Kautiliya Nagara Vyavastha (कौटिलीयनगरव्यवस्था)

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Kautiliya Nagara Vyavastha (Samskrit: कौटिलीयनगरव्यवस्था) refers to the principles of town planning as reflected in the text of Arthashastra (अर्थशास्त्रम्) by Kautilya (कौटिल्यः).

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

As urbanization and globalization continue apace, cities will become the front line actors in the carbon emissions and climate change arenas. Recycling practices are among the most promising at reducing the ecological footprint of cities and entire city regions.

The future of hundreds of millions of people in urban areas across the world will be affected by the different impacts of rapid urbanization and climate change. The impacts will vary depending on the form of settlement, geographic considerations and the nature of the local economy. The overall vulnerability of human settlements will increase as confirmed by various scenarios which project that further global warming over the next decades is inevitable.

The Vedic traditions are known to have the aspects of sustainability and being eco-friendly in the core of their practices.

Kautilya’s Arthashastra is considered to be a comprehensive treatise and addresses those entire essential fundamentals specific to the practices of design and development of human settlements. He defines a hierarchy of urban centers and their administrative divisions. So as to ensure a bare minimum quality of life, he recommends different sizes of towns based on the available natural resources and also defines limits to their expansions.

क्षेत्रविनियोगः ॥ Land Use

  • Kautilya recommended different types of land uses viz. Cart shed, Storage shed, threshing floor, vegetable garden, irrigated land, dry cultivation, pasture (3.9.25).[1]

    विवीत-स्थल-केदार-षण्ड-खल-वेश्म-वाहन-कोष्ठानां पूर्वं-पूर्वं आबाधं सहेत ।। ०३.९.२५ ।।[2]

    vivīta-sthala-kedāra-ṣaṇḍa-khala-veśma-vāhana-koṣṭhānāṁ pūrvaṁ-pūrvaṁ ābādhaṁ saheta ।। 03.9.25 ।।

  • The chancellor was expected to keep precise and detailed records of land use and anticipated revenue, helped by magistrates and secret agents.[1]

    समाहर्तृवन्नागरिको नगरं चिन्तयेत् ।। ०२.३६.०१ ।। दश-कुलीं गोपो विंशति-कुलीं चत्वारिंशत्-कुलीं वा ।। ०२.३६.०२ ।।

    स तस्यां स्त्री-पुरुषाणां जाति-गोत्र-नाम-कर्मभिः जङ्घ-अग्रं आय-व्ययौ च विद्यात् ।। ०२.३६.०३ ।। एवं दुर्ग-चतुर्-भागं स्थानिकश्चिन्तयेत् ।। ०२.३६.०४ ।।[3]

    samāhartr̥vannāgariko nagaraṁ cintayet ।। 02.36.01 ।। daśa-kulīṁ gopo viṁśati-kulīṁ catvāriṁśat-kulīṁ vā ।। 02.36.02 ।।

    sa tasyāṁ strī-puruṣāṇāṁ jāti-gotra-nāma-karmabhiḥ jaṅgha-agraṁ āya-vyayau ca vidyāt ।। 02.36.03 ।। evaṁ durga-catur-bhāgaṁ sthānikaścintayet ।। 02.36.04 ।।

    Meaning: Like the Collector-general, the Officer in charge of the Capital City (Nagaraka) shall look to the affairs of the capital. A Gopa shall keep the accounts of ten households, twenty households, or forty households. He shall not only know the caste, gotra, the name, and occupation of both men and women in those households, but also ascertain their income and expenditure. Likewise, the officer known as Sthanika shall attend to the accounts of the four quarters of the capital (Arth. 2.36.1-4).[4]
  • The Pattern of land use as per Kautilya may be explained as follows:
Pattern of Land Use.[5]

विशेषव्यवस्था: ॥ Special rules

The Adhyayas 1, 3 and 4 of the 2nd Adhikarana in Kautilya's Arthashastra talk about formation of villages, construction of forts and structure within the fort respectively. These form the sources for understanding ancient Indian principles of town planning as reflected in the Arthashastra. Some interesting points raised here include:

  • The town should be not have surplus population which should then be housed in a new place.

