Thoughts on economics and liberty

Were Chanakya and Kautilya different? There is a significant debate on this issue

Having been introduced to Arthashastra by the Rangarajan translation, I was under the  impression that Chankya and Kautilya are the same person. As Rangarajan states in his book:

All sources of Indian tradition— Brahmanical, Buddhist and Jain—agree that Kautilya (also referred to as Vishnugupta in a stanza traditionally included at the end of the work) destroyed the Nanda dynasty and installed Chandragupta Maurya on the throne of Magadha. The name ‘Kautilya’ denotes that he is of the kutila gotra; 5 ‘Chanakya’ shows him to be the son of Chanaka and ‘Vishnugupta’ was his personal name. (Rangarajan)

As I was reviewing the society depicted in the Arthashastra for evidence regarding Hindu religion including caste, it became clear that its currently assumed date is inconsistent with Sanjay Sonawani’s thesis on caste and religion. If the Arthashastra is a Mauryan era document, it seems to depict a strong impact of the varna system and of Brahmins in Indian society.

The religion of the Arthashastra is clearly Brahmanism, with emphasis on the supremacy of the Vedas; for ‘the world, when maintained in accordance with Vedas, will ever prosper and not perish’ {1.3.17}. The teachings of other religions and sects, like Sakyas or Ajivikas, are not mentioned but their followers were sometimes treated with hostility {3.20.16}. There were holy places, temples and sanctuaries of the various religions and sects but the nature of religious life mentioned below applies mainly to the Brahmanical religion. (Rangarajan)

This would either suggest an “invasion” of the Vedics in sufficient large numbers and sufficiently early, to have gained political power and patronage by the 3rd century BC.

One Manu is cited in Arthashastra, but according to Rangarajan, he is:

Not the Manu of the Manusmriti (the Code of Manu) which is a codification a few centuries after Kautilya, judging by the nature of the Hindu society described in it, especially on the role of women, widows’ right to remarry, etc. (Rangarajan).

Now, the dating of Manusmriti and Arthashastra become critical pillars in Sanjay Sonawani’s thesis.

The first thing is that Sanjay is of the view that Kautilya and Chanakya are different.

I had not heard of such a thing but checked and discovered that there was a HUGE debate in the historical literature on this issue for nearly 50 years in the early parts of the 20th century. Thereafter, the debate seems to have died, although a review of a 1989 article on this subject doesn’t clarify the issue either way.

The following article is absolutely critical to study: A HISTORIOGRAPHICAL CRITIQUE OF THE ARTHAŚĀSTRA OF KAUṬILYA by Suresh Chandra Mishra, Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Vol. 70, No. 1/4 (1989), pp. 145-162. (If you don’t have access to JSTOR you can read it free online).

In addition, in 1971, Thomas R. Trautmann published a book, Kauṭilya and the Arthaśāstra: A Statistical Investigation of the Authorship and Evolution of the Text which
is a reproduction of his doctoral thesis of 1968 from the University of London. This book’s findings are not cited in Mishra’s 1989 article, which is, to that extent, incomplete and inconclusive.

In 1990, G. Bhagat published: KAUTILYA REVISITED AND RE-VISIONED in The Indian Journal of Political Science, Vol. 51, No. 2 (April – June 1990), pp. 186-212 (you can read it free online) that claims that the debate has been settled and there is no further discussion needed of the question.

But in 2014, we have this article: The Dependence of Manu’s Seventh Chapter on Kauṭilya’s Arthaśāstra by Mark McClish, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 134, No. 2 (April-June 2014), pp. 241-262 (you can’t read this freely, but must subscribe to JSTOR), which makes a bold finding: that “Manu appropriated material from Kauṭilya’s treatise”. This would suggest that Rangarajan is correct to suggest that the Manu cited in Arthashastra is different to the one who wrote Manusmriti.

A 2012 article worth reading in this regard: Prathama Banerjee’s Chanakya/Kautilya: History, Philosophy, Theater and the Twentieth-century Political, History of the Present, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Spring 2012), pp. 24-51. (Again, free only for JSTOR subscribers)

Indian history is a jigsaw puzzle that’s virtually impossible to solve. I’m hoping that Sanjay can solve this puzzle with adequate proofs.

One thing is clear: if Sanjay’s thesis stands the test of evidence and is therefore ultimately accepted by all historians, it will genuinely shake India. There is, however, a long way to go to get to that point.


The following is from Buddha Prakash’s CHANDRA GUPTA MAURYA IN THE SHĀH-NĀMĀ OF FIRDAUSI, Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute ,Vol. 36, No. 3/4 (July – October 1955), pp. 270-291 (available to read freely online):

We know for certain that Chandra Gupta won the throne of Magadha under the guidance and inspiration of Visņugupta Chãnakya. From the time he fell under the influence oi Chãnakya until his death he followed his advice and acknowledged his authority. His association with Chãnakya is borne out by the unanimous evidence of Indian records.

What about citations of Arthashatra? These are all WELL AFTER the Maurya period. This paragraph from a 2009 book suggests that the Arthashastra was written in around the 4th century AD. [Velcheru Narayana Rao and Sanjay Subrahmanyam’s Source: Notes on Political Thought in Medieval and Early Modern South India, in Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 43, No. 1, (Jan., 2009), pp. 175-210 (can read free, online)]

The speculation of the past few decades is that it may date from the fourth-century CE, but it is really quite difficult to make a definitive pronouncement on the matter. Buddhist sources seem to have been quite negatively disposed both to the text-on account of its alleged amorality-and to its author as a personage. We may note that the Kamandaka or Nitisara also comes from broadly the same period, but slightly later, and that its author Kamanda states that he knows the Arthashdstra, specifying that the
text’s author was Kautilya, also known as Vishnugupta. Kamanda also appears to be the source for the confusing claim that Kautilya was the one who broke the power of the Nandas. In a similar vein, the author of the Mudrdrdkshasa, the Sanskrit play of Vishakhadatta from about 6oo CE, seems to have known and used the Arthashastra.


Sanjeev Sabhlok

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