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The Arthaśāstra is the foundational text of Indic political thought and ancient India’s most important treatise on statecraft and governance. It is traditionally believed that politics in ancient India was ruled by religion; that kings strove to fulfil their sacred duty; and that sovereignty was circumscribed by the sacred law of dharma. Mark McClish’s systematic and thorough evaluation of the Arthaśāstra’s early history shows that these ideas only came to prominence in the statecraft tradition late in the classical period. With a thorough chronological exploration, he demonstrates that the text originally espoused a political philosophy characterized by empiricism and pragmatism, ignoring the mandate of dharma altogether. The political theology of dharma was incorporated when the text was redacted in the late classical period, which obscured the existence of an independent political tradition in ancient India altogether and reinforced the erroneous notion that ancient India was ruled by religion, not politics. mark mcclish is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Northwestern University. He has published a number of works on the Arthaśāstra and ancient Indian law, politics, and religion including the book The Arthaśāstra: Selections from the Classic Indian Work on Statecraft (with Patrick Olivelle, 2012) and numerous articles. He has received support from the Fulbright-Hays program and the Mellon Foundation.

ideas in context Edited by David Armitage, Richard Bourke, Jennifer Pitts and John Robertson The books in this series will discuss the emergence of intellectual traditions and of related new disciplines. The procedures, aims and vocabularies that were generated will be set in the context of the alternatives available within the contemporary frameworks of ideas and institutions. Through detailed studies of the evolution of such traditions, and their modification by different audiences, it is hoped that a new picture will form of the development of ideas in their concrete contexts. By this means, artificial distinctions between the history of philosophy, of the various sciences, of society and politics, and of literature may be seen to dissolve. The series is published with the support of the Exxon Foundation. A list of books in the series can be found at the end of the volume.

THE HISTORY OF THE ARTHAŚĀSTRA Sovereignty and Sacred Law in Ancient India

MARK McCLISH Northwestern University, Illinois

University Printing House, Cambridge cb2 8bs, United Kingdom One Liberty Plaza, 20th Floor, New York, ny 10006, usa 477 Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne, vic 3207, Australia 314-321, 3rd Floor, Plot 3, Splendor Forum, Jasola District Centre, New Delhi - 110025, India 79 Anson Road, #06-04/06, Singapore 079906 Cambridge University Press is part of the University of Cambridge. It furthers the University’s mission by disseminating knowledge in the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence. Information on this title: doi: 10.1017/9781108641586 © Mark McClish 2019 This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published 2019 First paperback edition 2020 A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication data names: McClish, Mark, author. title: The history of the Arthasastra : sovereignty and sacred law in ancient India / Mark McClish. description: Cambridge, United Kingdom ; New York, ny : Cambridge University Press, [2019] | Series: Ideas in context | Includes bibliographical references and index. identifiers: lccn 2019002341 | isbn 9781108476904 (alk. paper) subjects: lcsh: Kautalya. Arthasastra. | Kautalya. Arthasastra – Criticism, Textual. | Political science – India – History – Early works to 1800. | State, The – Early works to 1800. | India – Politics and government – To 997. classification: lcc ja84.i4 m37 2019 | ddc 320.0934–dc23 lc record available at isbn 978-1-108-47690-4 Hardback isbn 978-1-108-70174-7 Paperback Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

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List of Figures and Tables Preface and Acknowledgments Note on the Text List of Abbreviations

page x xi xvi xviii

1 Introduction


Sovereignty and Sacred Law in Indic Tradition Studying Religion and Politics in Ancient India A Brief History of Varnadharma ˙ The Arthaśāstra of Kautilya ˙ On Higher Criticism The Plan of the Book

2 Arthaśāstra Historiography

6 9 13 18 21 25


Character of the Arthaśāstra Formal and Informal Features of the Text The Language of the Arthaśāstra The Traditional History of the Arthaśāstra Critique of the Traditional Account Unitary Authorship and Its Difficulties Conclusion

