The Concept of Equity in Sukraniti and Arthasastra (A Comparative Study)

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Item Code: NAH534
Publisher: Indian Institute Of Advanced Study, Shimla
Author: Dr. T.R. Sharma
Language: English
Edition: 2011
ISBN: 9788179860892
Pages: 224
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.7 inch x 5.5 inch
Weight 400 gm
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About The Book

Seeking to break a new methodological ground the book conjures up, in comparative perspective, the concept of equity in Sukra and Kautilya not so much on the basis of analysis of their respective major works; Sukraniti of the former and Arthasastra of the latter, but more so by examining their lives, the context in which they operated and the challenges that they faced. In this sense the present study is more extra-textual than textual. The reliance on extra-textual sources seems both appropriate and compelling because there is a near unanimity among the scholars that the extant Sukraniti text is not only corrupt but highly spurious. There is a similar controversy, though less acrimonious, about the authenticity of the Arthasastra text; even the authorship and dates of these works are contested. All these are issues, that scholars fully know, can never be settled satisfactorily. Therefore, rather than pursuing such false trails and thereby shying away from finding ways to discern the nature of their political concerns, the central focus of the present study is to examine their role as mentors and strategists in the major power struggles of their times; the stellar role of Sukra in the wars between the Aryans and the non-Aryans, particularly the one between Yayati and Varishparva at one time and between Visnu-Indra axis and Bali at the other; and the role of Kautilya in the intense no- holds- barred struggle for the throne of Magadha between the Nandas and the Mauryas and to cull out there-from their respective positions on critical issues like equity and social justice. The specific focus of this study is on the class character of these struggles, the positions that the two took, and the cause which each of them cherished, fought for and successfully accomplished.


About The Author

Dr. T.R. Sharma, till recently a Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla retired as Professor of Political Science from the Punjab University, Chandigarh where he also worked for some years as the Honorary Coordinator of the Centre for nearly twenty five years he taught, among other places, at Government College, Bilaspur and Chamba and also that Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla, in addition to a couple edited works, Dr. Sharma has authored two books; one on Indian Communism and the other on Marxist Theory.



It has been very rightly said that choosing to work on ancient India is like choosing to plunge into a fathomless ocean. This is so because ancient Indian literature consisting of the four Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva); four upa- Vedas (Dhanurveda, science of archery; Ayurveda, the science of medicine; Gandharva Veda, science of music and dance; and Sthapatyaveda, the science of architecture); six Vedangas (limbs of the Vedas) i.e. Vyakarana (grammar), Jyotish (astronomy), nirukt (etymology), Shiksa (pronunciation) Chanda (meter) and Kalpa, Alankar the twelve Brahmanas including Aitareya, Satapatha, Taittiriya, and Gopatha among others; the Aranyakas; nearly a dozen Upanishads including Chandogya, Kena, Prasna, Mundaka and Mandukyad Katha; the six schools of philosophy (Nyaya, Poorva Mimamsa, Vaisheshika, Sankhya, Yoga-Darshan and Uttara Mimamsa); four Kalpa Sutras (Shrauta, Grihya, Dharma and Sulbh); eighteen Puranas (Matsya, Markandeya, Bhagavata, Bhavishya, Brahma, Brahmanda, Brahmavaivarta, Vayu, Vishnu, Varaha, Vamana, Agni, Nardiya, Padma, Linga, Garuda, Kurma and Skanda and equal number of Upa-Puranas (sub or auxiliary Puranas); eighteen Smritis and the two epics (the Ramayana and the Mahabharata) constitute a plethora of literature which is so extensive, so diverse and so dense that it is beyond the capacity of a single human being to comprehend, analyse and interpret even a fragment of it. The contribution of very accomplished scholars who have spent their whole lives in trying to analyse and interpret it is no more than a mere grain of sand in a vast desert or a drop of water in an ocean.

Then there are those who have remained engrossed only in tangential issues, who have not analyzed or interpreted any ancient Indian text or even a part of it; but have rather engaged themselves in futile debates. For instance, there is a lot of controversy as to who were the Aryans and where did they come from? One view is that the Aryans came from central Asia via the north-west India and captured Madhyadesa (central India) and Brahmvarta (the Indo- Gangetic plain stretching to eastern India). In the process of this expansion they pushed the original inhabitants of these regions to the south of Vindhyas or to north-east India or drove them into forests. There is also a view that the Aryans and the non-Aryans signify two different racial groups, one which came from Syria and the other from central Asia. The latter followed the former. They came in waves and those who came later drove away those who had come earlier. In the present study, we have taken the view that the Aryans and the non-Aryans belonged to different racial stocks and the latter were the original inhabitants of the land who resisted the Aryans expansionist agenda.

