers, as ably pointed out by Mr. Vincent Smith in the second and third editions of his Early History of India.

As regards the style and vocabulary of the Arthaśāstra: the style of the author follows that of Āpastamba, Baudhāyana and other Sūtra writers. The author himself says, in the concluding verse of the work, that he made his own Sūtra and commentary. What he calls the Sūtra appears to be enigmatical phrases placed as the title of each of the hundred and fifty chapters, the chapters themselves being a commentary upon the Sūtras. The commentary also does not much differ from the Sūtra style in many places, while in a few places it approaches the diction of the Upaniṣads and later Brāhmaṇas. Many of the words used in the Arthaśāstra are now obsolete, and a few violate the canons of Pāṇini. This is not the place to elaborate the point, as it will suitably find a place in the Word-Index which is under preparation.

The following may be cited as instances:

yukta, a government officer.
upayukta, a subordinate official.
tatpuruṣa, a servant.
parigha, a tax,
vyājī, a tax or commission.
rūpika, a tax or commission.
pārīkṣika, a cess on coins.
parokta, an offence.
niveśakāla, time of re-marriage.
ucchulka, free from toll.
aupaniṣadika for aupaniṣatka.
rocayante for rocante.
marvajñakhyāpana[?] for marvajhatvakhyāpana[?].
rocayante for rocante.
caturthapañcabhāgikāḥ for cātuṣṣañcabhāgikāḥ[?].
nastaḥ ka?m for na yakarma[?].
caturaśikā for cātur?śrīkā.

These and a number of other words to be noticed in the Index are against the canons of Pāṇini, and raise the presumption that Kauṭilya was not aware of Pāṇini.

While, as admitted by Kauṭilya himself, he may be credited with the composition of the Sūtras and the prose commentary on them, some doubt has been raised as regards the authorship of many of the verses that as a rule are appended to each of the hundred and fifty chapters, and in a few cases are found in the middle of the chapters also. The metre is almost always śloka (Anuṣṭub). An Indravajrā and Upajāti of Indravajrā and Upendravajrā appear on page 70; two Upajātis of the same kind on page 73, and an Indravajrā on page 74; and two more Upajātis of the same kind on pages 365-66.

The following verses occur also in the works noted against each:

1 Kālaśca sakṛdamyeti... Page 253, Pañcatantra.
2 yānya?saṃghaistapasā ca viprāḥ Page 365, Nātaka of Bhāsa.
3 navaṃ śarāvaṃ salilasya pūrṇaṃ Page 366, Nāṭaka of Bhāsa.
4 ekaṃ hanyānna vā hanyādiṣuḥ Page 375, Mahābhārata, V, 1013.

I do not propose to discuss how far the doubt is justified, but I trust the foregoing pages contain overwhelming evidence in favour of the genuineness of the Arthaśāstra as I have published it, and of Kauṭilya’s authorship thereof. Some scholars have, however, doubted his authorship on the ground that Kauṭilya is made to speak in the third person, to refute the views of writers of adverse political thought, in many places in the body of the work. But this is a common practice with all Indian writers, and is frequently explained by commentators as such. In support of this may be cited what Yaśodhara, the commentator on the Kāmasūtra of Vātsyāyana, says in his commentary on one of the Sūtras wherein Vātsyāyana for the first time introduces his own name.

“Vātsyāyana says that the knowledge of the means (is to be got from the Kāmasūtra).

“Commentary.—The knowledge of the means from the Kāmasūtras, because they are taught there. Vātsyāyana is the name due to his Gotra and Mallanāga is what is given to him during the Consecration.”

So much about the work and its author. As regards my translation, I am conscious of the fact that it is far from being perfect. Beset as the work is with difficulties, it would be sheer presumption on my part to hope that my translation presents a correct interpretation of the text in all cases. Still I shall feel highly rewarded for my labours, if it proves a stepping-stone for others to arrive at a correct interpretation. For want of necessary diacritical marks, the transliteration of the Sanskrit words could not be made as thorough as it ought to be.

After this tedious discussion, it is a relief to acknowledge my obligation to Western scholars, who have made it a pleasure for me to undertake the present work. First and foremost, my grateful thanks are due to Dr. Fleet for constant advice and encouragement, and for the valuable Introduction he has contributed. Dr. Jolly, Mr. Vincent Smith, Dr. F. W. Thomas, of the India Office Library; and Dr. L. D. Barnett, have also ungrudgingly given me help and suggestions. My cordial thanks are also due to Mr. C. H. Yates, the Superintendent of the Government Press, for help in seeing the proofs through the Press.

R. Shamasastry.

Baṅgalore, 15th January, 1915.

Footnotes and references:


P. 383, J.R.A.S., 1914.


I, 11, 12.


I, 17, 18, 20; VIII, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.


II, 34.


II, 35


II, 6, 12, 16, 21; V, 2


II, 21; IV, 2


V, 2.


II, 9; IV, 3.


II, 26.


II, 25.


IV, 8.


VII, 17; X, 3.






III, 3.


III, 4.


IV, 12.


III, 6.


II, 25, 27; IV, 13.


IX, 2.


II, 4; IV, 3.


Nandi, p. 313.


Nandi, p. 391.

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