From New World Encyclopedia

The Arthashastra (more precisely Arthaśāstra) refers to a tradition of political statecraft that arose in India, which is epitomized by the treatise on rulership, economic policy and military strategy written by Kautilya (c. 350-283 B.C.E.). Kautilya was a professor at Taxila University and later the prime minister of the Mauryan Empire. He is known as the Indian Machiavelli because of his ruthless and shrewd tactics and policies, which reflect a "Realist" approach to Political Science, statecraft and warfare. His Arthashastra text counseled that no means were beyond the scope of a ruler to expand his territory or seek power including the unscrupulous ethics of allowing torture, trickery, deceit, and spying as legitimate means to gain territory, wealth and power.

While the Arthaśāstra tradition played a key role in the establishment of one of India's greatest empires, the Mauryan Empire, its calculating and unscrupulous teachings were rejected by the mainstream voices of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, which promoted dharma (right conduct) and ahimsa (non-injury) as their highest ethical ideals of Indian religion and civilization.

Date and Authorship

The traditional identification of Kauṭilya and Vishnugupta with the Mauryan minister Cāṇakya would date the Arthaśāstra to the fourth century B.C.E.[1][2] However, certain references that would be anachronistic for the fourth century B.C.E. suggest assigning the Arthaśāstra to the second through fourth centuries C.E.[1][2] Thomas R. Trautmann and I.W. Mabbett concur that the Arthaśāstra is a composition from no earlier than the second century C.E., but based on earlier material: "If the Kauṭilīya Arthaśāstra in its present form is not so old as it pretends, the śāstra itself is certainly old, predating the dharma smṛtis.".[2]

The content of the text is consistent with authorship in about the third century, C.E., and raises some questions which must be answered if it is to be assigned to the fourth B.C.E. Against this must be set the verses naming and characterizing Kauṭilya, and the references in later literature. What emerges is that there is no necessary incompatibility between the essential claims that Cāṇakya was responsible for the doctrines of the Arthaśāstra, and that the text we know is a product of the later time. These do not conflict. The work could have been written late on the basis of earlier teachings and writings. Sanskrit literature being so full of derivative, traditional and stratified material, this possibility is a priori strong. Those who favor the early date usually admit the probability of interpolations…. Those who favor a later date usually admit the probability that the work draws on traditional material. The controversy is therefore spurious. It is entirely possible that the Mauryan Kauṭilya wrote an arthaśāstra and that a later editor rewrote his work, or compressed it, or compiled a text from the teachings of his school.[1]

K.C. Ojha puts forward the view that the traditional identification of Viṣṇugupta with Kauṭilya was caused by a confusion of editor and originator and suggests that Viṣṇugupta is in fact a redactor of the original work of Kauṭilya.[1] Thomas Burrow goes even further and says that Cāṇakya and Kauṭilya are actually two different people:

T. Burrow ("Cāṇakya and Kauṭalya," Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute 48–49 (1968), 17 ff.) has now shown that Cāṇakya is also a gotra name, which in conjunction with other evidence makes it clear that we are dealing with two distinct persons, the minister Cāṇakya of legend and Kauṭilya the compiler of the Arthaśāstra. Furthermore, this throws the balance of evidence in favor of the view that the second name was originally spelt Kauṭalya and that after the compiler of the Arthaśāstra came to be identified with the Mauryan minister it was altered to Kauṭilya (as it appears in Āryaśūra, Viśākhadatta and Bāna) for the sake of the pun. We must then assume that the later spelling subsequently replaced the earlier in the gotra lists and elsewhere.[2]

Translation of the title

Different scholars have translated the word "arthaśāstra" in different ways.

  • R.P. Kangle – "science of politics," a treatise to help a king in "the acquisition and protection of the earth."[3]
  • A.L. Basham – a "treatise on polity"[3]
  • D.D. Kosambi – "science of material gain"[3]
  • G.P. Singh – "science of polity"[3]
  • Roger Boesche – "science of political economy"[3]


Did you know?
The "Arthashastra" has been compared to Machiavelli's "The Prince" because of its brutal methods and unscrupulous ethics

Roger Boesche describes the Arthaśāstra as "a book of political realism, a book analyzing how the political world does work and not very often stating how it ought to work, a book that frequently discloses to a king what calculating and sometimes brutal measures he must carry out to preserve the state and the common good."[4]

Centrally, Arthaśāstra argues for an autocracy managing an efficient and solid economy. It discusses the ethics of economics and the duties and obligations of a king.[5] The scope of Arthaśāstra is, however, far wider than statecraft, and it offers an outline of the entire legal and bureaucratic framework for administering a kingdom, with a wealth of descriptive cultural detail on topics such as mineralogy, mining and metals, agriculture, animal husbandry, medicine and the use of wildlife.[6] The Arthaśāstra also focuses on issues of welfare (for instance, redistribution of wealth during a famine) and the collective ethics that hold a society together.

