Animal Husbandry and Cattle Management in Arthsastra
by Lalit Tiwari

Humans had to interact closely with nature for their basic needs since prehistoric times; their daily life was totally dependent on plants and animals. Thus the relationship between humans and animal is very ancient. Atharvaveda has several references to dairy farming, cattle health care etc. Asoka, the Buddhist emperor (300BC), established a network of veterinary hospitals throughout India. Kautilya's Arthasastra (321-296 BC) describes a well-managed animal husbandry and cattle management system. In this article I have dealt with ancient animal husbandry from the Arthasastra's point of view.

We are amazed at the detailed and scientific regulations for seemingly such a minor activity 2300 years back. It also shows the concern of the state not only to exploit the animals but also to live with them symbiotically. Large cattle-sheds were well regulated, and so were the wild game sanctuaries where animals were safe from poaching. Even for animals, a medical ethics was enforced by Arthasastra.

Let us first introduce Kautilya and his Arthasastra. All sources of Indian traditions – Brahmanical, Buddhist and Jain – agree that Kautilya destroyed the Nanda dynasty and installed Chandragupta Maurya on the throne of Magadha. The name Kautilya denotes that he was of the Kutila gotra. The name 'Chanakya' means that he was the son of Chanaka, though 'Vishnugupta' was his personal name. Arthasastra was composed by Kautilya in probably between 321-296 BC, though there are doubts about the date of the composition of Arthasastra. A workshop held by the Indian Council for Historical Research, Delhi, concluded that the Arthasastra in its present form was a compilation made by a scholar, Kautilya, in 150 AD. But there is no doubt that Chandragupta Maurya ascended the throne around 321 BC. Arthasastra had never been forgotten in India, but the text itself was not available until, dramatically, a full text on palm leaf in the grantha script, along with a fragment of an old commentary by Bhattasvamin, came into the hands of Dr. R. Shamasastry of Mysore in 1904. And finally he published the text not only in Hindi but also in English in 1909. Arthasastra is a valuable document, which throws light on the state and society of India at c. 300 BC. Here we can say that Kautilya's Arthasastra is totally an administrative text of ancient India, especially of the Mauryan times. Animal husbandry or cattle management was one of the main administrative jobs of the state. Kautilya's Arthasastra also throws light on ancient cattle management practices of the country.

Animal Husbandry

Arthasastra contains an elaborate analysis regarding various aspects of livestock with prescriptions for their better management. Kautilya was also highly conscious about the benefits man gets from different species of animals. Both domestic and wild animals were well protected by all means in Kautilya's time. Kautilya mentioned a variety of animals such as deer, bison, birds, fish, cattle, elephants, horses, asses, pigs, camels, sheep, goat, etc. According to Arthasastra, cattle rearing was the second most important economic activity. Cow and she-buffaloes were reared for milk and the bulls and he-buffaloes were used as drought animals. Ghee, which had the advantage of being easily stored and transported, was the main end product. Cheese was supplied to the army, buttermilk was fed to dogs and pigs and whey mixed with oilcake was used as animal feed. Wool was obtained from sheep and goats.

Cattle Superintendent and Cowherds

Crown herds were the responsibility of the chief superintendent who either employed cowherds, milkers, etc. on wages or gave some herds to a contractor. Chief superintendent was responsible for cattle (cows, bulls and buffaloes), goats, sheep, horses, donkeys, camels and pigs. He had to keep a record of every animal in the different types of herds, of the total of all such animals, of the number that die or are lost, the total collection of milk and ghee and other products. Private herds could also be entrusted to the state for protection on payment. Private owners of animals paid a sales tax of a quarter pana for every animal sold. The superintendent of cows had to supervise the maintenance of cows as well as bull, oxen, buffaloes, and their young calves.

Generally four types of herd were recognized in the Arthasastra. Those:

The Superintendent realised the following revenues from cattle herds:

Basically cowherds played an important role in the maintenance of livestock. On the other hand, the herdsmen had to pay one-tenth of dairy produce to the superintendent of cows. Therefore, such supervision was a source of royal income.

Official Breeder

Animal breeding was given special attention in Kautilya's Arthasastra. The King appointed an official breeder for improving the breed of animals. According to Arthasastra, for breeding purpose, the following proportion of male animals should be kept for every herd of 100 animals:

Accounting of Animals

According to Kautilya, the Chief Superintendent should keep an account of the animals as follows:

Animal Welfare

There is extensive evidence in the Arthasastra about Kautilya's concern for the welfare of animals. Regulations for the protection of wild life, a long list of punishment for cruelty to animals, rations for animals, rules for grazing and the responsibility of veterinary doctors are some of the major topics.

Kautilya ordains that Butchers should follow some rules and regulations, like: should sell only freshly killed animals. The sale of swollen meat, rotten meat and meat from naturally dead animals was prohibited. Fish without head or bones should not be sold. Meat may be sold with or without bones. If sold with bones, equivalent compensation (for the weight of the bone) was to be given.

