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Statecraft in Ancient India Notes

Ideas and Institutions in Indian Political Thought DSC-2


Chapter-1 Statecraft in Ancient India

The Hindu thinkers tried to understand the state by differentiating it from the non-state. Their method was logical differentiating it from the non-state. Their method was logical as well as historical. That is, in the first place, they tried to investigate in what particulars the state analytically differs from the non-state; and in the second place, they tried to picture to themselves how the pre-statal condition developed into the statal, i. e., how the state grew out of the non-state. The chief solution of both these problems they found in the doctrine of matasya nyaya or the logic of the fish.

Let's try to understand what are other stories beside hindu theory regarding state and non state existence.

European Thinkers

  1. According to Hooker (I554-I6oo) in the Ecclesiastical Polity the state of nature is a state of strife.

  2. Spinoza (I632-77), also, expressed the opinion in his Tractatus Theologico Politicus, that the state of nature is a state of war and a state of the right of might.

  3. John Stuart Mill remarked ' The non-state is thus conceived to be a war of "all against all "' an " anarchy of birds and beasts ", and a regime of vultures and harpies'

  4. The Hobbesian "' law of beasts and birds or the Naturprozess of Gumplowicz is the logic (nyaya) of the fish (matsya) in India.

Chinese Thinkers

  1. Su Hu explains in The Development of Logic in Ancient China, " each man has his own notion of right. Therefore one mina, " each man has his own notion of right. Therefore one man has one notion of right, two men have two notions of right, and ten men have conceptions of right will there be. Consequently each man ap- proves his own notion of right and denounces every other man's. So they denounce one another."

Hindu Theory of State Origin -

Theory of Origin of the State by Manu

  • Manu’s Theory of Origin of the State ,according to Manu, lord created the king when there was fear due to chaos in the society (state less society).

  • King was created by combining the eternal particles of Indra, Pawan, Yama, Sun, Agni, Varun, Moon and Kuber.

  • He presented a divine theory of political obligation devised to instruct the subjects to obey the king, and goes as far to claim that even if the king is an infant, he should be respected and revered because he is actually a deity in human form.

  • Protection of subject was considered as the primary duty of the king because that was the reason for his creation. He is expected also to protect all castes and order.

  • He mentioned inflicting punishment to wrong doers as an important duty of king considering that the threat of punishment was essential to maintain social order. In return the subject were obliged to pay taxes that is used by king for social welfare as well as to build a treasury for difficult times.

  • A king who fails in his duties shall go to hell after death.

Important Features of State by Manu

  • Manu also builds an organic theory of the state, i.e., it has seven limbs with specific functions and only when each do their job well, can the state survive and prosper. His theory is also referred as Saptanga theory as it also includes seven elements with minor differences from Kautilya. The seven elements mentioned in Manusmriti include:

  1. Lord (King)

  2. Minister

  3. Capital (Pura)

  4. Rashtra (kingdom)

  5. Treasure

  6. Army (or force)

  7. Ally

In the Manusmriti version of Saptanga theory, fort and janapada (of Arthashastra) are replaced by pura and rashtra, i.e., capital and kingdom. Presents an organic theory of state.

  • King is pivotal to the structure. He is the linchpin who maintains the structure and provides all support.

  • Appointment of the ministers is one of the central duties of the king. He used the understanding of Arthashastra to argue that appointing the right minister to the right department is a significant administrative duty and much depends on it for statecraft.

  • On the subject of appointment, he suggest of five criterions: tradition,ability, examination, fulfilment of objectives and test of courage.

  • Manu considered secrecy as essential for state craft and hence believed that the king should consistently test the loyalties of his staff.

  • Unlike Kautilya, Manu held that on policy matters the King should not only hold wider consultations, but stresses that even Brahmans should be included in this deliberation. Clearly, he suggested that administrative role of the king could not be fulfilled without the support of Brahmans.

  • Manu also suggested that the king should devolve the power effectively along with providing each department more autonomy and independence. Unlike Kautilya, he also allowed for greater autonomy to core departments like finance and army. In fact, he suggested thathe king should seek advices on his ministers and listen to them objectively.

  • Manu opined that power had tendency to make people corrupt. So, he suggested for constant surveillance of administrative officer.

  • He firmly asserted that King should behave like a father to the public and as a guardian he was dutybound to improve the lives of his people. At the same time, he was also expected to be most worried about the interests of the needy and the week in society including children, women and the aged.

  • He maintained that the King should reflects the characteristics of different animals as and when need be: he must act as a tortoise, who is an expert in protecting its weakest points whenever it senses any threat; he must bear patience like heron and never act in haste; he should have strength like that of lion; he should be opportunist to maximize his national interest just like wolf snatches its prey; and it should be like hare, ever attentive and always very agile, even if it has to retreat form a situation.

  • Like Kautilya, Manu also advocated accession of territories to increase influence. He held that king should always be ready to use force, when need be, to protect and promote his national interest. It is both natural and justified duty of king.

