Now we arrive at the last leg of our profound journey of rediscovering Chanakya’s indelible imprint on the civilizational impact on the history and destiny of Bharatavarsha. This facet is perhaps the most important of all: the Sanatana culture, society and traditions, a topic which is the core focus of The Dharma Dispatch as well.
Like his predecessors, Kautilya laid the greatest emphasis on Charitra or the continuance of the customs, usages, and traditions of a country, town, village, community and family. This precept among others informed the time-honoured principle of Dharmavijayi, in which a victorious king maintains the continuity of the cultural traditions of the kingdom of the vanquished king.
As before, we see this reflected throughout all major and minor Hindu Empires, throughout India.
For example, we can observe some common features of the social policy of the rulers of the Gupta, Pallava, Chola, Pandya, Hoysala and the Vijayanagara Empires.
The last great Hoysala monarch, Vira Ballala III maintained a second capital at Tiruvannamalai and personally showed great reverence to the pujas, local festivals, and community customs of that region while he was staying there. During special Utsavas and major festivals, he would personally offer various Pujas and give generous grants. Thus, we have a 14th century inscription near Salem which extols him, addressing him the “Great Udaiyar” (Lord) from the Kannada-naad who gave many donations and renovated an ancient Shiva temple in the region.
In the era of the Nayakas who rose after the fall of Vijayanagara, we have a Tamil Nayaka ruler in the Madurai region who maintained the property of his subordinate chief whose ancestors had migrated from the Kannada country. His family traditions were respected in the court of this Nayaka.
It is also interesting and rather moving to notice the veneration and compassion that Chanakya had for cows, bulls, cattle, and animals in general. He makes the following provision in the Arthasastra for their protection:
Contrast this with the Western and Islamic worldview that everything in this world is solely meant for the enjoyment of Man.
We see the most extreme example of this reverence especially for cows, in the fabulous City of Vijayanagara, the capital. Cows and bulls had the first right of passage on public roads. Every year on the auspicious Vijayadashami festival, cows from the royal barn would be untethered, given an elaborate bath and then, beautifully decorated with garlands. Turmeric and vermilion would be applied on their foreheads, and their bodies would be snugly clothed with expensive and artistic caparisons studded with precious stones and metals. Then the Go-Puja would be performed, and they would be let loose on the streets. These cows would roam through the capital with royal arrogance, and the women (Sumangali) would come out of their homes and worship the cows with turmeric and vermilion, garlands, and some would put necklaces around their necks.
Kautilya’s famous Mandala (or Circle of States) theory and practice is another seminal and lasting contribution, visible throughout our history of Hindu Empires where we see its vivid and effective application. The following self-explanatory graphic illustrates the basic idea of the Kautilyan Mandala.
Over time, this strategy of statecraft evolved into the Dwadasha-raja-mandala or the Circle of 12 States. As Hindu empires grew in size and as Time itself threw up newer challenges, the Mandala system became more complex and intricate. However, a good way for understanding this evolution is as follows:
1. Make a list of the major allies and feudatories of each of our great empires and observe the nature of their relationship with the Emperor and their relationships with one another.
2. Notice what happened when these mighty Empires disintegrated. The classic illustration of this phenomenon is the history of Hindu Empires in the immediate aftermath of the disintegration of the mighty Gupta Empire.
It is impossible to trace even the bare minimum details of this Mandala legacy of Kautilya in this space, so we’ll keep it for another day.
In the limited scope of my studies, perhaps the most neglected area of Chanakya’s impact is the naval or maritime history of India. It would not be wrong to say that even in this realm, the Kautilyan legacy has been rather profound and enduring.
We can offer only the briefest overview here.
In fact, Chanakya and Chandragupta Maurya laid the foundations for the glorious maritime heritage of Bharatavarsha by creating the Board of Admiralty, which directly reported to the War Office of the Emperor. Its head was the Navadhyaksha, or Superintendent of Ships. He was entrusted with all matters relating to navigation, including inland navigation on rivers and lakes, natural and artificial. Next, there was the Superintendent of Ships similar to the modern Port Commissioner whose first duty was to see that all the duties at the port were paid and no tax was evaded. Kautilya also lists a stunning number of port-taxes and their rates.
When we closely read this portion of the Arthasastra with the details of the maritime activity of our great Hindu empires, amazing insights emerge. The Chola was perhaps the greatest maritime Hindu empire ever built. The organisation of its naval and maritime commercial activity bears almost a 1:1 match with Kautilyan rules. This applies even to the Vijayanagara Empire which boasted of a thriving coastal trade both on the East and West coasts. In the entire Cholamandalam coast (Coromandel) in the East, and thriving port-cities like Honnavara, Mangalore, and Gomataka (Goa) in the West, the Vijayanagara emperors had installed powerful Governors who controlled these strategic centres.
A special tax had to be paid by the residents of seaside villages, and riverbanks for living there. This apart, there was a license fee for fishermen amounting to 1/6th of their catch. There were different commodity taxes for maritime merchants. Passenger tax, sailing fees, different levies for carrying quadrupeds or carts on ships and boats, and duties at different rates were levied depending on the merchandise…the details are truly mind-boggling.
Perhaps, the most interesting element in all of this is pearl-fishery and conch-fishery. From the Mauryan era up to even the present, this has remained a highly prized domain. Many Empires built specialized boats for pearl and conch-fishery. They also leased out these Government boats to private players in exchange for a share in the haul. The converse was also true: some empires hired or leased private boats by paying them a fee. Indeed, apart from diamonds and other precious stones, the Vijayanagara Empire derived enormous revenue from pearl and conch-fishery.
At any rate, the enduring impact of Kautilya in this area needs broader and deeper study.
With that, we can conclude this series. I greatly enjoyed writing it and found it personally rewarding. I sincerely hope that, as readers of The Dharma Dispatch, you have found it useful as well.
As I remarked at the start of this series, Chanakya remains the greatest epoch-maker of Santana civilization in the realm of political statecraft. Because he was an original genius, and because he chose statecraft, his impact, influence and legacy became all-encompassing and pan-Indian. And remains so till date.
Chanakya truly belongs to the class of Rishis. In the profound Sanatana tradition, he left behind no copyright for the Arthasastra because it can never be equaled.
Mahamahopadhyaya P.V. Kane brilliantly summarizes the eternal legacy of Kautilya in these extraordinary words:
2300 years ago, Alexander’s raid made one such demand from Bharatavarsha, and Chanakya rose like a Himalayan peak in response. And created history.
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