Revelance In Modern Indian Strategic Context

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This single treatise on the Science of Politics has been prepared mostly by bringing together the teaching of as many treatises on the Science of Politics as have been composed by ancient teachers for the acquisition and protection of earth.

Indian strategic thought in modern times is more often than not submerged in the western thought processes. Allusions to Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, Clausewitz and more recently the treatise on ‘Unrestricted Warfare’ by the two Chinese colonels is recurrent in the writings on theories of international relations and warfare, mostly crafted by the developed countries. Orations on political science consider the idea of the state as an European phenomena. Lessons on political theory and political philosophy confine to the Greek Trinity of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and stay within the Western World. Modern India, at times, seems to flounder in its responses to these thought processes.

India, a nation, which bequeathed ‘Zero’ to the world, is justifiably determined not to be reduced to a nonentity in the international arena. As it marches firmly into the 21st Century, it would do the nation a world of good, if it pauses, and looks back hard, at the rich strategic and military heritage of its own, stretching back to more than two and a half millennium of recorded history. Significant amongst them would be Kautilya’s Arthashastra – a cornucopia of economic, political, diplomatic, administrative, military and strategic perspicacity. Many of the aspects of a ‘State’ that the Westphalian system incorporates in 1648, were already done by the Kautilyan State in 300 BC. India, it seems, has unfortunately turned its back on its rich heritage.

Does this fourth century BC treatise have any relevance for modern times? Do we have anything to learn from it? Or is Kautilya predestined to be relegated to the dustbins of history or ordained to a few convenient quotations? Can we be justifiably proud of his astuteness or flinch at some of his statements to the point of disowning him or both? Has modern day warfare and international relations moved far ahead so as to render his teachings to be extraneous? Do we need to spend valuable time studying his manual? These are some of the thoughts that arise in the mind, as one occasionally picks up and glimpses through the Kautilya’s Arthashastra.


With the above background, the following hypothesis has been formulated:-

The timeless nature of Kautilya’s teachings has significant relevance, both in the present and foreseeable future, for the conduct of foreign policy and warfare in the Indian context.

Statement of the Problem.

To prove the line of argument mentioned in the hypothesis, statement of the problem of the dissertation is as delineated below.

To study the salient teachings of Kautilya and analyse their relevance, with

respect to foreign affairs and warfare, in the Indian context, in the present and foreseeable future.

Justification of the Study.

Kautilya or Kautilya also known as Vishnugupta has had a reverential fascination for the Indian students of warfare. For many Indians, brought up in the Sino-Indian rivalry, subconsciously, he has been India’s answer to China’s Sun Tzu (544 BC-496 BC) – their nearly contemporaneous lives furthering their comparisons. However, unfortunately, the Indian Army has never institutionalized the study of Kautilya and his famous treatise Arthashastra. Promotion exams have never deemed it fit to cast a glance at the man and his work while seriously lapping up lesser mortals. But for a research project or a dissertation once in a couple of years, the neglect has been deafening. Stray quotes, often without the benefit of a serious study, do embellish individual speakers talks/presentations. Various seminars such as the “Indian Art of warfare” by the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) in 2008, “One Hundred Years of Kautilya’s Arthashastra” by the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) and a “Workshop on Kautilya” by the IDSA on the 18 Oct 2012 have been held, however, no serious effort has been made to make Kautilyan Arthashastra a mandatory part of the curriculum in Indian Army. To be honest among ourselves, much of what passes for strategic thinking in India today is derivative, using concepts, doctrines and a vocabulary derived from other cultures, times, places and conditions. This is why, with a few honorable exceptions like the home-grown nuclear doctrine, it fails to serve our needs, impact policy, or to find a place in domestic and international discourse [2] .

By reading Kautilya (and other texts like the Shantiparva of the Mahabharata) “one is reminded of the rich experience in our tradition of multipolarity, of asymmetries in the distribution of power, of debate on the purposes of power (where dharma is defined), of the utility of force, and of several other issues with contemporary resonance. In many ways it is India’s historical experience of poly-centric multi-state systems, plurality, and of the omni-directional diplomacy and relativistic statecraft that it produced, which is closer to the world we see today.

