Chanakya was famous Indian philosopher who was responsible for the overthrow of the last ruler of Nanda dynasty and start of Maurya dynasty. He played very important part in the establishment, growth and preservation of Maurya Empire. He was teacher and mentor to the first Maurya emperor Chandragupta. He was man of great tactics who made great contributions and was instrumental in changing the course of Indian history. It is said that Chanakya had been personally offended by King Nanda and he had vowed to keep his long sikha (pony tail) unknotted until he saw to the demise of the contemptuous ruler and his drunken princes. Chanakya helped Chandragupta in raising large army and defeating King Nanda there by fulfilling his vow. He roughly lived between the periods 350-275 BC. He was also known as Kautilya and Vishnu Gupta. Chanakya functioned as Chandragupta's counselor and advised him in many matters related with state. A treatise on the science of politics "Arthashastra' is the most famous work of Chanakya. He is considered as pioneer of the field of economics and political science. He is considered as one of the great teacher, thinker and diplomat. His intellectual genius commanded lot of adulation and respect during his time and subsequent years. Later on people even tried to attribute authorship of several works dealing with various subjects ranging from sex (Kamasutra), to astronomy and mathematics to him but only 'Arthashastra' and "Neetishastra' or 'Chanakya Neeti' are the two books attributed to him.
He is considered as great economist and revolutionary. He was a great strategist of his time, and also considered as ruthless manipulator who was determined to achieve his goals by using fourfold policy of Conciliation, Donation, Punishment and Division (साम, दाम, दण्ड, भेद). His works of wisdom are more than 2000 years old, still many of his teachings are relevant and useful in today's world. There are some arguments about his exact place of birth or date of birth etc. but these technical details are not that important than critical study of his works. There are also different opinions about type of person he was, common beliefs are that he was a crafty politician, ruthless manipulator who cared little for means used in the achievement of ends. Some critics criticized his ways and methods but his work is very widely appreciated and studied even today. The scope and range of his intellect should be self evident with the variety of subjects he dealt with, in his works one can not only see the versatility but also notice accuracy, applicability and relevance of many of his ideas. Some of his famous quotes are,
If the rulers are righteous, people are righteous. If they are sincere, people are also sincere, like ruler, like people.
Governance is possible only with assistance. A single wheel doesn't move. Hence ministers should be appointed and their counsel listened to.
A ruler with contiguous territory is a rival. The ruler next to adjoining one is to be deemed as a friend.
One should fight with an inferior enemy but sign a treaty of peace with ones equal and superior.
Enemy’s actions should be watched.
The weak should seek refuge in the strong.
One who desires speedy accomplishments of tasks does not look to the stars to know his fortune. Rational prognostics are superior to stars in guidance.
Equal attention should be paid to the performance of righteous duty duty, acquisition of material wealth and enjoyment of physical pleasures. Any of these if excessively indulged harms itself and the other two.
That mother and that father are enemies who do not give education to their children.
Children should obey their parents and should look after them when they are in difficulty.
The mirage looks like water. An enemy can look like friend.
In the fight between the dog and pig, the ultimate victory is that of pariah who gets the meat to eat.
A dog on land drags crocodile. A crocodile in water drags dog, the place of fight is important.
Anger is the origin of all legal disputes, murder also results from anger.
One should not argue with intelligent, the foolish, friends, teachers and the beloved.
One who is not calm and collected cannot accomplish the task.
One should decide first and then commence the task.
Prosperity lasts long for one who acts after proper consideration.
The one who knows the means makes impossible possible.
Those who blindly believe in destiny do not achieve anything.
He who does not see action is blind.
The one who knows cow's nature gets the milk.
Flawless jobs are rare.
There is no attraction equal to gift.
Sting of words is stronger than fire.
Avoid him who talks sweetly before you but tries to ruin you behind your back, for he is like a pitcher of poison with milk on top.
I can go on quoting him like this, there are many meaningful quotes like these mentioned in his books 'Arthashastra' and 'Neetishastra'. These quotes cover variety of subjects starting with ethics to economics, politics to philosophy, sex to scholastic. After reading his most of the work there is no doubt that he was visionary and his theories of administration are one of the best. But as V. K Subramanian says “it will be however incorrect to assume that his thinking was not limited in certain aspects, especially his views about women”. This might be because of social environment of that time and his limited personal experience with women. He lived in male dominated society where women had limited influence and scope. This must have created heavy bias in his views about women, some of his views about women are not very kind and not at all relevant in today's world.
I don't know what made him to conclude that women cannot be trusted and have inherent tendencies of low moral character and falsehood. May be he wrote these things on purpose to avoind distraction of his male students but some views he expressed about women are totally outrageous and insulting to them, for example have a look at following lines,
One should not place trust in rivers, animals with horns, armed ones, women or in ruling families.
Women are fickle minded. He also says 'Only women could speak falsehood'
Untruthfulness, rashness, guile, stupidity, avarice, uncleanliness and cruelty are women's seven natural flaws.
Fire, water, women, fool, snake and the royal family, beware of all these, they can prove fatal.
Courtesy should be learned from princes, the art of conversation from pundits, lying from gamblers and deceitful ways from women.
Women have hunger two fold, shyness four fold, daring six fold and lust eight fold compared to men. (One wonders by what means Chanakya measures these abstract qualities of women)
According to him good women is the one who is pious, expert in household chores, true and faithful to her husband and who never speaks lie to him. A great intellectual like him also was not free from male dominant attitude. He even says 'A women who keeps fast without permission of her husband shortens the life of her husband. She goes to hell and is punished with great horrors of hell.' At some places he even treats women like commodity, 'For good days one should save money, women should be protected even if it takes the money saved. But for self preservation the money and the women should be sacrificed!!.'
So one can see that such a learned man also was not free from bias against women, his teachings related with politics, economics and governance are superb and should be studied in great detail but it's better to totally ignore his views about women. One should not think that as Chanakya was great politician and thinker all his views are right and his views about women should not be criticized because he was great administrator of his time. We can see that his views about women are totally biased and must be based on his limited interaction with women in his life and profession. It's also possible that Chanakya may not have spoken or written all these demeaning things about women attributed to him. These texts are very old and many people must have contributed to preserve them and recover them, things get modified, added or deleted sometimes, we never know, but these views are present in his books which are available today. May be its time to challenge them openly and also put a warning that some of those books contain some derogatory remarks about women, so at least reader is warned in advance rather than getting shocked while reading them.
Some readers complained when I criticized some purports from Prabhupad's book 'Bhagavad Gita as it is' in which he makes similar comments about women. The problem there was, he passed on his own views as something from Bhagavad Gita which is not true at all, those are clearly Prabhupad's own views about women. The views expressed in Chanakya's book are also his own, he doesn't take shelter of any scripture or try to give any divine angle to his views. That's the difference between these two views, I think readers will understand what I am trying to say here. This is not an attempt to criticize Chanakya as a person or to malign his image. Many times we try to divide world into either all good or all bad, we try to paint either white or black (this results in attitude either accept everything whatever is said or reject all) but many times its mixture of both good and bad (grey). So let's keep what is good and reject the rest.
I already mentioned in some of my posts that prejudice and bias against women was very strong, it's not less than a miracle that they survived and fought back to reclaim their position in society. Let's not encourage such comments anymore which insult their spirit and womanhood.
Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.
3. Maxims of Chanakya:Kautilya. AbhinavPublications by V. K. Subramanian (1980)
[Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]