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 12 - Creation of Wandering Spies

[Sanskrit text for this chapter is available]

Those orphans (asambandhina) who are to be necessarily fed by the State and are put to study science, palmistry (aṅgavidyā), [20] sorcery (māyāgata), the duties of the various orders of religious life, legerdemain (jambhakavidyā), and the reading of omens and augury (antara-cakra), are classmate spies, or spies learning by social intercourse (saṃsargavidyāsatriṇa).

Such brave desperados of the country who, reckless of their own life, confront elephants or tigers in fight mainly for the purpose of earning money are termed fire-brands or fiery spies (tīkṣṇa).

Those who have no trace of filial affection left in them and who are very cruel and indolent are poisoners (rasada).

A poor widow of Brāhman caste, very clever, and desirous to earn her livelihood, is a woman ascetic (parivarājikā). Honoured in the king’s harem, such a woman shall frequent the residences of the king’s prime ministers (mahāmātrakulāni).

The same rule shall apply to women with shaved head (muṇḍa), as well as to those of śūdra caste. All these are wandering spies (sancārā).

Of these spies, those who are of good family, loyal, reliable, well-trained in the art of putting on disguises appropriate to countries and trades, and possessed of knowledge of many languages and arts, shall be sent by the king to espy in his own country the movements of his ministers, priests, commanders of the army, the heir-apparent, the door-keepers, the officer-in-charge of the harem, the magistrate (praśāstṛ), the collector-general (samāhartṛ), the chamberlain (sannidhātṛ), the commissioner (pradeshtṛ), the city constable (nāyaka), the officer-in-charge of the city (paura), the superintendent of transactions (vyāvahārika), the superintendent of manufactories (karmāntika), the assembly of councillors (mantripariṣad), heads of department (adyakṣā), the commissary-general (daṇḍapāla), and officers in charge of fortifications, boundaries, and wild tracts.

Fiery spies, such as are employed to hold the royal umbrella, vase, fan, and shoes, or to attend at the throne, chariot, and conveyance shall espy the public character (bāhyam cāram) of these (officers).

Classmate spies shall convey this information (i.e. that gathered by the fiery spies) to the institutes of espionage (saṃsthāsvarpayeyu).

Poisoners, such as a sauce-maker (sūda), a cook (arālika), procurer of water for bathing (snāpaka), shampooer, the spreader of [21] bed (āstaraka), a barber (kalpaka), toilet-maker (prasādaka), a water-servant; servants such as have taken the appearance of a hump-backed person, ā dwarf, a pigmy (kirāta), the dumb, the deaf, the idiot, the blind; artisans such as actors, dancers, singers, players on musical instruments, buffoons, and a bard; as well as women, shall espy the private character of these officers.

A mendicant woman shall convey this information to the institute of espionage.

The immediate officers of the institutes of espionage (saṃsthānāmantevāsina) shall, by making use of signs or writing (saṃjñā lipibhi), set their own spies in motion (to ascertain the validity of the information).

Neither the institutes of espionage nor they (the wandering spies) shall know each other.

If a mendicant woman is stopped at the entrance, the line of door-keepers, spies under the guise of father and mother (mātāpitṛ vyanjanā), women artisans, court-bards, or prostitutes shall, under the pretext of taking in musical instruments, or through cipherwriting (gūḍhalekhya), or by means of signs, convey the information to its destined place (chāram nirhareyu).

(Spies of the institutes of espionage) may suddenly go out under the pretext[1] of long-standing disease, or lunacy, or fire (somewhere) or poisoning, or of being discharged.

When the information thus received from these three different sources is exactly of the same version, it shall be held reliable. If they (the three sources) frequently differ, the spies concerned shall either be punished in secret or dismissed.

Those spies who are referred to in Book IV, “Removal of Thorns,” shall receive their salaries from those kings (para, i.e. foreign) with whom they live as servants; but when they aid both the states in the work of catching hold of robbers, they shall become recipients of salaries from both the states (ubhayavetanā).

Those[2] whose sons and wives are kept (as hostages) shall be made recipients of salaries from two states, and considered as under the mission of enemies. Purity of character of such persons shall be ascertained through persons of similar profession.

Thus with regard to kings who are inimical, friendly, intermediate, of low rank, or natural, and with regard to their eighteen government departments[3] (aṣṭādaśa-tīrtha), spies shall be set in motion.

The hump-backed, the dvarḥ the eunuch, women of accomplishments, the dumb, and various grades of Mleccha caste shall be spies inside their houses.

Merchant spies inside forts; saints and ascetics in the suburbs of forts; the cultivator and the recluse in country parts; herdsmen in [22] the boundaries of the country; in forests, forest-dwellers, śramaṇas, and chiefs of wild tribes, shall be stationed to ascertain the movements of enemies. All these spies shall be very quick in the despatch of their work.

Spies set up by foreign kings shall also be found out by local spies; spies by spies of like profession. It is the institutes of espionage, secret or avowed, that set spies in motion.

Those chiefs whose inimical design has been found out by spies supporting the king’s cause shall, in view of affording opportunity to detect the spies of foreign kings, be made to live on the boundaries of the state.[4]

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

Footnotes and references:


Apparently to escape from punishment.


In śloka-metre till the end of the chapter.


While commenting on a similar phrase in verse 68, Canto XVII, of Raghuvaṃśa, Mallinātha quotes some ślokas attributed to Cāṇikya and containing the names of the heads of departments enumerated at the beginning of this chapter.


Ka. XII, 25-49.

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