Arthashastra Session 1 – Dr. Vanitha Ramaswamy

Class notes of the session on Arthashaastra taken by Dr. Vanitha Ramaswamy on March 17, 2016

The Arthashastra is an ancient Hindu treatise by Chaanakya on trade & commerce, statecraft, economic policy and military strategy, written in Sanskrit. Note that अर्थशास्त्रम् is a napusakalinga padam.

[Side Note: Vaanijya saashtra refers to Trade and Commerce. The definition of Vedas is वेदयति प्रकाशयति सर्वम् इति वेदः | Vedas encompasses all the knowledge. Yet, there is so separate ancient literature in Sanskrit focusing only on Trade and Commerce. The knowledge related to trade and commerce is present in bits and pieces in the ancient literature. Dr. Vanitha Ramaswamy was involved in creating a text book on Trade and Commerce based on the information available in various Sanskrit literatures. This session was based on that text book.]

Trade involves the transaction of Money. In the Rig Veda, it is mentioned – धनेन धनम् इच्छमानः – money can be made only using money. The need for the capital to earn money has been stated in Rig Veda. The definition of Dhanam or money has been provided in this way – व्यवहारात् उत्पन्नं लाभयुक्तं धनम् | The importance of wealth in this world has been stated as धनमूलं जगत् | The futility of life with money is states as निर्धनो मृतः इव | The need to continue to earn even if one seems to have a lot of wealth is stated as यत् प्रभूतेऽपि वित्ते अर्थोपायस्चिन्तनीयः | Even the demi-gods seek wealth – धनेन देवा धनमिच्छमानः |  The prayer is made to have more rather than less of wealth — तन्मे भूयो भवतु मा कनीयो – Atharva Veda|

Traders were spread everywhere. Various concepts of Trade and Commerce like Trade Unions, public sector, private sector, shares, barter system, etc. were present in ancient days. Honesty was the soul of India.


Humility is important to gain any knowledge. Vinayaadhikarana is the first chapter of Arthashaastra.

Side Note: Kautilya advices Chandragupta to maintain secrecy about his intimacy and the sensuous pleasures that he enjoyed, like the crow that mates only in secrecy – काकवत् गुप्तम् |  The adhyaatma vidyaa is also very important for leading a life.

Definition of Arthashaastra

Artha is wealth or possessions. Kaama sutra was written by Vaatsyaayana.  Dharma, Artha, Kaama, Moksha are the four purushaarthaas. Artha and Kaama are Purushaarthas. So Vaatsyaayana in his Kaama Sutra also defines Artha.

[ Side Note: Stree-purusha sambhanda is a value system for enjoyment. It is also created by God. ]

विद्या भूमि हिरण्य पशु धन धान्य भाण्ड+उपस्कर, मित्र+आदिनाम् आर्जनम् , अर्जित्तस्य रक्षणं च विवर्धनम् च – अर्थ

Knowledge, land, gold, cattle, cash, grains, goods, belongings, friends, etc. are all referred to as Artha.  These are to be earned or acquired putting some effort. This is the definition provided in the Kaama Sutra.

Of the many things that are considered as Artha, Vidyaa is the first one. So the first adhikarana is concerning the topic of training called Vinayaadhikara. Knowledge has to be acquired.

[ Sidenote – Even friendship and other relationships are to be acquired. The acquired relationship has to be protected and enhanced. Even life-partners cannot be taken for granted. Continuous effort has to be made to ensure that the other person stays happy. There is nothing like unconditional love. There are always conditions in life with mutual give and take. ]

The acquired wealth – Arjitasya vivardhanam has to be developed further for its vriddhi.

Definition of Arthashaastra:

The spiritual touch is not present in the initial parts of Arthashastra. It is a technical work.  Kautilya, the author of Arthashastra defines his work in this way:

मनुष्याणां वृत्तिः अर्थः मनुश्यवतीभूमिरत्यर्थः तस्याः पृथिव्याः लाभपालनोपायः शास्त्रम् अर्थशास्त्रमिति |

मनुष्याणां वृत्तिः अर्थः  – The person’s profession is called Artha. Arthakari vidyaa – Only when it is a source of earning money, it is considered as a vidyaa. (This does not include aatma / adhyaatmika Vidyaa).

[Side note: Even in the present days, students’ choice of education is based on the earnings. ]

मनुश्यवती भूमिः इत्यर्थः –  Land is a place where people reside.  And so man should possess land. He should develop a right to sit in a place where others assemble. Once a person acquires land, he would take care of the land, get married, and set up his family.

