Director’s Talk on ‘Kautilaya’s Rajmandala Theory’ At Ramanujan College on 28 Oct 2023

The Arthasastra is a detailed treatise on statecraft. The state is at the core of the Arthasastra. The Arthasastra provides advice to the King on how to govern, strengthen and expand the state.

Written around 4th century B.C, the Arthasastra is an ancient document which remainedin oblivion for several centuries. It was only in 1904 that a full manuscript in grantha script was discovered accidently by Shamashastri in Mysore. He published the text in 1909. RP Kangle published a 3-volume edition of the Arthasastra, translated in English, between 1960 and 1965. The Arthasastra consists of 15 books, 150 chapters, 180 prakaranans (sections) and 6000 verses. Dr LN Rangarajan published an English translation in 1992.

15 books
  • Book -1 to 5 - Internal administration (Training of king, ministers, qualifications, duties, law and admin, crime etc.)
  • Book - 6 - prakrities of a state, rajamandala, external relations.
  • Book - 7 - Shadgunya
  • Book - 8 - Vysanas
  • Book - 9 - War
  • Book - 10 - Ways of fighting
  • Book - 11 - Subjugation of samghyas
  • Book - 12 - Weak king
  • Book - 13 - Congest of enemy’s capital
  • Book - 14 - Occult/secret
  • Book - 15 - 32 tantrayuktis

The King or the Vijigishu, to whom the advice of the Arthasastra is given, is enjoined upon to ensure the wellbeing of his people. The dictum of the Arthasastra is Prajasukhe sukham rajyaha prajanam tuhite hitam (प्रजासुखे सुखं राज्ञः प्रजानां तुहिते हितम्।). At the same time in the realm of external relations, he is advised to subdue his enemies and expand the state.

In Indian thinking human endeavour is to achieve four purasharthas:dharma(duty), artha(wealth), kama (desire) and moksha (salvation). The pursuit of dharma, artha, kama leads to attainment of moksha. The Kautilya says, that the artha a wealth generation is the foundation of Dharma and kama. The Arthasastra comprises the science of economics but economics is related to good governance. The Arthasastra is a detailed manual of statecraft consisting of many subjects: politics, economics, governance, foreign policy, intelligence, military and so on.


In recent years the interest in the Arthasastra has grown exponentially partly due to its antiquity and partly because of his relevance for statecraft. Many translations and commentaries have been published. The corporate world and military strategists have also taken to studying the Arthasastra.

As the world order becomes turbulent and every state rushes to protect its national interest, the Arthasastra has become highly relevant. Even corporates are studying the Arthasastra deeply. Many business scholars and military academies around the world teach the Arthasastra.
The Arthasastra teachings have been regarded by many as arch-realist, verging on unethical and immoral. While many teachings of Arthasastra may be regarded as immoral or unethical, it should be appreciated that it was written in different times in different social and economic conditions. Kautilya separates the individual’s morality and ethics from that of inter-state relations. Kautilya does not reject high moral principles for individual. But he does not agree that conduct of public like should be guided by rules of individual morality. The teaching of the Arthasastra are embedded in the morality and duty preached by the Dharmasastra. Any human action, which increases welfare, is a good policy; otherwise, it is a bad policy, says Kautilya. This, according to the Arthsastra is the ultimate criterion to evaluate one’s policy. The Arthasastra is undoubtedly realist.

Political and economic science was well developed even before Kautilya wrote the Arthasastra. Kautilya mentions the views of many teachers who came before him. There were many Arthasastra schools before Kautilya’s Arthasastra. Kautilya compiled his own while discussing points of agreement and disagreements with others.

Being a treatise on statecraft, Kautilya’s Arthasastra deals with a variety of issues including the state and the key elements of governance i.e. law and justice, finance, taxation, crime, espionage, covert operations, foreign policy, defence and war etc. The treatment of these subjects is comprehensive, rational and logical, relevant even today. Kautilya’s Arthasastra is an advice to the King for good governance, welfare of his subjects, building state institutions, building and consolidating the state’s power and increasing its resources by expansion of territory. Kautilya’s advice is not sentimental. It is governed entirely by the motivation that the state should be strong, well ordered and well run. It should be able to survive in a hostile environment.

For Kautilya, the domestic strength of the state and its internal cohesion is paramount. External relations are to be used to protect and strengthen the state. Foreign policy is important but should be regarded as one of the many instruments of power to be used to enhance the capabilities of the states. External relations and matters of defence need to be taken together.

Kautilya’s Foreign Policy

Kautilya says that the welfare of the states depends upon ensuring security within the existing boundaries and acquiring new territories to enlarge resources. Should the foreign policy be non-interventional or pro-active? This depends upon the circumstances. Foreign policy has six essential attributes – Shadgunya. The outcome of the foreign policy will manifest in the decline, progress or non-change in a state’s position. A state makes progress when the King builds infrastructure and opens up trade routes. It declines when the King’s initiatives fail or the ‘enemy’ makes more progress than the king. A King should properly understand the conditions, which lead to progress, decline or no-change, says Kautilya.

The basic principles of foreign policy are:

  1. Develop a strong state
  2. Eliminate the enemy
  3. Identify allies
  4. Be prudent in choosing a course of action.
  5. Peace is to be preferred over war.
  6. A King’s behaviour must be just in victory and defeat.

Each state has seven prakrities (saptaganga) attributes. These are - The King (Vijigishu), Amatya (ministers), Durg (Fortification), Janapada (population, resources territory), Kosha (treasury), Danda (Army), Diplomacy. Together, these attributes determine the strength of a state and how well it is governed. These elements are dynamic.

Foreign policy can be a policy of non-intervention or overt action. Non intervention builds confidence between the Kings and is a deliberate choice of keeping away from costly foreign entanglement. In some cases overt action is required. The Arthasastra gives a detailed description of circumstances in which one or the other course of action should be adopted.

