Shukra Niti by Shukracharya

by Benoy Kumar Sarkar | 1914 | 106,458 words

The English Translation of the Shukra Niti by Shukracharya: An ancient Sanskrit text possibly dating to the 4th-century BC. The text contains maxims that deal with politics, statecraft, economis and ethics and shed light on the social life, monarchy and government of ancient India as well their knowledge of early political science....

Chapter 4.3 - The Arts and Sciences

1. Now in the Miscellaneous Chapter I shall describe the third Section of Rāstra or Commonwealth.

2. Both immovable and moveable things are indicated by the term Rāṣṭra.

3. The Rāṣṭrā belongs to him under whose submission it comes.

4-5.[1] Kuveratā [Kuberatā] (possession of wealth) is hundred times superior to all the qualities. Īśatā (overlordship) is superior to that. It is the result of no mean penances.

6. The Sovereign flourishes in this world as a God, none others.

7. Men are protected by him and the subjects behave like him.

8-10. The man in whose kingdom people follow their own duties enjoys fully the result of his sovereignty enjoys fame for ever.

11-12. A man lives in heaven who gets fame in this world. Disrepute is real hell. There is no other hell in this world.

13-14. Any other body (?) besides human body is hell. One should know the calamities and diseases to be the effects of sins.

15. So being himself dutiful the king should appoint the subjects to their own duties.

16. So the subjects always approach a king who is religious and authoritative.

17-19.[2] The local customs, the social customs and the domestic customs, those duties that have been prescribed as eternal and universal by the sages, the old and the new regulations—all these are to be carefully observed by the king for the protection of the realm.

20. The king achieves fame and wealth by maintaining virtue.

21. In ancient times the castes were divided into four classes by Brahmā according to their activities.

22-23.[3] Owing to their intermixtures, both anuloma and pratiloma, an infinitude of castes has been created which it is difficult to explain.

24-25. Those who know of caste differences by birth can tell of differences in name and activity.

26. The caste may be summarised as jarāyuja or born of fœtus, aṇḍaja or born from eggs, svedaja or born from drops of perspiration and udvija [udbhijja?] or plants.

27- 28. The man who is good by birth becomes low by low associations. But the man who is low by birth cannot be high by associations.

29. But in course of time through work as well as attributes, high and low orders are created.

30.[4] Jāti or caste is described by learning or occupation.

31.[5] Sacrifice, study and charity are the functions of the Dvijanma, i.e., the twice-born.

32.[6] The additional (special) functions of Brāhmaṇas are begging, teaching and Yājana (conducting a sacrifice).

33. The additional (special functions of Kṣatriyas are protection of the good, suppression of the wicked and realization of revenues.

34. The additional (special) functions of the Vaiśyas are agriculture, pasture and commerce.

35. The lower functions of Śūdras are charity and service.

36. The remuneration and means of livelihood of the various classes vary according to difference of functions.

37. For Brāhmaṇas, agriculture by tilling the soil has been prescribed by Manu and other masters.

38-39.[7] Sixteen cows have to be employed to their ploughs by Brāhmaṇas, four less by the others. Two cows by antyajas according io the softness of the soil.

40. Begging by anybody else besides Brāhmaṇas is to be condemned.

41-42. The whole Veda with interpretations has to be studied by the twice-born in connexion with various penances, and miscellaneous rites and ceremonies.

43-44. The man who has mastered the sciences and the arts should be the preceptor of all. But one who is unlearned cannot be preceptor because of birth.

45. The arts and sciences are infinite and cannot be enumerated.

45. The primary Vidyās are thirty, and the primary arts are sixty-four.

47-48.[8] Vidyā is known to be that which can be said. Kalā is that which can be done by even the dumb.

49-50. The general characteristics have been mentioned, the special marks are being described separately, the names of the Vidyās and Kalās.

51-52.[9] Ṛg, Yajus, Sāma, Atharvan are the Vedas; Āyus, Bhanus, Gāndharva, as well as Tantras are the Upavedas.

53-54. The six Aṅgas of the Vedas are Śikṣā (Pronunciation), Vyākaraṇa (Grammar), Kalpa (Rituals), Nirukta (Etymology), Jyotiṣa (Astronomy) and Chandas (Prosody).

