4th December 2011
Chanakya’s well regulated system of prostitution in ancient India
I'm amazed at the advanced thinking of Kautilya. In the West, the systematic regulation of prostitution (which was brushed under the carpet in the past) has occurred only very recently (for instance, the state of Victoria in Australia legislated the Sex Work Act only in 1994).
India, on the other hand, had a well-regulated prostitution system 2300 years ago.
My father keeps suggesting that Hinduism should go back to the Vedas. Indeed, I believe there is much that modern India can learn from its past, particularly from its greatest (Mauryan) empire.
I'm not suggesting that we should follow these texts verbatim, but there is undoubtedly much value in their spirit of innovation and freedom.
Unfortunately, Victorian prudishness coupled with socialist policy has led to a rapid spread of AIDS in India. More than anything else today we need realism, not utopia.
The answer is classical liberalism which includes appropriate regulation.
I am providing below a few extracts from Rangarajan's famous translation of Arthashastra on the subject of prostitution. Time permitting, I'll comment on the HUGE difference between Chankya's policies and what socialist India has followed.
I'd like to know what Baba Ramdev or Anna Hazare, the great paragons of Indian "culture", have to say on Chankya's MODERN approach to civilised society.
Extracts from Arthashastra
COURTESANS, PROSTITUTES AND BROTHELS
Providing sexual entertainment to the public using prostitutes (ganika) was an activity not only strictly controlled by the State but also one which was, for the most part, carried on in state-owned establishments [2.27.1]. Women who lived by their beauty (rupajivas) could, however, entertain men as independent practitioners [2.27.27]; these could have been allowed to practice in smaller places which could not support a full-fledged state establishment. A third type of women of pleasure, mentioned in a few places, is pumsachali, perhaps meaning concubines [3.13.37].
As befits a treatise on the economy of a state, the emphasis in the Arthashastra is on collection of revenue. The state enabled the setting up of establishments with lump sum grants of 1000 panas to the head courtesan and 500 panas to her deputy, presumably to enable them to buy jewellery, furnishings, musical instruments and other tools of their trade [2.27.1]. The madam of the establishment had to render full accounts and it was the duty of the Chief Controller of Entertainers to ensure that the net income was not reduced by her extravagance [2.27.10]. Independent prostitutes, who were neither given a grant nor required to produce detailed accounts, had to pay a tax of one-sixth of their income [2.27.27]. In times of financial distress, both groups had to produce extra revenue with the independents having to pay half their earnings as tax [5.2.21,23,28].
The establishments were located in the southern part of the fortified city [2.4.11]. Whenever the army marched on an expedition, courtesans also went with them; they were allotted places in the camp, alongside the roads [10.1.10]. During battle, the women were stationed in the rear with cooked food and drinks, encouraging the men to fight [10.3.47].
It would seem that courtesans not only provided sexual pleasure but also entertained clients with singing and dancing. In specifying their duties, the Arthashastra makes a clear distinction between two types of misdemeanours—showing a dislike towards a client visiting her for normal entertainment and refusing to sleep with him, if he stayed overnight [2.27.20,21]. The description of the training given to a couresan, at state expense, indicates how wide her accomplishments had to be—singing, playing on musical instruments, conversing, reciting, dancing, acting, writing, painting, mind-reading, preparing perfumes and garlands, shampooing and, of course, the art of lovemaking [2.27.28]. A courtesan’s son, who had to work as the king’s minstrel from the age of eight, was also trained as a producer of plays and dances [2.27.29].
It would appear from the above that some families specialized in the entertainment business. However, the Arthashastra specifically states that any beautiful, young and talented girl could be appointed as the head of an establishment, irrespective of whether she came from a family of courtesans or not [2.27.1].
Once appointed, the madam became a very important person. She could aspire to become the personal attendant of the King or Queen [1.20.20, 2.27.4]. Even otherwise, a very high price – 24,000 panas—had to be paid for obtaining her release from her post [2.27.6]. We must note that the amount was the second highest annual salary paid only to the five top officials (like the Chief of the King’s Bodyguards, the Chancellor and the Treasurer). Only such people could afford to buy a madam off as an exclusive concubine.
If a courtesan was promoted to attend on the King, her annual salary was fixed as 1000, 2000 or 3000 panas, depending on her beauty and qualifications [2.27.4]. 1000 panas was the same salary paid to the King’s personal advisers and attendants such as the charioteer, physician, astrologer, court poet, etc.
An interesting point is that the courtesan’s establishment could not be inherited by her son. On the death, retirement or release of the head of an establishment, her daughter (or sister) could take her place or she could promote her deputy and appoint a new deputy. If neither the daughter nor the deputy succeeded her, the establishment reverted to the state [2.27.2,3].
The state not only imposed obligations on prostitutes but also protected them. Having been given a grant by the state and having been allowed to spend a part of her earnings on personal adornment, a prostitute could not sell, mortgage or entrust her jewellery and ornaments to anyone except the madam [2.27.11]. Prostitutes were obliged to attend on any client when ordered to do so, be pleasant to them and not subject them to verbal or physical injury [2.27.12]. In return, stiff punishments were prescribed for anyone cheating or robbing a prostitute, abducting her, confining her against her will or disfiguring her [2.27.14]. Special punishments were also prescribed for depriving a prostitute’s daughter of her virginity whether she herself consented or not; the right of the mother was recognized by making the man pay not only a fine but also a compensation to the mother of sixteen times the fee for a visit [4.12.26].
