Reading the Arthashastra: R P Kangle’s magnificent work

Kautiliya Arthashatra, by R P Kangle (MLBD)
Kautiliya Arthashatra, by R P Kangle (MLBD)

R P Kangle’s three volume compilation, translation and commentary on Kautilya’s Arthashastra is actually in print and available from the venerable Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. (Well, the flaky website requires you to create an order, then email it to the publisher with your credit card information, but it worked).

Leafing through the text, you realise that they don’t make scholars like Professor Kangle anymore. For this is not merely a translation of an old Sanskrit manuscript, but a veritable product of scholarly detective work, attention to detail, reverence of the classical language, mastery of it and of English, and, not least, a labour of love. As M V Rajadhyaksha writes in a volume commemorating Professor Kangle’s birth centenary:

He was a single-minded perfectionist, and not a scholar in a hurry. And he worked on his project silently. He would not make the solemn and self-complacent noises a publicity – hunting, ambitious scholar would make…

The Kautiliya Arthashastra, in three volumes, was first published by the University of Bombay in 1955. The second edition followed soon. The work sold well but the royalty Kangle received from the University was pitifully small. Motilal Banarasidass, the Delhi publishing house famous for its publication of books in the field, offered to publish the next edition. The third edition (really a reprint of the earlier edition) brought Kangle the handsome royalty of sixteen thousand rupees, a princely amount in those days. And Kangle donated the entire amount to the Library of the Asiatic Society of Bombay in grateful acknowledgment of what he had derived from the library, which had been like a second home to him, particularly after his retirement from the Educational Service. That he did this when the pension on which he had to subsist was quite meagre—and when his family responsibilities had not lessened appreciably—speaks much of his selflessness and of his unwillingness to translate his scholarship into easy money. [M V Rajadhyaksha/Perceptions on Kautiliya Arthashastra]

The first volume is an authoritative compilation (in Sanskrit) of Kautilya’s Arthashastra from a number of manuscripts and fragments. The second is an annotated English translation. The final volume is a scholarly discussion on the text and the debate and controversies regarding the book and its famous author.

The text of Rudrapatna Shamasastry’s 1915 English translation is readily available on the internet; but R P Kangle’s work is newer, deeper, more thorough and the ultimate resource for those who want to understand the roots of Indian statecraft.

Related Links: The reading the Arthashastra series archive.

13 thoughts on “Reading the Arthashastra: R P Kangle’s magnificent work”

  1. Have you seen/read the Penguin Books version by L N Rangarajan?

    If you have, how does it compare to Kangle’s version. I have Rangarajan’s, so I was just wondering what I was missing.

  2. Few weeks back there was a discussion organised by Samskrita Bharati in Hyderabad on a very relevant current topic.

    ” ???????? ????? ??????? ???? ??????? ????? ? ????????????? ?
    ??????????????? ???????????? ?????? ?????? ????? ???????? ? ”

    No marks for guessing the source of that topic.

  3. Samskrit unicode does not seem to show up well in comments. Re-commenting.

    The topic:
    ” duShTasya daNDah sujanasya pUjA nyAyEna koshEna cha saMpravrddhih
    apakshapAtOrthiShu rAShTrarakshA panchaiva yajnAh kathitA nrpANAm “

  4. Nah, I find that Arthashastra only applies to Indian politics, and not directly to India’s international relations with foreign countries. Indeed, it is India’s domestic politics which singularly determines its external policies.

    The only reason why we Indians love to gush over Arthashastra is our pretentious aspirations to cleverness, and our “me too” mentality. We’ve seen the treatises of Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, and Clausewitz, so we also want to show that we too can be in the same category.

    “Me too! Hum bhi chalaak hain!”

    This is like the way Indians eagerly adopted the phrase “caste system” when it was handed to them by the British.

    “Me too! Hum bhi Feudal aur Pedigreed hain!”

    The latest example of this is everyone gushing with pride over SlumDog Millionaire.

    “Me too! Hum bhi celebrity… er… slum-walleh logh hain… quick – hire me an agent!”

  5. No Sanjay, it means you have not studied it, and are merely mouthing talking points.

    The Arthashastra deals with everything from Mandala theory to advice on military operations and treaties. The fact that you think it has nothing to do with International Relations is only emblematic of how well you know the work.

    It is a timeless classic that even western strategists have acknowledged as being a far deeper and more comprehensive work than The Prince. The current government would do well to learn from Chanakyas advice on sama, dana, bheda, and danda as opposed to its haphazard strategy instead of a steadied progression of pressure. I recommend you actually read the work before you comment on it in the future.

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