55-59.[10] The Mīmāṃsās, Tarka, Sāṃkhya, Vedānta, Yoga, Itihāsas, Purāṇas, Smṛtis, theory of Sceptics, Artha Śāstra, Kāma Śāstra, Śilpa Śāstra, Alaṅkāra (Rhetoric), Kāvyas, language of the folk (vernacular), the art of speaking properly, the theory of Yavanas, and manners and customs of countries and nations—these are the thirty-two Vidyās.

60. The name of Mantras and Brāhmaṇas is Veda, e.g., the Ṛg, etc.

61. The adorations and salutations according to these give satisfaction to the gods.

62.[11] The Mantras are so called because they are pronounced. Brāhmaṇas are those that apply these Mantras.

63-64.[12] The Rig portion of the Vedas is that in which the mantras or hymns are in praise of the gods, where the mantras are arranged in rhythmical form as quarter-verse or half-verse, and where the mantras are used for sacrifices.

65-67.[13] The Yajur-veda is that in which the mantras are read in any order without verse and music, in which the service of an Adhvaryyu [Adhvaryu] or priest for conducting sacrifice is required and in which the mantras are to be read thrice.

68. The Sāma is that in which the mantras are sung in sacrifices.

69. Atharvāṅgirasa is that in which there is the relation between the adored and the adorer.

70. Thus has been described in brief the fourfold. Veda.

71-72.[14] Ayurveda is that Upaveda of Ṛg-veda by which one knows and acquires health from a study of the physique and the medicines;

73-74.[15] Dhanurveda or Science of Archery is that Upaveda of Yajur-veda by which one can be proficient in fighting, the use of arms and weapons and the formation of battle arrays.

75-76.[16] Gāndharva-veda is that science of music by which one can know of the various voices, e.g., udātta, anudātta, &c., produced by instruments and the throat, together with the beats of time.

77-79.[17] Tantra is the Upaveda of Atharva-veda in which are described the six uses of the various mantras to the adored beings, as well as the various means of counteracting the effects of the mantras, together with the various rites and ceremonies.

80-81.[18] Śiksā is the science of the pronunciation of letters according to Svara (voice), Kāla (time), Sthāna (place), Prayatna (exercise of the muscles of the mouth), Anupradāna and Savana (origin).

82-83.[19] That portion of the Brāhnaṇas which contains rules about sacrifices is known to be Śrauta kalpa. Smārta kalpa is another (science).

84-85, Vyākarana or Grammar is the science in which words are analysed according to their roots, inflexions, sandhis, samāsas and genders.

86-87. Nirukta is that which explains Śabdas or words and sentences. Hence this Vedāṅga is called the ear of the Vedas.

88-89.[20] Jyotiṣa is that science which measures time by studying the movements of planets and stars, the Saṃhitās, Horā Śāstras and Gaṇitas.

90-91. Chandas is the science by which verses are constructed according to the rhythmical scheme ma, ya, ra, &c. It is like the foot of the Vedas.

92-93.[21] Mīmāṃsā or Nyāya is that science by which the expressions of the Vedas are explained and interpreted according to the ceremonies in the Brāhmaṇas.

94-95. (The Vaiśeṣika is that) which contains arguments about the existence or non-existence of material objects and which comes from Kaṇāda and others.

96-97.[22] Sāṃkhya is that in which Puruṣa, eight Prakṛtis, sixteen Vikāras and other facts are specifically enumerated.

98-99. “Brahma exists alone without a second. The many do not exist. Every thing appears through ignorance and illusion”—this is the theory of those who follow Vedānta,

100-101. The Yoga Śāstra is that science by which the passions of the mind may be restrained by processes for regulating the breath movements, contemplation and meditation.

102-103. Itihāsa is that which narrates past events in and through the pretexts of the actions of kings.

104-105.[23] Purāṇa is that which contains an account of creation, destruction, the dynasties, the cycles or epochs and the incidents and events under each dynasty.

106-107. Smṛti is that which investigates the castes and duties not at variance with the Vedas and describes the social and economic morals.

108-109. Nāṣṭika theory or scepticism is that which advocates the predominance of Reason, origin of all things from Nature (not from God) and the non-existence of the Vedas.