An imbalance in punishments has to be noted. The penalty for killing the madam of an establishment was three times the release price and that for killing a prostitute in her establishment or her mother or daughter was only the Highest Standard Penalty [2.27.17]. On the other hand, if a prostitute killed a client, she was burnt or drowned alive [2.27.22].
The expression bandhakiposhaka (keeper of prostitutes) occurs thrice in the text, associated always with ‘young and beautiful women’. The keepers were obliged to use the women to collect money in times of emergency [5.2.28], sow dissension among the chiefs of an oligarchy [11.1.34] and subvert the enemy’s army chiefs [12.2.11].
THE CHIEF CONTROLLER OF ENTERTAINERS (COURTESANS, BROTHELS, PROSTITUTES AND OTHER ENTERTAINERS) RESPONSIBILITES
Professions to be supervised:
(i) The regulations regarding courtesans and prostitutes also apply to actors, dancers, singers, musicians, story-tellers, bards, rope dancers [acrobats?], jugglers, wandering minstrels, people who deal in women and women who follow a secret profession.3 [2.27.25]
The wives of actors and similar entertainers shall be taught languages and the science of signs and signals. They shall be employed, using the profession of their relatives [as a cover], to detect, delude or murder the wicked. [2.27.30]
Training of prostitutes and courtesans:
(ii) The state shall bear the expenditure on training courtesans, prostitutes and actresses in the following accomplishments: singing, playing musical instruments (including the vina, the flute and the mridangam), conversing, reciting, dancing, acting, writing, painting, mind-reading, preparing perfumes and garlands, shampooing and making love.
Their sons shall also be trained [at state expense] to be producers of plays and dances. [2.27.2 8,29]
Management of brothels:
(iii) A beautiful, young and talented woman, whether a member of a courtesan’s family or not, shall be appointed as the ‘madam’ of a brothel; she shall be given, on appointment, a grant of 1000 panas [for setting up the establishment].
A deputy shall be appointed, with a grant of 500 panas.
If the madam of a brothel dies or goes away, her daughter or sister shall take over the establishment. Or, the madam can [before her departure] appoint a deputy [promoting her own deputy to be the head].
If no such arrangements are possible, the establishment shall revert to the King [and the Chief Controller shall place it under the charge of someone else]. [2.27.1-3]
(iv) Courtesans shall be appointed to attend on the King in one of three grades, according to their beauty and the splendour of their make-up and ornaments. The lowest grade, on a salary of 1000 panas per month, shall hold the umbrella over the King, the middle grade, on a salary of 2000 panas per month, shall carry his water jug and the highest, on a salary of 3000 panas per month, shall be his fan bearer. In order to add distinction, courtesans of the lower grade shall attend on the King when he is carried in his palanquin, the middle grade when he is seated on his throne and the highest shall accompany him in his chariot.
Courtesans who are no longer beautiful shall be put in charge of supervising court attendants.
Sons of courtesans shall work as the King’s minstrels from the age of eight. [2.27.4,5,7]
[Reference has been made in III.iv to preventing dangers to the King from Queens by ensuring that only trusted courtesans attended on them.]
Courtesans shall cleanse themselves with baths and change into fresh garments before attending on the Queen. [1.20.20]
Release and retirement:
(v) The payment for obtaining the release of a courtesan [the head of an establishment] shall be 24,000 panas and for her son, 12,000 panas.
When they can no longer work prostitutes under a madam in an establishment shall be given work in the pantry or kitchen. Any one who does not work but is kept by someone shall pay 1 1/4 panas [per month?] as compensation. [2.27.6,8,9]
Obligations of a prostitute:
(vi) A prostitute shall not hand over her jewellery and ornaments to anyone except the madam and shall not sell or mortgage them.
(vii) A prostitute shall not show dislike [and refuse service] to a client after receiving payment from him.
She shall not abuse a client, disfigure him or cause him physical injury. She shall not refuse to sleep with a client staying overnight, unless the client has physical defects or is ill.
(viii) She shall not disobey the King’s command to attend on a particular person. [from 2.27.11,12,19-22]
Protection of prostitutes:
(ix) The proper procedure shall be used to take a virgin daughter of a prostitute, whether she is willing or not; coercive methods shall not be used.
(x) No one shall abduct a prostitute, keep her confined against her will or spoil her beauty by wounding her.
(xi) A client shall not rob a prostitute of her jewellery, ornaments or belongings nor cheat her of the payment due to her. [2.2 7.13,14,23]
(xii) In establishments:
Every prostitute shall report the persons entertained, the payments received and the net income to the Chief Controller.
The Chief Controller shall keep an account of the payments and gifts received by each prostitute, her total income, expenditure and net income. He shall ensure that prostitutes do not incur excessive expenditure. [2.27.24,10]
(xiii) Independent prostitutes:
Women who live by their beauty (rupajiva) [not in state-controlled establishments] shall pay a tax of one-sixth of their earnings. [2.27.27]
[The special taxes levied in times of financial distress on prostitutes and brothel keepers are described in [5.2.21, 28] in V.iii.]
(xiv) Foreign entertainers shall pay a licence fee of 5 panas per show [2.27.26]
And so on…