By Swami Harshananda
Arthaśāstra was written by Visnugupta-Cāṇakya.
‘Artha’ or wealth (which also includes power), is one of the most important means of enjoyment in this world and is accorded the status of ‘puruṣārtha’. Puruṣārtha is one of the four values to be striven for in life.
Acquisition and enjoyment of wealth are impossible unless there is 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 specialized discipline. Speculations on this subject have been traced to the Rgveda. Śaunaka’s Caranavyuha 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 attributed to its super-session 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 is attributed to Visnugupta-Cāṇakya, nicknamed as ‘Kauṭilya’ (‘the crafty’). He was the renowned preceptor of the emperor Chandragupta Maurya. Not much is known of his life. He hailed from a place called Caṇaka, hence the appellation Cāṇakya was given to him. Canaka was situated near Takṣaśilā (near Peshawar, Pakistan). Cāṇakya was well-versed in the Vedic lore and remained a celibate for his entire 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 due to this humiliation, he swore vengeance on the Nanda dynasty and left Pātalīputra, the capital of Magadha. Having spotted Chandragupta, 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 throned Candragupta as the King. Later, he inspired Candragupta to drive away the Greek invaders, build and consolidate the first empire known to be recorded as 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 ‘Kautilya’ 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 Arthaśastra comprises 6000 ślokas (stanzas of 32 letters) divided into 15 adhikaraṇas or sections and deal with 180 prakaraṇas or topics.
- The first part consists of adhikaraṇas 1 to 5 called as ‘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 as ‘Āvāpa’ and concerns itself with keeping watch over the neighboring rulers.
- The third and the last part (adhikaraṇas 14 and 15) treats of whatever is left over and hence christened as ‘Śeśa.’
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore