:: Home  



      Infinity Foundation

      Mandala Of Indic Traditions

      Other Links


Animal Husbandry and Cattle Management in Arthasastra

By Lalit Tiwari

Lok Vigyan Kendra

Almora 263601 India  


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.

  • The duties of a superintendent were: supervise herds and obtain exact information about abandoned and useless herds; maintain class of herds by registering each animal’s natural and branded marks, colour, and distance from one horn to another; update the number of stray cattle and register total number of cattle lost permanently; collection of information about total production of milk and ghee or clarified butter, etc.
  • The duties of cowherds were: graze their herds in forest grounds under suitable guards and in groups of ten according to their types; treat the animals during the period of their illness; take care of animals when animals went to river or lakes to drink water; to ensure that the watering place is safe and free of crocodiles and not muddy; to milk timely; inform the owners about the loss of cattle and cause of loss; to hang  bells around the necks of timid animals in order to frighten snakes and to locate them easily when grazing; in rainy season, autumn and early winter, cows and she-buffaloes were to be milked twice a day and in late winter, spring and summer only once a day.

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

  • Looked after by attendants: - the chief superintendent employed, for each herd of 100 animals, one cowherd or buffalo herdsman, a milker, a churner and a hunter guard who would protect the herds from wild animals.
  • Looked after under contract: - a balanced herd of 100 animals could be given to some one on contract.
  • Unproductive animals: - a balanced herd of 100 animals may be given to someone for an annual payment, related to what the herd can produce.
  • Private cattle looked after for a share: - private cattle owners could place their animals under the protection of the King on payment of a protection share.

The Superintendent realised the  following revenues from cattle herds:

Ø      Cattle looked after for wages: - ghee according to the norms laid down. All                                                                    animal by-products.

Ø      Cattle looked after by contractor: -       1 pana per animal per annum and 8 varakas                                                                of ghee per 100 animals. Skins of dead                                                                         animals.

Ø      Non-productive animals: -                     According to capacity of herd.

Ø      Private animals: -                                  1/10 of production.

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:

Ø      Donkeys and horses:                 5 stallions

Ø      Goats and sheep:                      10 rams

Ø      Cows, buffaloes and camels:     4 bulls.


Accounting of Animals

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

  • All calves should be identified (by branding or by nicking the ear) within a month or two of birth; all stray cattle be marked if they remain unclaimed for more than two mounts.
  • Every animal should be identified in the records with the details of the branding mark, any natural identification marks, the colour, and peculiarity of horns.
  • An account should be maintained of cattle lost.

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.

  • Animal sanctuary was the remarkable feature of Arthasastra. As part of creation of the infrastructure of a settled and prosperous kingdom, an animal sanctuary, where all animals were welcomed as guests was established.
  • Killing or injuring protected species and animals in reserved parks and sanctuaries was prohibited. Even animals, which had turned dangerous, were not to be killed within the sanctuary but had to be caught, taken outside and then killed.
  • Sea fish which had strange or unusual characteristics, fresh water fish from lakes, rivers, tanks or canals; game birds or birds for pleasure such as curlew, osprey, swan, pheasant, partridge,  parrot and mynah; and all auspicious birds and animals were declared as protected species.
  • The chief protector did not allow the catching of fish, or the trapping, hurting or killing of animals whose slaughter was not customary. 
  • Live birds and deer received as tax were let loose in the sanctuaries.
  • If protected animals or those from reserved forests strayed and were found grazing where they should not, they were to be driven away without hurting them. Stray cattle were to be driven off with rope or a whip without harming them.
  • Butchers paid tax for sold meat at the rates given below:

Ø      Animal, not in sanctuaries, whose   

slaughter is permitted : -                              1/6th

Ø      Fish and birds: -                                          11/60th

Ø      Deer and cattle: -                                        1/6th + sulka (fee) of 4 % or 5 %

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      Grazing and

                                                                                    Resting staying overnight


Ø      Small animals                      1/16 pana         1/8 pana           ¼ pana

(goats, sheep)  

Ø      Cattle, horses,                    1/8 pana           ¼ pana             ½ pana


Ø      Buffaloes and

Camels                                     ¼ pana             ½ 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:

  • Drought oxen would be provided with subsistence in proportion to the duration of service rendered.
  •  Milch cows would be provided with subsistence in proportion to the milk obtained from them.
  • All cattle would be provided fodder and water abundantly.


