Monday, November 21, 2022

On Kamandaka’s Nitisara

Among the extant works on niti (polity) from ancient India, Chanakya’s Arthasastra and  Kamandaka’s Nitisara are the most renowned. Since Kamandaka has mentioned Chanakya (Vishnugupta) and Emperor Chandragupta in his text, it is assumed that Nitisara was composed after Arthashastra, which is placed in the third century BCE. 

The shloka 1.1.7-8 of the Nitisara says: “Having studied the learned works of that master of science (vidyanam paradrsvana) (Chanakya) and out of our love for science of polity (rajavidya), we set ourselves to the compilation of an abridged treatise following the views of the master of science of polity (rajavidyavidam matam).”

There is mention of Kamandaka in the Mahabharata—this has led some scholars to suggest that the Nitisara belonged to the age of the Mahabharata war. Traditionally the text has been dated to the fourth and third centuries BCE. But modern historians have placed the text between the Gupta and the Harsha periods (between the third and the seventh centuries CE).

The title “Nitisara” means elements of polity. The text contains 1,192 verses, grouped into 20 sargas (cantos or chapters) and 34 prakaranas (sections). 

In the Arthasastra, the emphasis is on bureaucratic measures, negotiations, and treaties to maintain order, but in the Nitisara there is shift in the emphasis towards the use of force. Here’s a translation of four shlokas from the Nitisara which offer militaristic advice to the rulers:

“Destruction of enemy territory, forcing loss or waste of his powers, taking oppressive and harassing measures against him and his subjects, these are the four expedients to be adopted suitably by the Vijigisu against his enemy, as recommended by expert in the science of polity.”  ~ shloka 8.13.57

“A ruler has to bear the attack from a strong assailant by adopting the policy of the tortoise (that withdraws its limbs within its shell) (i.e., the ruler should withdraw from battle and take shelter within his own fortifications). It is only when time is found to be opportune that an intelligent king should strike at his enemy like a furious snake.” ~ shloka 10.15.38 

“When attacked by two powerful enemies from either side (finding his own means of resistance inadequate), a ruler submits to both with flattering words only (so as to deter them from open hostility) and remain stationed in his own fortification (waiting for an opportune moment), adopting (the asana of) dvaidhibhava or double dealing like a crow’s eyeball (kakaksivad-alaksita, which moves between the right and left sockets as necessary) and of course keeping it undetected.” ~ shloka 11.16.24

"Thus the vijigisu should always adopt guileful tactics (kuta-yuddha) in annihilating his enemy, and by killing the enemy by deception, he will not be transgressing dharma (righteousness, for there is nothing unfair in war). The son of Drona (Asvatthama) killed with his sharp weapons the sons of the Pandavas completely unaware, while they were asleep.” ~ shloka 19.31.71

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