Does this fourth century BC treatise have any relevance for modern times? Do we have anything to learn from it? Or is Kautilya ordained to be consigned to the dustbins of history or relegated (as he is at present) to a few convenient quotations? Can one be justifiably proud of his teachings or cringe at some of his statements to the point of disowning him or both? Has modern day warfare and international relations moved far ahead to render his teachings irrelevant? Do we still need to spend valuable time studying his manual? These are some of the thoughts that arise in the minds as one occasionally picks up / glances through Kautilya’s Arthashastra. It is interesting to note that many other antagonist countries neighbouring India, have studied Kautilyan theories in greater detail than we have, only to use Kautilyan model to contain and degrade Delhi’s power. The study is believed to be a part of the curriculum in the Defence Services Staff College at Quetta.

The study of Kautilya’s Arthashastra has to be annealed by the realism that the world has definitely moved on, especially since the Industrial and Informational Ages. The more significant of the changes include:-

Nation-States have emerged since the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 and have replaced monarchies.

Democracy has spread its roots wide and deep and a more egalitarian society is on the upswing, albeit with glaring exceptions.

The idea of war as the ‘preferred option’ to settle disputes has been largely replaced by war as the ‘frowned upon option’ in international forum with deterrence being the buzzword.

Economics and trade in an progressively globalised and symbiotic world have become major thespians in the arena of international relations. Multi National Corporations (MNC) has grown in stature, power and influence.

Religion as a factor has gained disproportionately greater prominence in international relations.

Terrorism and fourth generation warfare have begun to alter the fundamental rules of warfare.

Scales of destruction wrought by nuclear and conventional weapons have increased by phenomenal multiples coupled with increased battlefield transparency, real time data transfer, precision strikes and communications.

Human migration and the consequent influence – positive and negative – of diasporas have created subtle pressure points.

Notwithstanding the dramatic transformation in the society and conduct of warfare and diplomacy, any serious student of warfare needs to study Kautilya’s Arthashastra. But why?

As practitioners of national security, to gain a deeper understanding of ancient Indian military tradition. It is not only sufficient to lay claims as one of the world’s ancient civilizations, as military men, it is important to understand the military contribution to the growth of ancient Indian civilization.

Certain aspects of warfare, international relations and internal security do not change and are timeless. Nation states are primarily driven by their national interests. Hence we must not fail to learn from the wealth of accumulated wisdom of centuries of yore since “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it” [3] .

Although, we live in a world that is different from Kautilya’s in terms of technology and experience, But human responses are still similar, as is the behaviour of the states that humans create and run. Human emotions, however rational and cool, are the basic drivers of policies and actions at all levels. Reading and understanding Kautilya helps us by broadening our vision on issues of strategy.

To develop pride in Indian lineage of strategic thought.

To reconnect with the rich Indian tradition of strategic thought and contribute to the evolution of our own strategic vocabulary and thought.

The fact that the script of Arthashastra was discovered only in 1905 and was translated and published in 1914, gave it a delayed start over many other schools of thought. Moreover, India at the height of Non-violent Independence Struggle and Gandhian-Nehruvian- Buddhist ideology had no place for Kautilya Neeti with its strong streak of Realist School of Thought. Indian’s own lack of pride in Ancient Indian Civilization and the desire of the elite to read English, speak English, think English and behave English could have led to the marginalisation of Kautilyan thoughts.

The difficulty in studying Kautilya and his times are due to the cartographic gaps, poor state and progression of maps and the controversies about the age and identity of the Kautilya himself. The contemplations about the age of the work vary between 4th century BCE and 3rd Century ACE. There are different views about the authorship of the ArathaShastra. One holds that Kautilya was a single person who wrote it by himself while the other claims it to be a compiled “work by authors under the rubric of Kautilya.” A few scholars find the traces of all strategies and diplomacy within the Arthashastra while others allege that its importance is magnified and overstated.