  • Unlike in Arthashastra, Manusmriti has detailed lists of immunities and privileges designed for Brahmans. They are given special status. In fact, at times, it appears that Manu recognised two simultaneous authorities: king as the temporal authority and the Brahman as the spiritual authority. Both according to him were joint custodians of the sacred laws or the principles of dharma.

State Jurisdiction

  • The end of government, according to Manu, was to help people in the accomplishment of moral righteousness, wealth and the pleasure (Dharma, artha, and kaama). So, the

  • King was expected to consistently endeavour to achieve these aims in consultation with his ministers.

  • He was expected to provide protection and security to his people from both internal as well as external enemies. Internal enemies might include thieves, robbers, or those planning political turmoil, but at the same time it also included those government servants who were corrupt or who misused their powers to oppress the people.

  • According to Manusmriti, the state should perform the following function: make all Varna observed their duties (Dharma), observance of general law, maintenance of peace within the state and keep the state free from external control. Besides these the states should make laws for controlling the price of important articles.

  • It is also expected to maintain the social order and if need be to for the Vaishyas to carry on trade, agriculture and animal husbandry, as well as compel the Sudras to serve the dwijas (the higher caste). It is also within the scope of state to interfere to resolve crisis or conflict among different groups.

  • It is further the duty of the state to impart good education to its people and take good care of the teachers and the taught.

  • For accomplishing these duties, the king is also given the power to levy taxes as well as the power to punish those who digress from the path of righteousness.

The Law of Fish - Matsaya Nyaya

  • It is the fundamental law of nature that small fish become prey to big fish or the strong devour the weak. It can be equated to the ‘Law of Jungle’.

  • Otherwise we can say,the strong will prevail over the weak.

  • In absence of government or rule of law, the human society will degenerate into state of anarchy in which stronger will destroy or exploit the weak much like how bigger fish eat smaller fish.

  • If in our society, if we take out the government, the rules, the order and in a matter of hours the human society will degenerate into a state of anarchy in which the stronger one will destroy and devour the weaker ones like the fishes. In modern times, we can call it the “Law of the Jungle”

  • So, according to this, the theory of government was based on a belief in the innate depravity of man.

  • It is seen that in the ancient texts of Sanatana Dharma, the theory of governance was formed keeping in mind the evil nature of the man.

A good leadership uses the best combination of the “4 Fold Policies” of Kautilya to find a solution to Matsya Nyaya from time to time.

  1. Sama (The wise ruler must maintain peace among his subjects)

  2. Dana (Means charity)

  3. Danda (punishment)

  4. Bheda (The wise ruler must use Bheda to promote welfare of the state)

  • Thus, this theory proposes that government, rulers and laws are necessary to prevent this natural law of ‘Matsya Nyaya’ from operating in human society.

Kautilya’s Saptang Theory of State:

  • The Mauryan era of ancient India gave the world a significant treatise, the Arthashastra of Kautilya. It offers deep insights into political statecraft.

  • Although not Kautilya's original idea, he connects the Saptanga/Seven Organs theory to thestate's organization. As the name implies, a state is a collection of seven components thateach serve a specific purpose and cannot exist by themselves.

  • Kautilya is known as the Indian Machiavelli because of his ruthless and shrewd tactics and policies reflecting an approach to statecraft including warfare.

  • The state of ‘nature’ is imagined to be one of total anarchy, in which ‘might was right’.

  • People were oppressed by Matyanyaya, the law of the fish, according to which the bigger fish swallows the smaller ones they selected Manu– son of Vivasvat the king.

  • It was settled that the king should receive one-sixth of the grain and one-tenth of merchandise and gold, as his due.

  • It was the revenue which made it possible for the king to ensure the security and prosperity of his subjects.

  • People agreed to pay taxes and he ruled by one person in order that they might be able to enjoy well-being and security.

  • In Kautilya’s Arthashastra, there is no explicit theory of social contract as laid down by the contractualist. Neither does Kautilya use the contract to make the king all powerful.

Key Elements of State

Kautilya enumerated seven prakritis or essential organs of the state. They are as follow

  1. Swami (The Ruler)

  2. Amatya (The Minister)

  3. Janapada (The Population)

  4. Durga (The Fortified Capital)

  5. Kosha (The Treasury)

  6. Danda (The Army)

  7. Mitra (Ally and Friend)


Kautilya’s Mandal Theory or Mandal Sidhant

  • The Mandal theory revolves around Mitra. One of the most remarkable ideas of ancient Indian statecraft is the doctrine of mandala.

  • The theory of Mandala is based on the geographical assumption that the immediate neighbor state of a given state is most likely to be an enemy and a state next to the immediate neighbor is likely to be one’s friend.

  • Thus, after a friendly state comes an unfriendly state (friend of the enemy state) and next to that a friendly state (friend of a friendly state) and so on.

  • Thus, this form circles of friends and foes with the central point being the King and his State.

  • According to Kautilya,the states which are one’s neighbours and are also neighbours of one’s enemies are neutral and should always be treated with respect.

