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 15 - The Business of Council Meeting

[Sanskrit text for this chapter is available]

Having gained a firm hold on the affection of both local and foreign parties, both in his own and enemy’s state, the king shall proceed to think of administrative measures.

All kinds of administrative measures are preceded by deliberations in a well-formed council. The subject matter of a council shall be entirely secret, and deliberations in it shall be so carried that even birds cannot see them; for it is said that the secrecy of counsels was divulged by parrots, minas, dogs and other low creatures of mean birth. Hence without providing himself with sufficient safeguard against disclosure, he shall never enter into deliberations in a council.

Whoever discloses counsels shall be torn to pieces.

The disclosure of counsels may be detected by observing changes in the attitude and countenance of envoys, ministers, and masters. Change in conduct is change in attitude (iṅgitamanyathāvṛtti); and observation of physical appearance is countenance (ākṛtigrahaṇamākāra).

Maintenance of the secrecy of a council matter, and keeping guard over officers that have taken part in the deliberation over it (shall be strictly observed) till the time of starting the work so considered approaches.

Carelessness, intoxication, talking in sleep, love, and other evil [27] habits of councillors, are the causes of the betrayal of counsels.

Whoever is of hidden nature or is disregarded will disclose councels. Hence steps shall be taken to safeguard counsels against such dangers. Disclosure of counsels is advantageous to persons other than the king and his officers.

“Hence,” says Bhāradvāja, “the king shall singly deliberate over secret matters; for ministers have their own ministers, and these latter some of their own; this kind of successive line of ministers tends to the disclosure of counsels.

“Hence no outside person shall know anything of the work which the king has in view. Only those who are employed to carry it out shall know it, either when it is begun or when accomplished.”1

“No deliberation,” says Viśālākṣa, “made by a single person will be successful; the nature of the work which a sovereign has to do is to be inferred from the consideration of both the visible and invisible causes. The perception of what is not, or cannot be seen, the conclusive decision of whatever is seen, the clearance of doubts as to whatever is susceptible of two opinions, and the inference of the whole when only a part is seen—all this is possible of decision only by ministers. Hence he shall sit at deliberation with persons of wide intellect.

“He shall despise none, but hear the opinions of all. A wise man shall make use of even a child’s sensible utterance.”[1]

“This is,” says Parāśara, “ascertaining the opinions of others, but not keeping counsels. He shall ask his ministers for their opinion on a work similar to the one he has in view, telling them that ‘this is the work; it happened thus; what is to be done if it will turn out thus and he shall do as they decide. If it is done thus, both the ascertainment of opinions and maintenance of secrecy can be attained.”

“Not so,” says Piśuna, “for ministers, when called for their opinions regarding a distant undertaking, or an accomplished or an [28] unaccomplished work, either approach the subject with indifference or give their opinions half-heartedly. This is a serious deflect. Hence he shall consult such persons as are believed to be capable of giving decisive opinion regarding those works about which he seeks far advice. If he consults thus, he can secure good advice as well as secrecy of counsel.”

“Not so,” says Kauṭilya, “for this (kind of seeking for advice) is infinite and endless. He shall consult three or four ministers. Consultation with a single (minister) may not lead to any definite conclusion in cases of complicated issues. A single minister proceeds wilfully and without restraint. In deliberating with two ministers, the king may be overpowered by their combined action, or imperilled by their mutual dissension. But with three or four ministers he will not come to any serious grief, but will arrive at satisfactory results. With ministers more than four in number, he will have to come to a decision after a good deal of trouble; nor will secrecy of counsel be maintained without much trouble. In accordance with the requirements of place, time, and nature of the work in view, he may, as he deems it proper, deliberate with one or two ministers or by himself.

Means to carry out works, command of plenty of men and wealth, allotment of time and place, remedies against dangers, and final success are the five constituents of every council deliberation.

The king may ask his ministers for their opinion, either individually or collectively, and ascertain their ability by judging over the reasons they assign for their opinions.

He shall lose no time when the opportunity waited for arrives: nor shall he sit long at consultation with those whose parties he intends to hurt.

The school of Manu say that the assembly ministers [29] (mantripariṣad) shall be made to consist of twelve members.

The school of Bṛhaspati say that it shall consist of sixteen members.

The school of Uśanas say that it shall consist of twenty members.

But Kauṭilya holds that it shall consist of as many members as the needs of his dominion require (yathāsāmarthya).

Those ministers shall have to consider all that concerns the parties of both the king and his enemy. They shall also set themselves to start the work that is not yet begun, to complete what has been begun, to improve what has been accomplished, and to enforce strict obedience to orders (niyogasampada).

He shall supervise works in company with his officers that are near (āsannai); and consult by sending writs (patrasampreṣaṇena) those that are (not) near (āsanna[2]).

One thousand sages from Indra’s assembly of ministers (mantripariṣad). They are his eyes. Hence he is called thousand-eyed, though he possesses only two eyes.

In works of emergency, he shall call both his ministers and the assembly of ministers (mantriṇo mantripariṣadaṃca), and tell them of the same. He shall do whatever the majority (bhūyiṣṭhā) of the members suggest, or whatever course of action leading to success (kāryasiddhikarma va) they point out. And while doing any work.

None of his enemies (pare) shall know his secret, but he shall know the weak points of his enemy. Like a tortoise, he shall draw in his limbs that are stretched out.[3]

Just as balls of meal offered to ancestors by a person not learned in the Vedas are unfit to be eaten by wise men, so whoever is not well versed in sciences shall be unfit to hear of council deliberations.

[Thus ends Chapter XV, “The Business of Council Meeting,” in Book I, “Concerning Discipline” of the Arthaśāstra of Kauṭilya.]

Footnotes and references:


In śloka-metre.


Perhaps a mistake for “anasanna,” “not near.”


In śloka-metre till the end of the chapter.

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