Political Thought in Sanskrit Kavya

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Item Code: IDJ299
Author: Geeta Upadhyaya
Language: English
Edition: 1979
Pages: 432
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.7" X 5.5"
Weight 520 gm
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Book Description

From the Jacket

Ancient Indian Polity is one of the most important subjects described with minute details in Sanskrit literature. There exist scientific treatises on the subject in which its various ramifications have been thoroughly treated and explained. Fresh light is thrown upon the subject by a critical study of the Sanskrit Kavyas written in the glorious period of the Sanskrit Literature. In the present work author has produced a comprehensive and brilliant account of political Thought in the Sanskrit Kavyas belonging to the most creative period of Sanskrit poetry from 1st Cen. B.C. to 12th Cen. A.D. The study has been divided into books; the first deals with pre-kalidasan poets Ashva ghosa and Bhasa; the second with Kalidasa; the third with the Post-Kalidasan Prose writers-Subandhu, Bana Bhatta and Dandin, the fourth with the Post-Kalidasan Dramatists-Sudraka, Bhatta Narayana and Vishakha Datta; the fifth with the Post-Kalidasan Epic writers-Bhatti Bharavi and Magha, and the last with the historical kavya of Raja Tarangina of Kalhana.

Political thought is thought about the state, its structure, nature and its purpose. Sanskrit kavyas reveal that the Vedic political tradition about the state craft was handed down even in the later times when these works were written and they give an ample fund of critical information about the State, its structure and its functioning.

The thesis is well written, fully documented with copious quotations from the Sanskrit Kavyas, Shanti Parva and Kautilya's Arthashastra. For the first time the learned author dives deep into the subject and brings forth sparkling gems of political thoughts embedded in the well-known Epics, Dramas and Prose works of Sanskrit. The book is useful both for the layman and scholars engaged in the study of Political Institutions of Ancient India.


Political thought is thought about the State, its structure, nature and its purpose. Its concern is in no way less than "the moral phenomena of human behavior in society". The purpose of political life is inextricably mixed up with the purpose of life itself. Political theory, it can never convince all, and there has always been fundamental difference over its first principles. "The lines of politics are not the lines of mathematics. They are broad and deep and long". Yet it is unquestionably wrong to say that political thought of ancient civilization has no value, that it is arid, bleak and barren, or that it is useless. To the students of political thought, it is the distilled wisdom of the ages, which one imbibes from its study. Even if it does not lead to the guarantee of assurance in the skill of knowledge about the past, it supplies, at least, prospect of protection against folly.

In the far distant ages of Indian there indeed was expressed thought about man and society, which must be considered as both political and profound. Indian Polity even in early age did not discard democratic element, though analogy to the modern parliamentary form does not hold good in all respects. Coronation Hymns of the Vedas carry reminiscence of recognition that kings are custodian of the sacred trust of the state for the common good, peace and security of the people.

They are to administer the affairs of the state efficiently in order that they may foster and promote the needs and interests of justices and righteousness.

The norms, beliefs and traditions of India's Political thought have been carefully nursed and nourished in the schools of Artha, Niti and Dharmasastra and incidentally in the great Epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. On the basis of the said source material, scholars both Western and Indian have made valuable contributions in the field. Without following the beaten track, I have approached the subject by a different route to catch at the glimpses of political thought the vista of the Classical Kavyas.

The literary productions of masterminds, whether they are expressed in the form of epic, drama or proseromance, are obviously tinctured with the color and traits of social and political environment. They are instinct with traditional of life itself. In the sphere of Sanskrit Kavya curiously enough, there has been artistic presentation of even purely political problems: the notable examples are Bharavi's Kiratarjuniyam and Visakhadatta's Mudraraksasa. The heroes of the classical Kavyas are mostly drawn from the ruling nobility. They represent in them the type of attributes of proper leadership and proper protection, which are indispensable for the rulers of a good state. In some of these writings, we have prototypes of the just and also the efficient Ruler. But in the realm of politics, justness and efficiency are not always necessary correlatives. Politics as a part of ethics is also made up of variables and in the last analysis, justified by exigency of circumstances. The delineation of characters, the movement of the themes and the turn of events in response to political stimuli of diverse grade and significance- these are some of the notable features of political issues that we gather from the Kavyas. The versality of the classical poets is evinced beyond doubt in the matter of politics in both its principles and practice.

