Artha Shastra – Dr. Gururaj Rao

Session on Arthashastra by Dr. Gururaj Rao, KSOU; Contact class held in 2015

The activities related to acquisition and expansion of the wealth that is required to conduct life is called Artha. Arthashastra explains how to acquire and spend the wealth.

मनुष्यवती भूमिरित्यर्थः । तस्याः पृथिव्याः लाभ-पालनोपायः शास्त्रम् अर्थशास्त्रम् इति ॥ १५.१.०१ ॥

The earth is the shelter for humans. The scripture related to its acquisition, protection, nourishment and usage is Arthashaastra. Knowledge is also referred to by the term Bhoomi. यतः सर्वप्रयोजनसिद्धिरर्थः | Artha is the procurement of all the useful resources.

Kautilya had other names like Chaanakya and Vishnu Gupta.  He is considered to have lived between 321 BC and 300 BC. He wrote this shaastra specifically for the king. All the prakaranas are related to the king and his administration. Unlike the other smritis which apply to everyone, this scripture deals with Raaja Neethi. It contains 15 अधिकरण or books, 150 अध्याय or chapters, 180 प्रकरण or sections and 6000 सूत्र or sutras. There are 4 or 5 detailed commentaries available for this shaastra. For the very first time, it was published by R. Shamasastry in 1909. He was working in Oriental Research Institute in Mysore. This work became so popular that Mysore University came to be referred as Arthasaashtra University.

The first Adhikarana is Vinayaadhikarana. It is said – विनयो हि भूषयति सर्वरसम् Humility is the best ornament | There are many sayings that stress the importance of Humility like विद्या विनयेन शोभते and विध्या ददाति विनयम्. This quality of Humility applies equally to everyone – the King, the mantris or concillors, the purohit, Amaatya or the ministerial officers. Kautilya says that humility comes with Vidyaa. विद्या समुत्पन्नः / विद्या समुद्देशः | Vidyaa comprises of four main components – आन्वीक्षिकी त्रयी वार्त्ता दण्ड-नीतिश्चैति विद्याः (०१.२.०१). Kautilya says these four are needed for a King and constitute the vidya. आन्वीक्षिकी includes Shankya, Yoga and lokaayata (chaarvaka) mata. (Following quote – not verified) समीक्षा साधन-तर्कः अन्वीक्षिकी – The analysis or Tarka which is used as an instrument or Saadhana to have the correct perception or sameekshaa is called anvikshaki. Rig-Sama-Yajur Vedas are referred to as त्रयी. It is a synonym for Vedas and hence it includes Atharvaveda also.  कृषि-पाशुपाल्ये वणिज्या च वार्ता ।  (०१.४.०१). वार्ता indicates livelihood subjects like agriculture, animal husbandry, economics/commerce/trade, etc., and deals with the right and wrong actions related to these aspects. And दण्डनीतिः refers to Law & the art of punishment. योग-क्षेम-साधनो दण्डः (०१.४.०३). दण्डः also refers to disciple or shiksha apart from indicating penalty. Yoga is the obtaining what we do not possess अलब्दस्य लाभः योगः and kshema is the protection of what we already possess लब्दस्य परिपालनं क्षेमः | How to acquire through the right means and how to protect one’s possession through the right means are covered under Danda. Kautilya also mentions about the two types of Danda as Naya and Anaya – i.e., appropriate and the inappropriate. धर्म-अधर्मौ त्रय्यां अर्थ-अनर्थौ वार्त्तायां नय-अनयौ दण्ड-नीत्यां बल-अबले च एतासां हेतुभिरन्वीक्षमाणा लोकस्य उपकरोति (०१.२.११)

Humility is important and it will be achieved by gaining the knowledge through these four means.

Pointing out that just Vidya will not suffice to gain Vinaya, Kautilya mentions about the Vruddha Samyoga or the association with elders.  He clarifies what he means by elders. He refers to those are considered elderly not just old by age, but by their knowledge, experience, tapas, character, true nature (the avataara vaibhava or the inherent greatness), and ashram (a young sanyasi is regarded superior than an older gruhasta).

[ Side note: परोक्षप्रिया हि देवाः प्रत्यक्षद्विषः – The gods love the indirect mode of exposition and hate the direct. ” (aitareyAraNyaka 2.4.3) They do not easily expose their self-identity to others. There would be some contemporaries who would identify their true nature and convey that to others. Once their true nature is revealed they are to be regarded].

Thus by being in the company of such wise men and serving them, a person could learn a lot and gain humility also in the process.

