Compare The Nature Of Ideal Kingship in the Arthashastra and Yoga Vasishth.
Thesis: The books Arthashastra and Yoga Vasistha are treasures of the Indian culture. Written thousands of years ago but they hold importance to date. The books have laid the foundation for governance of the state by its head the “king”. Arthashastra (science of wealth) was written by “Chanakya” or “Kautilya” (370 BC to283 BC). A man of great intellect, Chanakya laid the foundation of functions of government. He was a professor of economics and political science at the Takshila University. Patliputra was the capital of Magadha kingdom. Once insulted by the king, Chanakya decided to avenge by overthrowing him. For this, he needed a suitable person and he found that in Chandragupta Maurya. He became Chandragupta’s guide and advisor and helped him establish Maurayan Empire. Chanakya’s Arthashstra states that people strive for three goals in life Kama (love), Artha (wealth) and Dharma (religion). All these have three different Shastra’s written. Arthashastra is about money. Wealth is related to kingship. Kingship is dependent on economics and politics. So the nature of kingship is of great importance. Arthashastra tells us how to run a country or “Rajya”. It starts from managing an individual’s wealth to the entire states wealth. Wealth is tangible and intangible. Wealth includes land, domestic animals, gold and intangible assets as culture and values. It’s about how people earn their livelihood. They create wealth and manage it. The king’s duty is to create wealth for the nation and protect the land and its citizens.
The Arthashstra assumes that there is a situation of anarchy and chaos. A leader was needed to handle the situation. The leader takes the responsibility of protecting the people. The people in return give something in monetary terms and in “kind” (grains) to the leader. The duties of a king range from managing the kingdom. This system did not work for long. The king then took the responsibility to look after his state. The king was responsible for monetary, foreign and fiscal policies of the kingdom. The revenue was collected in the form of taxes and duties levied on the people. The king in return protected them. We can compare this ideology to our human body, which has different parts, and all of them are to be protected. The kingdom was also divided into parts. The head (king), then the ministers (council of ministers called “mantriparishad”), the kingdom, the palace or fort, the wealth (treasury), the army and the friends or allies. All the above parts or divisions were looked after. The ministers guide the king on important matters. They have a network of people working under them. They help in formulating policies for the state, collection of taxes. A very important part was played by the “spies” or “duta” system. They kept the ministers and king informed about the possibility of foreign attacks , etc. the aim was to establish a powerful position among other territories. The palace had to be fortified to ensure safety. A vast and well trained army was a maintained to protect the people. It added to the strength of the state. The treasury was very important as the kingdom's stability depended on it. The king maintained good relations with a strong ally or friend. The friend or ally could help in the war. The king had to ensure peace in their territory. Peace would lead to flourishing the trade in the state. The economic activity was boosted by this. Chanakya highlit the importance of “family”. The duties should start from the family and then move to the kingdom. Cordial relations were to be maintained in the family. The head of the family was the eldest male member. Each person was required to respect the other.
Moral duties towards the people: the king was supposed to make provision for the sick and old. The king had to make arrangements for people in times of natural calamities like floods, drought, etc.But the main aim to increase the power and wealth of the province. While increasing the power of state one has to be practical. Legal and moral considerations were ignored. It had been happening before, but was put in effect in writing during Chandra Gupta Maurya’s rule. Logic was very important while taking decisions for the state. The state head had was trained in taking reasonable decisions. The whole government should have different committees or councils to decide. There was a hierarchical system of governance. They were also called “Samitis”. Even today we see such examples in the form of panchayats. Maximization of power of the kingdom was supreme; it was very essential.Delegation of duties was carried out with utmost care. Education was a must for all (many renowned universities were set up. The whole set up starts from the family.
The Yoga Vasistha was written by the learned sage Swami Vakmiki. In the sacred book Lord Rama received knowledge from his guru Vasistha. It is popularly known as the “Maha Ramayana”. Different concepts of life are explained in this book through short stories and examples. It is about the spiritual awakening of a person. A king through spiritual enhancement and self realization can get peace for himself and his subjects.The book is divided into four parts or four “prakarans”. Lord Ram belonged to the Aryan Society. He was the perfect example of what a king should be. The king according to the Yoga Vasistha was very learned, wise, spiritually inclined, kind, benevolent and is peace loving. The king or leader who practices self control can stay away from sorrow. And then his subjects can also be happy. Wealth is the mother of evil. So in Ram Rajya wealth increment was not the sole purpose of the activity. The king practiced yoga and pranayam for the right vision of truth. Justice was given with utmost care. The king should let go of his ego to keep his subjects happy. “Satsanga” or the company of saints and learned one’s are a must. Before a king conquers other states, conquering his own mind was essential. Lord Ram was an amalgamation of all these qualities. And that is why till date his era is regarded as the best. The king “Ram” was free from doubt as he had attained “nirvana”. The king was supposed to give justice in true sense. All the leaders were supposed to practice self control. An example of this was seen in the sacred book Ramayana. Lord Ram tells his wife to leave the palace while dispensing justice to a washer man. The king was the defender of faith (dharma). Ethics was on the top priority of the king. The society , was divided into four “varnas” or castes. These were the Brahmins ( learned saints), Kshatriya( warriors), Vaishya( trader) and Shudra( worker serving the other three varnas). Each caste represented for the work they did. But it was not rigid and all the varnas respected each other. The hierarchy of the government is explained with the help of this illustration.