We have also noticed in some of these writings reaction of poets mind to politics expressed in either raphsody of praise or in slashing indictments. All these have afforded me fascination date, and my dissertation is a modest attempt at an analytical and critical study of political thought in the light of the Kavyas. The study presented in the following pages seems to be new of its kind in both treatment of facts and their assessment. And how far I have succeeded is left to the discerning judgment of illustrious scholars.

The sources of my information are indicated in the Bibliography and footnotes. The representative texts, monographs and modern critical works have also been utilized to my immense benefit.

As to the plan of the work, I make it a point to mention that the subject has been distributed over nine chapters including Introduction and Conclusion. The standard and typical works of Asvaghosa, Bhasa, Sudraka, Kalidasa, Dandin, Bana, Bhatti, Magha, Bharavi, Bhattanarayanas, Visakhadatta and Kalhana, have been taken up one after another for my study. For comparison I have examined allied political maxims from the source book of Kautilya, Manu, Mahabharata Kamandaka and so fourth. I have made sustained attempt to draw the contours of the political concepts and contents together with questionable axioms on ill-conducted statecraft on the basis of findings of the Kavyas.

In this task my indebtedness to my learned Supervisor Dr. Krishnagopal Goswami, Asutosh Professor and Head of the Department of Sanskrit, Calcutta University, knows no bounds. I must gratefully acknowledge my deep debt to him. It is only because of invaluable assistance and able guidance received from Professor Goswami that I could proceed with the task to complete my work.

I have approached this subject objectively, and I shall deem my labour rewarded if this humble attempt helps in any way in understanding truth of politics clothed in Sanskrit Kavyas.



The importance of a culture lies not only in its power to "raise and enlarge the internal man, mind, the soul and the spirit" but also to shape and modulate his external and social existence to materialise "rhythmic advance" towards high ideals. The ideals of Indian Society upheld the needs of stable social order with prospect of diversity in unity, remarkable richness and interest not only for high intellectual development but also for sound and strong political organisation.

But in order to assess and appreciate the true nature of our Indian Polity, we should not look upon it as detached from the organic whole of the social existence. Politics as a science of discipline has, however, attained singular importance in the hands of the master mind Kautilya, The traditions of Dharmasastra, on the other hand, look upon politics as one of the four-fold ends of life co-ordinated with Dharma (spiritual efficiency) as but a means to an end.

Whatever that may be, the study of Indian Polity and its institutions is admittedly interesting, and scholars both Indian and Western have made their valuable contributions to the field. But they have mostly relied upon the purely political treatises or Dharmasastra texts in their attempts at representing the political theories of ancient India. I have, how- ever, approached the study of the subject in some of its matters of concepts and contents in the light of classical Kavyas. The literary productions of a people, whether they are poetry, drama or prose romances, are by far more valuable and dependable as an objective source of social or political background as reflected therein.

We should also bear in mind that according to the Indian conventions the heroes of the classical Kavyas are mostly chosen from the rank of nobility, generally political rulers who are looked upon as the symbol of strength, vigour and equanimity, and as the sacred trustee of security, peace and protection of the people. The eventful narratives of their life form the themes of ancient and mediaeval Kavyas in Sanskrit. The present writer feels tempted not unwarrantedly to draw the contours of political thought in the light of its findings in the principal Kavyas.