3 The Resegmentation of the Arthaśāstra Redundant Segmentation Determining Priority between Topics and Chapters A Second Hand End Verses and their Relation to the Prose The Pattern of Verse Dispersal in the Text Excursus: A Verse Original? The Plan of the Redaction Additions at the Ends of Chapters Conclusion


28 31 37 39 43 47 50

52 52 54 56 66 72 75 78 80 81


viii 4 Citation and Attribution

Formal Aspects of Citation in the Arthaśāstra Excursus: Unattributed Citations? Citation as Textual Intervention Citation and Redaction Conclusion

5 The Deep Structure of the Text The Compositional Style of the Dandanīti ˙˙ The Books The Deep Structure of the Text The First Half: Domestic Affairs The Second Half: Foreign Affairs Conclusion

6 The History of the Arthaśāstra The Extent of the Redaction Terminus Ante Quem Manu and the Original Text The Original Composition and Its Date Conclusion

7 The Politics of the Dandanīti Theoretical Foundations ˙ ˙ The Goals of Statecraft Sovereign Power and Its Limits The Dandanīti in Brāhmanical Context ˙˙ ˙ Conclusion


86 91 98 104 108


112 114 117 120 131 137


142 144 145 150 152


156 160 166 168 172

8 Varnadharma in the Arthaśāstra The ˙Political Theology of Varnadharma


9 Statecraft, Law, and Religion in Ancient India


˙ Evidence of Interpolation Dharma, Sovereignty, and Righteousness Brāhmanical Exceptionalism ˙ Varna as State Policy ˙ Conclusion

An Independent Statecraft Tradition The Rājadharma Tradition Nīti, Dharmaśāstra, and Brāhmanic Revival ˙

Appendix I: Other Theories of Composition Appendix II: Chapter Colophons Appendix III: End Verses at Variance with Preceding Prose Appendix IV: Possible Integration between Prose and End Verses

175 180 185 190 197 205

208 215 217

224 226 228 231

Contents Appendix V: Proposed Interpolations at the End of Chapters Appendix VI: Possible Instances of Unattributed Citation Appendix VII: Proposed Interpolations Depending on Citations Appendix VIII: Other Proposed Interpolations Appendix IX: Manu’s Seventh Chapter and the Dandanīti ˙˙ Appendix X: Brāhmanical Privileges ˙ Bibliography Primary Sources Secondary Sources

Index Locorum Index

ix 233 235 238 239 240 243 245 245 246

256 267

Figures and Tables

1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Figures The Arthaśāstra as Divided into Books page 33 The Arthaśāstra as Divided into Domestic (tantra) and 34 and 118 Foreign Affairs (āvāpa) The Beginning of the Arthaśāstra by Topic and Chapter 36 The Section on Domestic Affairs (tantra) in the Arthaśāstra 120 The Section on Foreign Affairs (āvāpa) in the Arthaśāstra 131 Tables The Names of the Books of the Arthaśāstra Chapter-Internal Verse Distribution Thematic Outline of the First Half of the Arthaśāstra Thematic Outline of the Second Half of the Arthaśāstra Thematic Outline of Book Nine Thematic Correspondence between the Mānava Dharmaśāstra and the Arthaśāstra Outline of the First Topic (Tr. after Olivelle 2013)


