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Gudha Purusha – Spies In Ancient India

Gudha Purusha were secret agents or spies in ancient India. They were part of the department of information and criminal intelligence in ancient times, as mentioned in Kautilya’s Arthashastra (I.II. 12; IV. 4-5).

In view of the highly responsible nature of their work, the main members of the service were recruited from retired men of the civil service.

The spies were amatyas whose loyalty and integrity had been proved.

The service was divided into two categories – stationary and moving.

The samstha (stationary) branch employed a variety of spies in all possible guises; those of students, recluses, householders, merchants and ascetics. They gathered intelligence from among their respective classes.

The sanchara (touring) branch was manned by spies of the following kinds:
  • Satri – who were well-versed in palmistry, sorcery and other allied arts that would impress the populace.
  • Tikshna – comprising desperate people who would get employed as menials of high officials.
  • Rasada – those who drugged people, sometimes working in the guise of women.
  • Bhiksuki – women spies who quartered themselves in the households of ministers.
  • Greek travelers referred to them as overseers. Megasthenes mentions an entire class of people whose business was to report directly to the king.
During Ashoka’s time they were known as prativedukas whose duty was to report to the king, to whom they had free access at all hours, on what going on in the country.

Detectives were liberally employed by the administration for preventing crime. They were recruited from all classes of people, such as ascetics, jugglers, bards, diviners, fortune tellers, physicals, traders, musicians and confectioners.

Gudha Purusha employed in foreign countries were expected to abide by a strict moral code and abstain from wine and women. Delivering the king’s message, maintaining treaties, issuing ultimatums, acquiring allies and breaking enemy alliances were their prime duties.

SourceA Sourcebook of Indian Civilization (2000) by Niharranjan Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya Ray – Orient Blakswan Hyderabad.
Encyclopedia of Hinduism Volume IV – page 368 – 269 IHRF