Useful notes on Kautilya’s Arthashastra
The Arthashastra by Kautilya
Kautilya (also Chanakya) was the chief adviser of Chandragupta Maurya. The Arthasastra by Kautilya is another important source which throws a good deal of light on the Mauryan period. As Kautilya (or Chanakya), was directly concerned with the Mauryan government, his book gives a very valuable information regarding the political condition of India during the Mauryan period arid the Mauryan administration.
Arthashastra is a unique book on the subject of politics and art of government in the literature of ancient India. This book is a huge work and has fifteen parts, each dealing with some aspects of the art of government.
The Chanakya Niti of Kautilya is still very popular and some of the principles of Chanakya Niti are still practiced by some top corporate houses.
1. About the King and his Ideals
According to Kautilya the king should be all powerful and there should be no checks on his powers. But he should consult his ministers and respect the Brahmans. A king must be a highly educated and a cultured person, should have full control over his senses. He should save himself from his enemies, which are lust, anger, greed, vanity, haughtiness and love of pleasure. Service of the people should be the chief ideal of the king.
Another ideal before the king should be to save his people from external invasions and internal revolts. He should maintain a powerful army and a full treasury. He should be cunning as a fox, clever as a crow and brave as a lion.
2. About the King’s Ministers
A king should appoint ministers both for assistance and consultation. It is difficult to run the government single-handed as single wheel cannot run a cart. These ministers should be men of high character and should be loyal, wise and brave. The king should consult his ministers, but he should not be a puppet in their hands, rather he should use his own judgment. The ministers should have team spirit and they should maintain perfect secrecy. Their meeting should be held at such a place where even the birds should have no access. A state’ which cannot keep its secrets cannot last long.
3. About the Provincial Administration
From Kautilya we come to know that the Mauryan Empire was divided into many provinces, each province was further divided into many districts and each district had many villages in it. Each province was under the charge of a governor who generally belonged to the royal family.
4. About the Administration of Towns
The administration of the capital and other big towns of the Mauryan Empire were carried on in a very systematic way. Pataliputra, the capital of Chandragupta Maurya, was divided in four zones. Each zone was put in the control of a “Sthanik” who was assisted in the discharge of his duties by a large number of junior officers.
5. About the Espionage System
Kautilya lays a great emphasis on the espionage system. He is in favour of keeping a large number of spies by the king, because they are very necessary for the stability and progress of the state. The king could keep his hand on the pulse of the nation only if he knew what was going on in his empire. These spies could also help him in keeping a strict watch over the activities of the state officials. The king should keen spies in his neighboring countries too, because by doing this he can save his country from foreign attacks. According to Kautilya, women can prove better spies than men.
6. About Shipping
Another important information that we get from Kautilya’s Arthashastra is about Indian shipping. At each port a special officer was appointed whose main job was to control the movements of the ships and boats and to charge taxes from the merchants, travelers and fishermen. Generally all the ships and ferries belonged to the Government and shipping formed one of the chief sources of income of the Government.
7. About the Economic Condition of the People
Kautilya enjoins his king to improve the economic condition of his people because poverty is the chief cause of restlessness and rebellious spirit among them. So, whenever the king sees the signs of poverty he should at once take steps to root it out.
In this way we find that Kautilya’s Arthashastra not only corroborates the information received from Megasthenes’s ‘Indika’ but it also gives other useful information of great value.