Saturday, February 13, 2010

"War was introduced into the indian minds through the two of the famous ancient indian epics - THE RAMAYANA and THE MAHABHARATHA"

The value and importance of the army were realized very early in the history of India, and this led in course of time to the maintenance of a permanent militia to put down dissensions. War or no war, the army was to be maintained, to meet any unexpected contingency. This gave rise to the Ksatriya or warrior caste, and the ksatram dharman came to mean the primary duty of war. To serve the country by participating in war became the svadharma or this warrior community.

The necessary education, drill, and discipline to cultivate militarism were confined to the members of one community, the Ksatriyas. This prevented the militant attitude from spreading to other communities and kept the whole social structure unaffected by actual wars and war institutions.

Says the Arthva Veda: "May we revel, living a hundred winters, rich in heroes." The whole country looked upon the members of the ksatriya community as defenders of their country and consequently did not grudge the high influence and power wielded by the Ksatriyas, who were assigned a social rank next in importance to the intellectual and spiritual needs of the society. The ancient Hindus were a sensitive people, and their heroes were instructed that they were defending the noble cause of God, Crown and Country. Viewed in this light, war departments were 'defense' departments and military expenditure were included in the cost of defense. In this, as in many cases, ancient India was ahead of modern ideas.

Chivalry, individual heroism, qualities of mercy and nobility of outlook even in the grimmest of struggles were not unknown to the soldiers of ancient India. Thus among the laws of war, we find that (1) a warrior (Khsatriya) in armor must not fight with one not so clad (2) one should fight only one enemy and cease fighting if the opponent is disabled, (3) aged men, women and children, the retreating, or one who held a straw in his lips as a sign of unconditional surrender should not be killed. It is of topical interest to note that one of the laws enjoins the army to leave the fruit and flower gardens, temples and other places of public worship unmolested. Terence Duke, author of The Boddhisattva Warriors: The Origin, Inner Philosophy, History and Symbolism of the Buddhist Martial Art Within India and China, martial arts went from India to China. Fighting without weapons was a specialty of the ancient Ksatreya warriors of India.

The Laws of War

When society became organized and a warrior caste (Kshatriya) came into being, it was felt that the members of this caste should be governed by certain humane laws, the observance of which, it was believed, would take them to heaven, while their non-observance would lead them into hell. In the post Vedic epoch, and especially before the epics were reduced to writing, lawless war had been supplanted, and a code had begun to govern the waging of wars. The ancient law-givers, the reputed authors of the Dharmasutras and the Dharmasastras, codified the then existing customs and usages for the betterment of mankind. Thus the law books and the epics contain special sections on royal duties and the duties of common warriors.

It is a general rule that kings were chosen from among the Kshatriya caste. In other words, a non-Ksatriya was not qualified to be a king. And this is probably due to the fact that the kshatriya caste was considered superior to others in virtue of its material prowess. Though the warrior's code enjoins that all the Ksatriyas should die on the field of battle, still in practice many died a peaceful death. There is a definite ordinance of the ancient law books prohibiting the warrior caste from taking to asceticism. Action and renunciation is the watch-word of the Ksatriya. The warrior was not generally allowed to don the robes of an ascetic. But Mahavira and Gautama protested against these injunctions and inaugurated an order of monks or sannyasins. When these dissenting sects gathered in strength and numbers, the decline of Ksatriya valor set in. Once they were initiated into a life of peace and prayer, they preferred it to the horrors of war. this was a disservice that dissenting sects did to the cause of ancient India.

When a conqueror felt that he was in a position to invade the foreigner's country, he sent an ambassador with the message: 'Fight or submit.' More than 5000 years ago India recognized that the person of the ambassador was inviolable. This was a great service that ancient Hinduism rendered to the cause of international law. It was the religious force that invested the person of the herald or ambassador with an inviolable sanctity in the ancient world. The Mahabharata rules that the king who killed an envoy would sink into hell with all his ministers.

As early as as the 4th century B.C. Megasthenes noticed a peculiar trait of Indian warfare.

"Whereas among other nations it is usual, in the contests of war, to ravage the soil and thus to reduce it to an uncultivated waste, among the Indians, on the contrary, by whom husbandmen are regarded as a class that is sacred and inviolable, the tillers of the soil, even when battle is raging in their neighborhood, are undisturbed by any sense of danger, for the combatants on either side in waging the conflict make carnage of each other, but allow those engaged in husbandry to remain quite unmolested. Besides, they never ravage an enemy's land with fire, nor cut down its trees."

