Prisons in Sanskrit Literature: A Comparison of Arthaśāstra and Vāgmaṇḍanaguṇadūtakāvya Descriptions


  • Lidia Szczepanik Jagiellonian University, Kraków



Indian judicial system, prisons, Manusmr̥ ti, Arthaśāstra, Vāgmaṇḍanaguṇadūtakāvya, Sanskrit messenger poems


Prison descriptions are not often found in Sanskrit literature. Therefore, it is surprising that a very detailed description of prison life should be found in a kāvya, specifically, the Vāgmaṇḍanaguṇadūtakāvya. A fragment of this obscure text, which has only been published once, gives a quite realistic portrayal of the horrors of life in prison; it is a place where prisoners are held in abhorrent conditions and tortured. The account is in direct opposition to another, found in the Arthaśāstra, which concentrates on the welfare of the detained. There are severe fines for impeding the prisoners’ basic human rights. This is an interesting reversal of roles, as kāvya poems usually depict an even more romantically idealised vision of the world than normative texts such as the Arthaśāstra.

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How to Cite

Szczepanik, Lidia. 2013. “Prisons in Sanskrit Literature: A Comparison of Arthaśāstra and Vāgmaṇḍanaguṇadūtakāvya Descriptions”. Cracow Indological Studies 15 (December):101-18.