A new book takes a look at the Chanakya Niti corpus as a whole through some of well-known aphorisms attributed to the ancient master of statecraft Kautilya.
"Chanakya Niti: Verses on Life and Living" is translated from the original Sanskrit by long-time career diplomat A N D Haksar and published by Penguin Random House India.
Many of these verse sayings now have a long history of being remembered in verbal quotation or written reproduction. The language is straightforward, easy to follow, and mostly devoid of the alamkara' or embellishments found in traditional Sanskrit verse.
The stanzas also have a natural rhythm, easy to recite or hear. All are short and self-contained. Some may connect with the next on their subjects, but each stands on its own.
According to Haksar, who has translated several Sanskrit classics, these sayings are mainly about everyday life and living. Called Chanakya Niti as a whole, these epigrammatic verses of observation and advice have frequently been quoted in later Sanskrit works and anthologies and many are still remembered.
"They deal with family and social surroundings, friends and enemies, adequacy or absence of wealth, official and personal encounters, benefits of knowledge, and the inevitable end of everything. They also advise on the good and bad in life, proper and improper conduct, and how to manage many difficult situations," he says.
Of particular interest for the modern reader may be their reflection of Indian social conditions at the time of their composition 2,000 years ago and the extent to which these still exist, he says.
"It was a patriarchal society that recognised caste but did not always link it to occupation. It respected women and also their traditional roles. It also took note of different kinds of people's contacts with each other, their interactions with the government, whether helpful or troublesome, as well as the presence of foreigners," Haksar says.
Overall, it is both their meaning and their style that made the Chanakya verses so memorable for so long, he says.
A representative selection drawn from the entire corpus has been translated in contemporary language for readers.
Of the translated verses, about half is drawn from the 17 chapters of Chanakya Niti Darpana or Vriddha Chanakya, the best known of all versions. The remaining verses are taken from the other five compilations.
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