110-111.[24] Artha Śāstra is that science which describes the actions and administration of kings in accordance with the dictates of Śruti and Smṛti, as well as the means of livelihood in a proper manner.

112-114.[25] Kāma Śāstra is that which describes the marks of living beings, both male and female, e.g., of men according to their physical character and inward characteristics, and of women according to external and internal characteristics.

115-116. That science is said by the sages to be Śilpa Śāstra which treats of (the construction of) palaces, images, parks, houses, canals, and other good works.

117-118. Alaṅkṛti or Rhetoric is that in which the attributes of objects are narrated as equal to, and less or greater than others, according to the varieties of analogy—contrast, simile or metaphor.

119-120.[26] is that which appeals to the various tastes, has figures or ornaments, no defective terms, gives rise to much pleasure and is varied according to verse or prose.

121-122.[27] Daisiki [Daiśikī] or local language is that which is intelligible by reference to common usage, and which serves the purpose without requiring the help of dictionaries and the guidance of Śāstras.

123.[28] Avasarokti is known to be that science which teaches the proper use of words and expressions at the proper time.

124-126.[29] Yavana philosophy is that which recognises God as the invisible creator of this universe, and recognises virtue and vice without reference to Śruti and and which believes that Śruti contains a separate religious system.

127-128.[30] Deśādidharma or custom is that which may trace its origin in the Srutis or may not, but is always followed by the people in different climes and families.

129. Thus have been described separately the marks of the various Vidyās,

130-131. The Kalās or arts have not only different names and marks But these-differ according to the different functions.

132. The species or Kalā is named after the function it serves (the work it does).

133. Nartan or dancing with appropriate gestures and movements is an art.

134. Vādana or playing on musical instruments is also an art.

135. The decoration of men and women by dress and ornaments is an art.

133. The performance and knowledge of the sundry mimicry and antics is an art.

137. The laying out of beds and furniture and the weaving of garlands, &c., constitute an art.

138-139. The entertainment of people by gambling and various tricks of magic is an art. The (knowledge of) different aspects of giving pleasure is an art.

140. These seven arts are called Gāndharva.

141. The distillation of wines and spirituous liquors from flowers, &c., is an art.

142. The extrication of thorns and the relieving of pain by operating on the wounds of a vein constitute an art.

143. The cooking of food by intermixtures of various tastes is an art.

144. The planting, grafting and preservation of plants constitute an art

145. The melting and powdering of stones and metals constitute an art.

146. The act of using preparations from sugar canes is known to be an art

147.[31] The knowledge of mixtures of metals and medicinal plants constitutes an art.

148.[32] The knowldge;of the analysis and synthesis of metals constitute an art.

149. The preparation of new substances (alloys) out of metals by combinations is an art.

150. The preparation of salts constitutes an art.

151.[33] These ten Kalās are mentioned in Āyurveda and other (medical) sciences.

152. The use and employment of arms by the proper arrangement of legs constitutes an art.

153. Duelling by the various artifices is an art.

154. A Bāhuyuddha or hand to hand fight is the combat between duellers without weapons.

155. The man who dies thereby does not attain heaven nor fame in this world.

156-157. The Niyuddha is meant for fame only, destruction of the enemy’s power and vanity. A hand to hand fight should not lead to anybody’s death.

158-60.[34] An attack by duellers, that which is made by various dangerous artifices of hands, and by throwing down the opponent in various ways, &c.

And Pratikriyā is the method of extricating oneself from these.

161.[35] The throwing of arms and implements towards some fixed point is an art.

162. The formations of battle arrays according to the signals given by musical instruments (bugles) is an art.

163. The arrangement of horses, elephants and chariots in war is an art.

164.[36] These five arts are mentioned in Dhanurveda or the science of military tactics.

165. The propitiation of gods by various seats and postures is an art.

166. The act of driving horses and elephants is an art, as well as that of teaching them.

167-168. Earthen, wooden, stone and metal vessels give rise to four separate arts in the matter of their cleansing, polishing, dyeing or rinsing; picture-drawing is also an art.