Animal Products

Kautilya even standardised the purity of the animal products:

·        Ghee: -

Normal yield of ghee from 1 drona of milk:

    Cows milk                                            1 prastha

    Buffaloes milk                                       1 1/5 prastha

    Goat and sheep’s milk                          1 ½ prastha

·        Other products: -

Kurchika- Cheese (to be supplied to the army)

Kilata- Whey (mixed with oil cake, used as animal feed)

Butter-removed buttermilk- Not for human consumption, to be fed to dogs and pigs.

·        Wool: -

Of sheep and goats.

·        By products: -

Such as hair, skins, bladder, bile, tendons, teeth, hooves and horns were useful products of wild animals form the forest. 


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:

·        Income was obtained from the sale of animals.

·        The owners of cattle on  account of royal protection paid one-tenth share in the produce of dairy to the king.

·         Ferry fees were charged when livestock crossed a river.

·        Toll was realized from the sale proceeds of the produce of sheep and goats.

·        There was a toll levied on the slaughterhouse.

·        In  time of emergency king prescribed some special tax, like 50% of skins and ivory collected to replenish the treasury.


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:

  • Punishment for animal husbandry: -

For not milking cows in time             

Value of milk lost

For negligence in  training bulls

Value of work lost due to delay at the right time

Negligence of herdsmen            

Restitution equal to loss

Not reporting loss of cattle by natural causes, theft, wild animals, snakes or crocodiles lost

Restitution of the value of the animal


Replacing an animal in the state herd      by a private one

Lowest Standard penalties (SP)

For letting two bulls fight                        

Lowest Standard penalties

For letting a bull die in a fight with  another

Highest Standard penalties

For milking cows twice in seasons         (spring, summer, late winter) when        they should be milked only once a day

Cutting off of the thumb

Killing, inciting to kill, stealing or              inciting to steal an animal


  • Punishments for veterinary doctors

When a sick animal’s condition becomes worse due to wrong treatment or carelessness

If the animal is not cured

Twice the cost of treatment

If the animal dies

The value of the animal

  • Punishment for killing the protected species in protected area

 For trapping, injuring or killing of: -

Protected species

Highest Standard penalties

Animals in sanctuaries

Highest Standard penalties

 For the above offences: -

Committed by householders (for their personal use)


Middle Standard penalties

Gamekeepers and sanctuary guards who let the above happen

Lowest Standard penalties

 For trapping, injuring or killing: -

Fish and birds whose slaughter is not customary


26 3/4 panas

Deer and animals whose slaughter is not customary

53 1/2 panas

  • Punishment for butchers

Giving short weight

Eight times the shortage

Selling bad meat

12 panas

Killing or torturing to death a calf, bull or milch cow

50 panas

Castrating the male of a small animal used for breeding

Lowest Standard penalties

  • Punishment for injuring animals with a stick etc

For small animals

1 to 2 panas

For big animals

2 to 4 pana + cost of treatment

  • Punishment for causing bleeding wounds to animals

Small animals

2 to 4 panas

Big animals

4 to 8 panas + cost of treatment

Letting horned or tusked animals fight and kill one another

Compensation to owner and equal amount as fine

  • A temple animal, a stud bull or a cow not yet calved


500 panas

Driving away

Highest Standard penalties

  • Punishment for theft of animals

Theft or killing of small animals (e.g., cocks, cats, dogs, pigs etc.) of value less than 25 panas

Cutting off the tip of the nose or 54 panas(fine for CandaLas and forest dwellers - 27 panas)

Theft or killing of a small animal useful for its milk or hair, for riding or for stud


Compensation to owner + equal amount as fine (killing for ritual purposes permitted)

Theft of deer, cattle, birds, fish, wild animals caught in some body else's trap or net           

Value of animal + equal amount as fine

Theft of deer from protected forests or objects from productive forests

100 panas

Theft of deer or birds held in captivity for pleasure

200 panas

Theft of adult cattle

Cutting off both feet or a fine of 600 panas

Theft of a temple animal           

Highest Standard penalties or death (depending on the gravity of the offence)

Theft of a herd (more than ten heads) of cattle

Death without torture




  • Punishment for grazing in protected area

Animals eating crops: Owner of offending animal to pay the specified amount to one who has suffered

Double the damage calculated according to (expected) harvest

 Fines payable to State:

Domesticated and protected animals

Owner of cattle


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 And breaking down fences

Eating grain in stores and threshing floors


48 panas


48 panas



24 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. 

Posted on 09/29/2004