The Role of Tantra & Mantra in Rajaneeti

Mantra and Tantra were regarded by Kautilya as two crucial elements in the art and science of Vedic approach to politics – Rajaneeti. Without a plan and a strategy to execute it Shakti (read Power) is of no use. In Arthashastra, he declares “Power by itself is useless” and that “Person who seeks power without sound Mantra (objective) and Tantra (strategy) are verily consumed by it.”

Exclusive to Vedic Management Centre by U. Mahesh Prabhu

Vedic Sanskrit is a language of profound knowledge and deep wisdom. Although very ancient, many original ideas medicine, mathematics, science, and technology is written in this language for thousands of years. Unfortunately, many of these words, particularly in older texts, are mistranslated, which causes every sort of misinterpretation. It’s important to note here that Vedic Sanskrit is much different than the Sanskrit that is being taught by most revivalist schools. We know this for sure when we find that those who claim to speak in Sanskrit fluently, today, fail to translate or understand various Sanskrit texts efficiently.

Among the most mistranslated and abused terms in Sanskrit are Tantra and Mantra. The word Tantra is often mistranslated as “occult” or as referring to sensational practise, and Mantra often misunderstood magical sounds that grant mystical or magical powers. Mantra is also misunderstood as a ‘secret formula’.

Around 300 BC a nonagenarian Brahman named Vishnu Sharma wrote a web of stories to explain dynamics of human relationships and entitled it as Panchatantra. The title consists of two words, namely Pancha and Tantra. While Pancha denotes “five” – the Tantra is about Strategies and not occult.

Minister or Counsellors to the king were often called Mantri. The word Mantri consists of two words, namely Mana and Tri. Mana is best understood as mind, whereas Tri (which could also be confused with number three) denotes protector. Mana in Mantri is the mind of the ruler. The mind of a ruler contains vision, plans, secrets, and strategy. Therefore, the person who protects this valuable data and information in the mind of the king was called Mantri. The mantra, in this case, signifies things that affect that which is in mind – essentially objective(s). The focus of a Mantri is to remain objective while providing the right counsel to the ruler.  

Given this, we can safely translate Tantra as Strategy and Mantra as Guidance.

Mantra and Tantra were regarded by Kautilya as two crucial elements in the art and science of Vedic approach to politics – Rajaneeti. Without a plan and a strategy to execute it Shakti (read Power) is of no use. In Arthashastra, he declares “Power by itself is useless” and that “Person who seeks power without sound Mantra (objective) and Tantra (strategy) is verily consumed by it.”

In the fourth sutra of Artha Sutras, Kautilya suggests, “The root of good governance is Conquering of Senses.” Meaning the person who is not drifted by desires and vanities of mind is the person who’s most capable of serving in the administration.

Many earlier translators of Artha Sutras never understood this well. How is one to conquer one’s senses? There are no specific texts or description on this topic elsewhere in the Artha Shastra; this is because Rajaneeti, as a subject, is based on earlier Vedic works which taught the essence of life and living. Dharma Shastras like Mahabharata (including Krishna’s Bhagavad-Gita, Bhishma’s Shanti Parva and Vidura’s Neeti), Ramayana (including Yoga Vashistha), Aranyakas and Upanishads provide substantial discourses on the topics like Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha, etc.

Attempting to translate Kautilya’s Artha Shastra without substantial grounding in Vedic knowledge and wisdom is like trying to understand rocket science without understanding the fundamentals of physics.

Unfortunately, as many translations that are available today also mistranslate Dharma as religion, Artha as money, Mantra as a hymn, Tantra as occult, etc. This not just distorts the core ideas that form the foundation of Vedic knowledge, including Rajaneeti but also renders them useless from a practical standpoint.

It’s interesting to see how many people translate Mantra as a hymn but Mantri (which means “one who protects mantra”) as a minister.

Mana in Sanskrit can be understood as mind. Mind is that which is intangible yet makes and breaks a great many things in this world. According to the Rishis (Vedic sages) the one who thinks himself as his mind is the one who’s driven by it and eventually crippled by it. Various rishis across texts, from Rig Veda to Yajur Veda, from Ramayana to Mahabharata, from Aranyakas to Upanishads and from Niti until Dharma Shastras speak repeatedly that “we aren’t the mind”. And that “we are beyond mind”. The word Aatmana, can be interpreted at a deeper level as what is  Aat (beyond) and Mana (mind), essentially means Beyond Mind.

In Rajaneeti, Manas is the collective mind of those in administration or Rajyam.

The objective of Rajyam is to sustain Dharma (also understood as greater good). For supporting Dharma, it is vital to achieving specific goals (as set forth as Mantra) and a sound strategy (or Tantra) from time to time. Therefore, without Mantra and Tantra, there can be no Rajyam.

Rajyam is to be led by a Raja or king (or ruler) assisted by Mantri (minister or counselor) and Tantri (strategist(s)). There’s also a fourth player, who’s often invisible yet commands the respect of all the three – the Rajaguru.

3 responses on "The Role of Tantra & Mantra in Rajaneeti"

  1. I want to know the answers to the following.question.

    When was the existence of Arthashastra revived in India? I understand it was in obscurity for almost two thousand years and only in early nineteenth century, a manuscript was discovered by a farmer in present day Karnataka.

  2. When was the existence of Arthashastra revived in India? Is it true that it was lost in obscruity for nearly two thousand years?

  3. Arthashastra as text we have today we discovered by a person named R Shamashastry of Mysore in early 1900s. However, I don’t think it would be correct to assume that it was lost for 2,000 years. The Arthashastra has mention in various texts including Kalhana’s Rajatarangini, Soma deva’s Kathasaritsagara, Annambhatta’s Tarkashastra and, of course, the legendary Sanskrit play – Mudrarakshasa. Vidyaranya the mentor of Hakka and Bukka – founders of Vijayanagara Kingdom – is believed to have followed it. So Arthashastra wasn’t completely lost per se as it is believed by many.

    It’s important to know that Arthashastra was not authored by Kautilya but edited with commentaries in the form that is available to us today. Kautilya himself mentions various other editors including Bharadwaja (Rajaguru of King Bharata), Parashara, Pishuna, Vamadeva and many others. So Arthashastra has inspired a great many kings and dynasties for thousands of years before Kautilya and continue to be one of the oldest and credible texts on leadership although the full potential of the text is yet to be uncovered.

    Hope this helps.

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