The history of ancient India is largely a history of Hindu culture and progress.
Hindu culture has a distinct claim to a higher antiquity than Assyrian schools would claim for Sargon I and as much or even higher antiquity than Egyptian scholars would claim for the commencement of the first dynasty of Kings. One aspect of this culture consists in India’s political institutions which were almost modern. Modern warfare has developed on mechanical lines, giving less scope for the qualities of courage and individual leadership.
The value and importance of the army were realized very early in the history of India, and this led to the maintenance of a permanent militia to put down dissent within and arrest aggression from without. This gave rise to the Ksatriya warrior caste, and the ksatram dharmam came to mean the primary duty of war. To serve the country by participating in war became the svadharma of this warrior community.
Hindu military science recognizes two kinds of warfare:
- the dharmayuddha
- the kutayuddha
Dharmayuddha is war carried on the principles of dharma, meaning here the Ksatradharma or the law of Kings and Warriors. In other words, it was a just and righteous war which had the approval of society. On the other hand, kuttayuddha was unrighteous war. It was a crafty fight carried on in secret.
The Hindu science of warfare values both niti and saurya i.e. ethical principles and valor. It was therefore realized that the waging of war without regard to moral standards degraded the institution into mere animal ferocity. A monarch desirous of dharma vijaya should conform to the code of ethics enjoined upon warriors.
The principles regulating the two kinds of warfare are elaborately described in the Dharmasutras and Dharmasastras, the epics (Ramayana and Mahabharata), the Arthasastra treatises of Kautalya, Kamandaka, and Sukra. Hindu India possessed the classical fourfold force of chariots, elephants, horsemen, and infantry, collectively known as the Caturangabala. Students also know that the old game of chess also goes by the name of Caturanga.
From the references to this game in the Rg Veda and the Atharva Veda and in the Buddhists and Jaina books, it must have been very popular in ancient India. The Persian term Chatrang and the Arabic Shatrangare forms of the Sanskrit Caturanga.
According to Sir A. M. Eliot and Heinrich Brunnhofer (a German Indologist) and Gustav Oppert, all of whom have stated that ancient Hindus knew the use of gunpowder. Eliot tells us that the Arabs learnt the manufacture of gunpowder from India, and that before their Indian connection they had used arrows of naphtha. It is also argued that though Persia possessed saltpetre in abundance, the original home of gunpowder was India. In the light of the above remarks we can trace the evolution of fire-arms in the ancient India. (source: German Indologists: Biographies of Scholars in Indian Studies writing in German – by Valentine Stache-Rosen. p.92).
Terence Dukes, author of The Boddhisattva Warriors: The Origin, Inner Philosophy, History and Symbolism of the Buddhist Martial Art Within India and China, says that martial arts went from India to China and fighting without weapons was a specialty of the ancient Ksatreya warriors of India.
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.
Territorial ideal of a one-State India
Imperial sway in ancient India meant the active rule of an individual monarch who by his ability and prowess brought to subjection the neighboring chieftains and other rulers, and proclaimed himself the sole ruler of the earth. This goes by the name of digvi-jaya. It is not necessary that he should conquer all States by the sword. A small state might feel the weight of a conquering king and render obeisance of its own accord.
According to the Sangam classics, each of the respective rulers of the chief Tamil kingdoms, the Cera, Cola and Pandya, carried his sword as far north as the Himalayas, and implanted on its lofty heights his respective crest the bow, the tiger and the fish. In these adventures which the Tamil Kings underwent for their glorification, they did not lag behind their northern brethren. The very epithet Imayavaramban shows that the limits of the empire under that Emperor extended to the Himalayas in the north.
This title was also earned by Ceran Senguttuvan by his meritorious exploits in the north. Names like the Cola Pass in the Himalayan slopes, which in very early times connected Nepal and Bhutan with ancient Tibet, give a certain clue to the fact that once Tamil kings went so far north as the Himalayas and left their indelible marks in those regions.
Kshatriya Warrior (Now in Indian Museum, Calcutta).
If in the epic age a Rama and an Arjuna could come to the extremity of our peninsula, and in the historical period of a Chandragupta or a Samudragupta could undertake an expedition to this part of our country, nothing could prevent a king of prowess and vast resources like the Cera king Senguttuvan from carrying his armies to the north. The route lay through the Dakhan plateau, the Kalinga, Malva, and the Ganga. Perhaps it was the ancient Daksinapatha route known to history from the epoch of the Rg Veda Samhita.
The king who became conqueror of all India was entitled to the distinction of being called a Samrat. In the Puranic period the great Kartavirya Arjuna of the Haihaya clan spread his arms throughout the ancient Indian continent and earned the title of Samrat.
The same principle of glory and distinction underlay the performance of the sacrifice, Asvamedha and Rajasuya, which were intended only for the members of the Ksatriya community.
This bears testimony to ‘ the existence of the territorial ideal of a one-State India’ (Cakravartiksetram of Kautalya). These kings were called Sarvabhaumas and Ekarats.