भूत-पूर्वं अभूत-पूर्वं वा जन-पदं पर-देश-अपवाहनेन स्व-देश-अभिष्यन्द-वमनेन वा निवेशयेत् ।। ०२.०१.०१ ।।[6]

bhūta-pūrvaṁ abhūta-pūrvaṁ vā jana-padaṁ para-deśa-apavāhanena sva-deśa-abhiṣyanda-vamanena vā niveśayet ।। 02.01.01 ।।

  • Towns should be positioned to help each other.

अन्योन्य-आरक्षं निवेशयेत् ।। ०२.०१.०२ ।। anyonya-ārakṣaṁ niveśayet ।। 02.01.02 ।। [6]

  • There shall be set up a sthaniya (a fortress of that name) in the centre of eight-hundred villages, a dronamukha in the centre of four-hundred villages, a kharvatika in the centre of two-hundred villages and sangrahana in the midst of a collection of ten villages.[4]

अष्टशत-ग्राम्या मध्ये स्थानीयम् । चतुह्शत-ग्राम्या द्रोण-मुखम् । द्विशत-ग्राम्याः कार्वटिकम् । दश-ग्रामी-संग्रहेण संग्रहं स्थापयेत् ।। ०२.०१.०४ ।।[6]

aṣṭaśata-grāmyā madhye sthānīyam । catuhśata-grāmyā droṇa-mukham । dviśata-grāmyāḥ kārvaṭikam । daśa-grāmī-saṁgraheṇa saṁgrahaṁ sthāpayet ।। 02.01.04 ।।

  • Migrated people in new settlement exempted from payment of taxes for some years.

निवेश-सम-कालं यथा-आगतकं वा परिहारं दद्यात् ।। ०२.०१.१७ ।।[6]

niveśa-sama-kālaṁ yathā-āgatakaṁ vā parihāraṁ dadyāt ।। 02.01.17 ।।

  • A city should be located centrally to facilitate trade and commerce.
  • The site should be large in area and near a perennial water body.

ह्रदस्य वा अविशोषस्याङ्के । hradasya vā aviśoṣasyāṅke ।[7]

  • The city shape should be circular, rectangular or square as per the topography.

वृत्तं दीर्घं चतुरश्रं वा | vr̥ttaṁ dīrghaṁ caturaśraṁ vā |[7]

  • There should be separate areas for marketing different goods.

For eg:

Placement of manufacturers, merchants and artisans within the Fort[4]
People Residence
Merchants trading in scents, garlands, grains and liquids On the eastern side
Various manufactories On sites south by east.
Store-house of forest produce and the arsenal On sites south by west.
Those who trade in cooked rice, liquor, and flesh To the south
Artisans manufacturing worsted threads, cotton threads,

bamboo-mats, skins, armours, weapons, and gloves

To the west
Artisans working on precious stones To the north

ततः परं गन्ध-माल्य-रस-पण्याः प्रसाधन-कारवः क्षत्रियाश्च पूर्वां दिशं अधिवसेयुः ।। ०२.४.०९ ।।

दक्षिण-पूर्वं भागं भाण्ड-अगारं अक्ष-पटलं कर्म-निषद्याश्च । दक्षिण-पश्चिमं भागं कुप्य-गृहं आयुध-अगारं च ।। ०२.४.१० ।।

पक्व-अन्न-सुरा-मांस-पण्या रूपाजीवास्तालावचरा वैश्याश्च दक्षिणां दिशं अधिवसेयुः ।। ०२.४.११ ।।

ततः परं ऊर्णा-सूत्र-वेणु-चर्म-वर्म-शस्त्र-आवरण-कारवः शूद्राश्च पश्चिमां दिशं अधिवसेयुः ।। ०२.४.१३ ।।

