Origin and Framework of Arthasastra

Origin of Arthasastra

Kautilya was from ‘kutil gotra’9, hence the name Kautilya. Since he was born at Chanaka and his father’s name was also Chanaka, he came to be known as Chanakya (Rao, 1958:3).10 Kautilya’s Arthasastra is a compendium of and commentary on the then existing texts on polity and statecraft.11 Kautilya presented them in a coherent and systematic manner and refined them on the basis of his enormous experience as the Chief Minister in the court of Chandragupta Maurya.

There is a controversy regarding the authorship of Arthasastra. Many Occidental scholars have argued that Kautilya could not have authored it as many of the concepts in the treatise were practiced only in the later epochs. It has been suggested that Kautilya is merely a pseudo name for a later author(s) who belonged to the school of thought associated with Kautilya.13 These contentions are disputed by Indian scholars who point out that many of the concepts used by Kautilya are in fact associated with only the fourth century B.C.

Framework of Arthasastra

Arthasastra means the science (sastra) of wealth/earth/polity (artha). This treatise is divided into sixteen books dealing with virtually every topic concerned with the running of a state – taxation, law, diplomacy, military strategy, economics, bureaucracy etc. Arthasastra advocates rational ethic to the conduct of the affairs of the state. The emphasis is on codification of law and uniformity of law throughout the empire.

The basis of good governance is knowledge and Arthasastra classifies knowledge into four categories

  • Anvikasi (philosophy). This is considered to be the “lamp of all sciences”.
  • Trayi (the three Vedas – Sama, Rig and Yajur). These texts establish the four classes (varnas) 15 and the four orders (ashrams).
  • Varta (economics, specifically agriculture, cattle breeding, and trade).
  • Dandaniti (science of government and politics).

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