Grazing Places or Pastures

Pastures were basically required for grazing domestic cattle during ancient India when stall-feeding was rarely adopted. Pastures located in the forest were relieved from danger of tigers, beasts, and thieves. A separate clause was prescribed by Kautilya to protect livestock in pastures and defined the penalties for promoting imprudent grazing of pastures. Pasture lands within the village boundary were the responsibility of the village headman. He collected the charge for grazing on common land and ensured that cattle do not graze or stray into cultivated private fields or gardens or eat the grains in stored sheds. Headman had the responsibility for collecting the revenue for the village from the charges levied on grazing in common land, from the prescribed fines and the fines levied by the state.

According to Arthasastra, bulls belonging to village temples, stud bulls and cows up to ten days after calving were exempt from payments from the following grazing charges:

  Grazing only Grazing and Resting Grazing and staying overnight
Small animals (goats, sheep) 1/16 pana 1/8 pana 1/4 pana
Cattle, horses, donkeys 1/8 pana 1/4 pana 1/2 pana
Buffaloes and Camels 1/4 pana 1/2 pana 1 pana

Healthcare of Animals

Kautilya set forth guidelines for providing medicine to livestock. Various mixtures were prescribed to cure different diseases. He maintained that cowherds shall apply remedies to calves or aged cows or cows suffering from diseases. Regarding the dosage he mentioned that proportion of a dose is as much as an aksha (quantity) to men; twice as much to cows and horses and four times as much to elephants and camels.

Kautilya had provided the facility of veterinary doctors, who were to cure the ill animals. But Kautilya fined the veterinary doctors when the condition of sick animals became worse. If the animal died they had to repay the cost of animal. We thus see that the medical ethics was already enforced by the state in ancient India.

Nutrition Management of Cattle

Kautilya had analyzed many cattle problems and set the guidelines:

Animal Products

Kautilya even standardised the purity of the animal products:

Importance of Elephants and Horses

In Arthasastra, elephants and horses played a major role in defence practices. According to Arthasastra, the best army had best horses and elephants, of good pedigree, strength, youthfulness, vitality, loftiness, speed, mettle, good training, stamina, a lofty mien, obedience, auspicious marks, and good conduct. Kautilya categorized several kinds of elephants and their physical characteristics: war elephants, riding elephants, and untrainable elephants. The state took into account the physical characteristics of elephants with red patches, evenly fleshed, of even sides and rounded girth, with a curved backbone and well endowed with flesh. The following structure of army shows the importance of elephants and horses:

Animals as the Source of State Income

Kautilya mentioned that livestock were also one of the main sources of income of the government. The following sources provided revenue:

A variety of punishments were prescribed by the administration, like grazing penalties, punishments for veterinary doctors, for killing or trapping animals, or fishes in protected areas, etc. The following penalties were imposed in animal husbandry and cattle management by the administration:

Domesticated and protected animals Owner of cattle Herdsman
Animals grazing on village pastures
without prior permission [from the headman]
12 panas 6 panas
Due to owner's negligence 24 panas 12 panas
Animals straying: –    
Into gardens 24 panas  
And breaking down fences 48 panas  
Eating grain in stores and threshing floors 48 panas  
Causing injury to animals and, in particular to protected species in reserved forests Same fines as for causing physical injury to people


There is no doubt that Kautilya's Arthasastra is a legendary text in the context of history of sciences and administrative knowledge of ancient India. In the above, we briefly surveyed the cattle management and animal husbandry of Kautilya's Arthasastra. It clearly shows that Kautilya could set remarkably scientific guidelines for maintenance of animals. Livestock seem to have been well protected in his times. Pain and death to animals were considered as a serious offence and people involved in such unkind acts were punished with fine, even death. Grazing tax and punishment clearly shows that precautionary measures had been prescribed in the Artahsastra in order to stop reckless grazing in pastures, which were basically required for the maintenance of livestock. The credit for well developed management practices in animal husbandry goes to the prescribed punishments.

Article based on:

Banerjee, M. 2000. Ecology from the standpoint of Kautilya's Arthasastra. In: Studies on Indian Culture, Science and Literature (Gangadharan, N., Sarma, S.A.S., and Sarma, S.S.R., eds.). Shree Sarada Education Society Research Centre, Chennai, India. Pp. 431-437.

Gairola, V. 1962. The superintendent of cows. In. Kautilya ka Arthasastra. (In Hindi.) Book II, Chapter XXIX. Chowkhambha Vidya Bhawan, Varanasi, India. Pp. 266-273.

Jha, K.N. and L.K. Jha. 1997. Chanakya. A.P.H. Publishing Corporation, New Delhi, India. Pp. 95-125.

Kar, Pratip. 2000. Chanakya and corporated governance. The Economic Times, 4 August 2000.

Rangarajan, L. N. 1992. Kautilya: the Arthashastra. New Delhi: Penguin Books.

Ranjhan, S.K. 1998. Nutrient Requirements of Livestock and Poultry. New Delhi: Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi, India.

Shamasastry, R. 1929. Kautilya's Arthasastra. Weslayan Mission Press, Mysore, India.

Shamasastry, R. 1999. Kautilya's Arthasastra: the superintendent of cows. Asian Agri-History 3(4): 313-316.

Tiwari, M. K. and V. K. Dubey. 2002. Cattle management in Kautilya's Arthasastra. Asian Agri-History 6(1): 75-82.