169. The construction of tanks, canals, palaces, and squares (?) is an art.

170. The construction of clocks, watches and musical instruments is an art.

171. The dyeing by the application of inferior, middling and other colours is an art.

172. The act of putting down the actions of water, air and fire is an art.

173. The preparation of boats, chariots and conveyances is an art.

174. The preparation of threads and ropes is an art.

175. The weaving of fabrics by various threads is an art.

176. The testing of gems as to whether they are good or bad as possessing marks of holes is an art.

177. The testing of gold and other metals is an art.

178. The preparation of artificial gold and gems is an art.

179.[37] The making of ornaments with gold and other metals is an art, as well as enamelling of metals.

180. The softening of leathers is an art..

181.[38] The flaying of skins from the bodies of the beasts is an art.

182. Milking and churning constitute two arts.

183. The knowledge of sewing of covers (coats and shirts) is an art.

184. Crossing waters by arms (swimming is an art.)

185. The cleansing of domestic utensils in an art.

186. Cleaning of clothes and shaving are two arts.

187. The extraction of oil from seeds and flesh (fats) is an art.

188. The drawing of ploughs and the climbing of trees are two arts.

189. The knowledge of work in such a way as to please somebody is an art.

190.[39] The making of vessels with bamboo straws, etc., is an art.

191.[40] The making of glass vessels is an art.

192. The pumping and withdrawing of water constitute an art.

193. The preparation of tools and implements from iron is an art.

194. The preparation of saddles for horses, elephants, bulls and camels is an art.

195.[41] The maintenance, and entertainment, and nursing of children constitute an art.

196. The punishment of offenders whipping, is an art,

197.[42] The writing of the characters of various languages is an art.

193. The making and preservation of the betels constitute an art.

199-200. Speed in taking, but delay in giving—these are the two features of all arts. (?)

201. The sixty-four arts have thus been enumerated in brief.

202. One should do work with the help of the various Kalās mentioned.

Notes: The Sixty-Four Kalās:

The enumeration of the 64 gives a picture of the industrial and economic condition of the age described in Śukranīti, as that of the vidyā gives a picture of the intellectual and literary condition. And the two pictures together constitute a graphic account of the actual social life of the people of India lived in those times.

After going through this one can hardly believe that the Hindus were a race of abstract metaphysicians who were negligent of the actual needs of the society cultivated the art of preparing for the next life only. One would rather think that they knew how to enjoy life and supply its necessaries, comforts and decencies. Economically speaking, they were as self-sufficient as any people could possibly be, and made their material and secular life as comfortable and happy as possible. And intellectually speaking, they were competent enough to investigate not only the highest truths of the universe—the eternal problems of existence, but also to study and discuss all those branches of learning which had for their aim the practical furtherance of social ends—the amelioration of human life.

The more one studies the social, economic, political and other secular facts of the civilisation of the Hindus the more one is impressed with the fact that their institutions—industrial, educational and administrative—were adequate for all the ends of human existence; and if they differ from anything of the kind in modern times or in other countries it is because of the adaptation to the circumstances and conditions of time and place which is the fundamental cause of all varieties and divergences in the universe. And those who advocate the doctrine of relativity of institutions cannot think of the Hindus as an economically inefficient or politically incompetent race or as one who has no industrial or political aptitudes. The fact rather is, in all these aspects of secular civilisation, they represent a distinct type which is not necessarily low, medieval or primitive simply because it does not resemble the types that are predominant to-day.

A—Twenty-three arts derived from the Vedas through the 4 Upavedas.

I. Gāndharva—(1) Dancing, (2) Playing on musical instruments, (3) Decorations, (4) Antics, (5) Laying out beds, etc., (6) Jugglery, magic, etc., (7) sexual intercourse.

II. Āyurveda—(1) Preparation of alcohol, (2) Surgical operations, (3) Cooking, (4) Gardening, (5) Metallurgy, (6) Confectionery, (7) Pharmacy, (8) Analysis and Synthesis of metals, (9) Alloys, (10) Salts.

III. Dhanurveda—(1) Taking up of stands for the employment of arms, (2) Duelling, (3) Marking of aim, (4) Battle arrays, (5) Employment of horses, chariots, etc.