Books of Arthashashtra

Arthashastra is divided into 15 books:

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

The Rajarshi

Arthashastra deals in detail with the qualities and disciplines required for a Rajarshi (a wise and virtuous king):

In the happiness of his subjects lies his happiness; in their welfare his welfare; whatever pleases himself he shall not consider as good, but whatever pleases his subjects he shall consider as good."[7]

It is notable that Chanakya's emphasis on leaders' serving their followers predates Jesus' encouragement to his disciples on serving the people.

According to Kautilya, a Rajarshi is one who:

  • Has self-control, having conquered the inimical temptations of the senses;
  • Cultivates the intellect by association with elders;
  • Keeps his eyes open through spies;
  • Is ever active in promoting the security and welfare of the people;
  • Ensures the observance (by the people) of their dharma by authority and example;
  • Improves his own discipline by (continuing his) learning in all branches of knowledge; and
  • Endears himself to his people by enriching them and doing good to them.

Such a disciplined king should: -

  • Keep away from another's wife;
  • Not covet another's property;
  • Practice ahimsa (non-violence towards all living things);
  • Avoid daydreaming, capriciousness, falsehood and extravagance; and
  • Avoid association with harmful persons and indulging in (harmful) activities.

Kautilya says that artha (Sound Economies) is the most important; dharma and kama are both dependent on it. A Rajarishi shall always respect those councilors who warn him of the dangers of transgressing the limits of good conduct, reminding him sharply (as with a goad) of the times prescribed for various duties and cautioning him even when he errs in private.

Duties of the King

If the king is energetic, his subjects will be equally energetic. If he is slack (and lazy in performing his duties), the subjects will also be lax and thereby eat into his wealth. Besides, a lazy king will easily fall into the hands of enemies. Hence, the Maharaj should himself always be energetic. He shall divide the day and the night, each into eight periods of one and half hours, and perform his duties as follows:

First period after sunrise Receive reports on defense, revenue, expenditure
Second period after sunrise Public audiences, to hear petitions of city & country people
Third period after sunrise Personal: bath, meals, study
Last period before noon Receive revenues, tributes, appoint ministers and other high officials & allot tasks to them
First period after noon Write letters and dispatches, confer with councilors, receive secret information from spies
Second period after noon Personal: recreation, time for contemplation
Third period after noon Inspect and review forces
Last period before sunset Consult with Chief of Defense
First period after sunset Interview with secret agents
Second period after sunset Personal: bath, meals, study
Three periods Retire to the bed chamber to the sound of music, sleep
Second period after midnight After waking to the sound of music, meditate on political matters & on work to be done
Third period after midnight Consult with councilors, send out spies
Last period before sunrise Religious, household and personal duties, meetings with his teacher, adviser on rituals, purohitas, personal physician, chief cooks and astrologer

Or some other time table which suits the king. Thus, an ideal king is one who has the highest qualities of leadership, intellect, energy and personal attributes. An energetic king is one who is valorous, determined, quick, and dexterous.

As regards personal attributes, an ideal king should be eloquent, bold and endowed with sharp intellect, a strong memory and a keen mind. He should be amenable to guidance. He should be well trained in all the arts and be able to lead the army. He should be just in rewarding and punishing. He should have the foresight to avail himself of the opportunities (by choosing) the right time, place and type of action. He should know how to govern in normal times and in times of crisis. He should know when to fight and when to make peace, when to lie in wait, when to observe treaties and when to strike at an enemy's weakness. He should preserve his dignity at all times and not laugh in an undignified manner. He should be sweet in speech, look straight at people and avoid frowning. He should eschew passion, anger, greed, obstinacy, fickleness and backbiting. He should conduct himself in accordance with advice of elders.

Internal strife

Kautilya says:

Quarrels among people can be resolved by winning over the leaders or by removing the cause of the quarrel - people fighting among people themselves help the king by their mutual rivalry. Conflicts (for power) within the royal family, on the other hand, bring about harassment and destruction to the people and double the exertion that is required to end such conflicts.

Hence internal strife in royal family for power is worse than quarrels among people. The king must be well versed in discretion and shrewd in judgement.

