From the Jacket
A Sanskrit treatise of the fourth century BC, Arthasastra is, ostensibly, the world's oldest surviving document of its genre. Written by Kautilya: the astute Brahmin preceptor and prime minister of Chandragupta Maurya, it is now widely recognized as a classic on statecraft, including a discussion of contemporary Indian polity, political theories, administrative mechanisms, war and peace, and a variety of other subjects.
Though a lot has already been written on Kautilya's world view of statecraft, polity and kindred themes, this book is veritably the first ever effort to examine Arthasastra from the standpoint of modern science and technology. Analyzing meticulously layers after layers of Kautilya's complex sutras the author unfolds scientific perceptions, hypo-theses, operational techniques and other significant dimensions of several ancient Indian disciplines, like mineralogy, mining, gemology, metallurgy, agriculture, town planning, civil engineering, and even environment. Himself a professional geologist, Sunil Sharma has adopted the current normative techniques for the scientific evaluation of Arthasastra, while using all through modern idiom to spell out its scientific content.
An unbiased study based on Sharma's honest, altogether fresh interpretation of Arthasastra's archaic Sanskrit language and its peculiar scientific terminology, the book will fascinate Indologists, historians of science, and many area-specialist.
About the Author
Sunil Sen Sharma is a geologist of wide repute. Notwithstanding his professional training, his academic concerns have, over the years, evolved in many different directions to focus more specifically on man and nature.
A former Director, Geological Survey of India, he is also an extensively published scholar, credited with the authorship of over a hundred articles and five book: in both English and Bengali. His English titles include Farakka: A Gordian knot: Problems on Sharing Ganga Waters and The Ecology and the Epidemic: A Study on nineteenth Century Controversy.
THIS work is an attempt to grasp the ancient Indian wisdom of science
and technology ingrained in Kautiliya's Arthasastra and ensconced
behind its commonly perceived theme of state craft and
administration. It is a daring attempt by the present worker with his
background as a geologist, having no formal education and grooming
in Sanskrit, the language of the source materials. Difficulties were
on several counts.
The work started based on various translations of the book. But
several confusing and widely different meanings of the same passage
or words conveyed in different translations, necessitated frequent
journeys into the original text. This could have been due to the fact
that translators, mostly Indologists and Scholars in Sanskrit
literature, were perhaps more conscious about retaining the literary
originality and purity of the original text rather than extracting its
esoteric meanings, particularly of scientific and technological topics
(Rangarajan, p. 24). Kangle, who did exhaustive translation of the
original text and ana lysed the contents very critically, was also
confronted with meanings of a number of words, particularly the
technical ones. He feels that
it is in vocabulary, however, that the language of this work
shows striking peculiarities. There are numerous technical
terms. Many of them are defined in the text itself, but there
are others that are not defined .... It is true that we cannot be
quite sure of the meaning of many words and expressions
in the text. So, too, the interpretation of many passages in
the text must remain uncertain ....
-Kangle, 1965, Part III, PP. 38-9
'Vocabulary' is the key word; and the characteristic evolvement and
entrenchment of this in scientific and technological literatures
constitute a special study to comprehend by a modern mind the
incomprehensibility of archaic Sanskrit language. Because
the current content of science can be represented as a system
of 'propositions' linked by 'formal inferences' only when
we have at our disposal a common, agreed upon vocabulary
of terms and concepts to serve as the 'subjects' and
'predicates' of all those propositions; and manifestly, all
really profound changes in scientific thought and theory
have brought with them correspondingly profound changes
in basic vocabulary of scientific terms and concepts.
Stephen Toulmin, 1977, p. 148
We have to deal with a situation in the history when a language,
whether 'symbolic' or 'an ordinary one used in special sense, that is
by development of scientific jargon', meant for conveying ideas to be
understood by all competent people, was yet to be developed. Without
this consciousness, it becomes also difficult to trace and extract the
scientific meaning of the works of our predecessors with the mind
attuned to the current form of science enumerated above.
Difficulties do not rest solely on the arcane language, but on the
manner of treating the blook by scholars. The treatise like Arthasastra
has also not been very critically examined in-depth from the angle of
different scientific specialisation, or combined multidisciplinary
approach. There had been, of course, a few scattered and discrete
attempts, confined to peripheral issues of the dominant theme of the
treatise, that is Hindu Polity, leaving gaps in our knowledge in other
scientific and technical subjects. This has been felt in many cases. It
can be said, and has been said of chemistry, that even a monumental
work on this subject by Dr. P.c. Ray did not adequately analyse the
basic principles and theories on elements and their compounds,
without which their preparation could not perhaps have been
accomplished (Das Gupta, 1987, p. 3).
Similar deficiency has also been experienced with regard to
Historical Geography. It has been recognised that this subject had
also never been joint concern of historians and geographers, and
that it was never considered a discipline requiring specialised
technique. The result being that study made in isolation from
geographical viewpoint only lacked 'historical perspective and
inadequate knowledge of source material' (Chattopadhyaya, 1984,
So, unless the relevant disciplines are involved, deductions
made or results obtained from isolated studies are liable not only to
be erroneous, but may diffuse the real worth and rational structure
of science in classical texts, as in Arthasastra.
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