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The Mandala Theory: A brief overview

Kautilya’s Arthashastra is considered to be one of the most important texts in the sphere of politics and diplomacy. This ancient Indian political thought was written around 325 BC and was published in Shama Shastri in the year of 1909. Chittaranjan Roy mentions that the book was divided into 32 divisions based on paragraphs. Moreover, the book has 15 adhikaranas (sections) with 180 prakaranas (sub-sections). Kautilya’s ideology makes it absolutely clear that he was probably not the first one to study the subjects and statecraft in such a detailed manner. Moreover, he goes on to mention that by compiling the thoughts of the previous masters with regards to the polity and adding his own thoughts, he developed his own ideology that saw protection and maintenance of sovereignty as one of the fundamental functions of the king. Also, protecting dharma and territory was the fundamental function of the state. Moreover, while talking about society, he was aware of the caste hierarchy and rampant social inequalities present in society. He subjected the Brahmanas to capital punishment for doing something wrong and allowed the Shudras to testify in court. Thereby, raising the social status of the Shudras. Kautilya also laid down strict rules with regards to children, women, workers, artisans, poor people, etc. of the society. This clearly shows how Arthashastra manages to reflect the complex realities of society. Kautilya’s Arthashastra manages to come up with scientific management of the statecraft and lays down ideas with regards to the management of the complex societal problems. 

One of the most splendid contributions to political thought by Kautilya has been the Mandala theory. This theory has given rise to questions from around the world about its relevance in the contemporary political scenario. Moreover, it is believed that the foundations of Mandala theory were laid down for the first time in the writings of Manu (a lawmaker) which soon formed the basis of India’s foreign policy (in ancient India). Roy suggests that evidence of the theory is available in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The fact that war was a part and parcel of life was realized by the Indian political writers and keep them under control several measures of maintaining a balance of power between states was suggested. This particular theory found in the writings of Smriti and Niti writers was based on this idea. Moreover, it is imperative to mention that a more comprehensive view of the theory was found in the writings of Kautilya thereby proving itself to be something that comes to the aid of even those belonging after Kautilya. 

According to Kautilya, a king who understands the worth of diplomacy can emerge as the conqueror of the world. The basic premise of his Mandala theory concentrates on the actions of the Vijighisu (the primary king), his friends, and his a friend’s friend. These emperors form the three primary kings constituting circles of the state. Roy mentions that each of these kings contains the five elements of sovereignty whereas a circle of states consists of eighteen elements. Moreover, he made clear the fact that every immediate neighbour was the enemy of Vijighisu or the conqueror should be aware and wary of the actions of such a date. In accordance with this calculation, the state after the enemy would naturally be an ally of the conqueror (enemy’s enemy a friend). It also should be mentioned that  Kautilya divided the Vijighusi’s kingdom into front and rear. 

The Vijighisu: Kautilya considers him to be the conqueror or the king who holds the central position. Such a king must have the ambition to go on conquest and possess the potential to grow. However, it must be noted that there can be n number of Vijighisu if they possess the strength and the potential of one as prescribed by Kautilya. 

The main elements of the Mandala theory regarding kingdoms in front of the Vijighisu are:-

  • The Ari: The immediate neighbour is the Ari or the Enemy. As mentioned above, every immediate neighbour is considered the Enemy. The Ari is the Enemy in the front.
  • The Mitra: The King after the Ari is the Mitra or the friend. According to Kautilya, the enemy’s enemy is the ally. Hence, this emperor is an ally of the Vijighisu.
  • The Ari Mitra: This is the ally of the Enemy and the Enemy of the Friend. Thus, naturally, this emperor is also the enemy of the Vijighisu.
  • The Mitra Mitra: The state adjacent to Ari Mitra is the Mitra Mitra. This state is the friend of both Mitra and the Vijighisu. However, it is the enemy of Ari Mitra and Ari
  • The Ari Mitra Mitra: The kingdom is a natural enemy of the Vijighisu and is aligned with its enemies. 

Hence, it must be noted that the Vijighisu, Mitra, Mitra Mitra are allies; whereas the Ari, Ari Mitra, and the Ari Mitra Mitra are allies and enemies of the Vijighisu

The main elements of the Mandala theory regarding kingdoms in the rear of the Vijighisu are:-

  • The immediate neighbour is the Paarshnigraaha. This the enemy in the rear of the Vijighisu.
  • The ally in the rear of Vijighisu is known as the Akranda
  • The ally of the rearward enemy is the Paarshnigraahasara
  • The ally of the rearward ally is the Akrandasara

Hence, in the rear, we have the Paarshnigraaha and the Paarshnigraahasara as the enemy; whereas the Akranda and the Akrandasara are the allies. 

Apart from this, there are two other kings, namely, the Madhyama who is the indifferent one and the intermediary; and the Udaasina who is neutral. 

  • The Madhyama king is said to occupy a position of strength on the basis of which it can choose to either help the Vijighisu or his enemy Ari or not help at all. Thus, this king occupies a very important position in Kautilya’s Mandala. Also, this king lies close to both. 
  • The Udaasina lies beyond the territory of the kings. This kingdom is powerful enough to help the conqueror, the enemy, the Madhyama together or individually. This kingdom can also resist each one of them. 

Moreover, to enhance ones political foothold, Kautilya prescribed 6 methods off foreign policy, namely, Sandhi, Vigraha, Asana, Yana, Samsraya, and Dvadibhava

Taking into consideration the various aspects presented by Kautilya with regards to polity, it can be said that this theory is still relevant in the sphere of International Relations and politics. Developing a value-free realist model regarding politics much earlier than Machiavelli or any other scholar of the sort, his work brought forward the sheer brilliance and intelligence with which politics was observed. Although his idea can be found in some form or the other in modern-day diplomacy and politics, several scholars have pointed out some of the disadvantages of the theory. 

  • Firstly, scholars have pointed out that his concept of how one’s immediate neighbour is the enemy may not be always true depending on the contemporary situation. 
  • Secondly, his writings are ambiguous with regards to Udaasina and Madhyama. Although these kings have been given a detailed description, their role in the political process has received little to no attention. 
  • Thirdly, Kautilya’s model has been claimed to be of self-destructive nature. This theory explains how the king will embark on a never-ending military journey and will be always embroiled in conflict. Hence, equilibrium is greatly affected. 
  • Finally, this system lacks a stabilizing force. Thus, it stands in direct confrontation with the evolutionary theory. 

However, the attention to the concept of “external” sovereignty makes the theory a relevant part of politics. Its pragmatic outlook and importance of geography prove to be something that might be very helpful in contemporary times. 

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