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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Chanakya's "Novel" Method to Test the Character of Ministers

Hi Friends,

As many of you have asked, in the last post, to write something about Chanakya, so here is it is. Chanakya was a master politician and a known economist. In short i would say - a multi talented person, who played the role of an Empire-builder in the background. He played the same role in the unification of Bharat as the one by Bismarck in the unification of Prussia in 19th century. He was, infact, the original Machiavelli.

I wanted to post some thing about the personal life of Chanakya, but that post is under preparation. Though, i had some thing else to share about him, so thought of posting.

Chanakya wrote a treatise - Arthashastra. In one of the chapters, Chanakya mentions method to test the character of ministers. After reading this, one can well understand the level of thinking of Chanakya.


The Arthashastra is an ancient Indian treatise on statecraft, economic policy and military strategy, written in Sanskrit, by Chanakya. He was the guardian/minister of Emperor Chandragupta Maurya, who founded the Mauryan Empire around 322 BC. The text was known till 12th century, when it disappeared. It was rediscovered in 1904.

Various scholars have described it in different manner. I found one particular comment by a scholar interesting. It says > Arthashashtra is "a book of political realism, a book analysing how the political world does work and not very often stating how it ought to work, a book that frequently discloses to a king what calculating and sometimes brutal measures he must carry out to preserve the state and the common good."

Centrally, it argues how in an autocracy an efficient and solid economy can be managed. It discusses the ethics of economics and the duties and obligations of a king. The scope is, however, far wider than statecraft, and it offers an outline of the entire legal and bureaucratic framework for administering a kingdom, with a wealth of descriptive cultural detail on topics such as mineralogy, mining and metals, agriculture, animal husbandry, medicine and the use of wildlife. It also focuses on issues of welfare (for instance, redistribution of wealth during a famine) and the collective ethics that hold a society together.

Though this text looks like a book on political science. :-P
I found it interesting. While reading this wonderful text, i came across some interesting information.

Chanakya tells the Emperor , the method to ascertain the TRUE character of the ministers of the state, in Chapter-10 of Text-1. 

Before first reading i thought it would be boring but as i started to read, it appeared really interesting to me, and then i decided to share it here.

The Manuscript

I am mentioning the text from Arthashastra, in as easy language as possible.
Here is the Method >

Chanakya says -> "ASSISTED by his prime minister (mantri) and his high priest, the king shall, by offering temptations, examine the character of ministers (amatya) appointed in government departments of ordinary nature."

The methods are :

1. Religious Allurement

The king shall dismiss a priest who, when ordered, refuses to teach the Vedas to an outcaste person or to officiate in a sacrificial performance (apparently) undertaken by an outcaste person (ayajya).

Then the dismissed priest shall, through the medium of spies under the guise of class-mates (satri), instigate each minister one after another, saying on oath "this king is unrighteous; well let us set up in his place another king who is righteous, or who is born of the same family as of this king, or who is kept imprisoned, or a neighbouring king of his family and of self-sufficiency (ekapragraha), or a wild chief (atavika), or an upstar (aupapadika); this attempt is to the liking of all of us; what dost thou think ?"

If any one or all of the ministers refuse to acquiesce in such a measure, he or they shall be considered pure. This is what is called religious allurement.

2. Monetary Allurement

A commander of the army, dismissed from service for receiving condemnable things (asatpragraha) may, through the agency of spies under the guise of friend, incite each minister to murder the king in view of acquiring immense wealth, each minister being asked "this attempt is to the liking of all of us; what dost thou think?"

If they refuse to agree, they are to be considered pure. This is what is termed monetary allurement.

3. Love Allurement

A woman-spy under the guise of an ascetic and highly esteemed in the women-apartments of the king may allure each prime minister (mahamatra) one after another, saying "the queen is enamoured of thee and has made arrangements for thy entrance into her chamber; besides this, there is also the certainty of large acquisitions of wealth."

If they discard the proposal, they are pure. This is what is styled love-allurement.

4. Allurement under Fear

With the intention of sailing on a commercial vessel (prahavananimittam), a minister may induce all other ministers to follow him. Apprehensive of danger, the king may arrest them all. A spy under the guise of a fraudulent disciple, pretending to have suffered imprisonment may incite each of the ministers thus deprived of wealth and rank, saying, "the king has betaken himself to an unwise course; well, having murdered him, let us put another in his stead. We all like this; what dost thou think?"

If they refuse to agree, they are pure. This is what is termed allurement under fear.