Amongst the states surrounding the kingdom, there is always one who is the natural enemy. This is the one neighbour who has designs on the King. The other neighbour may be hostile, friendly or vassals. The main target of the conqueror is always the natural enemy.

Allies are important in dealing with the enemy. The real characteristic of friendship is giving help. A friend is ever a well-wisher. An ally who violates the treaty is to be treated with utmost caution.

Kautilya is against both spineless submission and foolhardy valour. Peace should be the preferred choice when the relative power equation isunfavourable and unlikely to change. War is recommended only against a weaker adversary. It is better to attack an unrighteous king than a righteous one. Just behaviour demands that a King shall not take land that belongs to his allies. A King shall also behave in a just manner to a subjugated King.

Foreign policy course is affected by four factors: relative power, deviation from the ideal, classification by type of motivation and the influence of the intangible and unpredictable. Power is dynamic and changeable. A King is advised to forgo short term advantages for long term gains.

Shadgunya: The Six Methods of Foreign Policy

The six methods of foreign policy are: Sandhi (peace), Vigraha (hostility), Asana (staying quite), Yaana (Preparing for war), Smsraya (Seeking the protection of a stronger king or a fort when threatened) and Dvaidibhava (making peace with a neighbouring king to pursue with his help the policy of hostility towards another). The Arthasastra goes into great detail of each aspect and analyses the condition of their use.

Rajmandalas -The Rajmandala, or the circle of the King, consists of 12 kings.

The international system consists of concentric circle with Vijigishu at the centre surrounded by circles of ari, mitra, ari, mitra. Any neighbouring state is a potential enemy and has to be treated with caution. Any state situated on either side of the enemy can be considered as ally. Enemy’s friend is an enemy while enemy’s enemy is an ally.

The complete list of Kings, defined in terms of their relationship of the conqueror is as follows:

  1. Vijigisu - the conqueror king, at the centre
  2. Ari - antagonist, the enemy
  3. Mitra - ally,
  4. ari-mitra - enemy’s ally,
  5. Mitra-mitra - ally of the ally
  6. ari-mitra-mitra - enemy’s ally’s ally
  7. Parshnigraha - enemy-in-the-rear
  8. Aakranda - vijigishu’s ally in the rear
  9. Parshnigraha-asara -rear enemy’s ally
  10. Aakranda-asara -rear ally’s ally
  11. Madhyama -middle king
  12. Udhasina -neutral king

According to another view, there are four principal states or circles:

  • Circle 1– Vijigishu
  • Circle 2- Ari, his friend, friend’s friend
  • Circle 3- Madhyama, his friend, his friend’s friend
  • Circle 4 – Udasina, his friend, Friend’s friend

A few factors, suggested in the Arthasastra, are listed below:

  • The Rajamandala of 12 kings broadly constitutes broadly two groupings hostile to each other
  • The Rajmandala consists of 72 prakrities in all. Each of these kings has five other prakrities: amatya, janapada, durg, kosa and danda (60 in all)
  • Relations among states are to be conducted through dutas or envoys. The types, functions and tasks of envoys are defined in the Arthasastra.
  • The foreign policy formula is that of Shadgunya; samdhi, vigaraha, yana, samsraya, dvaidibhava. The general rule is, follow the policy of samdhi when weak and that of vigaraha when strong. Samdhi might involve surrendering troops, treasury or territory or all.
  • The king should bide his time till he becomes strong and then overthrow the strong enemy. He can violate the one-sided treaties. Samdhis are therefore of temporary nature.
  • The policy of vigaha or hostility is to be followed when one feels the enemy is weak and can be overcome; when he is distracted buy another war.
  • The policy of Asana, or waiting, is to be followed; to wait enemy to become weak; to build own strength.
  • The policy of Yana is to be followed when one is stronger; it includes getting other king to march together.
  • Samsraya or taking shelter is to be followed when one is attacked or threatened by a stronger king.
  • Davaidibhava entails: Samdhi with one king and vigraha with other. This is to seek the help of one king to fight the other.
  • A king should use four Upayas :(Sama, dama, bheda, danda) to achieve his objective.
  • Three types of victories are: dharmavijaya; lobhavijaya, asurvijaya.
  • Regards for the feeling of other kings in the mandala is necessary, otherwise, they will join together to defeat the Vijigishu.

The king has three types of power -

  • Mantra Shakti -Intellect, Knowledge
  • Prabhav Shakti -Army, Economy
  • Utsah Shakti -Proactive use

Although written 2300 years ago, Kautilya’s theory of statecraft as embodied in the Arthsastra is relevant even today. It provides an alternative framework to understand international relations and state behaviours. Study of Arthsastra and other classics of Indian statecraft will provide the source material for developing an Indian framework for understanding of politics and economics in contemporary world marked by flux.

  • While planning an expedition, ensure that none of the prakrities suffers from a vyasana or a calamity.
  • Vijigushu should ascertain that he is superior to the enemy in all essential aspects of three saktis, utsaha, prabhava and mantra. The Vijigushu should also take into account the Desa and ruler.
  • Vijigushu should ensure that there is no possibility of an insurrection when he is away on an expedition.
  • Vijigushu should do a cost-benefit analysis of the expedition.
  • Yudhas are of three kinds : Prakshayudha- open fight; kutayudha; concealed fighting and tusnimyoudha; silent fight
  • If territory is annexed, the Vijigushu should win over the people in that territory, not terrorise or exploit them. The new territory should not be treated as colony.
  • Arthasastra has a whole lot of advice for the weak king to resist the strong king, how to foil the imperialistic designs of the stronger king. How to engineer troubles for the stronger king.

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