Kautilya theory of Mandal

Kautilya theory of Mandal

The mandala system was a theoretical construction of states by Kautilya in his Arthasastra. The word “mandala” means circle in Sanskrit. It is a geographical concept of division of lands of the king (the vijigishu) and the neighboring kingdoms.  It was “perhaps the first theoretical work on an ancient system of kings, kingdoms and empires in the intellectual history of mankind that can be considered to be analogous to a model of international relations.  ”Kautilya’s fundamental objective was to make the state, the Empire, that is, safer, stronger and expand the same.  “Kautilya’s work represented the dominant trend in ancient Indian political thinking, in so far as it regarded territorial conquest as a necessary political function of every monarch.”  Kautilya envisaged that the potential conqueror king (the vijigishu) could become the overlord of the international master system of politics if he followed the mandala theory.  He has provided many strategies and methods to reach his ultimate goal. For Kautilya, the ultimate goal of the vijigishu is the attainment of happiness and welfare of the kingdom. Kautilya adds that this can be attained only from conquest. And to attain this goal, he must be prepared to do anything and everything, for nothing is superior to the welfare of the state.  For Kautilya war is necessary and diplomacy is nothing but preparation for war. He said that “A King who understands the true implication of diplomacy conquers the whole world.  ”Kautilya also made an assumption that every immediate neighbouring state is an enemy, or at least the vijigishu should see his immediate neighbour as an enemy. On the other hand, the state next to the neighbour’s state will be the enemy of the enemy. Thus the third state will be a natural ally for the vijigishu. Thus alternate states are enemies of each other in Kautilya’s mandala.

The Main Elements of Mandala Notion


The Vijigishu: The potential conqueror or the central king. Kautilya will call a king vijigishu if and only if he has the ambition as well as the potential strength to go on conquest. It is important to note that when one talks about the central king being the vijigishu, he is not the only one who is a vijigishu! Any and every other king in the mandalas who have similar ambitions and the potential strength may be called a vijigishu. Thus, it is not that there is only one vijigishu in the mandalas. In this concept, the border of the kingdom of the vijigishu is divided into two parts, the front and the rear.

Ari: The immediate neighbour in the front is the Ari, or the Enemy. As mentioned above, every neighbouring state are enemies, the Ari is the enemy in the front.

Mitra: The next neighbour to the Ari, or the enemy of the enemy. Kautilya’s foreign policy is based on the principle of “the enemy of the enemy is my friend”. Mitra means friend or ally in Sanskrit. Mitra is the natural ally of the vijigishu.

Ari Mitra: The next state adjacent to the Mitra’s front border; or the mitra’s arch enemy is the Ari Mitra. Naturally the Ari Mitra is the ally of the ally of the Ari (enemy) and enemy of the Vijigishu.

Mitra Mitra: The next state adjacent to Ari Mitra (his arch enemy). He is naturally the Mitra’s friend and the vijigishu’s ally as well!


The mandala theory was the first model of an international political system. Although it was written more than 2000 years ago, it contains a high degree of sophistication. Kautilya has clearly defined the universal set of his international system, the boundaries of the four mandalas (circles of states) as well as the boundaries of the structural elements and the subsets. Kautilya has also shown a high degree of sophistication with regard to conceptualization and classification of the various levels and typographies of the system as well as of the policies.

Kautilya clearly stated that happiness is the king’s end and power is the means to acquire the same. Kautilya developed a value free realist international relations model more than 1500 years before Machiavelli or any western scholar of his type did. Thus he may be called a pioneer in this regard.

As illustrated with examples earlier, most of the aspects of Kautilyan diplomacy in the mandala are found in modern day diplomacy in some way or the other. Be it espionage, or the six policies or the four upayas, all are in some way or the other relevant in today’s world. Moreover, in Kautilya’s model there is no such concept of ‘permanent friends or enemy, because today’s mitra may be appeared tomorrow as ari or enemy. This idea is quite pragmatic from the perspective of international relations.

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