Disclaimer: This series of blog posts are a free translation of Arya Chanakya novel written by Sri Vedula Suryanarayana Sharma garu. If anyone has any Copy Right objections, please email to RamaY.BRF@gmail.com.
It is more than 2300 years before present day. There are five to six hours to go before sunrise. It is Visakha Shudda Panchami. In the section of political treatises in the huge repository of palm leaf manuscripts inside Takshashila Vidyapeetha, in a corner is a radiant young man of age twenty three years, surrounded up to ten feet by ancient manuscripts lying open, carefully consulting and comparing manuscripts to arrive at meaningful conclusions, writing them down on leaves, absorbed in the gathering of information for the composition of a new text. To his left is another young man of his age, leafing through more manuscripts, occasionally sharing something insightful with his companion, discussing, and being helpful. The first is Chankya, and the latter is named Indusarma. Beside them is the researcher and their teacher, Sukalpaswami, testing and commending their knowledge and skills.
Sukalpaswami: Chana! How far has your composition of the Arthashastra come?
Chanakya: Swami! Currently I am researching about encampment.
Su: It means it is mostly done. It won’t take much longer to complete the text. Why have you chosen to author Arthashastra rather than a discourse on the first Purushartha? A discourse on Dharma would also be your duty as a Brahmin, wouldn’t it?
Ch: Guruprabhu! Artha (material means) is necessary for Dharma (duty). Artha helps realise Kama (desire). Since the other two are tied to Artha, attaining it would help attain the other two. This is why I am focussing on the second Purushartha as the first and fourth have been extensively discoursed and written about.
There are only a few texts on Arthashastra. It can be said that there is no text on Kamashastra. I will attempt to fill this deficit. I am currently working on Arthashastra, and with time if God desires so, I shall also write on the art of Kama.
Su: Your intention is good. Are your studying the texts on the Arthashastra written by our ancestors and following their footsteps? None of them cross the limits of Dharma. These limits aren’t to be crossed.
Ch: Guruprabhu! I am researching all ancient texts – Barhaspatya, Manava, Aushanasu, Aambhiya, Visalaksha, Vatavyadhi (Uddhapa), Pisuna (Narada), Bharadwaja (Dronacharya), Kounadampata (Bheeshmacharya), Baahudanti Putra (Indra) are all my sources. I have absorbed all knowledge that is available regarding administration and ruling. All such texts put Dharma before Artha. I think that the Dharmarthas in the texts do not concur with today’s circumstances. For this reason, I have made changes that I have deemed fit.
Su: How come Chana? You are making changes to Dharma according to the times? Isn’t Dharma constant with time, similar to the substance that the soul is made of?
Ch: Yes. The core principles of Dharma do not change. But the paths on takes to follow Dharma have to be changed with the times, Swami! So these changes were necessary.
Su: What? Are you capable of showing better ways to follow Dharma in comparison to those shown by our ancestors?
Ch: It is true that our ancestors had shown optimum ways to follow Dharma. They were the right paths for their times. Today, they fail. No one today can reach the destination if they follow those paths. So these ways had to be changed. Today’s people require paths to be thornless even if they are long and meandering.
Su: So you have shown twisted ways to Dharma in your book. Acharya Kalyanaswami had already forewarned me of your unconventional approaches, said that you could appeal to the people according to the times. You Telugus don’t seem to blindly follow. You use your ability to discern the truth and scrutinise all knowledge that has been passed down. You are skilled in reasoning. I’ve heard that Kalyanaswami had named you ‘Kautilya’.
Ch: Yes. It is the pet name Kalyanaswami Guru has given me. I have practiced Artha and Dharma at his feet. He loves me like a father. He initially didn’t think much of me for not understanding Dharma and interrupting his lessons with constant queries. That was when he jested, ‘You are not Kautalya, but Kautilya.’
Su: I see! So your Gotrarshi is Kutalya Maharshi! Then you become a Kautalya, but Guru has added an ‘i’.
Ch: Since that day, all my companions have addressed me with the ‘i’ sound. Later on, Guru came to take to me since being able to change his opinions finally. “Your ways might be unconventional, but suitable to our times. Write Arthashastra your way and bring the world together,” saying so, he gave me his blessings and led me here to research under your guidance.
