Shishupala-vadha (Study)

by Shila Chakraborty | 2018 | 112,267 words

This page relates ‘Spies in the Arthashastra (2): Sancara’ of the study on the Shishupala-vadha (in English) in the light of Manusamhita (law and religious duties) and Arthashastra (science of politics and warfare). The Shishupalavadha is an epic poem (Mahakavya) written by Magha in the 7th century AD. It consists of 1800 Sanskrit verses spread over twenty chapters and narrates the details of the king of the Chedis.

Spies in the Arthaśāstra (2): Sañcāra

On the other hand Sañcāra ú means those spies who roam about everywhere in order to collect secret information or the king’s sake.

The four categories of the spies are—

1. Satrī—Secret agents or the art of association (with men),
2. Tīkṣṇa—Bravoes,
3. Rasada—Poison-givers.
4. Bhikṣukī—Shaven nuns of heretical sects.

1. Satrī—Secret agents or the art of association (with men)

There has been said in Kauṭilya’s Arthaśāstra about Satrī {secret agents or the art of association (with men)}

“ye cāṇya samvandhino'vaśyabhartavyāste lakṣaṇm aṅgavidyāṃ jambhakavidyāṃ māyāgatam āśramadharme nimittam antaracakram ityadhīyānāḥ satriṇaḥ, saṃsargavidyāṃ vā |” (1.12.1)[1]

And those who are without relations and have to be necessarily maintained, when they study the (science of the interpretation of) marks, the science of (the touch of) the body, the science of magic, that pertaining to (the creation of) illusions, the duties of the āśrams, (the science of) omens, the ‘wheel with the spaces’ and so on, are the secret agents; or (when they study) the art of association (with men)’.[2]

That is those who are connected with the king and are compulsorily reared up by the king, if they are the readers of the books of Samudravidyā, aṅgavidyā, māyāvidyā, (Hypnotism) and Āśramavidyā etc. and of co-ordinator of kāmaśāstra and reader of the art of dance (nṛtya) song (gīta) etc. They are called satrī (secret agents).

After appointing ministers to ordinary officers in consultation with the councillors and the chaplain, he should test their integrity by means of secret tests. In this purpose, Satrīs are appointed by the king to judge the pure character of the officers.

In this connection, Kauṭilya has said in his Arthaśāstra

“[...]” (1.10.2-4)[3]

English version says:

“The king should (seemingly) discard the chaplain on the ground that he showed resentment when appointed to officiate at the sacrifice of a person not entitled to the privilege of a sacrifice or to teach (such a person). He should (then) get each minister individually instigated, through secret agents, under oath, (in this manner): “This king is impious, well. let us set up another pious (king), either a claimant from his own family or a prince in disfavour or a member of the (royal) family or a person who is the one support of the kingdom or a neighbouring prince or a forest chieftain or a person suddenly risen to power; this is approved by all; what about you? If he repulses (the suggestions), he is loyal. This is the test of piety”.[4]

And satrī also judge the minister or commander in chief of the army by arthopadhā. It has been said in the Arthaśāstra of Kauṭilya.


“The commander of the army, (seemingly) dismissed by reason of support given to evil men, should get each minister individually instigated; through secret agents, to (bring about) the king’s destruction, with (the offer of) a tempting material gain (saying): This is approved by all; what about you? If he repulses (the suggestion), he is upeght. This is the test of material gain.[6]

Another activities of secret agents (satrī) are indicated in the Arthaśāstra. The secret agents should divide to the chief of a district officer in-Charge of the boundary, forest chieftain or chief of the wild tribes, vassal surrendered to force from the enemy of vijigīṣu king.

Kauṭilya said—


English version says:

“Or, a secret agent should divide him from the enemy, (saying), “This (enemy), looking upon you as a secret agent, will make you fight against the king himself (and) with his object achieved; will employ you, in charge of troops, against his enemy or forest chieftain or in a difficult undertaking; or will post you at the frontier, separated from wife and sons. If you fail in the fight (against your king), he will sell you to the king, or making peace through you, will conciliate the king himself. You should go to his best ally”. If he agrees, he should honor him by the fulfilment of his wishes. If he does not agree, the (agent) should divided the support from him, (saying) He is kept as a secret agent against you”.[8]

Here ‘Saṃśrayam is the enemy with whome the rebel has found shelter’ (Kangle, foot note).