English translations published, including those of foreign authors were serious scholarly studies. Even Penguin’s ‘Kautilya, The Arthashastra’, a mammoth classic of 868 pages authored by L N Rangarajan (LNR) and published in a simplified form in 1992, dissuaded many but the most ardent of the readers. Arthashastra remained out of reach for all but the serious scholars. However, to the credit of the scholars, both Indian and foreign, it must be well acknowledged, that they have done a monumental service in bringing Arthashastra to our doorsteps. The Indian defence forces immersed in their studies of military campaigns and principles of warfare propounded by Europeans and Americans have found little use (but for a few quotations here and there) for a man who was supposed to have ‘penned’ his thoughts during the Mauryan Era. In fact, the Indian defence forces have largely been guilty of neglecting pre-independence home-grown military craft and strategic thought.

We are afflicted with neglect of our pre-modern histories. India’s supposedly incoherent strategic approach is actually a colonial construct, as is the idea of Indians somehow forgetting their own history and needing to be taught it by Westerners who retrieved it to perpetuate colonial rule and, after independence, to induce self-doubt and a willingness to follow.

Limitations and Certain Guidelines Followed

The study is limited by the author’s inability to understand Sanskrit, the language in which Kautilya wrote his Arthashastra. The research is hence based on English Translations of Kautilya’s Arthashastra.

Prof RP Kangle’s seminal three volume publication, The Kautilya Arthashastra, has been considered as the basis of research, supplemented by Prof LN Rangarajan’s 868 pages classic, Kautilya The Arthashastra, published by Penguin, Dr R. Shamasastry, the first discover and translator of manuscript of Kautilya’s Arthashastra and other publications mentioned in the bibliography.

The names Kautilya and Kautilya have been interchangeably used since different authors have used either or both the names. Mostly, the dissertation has endeavoured to use the name Kautilya.


This study will begin with the Arthashastra itself with more detailed consideration to those portions that specifically deal with interstate relations and warfare. Although there is a substantial text related to the economic, political, administrative, judicial and strategic aspects of the state, they will not be discussed in this thesis.

Methods of Data Collection

The study is based on descriptive research. All the information for the study is gathered from various books available in the library and from the Internet. The following books have been consulted:-

The Kautilya Arthashastra by RP Kangle (CDM Library).

Kautilyan Arthashastra by MB Chande (CDM Library).

Kautilya Arthashastra original translation by R. Shamasastry in 1915.

(Internet Download

The First Great Political Realist : Kautilya and his Arthashastra by Roger Boesche (Recommended to be procured by CDM library – USD 28).


The dissertation is organised into six chapters. Chapter One deals with introducing the subject, hypothesis and the methodology of the research. It is proposed to study the subject under the following heads:-

Chapter 2 – Introduction to Kautilya and his premier work the Arthashastra.

Chapter 3 – Essentials of Kautilyan teachings on foreign affairs and their relevance to modern times in Indian context.

Chapter 4 – Kautilyan thoughts on conduct of warfare and their relevance to modern times in Indian context.

Chapter 5 – Recommendations & Conclusion.




Kautilya is well known in history as a kingmaker. He overthrew the last king of Nanda dynasty and placed the great Maurya Chandragupt on the throne and established him in Magadh. Magadh was the largest, richest, and most powerful kingdom in India in 300 BC. Kautilya was also known by other names such as “Vishnugupt” and “Kautilya”.

There are various theories about origin of Kautilya. One theory is that he was a brahmin from Kerala who was in the court of Nanda King at Patliputra. Another states that he was a North Indian brahmin, born and educated at the famous town of Taxila who came to Patliputra to win laurels in philosophic disputations. Kautilya was known for his proficiency in the Vedas, skill in strategy, intrigue and also physical ugliness.