The problem, however, does not end here. There are endless debates among scholars about the authenticity of a text or the exact date of its creation or its real author, questions, which they fully know cannot ever be satisfactorily settled because of the historical distance involved and because of the total absence of any reliable evidence, literary, archeological or any other. They are like those who go to the ocean but instead of taking a plunge continue to sit on the shores trying to count the waves, little realizing the futility of their whole exercise. Of course, they do tend to dampen the efforts of those who are seriously interested in understanding the ancient texts.

Having chosen to work on a couple of ancient Indian texts it was difficult for me to decide whether to take a plunge or count the waves. There were problems in choosing either of these two courses. While joining the debate about the authenticity of the texts or about the dates of their creation seemed to me to be a mere wild-goose-chase; choosing to study a thinker of the past by analyzing his text, which the established historians and indologists considered spurious, seemed academically unsound if not worthless. Caught in this dilemma I thought it appropriate to charter a new course and make an attempt, howsoever modest, to understand a thinker by interpreting some of the events and activities with which he is, by tradition, associated, and where such association is not seriously doubted or contested and thereby to intuitively capture the essence of his ideas. The reader will find that in an effort to do so there is some degree of repetition in this work, particularly about the whole argument highlighting the inadequacy of the textual approach in an area like the one which I confronted and hence the. need to rely on extra-textual literary sources.

The problem of interpretation, however, did not end there because I soon discovered that the whole narration of events with which most of the thinkers of the remote antiquity are associated had strong spiritual and moral overtones. Moreover, most of the orientalists seem to have given a colouring of mythology to the whole narrative by projecting the battles fought between the Aryans and the non-Aryans during the remote antiquity as battles between devas (gods) and asuras (demons). However, the present work looks at these battles by shedding off the anthropolatry cloaks woven around them, but in doing so there is no intention whatsoever to denegrade or belittle the Hindu gods and goddesses or to hurt the feelings of their devotees. Rather, the intention is to hammer the point that the ancient Indian texts need not be treated merely as books on prayers to gods or on rituals or sacrificial invocations or oblations to manes or magical incantations and mystic techniques for meditation. They are more than that. They need not be viewed merely as moral and religious texts; rather they should be treated as social and political treatises which indeed they are. Consequently, the whole narrative need to be viewed as struggle for power between different communities or racial groups. Of course, the scriptures do constitute what is popularly called the dharmasastra tradition which is aimed at promoting the three goals of human life: Dharma (righteous conduct), Artha (material well-being) and Kama (worldly pleasures). After the inclusion of Moksha (salvation) as the fourth goal, overshadowing the other three, the thrust of the scriptural literature of antiquity appeared to me to be more spiritual than temporal, more 'other-worldly' than 'this worldly', more 'moral' than 'political'. Some issues relating to public administration, state-craft or institution of kingship are indeed discussed under what has come to be called the Arthasastra tradition but this whole tradition is subordinated to the injunctions of Dharmasastra tradition. In fact, the former is no more than a hand-maid of the latter. This spiritual-moral perspective may, otherwise, be very useful in its own right but it is not relevant to the scope of the present study whose thrust is political. Therefore, the task at hand, in this study has been to cull out or construct the 'political' from what is projected primarily as the 'spiritual' and the 'moral'. More particularly, the relevant issue for the present study has been to ascertain and identify the form and content of equity in these narratives. This task has been by no means easy and in the process of doing so there have been several hiccups.

Notwithstanding such difficulties, it has indeed been a great challenge and a great thrill to make political sense of some of these narratives of remote antiquity from the perspective of equity and justice. I have immensely relished working in this direction. I must confess that it has been the rarest of the rare opportunities at the dusk of my academic career to remain engrossed in this academic adventure. At the end of it all, when I look back a realization dawns on me that I would have missed something important in life if I had not got this opportunity to look at this rich treasure house of knowledge. For this I owe a debt of gratitude to the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, particularly Professor B.L. Mungekar, its Chairman for all the encouragement that I got from him. I also profusely thank the then Director of the Institute, Professor Bhuvan Chandel for giving me this opportunity. I am also beholden to the Library staff of the Institute for all the help that I got during the course of this study. I must also place on record my grateful appreciation for the officers and employees of the Institute for the utmost kindness and consideration that they have shown to me during my three years stay which has been academically rewarding and socially memorable.

