The story of Chanakya (or Kautilya or Visnugupta), the author of the Arthashastra might more appropriately belong in the Part which contains sketches of illustrious writers, both ancient and modern.

However, his life and work is so closely identified with that of Chandragupta Maurya that it may fit better here.

His origin, like that of the king he so nobly served, is obscure. It is unanimously conceded, however, that he was a Brahman. It is not known where or when he was born or where he acquired his understanding of statecraft, which is the subject of his great work; but at some point he is supposed to have offered his services to Dhanananda, the king of Magadha, the capital of which was Pataliputra.

(Pataliputra was the Sanskrit name of the present city of Patna, the capital of Bihar. In Chanakya’s time it was known by the Greeks as Palibotra. This name survived several centuries, and early Ptolemaic maps of India show a city called Palibotra on the Ganga River, which the Greeks called Ganges River. )

Dhanananda rejected Chanakya’s offer of service, and the next we learn of Chanakya is that he is in the area of the Vindhya Hills. He is in a village common when he notices some children playing a game game in which one of them (Chandragupta) takes the part of a king.

Chanakya saw something in the character of this make-believe king, bought him from his owner, a hunter, for 1,000 karshapanas and took him to Taxila for his education.

The education lasted seven or eight years, after which Chanakya gathered an army to fight the Greeks who were left to rule the country on the departure of Alexander. The army was financed, according to legend, by a conveniently-found buried treasure.

Chandragupta defeated Greek rulers in the Punjab and then turned his attention to Magadha where Chanakya had a score to settle. Chanakya made an alliance with Parvataka, the king of the Himalayan kingdom, Himatvatuka, and marched on Pataliputra, defeated Dhanananda whose armies were led by Bhadrasala.

With Chandragupta on the throne, Chanakya served as his adviser and chief minister. Like many ancient manuscripts, the date of its writing is not certain, and even its authorship is in dispute. The German school (Jolly, Winternitz, Schmidt) puts the date of the Artashastra in the fourth century A. D.

That Chanakya (Kautilya) was responsible for defeating the Nanda king and enthroning Chandragupta is found in this passage from the Vishnupurana:

(First) Mahapadma; then his sons, only nine in number, will be lords of the earth for a hundred years. Those Nandas Kautilya, a Brahman, will slay. On their death, the Mauryas will enjoy the earth. Kautilya himself will install Chandragupta on their throne. His son will be Bindusara, and his son Ashokavardhana.

It is deduced from epigraphical evidence that Chandragupta became king in 321 B. C. and that Asoka ascended the throne around 273 B. C. ; so it can therefore be reckoned that the Arthashastra was written some time during that interval.

The Arthashastra was not the only work on ancient Indian polity. In the concluding verse are these words:

Drshtva vipratipattim bahudha sastreshu bhashya-karanam, Svayam eva Vishnuguptas cakara sutram ca bhashyam ca. *The Arthashastra is divided into 15 books:

  • Book I: Concerning Discipline
  • Book II:The Duties of Government Superintendents
  • Book III: Concerning Law
  • Book IV:Removal of Thorns
  • Book V: Conduct of Courtiers
  • Book VI:The Source of Sovereign States
  • Book VII: The End of Sixfold Policy
  • Book VIII:Concerning vices and Calamities
  • Book IX:The Work of an Invader
  • Book X: Relating to War
  • Book XI:The Conduct of Corporation
  • Book XII: Concerning a Powerful Enemy
  • Book XIII:Strategic Means to Capture a Fortress
  • Book XIV: Secret Means
  • Book XV:The Plan of a Treatise

Book I is a table of contents, explaining what is going to be in the subsequent books. Book XV explains how a treatise should be written. It should consist of 15 Books, 150 chapters, 180 sections and 6,000shlokas, each shloka having 32 syllables.

Some of the chapters contain a code of laws, laying down appropriate punishments, such as fines, mutilation and torture, for malefactors. Other portions are concerned with protocol, conduct and administrative duties of government servants.

Books VI-X and XII-XIV have to do with sovereignty, diplomacy and military strategy. “Whatever pleases himself the king shall not consider as good,” says Chanakya, “but whatever pleases his subjects he shall consider as good. ”

Book VI says a good king should be “born of high family, godly, possessed of valour, seeing through the medium of aged persons, virtuous, truthful, not of a contradictory nature, grateful, having large aims, highly enthusiastic, not addicted to procrastination, powerful to control his neighbouring kings, of resolute mind, having an assembly of ministers of no mean quality, and possessed of a taste for discipline — these are the qualities of an inviting nature. ”

Chanakya has advice which should be taken seriously by rulers even in this century:

* (Having seen discrepancies in many ways on the part of the writers of commentaries on the Sastras, Vishnugupta himself has made this Sutra and commentary. )

“A wise king can make even the poor and miserable elements of his sovereignty happy and prosperous; but a wicked king will surely destroy the most prosperous and loyal elements of his kingdom.”Hence a king of unrighteous character and of vicious habits will, though he is an emperor, fall prey either to the fury of his own subjects of to that of his enemies.

“But a wise king, trained in politics, will, though he possesses a small territory, conquer the whole earth with the help of the beautiful elements of his sovereignty, and will never be defeated. “

Suggested Further Reading

  • Kautilya.
    Kautilya’s Arthasastra / tr. by R. Shamasastry. — Mysore : Mysore Printing and Publishing House, [1961]
    xxxix, 484, iii p. ; 22 cm.
  • Law, Narendra Nath.
    Aspects of ancient Indian polity. — Oxford : Clarendan, 1921.
    xx, 228 p. ; 23 cm.

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