Social Scientist. v 29, no. 334-335 (Mar-April 2001) p. 51.


Graphics file for this page
SUVIRA JAISWAL*

Female Images in the Arthasastra ofKautilya**

The Arthasastra of Kautilya is a work on politics or statecraft, which was a field of activity regarded as almost an exclusive prerogative of man; and this notion is implicit in the way the 'arthasastra9 is defined in this text. It is said that artha is wealth or livelihood of men hence the land, which is inhabited by men providing them the source of their livelihood, is also artha and the science, which deals with the acquisition, and protection of the realm is arthasastra (K.A. XV.1.1-2). The acquisition and protection of a realm involved promulgation and enforcement of law and criminal justice and making a clever use of all the resources for further aggrandizement. Hence women figure in this work primarily as objects and instruments for furthering the aims of the state. However, as the work deals with practical concerns, in spite of its recommendatory patriarchal and brahmanical framework, it gives us a better idea of the visibility of women in public spaces than the Dharmasastra literature, which is mainly focused on brahmanical norms in domestic and public spheres.

The Arthasastra contains interesting data on women of diverse background obliged to earn their living. It speaks of women skilled in handicrafts (silpavati) who could be employed for spying living inside the house of the enemy (1.12.21). But there were also those women who did not stir of their homes (aniskasini) and supported themselves by spinning yarn. Apparently such women belonged to upper castes. The superintendent of yarns and textiles was to give them work by sending his own female slaves (dasis) to their homes rather than asking them to come to him; and if they came on their own to the yarn house the interchange of goods and wages had to be done in the dim light of early dawn. Any attempt at looking at the

* Former professor at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

* * Paper presented at the panel discussion on the 'Mauryan Period' held at the 61st session of the Indian History Congress, Calcutta, 2001.

Social Scientist, Vol. 29, Nos. 3 - 4, March-April 2001



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