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In the middle of the bustling nature of contemporary society, where nations engage in a delicate dance of influence, negotiation, and tactical manoeuvring, the wisdom gleaned from ancient civilizations can offer valuable perspectives on the complexities of our interdependent world. The Saptanga Theory, established by the esteemed ancient Indian philosopher Chanakya, is a significant piece of literature that offers insights into the intricate dynamics of diplomacy, international relations, and statecraft.

The Saptanga Theory of State, formulated by Chanakya, an eminent ancient Indian political thinker, delineates the division of a state into seven discrete facets. The seven components consist of the following: Swami, representing the monarch; Amatya, symbolising the ministers; Janapada, denoting the territory; Durga, representing the fort; Kosha, representing the treasury; Danda, symbolising the army; and Mitra, representing the allies (Verma, 2018). The topic under discussion finds its origins in the Arthashastra, a renowned treatise on economic and military strategy authored by Chanakya. Notably, Chanakya held the esteemed position of royal adviser to the Mauryan Empire.

Elements of Saptanga Theory

Chanakya's Arthashastra presents a significant definition of the state, which introduces a seven-fold framework and subsequently gained widespread acceptance (Choudhary, 1971). 

Swami: The Ruler

The ancient Indian political thinker Chanakya saw the Swami as central to the state. He thought a great monarch should be vibrant, brilliant, and a natural leader. Righteousness, honesty, determination, and gratitude were among these attributes. The king's contentment, according to Chanakya, was dependent on the welfare of the people, who were the object of his benign reign. In addition to stressing the king's paramount role, Chanakya highlighted the importance of the king maintaining connections with the people to avoid despotism and excessive taxes. Upholding dharma was considered as dependent on the king's knowledge and restraint (Rangarajan, 1992). In the end, the king was seen by Chanakya as a representation of the state's unity, which was crucial to its success and efficiency.

Amatyas: The Ministers

An essential part of any state's government, the "Amatya", is the Council of Ministers. The importance of ministers as advisors, counsellors, and collaborators to the king was highlighted by Chanakya, who acknowledged that the king alone could not handle state matters. He recommended that the king appoint three or four counsellors to strike a balance between control and counsel. Chanakya categorised ministers based on their qualities, with those possessing a broad range of attributes being considered prime ministers. Potential ministers had to undergo rigorous tests, and only those who passed were appointed. Chanakya also advised the king to adjust the number of ministers as per the state's needs and circumstances (Kangle, 1965).

Janapada: The Territory

The "Janapada", the territorial expanse, is the third crucial element of the state, following the king and ministers. Janapada encompasses both territory and population, with specific criteria outlined. The territory should consist of villages with 100 to 500 houses, reasonably close to each other, promoting mutual support. It must be demarcated by natural features like rivers, mountains, or forests. The population should comprise diligent peasants capable of bearing taxes and punishments, with a significant majority known for their loyalty. Chanakya advised the king to encourage immigration and resettlement in these territories. These regions needed to be economically productive, defensible, self-sustaining, and resource-rich to support the state effectively (Altekar, 1958).

Durgas: The Forts

Ancient Indian scholars held the defence of the "Janapada", or territorial expanse, as a paramount concern. The "Durga", or fortress, was recognised as the fourth vital element of the state, akin to Manu's "pura." Chanakya emphasised the construction of forts at the Janapada frontiers, guided by "Antapala," to ensure security. Various forest tribes like Sabaras, Pulindas, and Candalas were entrusted with guarding these frontiers. Chanakya classified forts into four types, including those surrounded by water, mountainous forts, forts in deserts with no resources, and those near thick forests. While Chanakya valued both forts and people, he ultimately placed greater reliance on the people for defence, with forts being important, especially when it came to the treasury (Kaur, 2010).

Kosha: The Treasury

In ancient India, the "Kosha" (treasury) and the army formed the twin pillars of all states, as underscored by Chanakya. He emphasised that where there was a king, there had to be a treasury. Chanakya recognised the importance of both the treasury and the military but considered the former to be more crucial. The treasury was essential for raising and sustaining the army and ensuring the state's stability. Chanakya detailed ways to fill the treasury, including taxes on agriculture, trade, entertainment, and animal husbandry. These measures were intended for emergencies and had to be applied equitably to maintain the state's financial health. Chanakya stressed the need for a well-filled treasury to weather adversities, such as famines (Sinha, 1962).