Kautilya mentions about two types of humility or discipline namely artificial or Krutaka and natural or Svaabhaavika.  कृतकः स्वाभाविकश्च विनयः (०१.५.०३)

विद्याविनीतो राजा हि प्रजानां विनये रतः | ( ०१.५.१७ अ ब) —  Only a king who is disciplined through the study of the sciences gets engaged in disciplining his subjects.  Such a king will show high regards to his Purohit who will guide him and in turn the kingdom will prosper.

The next chapter इन्द्रियजय-प्रकरण is about controlling the senses. Only when the five sense organs and the mind are under control, it will be possible to gain knowledge and apply it appropriately. विद्या विनय-हेतुरिन्द्रिय-जयः (०१.६.०१) Control over the sense is motivated by training in the sciences. Kautilya further says कृत्स्नं हि शास्त्रम् इदम् इन्द्रिय जयः (०१.६.०३) – This Shastra is all about victory over senses! It has been seen that great kings like Ravana and Dhuryodhana perished since they did not have self-control.

In this way, by controlling the senses and by doing the service to elders, gaining knowledge, and staying humble due to the knowledge, the king becomes a Rajarishi. In the next Rajarishi prakarana, Kautilya describes the characteristics of a Rajarishi.

The King should remain every active and carry out the activities for the welfare of his kingdom. He should also go in disguise to understand the situation prevailing in his kingdom. The king should set the rules based on the Dharma. Such a king will be considered as a Rajarishi. Such a noble king should use his wealth for the welfare of his subjects. He should not use it for his personal happiness.

Kaalidasa says in Raghuvamsa सहस्रगुणमुत्स्रष्टु मादत्ते हि रसं रविः। The sun absorbs the water, only to give it back, multiple folds in the form of rain. In the same way, the King also collects the taxes, not for his selfish interests, but for spending it on the people.

The qualities that should not be there in the king have been stated as lust, greed for wealth, extravagant dress, interest in others’ wives, etc. He should be aware of what needs to be done and what should not be done. He should know the past, present and the future.

सहाय-साध्यं राजत्वं चक्रं एकं न वर्तते || (०१.७.०९ ab) The administration of the kingdom is possible only with others’ help; only one wheel does not revolve. For the chariot to be able to proceed ahead, there has to be a minimum of two wheels, and there has to be people who pull it. Mantra, Amaatya, and Purohita help him to rule the kingdom. The people who pull it are the soldiers, secret spies and other workers.

[Side note: रथस्थं केशवं दृष्ट्वा पुनर्जन्म न विध्यते – It is considered very special to have the darshan of Keshava seated on the chariot as it would free one from the cycle of births and deaths].

The spies are the King’s eyes. They look at the happenings around them and inform him. It is said that the King should not directly look into the eyes of anyone. (Mysore Raja used to wear cooling glasses to avoid direct eye-contact. Even Lakshmi is said to be not looking directly at any one. The reason is that the receiver will not be able to bear that sight).

While debating on who should be appointed as Amaatya, different people share different points of view. First of all, Bharadvaaja says that a king should appoint his classmates as his ministers. सह-अध्यायिनो अमात्यान्कुर्वीत (०१.८.०१). He says so as there would be good understanding.

This opinion is contradicted by Visaalaaksha who says that they could disrespect the King. He recommends a different person to be appointed as Amaatya. ये ह्यस्य गुह्य-सधर्माणस्तानमात्यान्कुर्वीत (०१.८.०५) He who shares the same qualities regarding secret affairs, with the King, should be made as Amaatya.

Paraasara contradicts this saying that the king may end up listening to them just because they know his secrets. He recommends a different person to be appointed as Amaatya. यएनं आपत्सु प्राण-आबाध-युक्तास्वनुगृह्णीयुस्तानमात्यान्कुर्वीत । (०१.८.१०) He shall employ as Amaatyas those who have proved faithful to him under difficulties fatal to life.

Naarada also called as Pishuna opposes this view. He says that this bhakti or devotion does not make one eligible for this post. He has to have the intelligence.  ये यथा-आदिष्टं अर्थं सविशेषं वा कुर्युस्तानमात्यान्कुर्वीत। (०१.८.१३) He recommends those who show as much or more than the fixed revenue, when employed in financial matters.

Kaunapadanta disagrees with this view. He says that such people even if they are obedient, they could be devoid of other ministerial qualifications.  पितृ-पैतामहानमात्यान्कुर्वीत । (०१.८.१६) Employ those people whose fathers or grand-fathers have been ministers earlier.

