Relevance of Kautilya's Arthasastra

P. K. Gautam was a Consultant at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detail profile.
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  • January 2013

    The community of scholars needs to study Kautilya's Arthasastra and apply his concepts to political theory and other fields of enquiry, such as intelligence, internal security, war, foreign policy, sociology, political psychology, law, accounting and management. In the past, scholars had to memorise the sutras. This may not be possible now given the declining knowledge of Sanskrit. However, this is no longer a hindrance. The first ever English translation of the text was carried out by Shamasastry, but there are now other English translations of the Arthasastra such as that by R.P. Kangle of Bombay University. 1 However, it is one thing to write a commentary on the basis of a translated text, but another to go back to the root sutra(s) and understand the historical context. Knowledge of the latter is more important for rigorous research and this now needs to be undertaken. Not many scholars who quote the Arthasastra have read the original work, which means that many ideas such as the mandala theory are imperfectly applied, or it is wrongly assumed that all neighbours are natural enemies (which I will explain later).