-> Assignment of Offices to the tested Ministers

Of these tried ministers, 

- those whose character has been tested under religious allurements shall be employed in civil and criminal courts (dharmasthaniyakantaka sodhaneshu); 

- those whose purity has been tested under monetary allurements shall be employed in the work of a revenue collector and chamberlain;

- those who have been tried under love-allurements shall be appointed to superintend the pleasure-grounds (vihara) both external and internal;

- those who have been tested by allurements under fear shall be appointed to immediate service; 

-> and those whose character has been tested under all kinds of allurements shall be employed as prime ministers (mantrinah), 

-> while those who are proved impure under one or all of these allurements shall be appointed in mines, timber and elephant forests, and manufacturing industries.


-> Conclusion

Teachers have decided that in accordance with ascertained purity, the king shall employ in corresponding works those ministers whose character has been tested under the three pursuits of life, religion, wealth and love, and under fear.

Never, in the view of Chanakya, shall the king make himself or his queen an object (laksham, butt) of testing the character of his Councillors, nor shall he vitiate the pure like water with poison.

Sometimes the "prescribed medicine may fail to reach the person of moral disease"; the mind of the valiant, though naturally kept steadfast, may not, when once vitiated and repelled under the four kinds of allurements, return to and recover its original form.

Hence having set up an external object as the butt for all the four kinds of allurements, the king shall, through the agency of spies, find out the pure or impure character of his ministers (amatya).

This means that even after the above 4 kinds of tests, the ministers were subjected to scrutiny by the spies, which i will be writing in future, in case you don't get bored and enjoyed this post. :-P

This article has been posted under the Ashoka Maurya section of this history BLOG.

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  1. Abhay

    Unbelievable!!! From where do you get access to all these rare books/chronicles/treatises? I knew you were a damn good researcher but I never expected you'd come up with excerpts from the Arthashastra too.

    Thank you so much for this wonderful post! truly Chanakya has captured our imagination in the same way as great kings like Chandragupta Maurya and Ashoka. I always wanted to know more about this person, who selflessly devoted his entire lifetime to the service of Magadha. He was brutal and relentless in the pursuit of his chosen path but there was nothing in it for him, but only the security and well-being of his Magadha.

    This aspect is being well brought out in the current show, CAS. The way he is kind yet cruel in nurturing Ashoka and making sure that Ashoka gets his due inheritance has been well-depicted. This is my personal view, no matter what anyone feels about the NR. :)

    I am really looking fwd to learning more about Chanakya here. :)

  2. Hello Abhay.

    Chanakya is the master planner, perhaps unmatched persona whom history can gloat of! I am really happy to find you putting in your effort to pull out the dusty pages of history for all of to read. I had some years back put in my efforts to research on Asoka Maurya and the Mauryan empire. But since its been long time I might have to put in double the efforts.

    I had wanted to know if you have an access to the unabridged version of Arthshahstra? I really detest reading a translated version of such a massive treatise!

    Also please do name your sources for research on Asoka. I would really love to read and know more!


  3. Hi Shivani,

    Surprised to find you here. History just attracts me in whatever manner, hence started this section as well. :)

    I am sorry to tell you that even i have not come across an "unabridged Arthashastra" till now , i am still after the complete text.

    I can surely tell you my sources for research on Ashoka/Mauryas.
    They include -
    1. Ashokavadan, Divyavadan, Mahavamsa, and AV Tunzelman prominently.
    2. There are select Nepali texts also which mention about Ashoka.
    3. Some info is present in Puranas - to be precise in the "Fifth Text of Vau Purana".

  4. Radhika,

    You are welcome. About how i get so much information is due to efforts and good help of my friends, who share their readings with me, and when everything is put together - the result is obvious. :)

    I am also much impressed by Chanakya, and he has played the same role in Indian unification as one by Bismarck. Truly, an amazing personality. !

  5. Well these were my research papers as well. Actually our teacher Mrs. Sanghamitra had completely discouraged us from reading Subhadra Sen Gupta's account and prefered Wytze Keunning's work more. Secondly since she was more of a fangirl of Asoka and Devi; hence I really have hard time going by her methods.

    I found a few books under Arthshashtra title but my father really frowns upon them saying they are anything but true. So again a requiem of 'ifs'.

    Anyways how do I subscribe your blog? Mughal history hasn't intrigued me for ages but seeing the treasury here; I am dying to be a part of it! :)

    P.S, Would you look into one grave issue of concern? any historians identify Asandhmitra and Devi to be same, while others are of belief that Devi and Asandmitra were two different women. Asokavandana really glorifies Devi as a goddess and says that she was originally born with the name of Asandhmitra. The articles that i have so far found confirms that they are one and the same.

