Kautilya Arthashastra

by R. Shamasastry | 1956 | 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 ...

Preface to the Third Edition

Since the second edition of this work in 1923, and J. J. Meyer’s publication of his German translation with critical notes and introduction in Leipzig in 1926, the chronological question of this epoch-making work has been engaging the attention of scholars.

Relying on the traditional account given in the Purāṇas that Kauṭilya destroyed the Nandas and installed Candragupta Maurya on their throne, and accepting the statement made at the colophon of the Arthaśāstra by its author, that “This Sastra has been made by him who, from intolerance (of misrule), quickly rescued the scriptures and the science of weapons and the earth which had passed to the Nanda king,” the work has been assigned by some scholars to the fourth century b.c., and regarded as a genuine work of Kauṭilya himself. Recently, however, Dr. J. Jolly, Dr. R. Schmidt, and Prof. Winternitz came forward with what, in the absence of reliable evidence to the contrary, appear to be weighty reasons for assigning a later date to the Arthaśāstra. The reasons put forward by them as summarised in the Introduction to the edition of Kautiliya Arthaśāstra in the Punjab Sanskrit Series are:

(1) As the date of the importation of the Kāmandakīya Nītisāra into the island of Bali is not definitely determined, mere priority of the Arthaśāstra to the Nītisāra is not enough to settle the date of the former.

(2) The striking correspondences between the Arthaśāstra and the Smritis, especially the Smriti of Yājñavalkya may as well be taken to lead to the inference that Kauṭilya turned the metrical rules of the Dharmaśāstra into prose.

(3) References to Greek Astrology and Greek Coins found in the Smritis of Yājñavalkya and Nārada may be later interpolations.

(4) As the date of the Kāmasūtra may be fixed to lie somewhere in the fourth century a.d., the Arthaśāstra, may be taken a century earlier and placed somewhere in the middle of the third century a.d.

As regards the authorship of the Arthaśāstra, it might, say the editors, be questioned whether the prime minister of Sandrakottos is not a figure of pure mythology, as he is not mentioned in the Greek reports and as Hemacandra relates very marvellous stories about him.

Even granting that Kauṭilya was a historic figure, his asserted authorship of the Arthaśāstra is rendered highly improbable for the following reasons:

(1) Reference to alchemy, a science of later growth.

(2) The use of the words Śulba and Suraṅgā in the sense of copper and mine.

(3) The numerous references to the opinions of Kauṭilya in the body of the work lead to the inference that it is not the work of Kauṭilya himself.

(4) The geographical knowledge of the author tends to prove that he was rather a southerner than a northerner.

(5) Considering the unity of plan and structure of the work, it may be taken as the work of a single person, probably a pandit, as presumed by Professor Winternitz, for the reason that it is filled with pedantic classifications and puerile distinctions like all the śāstras composed by pandits.

(6) The absence of any reference in the work to Candragupta, his capital Pāṭaliputra, and his ambassador, Megasthenes points to the conclusion that the author was not a contemporary of the king.

(7) The silence of Patañjali about Kauṭilya and his work, though he had occasion to refer to Candragupta-sabhā and the Mauryas is also taken as an additional proof to disprove the priority of the Arthaśāstra to the Mahābhāṣya.

(8) The political and economic institutions and social conditions described in the Arthaśāstra are of a far more advanced and complicated type than those recorded or alluded to by Megasthenes about 300 b.c. and Aśoka inscriptions. The description of metallurgy and industries in a developed state, the state-monopoly of metals, and the use of writing, are such as are not mentioned by Megasthenes. The differences between the accounts furnished by the Arthaśāstra and by Megasthenes overweigh by far the coincidences both in number and importance.

A close consideration of these and other reasons set forth by the learned scholars will show that instead of establishing a later date to the Arthaśāstra they tend to involve it in considerable doubt. As nothing is positively known regarding the date of Kāmandaka, the first reason may be left out of consideration.

The second reason fares no better, as there is no positive evidence to prove or disprove that Yājñavalkya versified the rules of Kauṭilya. The third is one of the most important reasons, and it will be shown how the dates of the Arthaśāstra and the Smritis of Yājñavalkya and Nārada can be determined on the basis of the currency system of their times beyond dispute. The question of interpolation, in the absence of a positive evidence to prove it, is a matter of personal opinion.

Regarding the age of the Kāmasūtra, there is no evidence to disprove that it was written about the commencement of the Andhra empire.

