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Book Details

English
Miles Davis.

Hindi
Mihir Chandra Sharma

Sanskrit
Commentary by Iswar Chandra Sharma Shastri

Telugu
Dr. Pullele Sriramachandrudu

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About Chanakya Niti

ChanakyaIn ancient India (321-296 B.C.) a unique economic policy and law were set forth by Chanakya (Vishnu gupta), who was a great statesman, economist, philosopher and law-giver. Samakaraya wrote in his commentary on Kamandaka's Nitisara, "Vishnugupta is the name given at the naming ceremony and Chanakya and Kautilya are connected with the birth-place and Gotra respectively." The name Kautilya contains to some extent, an error. The Gotra (tribal name) of Chanakya was Kutla and hence Chanakya, as a descendant of that Gotra, must be called as Kautalya. The ancient manuscripts of the Arthasastra consist of the name Kautalya. Prof. Bhandarkar opined, "for the promotion of truth and history, the name Kautilya should be discarded and Kautalya must be adopted." However, substituting the name Kautalya in place Kautilya is not an easy task as innumerable writers mention the 'distorted' name Kautilya in their books and essays. However, the name Chanakya is connected with the birth-place of Vishnugupta and has been popularly used by writers and readers."

The ancient economist wrote two books (as far as we know), the treatise called the "Arthasastra" or the Science of Economics, and the "Chanakya Niti Shastra," which laid a strong foundation 2300 years ago for the founding of one of history's greatest empires, the Mauryan Empire. Chanakya's protege was no less than emperor Chandragupta Maurya, who rose from a lowly background to carve out the largest empire India had known up to that time, and ruled it from 325 to 273 BC. His grandson was no less than Ashoka, whose monuments and symbols still stand in India and adorn the Indian flag. The Chanakya Niti is still read today by aspiring corporate strategists trying to understand the qualities of a good leader.

Chandragupta was a great warrior and adventurous king and he obtained effective guidance from Chanakya for conquering weak and mismanaged states as well as for consolidating gains and accelerating tempo of development in the empire in order to meet requirements of the government and promote welfare amongst subjects. It has been aptly remarked, "As any sudden military revolution is followed by an equally great statesman's work, a war-like figure like that of Chandragupta demands a statesman like wisdom like that of Kautilya, who alone can render the new unique empire secure, with its administrative machinery and fiscal management well founded". No doubt, Chanakya played a pivotal role in the formation of the Maurya empire and in the promotion of all round development within the empire.

Chanakya hailed from the ancient university of Takshashila or Taxila in modern-day Pakistan. He also wrote the Chankya Niti or Nitishastra, which historians say dates from the period 321-296 B.C. Its slightly archaic style is well in agreement with the claim. It is also testified by various early Indian writers. who have given quotations from it. The Chanakya Niti is a selection of sutras, pithy verses, that convey much about the ideal way of life. 455 sutras comprise the document and reflect Chanakya's astute mind and his phenomenal vision and clarity. 216 of these sutras have to do with Rajaniti, the art of governing a kingdom. These sutras may very well have played a big role in the grooming of Chandragupta Maurya and other disciples of Chanakya.

The Chanakya Niti consists of expert knowledge regarding espionage, maintenance and mobilization of army, general administration, diplomacy, management of agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry; industrial production and so forth. His contribution in the field of political science is undoubtedly laudable. He set forth his opinion regarding the elements of sovereignty, remedies against external and internal troubles of the government, enforcement of rights and duties amongst various grades of administrative staff, etc. For the enforcement of law and order in the empire, criminal and civil laws were also prescribed.

Though the book had a profound influence on various writers and rulers in Indian history, the book and its author were lost to knowledge when the British ruled India. It was only a century ago that they came to light again. A manuscript of the Chanakya's Arthashastra, and with it, a commentary on a small part of it by a writer named Bhattaswamin, was handed over by a Pandit (scholar) to the Mysore Government Oriental Library. Mr. Shamasastry published the English translation of the text in 1915 (J.F. Fleet, 1914, Introductory Note, Kautilya's Arthasastra translated by Dr. R. Shamasastry). The original text consists of some obsolete words. Credit goes to Dr. Shamasastry for translating the contents in English and bringing it to the notice of scholars and the general history of ancient India. Second and third editions were published in 1923 and 1929.