Administrative counselors ( sumanthra)
The king was the head. But the king was guided by sages and learned people. These sages practiced “vairagya” or non attachment .And at times their decision was the final one. As everything was to be carried out according to dharma (faith), the king was supposed to have pure character. The cities were very well laid out. Emphasis was on cleanliness and hygiene. The family was the central unit. The male was the head of the family. There were no clashes among the members. They performed religious rituals with great zeal. It was a “Sattvik” way of leading life. The book also mentions about the kingship down south. The king “Ravana” was learned but was a dictator. The caste of “rakhashas” in Lanka was very wealthy. The palace was made out of gold. But the king was known for his cruelties and atrocities. He did not even spare his brothers when he had to prove his superiority. So there is a contrast in the nature of kingship during the same time period in north and south. The king of Ayodhya used to disguise in plain clothes and would mingle in the common people to see the reality. There is a mention of King Ram’s visit to an old lady “Shabri’s” house and eating her left over fruits to make her feel happy. They travelled their kingdom to see if their subjects were happy. “Darshan” or direct meeting of the king among the common people was also held. Women were very learned and well protected. There was no obsession of wealth. Labour Relations were cordial. Prompt payment of salaries was the king’s most important duty (dharma). The state was well protected by a well equipped and trained army. The king was supposed to have a well balanced budget, but not at the cost of the people. When Lord Ram was exiled and his brother “Bharat” goes to request Ram to come back to Ayodhya. Ram sends his brother back by saying that nothing is above the duty towards one's subjects. The first “dharma” of a king is to serve the people.
Comparison between the natures of kingship: Arthashastra states the governance of kingdom through its economic and fiscal policies. The main aim of the king was to build a powerful and prosperous empire. The legalities and ethics could be put aside in doing so. According to the Yoga vasistha the king was responsible for the economic as well as moral upliftment of his subjects. The king’s duty was to help his people attain the supreme goal in life. It was the the goal of salvation. Being ethical and correct is not necessary according to Chanakya. The king at times had to take decisions like invading the nearby provinces in a very calculated manner. The rules were molded accordingly.
For example, the defeated king’s wealth, assets and wives would pass on to the victorious king. This was not done in lord Rama’s rule. Even the defeated king and his family were treated with utmost respect.Lord Ram was an ideal friend. There are many example of this in Yoga vasistha. The king had allied with king Sugriv , to defeat his brother Bali. After Lord ram’s victory, he kept his promise and made Sugriv the king. Whereas in Arthashastra winning was important at all costs. Friendship could easily be forgotten for it. In the Yoga vasistha form of governance , the word of the council of sages “vasistha” was the final one. Their decisions were above the king’s decision. Valmiki has mentioned this giving an example of King Dasratha. While in the Mauryan era the king was the top most final decision maker. Chandragupta had councils to assist and advise him but the kings verdict was unquestionable.The yoga vasistha has many short stories and “shlokas”, which tell us how to live. The book states that people follow by example. The king is an “ideal” human for them. Once Lord Ram was told to leave the throne and wealth and go away from Ayodhya to stay in the jungle for fourteen years by his stepmother “Kaikayi”. Lord Ram without hesitation gives away his title to throne and leaves with his wife “Sita” and younger brother “Lakshmana”. This is an example of how a son should be. A son’s duty was to follow the instructions of his parents. While in Arthashastra the King is all mighty and powerful, he is the supreme commander. Being an “ideal” for people was not required. The king had many wives and there was always a fight for who the next successor would be. All this often lead to a lot of ruthless killings and bloodshed. Chandra Gupta Maurya was an autocrat; he kept a strict vigil on his ministers and wives. Trust could easily be broken. The Arthashastra lays a lot of stress on education. Chankaya being a scholar laid the foundation of Patliputra as the best place for studies. It had a world renowned university; many students from foreign countries would come to study here.
The king had to be a well learned person. He should be able to chalk out the best fiscal and economic policies. The king was trained for all this. While in the Yoga Vasistha the king was supposed to be well read, but spiritually inclined.The Arhashastra states the government should have some trade monopolies. The government directly controlled areas like gambling places, slaughter houses, mines, arms factories, etc. places of strategic importance were owned by the state. The above departments usually were the ones which got the government maximum revenues. In the Ram Rajya gambling was a sin. Drinking and gambling were prohibited. Chandragupta Empire has many instances of awarding strong inhuman punishments. The Brahmins were regarded as a superior caste. The punishments of the Brahmins were lighter. The caste system had become very rigid during his time. Whereas the “varna” or caste system was present during the Yoga vasitha era, but one could choose their “varna” according to their capability.The above two forms of kingship had their own pros and cons. The Arthashastra was about wealth management. It is about building a strong nation territory wise.The other taught the art of living along with art of art of administration. We see the modern government today; following so many teachings that the above books or rather the two pearls of wisdom have given.
- Thapar.Romila. From Lineage To State: Social Formations Of The MID First Millennium BC in the Ganga. OUP India. 1984
- Trautmann.R.Thomas. Arthashastra: The Science of Wealth. Penguin UK.2012 ( Digital Edition)
- www.academia.edu/367114/Indian_Idea_O _Kingship.