Weapons of War as Gathered from Literature

Dhanur Veda classifies the weapons of offence and defense into four - the mukta, the amukta, the mukta-mukta and the yantramukta. The Nitiprakasika, on the other hand, divides them into three broad classes, the mukta (thrown), the amukta (not thrown), and the mantramukta (discharged by mantras). The bows and arrows are the chief weapons of the mukta group. The very fact that our military science named Dhanur Veda provides sufficiently clearly that the bow and arrow were the principle weapons of war in those times. It was known by different terms as sarnga, kodanda, and karmuka. Whether these are synonyms of the same thing or were different is difficult to say. The Rg vedaic smith was not only a steel worker but also an arrow maker.


It would be interesting to examine the true nature of the agneya-astras. Kautalya describes agni-bana, and mentions three recipes - agni-dharana, ksepyo-agni-yoga, and visvasaghati. Visvasaghati was composed of 'the powder of all the metals as red as fire or the mixture of the powder of kumbhi, lead, zinc, mixed with the charcoal and with oil wax and turpentine.' From the nature of the ingredients of the different compositions it would appear that they were highly inflammable and could not be easily extinguished.

A recent writer remarks: 'The Visvasaghati-agni-yoga was virtually a bomb which burst and the fragments of metals were scattered in all directions. The agni-bana was the fore-runner of a gun-shot.....

Sir A. M. Eliot tells us that the Arabs learnt the manufacture of gunpowder from India, and that before their Indian connection they had used arrows of naptha. It is also argued that though Persia possessed saltpetre in abundance, the original home of gunpowder was India. It is said that the Turkish word top and the Persian tupang or tufang are derived from the Sanskrit word dhupa. The dhupa of the Agni Purana means a rocket, perhaps a corruption of the Kautaliyan term natadipika.
Gustav Oppert (1836-1908) born in Hamburg, Germany, he taught Sanskrit and comparative linguistics at the Presidency College, Madras for 21 years. He was the Telugu translator to the Government and Curator, Government Oriental Manuscript Library. Translated Sukraniti, statecraft by an unknown author.

He attempted to prove that ancient Indians knew firearms.

In his work, Political Maxims of the Ancient Hindus, he says, that ancient India was the original home of gunpowder and fire-arms. It is probable that the word Sataghni referred to in the Sundara Kanda of the Ramayana refers to cannon.Dr. Oppert refers to half a dozen temples in South India to prove the use of fire-arms in ancient India. The Palni temple in the Madura District contains on the outer portion in an ancient stone mantapa scenes of carved figures of soldiers carrying in their hands small fire-arms, apparently the small-sized guns mentioned in the Sukranitisara. Again in the Sarnagapani temple at Kumbakonam in the front gate of the fifth story from the top is the figure of a king sitting in a chariot drawn by horses and surrounded by a number of soldiers. Before this chariot march two sepoys with pistols in their hands. In the Nurrukkal mantapam of the Conjeevaram temple is a pillar on the north side of the mandapa. Here is a relief vividly representing a flight between two bodies of soldiers. Mounted horsemen are also seen. The foot-soldier is shown aiming his fire-arm against the enemy. Such things are also noted in the Tanjore temple and the temple at Perur, in the Coimbatore District. In the latter there is an actual representation of a soldier loading a musket.

Bow and Arrow:

In the words of H. H. Wilson: "the Hindus cultivated archery most assiduously and were very Parthians in the use of the bow on horse-back." One feature of this weapon was that it could be handled by all the four classes of warriors.

Other Weapons:

The Bindipala
and the nine following are minor weapons of this class. Probably this was a heavy club which had a broad and bent tail end, measuring one cubit in length. It was to be used with the left foot of the warrior placed in front. The various uses of this weapon were cutting, hitting, striking and breaking. It was like a kunta but with a big blade. It was used by the Asuras in their fight with Kartavirya Arjuna.

