The Mandala Theory
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!
6 Ari Mitra Mitra: Ari Mitra Mitra is the friend of the Ari Mitra. Naturally he is allied with the Ari and enemies with the vijigishu. These are the five kingdoms to the Vijigishu’s front. The Vijigishu, Mitra and Mitra Mitra are friends. (Thus kingdoms 1, 3 and 5 are allies). On the other hand, Ari, Ari Mitra and Ari Mitra Mitra are friends. (Thus kingdoms 2, 4 and 6 are allies). Moreover, 1, 3 and 5 are enemies with 2, 4 and 6. Besides this, the same pattern of mandalas apply to the vijigishu’s rear borders,
- The immediate neighbour (enemy) is the Parashanigraha.
- The next kingdom, the ally in the rear is called the Akranda.
- The friend of the enemy or the next kingdom in the rear is the Parashanigrahasara.
- The friend’s friend in the rear is the Akrandasara. Therefore, in the rear too there is a similar alliance. The vijigishu is allied with 8 and 10. (1, 8 and 10 are in an alliance). Meanwhile (7 and 9 are allies and are opposed to the vijigishu) In this pattern the opposing alliances must continually prepare for war and try to obliterate the enemies.
As mentioned earlier, diplomacy for Kautilya is nothing but preparation for war. He also says that stances change alternatively in diplomacy due to changing conditions arising due to changing political circumstances. He also recognizes the existence of middle kingdoms or kingdoms not belonging to either of the alliances. With these in mind, we may observe that there are two more kingdoms in the Kautilyan mandala.
- The Madhyama or the intermediary. The madhyama king is defined as the one “who occupies a territory close to both the conqueror and his immediate enemy in front and who is capable of helping both kings, whether united or disunited, or of resisting either of them individually.” Thus the madhyama king occupies a strategic position in Kautilya’s mandala.
- The Udasina or the neutral. The udasina king is defined as one “who is situated beyond the territory of any one of the above kings, and who is very powerful and capable of helping the enemy, the conqueror, the madhyama king together or individually or of resisting any of them individually.”
Kautilya’s Mandala: Its Advantages, Disadvantages and Relevance in Contemporary Global Order
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.
However, like all theories in social sciences, critics have pointed out a few lacunae in the Kautilya model.
Firstly, Kautilya takes the concept of geographically contagious states to be natural enemies as sacrosanct. However, whatever the situation in his days might have been, this assumption is not always correct. Yes, neighbours can be enemies but this is not a fixed concept and does not apply all the time.
Secondly, Kautilya has been ambiguous in defining the role of the madhyama and udasina kings. They have been meticulously defined but little attention has been taken to describe their role in the political process. Kautilya says that the madhyama king is capable of helping the vijigishu, ari or resisting them. But he says nothing regarding how or when or in what way does he use his capabilities.
Thirdly, the Kautilyan model is highly unstable and in the long run, it is perhaps a self destructing system. There is will be no homeostasis or equilibrium in the international order because once the vijigishu embarks upon his military venture, he is going to be perpetually embroiled in unmitigated conflict. Equilibrium will never come back. Even if the vijigishu succeeds in establishing a world empire, he will be able to do so only by destroying all the other structural elements in the international system and replacing it by a world empire. Thus, the system remains self destructive in its entirety.
Finally, the Kautilya model does not pass the test of the theory of evolutionary survival. The inevitable self destruction is not evolutionary and the system does not satisfy the behavioral theory as evolutionary survival is the minimum systemic goal. The madhyama and udasina kings have been given no stabilizing role in the system which practically makes it redundant. In fact, the system lacks any kind of stabilizing force.
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