By Mark McClish, Patrick Olivelle
The one extant treatise on statecraft from classical India, the Arthasastra is a useful source for figuring out old South Asian political notion; it additionally offers a complete and unprecedented panoramic view of Indian society throughout the interval among the Maurya (320–185 BCE) and Gupta (320–497 CE) empires.
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Extra resources for Arthasastra: Selections from the Classic Indian Work on Statecraft
This is not to imply that the Arthaśāstra does not adhere to a traditional notion of kingship that ascribes specific duties to a king. For example, it goes unquestioned that the king will fulfill his customary obligations to protect his subjects’ lives and property, provide for the adjudication of their disputes and uphold justice, and observe cultural traditions—many of the same activities that the king is obliged to perform according to the social contract theory. Moreover, the fulfillment of these duties is not simply pro forma.
For anyone charging or making someone charge more than that, the punishment is the lowest seizure-fine. . When, Introduction li however, the king is not providing security, [the Justice] should take into account the customs among lenders and borrowers. 1–3) Royal administration is discussed in more detail later. Much of the effort put into exerting political influence in society, then, focused on who was authorized to delineate and police the traditional activities ascribed to different communities.
And yet we recognize that the passage is drawing on some kind of observation of or reflection on consumption patterns in society. It is telling us something about who ate what, even though it is decidedly not a transparent description thereof. Perhaps this is the rationing used by the king when he provided food for his subjects at different events. Thus, when read thoughtfully, the śāstras can be uniquely useful documents for reconstructing the past. The trick for the scholar is to understand how to interpret the information in the śāstra—how to tell when the text is recording existing practices, when it is presenting an idealized vision, and when it is doing both at the same time.