31 73 121 132 134 147 180

Preface and Acknowledgments

No work is more important to understanding governance and society in ancient India than the Arthaśāstra, and in this volume I present a theory that makes novel claims as to its original form and its transformation over time. In this, I have endeavored to be as faithful as possible to the evidence at hand, although in giving shape to my conclusions I have often been reminded of something that the great Arthaśāstra scholar R. P. Kangle wrote in the preface to his 1965 study of the work: “. . . it cannot be expected that the opinions expressed or conclusions reached here will be found entirely acceptable. In fact, I shall be satisfied if they are regarded as worthy of serious consideration” (v). While I hope to have set Arthaśāstra studies on a firmer historical footing than before, I am acutely aware of the limitations of the present work and my indebtedness to the scholars whose names fill this book. This study was born in Patrick Olivelle’s advanced Sanskrit course at The University of Texas at Austin in the early 2000s. It was there that I was first introduced to the Arthaśāstra, which we read in tandem with Viśākhadatta’s dramatic masterpiece, the Mudrārāksasa. They remain ˙ the Arthaśāstra, two of my favorite Sanskrit works. As I began to read I became aware of certain textual peculiarities that seemed to me most easily explained by the presence of multiple hands in the composition of the text. I was, through this, exposed to a body of critical work on the compositional history of the Arthaśāstra, and, with the encouragement of Olivelle, I began in fits and starts to attempt to explain the form of the text. This work consumed my years as a graduate student and resulted in my 2009 dissertation. The project was, unfortunately, set aside early in my career, when my focus shifted to the requirements of teaching-intensive appointments. I am grateful to have been able to return to it in the past few years and bring it to a degree of completion. As I explored the composition of the Arthaśāstra, I came to see that many passages expressing orthodox Brāhmanical sentiments appeared to be ˙ xi


Preface and Acknowledgments

secondary additions to the text. Hours reading in and around the Arthaśāstra persuaded me, as I argue in this book, that nearly all of these passages were added during the early phase of an explosion in Brāhmanical ˙ intellectual and artistic culture that transformed Indian politics and society in the first half of the first millennium CE. This “Brāhmanical revival” has been the subject of numerous studies, most recently in an ˙important series of books by Johannes Bronkhorst. The present volume seeks to portray the Arthaśāstra as an early important witness to the Brāhmanical revival, and I hope that it will provide a foundation for further work ˙on what is to my mind the most important historical and religious transformation in the early centuries of the Common Era. Although questions about the history of South Asian religion and culture were always before me, I realized from the beginning that it would be a mistake to allow assumptions about the ideological content of the Arthaśāstra to influence my theory of the text’s composition. The formal study of the text had to come first, and the historical conclusions had to emerge from and remain maximally responsive to it. Hence, I have striven to keep these two aspects separate and in the proper order. The result is that this book follows two different methods, one exploring the formal features of the text and aimed at developing a history of its development, and the other using that history to put its ideological content in chronological context. Early in the development of this project I had hoped to include a third section bringing my results into robust conversation with contemporary work on the Brāhmanical revival of the early centuries of the Common Era. This, however,˙ proved too much, and I deemed it better left to its own study, one able to do justice to a far broader set of sources and historical circumstances. In a project that has taken this long to develop, there are naturally many people to thank for guidance. I have been particularly fortunate to have access to and generous support from several important Arthaśāstra scholars. Foremost among these is my own teacher, Patrick Olivelle, whose 2013 translation of the Arthaśāstra is a monument of scholarship. It is not possible to express my debt to him nor my admiration for his work. He is a model of collegiality and a generous interlocuter. His influence is to be found in every line of this book (though all shortcomings are my own), and it has been one of the great joys of my personal life for my family to have grown close to him and his wife, Suman, who have both done so much for us. I am enormously grateful to Thomas Trautmann, with whom I spent three enjoyable days reviewing a draft of this manuscript. Professor