The Nalika
is a hand gun or musket rightly piercing the mark. It was straight in form and hollow inside. It discharged darts if ignited. As has been already said, Sukracarya speaks of two kinds of nalika, one big and the other small. The small one, with a little hole at the end, measured sixty angulas (ie. distance between the thumb and the little finger) dotted with several spots at the muzzle end. Through the touch hole or at its breach which contained wood, fire was conveyed to the charge. It was generally used by foot-soldiers. But the big gun had no wood at the breach and was so heavy that it had to be conveyed in carts. The balls were made of iron, lead or other material. Kamandaka uses the word nalika in the sense of firing gun as a signal for the unwary king. Again in the Naisadha, a work of the medieval period, Damayanti is compared to the two bows of the god of love and goddess of love, and her two nostrils to the two guns capable of throwing balls.

Thus there is clear evidence of the existence and use of firing guns in India in very early times.

The Cakra,
the next weapon in the category, is a circular disc with a small opening in the middle. It was of three kinds of eight, six and four spokes. It was used in five or six ways. It resembled the quoid of the Sikhs today. Lord Vishnu is popularly addressed as Sankha-cakra-gada-pani, that is having Sankha or conch, Cakra or disc, and Gada or mace in three of his four hands.The various uses of a disc were felling, whirling, rending, breaking, severing, and cutting. It is one of the instruments peculiar to Lord Vishnu. Kautalya speaks of it as a movable machine. The Cakra belongs to the category of a missile. According to the Vamanapurana, the Cakra has lustrous and sharp edges.

The Tomara
is another weapon of war frequently mentioned in all kinds of warfare. It was of two kinds, an iron club (sarvayasam) and a javelin. . According to the Agni Purana it was to be with the help of an arrow of straight feathers, and was powerful in dealing blows to the eyes and hands of an enemy.

The Dantakanta,
is another weapon of war, perhaps the shape of a tooth, made of metal, of strong handle and a straight blade. It had two movements.

The Pasa,
which is a noose killing the enemy at one stroke, of two or tree ropes used as a weapon attributed to the god Varuna. It was triangular in shape and embellished with balls of lead. It was associated with three kinds of movements. In the Agni Purana are described eleven ways of turning it to one's own advantage by dexterity of hand.

The Masundi,
was probably an eight sided cudgel. It was furnished with a broad and strong handle. It apparently comes from the root-meaning to cleave or break into pieces, and perhaps akin to the Musala.

All these and more found used in one battle or another both in the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.

Amukta Weapons

The first of the Amukta weapons was the Vajra or the thunderbolt. The origin of this weapon is given in the Rirthayatra portion of the Mahabharata. It was made out of the backbone of the Rishi Dadhici which was freely given by him to Indra. Originally perhaps it had six sides and made a terrible noise when hurled.

The Parasu
is the battle-axe attributed to Parasu-rama, of great fame. Its blade was made of steel and it had a wooden handle. There were six ways of manipulating it to one's own advantage.

The Gada
is a heavy rod of iron with one hundred spikes on the top. One of the four cubits was able to destroy elephants and rocks. It could be handled in twenty different ways. By means of gun powder it could be used as a projectile weapon of war. Its principal use was to strike the enemy either from a raised place or from both sides and strike terror into the enemy especially of the Gomutra array.

The Mudgara
was a staff in the shape of a hammer. It was used to break heavy stones and rocks. This is again a movable machine according to Kautalya.

The Sira
was a bucket-like instrument curved on both sides and with a wide opening made of iron. It was as long as a man's height. The Pattisa is a razor like weapon.

The Sataghni,
literally means that which had the power of killing a hundred at a time. It looked like a Gada and is said to be four cubits in length. It is generally identified with modern cannon and hence was a projectile weapon of war.
"sataghni tu catustala lohakantaka samcita yastih! iti Kesavah."

Asi or the Swords
The best sword measured fifty inches. They were usually made of Pindara iron found in the Jangala country, black iron in the Anupa, white iron in the Sataharana, gold colored in the Kalinga, oily iron in the Kambhoja, blue-colored in Gujarat, grey-colored in the Maharashtra and reddish white in Karnataka. The aSi si also known as Nistrimsa, Visamana, Khadga, Tiksnadhara, Durasada, Srigarbha, Vijaya and Dharmamula, meaning respectively cruel, fearful, powerful, fiery, unassailable, affording wealth, giving victory, and the source of maintaining dharma. And these are generally the characteristics of a sword.

Army and Army Divisions

The conception of the sun-god in Indian tales is of value to the student of ancient Indian military history. The idea is that the sun-god wants to destroy darkness. Therefore he dons a lustrous armor and marching in his swift flying chariot drawn by seven powerful steads, Aruna (dawn) being his charioteer.
The whole image presents a life-like portrait of the military dress as well as the march against an enemy.

