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Kupyadhyaksha – Forest Official In Ancient India

Kupyadhyaksha, a forest official, designated as such in the ancient text Arthashastra of Kautilya. The term kupyadhyaksha is first used in Arthashastra for the director of forest produce. The word ‘kupya’ means produce of the forest and adhyaksha, superintendent or head of a unit of administration.

The activities of adhyaksha are described in Book II of Arthashastra under the heading of Adhyaksha Pracara. The term is found in the inscriptions of Ashoka and later rulers. The term ‘kauptika’ (officer of the forest responsible for collection of tools and road access) is referred to in the inscription of 1017 CE from the Somnath Temple (Rajasthan).

The adhyakshas are recommended a salary of one thousand panas, the unit of money in ancient India. They were considered the highest authority to their departments and were to advise the king on economic matters. References to the adyakshas shouldering responsibilities of administrative work other than the economic are also found in abundance. It is also indicated in Arthashastra that the king used to receive revenue in cash and assign work to the heads of the departments.

The work of the superintendent was to collect timber and other products of the forests with the help of guards. He was not only responsible for the produce but had to fix the rates of fines and compensations to be obtained from those who caused damage to productive forests. Feeling of trees was permissible only under certain situations.

The forest produce was classified into flowers, roots, and fruits yielding flowers, and roots and fruits yielding medicines and poisons, timber, bamboo, creepers, yielding fibers, rope, paper, gum, medicines, and animals and so on. The animals yielding skins, bones, teeth, sinews, horns, hooves, and tails were also indicated in the forest produce.

Similarly, metals, utensils of cane, wood, bark and clay were treated as forest produce. This list also included firewood, charcoal, ashes, fodder, and menageries of beasts, cattle and birds. It was the duty of the superintendent of the forest produce to carry on the manufacture of all kinds of articles necessary for life and for the defense of the city.