Preface and Acknowledgments


Trautmann composed the only other major compositional study of the Arthaśāstra, entitled Kautilya and the Arthaśāstra (1971), in which he ˙ showed that statistical evidence supported the conclusion that the text had been compiled from sources with different authors. He graciously accepted my request to review the manuscript, and our conversations here at Northwestern not only improved the manuscript considerably, but were also a master class in Indian history and historiography. His learning is remarkably broad, as is well known to South Asianists, and his insights helped to put my research in a broader context. Professor Hartmut Scharfe, who wrote what remains the most penetrating monograph on the Arthaśāstra (Untersuchungen zur Staatsrechtslehre des Kautalya, 1968, revised and translated into English in 1993 as Investigations into˙ Kautalya’s Manual of Statecraft), also graciously agreed to review the ˙ and offered critical comment on all parts of my text. I consider manuscript his input invaluable, especially regarding those subjects on which we disagree. The great scholar of dharmaśāstra and arthaśāstra, Albrecht Wezler, sent me detailed comments on my dissertation completely unbidden along with the then newly published, reedited commentaries on the Arthaśāstra called Jayaman ˙ galā and Cānakyatīkā. His generosity to a young scholar whom he did not know has ˙meant˙ a great deal to me. Such acts of kindness and collegiality lighten the burden of hours of isolated labor. I also wish to thank Wendy Doniger, who reviewed an earlier draft of the manuscript and shared with me her expertise on the fascinating and complex relationship between the Arthaśāstra, Kāmasūtra, and the Mānava Dharmaśāstra. Special mention is due of the American Oriental Society, which remains the most important forum for Indology in North America. Many of the arguments found in this book were presented in various forms at meetings of the AOS, where they received substantive comment and critique. I do not have space here to mention each of the scholars whose comments helped guide me along the way. I continue to be grateful for their expertise and dedication to the practice of philology. Some of my most important interlocutors at AOS and elsewhere have been Timothy Lubin, Donald R. Davis, Jr., David Brick, John Nemec, Johannes Bronkhorst, Jarrod Whitaker, Adheesh Sathaye, Deven Patel, Neil Dalal, and Stephen Lindquist. Many of these people have a close relationship with the Department of Asian Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, which, through the efforts of Richard Lariviere, Patrick Olivelle, and, now, Donald R. Davis, Jr. has developed into a center of excellence for the study of dharmaśāstra and arthaśāstra in the United States.


Preface and Acknowledgments

I want to thank my colleagues and former colleagues in the Department of Religious Studies here at Northwestern. Mira Balberg has been a dear friend and important influence on my intellectual development. We miss her greatly and wish her the best in her new position. I also want to thank Cristie Traina and Richard Kieckhefer, who have both done so much to support me, as well as Sarah Jacoby, who gave valuable feedback on an early draft of this manuscript. Everyone should be as fortunate to have such generous colleagues. The growing strength in South Asia at Northwestern continues to enrich this place as an intellectual home. Much of that is due to the efforts of Laura Brueck, whose vision for South Asian studies here continues to unfold. I am lucky to have her as a mentor and a dear friend. I also want to thank Ryan Platte, Sarah Jacoby, Rajeev Kinra, David Boyk, Daniel Majchrowicz, Rob Linrothe, and Brannon Ingram, for many fascinating conversations and their support of my work. I have received funding from a number of sources that allowed me to carry out this work, including a Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad award from Fulbright-Hays, a Post-doctoral Fellowship from the Mellon Foundation, a research award from Birmingham-Southern College, and research support from Birmingham-Southern College, the Department of Religious Studies at Northwestern, and the Office of the Dean of Weinberg College at Northwestern University. It goes without saying that none of this work is possible without the generous support of those dedicated to humanities research. Two anonymous readers for the Press offered an uncommon degree of comment on the manuscript, which I found uniformly invaluable. They improved both the form and content of every page. I am grateful to these and other scholars who take the time to treat manuscripts with such great care. I wish to thank Liz Friend-Smith at Cambridge University Press for her enthusiasm for this project and to Ian McIver and Abigail Walkington for their care in shepherding the manuscript through the publication process. I was fortunate to have an excellent copy-editor in John Jacobs, who made many improvements to the manuscript. Tim DeBold did a marvellous job putting together the subject index and the index locorum, no mean feat in a book of this nature. These acknowledgments are destined to exclude a great many people who helped this project come to fruition, either as conversation partners or in providing other kinds of support. I am grateful for all of it. I would be inexcusably remiss, however, if I did not thank my parents, who have supported me in the long process of graduate training and throughout my early career. I will be glad to be able to tell them, after many polite

Preface and Acknowledgments


inquiries, that the book is finally finished. I save for last, but not because they are least, my family: Alina, Augustus, and Franziska. They have all sacrificed materially and emotionally for my career and for this project, and that is a debt that can only be repaid over the course of a lifetime. To Augustus and Franziska, the love I feel from you both truly sustains me. And to my wife, Alina, to whom this book is dedicated, it’s been my turn for far too long. Now I hope it can be your turn.