[There is a saying – पण्डितपुत्रः शुद्धशुण्ठः – learned man’s son is an idiot.  It is not necessary that the minister’s son be an able administrator. ]

Vaatavyaadhi, also called Uddhava, opposes this suggestion and says that such people being familiar with the king since childhood could take advantage of him. He says तस्मान्नीतिविदो नवानमात्यान्कुर्वीत (०१.८.२२) He recommended new persons who are proficient in the science of polity.

Contradicting that opinion, the son of Baahudanti says that theoretical knowledge would not suffice if the person does not have any experience. तस्मादभिजन-प्रज्ञा-शौच-शौर्य-अनुराग-युक्तानमात्यान्कुर्वीत (०१.८.२६). He proposes the person born of high family, and possessed of wisdom, purity of purpose, bravery and loyal feelings.

Kautilya concludes by saying that all that is said above is proper सर्वं उपपन्नम् (०१.८.२७).

According to Kautilya, the Amaatya-s are the ministers and their grade is lesser than the mantris or the councilors. This is indicated, when he says “such persons shall be employed not as councilors (mantrinah) but as ministerial officers (amátyah).”  अमात्याः सर्व एवएते कार्याः स्युर्न तु मन्त्रिणः ( ०१.८.२९ च्द्).

[There are two types of Amaatyas namely karma amaatya and buddhi amaatya. The Karma amaatya get into the work and do it while the buddhi amaatya gives advice and stops there].

In the next chapter on the Mantris or the councilors, Kautilya lists twenty five qualities that should be present in the councilor. The person should be a native, born of high family, influential, well trained in arts, possessed of foresight, wise, of strong memory, bold, eloquent, skillful, intelligent, possessed of enthusiasm, dignity, and endurance, pure in character, affable, firm in loyal devotion, endowed with excellent conduct, strength, health and bravery, free from procrastination and ficklemindedness, affectionate, and free from such qualities as excite hatred and enmity. These qualities are the qualifications of a ministerial officer (amátyasampat).

The works of a king may be visible, invisible (paroksha) and inferential.  प्रत्यक्ष-परोक्ष-अनुमेया हि राज-वृत्तिः । (०१.९.०४) That which he sees is visible; and that which he is taught by another is invisible; and inference of the nature of what is not accomplished from what is accomplished is inferential.

The next important role is that of the Purohit. The King may or may not agree with whatever the ministers say. But he has to unconditionally obey the advice of the Purohit.

He whose family and character are highly spoken of, who is well educated in the Vedás and the six Angas, is skillful in reading omens providential or accidental, is well versed in the science of government, and who is obedient and who can prevent calamities providential or human by performing such tantric rites as prescribed in the Atharvaveda, the king shall employ as high priest. Kaalidaasa also mentions in Raghuvamsa – दैवीनां मानुषीणां च प्रतिहर्ता त्वम् आपदाम् । Dhasharata tells Vashishta “You are present to remove the super-human and human disasters”.

The king should test and ensure that the ministers and the Purohit do not have the weakness of resorting to adharma in the moment of crisis. अमात्यानुपधाभिः शोधयेत् (०१.१०.०१). The king should test the amaatyaas by means of upadhaa-s. There are four types of upadhaas namely धर्म-उपधा, काम-उपधा, अर्थ-उपधा and भय-उपधा.

The king would test the ministers if they support adharma by creating a situation. The king shall dismiss a priest who, when ordered, refuses to teach the Vedás to an outcaste person or to officiate in a sacrificial performance (apparently) undertaken by an outcaste person (ayájya). Then the dismissed priest shall, through the medium of spies, instigate each minister one after another, saying “this king is unrighteous; let us set up in his place another king who is righteous”. If any one or all of the ministers refuse to yield in such a measure, he or they shall be considered pure. This is what is called religious allurement or Dharma Upadhaa.

In the Artha upadhaa or the monetary allurement, a dismissed commander of the army, through the agency of spies, would instigate each minister to murder the king in view of acquiring immense wealth. If they refuse to agree, they are to be considered pure.

In the Kaamopadhaa or the love-allurement, a woman-spy under the guise of an ascetic may allure each prime minister (mahámátra), saying “the queen is enamored of thee and has made arrangements for thy entrance into her chamber; besides this, there is also the certainty of large acquisitions of wealth.” If they discard the proposal, they are pure.

In the Bhaya upadhaa or the allurement under fear, the ministers are checked if they succumb to fear and agree to kill the king for their protection.

Along with the right people for administration, the king should also have many spies who would be the mouth piece of the people and convey their messages to the king. There are two main types of Spies namely संथाः comprising of 5 sub-types and संचाराः comprising of 4 sub-types.