There are various legends about the meeting of Kautilya and Chandragupt Maurya. Some say that Chandragupta was of a royal lineage and while he was shunted out from the Nanda Kingdom, saw a young Brahmin pouring sugar syrup on some grass so that the ants could eat up the grass which had cut his feet. Seeing the determination and perseverance of Kautilya, he asked him for help. Another story goes that the scholars of Patliputra recognising the genius in Kautilya had honoured him by making him president of a ‘Sangha’ (Trust), which administered king’s grants and charities. The king felt disgusted at the ugliness of Kautilya and developed contempt towards Kautilya. There was no refinement in the words and conduct of Kautilya. The king removed Kautilya from the post of the president, Kautilya vowed to uproot his dynasty. During his wanderings, he came across Chandragupta Maurya. He found Chandragupta and other boys playing in a field. In their games Chandragupta was always the king and other children brought their problems to him. Kautilya was impressed by the wisdom of the child and chose him to be the king. While it is not the purpose of this research paper to question the veracity of the the origin of Arthashastra, it is nevertheless necessary to briefly touch upon this subject – with a larger aim in mind.

Whatever may have been the true circumstances of their meeting, both needed each other. After Kautilya got Chandragupta educated at Taxila, together they set about attacking the Nanda kingdom. Jointly they succeeded in defeating the king and installing Chandragupta as the king. They expanded the empire and created a vast kingdom in the Indus valley and the Gangetic plains even destroying the Greek-Macedonian troops led by Alexander the Great and firmly established the Maurya Empire. Once the empire was established, Kautilya retired from active life and is believed to have written Arthashastra during that period around 320 BC. Scriptures say that it is more in upbringing that makes a man as compared to his genetic makeup or even the company he keeps. Therefore it is important to know the atmosphere in which a person was brought up to make out his essence. However, our ancient historians and writers were not well versed with keeping a very exhaustive record of their times. This becomes more evident in the case of Kautilya whose early life has not been recorded. However, almost all agree to the fact that Kautilya was born to a well read scholar who knew the importance of education. It is this background that needs to be examined in any objective study of Kautilya.

Kautilya has been misunderstood by a lot of people, mainly the modern western scholars. He was fearless, not afraid of death, disgrace or defeat. He was compassionate of the poor and kind and evil to schemers. His writings which clearly show his fearlessness in the pursuit of truth have been echoed over 2000 years later when Swami Vivekananda cried out, ‘Arise, Awake, and Sleep not till the goal is reached.’

Probably the most accurate description of Kautilya can be found in Nehru’s words in the ‘Discovery of India’, ‘Kautilya has been called the Indian Machiavelli and to some extent the comparison is justified. But he was a much bigger person in every way, greater in intellect and reason. He was no mere follower of a king or a humble adviser of an all powerful emperor’. He was bold and scheming, proud and revengeful, never forgetting a slight, never forgetting his purpose, availing himself of every device to delude and delude and defeat the enemy. He sat with the reins of empire in his hands and looked upon the emperor more as a loved pupil than as master. Simple and austere in life, uninterested in pomp and pageantry of high position, when he had redeemed his pledge and accomplished his purpose, he retired to a life of contemplation.

There is an ethical undertone in his thought and teaching. If one looks closely into his teaching, it is seen that Kautilya advocated moderation in material pleasures and adherence to the path of righteousness. He himself lived such a life, refusing all adornments or riches even after establishing the first Indian empire. He constantly exhorted to give up sensory pleasure and cultivate qualities like kindness, patience etc. In talking about the four stages of life (commonly followed in Hinduism), he feels mixing of spiritual and sensual aspects are essential with the former slowly displacing the latter in stages. One can go on and on with illustrations to prove Kautilya’s farsightedness, keenness of perception, and infallibility.


In 1902 a little known Bhatta Swamy of Tanjore chanced upon 168 palm leaves of text written sometime in the 4th century BC, he handed it over to a Sanskrit scholar Dr Rudrapatna Shama Shastry, who was a curator at Oriental Research Institute (ORI) of Mysore. Dr Rudrapatna Shama Shastry deciphered it to be the Kautilan Arthashastra and published the text in1909 and an English translation in 1915 along with an ‘Index Verborum’ listing the occurrence of every word in the text. Subsequently another original manuscript and some fragments, in a variety of scripts, were discovered. Dr R Shamasastry then revised his original translation.

