Without doubt, Kautilya’s Arthasastra is one of the readily-available magic keys to understand the civilizational history of Bharatavarsha. However, it is not merely limited to either our civilization or history. The study of the Arthasastra which has to be concomitant with the study of Kautilya himself, is a profound penance of Hindu civilizational rediscovery and of our own self-discovery.
When we wake up to the dawn of our Sanatana civilization, we clearly notice only a handful of works, which akin to the reddish-orange-tinged Sun, rose on the sky of this sacred geography. And like the Sun, they have remained eternal, showering resplendence and they continue to guide us with that unsetting brilliance. And because they first saw this Sun, their authors—rather, these Tapasvins—have become the epoch-makers of the Sanatana civilization and culture. They are the builders who laid the unshakeable foundation stones of our civilization, the architects who gave it its timeless design, and the sculptors who breathed immortal beauty into it. Which is why they have been exalted and emulated throughout our tradition as Rishis, Munis, and celebrated as Avataras.
And the spheres in which they worked are fundamental in all respects. Thus,
1. In the realm of Darshana, we have phenomenal Rishis including but not limited to Yajnavalkya, Nachiketa, Vasistha, Vishwamitra, Jabali etc.
2. In language, we have Maharshi Panini. For a moment, think about Sanskrit minus Panini to understand the full significance of his contribution. In fact, think of the origin or the fate of other Bharatiya Bhasha sans Sanskrit.
3. In the Arts, we have Bharatamuni’s Natyasastra.
In literature, we have Valmiki Maharshi and Bhagavan Veda Vyasa. The gift of this duo is indeed immeasurable. It is the Ramayana and the Mahabharata that have truly shaped Bharatavarsha, more than any philosophical treatise.
And in the realm of politics and statecraft, Vishnugupta, Chanakya or Kautilya belongs to this same rank of Rishis.
We can think about this in another way. What all of these immortal civilizational geniuses and cultural lodestars did was irreversible. For example, it is possible to undo our Vedantic darshana? Can we…umm...reverse the Natyasastra? Can someone “write” another “original” Ramayana and the Mahabharata? Likewise, can we pretend that the Arthasastra does not exist and conclude that the tapestry of our rich, expansive, and noble political legacy is not shaped by it? In fact, a bunch of half-baked and ill-informed German Indologists did make such attempts in the wake of the rediscovery of the Arthasastra in the beginning of the twentieth century. Some of them argued that the Arthasastra was not a single work but a compilation. Others tried to “prove” that Chanakya never existed. Still others went so far as to compare the Arthasastra with the Mein Kampf and equated Chandragupta Maurya to Hitler! These semi-brains were awarded PhDs for this sort of “research.”
Let it be said that any serious study of the Arthasastra must be done with the conscious realization that it is a phenomenal work of the philosophical genius of a detached Rishi who sought nothing for himself but birthed and chiseled an entire epoch whose legacy lasted for more than two thousand years.
The Arthasastra became epochal because it was also foundational in the sense that Chanakya built upon the older traditions of Sanatana statecraft when he charted a fresh course on the strength of this traditional heritage to which he added his original genius. The result is that he gave Bharatavarsha a grand vision and practical methods to achieve lasting and sturdy civilizational outcomes.
The fact that he is being studied even today by Governments and other institutions throughout the world is another brilliant testimony to this one-man epoch-maker.
Bharatavarsha lost her freedom the day her kings forgot Chanakya. In fact, in Chanakya’s own time, Bharatavarsha stood on the brink of losing her freedom to the Greeks. It was precisely this reality that Chanakya realized and inspired the foundation of the Mauryan Empire, Bharatavarsha’s first truly National Empire.
And when later Hindu kings forgot this Chanakyan edifice, they lost their freedom to desert barbarians motivated by an alleged religion.
However, the ironical fact is that even during the 800-year-long Islamic rule over parts of Hindustan, Hindus still managed to resist, and Hindu Empires continued to exist because Kautilya’s tenets were inextricably embedded in their DNA. Sadly, they failed to re-manifest it in their active life.
The other important fact that we must remember while studying Kautilya is that the Arthasastra is not a book for the faint-hearted. More importantly, no Hindu should be ashamed of it or feel apologetic. On the contrary, we should constantly celebrate it in both our private lives and public spaces because it has ensured that we have still remained Hindus.
The Arthasastra is also unique in the realm of world’s political literature because it is characterized by completeness and integrity as an entire system incorporating public and private law. Like all the Arthasastras that came before Kautilya, his Arthasastra is also a Dharmasastra, and this is what makes the Indian political and legal system unique from the rest of the world. It simultaneously reveals that all-important difference between Bharatavarsha and the rest of the world. Sanatana polity and statecraft is distinguished by Dharma and the rest of the world is distinguished by its absence.
Likewise, we can gauge its importance and impact on our civilizational and political history from what is known as the “relativity” of the work - i.e., how the Arthasastra can be related to a particular region or Empire or historical period. This relativity also helps us gain a genuine and well-rounded understanding of the various currents of political, social and cultural developments throughout the history of India.
To be continued
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