[...] (9.3.31-37)[9]

English version says—

“And the secret agent should get him killed on the strength of letters carried by men condemned to death or through secret agent. Or, he should win back warriors, who had left along with him, by granting their wishes. The secret agent should (then) declare them as having been employed by him. Thus is success to be achieved. And he should cause these revolts to arise for the enemy, and suppress those against himself. Secret instigations (to revolt) should be made to one who is capable of starting or putting down a revolt. A response to instigations (to revolt) should be made to one who is true of promise, capable of helping in carrying out the undertaking and securing its reward and of saving in case of failure, and about him one should form a conjecture as to whether he has honest intentions or is a rogue”.[10]

Here abhityakta means—a person condemned to death.

Abhityaktaśāśana means, A man condemned to death is preferred for carrying the implicating letter, as the enemy is likely to kill the person carrying it. (kangle, Foot note).

Abhityāktaśāsanairdhātayed means, T. Ganapati siastri said in his Śrīmūlaṭīkā—“[...]”

The word tena means—by their old master. As they have gone back, they are proved to have been his agents, the rebel also, therefore, must be one such.

According to the Śrīmūla commentry of T.G. Sastritena prāṇihitān” means—


(As these are seen in the Arthaśāstra (Part-II) edited by Manabendu Bandyopadhay, pp. 434-435)

2. Tīkṣṇa

“[...]” (1.12.2)[11]

“Those in the land who are brave, have given up all (thought of) personal safety (and) would fight; for the sake of money, an elephant or a wild animal are the bravoes.”[12]

It means, a man who is full of valour and fights with an elephant or other fears animals for wealth is called tīkṣṇa.

3. Rasada

“[...]” (1.12.3)[13]

“Those who are without affection for their kinsmen and are cruel and indolent are the poison—giver’.”[14]

It means, those who are careless to their relative crude, and glooming are called Rasada: They can give someone poison fearlessly.

4. Bhikṣukī

“[...]” (1.12.4-5)[15]

A wandering nun, seeking a (secure) livelihood, poor, widowed, bold, Brahmin by (caste) and treated with honor in the palace, should (frequently) go to the houses of high officers, by her (office) are explained (similar offices for) the shaven nuns of heretical sects. These are the roving spies.”[16]

It means, one who is a beggar of livelihood, poor, widow, intelligent and getting a good job in the interpalace, able to go to the upper divitional officers house is called parivrājikā.

This type of spy should judge the pure character of different ministers through Kāmopadhā (lust). According to Kauṭilya:

“[...]” (1.10.7-8)[17]

A wandering nun, who has won the confidence (of the different ministers) and is treated with honour in the palace, should secretly suggest to each minister individually: ‘The chief queen is in love with you and has madearrangements for a meeting (with you): besides, you will obtain much wealth’. If he repulses (the proposal), he is pure.[18]

“A remarkable feature of the śāstra is the uninhibited manner in which the organisation of a secret service is recommended and the use of secret agents for a variety of purposes described. The summary of spy in the Arthaśāstra is there are two types of secret service are distinguished. One is saṃsthā ‘the establishment’, the members of which are generally stationed in a single headquarters. The other is saṃcāra ‘the rover’, ther members of which move from place to place according as their services may be required.

Footnotes and references:


ibid., part–I, p.14.


ibid., part–II, pp.23-24.


ibid., part–I, p.11.


ibid., part–II, pp. 18-19.


ibid., part–I, p. 11.


ibid., part–II, p.19.


ibid., part–I, p.222.


ibid., part–II, p.415.


ibid., part–I, pp.222-223.


ibid., part–II, pp.415-416.


ibid., part–I, p. 14


ibid., part–II, p. 24.


ibid., part–I, p. 14.


ibid., part–II, p. 24.


ibid., part–I, p.14.


ibid., part–II, p.24.


ibid., part–I, p.11.


ibid., part–II, p19.

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