As no celebrated Indian writer or reformer of antiquity has escaped from the fate of being represented in a supernatural garb, there is no reason why Kauṭilya should be classed among mythic personages while Pāṇini, Patañjali, and a host of other writers and reformers whose lives are described in no less supernatural terms, pass for historical figures. There are no accepted data to assert that alchemy, metallurgy, and industries, as described in the Arthaśāstra, are the phenomena of the third century a.d. and not of the fourth century b.c.

Whether the author was a southerner and changed his home to the north, and whether he was a pandit or statesman, are points which have nothing to do with the question at issue. Had there been a specimen of the style of writing of Kauṭilya or of a statesman, this objection would have had some bearing on the question at issue. There does not appear any logical necessity to compel either the author of the Arthaśāstra to mention the names of Candragupta, his capital and his companions, or the author of the Mahābhāṣya to speak of the Arthaśāstra and its author, much less of Buddha and Aśoka.

As to the question of Kauṭilya speaking of his own opinion in the third person, it is an ancient custom with Indian writers to speak of themselves in the third person in their literary works. Even Patañjali has followed this custom.

While commenting on Pāṇini’s sutra, VII, 2, 101, he mentions his view by stating “Gonardīya āha,” “Gonardīya says.”

Again, while commenting on the introductory verse of the Paribhāṣenduśekhara, in which Nāgeśa, the author of the work, has used his own name in the third person, Bhairavamiśra says in defence of the custom as follows:

“The prohibition that no one should use one’s own name in speaking of oneself or of one’s own view is not applicable here; for that prohibition is applicable only to those cases in which a person attempts to speak of himself by using the name given to him by his father.”

Here Nāgeśa, like Gonardīya used in the expression “Gonardīya aha,” is a Yogarūḍha word and not a name given by his father.

That Gonardiya is a name of Patañjali, the author of the Mahābhāṣya, is clearly stated by Nāgeśa in his Śabdendusekhara under the Sutra, VI, 1, 94, explained in the Siddhāntakaumudi.

Again, Had Pandita, in his commentary called Vākyārthacandrika, on the Paribhāṣenduśekhara says, while commenting on the introductory verse, as follows:

“In connection with the use of one’s own name, respectable writers say that it is no sin to use one’s own name, in the third person in connection with the statement of one’s own view, following the example set by Patañjali, who has used the expression, ‘Gonardīya āha,’in stating his view.”

Patañjali, however, makes mention of an ancient system of currency, consisting of a paṇa of four pādas and of sixteen māṣas obsolete in his own time.

It seems to refer to the system of currency described in the nineteenth chapter of the second Adhikaraṇa of Arthaśāstra. It is as follows:

10 seeds of Māṣa (Phraseculus Radiatus)
   or 5 seeds of Guñja (Abrus Precatorius) 1 Suvarṇa Māṣa.
16 Suvarṇa Māṣas...... 1 Suvarṇa or Karsha.
4 Karshas..... 1 Pala.
88 White mustard seeds...... 1 Silver Māṣa.
16 Silver Māṣas or 20 Saibya seeds.. 1 Dharaṇa.

The names of the several coins are also stated in II, 12, of the same work. As Pāṇini has also mentioned the names of these coins, Kārṣāpaṇa in V, 1, 29; paṇa, pāda, māṣa (V, 1, 34), it follows that this system of currency was current during the time of Pāṇini and continued to be so during the reign of Candragupta, till it was replaced by dīnāra, and its sub-divisions, some time before Patañjali. That during the time of Patañjali, dīnāra and its sub-divisions were prevalent is evident from the Smritis of Kātyāyana (Vararuci?), quoted in the Smriticandrikā (Vyavahāra Kāṇḍa, Part I, p. 231).

This system is stated as follows:

4 Kākaṇis.......... 1 Māṣa or Paṇa.
20 Māṣas.......... 1 Kārṣāpaṇa.
4 Kārṣāpaṇas.......... 1 Dhanaka.
12 Dhanakas.......... 1 Suvarṇa.
3 Suvarṇas.......... 1 Dīnāra.

In the passages quoted from Kātyāyana it is also stated that this system of currency was in use in the Punjab. It is well known to historians that the word dīnāra is the same as denarius, the name of a Greek coin (264 b.g.). It goes without saying that the introduction of denarius and its sub-divisions into the north-west provinces of India was due to the Bactrian principalities, established to the west of the Indus after the departure of Alexander the Great from India. That during the time of Patañjali the currency system of 16 māṣas forming a paṇa or kārṣāpaṇa was not in existence, is clearly stated in the Mahābhāṣya (I, 2, 3).