The long line of poets in the realm of Sanskrit literature seek to depict the ideal of Kingship in the character and conduct of rulers whom they delineate. The King's conduct appears to be the focus on which the poet bestows his attention. Both material and spiritual progress of society largely depend upon the right conduct of the king as the protector of the people. The maintenance of the social order and its advancement are the results of good political administration. The ideal character of the king and the principles of kingship as delineated in the classical Kavyas show, on the whole, essential unity of ideas on kingship as handed down from the Vedic to the Epic period. The coro- nation ceremony in the Brahmanic and the Epic period prove beyond doubt the solemn character and democratic responsibility of a person endowed with royal authority. Kingship in the classical literature became almost hereditary, yet the Vedic theory was never forgotten. The observance of the coronation ceremonies and election of Kings on failure of the lines kept the notion of the theory ever green to the mind of the people.

Political institutions, rules of their organisation and their functions, as can be gleaned from the classical Kavyas, more or less bear the semblance of the traditions as worked out in the great epics, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the great works of Manu and Kautilya. Kingship, after all, forms part and parcel of the law of Varnasrama and the poets depict the important aspects of political concepts mostly from that standpoint. Some of these features are summed up below:

(a ) In the four-fold division of caste and duties, the Ksatriyas were normally entrusted with the duty to rule and protect the people. So the king in ancient India generally belonged to the Ksatriya caste, though exceptions are noticeable.

( b ) The King in the Epic age was entrusted with the Executive and Judicial power. But the noteworthy point in this connection is that in spite of his command over all the administrative departments, the king rarely grew despot. For, he had to fear the public opinion which, if unfavourable, was capable enough to create disaffection against him and dethrone him in the long run. The lofty position and towering dignity assigned to the king were only for the benefit of the people. In fact, the king was the custodian of public protection and bound to listen to the public demand. He was not more than a paid servant in the eyes of law and constitution. The one sixth of the products that he got from the people in the form of tax was regarded as his wages for the service rendered to the people.' If he failed in the affairs of administration and did not render security and protection to the people, the people were authorised to claim for the refund of the wages in proportion to their loss." This idea of the wage theory for king's service is a peculiar feature of our ancient Indian polity. It draws our attention to the underlying democratic spirit of Indian monarchy. The king was expected to sacrifice even his personal interests and likings for the sake of his subjects.

( c) The idea of "Cakravartin King" is another salient feature of our ancient Hindu Polity. The king, who ruled the whole sea-girt earth, was called "Cakravartin King" or "Sarvabhauma" (paramount sovereign). The attainment of this status was regarded to be the sacred goal for an ambitious king. Towards this end the ancient kings fought great wars and annexed territories. The instances of warfare as part and programmes of the digvijaya are graphically narrated in Sanskrit Kavyas, Kings aspiring to be the emperor generally performed 'Asvamedha' sacrifice with this political end in-view. In the Satapatha Brahmana it is clearly told. The person who performs the Asvamedha conquers the world. The priest makes him a ruler and up- holder". The sacrificial horse in this sacrifice was let loose to roam over the whole earth, from one end to the other. A large number of attendants and gallant warriors were appointed to look after that horse. The rulers of the countries, through which it passed, were either to surrender or to take hold of the horse as a challenge to fight with the king who was going to perform this sacrifice. If the latter failed to restore the horse by defeating the king who opposed his lord- ship, he could not conclude this sacrifice. On the other hand, if he became successful in extending his sovereignty by and large over the territories of all other kings, he could finalise the sacrifice with great pomp and power. The successful performance of Asvamedha sacrifice was the symbol of the acquisition of paramount sovereignty by the victorious king in order that he may be designated Chakravartin king. So it is told by way of eulogy that "the performer of Asvamedha sacrifice acquires all kingdoms, all peoples, all the Vedas, all the Gods and all created beings"." The Sanskrit Kavyas deal with the life and adventures of several paramount sovereigns as we shall see later.


