The name of the work comes from the Sanskrit words Artha (“aim” or “goal”) and Shastra (“treatise” or “book”) and the goal of the work is a comprehensive understanding of statecraft which will enable a monarch to rule effectively.
The Arthashastra is an Indian treatise on politics, economics, military strategy, the function of the state, and social organization attributed to the philosopher and Prime Minister Kautilya (also known as Chanakya,Vishnugupta, l. c. 350-275 BCE) who was instrumental in establishing the reign of the great king Chandragupta Maurya (r. c. 321-c.297 BCE), founder of the Mauryan Empire (322-185 BCE).
Kautilya was an academician at Taxila University . He is referred to as the Indian Machiavelli as a result of his undisputed and shrewd techniques and policies, which mirror a “realist” approach to politics, diplomacy and warfare.
The Arthashastra is informed both by Hinduism and the practicality of the philosophical school of Charvaka which rejected the supernatural elements of the faith in favor of a completely materialistic view of the universe and human existence. Charvaka claimed that only direct perception of any given phenomena could establish truth and so encouraged a practical approach to life which included logical, reason-based, action in response to circumstance.
The Arthashastra follows this same course in dealing with subjects such as when and how a ruler should assassinate family members or rivals and how one should view foreign states as enemies who are contending for the same resources and power as one’s self and how to neutralize them most effectively.
On the King’s Role & Responsibilities: True kingship is defined as a ruler’s subordination of his own desires and ambitions to the good of his people. A king’s policies should reflect a concern for the greatest good for the greatest number of his subjects.
Warfare as Politics: The Arthashastra suggests a king wage wars of expansion when the economy is strong and the nation prospering so that one will have a reserve of resources in leaner economic periods. The treasury should be maintained at a comfortable level at all times and military campaigns should not be launched, no matter the provocation, if one cannot afford a prolonged engagement.
Economy & Society: The economy was based on agriculture. so Kautilya emphasizes the importance of robust agricultural initiatives for an abundant harvest which will go toward filling the state’s treasury.
Taxes, however, must be fair to all and easily understood by the king’s subjects. Some businesses were state owned and operated and others were private, but both were subject to the same tax laws.
Marriage: Kautilya, in Books II, III, and IV, states that a girl should be free to marry anyone she chooses as long as she respects her parents’ property rights. If the parents approve of, or arrange, a marriage then the girl may take from her parents’ home anything she has received from them; if not, then she may take nothing.
Caste System: Both the Manusmriti and the Arthashastra speak with approval of the caste system.
Any person who has once voluntarily enslaved himself shall, if he runs away, be a slave for life. The ransom necessary for a slave to regain his freedom is equal to what he has been sold for. Failure to set a slave at liberty on the receipt of a required amount of ransom shall be punished with a fine.
If a slave who is less than eight years old and has no relatives, no matter whether he is born a slave in his master’s house, or fallen to his master’s share of inheritance, or has been purchased or obtained by his master in any other way, is employed in mean avocations against his will or is sold or mortgaged in a foreign land;or if a pregnant female slave is sold or pledged without any provision for her confinement, her master shall be punished with the first amercement.
Throughout the entirety of the Arthashastra, it is made clear that the king is solely responsible for how well the kingdom functions and so the king must be willing and able to pursue any course of action, no matter how seemingly questionable or personally distasteful, to ensure the stability and success of the State.
The Arthashastra is thought to have paved the way for Chandragupta’s success as well as that of his grandson Ashoka the Great (r. 268-232 BCE). The work was considered lost, its existence only known through references to it in later pieces, until it was discovered by Shamasastry in 1905 CE. Shamasastry published the work in 1909 CE and then translated it into an English version published in 1915 CE which brought Arthashastra to the attention of a world-wide audience