[Side note: Material prosperity becomes the goal.  Loukika marga and adhyaatmika marga are both given importance. When a person directly gets into adhyaatmika path, he might feel that he has missed something. It is always better to experience loukika, realize its futality and then move onto adhyaatmika maarga. Only a few saints who have the poorva janma samskaara take up directly the adhyaatmika life. One should not be forced into adhyaatmika life directly.  Vedas give importance to both इह and पर. ]

तस्याः पृथिव्याः लाभ+पालन+उपायः शास्त्रम् अर्थशास्त्रमिति – Such a land has to be acquired and be taken care of. The science that imparts instruction regarding the means of acquiring and maintaining the earth is called Arthashastra.

Somadeva considers artha to be the cause for all achievements. Sarva prayojana siddhi so arthah |

In Chaanakya niti –  it is mentioned that food is Artha – dhyaanyaa samo arthah.

The Four-fold aims of man can be achieved by Profession. So Vritti is Artha. अर्थमूलौ धर्मकामौ;  अर्थ-प्रतिबद्धश्च लोको वर्तते ।। अर्थशास्त्रम् ०८.३.३२ ||

[ side note: When a girl is getting married, the relatives think in this way –

कन्या वरयते रुपं माता वित्तं पिता श्रुतम् |
बान्धवा: कुलमिच्छन्ति मिष्टान्नमितरेजना: ||


Kautilya teaches this to Chandra Gupta Maurya. Political science – raajya saashtra. Culture is caught – it is not taught. People follow the king.

Krishna makes Yudhishtra learn the political science from Bhishma when he was on his arrow bed.

Kautilya is also a rishi. His work is a Smriti. He had to write his work without contradicting any of the Vedic injunctions or the Shrutis. As the time had changed from the Vedic period, he had to write to suit the current society. For example, he mentions that monetary transactions have to be done in writing.

[ Side note – When questioned by Chandra Gupta Maurya on who is important between the mother and the wife, Kautilya responds saying Wife is like the body and Mother is like the soul. Wife is considered as a bhooga sthaana – a source of enjoyment. Whereas mother is to be worshipped – pooja sthaana.  As the couple become old, they are no longer the source of enjoyment. They find their own way for salvation individually. Taaraa, Sumitraa, Kausalya, Tulasi – were able to gain salvation irrespective of the progress of their husbands. Tulasi is being worshipped for the long life of one’s husband. To be a Sumangali  means one has got a dependable support system until their death for their security].

We are all Chanakya’s student Chandragupta Maurya when we read his work, like how we become Arjuna when we read the Gita. Chanakya has not left anything.

Dharma Shaastra, Shilba shaastra were all created prior to Artha shaastra. Poorvam poorvam balavattamah – The earlier work is considered to be authoritative, when there is a conflict with the new work. No one can refute the instructions of the Sruthis. In Smruthis, there are only practical advices to carry out the worldly activities in the society of that time. It clarifies how to act when faced with certain situations.

इदम् इत्थम् “This is so” – is the mood of shastra. It is a science. Like the scientific facts, it states the facts. It cannot be denied. There are rules in the shastras. There could be exceptions to the rules. Smriti includes the works until certain Shastras like Dharma Shastras.

The Smrti literature is a vast corpus of derivative work which includes the vedangas, the epics, all the texts leading towards the four purushaarthaas (like Yagnavalkya smriti, Arthashaastra, Gita, Vivekachudamani, etc.), Puranas, Kaavyas, etc.

[ Side Note: A hermit wants to protect the deer that has come into his ashram. The hunter asks the hermit if he had seen the deer. The hermit responds in this way “Hey Hunter, if you are asking the eyes if they saw the deer. The eyes can’t talk. If you are asking the mouth, it does not have the capacity to see and hence it has not seen the deer.” The hunter admires the knowledge of the hermit and becomes the hermit’s disciple. ]

वृतु वर्तने The root Vrit indicates living or being. Raja vritti is raja’s actions or profession. Kautilya starts with the prayers to Sukra and Bruhaspati – the gurus of Asuraas and devas respectively. What is bad has to be explained while explaining the good. So both bad and good have to be learnt together. Man is taught to live in the present world and also to aim for salvation.

Vishnu Gupta is also another name for Kautilya or Chaanakya. He says “तानि संहृत्य एकं इदं अर्थशास्त्रं कृतम्” | This indicates that the information was present in various sources and there was no prior work of consolidation of the information related to Artha that was done before this work. His work is a compilation that is based on the information that is available in various scriptures.

The first chapter is like an index listing the topics that is covered in this scripture.

Dharma and Artha are important. Artha should be based on Dharma. Sankhya, yoga and lokaayatam (Chaarvaka mata) together are called Aanvikshikii. In case of doubt (vyasana), this shastra will be helpful to decide on the path that needs to be taken.  Atharva veda is taken along with itihaasaas as an auxiliary scripture based on the 3 Vedas.

[Side note: The Principle of Krishna in making Yudhistra say “Ashvattamo hatah kujarah” – is based on his choice of giving preference to that action that will benefit the world. ]


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