Indusarma: I see! So that is how you acquired your name. I was unaware of the story behind it. I did not study Mantra, Ayurveda, and Jyotishya with you under Kalyanaswami Guru, so I wasn’t aware of the origin of your altered name. So, Kautalya became Kautilya because of Guru. You are Chanakya because you are Chanaka’s son. What is your actual name?
Ch: Vishnugupta. My mother Devaki, is a devotee of MahaVishnu. She routinely recited Vishnusahasra. I was born to my parents late in life. Unable to tolerate the pains of childbirth, my mother prayed to Vishnu that she’d name me after him.
Su: You have other names as well. They call you Pakshiswami as well. I guess you are also called Mallanaga.
In: Yes. Right from the start, he cultivated the hobby of petting doves, pigeons, parrots, eagles, monkeys etc. and using them as messengers to deliver messages to other regions and to gather information. No one can match him at it. As he is the Swami of those who catch birds, he came to be called ‘Pakshila Swami’ (Swami of birds). There are people eager to learn this art from him. Mallanaga is a cultural name. Mayaandhras are a Nagajati. This region of Takshashila was their first residence. Mallanaga is also a title given in praise to a person of eminence from the Nagajati. It refers to our Jati’s culture.
Su: I had forgotten, Chana! Isn’t your gothra Srivatsa? You mentioned Kautala? Then, why are you called Vatsayana?
Ch: As my maternal grandparents did not have any sons, I’m the only son to both families, so I’ve attained both Gothras. My maternal Gothra is Srivatsa. So I am also Vatsayana.
Su: You have many names! Your mother, father, race, Guru etc. gave you your names. Your enjoyable nature has gained you another name. There seem to be more titles waiting for you. But why are you missing teeth at such a young age? Have you been ill?
Ch: I haven’t lost my teeth to any illness, Swami! This is the result of my father’s deeds. Unlike everyone, I came out of the womb with milk teeth already grown. My father was anxious and consulted Physiologists. They said, “You are very lucky. Your son could become a sovereign man. Even if it appears to be a deformity, from looking at his other features, it can be said that he could become a great protector of dharma, a King.” Since I was the only for both sides of the family, they couldn’t tolerate that my teeth suggested that I’d become a King despite being a Brahmin. ‘Rajyante Narakam Dhruva’, they said. Both families would be corrupted and the Pitaras on both sides would find no peace and be left without any place to go to. They investigated Dharma Shastras and decided to get my teeth removed at that tender age and performed Shanti Karmas. At the age of eleven when I grew my wisdom teeth, my mother followed my father and convinced me to get them removed.
Su: Ah! Even if your parents were not so bent on Swadharma, you do possess the ability to make a king and rule through him. You could then be the prime minister. Then it would not clash with your duties as a Brahmin. Both the astrologer’s foretelling and your parents’ concern would be met this way. But I digress. Your book seems to elevate Artha over Dharma. Ancestors have preserved the various Dharmas in Shastras and carefully passed them down through the ages. Our university’s foremost duty is to preserve this Dharma. You are attempting to destabilize the foundation and setting out to deprioritize and argue against it. How can your work be respected when you don’t concur with the source material?
Ch: Forgive me Guru! It is true that all ancestors have given Dharma the top priority. But with passing time, the Dharma bound in those texts came to be out of reach for the commoners. The people have slowly side-tracked from Dharma and have become desirous of Artha. It is not possible now to turn them away from the aspiration of comfort and pleasure, and put them on the path of Dharma through force. Our ancestors had written the Dharmic texts so it would attract the common folk of those times. They wrote the texts and cemented the Dharmas without considering the inconstant nature of the minds of people. They had not taken into account the changing times and prescribed punishment if the mind lost track. Acharya had written that there isn’t a better way than the method of punishment to the end of attaining control over the elements. Do you agree? Everyone has a different personality, and not everyone has a natural affinity for Dharma. And when such people find it difficult to follow Dharma to a tee and are consequently punished, they become frustrated gradually avoid Dharma. Acharya hadn’t considered it. Such harsh punishment makes people resentful. That doesn’t mean that mild punishment is effective. It would make the king appear ineffective. The punishment should be in accordance with the crime. Such well-suited and considerate punishment makes people want to behave according to Dharma. Inconsiderate punishment as a consequence of Kamakrodha (desire and anger), or Agyana (ignorance) angers not only those in the Gruhasta Ashrama, but also those in the Vanastha Ashrama. In the absence of punishment, the strong will abuse the weak. A punishment should be such that it imparts culture and humility to one. That is when it is beneficial. Do you think my argument is wrong? If you are ready to forgive, I would like to explain some of my other thoughts on the issue of Dharma.