Danda: The Army

The sixth limb of the state, according to Chanakya, is the "Bala", or army, a pivotal organ for the state's existence and security. A powerful army is essential not only for defence but also for offensive strategies, particularly in the ancient era of many small and medium-sized states. Chanakya emphasised that soldiers should be valiant, skilled in warfare, and loyal to the king. The army primarily consisted of Kshatriyas, descendants of the king's forebears, recruited permanently, but people from other castes were also allowed to join the army. They were expected to be strong, obedient, and dedicated, with their families content with state support (Singh, 1993). Chanakya distinguished between various types of armies, with the standing army being the most dependable, while mercenaries and other troops were less reliable. The army was organised into divisions, each with its own flag and support services, including medical care for wounded soldiers (Kaur, 2010).

Mitra: The Ally

Ancient Indian political thought, as embodied by Chanakya, recognised the paramount importance of allies in governance. Such thinking was grounded in practicality, as true friends were considered more valuable than wealth, even surpassing land and gold in significance (Mohanty, 1997). Chanakya categorised allies into three types within his Saptanga theory: Sahaja-mitra (allies through close relatives), Krtrima (allies through reciprocal favours with other kings), and Prakrta (allies living near neighbouring kingdoms). Chanakya's concept of allies was rooted in ethical considerations, emphasising the need for unwavering loyalty and readiness to offer support when required. An ideal ally possessed constancy, controllability, power, shared interests, and reliability, avoiding double-crossing and standing ready to help in times of need (Rangarajan, 1992).

Saptanga and the Other Theories

There are a variety of political thinkers who have different points of view on the meaning, history, nature, functions, goals, and components of the state. These political thinkers have different perspectives on the state. The concept of the state as a society that is organised can be traced back to the city-states of ancient Greece. Aristotle referred to it as the organic development of the family and the community. The Greeks were the ones who introduced the concept of a state to the Romans, but the Romans expanded the scope of what a state might encompass geographically. The Roman concept of Status Rei Publicae refers to the state of affairs that are of importance to the general populace (Kaur, 2010).

The Arthashastra of Chanakya is credited with being the first work in ancient India to define  the concept of the state. According to his assertions, "no territory deserves the appellation of kingdom (state) until it is full of people and ruled by an agglomeration of power with ultimate jurisdiction over the realm." Unlike earlier works of its kind, Chanakya’s Arthashastra does not take an entirely theoretical approach to the subject of State. It does not specifically deal with the subject of where the state came from in its discussion. The sole recipient of the Arthashastra's instruction is the monarch, who is referred to throughout the text throughout its entirety.

Chanakya’s Saptanga theory and Machiavelli's theory of political realism both emphasise the necessity of power balance and strong leadership. However, Machiavelli's theory does not emphasise the role of allies as strongly as Chanakya’s theory (Prabhu, 2016). The Saptanga theory of Chanakya is more comprehensive than Aristotle's in terms of the constituents that make up the state. Aristotle discusses the area or geography, the people, the government, the army, and the finances of a state, but he does not discuss the element of the ally (friend). But Arthashastra ushers in a new era of political science rather than political philosophy. Greek philosopher Plato emphasise realpolitik, whereas Aristotle and Plato emphasise political theory. In Arthashastra, the ideal administration of a state is demonstrated. By ignoring the moral component, Chanakya perceives the world described in the Arthashastra as being highly materialistic. Its practical goal was to demonstrate how governments should be run (Jha, 2021).

Aristotle and Chanakya do, however, share some points of similarity. They are both outstanding proponents of the organic theory of the state. According to Aristotle, "the state is previous to the individual." It implies that the condition is natural. Without any notion of a state, we cannot characterise a person as an individual. A person is only an individual when they are citizens of the state; otherwise, they are either God or the devil. It indicates that there is an innate bond between the state and people. An organic idea of the state is represented by  Matsya Nyaya and Saptanga theory of the state. Chanakya compares the organs of the state to their corresponding bodily counterparts (Jha, 2021).