I will be failing in my duty if I do not record my thanks to the various libraries that I visited in connection with the present work. Special mention must be made of Vishveshvaranand Vedic Research Institute and Vishveshvaranand Vishva Bandu Institute of Sanskrit and Indological Studies, Hoshiarpur (Punjab); Parija Library, Utkal University, Bhubneshwar (Orissa); Library of Sri Sankara Sanskrit University, Kalady (Kerala); Oriental Research Institute, Mysore, (Karnataka); Library of Law College and Osmania University, Hyderabad and Nizam Public Library, Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh).

I must also mention that during the course of this study I have greatly benefited from my interaction with the Fellows of the Institute and the IUC Associates. Special thanks are due to Professor O.P. Yadav (now Vice-Chancellor, Rohilkhand University, Bareilly (Uttar Pradesh), Professors S.R. Mehta, B.S. Kumar, Dudhnath Singh, L.P. Pandey, A. Afonso, S.K. Suleri and J.S. Gandhi. However, I alone am responsible for the final form that this book has taken as well as for all the inadequacies and shortcomings. Last but not the least i thank Shri Ranaji for sparing time to type and retype this monograph over and over again.

A slightly shortened version of some of the chapters of this work has been published in Summerhill, lIAS Review Vol. XI, No.1 (2005), pp. 14-20; Vol. XII, No.2 (2006), pp. 11 17 and Vol. XIII No 1 (2007.)



The present study is somewhat unconventional both with regard to its methodology and its scope. It follows a methodology different from most of the current methodologies of interpreting the ideas of political thinkers of the past, particularly those belonging to remote antiquity. In a modest way it attempts to put forth a new genre of research by conjuring up the science of politics of ancient seer and sage Sukracharya (hereafter Sukra) and the great strategist Kautilya, specially the power, not so much on the basis of study and analysis of the texts which are, by tradition, ascribed to them: The Sukraniti (or the Sukranitisara) of the former and the Arthasastra of the latter. Therefore, strictly speaking the approach in the present work is not textual. Further, the present study does not rely wholly on the context in which Sukra and Kautilya lived mainly because the context is not fully known. Thus, the approach is not even contextual in the usual sense of the term. The main consideration for not taking recourse to the textual approach is that the very authenticity of the extant Sukraniti as the work of Sukra has been and continues to be a subject of intense debate. In fact, most of the indologists and historians, both Indian and foreign, have declared the extant text to be partially or wholly spurious. Not only that, even the date of its compilation in the present form is fiercely disputed. So much so that the probable date ranges widely between the early centuries of the Christian era and nineteenth century AD.

Although controversy with regard to the authorship of Arthasastra and the date of its composition has been less intense and the dust raised soon after its discovery around the first decade of the last century now seems to have settled down, yet some lurking doubts about its author and date cannot be altogether ruled out. With regard to Arthasastra it has been rightly pointed out by Shamasastry that an important question which has been engaging the attention of scholars "is one that relates to the names and date of its author and the authenticity of the work itself." He further added that "few are the authors of ancient Sanskrit works, whose date and personality are well known to us, and fewer still are the Sanskrit works, the authorship of which is authenticated beyond doubt. Leaving the Vedic and Brahmanic works which are all ascribed to God himself, there is hardly any Sutra work, the date and authorship of which are not disputed. The same is the case with almost all the Puranas, Kavyas, dramas and philosophic works. Kautilya, the reputed author of Arthasastra, is no exception to this rule of chronological doubt” Given these limitations of text and context the present study relies more, at least in the case of Sukra, on historico-mythological sources like the Puranas and Upa-Puranas which are full of legends, tales, anecdotes and episodes about Sukra" and at times even about Kautilya." Here, it needs to be emphasized that one cannot brush aside the rich mine of information about Sukra available in the Puranic sources merely on the plea that they are more of mythological than historical nature. It needs to be recognized that in some way and to some extent all these mythological accounts are closely related to historical reality. Many scholars are of the view that the Puranic legends are a part of popular history having behind them some real events which actually happened although a little fanciful embroidery in skirting may have been added to them by projecting the stories about some rare heroic acts of some highly accomplished human beings as stories of gods. According to some scholars myths are useful vehicles of historical truth and need to be distinguished from Akh yana which are imaginary narratives about gods. Thus, the meaning of myth ranges from something largely fictitious to something entirely true. The point is that even behind the purest myth some pre-historic truth may be hidden. In this sense, mythology is history presented as a fable in which divine status is accorded to an exceptionally gifted human being (a great warrior like Indra, for example) or to a whole group or a community (the Aryans, for example). Alternatively, a divine being may be presented in human or animal form. (While the first is called the anthropolatry the second is known as anthropomorphic.)

So for information on major events one can safely rely on Puranic accounts. In addition to the Puranic and Upa- Puranic sources one can also turn to the Vedas, the Smritis, the nitis and the epics. As far as Sukra is concerned there are references to him (either by his popular name or by his other names) in the Rigveda. In addition to the scriptural sources one can also turn to romantic and folk literature of antiquity like Hitopadesa, Pancatantra, Kadambari, Budhacharita, Kamasutra, Kathasaritasagara, Mudraraksasa, Dashkumarcharita etc. to supplement and crosscheck the facts about life and mission of Sukra and Kautilya. Although the account of events given in these sources may not always match fully and may be deficient in many respects, yet one can easily discern some common thread in the narratives which would be sufficient to provide a peep into the contours of their politics. While surfing these diverse sources and going through the various legends contained in them one is bound to realize that there is a better reflection of their politics in their political manoeuvres and in the way they carried out the respective missions that they had taken upon themselves than in the textual analysis of the works which bear their name. So for want of a better term one may say that the approach in the present study is somewhat akin to hermeneutical-interpretative. At least partly, if not wholly, the approach is extra-textual. To the present author this extra-textual approach seems quite appropriate for understanding and analyzing not only the broad contours of politics of Sukra and Kautilya but also for comprehending their respective conceptualizations of equity. In fact, such extra-textual hermeneutical-interpretative approach is necessary and probably unavoidable because of the suspect nature of Sukraniti text and the total paucity of archaeological or other irrefutable evidence to which one may turn in order to understand his science of politics. In fact, the events with which Sukra was associated speak volumes for his commitment to justice and equity. In other words, despite all doubts and disputations about the date and authenticity of the Sukraniti text, there is no controversy about the stellar role that Sukra played in his capacity as the preceptor of some powerful non-Aryan kings in the course of their intermittent wars with the expansionist Aryans. Same is true about the role that Kautilya played in the overthrow of the Nanda dynasty from the throne of Magadha and in the installation of Chandragupta Maurya in its place. Neither the orientalists nor the historians have contested the veracity of these events and the part played by Sukra and Kautilya in them.




  Preface vii
  CHAPTER I: Introduction  
1.1 A Note on Methodology 1
1.2 Equity, the Problem of Definition 11
1.3 Summing up 28
  CHAPTER II: Life and Times of Sukra and Kautilya  
2.1 Sukra: A Profile 32
  2.l.1 Sukra's Genealogy 36
  2.l.2 Sukra's Unparalleled Brilliance 40
2.2 Who was Kautilya? 41
  2.2.1 Kautilya's Diplomatic Moves 48
  2.2.2 Kautilya's Epitome of Political Intrigue 53
  CHAPTER III: Equity as a Value  
3.1 Conceptualization of Equity in Sukra: Moral, Socio-Cultural and Political Dimensions 61
  3.l.1 The Nature of Wars 63
  3.l.2 Sukra and the Caste Politics of the Aryans 67
  3.l.3 Cultural Contestations and the Role of Sukra 70
  3.1.4 Gender Justice 76
  3.1.5 Ends and Means Relationship in Sukra 79
3.2 Conceptualization of Equity in Kautilya: Moral, Socio-Cultural and Political Dimensions 88
  CHAPTER IV: Equity as an Instrument  
4.1 Equity in Sukra: Legal-juridical 108
4.2 Equity in Kautilya: Legal Juridical 134
  4.2.1 Status of Women 145
  Conclusion 157
  Bibliography 165
  Appendices 185
  Names Index 199
  Subject Index 203
  Glossary 209

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