Translators accept that perfect translation and a correct interpretation of the text is a difficult task. Dr. Shamasastry writes "Still I shall feel highly rewarded for my labors, if it proves a stepping-stone for others to arrive at a correct interpretation. For want of necessary diacritical marks, the translation of the Sanskrit words could not be made as thorough as it ought to be." The difference in the translation work of scholars are due to difference in interpretation by the concerned translators. Although possibilities lie that in future the new translations by erudite scholars might point out some new interpretations. Most likely, in spite of a few differences in the interpretations of those erudite scholars, there does not arise the possibility of adverse affects on the basic contents of the book.

The Authenticity of Kautilya or Chanakya

As the authenticity of the Arthasastra has been questioned by scholars of standing like Professors Keith and Winternitz, we propose to examine some of the arguments advanced by them in support of their theory with a view to demonstrate their inconclusiveness.

(1)Dr. Winternitz refers to the verse in which Kautilya says that he had taken the kingdom from the Nandas and remarks that the real minister in a book written by the order of or intended for his king would not have written such words, for, it could not have been very pleasing to the king. The verse under reference is a piece of internal evidence which goes to confirm the traditional story in the Puranas of Kautilya's part in the revolution which resulted in the overthrow of the ruling Nanda dynasty of Magadha and the establishment of the Mauryan dynasty.

This verse is, therefore, valuable as it demonstrates beyond all doubt that the writer of the extant work of the Arthasastra is the same Kautilya who had contributed not a little to the overthrowing of the old dynasty and to the founding of the new dynasty. Without this verse which is indeed significant the work will not appeal to us as the accredited writing of the first Mauryan Chancellor. The objection that it is a thing not likely to have been pleasing to the king is no argument. Kautilya will not stand to lose by writing thus. There is a baseless version that Chandragupta was not a Kshatriya but of a mixed caste. Granting that he ·was a Kshatriya, a true Kshatriya monarch of ancient days would not unduly take on himself the credit which legitimately belonged to others. And if it were a fact that Kautilya took up arms openly against the reigning dynasty and helped the succeeding dynasty in securing the throne there is no reason for the king to feel displeased at such a statement.

Dr. Winternitz translates the verse as follows:" This text-book has been composed by him, who quickly and impatiently raised the Arthasastra (from former imperfect text-books) passed his sword and took the earth that had passed to the Nandas (out of their hands)." We can have it translated thus: "This treatise was written by him by whom the Sastras (not necessarily the Arthasastra), the science of weapons and the earth that had passed to the Nanda kings were soon and in jealous anger raised aloft." According to V. A. Smith the Nanda king who was deposed and slain by Chandragupta was of low caste and a heretic hostile to the Brahmanas and the Kshatriyas. He further remarks that "the nine Nandas were considered to be unholy persons unworthy of inclusion in orthodox Hindu annals". Then it is clear that during the period of the Nandas that both the sastras of the Brahmanical science and the .Shastra or the Kshatriya science, were in a neglected and decadent condition. This receives corroboration from the Asokan Edicts where Asoka expresses in certain places the neglect of certain institutions and the practice of some aspects of dharma by his predecessors. The elevation to the throne of an orthodox King like Chandragupta led automatically to the elevation of both the shastra and the Sastra. Kautilya who could have played no mean part in bringing about this happy consummation, has expressed in this verse his contempt for the Nandas and his relief at the succession of Chandragupta. As I have said elsewhere he compliments the king by complimenting himself. The verse is then a visible demonstration, by Kautilya, of his satisfaction at the new state of affairs of the kingdom with Chandragupta at its head. And rightly Professor Jacobi reads into these lines "the proud self -consciousness of a great statesman of the Indian Bismarck"! as he calls Kautilya.

(2) There is another statement as explicit as this which mentions that the work was mainly intended for his king (Narendra). Why he felt called upon to undertake this arduous task can be easily explained. Previous to the epoch of the Nandas and the 1lauryas we have not definitely alighted upon any historical ground. If we are going to believe tradition once again, there were a number of short-lived dynasties coming and going, commencing with Parikshit. In these centuries apparently a number of ArthaHtstra teachers and also schools sprang up in the land, and each teacher or follower of a certain school was pushing forward his or its own theory of the state and administration. Kautilya mentions twelve writers on polity who were all his predecessors. He could not afford to neglect them. He often refers to their views either to refute, or to accept them. Kautilya's mission was, it would appear, to critically examine the floating theories on polity as befits the statesman at the helm of affairs of a great empire, and strike at some definite proposals conducive to the good government of the state, and yet in accordance with the traditions of the land. The Narendra who was no other than Chandragupta Maurya must have been pleased with the work, for something definite was presented to him to follow, and by following which he could have the supreme satisfaction of being able to administer the land on right lines.