While commenting on I, 2, 64, he says as follows:

“Vyartheṣu sāmānyātsiddham; Vibhinnārthesu ca sāmānyātsiddham. Sarvatra aśnoterakṣāḥ padyateḥ pādaḥ mim[ī?]teḥ māṣaḥ tatra kriyāsāmānyātsiddham. Aparastvāha purā kalpa etadāsit ṣoḍsa māṣāḥ kārṣāpaṇaṃ ṣoḍasa palāḥ māṣasaṃvadyaḥ. Tatra saṅkhyāsāmanyātsiddhaṃ.”

“The retention of only one word in a compound of many similar words differing in meaning is made possible by finding some idea common to all the different meanings. The word akṣa is derived from the root ‘aś,’ to pervade; pāda, from pad, to move; māṣa, from mā, to measure. Here (in the several ideas or objects signified by each of the words, akṣa, pāda, and māṣa) what is common is the root-meaning.”

But another (teacher) says:

“It was in times past that sixteen māṣas made one kārṣāpaṇa, and sixteen palas one māṣasaṃvadya. Here what is common in different meanings is to be found in number.”

What is meant in the above passage is this:

It is a rule (I, 2, 64) of Pāṇini that in forming a compound of many words which have the same form in all the numbers of any single case-ending, only one word is to be retained, whether the words mean the same or different things.


Vṛkṣaḥ + vṛkṣaḥ + vṛkṣaḥ = vṛkṣāḥ. Rāmah (son of Daśaratha) + Rāmah (son of Vasudeva) + Rāmaḥ (son of Jamadagni) =Rāmāḥ.

Since it is possible to use a word in plural when many similar things are meant, Patañjali came to the conclusion that the rule was unnecessary; But the difficulty lay in the case of words of different meaning, though of the same form, as in the case of akṣa, pāda, and māṣa, each meaning coins of different standard. Here, too, taking the root meaning of the words, it is possible, says Patañjali, to find something that is common to all different ideas signified by the words similar in form. Instead of finding what is common to different ideas in the root-meaning, another teacher went so far as the number to find some identity in the conception, particularly in the case of the word māṣa. Formerly a kārṣāpaṇa meant 16 māṣas; but in the time of the teacher it meant something else (i.e. 20 māṣas). Even here it is number that is common to both. Hence there is identity in meaning.

It is clear from this that the Arthaśāstra is a work of the age when a māṣa equalling one-sixteenth of a kārṣāpaṇa was current, and that during the time of Patañjali, a māṣa did not mean one-sixteenth of a kārṣāpaṇa, but something else. The other thing it meant was probably one-twentieth of a kārṣāpaṇa, as stated in the Kātyāyana-Smriti. Whatever might be the other sense in which that word was used in the time of the Mahābhāṣya, one thing is certain, that long before Patañjali and the other grammarian referred to by him, a māṣa equalling one-sixteenth of a kārṣāpaṇa, as stated in the Arthaśāstra ceased to be current. It follows, therefore, that the Arthaśāstra of Kauṭilya, describing as it does the prevalence of the kārṣāpaṇa of sixteen māṣas, must necessarily have been in existence before Patañjali; for the Arthaśāstra is a lifelike picture of the commercial history of the times to which it belongs, but is not, like the Smritis, devoted to the description of the currency of the Vedic times merely in consideration of its sanctity. Even the Smriti-writers could not be free from the influence which the commercial condition of their time had exerted on them. Hence it is that they are found to make use of the dīnāra and its sub-divisions in their rituals, instead of the Vedic śatamāna, śalka, harita, and niṣka. They could not help it, since the Vedic currency was long extinct. Such being the case, how can it be expected that the Arthaśāstra would refer to currency of bygone ages without any attention to that of its own times? If it had been written in the third or the fourth century a.d. it would certainly have related the currency system of the Śakas, Āndhras or the Guptas, and never at all that referred to in the Sutras of Pāṇini. Hence it follows that the Arthaśāstra is a work of the Maurya period, and particularly, as tradition says, of the time of Candragupta Maurya. The name of Candragupta, or of any other person, however celebrated he might be, has no logical connection with a literary work meant to be of universal application. It is a painful truth that Indian writers cared more for logic than for history.