In addition to Dr R Shama Shastry’s translation there is an edition of the text with a complete Sanskrit commentary by T Ganapati Sastri, a German translation with voluminous notes by Mr JJ Meyer, a Russian translation and translations in many Indian languages. Sometime in 1960s Dr RP Kangle of Bombay University published an edition of three volumes which contained the text with precise numbering of the verses, an English translation and an exhaustive study. In 1990 Dr LN Rangarajan published an edited and rearranged translation that has grouped the verses and improved clarity.

Dr RP Kangle first published his three-volume edition between 1960 and 1965. The Volume – I contains a definite critically edited text with precise numbering of the Sutras and Verses, Volume – II is an English translation with the detailed notes which take into account all other translations and Volume – III is an exhaustive study. [4] The reference in this dissertation to Kautilya Arthashastra i.e. the Book, Chapter and Shlokas is from Kangle’s English translation i.e. Volume – II, unless otherwise specified.

Arthashastra is a the product of centuries of evolved strategic thinking. Kautilya himself cites several previous authorities differing views on many issues. Bharadvaja, Vishalaksha, Parasara, Pisuna and others are mentioned often. Kautilya argues with them, while presenting their views before his own. Sadly, what we know of many of them is limited to what Kautilya tells us [5] . Kautilyan Arthashastra is a treatise on Arthashastra by Kautilya. The word ‘Artha is the sustenance or livelihood (Vrtthih) of men; in other words, it means ‘the earth inhabited by men’. Arthashastra is the science, which is the means of the acquisition and protection of the earth. In words of the author himself – The subsistence of mankind is termed artha, wealth; the earth which contains mankind is termed artha, wealth; that science which treats the means of acquiring and maintaining the earth is the Arthashastra, Science of Polity. The Arthashastra, literally translated as the “art of wealth,” is an example of a genre common to the period. Arthashastra is a handbook for the king on art of governance.

It is defined as the Shastra that shows how this activity of the acquisition and protection of the earth should be carried out. Arthashastra has a two-fold aim. First, it seeks to show how the ruler should protect his territory. This protection (palana) refers principally to the administration of the state. Second, it shows how territory should be acquired. This acquisition (labha) refers principally to the conquest of territory from others. Artha is understood to stand for material well-being as well as the means of securing such well-being, particularly, wealth. Thus, Arthashastra is understood as the science dealing with state affairs in the internal as well as the external sphere – it is the science of statecraft or of politics and administration. [6] The name Arthashastra for the science of politics and administration, though unusual, appears to be quite old and even finds mention in Mahabharata [7] . Thus the two cover the whole range of state activity.

The Kautilyan Arthashastra contains fifteen Adhikaranas or Books, 150 Chapters, 180 Sections and 6000 Shlokas [8] . Of these, the first five deal with ‘tantra’ or the internal administration of the state, the next eight deal with ‘avapa’ or relations of a state with neighbouring states, while the last two are miscellaneous in character. [9] Kautilyan Arthashastra is a detailed examination of all factors affecting the internal administration of the state, foreign policy and waging war. The topics covered by each of these 15 books are given below: –

Book 1. Deals with king – his training, the appointment of ministers and other officers of the state, the daily routine to be followed by the ruler and his safety and security.

Book 2. Describes the duties of various executive officers of the state and a full picture of state activities in agriculture, mining, leisure activities and so on.

Book 3. It is concerned with law and the administration of justice, reproduces a complete code of law.

Book 4. Deals with the suppression of crime and includes sections on detection of crime, control over merchants and artisans, torture and capital punishment.

Book 5. It is a miscellaneous collection of topics including the salary scales of officials

Book 6. It is very short, containing only two chapters, but both are important, since they set out the theoretical basis for the whole work. The first chapter sets out the theory of the constituent element of a state and the second the theory of foreign policy.

Book 7. It contains an exhaustive discussion on the way in which each of the six methods of foreign policy may be used in various situations that are likely to arise in the conduct of foreign policy.

