Hinduism has accorded ‘artha’ or wealth (which also includes power), which is the most important means of enjoyment in this world, the status of a ‘puruṣārtha,’ one of the four values to be striven for in life. Acquisition and enjoyment of wealth are impossible unless there is enough social security and peace. This is guaranteed only when there is a strong and just head of the State. Hence, statecraft becomes an extremely important branch of knowledge and a highly specia-lized discipline.
Speculations on this subject have been traced to the Ṛgveda. Śaunaka’s Caraṇavyūha lists ‘Arthaśāstra’ as an Upaveda of Atharvaveda. The epics and the dharmaśāstra literature have given abundant material on it. There is reason to believe that four distinct schools and thirteen teachers of Arthaśāstra had existed before the 4th century B. C. However the loss of this fairly extensive literature is to be attributed to its supersession by the masterly treatise of Kauṭilya, which itself was recovered from oblivion by the providential discovery of a complete manuscript and its publication with an English translation by R. Shama Sastry of Mysore in 1908.
This Arthaśāstra of Kauṭilya has been assigned to the period 321—300 B. C. and the authorship attributed to Viṣṇugupta-Cāṇakya, nicknamed ‘Kauṭilya’ (‘the crafty’), the renowned preceptor of the emperor Candragupta Maurya. Not much is known of his life. Hailing from a place called Caṇaka—hence the appellation Cāṇakya to him—near Takṣaśilā (near Peshawar, Pakistan), he was well-versed in the Vedic lore and had remained a celibate for life. Endowed with a keen intellect, tremendous will-power and pride, he is said to have been once insulted by Mahāpadma Nanda, the monarch of Magadha. Furious at this humiliation, he swore vengeance on the Nanda dynasty and left Pāṭalīputra, the capital of Magadha. Having spotted Candragupta, the son of Murā by Mahāpadma Nanda, as the worthy candidate for the throne, he trained him for the high responsibility. He seized the throne in 321 B. C. and installed Candragupta as the King. Later, he inspired Candragupta to drive away the Greek invaders, build and consolidate the first empire known to recorded Indian history. He later contrived to bring back Rākṣasa, the premier of the Nandas as the prime minister, and retired into solitude for a contemplative life.
The word ‘Kauṭilya’ is sometimes spelt as ‘Kauṭalya’ and defined as a ‘descendent of the gotra Kuṭala,’ probably to avoid the odium of the literal meaning. Many scholars do not subscribe to this view.
The Arthaśāstra comprises 6000 ślokas (stanzas of 32 letters) divided into 15 adhikaraṇas or sections and dealing with 180 prakaraṇas or topics. The first part consisting of adhikaraṇas 1 to 5 is called ‘Tantra’ and deals with the topic of providing security and prosperity to the people by the king. The second part (adhikaraṇas 6—13) is termed ‘Āvāpa’ and concerns itself with keeping watch over the neighbouring rulers. The third and the last part (adhikaraṇas 14 and 15) treats of whatever is left over and hence christened ‘Śeṣa.’
The contents of the various adhi-karaṇas may be briefly summarized as follows:
The education and discipline of the king, qualifications and testing of ministers, institution of spies, ambassadors, protection of princes and harem, king’s personal safety.
Superintendents of the various departments of the State, founding of villages, building forts, afforestation, commissioners for revenue from various departments, duties of the accountant-general, prevention of and punishment for embezzlement of public funds, building up the treasury.
Administration of justice, forms of marriage, duties of married couples and allied topics.
Protection of merchants, artisans and others, remedies and relief during national calamities, suppression of and punishment for crime, protection to the various departments of the State.
Conduct of courtiers, punishment for treason, replenishing treasury in emergencies.
Constitution of the maṇḍala (group of kings), seven elements of sovereignty, qualities of a king, sixfold royal policy, threefold śakti.
Six possible causes of action like peace, war, neutrality, alliance etc.; conduct of a mediatory king and a neutral king.
Vyasanas (vices and misfortunes) of the several elements of sovereignty, troubles of the king and kingdom.
On corporations and guilds.
How to deal with a powerful enemy through envoys, intrigues, spies and stratagems.
Ways to capture the fort of an enemy, entice him, and restore peace in the conquered territory.
Secret recipes for eliminating or incapacitating the enemy.
Appendix of the plan of this work, illustrating the methodological principles.
The work shows clearly that Kauṭilya was a master in various branches of sciences and a social reformer endowed with robust commonsense and practical wisdom. His views on divorce, remarriage of widows and wives under certain conditions, stressing the life here and now as important, his lenience towards certain human weaknesses like gambling are, by any standards, revolutionary. Scholars like P. V. Kane opine that the Yājñavalkya Smṛti is a later composition and has borrowed liberally from Kauṭilya’s work.
Two commentaries on the work by Bhaṭṭasvāmin and Mādhavayajvan, have been discovered. But both are fragmentary.