The next important force of war consisted of elephants. The numerous representations of the animal on coins and in architectural sculptural works from Gandhara to Ramesvaram as well as bronze figures in Indonesia are an indication of the esteem in which it was held by the ancient Indians, clearly on account of its usefulness.

One ofthe most powerful units of all time were these elephants.

There is a reference in the Rg Veda to two elephants bending their heads and rushing together against the enemy, which is a fairly early reference to the animal being used in war. By the time of the Yajur Veda Samhita the art of training elephants had become common. The Arthasastra mentions a special officer of the State for the care of elephants and lays down his duties. Megasthenes explains how the elephants were hunted, and how their distempers were cured by simple remedies such as cow's milk for eye-disease and pig's fat for sores. A Jataka story throws some light on how fire-weapons were used in ancient India. "Once a king mounted on an elephant and led an attack on the city of Benares. The soldiers who offered defences from within the city gates discharged a shower of missiles against the enemy at which the elephant was frightened a little." The use of burning naphtha balls thrown against on rushing elephants to frighten them and make them turn back on their own side, is mentioned by early Mohammadan historians as a feature of the warfare between the Rajputs and the Turkish invaders from the North-West. (Elliot and Dowson, vol. I).

We hear from the Kautaliya and Megasthenes that there was a well-organized and efficient cavalry force in the army of Chandragupta. In the ArthaVeda we hear of dust-raising horsemen. In this connection it is interesting to consider the oft-repeated statement that horses are non-Indian. It is not the whole truth. They were known to the Asuras of Vedic literature. There is a legend narrated in the third book of the Hariharacaturanga (though this is work of the late 12th century A.D., the tradition recorded is very ancient). In the epoch of the epics and the Arthasastra, we find that the cavalry occupied as important a place in the army as any other division.
Megasthenes corroborates the evidence of the Arthasastra. There was a special department in the State for the cavalry. The horses of the State were provided with stables and placed under the care of good grooms and syces. There were several trained horsemen who could jump forward and arrest the speed of galloping horses. But the majority of them rode their horses with bit and bridle. When horses became ungovernable they were placed in the hands of professional trainers who made the animals gallop round in small circles. In selecting horses of war, their age, strength, and size were taken into account. We may remark in passing that Abhimanyu's horses were only three years old.


The next important division of the army was the infantry, or foot-soldier. The Arthasastra speaks of the infantry as a separate army department under the charge of a special officer of the State. This receives confirmation from Megasthenes statement. Besides the maula or hereditary troops which formed a considerable portion of the army, there were the bhrta or mercenaries, the sreni or soldiers supplied by the different group and guild organizations, the mitra or soldiers supplied by allies, the amitra or deserters from the enemy ranks, and the atavi recruited from forest tribes. According to the Sukraniti and the Kamandakanitsara, the army was to be made as imposing as possible to frighten the enemy by its size. The Agni-purana says that victory ever attends the army where foot-soldiers are numerically strong.
When these foot-soldiers equipped themselves for war Arrian says that 'they carry a bow made of equal length with the man who bears it. This they rest upon the ground and pressing against it and their left foot, thus discharge the arrow having drawn the string backwards: the shaft they use is little short of being three yards long, and there is nothing which can resist an Indian Archer's shot - neither shield nor breast-plate, nor any stronger defense if such there be.' In their left hand they carry bucklers made of undressed ox-hide which are not so broad as those who carry them but are about as long. If we turn to the ancient nations and especially the ancient Egyptians we meet with almost a similar description.

Naval Warfare

In Kautalya Arthasastra the admiralty figures as a separate department of the War Office; and this is a striking testimony to the importance attached to it from very early times. In the Rg Veda Samhita boats and ships are frequently mentioned. The classical example often quoted by every writer on the subject is the naval expedition of Bhujya who was sent by his father with the ship which had a hundred oars (aritra). Being ship-wrecked he was rescued by the twin Asvins in their boat.
The Amarakosa, mentions a number of nautical terms which stand for ship, anchorage (naubandhana), the helm of the ship (naukarana), the helmsman (naukaranadhara). That there were ships-building yards in different parts could be inferred from a significant term navatakseni occurring in a copper plate grant of Dharmaditya dated 531. A.D.