कापटिक, उदास्थित, गृह-पतिक-व्यञ्जक, वैदेहक-व्यञ्जक, and तापस-व्यञ्जक are the 5 types in samthaa. Spies under the guise of a fraudulent disciple (kápatika-chhátra), a hermit (udásthita), a householder (grihapaitika), a merchant (vaidehaka), an ascetic practising austerities (tápasa). In taapasa, the ascetic could be a man with shaved head (munda) or braided hair (jatila).

In chapter 12, Kautilya elaborates about different types of spies called sanchaara-s who do not stay in one place. They could be a class-mate or a colleague (satri), a fire-brand (tíkshna), a poisoner (rasada), and a mendicant woman (bhikshuki). The person in the first type called सत्त्रि does palmistry, the duties of the various orders of religious life, and the reading of omens, etc. The next type is तीक्ष्ण, the brave fighter who will fight the elephants and tigers. रसद are the very cruel and indolent poisoners. परिव्राजिका or bhilshuki would be a poor widow of Bráhman caste, very clever, and desirous to earn her livelihood. There are 18 specific Tirtha Sthaana or key places that are identified and these spies are deployed there to gather information.

In the chapter on Mantraadhikaara, Kautilya explains how the king discusses the information obtained through the spies with his councilors and ministers. There is a detailed description about various aspects of this conference meeting like who should be invited, how to maintain the secrecy of the discussions, how to secure the place even from animals and birds like parrots as they could also be spying on them. No uninvited person can enter that place. There is also mention about how many people need to be invited. It is generally said that for secrets to be maintained, it should not be heard by 6 ears (quote not verified – षट् करणाः मास्तु). In these conferences, for certain matters, there could be only 3 people. For other matters there could be more people, not exceeding 12. Even after inviting only the most faithful of his advisors and ministers, the king should not be careless. He should carefully watch their body language, observing changes in the attitude and countenance of the participants to detect any leak of information.

The five constituents of every council-deliberation are the means to carry out works, command of plenty of men and wealth, allotment of time and place, remedies against dangers, and final success.

कर्मणामारम्भोपायः पुरुषद्रव्यसम्पत् देशकाल विभागः विनिपातप्रतीकारः कार्यसिद्धिः इति पञ्चांगो मन्त्रः ॥
These five aspects mentioned in Chapter 15 are :

  1. कर्मणाम् आरम्भ-उपायः An approach to the project
  2. पुरुष-द्रव्य-सम्पत् An estimate of required human and material resources
  3. देश-काल विभागः An implementation plan showing place and time of tasks
  4. विनिपात-प्रतीकारः A complete list of risks and mitigations
  5. कार्य-सिद्धिः A well defined success criteria

In the chapter on Rajakumaara-utpatti, there are detailed descriptions about how the prince should be brought up. There are different approaches. There is a debate on where he should be kept in custody so that he can grow up from there considering the security of both the prince and the king. There are varied opinions that he should be kept in safe custody in some definite place, that he should be in custody of the boundary guards or inside the fort, that he should be inside a fort belonging to a foreign king far away from his own state, that he should live with his maternal relations, etc. The protection of the prince starts even before he is born by offering the requisite oblations to the gods. When the prince attains the necessary age, adepts shall train him under proper discipline.

जन्म-प्रभृति राज-पुत्रान्रक्षेत् (०१.१७.०४) Ever since their birth, the king should take special care of the princes. The Prince has to be protected as he will become the next king.

The duties of the messengers and certain other aspects are also discussed in this Vinayaadhikarana.


  1. कौटिल्यस्य अर्थशास्त्रम्
  2. The Arthashastra By Kauṭalya
  3. Arthashastra. Translated by R. Shamasastry. Bangalore: Government Press, 1915, 1-50.