IV. Tantra (?)—Sitting in meditative postures.

B. Other Kalā—41.

(1) Driving horses and elephants, (2) Teaching horses and elephants, (3) Polishing earthen vessels. (4) Polishing wooden vessels, (5) Polishing stone vessels, (6) Polishing metal vessels, (7) Drawing, (8) Building, (9) Watches, clocks, etc., (10) Dyeing (11) Mechanical operations, putting down fire, etc, (12) Construction of boats and other conveyances, (13) Rope-making, thread spinning, (14) Weaving, (15) Testing of gems, (16) Testing of metals, (17) Preparation of artificial gems and metals, (18) Making of ornaments (19) Enamelling, (20) Softening of leathers, (21) Flaying of hides, (22) Milking, (23) Churning, (24) Tailoring, (25) Swimming, (26) Cleansing of domestic utensils, (27) Washing, (28) Shaving, (29) Extraction and prepration of oils from fats and seeds, (30) Ploughing, (31) Climbing, (32) Flattering or Enmtertaining, (33) Cane-work, (34) Glass-work, (35) Pumpingm (36) Work in Iron Foundries, (37) Preparation of saddles, (38) Nursing and management of babies, (39) Whipping criminals, (40) Writing in different alphabets, (41) Preparation of betels.

Footnotes and references:


The sovereignty or possession of authority over others is the most desirable thing and the result of great virtues.


The dharma may vary with time, place, race and family. So the good king should observe and respect all.


anuloma—If a man of the higher caste marries a woman of the lower the intermixture would be called anuloma.

pratiloma—a man of the lower caste marries a woman of the higher caste the Sāṅkarya or intermixture would be pratiloma.


jāti—defined: according to vidyā, e.g., dārśanika jāti the philosophers, botanists, &c., (ii) according to kalā, art and industry, i.e., occupation, e.g., weaver.


These functions are common to Brāhmaṇas, Kṣatriyas as well as Vaiśyas. Each, however, has special functions which are mentioned below.


These special functions describe the various occupations for livelihood.


Brāhmaṇas should have 16 cows to their ploughs.
Kṣatriyas should have 12 cows to their ploughs.
Vaiśyas should have 8 cows to their ploughs.
Śūdras should have 4 cows to their ploughs.
Antyajas should have 2 cows to their ploughs.


The distinction between Science and Art is the same as that between vidyā and kalā.


tantra—Tantras are a section of the Vedic literature. So mere mention of tantra does not point to a statement being that of very modern facts.


The specially noticeable points are the facts that itihāsas are quite distinct from purāṇas, that the theories of nāstika as well as Yavanas are mentioned as branches of learning, and as well as deśādidharma are also respected in the same breath with the Vedas and Vedāntas

The 32 Sciences are:

1. Vedas ... 4
2. Upavedas ... 4
3. Vedāṅgas ... 6
4. Darśanas ... 6
5. Itihāsa ... 1
6. Purāṇa ... 1
7. Smṛti ... 1
8. Scepticism ... 1
9. Artha Śāstra ... 1
10. Kāma Śāstra ... 1
11. Śilpa Śāstra ... 1
12. Alaṅkāra ... 1
13. Kāvya ... 1
14. Deśabhāṣā ... 1
15. Avasarokti ... 1
16. Yavana Philosophy ... 1
  Total ... 32


The two section of the Vedas have been described here. They contain things by using which men may satisfy the gods. Of these, the portion that is recited is called mantra, and the portion that is done is called Brāhmaṇa


The characteristics of the Ṛg-veda:

(1) The mantras are to be in rhythmical form.
(2) The mantras are to be used for
(3) The mantras are to be ṛgrūpa, i.e., in praise of gods.


Like the Ṛg-veda the Yajur-veda has also three characteristics.


āturveda has two functions—

(1) vettii.e., one can by its help know of āyus (life and health)—thus it is a science giving laws of health;
(2) vindatii.e., one can by its help acquire (life and health)—thus an art.

This branch of learning has also two Departments—

(1) ākṛti—study of the physique, anatomy and physiology:
(2) oṣadhi—Therapeutics and medicine.