Book 8. This is concerned with Vyasanas, usually translated as calamities, which may affect adversely the efficient functioning of the various constituent elements.

Book 9. Deals with preparation for war and includes topics such as the different kinds of troops that could be moblised, the proper conditions for starting an expedition and the dangers to be guarded against before starting.

Book 10. This book is concerned with fighting and describes the main battle camp, types of battle arrays and different modes of fighting.

Book 11. This book has only one chapter and describes how a conqueror should tackle oligarchies governed by a group of chiefs instead of a single king.

Book 12. It shows how a weak king, when threatened by a stronger king, should frustrate the latter’s designs and ultimately overcome him.

Book 13. This book is concerned with conquest of the enemy’s fort by subterfuge / fight. It also describes how the conquered territories should be ruled.

Book 14. It deals with secret and occult practices.

Book 15. Describes the methodology and the logical techniques used in the work. [10] 

Disputes Over Period of Arthashastra

The arguments put forth by the non-traditional school are many. The significant ones amongst them are outlined in the succeeding lines. There are no references to Chandragupta Maurya and his kingdom and his rule in Kautilya’s Arthashastra. It also does not refer to the wars fought by Chandragupta. Megasthenes, the Greek Ambassador at the court of Chandragupta Maurya, in his famous account, ‘Indica’, does not refer to Kautilya at any time. Julius Jolly a German scholar for example, argues that according to Megasthenes, Indians knew only five metals and were inexperienced in mining and metallurgy, but the Arthashastra shows a highly developed technical skill and knowledge of chemical processes including knowledge of alchemy. [11] Hence it belongs to a later date.

There’s also no reference to Pataliputra, the capital of Chandragupta Maurya at all in the text. Further, the text is primarily addressed to the ruler of a comparatively small state, a member of a circle of twelve more or less similar states. [12] This argument is also advanced to imply that the treatise was written much latter, even later than the Gupta period, when there was no empire in India.

With respect to place names which figure in the text in Book 2 (The Activity of the Heads of Departments), K Nag has this to say “Every serious historian will hesitate to consider as written in the fourth century BC, a treatise containing names like Harahura and Kapisa, Kamboja and Aratla, Bahilika and Vanayu (Arabia), Tamraparni and Pandyakarataka, Suvarna Kudya and Suvarna Bhumi, Cina and Nepala.” [13] The mention of Cina has been especially singled out to indicate that the name came to be used for China only after the Chin dynasty established its sway over the whole of China in the second half of the third century BC [14] . The appearance of the word ‘surunga’ – a tunnel is shown by Otto Stein that the word is Greek in origin and hence a work making such frequent use of the word could not have been written so early as the fourth century BC [15] . Further, Stein asserts that the Arthashastra cannot claim a higher antiquity than those sciences, which the Chapter 2.10 (The Topic of Edicts) presupposes, viz, stylistics, niti and writing [16] . The use of Sanskrit instead of Prakrits for writing royal decrees (as was done during Ashoka’s period and the practice of the Satavahanas [17] is also held up to indicate a later date.

Others state that Arthashastra uses Philosophical Sutras, which appeared not before the fifth century AD. Certain well known treatises having similarity of content, like Yajna Valkaya, Manu Smriti, SilpaShastra AlamkaraShastra and Kamasutra of Vastsyayana have also been referred to, to indicate that Kautilya’s Arthashastra could not have preceded them and hence has to be assigned a later date (third or fourth century AD).

Some like RG Bhandarkar refer to the circumstance that Patanjali in his Mahabhasya [18] does not mention Kautilya, though he refers to the Sabha of Chandragupta and to the Mauryas. He therefore concludes that Kautilya must be assigned to a date later than that of the Mahabhasya [19] .

Kangle in his seminal work has considered each of these objections and a few more. He then goes on to systematically put forth convincing arguments against them and proves that Kautilya’s Arthashastra was indeed written in the fourth century BC. Megasthenes Indica is not completely available and is ‘preserved only in fragments’. One cannot be

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