लोह-मणि-कारवो ब्राह्मणाश्चौत्तरां दिशं अधिवसेयुः ।। ०२.४.१५ ।।[8]

tataḥ paraṁ gandha-mālya-rasa-paṇyāḥ prasādhana-kāravaḥ kṣatriyāśca pūrvāṁ diśaṁ adhivaseyuḥ ।। 02.4.09 ।।

dakṣiṇa-pūrvaṁ bhāgaṁ bhāṇḍa-agāraṁ akṣa-paṭalaṁ karma-niṣadyāśca । dakṣiṇa-paścimaṁ bhāgaṁ kupya-gr̥haṁ āyudha-agāraṁ ca ।। 02.4.10 ।।

pakva-anna-surā-māṁsa-paṇyā rūpājīvāstālāvacarā vaiśyāśca dakṣiṇāṁ diśaṁ adhivaseyuḥ ।। 02.4.11 ।।

tataḥ paraṁ ūrṇā-sūtra-veṇu-carma-varma-śastra-āvaraṇa-kāravaḥ śūdrāśca paścimāṁ diśaṁ adhivaseyuḥ ।। 02.4.13 ।।

loha-maṇi-kāravo brāhmaṇāścauttarāṁ diśaṁ adhivaseyuḥ ।। 02.4.15 ।।

  • The wall around the town should be 6 dandas high and 12 dandas wide.

षड्दण्ड-उच्छ्रितं अवरुद्धं तद्-द्विगुण-विष्कम्भम् । ṣaḍdaṇḍa-ucchritaṁ avaruddhaṁ tad-dviguṇa-viṣkambham । [7]

  • Beyond this wall there should be three moats of 14 feet, 12 feet and 10 feet wide to be constructed four arm-lengths apart.

तस्य परिखास्तिस्रो दण्ड-अन्तराः कारयेत्चतुर्दश द्वादश दशैति दण्डान्विस्तीर्णाः ।[7]

tasya parikhāstisro daṇḍa-antarāḥ kārayetcaturdaśa dvādaśa daśaiti daṇḍānvistīrṇāḥ ।

  • Three east-west and three north-south roads should divide the town.

त्रयः प्राचीना राज-मार्गास्त्रय उदीचीना इति वास्तु-विभागः ।। ०२.४.०१ ।।[8]

trayaḥ prācīnā rāja-mārgāstraya udīcīnā iti vāstu-vibhāgaḥ ।। 02.4.01 ।।

  • The main roads should be 8 dandas wide and other roads 4 dandas wide.
  • There should be 1 well per 10 houses.

दश-कुली-वाटं कूप-स्थानं ।। ०२.४.२६ ।। daśa-kulī-vāṭaṁ kūpa-sthānaṁ ।। 02.4.26 ।।[8]

अर्थशास्त्रस्य प्रयुक्तिः ॥ Need of Arthashastra

Climate change brings new challenges, which impact the natural and built environments and aggravates existing environmental, social and economic problems. Clearly these changes will affect different aspects of spatial planning and the built environment, including external building fabric, structural integrity, internal environments, service infrastructure, open spaces, human comfort and the way people use indoor and outdoor space. Coupled with the challenges of rapid urbanization, climate change impacts will undermine country efforts to achieve the goals of sustainable development.            

Nowadays, as a result of technological advancements, integration of societies and economies of the world, planning of cities and regions has become very complex. Professionally trained planners are therefore needed in order to evolve new options for the development and management of human settlements. This applies not only to the planning of metropolitan areas but also to small cities, towns and villages. Drawing from the sophisticated and earth friendly paradigms of ancient India will greatly benefit the planners and policy makers of today.


  1. 1.0 1.1 L.N.Rangarajan (1992), Kautilya The Arthashastra, Penguin Books.
  2. Kautilya, Arthashastra, Adhikarana 3, Adhyaya 9.
  3. Kautilya, Arthashastra, Adhikarana 2, Adhyaya 36.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 R. Shamasastry, Kautilya's Arthashastra.
  5. L.N.Rangarajan (1992), Kautilya The Arthashastra, Penguin Books.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Kautilya, Arthashastra, Adhikarana 2, Adhyaya 1.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Kautilya, Arthashastra, Adhikarana 2, Adhyaya 3.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Kautilya, Arthashastra, Adhikarana 2, Adhyaya 4.