The whole military science comes under dhanurveda, not simply that of bows and arrows.


gandharvaveda—Is thus the science of music both vocal (kaṇṭha) and instrumental (tantrī). It is most probably an Upaveda of Sama-veda.


tantra—Has the following characteristics—

(i) mantras to the upāsya,
(ii) Their six uses described,
(iii) upasaṃhara—The methods of counteracting the effect produced by certain actions,
(iv) dharmaniyama—rites and observances to be followed in using or counteracting the mantras.


svara—The voice is of three kinds,—udātta (sharp tone), anudātta (grave accent,) Svarita (accented, pitched).

Pronunciation according to time is of three kinds—hrasva (short), dīrgha (long), pluta (“protracted or continuous sound being three times the length of a short vowel and occupying three moments in its utterance”—Wilson).



There are two Kalpas—(1) Śrauta kalpa which is a portion of the Vedas called and vedāṅga (2) Smārta kalpa which is not Vedāṅga but contains rules about things other (itara) than i.e., Śrāddhas (funeral ceremonies), worship, &c., which are mentioned in the Smṛtis,


Jyotiṣa is thus not mere astronomy, but (1) this together with other sciences, viz., (2) Saṃhitā (Bhṛgu, Parāśara, &c.) (3) Horā Śāstra, (4) Gaṇita (Mathematics).


It is the Pūrva Mīmāṃsā which illustrates the Karmakāṇḍa of the Vedas.


prakṛti—“A radical form or predicament of being,—an illusion, intelligence, consciousness, and the five elements (viz., Ākāśa, Eire, Earth, Air and Water).”


Purāṇa is thus more comprehensive than Itihāsa. The historian has to use the rājakṛtyaṃ [rājakṛtya] as a mere peg on which to hang his accounts of ancient times.


arthaśāstra—Is thus a two-fold science, Politics as well as Economics.


śaśādi, &c.—Physical characteristics. The man is like a hare, śaśa, &c., &c.—Mental anukūla, &c.—Mental and moral characteristics. The man is favourable,

padminī—Physical character of women. They are described as being like a lotus &c.

svīya—One’s own, etc. This refers to the mental and moral characteristics of women who may be svīya, parakīya, i.e., egoistic, altruistic, &c.


Five characteristics of kāvya

(1) rasayuktai.e., it must embody the various sentiments, e.g., Śṛṅgāra or love, Hāsya or mirth, Karuṇa or tenderness, Rudra or anger, or heroism, Bhayānaka or terror, Vibhatsa or disgust, Adbhuta or surprise.

(2) alaṅkārayuktaFigurative, full of images and similes.

(3) doṣarahita—Without any defect, e.g., those of vulgarism, vagueness, archaism, &c.

(4) camatkāravīja—Must give pleasure.

(5) padyātibhedataḥ [padyādibhedataḥ?]—May be both prose and verse.


It is the ordinary language of the streets or Vernacular aS it is called which does not require the use of Vedas, Kośa, &c. but which can be undérstood by reference to lokasaṅketa, or common parlance.


It is the art of saying the right thing at the right moment. It is thus a branch of diplomacy or etiquette.


This, therefore, is not necessarily atheism, but what in modern times could be regarded as an alien and non-national religion.



(1) by sort of fiction (kalpita) finds its origin in the Śruti,
(2) may not be traced to Śrutis,
(3) respected by people,
(4) varying with country and family. Thus there may be several deśadharma, several kuladharma, &c., just as there may be local gods, family gods, etc.


This refers to pharmaceutical preparations.


sāṃkarya—Combination or synthesis.



The medical science must therefore have been very comprehensive, comprising so many arts, the preparation of alcohol, operation of wounds, cooking, gardening,


Various feats in boxing are mentioned here.


This is the art of fixing the aim by striking a fixed object at some distance.


Just as the sciences of Gāndharvaveda, and Āyurveda have their own art so also this science, Dhanurveda (which is an Upaveda of Yajurveda) has these five arts or five practical aspects.


Two arts are mentioned in this line. Enamelling was practised as an art, it appears.


Leather Industry is mentioned in its two processes—(1) The flaying of the skin, (2) The softening of the hide (tanning)


Cane-work it is called—basket-making, etc.


Glass is mentioned here as also in other places in Śukranīti.


Nursing was learnt and practised as an art it seems. At any late the midwives must have been trained in this art.


The knowledge and practice of the various alphabets of different peoples were respected as an independent branch of learning. And it is implied that there were men who equipped themselves specially with this art.

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