Comments on vices

Vices (Corruption) are due to ignorance and indiscipline; an unlearned man does not perceive the injurious consequences of his vices. He summarizes: subject to qualification that gambling is most dangerous in cases where there is more than one entity sharing power, the vice with the most serious consequence is addiction to drink, followed by, lusting after women, gambling, and lastly hunting.

Training of a future King

Importance of self-discipline Discipline is of two kinds - inborn and acquired. (There must be an innate capacity for self-discipline for the reasons given below). Instruction and training can promote discipline only in a person capable of benefiting from them, people incapable of (natural) self-discipline do not benefit. Learning imparts discipline only to those who have the following mental facilities - obedience to a teacher, desire and ability to learn, capacity to retain what is learned, understanding what is learned, reflecting on it and (finally) ability to make inferences by deliberating on the knowledge acquired. Those who are devoid of such mental faculties are not benefited (by any amount of training) One who will be a king should acquire discipline and follow it strictly in life by learning the sciences from authoritative teachers.

The training of a Prince

With improving his self-discipline, he should always associate with learned elders, for in them alone has discipline its firm roots. For a trained intellect ensues yoga (successful application), from yoga comes self-possession. This is what is meant by efficiency in acquiring knowledge. Only a king, who is wise, disciplined, devoted to a just governing of the subjects & conscious of the welfare of all beings, will enjoy the earth unopposed.

Maintenance of Law and Order

A conducive atmosphere is necessary for the state's economy to thrive. This requires that a state's law and order be maintained. Arthashastra specifies fines and punishments to support strict enforcement of laws. The science of law enforcement is also called Dandaniti.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 I. W. Mabbett, "The Date of the Arthaśāstra", Journal of the American Oriental Society 84 2(April 1964): 162–169. ISSN 0003-0279
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Thomas R. Trautmann, Kauṭilya and the Arthaśāstra: A Statistical Investigation of the Authorship and Evolution of the Text. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1971).
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Roger Boesche, "Kautilya's Arthaśāstra on War and Diplomacy in Ancient India." The Journal of Military History 67 (1)(January 2003): 9–37 ISSN 0899-3718
  4. Roger Boesche, The First Great Political Realist: Kautilya and His Arthashastra (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2002, ISBN 0739104012), 17.
  5. R.K. Sen and R.L. Basu, Economics in Arthasastra (New Delhi: Deep & Deep Publications, 2006).
  6. C. Tisdell, Elephants and polity in ancient India as exemplified by Kautilya's Arthasastra. (Science of Polity). Working papers in Economics, Ecology and the Environment No. 120. (Brisbane, Queensland: School of Economics, University of Queensland, 2005).
  7. Chapter XIX, “The Duties of a King” in Book I. “Concerning Discipline” of the Arthasástra of Kautilya, in Kautilya's Arthashastra: Book I: Concerning Discipline. Translated by R. Shamasastry Retrieved January 6, 2009.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Boesche, Roger. The First Great Political Realist: Kautilya and His Arthashastra. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2002. ISBN 0739104012.
  • Boesche, Roger. "Kautilya's Arthaśāstra on War and Diplomacy in Ancient India." The Journal of Military History 67 (1)(January 2003): 9–37.
  • Burrow, T. "Cāṇakya and Kauṭalya," Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute 48–49 (1968): 17
  • Cleary, T.F. The Art of Wealth: Strategies for Success Health Communications, 1998. ISBN 978-1558745414.
  • Kautilya. R. P. Kangle (tr.). Arthashastra 3 vols. Motilal, New Delhi: Laurier Books, 1997. ISBN 8120800427.
  • Kautilya. L.N. Rangarajan, (ed. and tr.). The Arthashastra. Penguin Classics, India. 1992. ISBN 0140446036.
  • Mabbett, I. W. "The Date of the Arthaśāstra." Journal of the American Oriental Society 84 (2)(April 1964): 162–169.
  • Sen, R.K., and R.L. Basu. Economics in Arthasastra. New Delhi: Deep & Deep Publications, 2005. ISBN 978-8171008247.
  • Tisdell, C. "Elephants and polity in ancient India as exemplified by Kautilya's Arthasastra." (Science of Polity). Working papers in Economics, Ecology and the Environment, No. 120. Brisbane, Queensland: School of Economics, University of Queensland, 2005.
  • Trautmann, Thomas R. Kauṭilya and the Arthaśāstra: A Statistical Investigation of the Authorship and Evolution of the Text. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1971.

External links

All links retrieved August 16, 2023.


New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:

The history of this article since it was imported to New World Encyclopedia:

Note: Some restrictions may apply to use of individual images which are separately licensed.