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 ...

Chapter 11 - The Institution of Spies

Assisted by the council of his ministers tried under espionage, the king shall proceed to create spies: Spies under the guise of a fraudulent disciple (kāpaṭikachātra), a recluse (udāsthita), a householder (gṛhapatika), a merchant (vaidehaka), an ascetic practising austerities (tāpasa), a classmate or a colleague (satri), a fire-brand (tikṣṇa), a poisoner (rasada), and a mendicant woman (bhikṣuki). A skilful person capable of guessing the mind of others is a fraudulent disciple. Having encouraged such a spy with honour and money rewards, the minister shall tell him, “Sworn to the king and myself, thou shalt inform us of whatever wickedness thou findest in others.”

One who is initiated in asceticism and is possessed of foresight and pure character is a recluse.[1] This spy, provided with much money and many disciples, shall carry on agriculture, cattle-rearing, and trade (vārtākarma) on the lands alloted to him for the purpose. Out of the produce and profits thus acquired, he shall provide all ascetics with subsistance, clothing and lodging, and send on espionage such among those under his protection as are desirous to earn a livelihood (vṛttikāma), ordering each of them to detect a particular kind of crime committed in connection with the king’s wealth, and to report of it when they come to receive their subsistence and wages. All the ascetics (under the recluse) shall severally send their followers on similar errands.

A cultivator, fallen from his profession, but possessed of foresight and pure character, is termed a householder spy. This spy shall carry on the cultivation of lands allotted to him for the purpose, and maintain cultivators, etc.—as before.[2]

A trader, fallen from his profession, but possessed of foresight and pure character, is a merchant spy. This spy shall carry on the [19] manufacture of merchandise on lands allotted to him for the purpose, etc.—as before.

A man with shaved head (muṇḍa) or braided hair (jaṭila) and desirous to earn livelihood is a spy under the guise of an ascetic practising austerities. Such a spy surrounded by a host of disciples with shaved head or braided hair may take his abode in the suburbs of a city, and pretend as a person barely living on a handful of vegetables or meadow grass (yavasamuṣṭi) taken once in the interval of a month or two, but he may take in secret his favourite foodstuffs (gūḍhamiṣṭamāhāra).

Merchant spies pretending to be his disciples may worship him as one possessed of preternatural powers. His other desciples may widely proclaim that “this ascetic is an accomplished expert of preternatural powers.”

Regarding those persons who, desirous of knowing their future, throng to him, he may, through palmistry, foretell such future events as he can ascertain by the nods and signs of his disciples (aṅgavidyayā śiṣyasaṃjñābhiśca) concerning the works of highborn people of the country—viz. small profits, destruction by fire, fear from robbers, the execution of the seditious, rewards for the good, forecast of foreign affairs (videśa pravṛttivijñāna), saying, “This will happen to-day, that to-morrow, and that this king will do.” Such assertions of the ascetic his disciples shall corroborate (by adducing facts and figures).

He shall also foretell not only the rewards which persons possessed of foresight, eloquence, and bravery are likely to receive at the hands of the king, but also probable changes in the appointments of ministers.

The king’s minister shall direct his affairs in conformity to the forecast made by the ascetic. He shall appease with offer of wealth and honour those who have had some well-known cause to be disaffected, and impose punishments in secret on those who are for no reason disaffected or who are plotting against the king.

Honoured by the king with awards of money and titles, these five institutes of espionage (saṃsthā) shall ascertain the purity of character of the king’s servants.[3]

[Thus ends Chapter XI, “The Institution of Spies,” in Book I, “Concerning Discipline” of the Arthaśāstra of Kauṭilya.]

Footnotes and references:


May we not trace the origin of modern Bairagis to this institution of spies?


That is, send spies as the recluse.


In śloka-metre.

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