(3) Another argument is that the contents of the Artlzasastra do not justify the assumption that it is the work of a statesman but only of a Pandit. From the contents of the work it is unthinkable that the hand of the statesman is not present in it. Dr. Winternitz has taken pains to select one or two passages wherein Kautilya has loosely expressed his views, and on the strength of such slender basis, he dismisses the author as a mere Pandit. No one can deny for a moment that there are some places where Kautilya is not definite or assertive. It is probable that in these particulars he was not quite convinced of the prevailing opinions; still expediency might have dictated such a policy under certain circumstances. In such places he could have subordinated his opinion to that of the others. Apart from this construction any other cannot be placed on the so-called weak points in the treatise. But at the same time it is pertinent to remark that there is much truth in the statement that it is the work of a Pandit. And who is a Pandit? He who is deeply versed in a science or sciences is a Pandit. If Kautilya had not established his reputation as a great author on administrative science, viz. 1 statecraft, no one would seriously think of his work or attach any value to it. The king would not have ordered a layman to write for him a manual on statecraft.

Further only the highly learned Pandits occupied superior positions in the government as ministers, councillors, judges, etc. If Kautilya had not been a Pandit he would have been unworthy to hold the Chancellorship of a new government which indeed involved serious responsibilities. The fact was that in ancient times the high class Pandits (the sishytas and Lishytas of the Dharmasastra literature) carried on the civil administration of the realm while the military administration was exercised by the Kshtriya monarch. This does not mean that there was a cut and dried military or civil department which only this class or that class could monopolise. The departments were interdependent and by co-operation everything went on smoothly. Examples of Pandits who had been the soul of administration from both traditional and historical accounts are not wanting. There is the tradition of Vasishtha, the Purohita of king Dasaratha.

Here the king did not take the initiative in any affair without previous consultation with and advice of his Guru and friend Vasishtha. In medieval times we know of Vidyaranya, the minister of the Vijayanagar emperor, Bukka. He was also known as Madhavacharya, the worthy brother of the worthy Sayana, the celebrated commentator of the Vedas. As there was another minister by name Madhava - we can appropriately call him Madhava Vidyaranya.

This Vidyararyya was both a Pandit and statesman. The Brhat-Katha informs us that Katyayana, the famous jurist, was a minister of the Nanda kings. At a period so late as the 17th century we find a Pandit Govinda Dikshitara as the minister of the Tanjore kings. These were Pandit-statesmen, or statesmen pandits who have gloriously adorned many an enviable station in every Hindu state.

Under this category comes Kautilya. He was a Pandit of a rare order as also a keen statesman. If he were a mere Pandit he would not have cared for the opinions or the theories of his predecessors. He would give us a new work completely original wherein· controversial theories would have been rigidly excluded. For example treatises on similar subjects like the Sukranitisara or Barhaspatyasastra do not at all discuss the opinions of their predecessors. much less contemporary v1ews. Rarely do they mention even the names of such treatises. But by discussing other views with care and attention which they deserve, Kautilya shows himself more than a Pandit, and having been acclimatised with the practical administration of the land we can call him a Pandit-statesman. If in a few places he has shown himself a Pandit, in many places he shows himself a statesman.

There is no need to call attention to these special passages. But a reference may be made to a statement of Dr. Jolly himself who remarks that Kautilya must have been "an official in a state of medium size where he had obtained insight into the working of the administration. This means that the German scholar is prepared to grant that Kautilya possessed an intimate or first hand knowledge as regards the different methods of working an administration. If it could be conceded that he was an official, it strengthens the position which we have taken that he was more than a mere Pandit. Tradition affirms that he was an official of much more importance, viz., the Chief Minister. No purpose is served by denying a fact, and the fact was that Kautilya was the Chancellor of Chandragupta. E. H. Johnston remarks: "If it is wrong on the one hand to read into it (the Arthastistra) the ideas of a great statesman or a deep political thinker, on the other hand half its value is missed by treating it as the pedantic theorisings of a Pandit. Later on Johnston shows how Kautilya is profoundly practical in his prescriptions. Suffice it to say here that statesmen in ancient India were generally from the Pandit's class though particular instances of statesmen from other classes are not lacking.


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