Su: Chana! What about this do you have to ask forgivance for? Even though we are used to the trodden path and are somewhat hesitant, your thoughts are well-articulated and meaningful. You can fearlessly speak your mind. It would conflict with the researching spirit for one to suppress individual opinions.
Ch: As the chief researcher you have accepted me, but not everyone has been so graceful to me. I implore to you, Dharma that is against justice has to be shed. A very important Dharma cited in the Veda is ‘Satyam Vada (speak truth)’. At times when it clashes with justice, this truth has to be compromised. The word ‘Satya’ in Veda originally means Nyaya (justice). This wasn’t grasped, so it came to mean ‘the truth exactly as it happened’. This is a misconception. Let me present an example. A hunter is chasing a cow. The cow runs to an ashram that belongs to a man who has vowed to only speak the truth. When the hunter arrives at the ashram and enquires about the cow, should the man utter the truth about the cow, or try to protect it and preserve justice by lying? Dharma Shastra was written to protect Nyaya in the first place, so when Dharma and Nyaya clash, why is it that Nyaya should be forsaken for Dharma? It should be Dharma that is forsaken for the sake of Nyaya. Dharma Sutras should be taught based on the context of Nyaya. Nyaya should be imbued into people’s hearts. It is impossible to make people follow Dharma that appears to be conflicted with Nyaya. One has to bring out the Nyaya immersed within the Dharma and present it while commenting on the Sutras. This will bring people together. This new trend is necessary for our times.
Su: How So, Chana! This is odd. You are ascribing a difference between Dharma and Nyaya. What is the difference between the two?
Ch: You are right. There is no difference between the two. Our ancestors have written the Dharmas with Nyaya in mind. But with the time and use, a difference has been introduced; it has been meddled with to present it in a perspective that focuses on the manner of ruling. But the intention behind such ruling hasn’t been explained. The Nyaya part that rationally presents this has been forgotten with time. As the people who came after followed in their footsteps and meaning faded, commenters have failed to understand the intention behind the manner of ruling and relied on the blind notions of the day to spread the autocratic propaganda. When the Maharshis themselves failed to understand the basis on which the Dharma Sutras were written, the kings also relied on the beliefs of their time and used punishments to protect Dharma. In this manner with the passage of time, Nyaya came to be buried under Dharma. Reasoning went out of practise. Several wrongs have happened due to blindly following. It is now necessary to bring a timely revisal to Nyaya. Isn’t it improper to comment on Nyaya with blind beliefs and without the prerequisite understanding?
Su: Your argument makes sense. I would like you to give an example of how a Dharma Sutra has been misunderstood by our ancestors and also to see how you would interpret it.
Ch: Look how this Dharma Sutra had been distorted by blind beliefs. Dandasmruti states a Sukta that goes “Yukta Karmani Chayuktanya’ (When a person performs a karma he is ineligible for, he should be punished). It was interpreted as, “Shudras and the others who are unfitting should be punished for performing the pious acts meant to be performed by the worthy Brahmins and others”. When such tyrannical statements are made and followed, won’t people be offended? How can Dharma be understood by them? Scholars have only written the Sutras, they should have been well-intentioned. Gradually, they have been misinterpreted by the commentators. As they based their comments on the blind beliefs of their times, differences appeared. This is why I myself am commenting on my Sutras.
Su: The Sutra seems to me to be rightly interpreted. Why do you disagree?