  • This circle is dynamic and the King should strive to expand his central position and reduce the power of the other kings in his vicinity.

  • As per the theory it is to build alliances with states which are two degrees away from the center to create a balance of power.

  • Chanakya advocated six-fold policy to interact with the neighbors, which included co-existence, neutrality, alliance, double policy, march, and war. He advised the king to resort to five tactics in order to follow the six-fold policy.

  • The five tactics are conciliation, gift, and bribery, dissension, deceit and pretence, open attack or war.

Mandal theory of kautilya deals with the circle around kings which king have to deal with . These circles are basically divided into friends and enemies of king by mandal theory .

As per the Shadguna theory, states participate in diplomacy and war using the six methods of foreign policy which are :

  1. Sandhi:- The peace treaties should be made with specific conditions to promote welfare and development. According to Chanakya, one can enter into a treaty with one’s enemy and it could be broken when one grows strong.

  2. Vigraha:- The policy of hostility is recommended to be followed by the stronger state. The hostilities can be conducted as open, secret, undeclared or clandestine attacks. Diplomatic wars too are justified on all levels.

  3. Asana:- The policy of remaining neutral is highly recommended when both states are equal.

  4. Yana:- Very careful consideration is to be made before taking the important decision on wars. Since the preparation for war and the long march entailed heavy expenditure and prolonged absence from the capital.

  5. Samsraya:- The policy of seeking protection of a stronger authority can be practised by entering into alliances or by signing a treaty.

  6. Dvaidhibhava:- This is the policy of seeking peace with one authority in order to pursue hostilities with another.

The main thrust of the Mandala theory was to acquire power and wealth for the conqueror. Kautilya analyzed the concept of strength and categorized it into three


  • Mantra Bal, the power of deliberation.

  • The second kind of strength consists of the possession of prosperous treasury of Prabhu Bal.

  • Utsaliq Bal, denoting the basic strength of sovereignty, including the material power in terms of physical strength.

Thus, the Mandala theory of inter- state politics, as expounded by Kautilya, is an exercise in practical politics and is relevant for all times. Kautilya inspired the king to determine his foreign policy only after a careful assessment of the strength and achievements of his allied and hostile states.

In general we can define state theory in three categories -

1. Social Contract Theory -

  • The social contract theory, one of the common theories of the origin of state, believes that state is a result of a contract between the king and his subjects or representatives.

  • The king, thus appointed, was expected to save the state and the subjects from external aggression and establish order and security within the state.

  • However, the earliest Vedic works never stated that state was the result of a contract. But, they clarified that king was elected to wage a successful war against the demons.

2. Divine Origin Theory (The oldest theory)

  • Theory of origin of kingship as well as the state was not widely acclaimed in the ancient Indian polity.

  • The king, according to this theory, was a subordinate to law, which was made by the society and not him.

  • The community as a whole was given greater importance than the king. The king was not allowed to act indiscriminately and was expected to act as a father to his subjects, and treat them with affection and kind­ness.

  • The great epic of India, the Ramayana, also clearly laid out that king was of divine origin. It is stated therein that men approached Brahma (the Creator) to provide them a king and accordingly after all the Gods spared a portion of their power, a being in the human form emerged and was made the king.

  • The Mahabharata, another great epic, explains that king is a person endowed with superior talent and calibre descended from heaven to the king on the earth.

  • Puranas also describe the divine origin of the king and the state. The Agni Purana states that the kings were embodiments or forms of Lord Vishnu (the god who sustains the earth).

  • Some kings had titles like Chakravarthi— universal emperor, while some of the Mauryan emperors conferred titles like Devanam Priya, beloved of Gods, upon them.

However, certain ancient scriptures like Manusamhita explain that the origin of state is from the divine. One such excerpt from Manusamhita is that ‘the Lord created the king for the protection of his whole creation … even an infant king must not be despised (from an idea) that he is only a mortal, because he is a great deity in human form’.

3. Organic Theory

  • This theory believes that state is like an organism and that each organ has a specific function to perform.

  • The theory believes that the healthy functioning of the whole organism depends upon the healthy conditions of each part of the body or organism and its efficient functioning.

  • The seven parts of the body, that is, state are the king or the sovereign, the minister, the territory and population, the fortified city or the capital, the treasury, the army, the friends and the allies. Among all the seven elements or parts, it is the king who is most important.

  • The Matsya Purana states that the king was the root and the subjects were the trees. Similarly, Sukra Neetisaara, compares the state with that of human body.

  • According to Sukracharya, the king is the head, the ministers the eyes, the treasurer the mouth, the army the heart, the fort the hands, and the territory the feet. Mahabharata also supports this theory and that every element or the limbs are important for the proper functioning of the state.

“A King should not hesitate to break any friendship or alliances that are later found to be disadvantageous.”

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19. Dez. 2023
Mit 5 von 5 Sternen bewertet.

Thank you so much dii ❤️🤌

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Tabrej Saifi
Tabrej Saifi
24. Dez. 2022

Very well

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