Saptanga Theory and its Relevance in the Contemporary World

The Saptanga Theory, which has its origins in ancient India, continues to possess remarkable relevance in contemporary times, providing valuable insights into the fundamental elements that contribute to the effective functioning of a state or community. The elements of the Saptanga Theory exhibit significance within the context of modern governance, geopolitics, and international relations.

In contemporary society, the concept of monarchy is associated with political governance, highlighting the significant significance of possessing capable and accountable leaders in positions of authority. The minister emphasises the importance of advisory bodies and ministries in decision-making and governance, aligning with the contemporary government system. Also, the notion of the nation highlights the enduring significance of maintaining territorial integrity and upholding national sovereignty. Moreover, the concept of security and defence, as symbolised by fortifications in theoretical discussions, emphasises the ongoing necessity of protecting against external dangers, notwithstanding the transformation of fortifications into advanced defence systems. Nevertheless, the treasury component of the Saptanga Theory corresponds with the contemporary focus on maintaining economic stability and exercising cautious financial administration. This highlights the significance of effective financial management by governments and the promotion of economic progress.

The importance of national defence, akin to its historical counterpart in ancient times, remains just as significant in contemporary society. The maintenance of a robust and proficient military establishment is of utmost importance in preserving national interests and upholding peace and security. Within the realm of international affairs, the notion of allies holds significant relevance in the context of modern diplomacy and the establishment of alliances between governments to achieve shared advantages and foster diplomatic collaboration. This statement highlights the importance of international ties and cooperation in effectively tackling global concerns.


The Saptanga Theory, attributed to the eminent Chanakya, presents a comprehensive framework for state governance. According to Chanakya's perspective, maintaining a power equilibrium with neighbouring states and establishing a centralised authority characterised by efficiency and potency are fundamental prerequisites. When we juxtapose this doctrine with other theoretical constructs, we discern both significant commonalities and thought-provoking divergences.

Originally articulated by the astute strategist himself, it possesses enduring applicability within the realms of modern international relations and security studies. Its pertinence becomes manifest when we contemplate the imperatives of robust leadership, the imperious requirement to preserve a balance of power, and the instrumental role of strategic alliances. These timeless tenets continue to exert substantial influence on contemporary states as they diligently endeavour to secure their well-being and affluence in the multifaceted arena of global politics.

It stands as a formidable and ever-relevant edifice of sagacity, furnishing insights that withstand the test of time. It serves as a beacon of wisdom, offering invaluable guidance for contemporary statesmen grappling with the intricate intricacies of international diplomacy and the management of power dynamics. In an age marked by intricate geopolitical challenges, Chanakya's legacy endures as a lodestar for leaders navigating the ever-shifting currents of global governance.


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  2. Kaur, K. (2010). KAUTILYA : SAPTANGA THEORY OF STATE. The Indian Journal of Political Science, 71(1), 59–68.

  3. Prabhu J. (2016, April 29). Chanakya And Machiavelli: Two Realists In Comparison. Swarajya.

  4. Jha, S. (2021). Aristotle and Kautilya: A Comparative Account.

  5. Choudhary, R. (1971). Kautilya's Political Ideas and Institutions. Munshi Ram Manohar Lal.

  6. Jindal, N. (2019). Relevance of Kautilya in Contemporary International System. International Journal of Historical Insight and Research (IJHIR), 5(2), Apr-Jun.

  7. Mohanty, D. K. (1997). Indian Political Tradition - From Manu to Ambedkar. Anmol Publications Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi.

  8. Kangle, R. P. (1965). The Kautilya Arthashastra. P.C. Manaktala and Sons Private Limited, Bombay.

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  10. Sinha, N. (1962). Development of Indian Polity. Asia Publishing House, New Delhi.

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1 Comment

Adwaith PB
Adwaith PB
Dec 21, 2023

It's interesting to read how you found a delicate balance between Western and Indian thought. I noticed how you observed that Kautilya does not give a potent theory of state, as Kautilya is more or less focused on 'swami', but you may interpret it such that in Kautilyan theory, the state and the ruler were synonymous (just like Machiavelli used Prince and State simultaneously), and it might really solve the problem. Unlike the Western theories of State, Kautilyan theory of state is the most relevant one, I'd say, as it is the only theory that says that 'State' is an entity that yearns to expand (refer Rajamandala), rather than one anchored in its territory, as the Western theories would suggest.…

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