It is in a later work, the Yuktikalpataru of Bhoja, that we have three classes of ships - the Sarvamandira, the Madhyamandira, and Agramandira. The first was called Sarvamandira because it had apartments all around. In the Sarvamandira were carried treasures, animals, and ladies of the court. This was the vessel ordinarily used by kings in times of peace. The Madhyamandira was so called because the living quarters were situated in the middle. It was a sporting vessel and generally used in the rainy season. The vessel of the third kind, the Agramandira, took its name from the circumstance that the living room was located in front or at the top of the vessel. The Agramandira was used for distant and perilous voyages and also sea-fights.

There are also in the Yuktikalpataru other references to vessels. There are 27 types of ships mentioned here, the largest having the measurement 276 ft X 36 ft X 27 ft weighing roughly 2,300 tons. The following passage points to the use of ships in warfare. The line: naukadyam vipadam jneyam makes it clear that naval expeditions were common. Under the heading of yanam or march mention is made of expeditions by land, water and air.

Diplomacy and War

Not withstanding the elaborate rule of war laid down in the epics and the law-books, insisting in the main that to wage war was the duty and privilege of every true Ksatriya, in several cases the horrors of war made the belligerent think of the consequences and avoid outbreak of hostilities by a well calculated policy which we now term diplomacy.

Negotiation, persuasion and conciliation were cardinal points of the ancient Indian diplomatic system, and were effective instruments in averting many a war, which would otherwise have realized in much bloodshed and economic distress.

The political term for diplomacy is naya, and the opinion of Kautalya, the eminent politician of the 4th century B.C., a king who understands the true implications of diplomacy conquers the whole earth.

The history of diplomacy in ancient India commences with the Rig Veda Samhita, and the date of its composition may be taken as far back as the Chalcolithic period. In the battles the help of Agni is invoked to overcome enemies. He is to be the deceiver of foes. In pursuing his mission to a successful end, the use of spies is mentioned. This bears eloquent testimony to the system of espionage prevalent so early as the time of the Rig Veda Samhita. In the battle of the Ten Kings described in the seventh mandala, we find diplomacy of rulers getting supplemented by its association with priestly diplomacy, which exercised a healthy influence on the constitutional evolution.

International Relations - The picture presented in the epics and the Arthasastra literature seems to be confined to the four corners of Bharatkhanda. The intercourse as envisaged in the literature, shows relations to be more commerical than political in character.

Espionage in War

Spies filled an important role in both the civil and military affairs of ancient India. The institution of spies had a greater utility, as the king could take action on the report of the spies. Spies were engaged to look after the home officials, including those of the royal household as well as to report on the doings in the enemy kingdoms. The Rig Veda Samhita, often speaks of spies (spasah) of Varuna. Only men of wisdom and purity were sent on this errand, thus suggesting that they should be persons above corruption and temptation of any sort.In the epics and post-epic literature in general, spies have been described as the 'eyes of the king'. In the Udyoga-parva (33, 34) of Mahabharata, it is stated that "cows see by smell, priests by knowledge, kings by spies, and others through eyes." Spies roamed about in foreign states under various disguises to collect reliable information. In the Ramayana, a king mentions the wise adage that "the enemy, whose secrets have been known through espionage, can be conquered without much effort." The Arthashastra, which predates Christ by centuries, dwells at length on the importance of espionage and the creation of an effective spy network.

Such details may indicate the high development of the science of diplomacy in ancient India. It was the famous Indian strategist of the fourth-century B.C, Kautilya in the Arthasastra, who gave the world the dictum:

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend."


On the whole, however, it would seem that wars in ancient India were characterized by less violence and savagery than wars elsewhere. There is no recorded instance of such wanton and cold-blooded atrocity as Athens perpetrated against Melos, Corcyra and Mytilene, or the wearers of the Cross against the defenders of the Crescent in 1099 A.D. Such incidents of war as the indiscriminate slaughter of all men of military age or the enslavement of women and children of the conquered state were hardly known. On the whole, the chiefs were considerate of each other's rights.

This was also the Kautilyan ideal of dharmavijayan, and the typical Hindu method of creating unity out of diversity in the political sphere. It was a well-established maxim of statecraft that a victor should acquiesce in the continuance of the laws, beliefs and customs of the vanquished peoples, and that instead of seeking to extermination of the defeated dynasties, he should be content with submission and tribute. It is also the reason why some of the princely families in India can boast of an ancestry unequalled by any royal house in Europe.



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