Ch: Blind beliefs passed down for generations can prevent even those who are intelligent from being touched by the rays of wisdom. It is only an Arthashastra Sutra that prescribes punishment; it has nothing to do with caste. An ‘Ayukta’ is someone who isn’t deemed fit by the king to perform the task. He then is ineligible. ‘Yuktakarmanu’ means that when a person other than the person who has been picked by the king to perform a task does it, he is to be punished. So an ineligible person isn’t to perform a task that an only eligible person is to do. This is my interpretation. There are many such misinterpretations.
Su: Oh, I see! Your interpretation is right. I like your unconventional thoughts. It is hard for me to shed my beliefs, but your thoughts provide fresh light. If you continue down this path, you will definitely benefit the world. Why don’t you write a commentary on the entire Dharmashastra in this manner?
Ch: Guruprabhu! I do not want to attempt such a feat at this moment. I am studying only that which I require from among the Dharmasutras to be able to understand and form my thoughts on the Rajyanga Neeti (Constitutional ethics).However brief I intend to be, my Shastra already seems to come upto six thousand manuscripts. The elders are already angry with me as they think I misinterpret and misrepresent the DharmaSutras conveniently. Would they let me live if I were to comment on the entire DharmaShastra?
Su: Yes, there is always the blind faith. Once you introduce changes in the administration, the rulers that implement them will soon be able to bring light to a new perspective on the societal norms. The elders should rather blame their own blindness that is obstructing your fresh approach.
Ch: In my ArthaShastra I’ve written that the kings should maintain a spy organisation, should lure their enemies and defeat them, should create a rift between the enemy king and his people. The elders are dissatisfied as they consider this to be deviant. There were also some necessary changes to be made to the king’s council to maintain balance. All these changes are just. Even then, the elders are propagating that the changes go against Dharma. I’ve also written other things to provoke such a response –divorce, remarriage for those who were married to outsiders and those with deceased partners, Swayamvara for pubescent women, ways to remove hindrances, supress/kill slanderers, confiscate/draw excess wealth from the rich etc. All this could have caused displeasure. DharmaSutras have to be viewed from the perspective of justice. None of the discussed changes go against Dharma. I stand by this despite all the opinions circulating against me.
Su: Chana! I would have agreed to their views had I not personally heard it come from you, but now I can see that your thoughts aide and seek justice, so I wholeheartedly agree with them. If wise men contain their thoughts in fear of ridicule and opposition, it would be a disservice to the society. The world can decide for itself what justice is. Why point fingers at each other then? Anyway, it would be good if you could take a suitable king under your wing, teach him your ArthaShastra, and counsel him closely. It will be seen how much of your vision can be implemented. Your writings might benefit when implemented.
Ch: You have spoken my mind, GuruDeva. I am on the lookout. I’ve written it for the right ruler to be able to implement and benefit from it. I too wish to witness their fruit when implemented. It shall unfold as per God’s grace.
Su: Chana! Your wish shall come true for sure. You are capable of realising your plans. You were supposed to be a king. Your parents might have gotten rid of the signs, but your destiny hasn’t been erased by just that. If not the king, you will at least have to become the prime minister. I bless you so.
Ch: I am grateful. Your blessings are unfailing. Although, I am sometimes discouraged when I think that I am wasting time over worldly matters and therefore obstructing spiritual Dharma instead of performing penance.
Su: Do not think so. This is divine work. By protecting Dharma, you will become the one to have shown the spiritual path to many. If you were to perform penance, only you would benefit from it. Isn’t it wrong for the able to sit and wait out the decline of Dharma? What takes priority for a Brahmin over the protection of the Vedic Dharma? Isn’t this what Vasishtha and the others have done? It isn’t new for Brahmins to establish Dharma through kings. Any work done for the world’s well-being is God’s wish. Unselfish deeds enlighten one. Enlightenment is what leads to Moksha (liberation). Shed your doubts. You have thoroughly researched thus far. I might be the research guide here, but you have become my guide now. I am very happy. There are no bounds to the happiness of a teacher whose student surpasses him. Live long! May your wishes be granted!
Chana: I am blessed!