    Secondly Devi is identified as Asoka's first wife and agramasi as well. Also she was the acting Mahadevi, so do look into it please! :)

  6. So, your teacher's name matches that of the daughter of Asoka.! Great. :)

    To subscribe to the Blog, here is the Direct Link >
    It can be found on the page's Top Right Corner Below the Twitter Followers Box also.

    Completely agree with the part that, there is controversy on the "translations" . Hence, i am still going to search more about this ancient text. I will post here if i get the Original one.

    Case of Asoka's wife is really confusing. Will let you know my views. :)

  7. Amazing facts got to know a lot u must b studying or in an archealogy ryt seriously amzing facts i always want to know do tell me about you post this kind of stuff again

  8. Hello Ila,

    Thank you, i am glad you liked the post. :)

    No i am not a student of history, i just read history for my own interest, and then decided to share it here, as that helps me. I too learn a lot from people during interaction. :)

    You will automatically get a Mail when ever a new post is made on the blog, if you subscribe to the Blog. Here is the Direct Link for subscription. >

    Don't forget to validate the email sent at the Mail Id. After that only, the Emails of new posts will be sent to you.

    PS : Just asking out of curiosity, are you a member of IF also ?

  9. Yup i am in IF Too You will remember dhruvika1991 i guess.. if you noticed... i got this link there

  10. Okay. ! Thanks Dhruvika. Yes, i remember you well. :)

  11. Such an interesting information Abhay....Thanks a lot for this post :).....I remember watching Chanakya serial (in Doordarshan) when I was a kid...though I do not remember anything about it now (except the actor Dwivedi who played Chanakya. I think he was also the director of the show).....Chanakya is widely known for his Chanakyaniti (and I also feel his solid ground work lies in Arthashastra).....A learned man, smart, wise and true strategist .........
    PS: By the way, in all the above tests, he used spies...and the best thing is that the king and queen were never used as objects or pawns in his testing and thereby honouring/respecting their position)......While writing this, I remember Jalal and Jodha in Atifa track :(

  12. Hello Pallavi,
    This is quite unexpected. You are interested in knowing about Chanakya? :D
    Yes, you are right the basis of Chanakya Niti is Arthashastra. :)
    I have not watched the Chanakya of DD, but this Chanakya of present show also looks fine. :)
    Are you watching Ashoka ? :D
    I agree with your PS. Such an awesome point you have taken out. Indeed, this policy of Chanakya is much better than that of Jalal in Atifa track.!

    PS : Please be more frequent, if possible. :)

  13. Haha Abhay :D.....I am/was always intrigued with Chanakya's character more than Chandragupta Maurya and Ashoka (remember both these GREAT historic figures were responsibly and politically guided by his smart, cunning, shrewd, strategic, knowledgeable mind to a very large extent)....Any info on him and I am all ready to read and absorb :p
    I am watching Ashoka irregularly buddy :(...., though I know what is happening in the show
    PS: I agree to your PS :p......Will try and frequent more......

  14. Pallavi,

    (Reel) Jalal didn't have anyone like Chanakya to teach him about spies and had to fall back upon his own (teda) thinking. According to his twisted (teda) thinking, he couldn't trust anyone, not even spies, so he used Jodha as a pawn because she was the only one he trusted. ;p

    This is my (teda) logic to absolve (reel) Jalal. LOL

  15. Thank u so much history-geek fr this post on Chanakya, who fascinated me right frm childhood. Arthshasra has so much to offer n relevant even today.Even today I am unable to decide whether he was more an eminent economist or a political game player.:)

  16. Radhika, I would suggest u watch 'Chanakya' serial on You-tube. That's really fantastic. Actually it's not long only 32 or 37 episodes. It was being relayed on DD National on sunday.I cud not wait fr weks after weeks, so I finished it off.It doesn't hv much NR.but lot to offer frm historical pt of view.The photography takes u to different era altogether.:)

  17. Geeta

    Thank you! Is this a new one or the old one that was made by Chandraprakash Dwivedi? :)

  18. It's old one Radhika, It was a repeat telecast..I don't remember whether I had watched it before but this time I cud understand more clearly thanks to penchant created by this blog.:) The serial is gripping, We hv to listen the dialogues attentively,which r in shudh Hindi with Sansrit words sprinkled all over.

  19. Geeta,
    He was a politician and economist both, infact he played multiple roles in the Magadh Empire. :)

  20. It's interesting that in earlier times, people were multi-skilled and dabbled in various fields. Unlike the super-specialists of today :)

  21. Geeta

    Thank you :) Even I don't remember anything from that show. Do you remember there was also a televised version of Discovery of India on DD those days? That time, I was not much into history and rarely watched it. :( And what little I watched, I forgot.