A list of Important Hindu Scriptures

A list of Important Hindu Scriptures  – Grantaavali

  • Vedas
    • Rg Veda
      • Rg Veda Samhita
      • Aitareya Braahmana
      • Kausheetaki Braahmana
      • Aitareya Aaranyaka
      • Kausheetaki Aaranyaka
    • Shukla Yajur Veda
      • Maadhyaandina Samhita
      • Kaanva Samhita
      • Satapata Braahmana
      • Brhad Aaranyaka
    • Krishna Yajur Veda
      • Taitreeya Samhita
      • Maitraayaneeya Samhita
      • Kaataka Samhita
      • Taitreeya Braahmana
      • Taitreeya Aaranyaka
    • Sama Veda
      • Sama Veda Samhita
      • Chandogya Braahmana
      • Jaimineeya Braahmana
    • Atharva Veda
      • Atharva Veda Samhita
      • Gopatha Braahmana
      • Isavasya Upanisad
      • Katha Upanisad
      • Taitreeya Upanisad
      • Chandogya Upanisad
      • Brhadaaranyaka Upanisad
      • Kena Upanisad
      • Mundaka Upanisad
      • Maandukya Upanisad
      • Prasna Upanisad
      • Aitareya Upanisad
      • Svetasvatra Upanisad
      • Kausheetaki Upanisad
      • Siksa
        • Yajnavalkya Siksa
        • Paaniniya Siksa
      • Vyakarana
        • Ashtaadhyayi of Panini with Patanjali Mahabhashya
        • Vaakyapaadya of Bhartrhari
      • Nirukta
        • Niruktam of Yaska
      • Jyotisha
        • Suryasiddhanta
        • Bhaskara’s Siddhanta Siromani
        • Varahamihira’s Brhad Jatakam and Brhad Samhita
        • Aryabhatta Siddhanta
      • Kalpa
        • Grhya Sutras 17
        • Srauta Sutras 16
      • The Bhagavad Gita
        • Bhagavad Gita with Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhva, Sridhara Bhasyas ;
        • Gudartha Dipika of Madhusudhana Saraswati
      • Ithihaasas
        • Ramayana
          • Ramcharitmaanas
          • Kambha Ramayana
        • Mahabharatha
      • The Puranas
        • Brahma Purana > Visnu Purana > Siva Purana > Brahmaanda Purana > Brahma Vaivarta Purana
        • Agni Purana > Vayu Purana > Linga Purana > Garuda Purana > Varaaha Purana
        • Skanda Purana > Vaamana Purana > Kurma Purana > Matsya Purana
        • Maarkandeya Purana > Srimad Bhagavata Purana > Padma Purana > Narada Purana
      • Sad (Six) Darsanas
        • Nyaya Sutras of Gotama
        • Vaisesika Sutras of Kanada
        • Sankhya Sutras of Kapila
        • Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
        • Mimamsa Sutras of Jaimini (with Sabara and Kumarlia Bhashyas)
        • Vedanta Sutras (with Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva Bhashyas)
      • Dharma Shastras
        • Dharmasutras
          • Baudhayana Dharmasutras
          • Aapastamba Dharmasutras
          • Gautama Dharmasutras
          • Vashishta Dharmasutras
        • Smritis
          • Manu Smriti
          • Visnu Smriti
          • Yajnavalkya Smriti
          • Parasara Smriti
          • Harita Smriti
          • Yama Smriti
          • Sankha-Likhita Smriti
          • Aangirasa Smriti
          • Vaikhanasa Dharma Sutras
          • Atri Smriti
          • Narada Smriti
          • Kaatyayana Smriti
        • Related Texts and Nibandhanas
          • Medathiti’s bhashya on Manu
          • Mitakshara of Vijnaneswara
          • Smriti Chandrika of Devannabhatta
          • Parasara Maadhaviya of Maadhava
          • Todarananda of Todarmal
          • Nirnaya Sindhu of Kamalakar Bhatta
          • Dharmasindhu Sara of Kasinath Upadhyaya
          • Smrti Mukta Phala of Vaidyanatha Dikshita
        • Scriptures related to Sannyasa
          • 17 Sannyasa Upanisads
          • Jivanmukti Viveka of Vidyaranya
          • Yatidharmaprakasha of Vasudevasrama
          • Yatidharmasangraha of Visvesvara Saraswati
          • Yatidharma Samuccaya of Yadava Prakasha
          • Sannyasa Vidhi of Visnu Teertha
          • Sannyasa Paddhati of Rudradeva
        • Miscellaneous
          • Brhaspati, Sukra, Vidhura and Chanakya Niti Sutras
          • Artha Shastra of Kautilya
          • Sataka traya of Bhartrhari
          • Pancha Tantra
          • Uddhava, Uttara and Ribhu Gita
          • Caraka Samhita
          • Susruta Samhita
          • Natya Sastra of Bharata
          • Kavyaprakasha of Mammata
          • Kamasutra of Vatsyayana
          • Srngaraprakasha of Bhoja
          • Alankaratilaka of Bhaanudatta
          • Works of Kalidas
        • Stotras and suktas
          • Vishnu Sahasranama with Bhagavatpada Bhasya
          • Lalita Sahasranama
          • Rudram
          • Narayana Kavacam
          • Sudarshana Kavacam
          • Suktavali
          • Gajendra Stuthi

Source: A devotee – A foot soldier in Yogi Ramsuratkumar’s work