Regarding the difference between the accounts of Megasthenes and Kauṭilya, as pointed out by O. Stein, Dr. Bernhard Breloer has made a close study of the two works and published the results of his scholarly research in two volumes under the title Kauṭilīya Studien,[1] He says (Part I, p. 47) that the difficulty of comparison between the two works is greatly increased by the fact that out of the four books of Megasthenes’ Indica only a fragment is available, and that on the other side the Arthaśāstra is full of original terminology bristling with philological difficulties. As a specimen of error in the method pursued by O. Stein and others, the doctor points (Part II, p. 14) to the Indian word “dāsa” which O. Stein equated with the Greek word “doulas.” The word “dāsa” is met with in Indian literature, and permits itself to cover “slavery.” What is overlooked here is that, before examining a foreign institution of rights in its originality, a word used in a different sphere of rights is taken to signify that foreign institution of rights. To say that a word “covers” the whole institution of rights as if it were a proper name or grammatical technical term will not hold good. Such method must certainly result in error. With “covering” nothing is proved. We must know the nature of “dāsa,” and also what is meant by a slave, before we can ascertain whether it denotes a slave or a different kind of institution of rights. A slave has no personal rights: his person is dead. But in all cases of “dāsya” what is meant is some relation of service under certain conditions. A “dāsa” has his personal rights, reduced though they be for the time. In the words of Kauṭilya, no Āryan shall be reduced to slavery except at his own option and dire necessity.

In addition to the above, I may point out, as an instance of the difficulty of understanding the original terminology of the Arthaśāstra, the general statement made by Kauṭilya regarding the constitution of administrative departments. He says (II, 9 and II, 4) that each department shall be officered by many temporary heads, meaning thereby that each department shall be under the management of a board which is periodically revised or reconstituted. Failing to notice this, the late Vincent Smith and others went so far as to say that management of departments by boards, as stated by Megasthenes, was unknown to Kauṭilya.

The learned scholar goes on to say that, instead of equating words and phrases, one must endeavour to compare the fundamental principles underlying the social and political institutions mentioned in the two works. If this is done on the lines chalked out by him, there will be found more of agreement than difference between the two works. Thus finding agreement between them in respect of (1) non-existence of slavery in Maury an India in the sense in which it prevailed in Greece and Rome, (2) state-ownership of land with right of occupancy and transfer by sale, mortgage, etc., vested in the people for fiscal purpose, (3) the laws of debt, deposit and upanidhi, and (4) rules regulating labour and trade, the doctor comes to the conclusion that the two works are of the same period and anterior to Manu, Nārada and other Smriti works, inasmuch as the latter exhibit traces of development of the social and political institutions mentioned in the former. While the Arthaśāstra mentions only four kinds of a “dāsa,” Manu makes it seven and Nārada fifteen kinds.

In conclusion he says as follows:—(p. 179)

“In the first volume we have made it clear that during the time of Candragupta Maurya, the first emperor of India, the country has attained a new development. During those stirring times there was advance set in motion all round. We scarcely believe that between the Vedic and the Mauryan periods there must lie an unconditioned interval of time and that it was suitably yet suddenly marching on. As any sudden military revolution is followed by an equally great statesman’s work, a warlike figure like that of Candragupta demands a statesmanlike wisdom like that of Kauṭilya, who alone can render the new unique empire secure, with its administrative machinery and fiscal management well founded.

“A glance at similar aspects of forms in antiquity points to us that the relation which the Kauṭilya period bears to the Vedic is quite similar to what the Grecian period bears to the Homeric period, and the period of the Etruskans to ancient Italy.

“Though in the matter of revolutions in ancient times the Grecian colonization after the Persian war and the march of Alexander the Great points to some corresponding event on the Indian soil after Alexander’s expedition to India, what that great event can possibly be is scarcely thought of. The golden age of Hellinism, culminating in Rome’s ascendency, corresponds to the empire of the Mauryas over Gandhara, Ara and so forth. What, however, must be borne in mind is that, while our knowledge of India makes a halt before the Indus, we should not think that India is therefore outside the world. The more we free ourselves from the prepossessed ideas, the greater is the impetus given to the advance of our knowledge of Indian history. First, if we have to get accession to the great stream of time’s history, if the Indian problem is to be also the problem of the world’s history, if research into Indian history is to be promoted by the knowledge of the world’s historical method, in short, if the dam, dexterously set up, is forcibly broken asunder, then alone will the flowing stream fertilize the life in that province. To the time in which it is evolved the methods of classical philology on the rising knowledge have to be employed, and ail other influences excluded. Only in the intervention of the results of our thousand years’ knowledge, our great inheritance of antiquity, can lie the solution of our proposition relating to the Orient.”

I have great pleasure in expressing my thankfulness to Mr,. Thos. Gould, Manager of the Wesleyan Mission Press, and Mr.. F. McD. Tomkinson, the Assistant Manager, for going through the-proofs and for the neat get-up and quick despatch of the work.

R. Shamasastry.

5th August 1929.

Footnotes and references:


Kauṭilīya Studien I Das Grundeigentum in Indien, 1927; II Altindisches Privaterecht bei Megasthenes and Kauṭilya, Bonn. 1928.

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