Chapter   Pages
I Introduction 1-13
II. Political Thought in Asvaghosa's Buddhacarita and Saundarananda 17-31
  Introductory Remarks 17
  Kingship and kingly qualities 17
  Administrative Function of the King 21
  Political Expedients 24
  Taxation 26
  Relation of Politics to Spirituality 27-29
III. Statecraft in Bhasa's Dramas 32-59
  Introductory Remarks 32
  Kingship 34
  King's Coronation 35
  Safeguards of Sovereignty 37
  Duties of the King 39
  Deliberation 41
  Chastisement 44
  State Undertakings 45
  Circumstances for a King to remain incognito 46
  Ministers 47
  Envoy 49
  Welfare of the State 50
  War 52
  Weapons 55
  Conclusion 55-56
IV Political Concepts in Kalidasa's Works 60-104
(A) Raghuvamsa
  Introductory Remarks 60
  Kingship 60
  Qualifications of a King-purity of birth 61
  Strength and Prowess 62
  Knowledge of Sastras and Control over the Senses 62
  Trivarga 63
  Varnasrama Dharma 67
  Fame 68
  Charity 70
  Other Kingly Qualities 71
  Duties of a King 73
  Judicial Function of a King 74
  Undertakings of a King 75
  Chakravartin King 76
  Vices of a King 77
  Taxation 78
  Secrecy of Deliberation 78
  Ministers 78
  System of Espionage 81
  Place and Power of the Priest 82
  Warfare 84
  Diplomacy and War 86
  Kinds of Kings engaged in Warfare 87
  Ancient Indian Warfare: A Remarkable feature 88
  Constituent Elements of the State 89
  Measures of Foreign Policy 90-92
(B) Abhijnana Sakuntala
  King Compared to a sage 92
  Character of Hindu King 92
  Sacred Duties of King 93
  Kingship: a burdensome job 95
  Taxation 96
(C) Malvikagnimitra
  Introductory Remarks 96
  Treatment of a Neighbour King 96
  Division of the Country between two claimants 97-98
Post-Kalidasa Poetss and Dramalists
V. State craft in Prose Kavyas 105-170
(A) Vasavadatta of Subandhu
  Introductory Remarks 105
  Excellences of a King 105
  Aspects of Good Administration 107-109
(B) Kadambari of Bana
  Introductory Remarks 110
  Divine character of the king 110-111
  Qualification of a King 111
  Good Administration 112
  Ministers 114
  Political Maxims of Sukanasopodesa 116-117
  Need for discipline 118
  Utility of Guidance 118
  Condemnation of Laksami 119-123
  Nature of Power-polluted Kings 123-125
  Bana Bhatta's Attitude towards Kautilyan Politics 126-128
  Conduct of King in Foreign Policy and War 128-129
( C ) Harsacarita of Bana
  Introductory Remarks 129
  Attributes of a Meritorious King 131
  Relation between King and his Subjects 133
  Principle of Heredity 135
  Character of the Office Staff 136
  Condemnation of Service under King 137
  Caution against Retaliation 141
  King and his Ministers 142
  Warfare-Attack against the Enemy 143
  Expedition for War 145
  Elephant Army-twelve Kinds 146-148
  Superintendent of Elephant Forces 149
  Idea of a Competent General 150
  Feudatory Kings 153
  Secular State 154-155
(D) Dasakumaracarita of Dandin
  Introductory Remarks 155
  Qualities of Council Minister 156
  Importance of 'Artha' in Politics 158
  Proper Conduct for a King 158
  Some points of Statecraft 159
  Kingly Qualities 159-161
  Minister's Advice on Statecraft 161
  Condemnation of Politics 162
  Effect of Bad Administration 166
  Courtier's Conduct 166-167
VI. Post Kalidasa Dramatists 171-208
(A) Sudraka's Political Thoughts
  Introductory Remarks 171
  Judicial Administration 173
  Qualification of a Judge 174
  Legal Procedure 175
  King as the Supreme Judge 179
  Punishment for a Brahmana 180
  Trial by Ordeal 183
  Crime and Punishment 185-186
(B) Visakhadatta's Political Thinking
  Story of Mudra Raksasa 187-190
  Triple Administration 190
  Retaliation against Enemies 191
  Proper Application of Political Expedients 193
  Canakya's Diplomacy and Policy 194
  Secret Agents: Their Selection 198
  System of Espionage 197
