By Swami Harshananda
Amātya literally means ‘one who is near’.
No civilized life is possible without the protecting hand of a king or a ruler. Among the seven aṅgas or constituents of a State (rājya), the amātya (minister) occupies a place next to that of the king. The other two words that are commonly used to denote a minister are ‘saciva’ and ‘mantrin.’ The ‘saciva’ is a helper or a comrade. The ‘mantrin’ is the one who is capable of giving counsel and keeping secrets.
Sometimes the ministers are divided into two groups:
- Dhīsacivas or matisacivas - They are also called mantris concerned with giving suitable counsel.
- Karmasacivas - They are responsible for implementing the decisions taken.
Various views are given with regard to the number of ministers in a king’s cabinet. The number usually ranges from 8 to 20 or more. Though it is obligatory on the part of the king to appoint ministers, it is equally obligatory to test them properly and thoroughly before doing so.
Kautilya, for instance, lays down that the would-be amātyas are to be tested by upadhās (tests of honesty). The tests are designed to make them swerve from the path of their duty (dharma) by tempting them through wealth, woman (artha and kāma) or by threats (bhaya), and are conducted secretly.
The ministers, though loyal to the king, were also expected to secure the confidence of the pauras and jānapadas (i.e., the people). This would call for the utmost exercise of tact and courage. The posts were usually hereditary though the king had the option not to appoint them as ministers if found not suitable.
- Arthaśāstra 1.10
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore