Matsya Nyaya

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Matsya Nyaya (Sanskrit: मात्स्यन्याय; IAST: mātsyanyāya) is an ancient Indian philosophy which refers to the principle of the Law of Fish. It is described as the fundamental law of nature explained by the proverb of the big fish devouring the smaller fish, hence strong devour the weak. It can be equated to the 'Law of the Jungle'. In simple words, The strong dominates over the weak when there is disorder.[1]


The ancient Indian philosopher Chanakya (Kautilya), who was also the chief advisor of the Mauryan emperor Chandragupta Maurya used this theory in his treatise Arthashastra to describe why a state should enhance its size and security. According to Chanakya, in absence of government or rule of law, the human society will degenerate into a state of anarchy in which the strong will destroy or exploit the weak much like how bigger fish eat smaller fish. So according to this philosophy, the theory of government was based on a belief in the innate depravity of man. In other words, this theory proposes that government, rulers and laws are necessary to prevent this natural law of 'Matsya Nyaya' from operating in human society. Hence this explains why there is a need for a government and laws to be in place. Hence, Kautilya stresses the importance of 'danda' (strong authority), as its absence will lead to the law of fishes, i.e, anarchy.[2][3][4]

Verses in Arthashastra[edit]

Arthashastra 1.4.13-14
अप्रणीतः तु मात्स्यन्यायं उद्भावयति ।
बलीयान् अबलं हि ग्रसते दण्डधराभावे ।
apraṇītaḥ tu mātsyanyāyaṃ udbhāvayati.
balīyān abalaṃ hi grasate daṇḍarābhāve.
But when the law of punishment is kept in abeyance,
it gives rise to such disorder as is implied in the proverb of fishes (matsyanyaya udbhavayati);
for in the absence of a magistrate (dandadharabhave), the strong will swallow the weak;
but under his protection, the weak resist the strong.


  1. Political philosophy of Mauryan empire, retrieved 23 February 2021
  2. R Shamasastry (1915), Arthashastra Of Chanakya, p. 12, retrieved 23 February 2021
  3. Raghavendra Vajpeyi (1973), "The Term Matsyanyaya in the Kautiliya Arthasastra", Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Indian History Congress, 34: 64–69, JSTOR 44138592, retrieved 23 February 2021
  4. P.K. Gautam (3 October 2013), "Overcoming the Ways of Matsya Nyaya", Strategic Analysis, Taylor & Francis, 37 (5): 521-525, doi:10.1080/09700161.2013.821243, S2CID 143606741, retrieved 23 February 2021


  • King, Governance, and Law in Ancient India: Kauṭilya's Arthaśāstra, translated and annotated by Patrick Olivelle, Oxford University Press, 2013
  • M. B. Chande (2004), Kautilyan Arthasastra, Atlantic, ISBN 81-7156-733-9, especially Book Six: Circle of Kings as the Basis, pp. 305–312
  • Vikas Kumar (2010), "Strategy in the Kautilya Arthasastra", Homo Oeconomicus, 27 (2): 289–320
  • Mahendra Prasad Singh (2011), "Kautilya: Theory of State", Indian Political Thought: Themes and Thinkers, Pearson, pp. 1–17, ISBN 978-81-317-5851-9

External links[edit]