  Politics and Morality 199
  King's Duties 200
  A Politician compared to a Dramatist 201-202
( C ) Bhattanarayana's Political Views
  Introductory Remarks 202
  Rules and Conditions of Peace and War 202
  Triple Aim of Life 203
  Rules of Conduct for Warriors 204
  The virtue of Self Respect 208-209
VII. Post-Kalidasa Epic Poets 209-285
(A) Bhatti's Political Thought
  Introductory Remarks 209
  When the enemy's growth is negligible 210
  When one's won decline is negligible 211
  When to stay inactive 212
  Peace time measures 212
  War time measures 213
  Yana (March) 215
  Samsraya (Seeking Shelter) 215
  Asana (Staying quiet) 216
  Dvaidhi Bhava (Dual Policy) 217
  Application of Six fold Policies 217
  Merits and Demerits of Home Policy 218
  Aims of War 220
  Drawbacks of an Enemy 221
  Seducible Parties 222
  Five-fold aspect of Deliberation 223
  Excellences of a king 225
  Duty of a king 227
  Excellences of a Minister 227
  Spiritual Power and Temporal Power 228
  Spy and Envoy 229
  Political Ideas in Bhatti Kavya 230-233
(B)Bharavi's Political Thinking
  Introductory Remark 234
  System of Espionage 234
  Pacification of the conqueved territory 235
  Control of Senses 237
  Triple Ends of Life 237-240
  Four Political Expedients 240
  Encouragement to Agriculture 243
  Army 243
  Secretary of Plans and Programmes 243
  Allegiance of Chiefs and Vassals 244
  Pleadings for fraud to meet fraud 245
  Forbearance behooves not a king 246
  Nature of the Science of Politics 247
  Four Sciences 248
  Attitude towards an enemy 248
  Triple Powers of a king 250
  Necessity of Cool Deliberation for a king 251
  Importance of Self-Control 254
  Importance of forbearance 255
  Adverse effect of haughtiness 256
  Attitude of Neutrality 257
  Two opposite Political views discussed 257-259
  Superiority of Arms and Army 260
  Precautions for a warrior 261
  Ksatriya as a valiant Leader-his duty 261
  Topic of Alliance 262
  Vices 264
  Integrity of the army stressed 265
  Sense of Self-respect and manly enterprise 265-266
( C ) Magha's Theory of Politics
  Introductory Remarks 266
  Policy and Prospect of war discussed 267
  Forward policy of Balaram 267
  Two schools of thought regarding the policy of Ex-pedition 270-272
  Uddhava's Policy of Deliberation 272
  Uddhava's Criticism of policy of force and of immediate attack on the enemy advocated by Balarama triumphs 275-278
VIII Statecraft in the Rajatarangini of Kalhana 286-325
  Importance of Rajatarangini as an historical and political document 286-288
  Kingship: its nature in Kasmir 288
  Kingship as a sort of trust 290
  Women occupping royal throne 291
  Duties of a king 292
  Administrative functions 294
  Aspects of good administration 295
  Nature of Kayasthas in administration 297
  Measures taken against wicked officers and traitors 297
  Appointment of Honest Superintendents 297-298
  Judicial Function of a king 298
  King as the chief justice of the state 299
  Method of immediate justice 300
  King's appreciation for the Learned and the Qualified 301
  Disqualifications of a king 302-307
  Evil effects of kingly power 304
  Avarice and its abuses 305-306
  Ministers-Qualifications 308
  Their functions 310
  Relation between king and his ministers 310
  Proper conduct for a Royal servant 311
  Cause of Disaffection of servants 313
  Cause of Disaffection of the Princes 314
  State Administration 314
  Five Important State officials 315
  Royal Treasury 316
  Fort 317
  Texation 317
  Foreign Policy 318
  Hunger strike as a powerful Political Weapon 319-321
  Conclusion 325-327
  Appendex A
[Textual Authorities indicated by footnotes]
  Book Index 421
  Author Index 423
  Subject Index 425
  Bibliography 427
  Errata 431


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