Vedic kings aimed at it, and epic rulers realized it. The idea of ekarat, continued down to Buddhist times and even later. The Jatakas which are said to belong to the fifth and sixth century B.C., make pointed reference to an all-Indian empire.
This concept of an all-India empire stretching from Kanyakumari to the Himalayas, according to Kautalya receives further support from another important political term: ekacchatra, or one-umbrella sovereignty.
Hindus have given shelter to the persecuted people from many lands and in all ages. But what is most important, they have always regarded their own homeland as the only playfield for their chakravartins, and never waged wars of conquest beyond the borders of Bharata-varsha.
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.
The Mahabharata War
Dharmayuddha is war carried on the principles of Dharma, meaning here the Ksatradharma or the law of Kings and Warriors.
The Hindu laws of war are very chivalrous and humane, and prohibit the slaying of the unarmed, of women, of the old, and of the conquered.
Megasthenes noticed a peculiar trait of Indian warfare they never ravage an enemy’s land with fire, nor cut down its trees.
The Bhagavad Gita has influenced great Americans from Thoreau to Oppenheimer.
Its message of letting go of the fruits of one’s actions is just as relevant today as it was when it was first written more than two millennia ago.
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.” (source: A Brief History of India – By Alain Danielou p. 106).
The modern “scorched earth” policy was then unknown. “
Professor H. H. Wilson says:
“The Hindu laws of war are very chivalrous and humane, and prohibit the slaying of the unarmed, of women, of the old, and of the conquered.”
At the very time when a battle was going on, be says, the neighboring cultivators might be seen quietly pursuing their work, – ” perhaps ploughing, gathering for crops, pruning the trees, or reaping the harvest.” Chinese pilgrim to Nalanda University, Hiuen Tsiang affirms that although the there were enough of rivalries and wars in the 7th century A.D. the country at large was little injured by them.
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. (source: Fire-Arms in Ancient India – By Jogesh Chandra Ray I.H.Q. viii. p. 586-88).
Heinrich Brunnhofer (1841-1917), German Indologist, also believed that the ancient Aryans of India knew about gunpowder. (source: German Indologists: Biographies of Scholars in Indian Studies writing in German – By Valentine Stache-Rosen. p.92).
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. (source: German Indologists: Biographies of Scholars in Indian Studies writing in German – By Valentine Stache-Rosen. p.81. For more refer to article by G R Josyer – India: The Home of Gunpowder and 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. (source: Hindu Culture and The Modern Age – By Dewan Bahadur K.S. Ramaswami Shastri – Annamalai University 1956 p. 127).
The word astra in the Sukraniti is interpreted by Dr. Gustav Oppert as a bow. The term astra means a missile, anything which is discharged. Agneya astra means a fiery arm as distinguished from a firearm.
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.
The Borobudar in Java where Indian tradition is copied wholesale. They are ascribed roughly to the period 750-850 A.D. There is a striking relief series PL. I, fig. 5, (1605) representing a battle in which two others are seen on each side, one wearing a curved sword in the right hand and a long shield, and the other a mace and a round shield resembling a wheel, all apparently made of iron. The story of the Ramayana is also given as in the Tadpatri temple from Rama’s going to the forest down to the killing of Ravana. There is also a wonderful sculpture of an ancient Hindu ship. (source: Suvarnadvipa – By R.C. Majumdar. pp 194-5).
Medhatithi remarks thus “while fighting his enemies in battle, he shall not strike with concealed weapons nor with arrows that are poisoned or barbed on with flaming shafts.”
Sukraniti while referring to fire-arms, (agneyastras) says that before any war, the duty of the minister of war is to check up the total stock of gunpowder in the arsenal. Small guns is referred as tupak by Canda Baradayi. The installation of yantras (engines of war) inside the walls of the forts referred to by Manasollasa and the reference of Sataghni (killer of hundreds of men) pressed into service for the protection of the forts by Samaranganasutradhara clearly reveals the frequent use of fire arms in the battle-field. (source: India Through The Ages: History, Art Culture and Religion – By G. Kuppuram p. 512-513).
Lord Rama with his bow defeats Ravana in the gold city of Lanka.
In the light of the above remarks we can trace the evolution of fire-arms in the ancient India. There is evidence to show that agni (fire) was praised for vanquishing an enemy. The Arthava Veda shows the employment of fire-arms with lead shots. The Aitareya Brahmana describes an arrow with fire at its tip. In the Mahabharata and Ramayana, the employment of agnyastras is frequently mentioned, and this deserves careful examination in the light of other important terms like ayah, kanapa and tula-guda.
The agnicurna or gunpowder was composed of 4 to 6 parts of saltpetre, one part of sulphur, and one part of charcoal of arka, sruhi and other trees burnt in a pit and reduced to powder. Here is certain evidence of the ancient rockets giving place to actual guns in warfare. From the description of the composition of gunpowder, the composition of the Sukraniti can be dated at the pre-Gupta age.
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.
Frescos on the Angkor Wat depict scenes from the Hindu epics Mahabharata and Ramayana, showing Kshatriyas engaged in war.
For more refer to chapter on Greater India: Suvarnabhumi and Sacred Angkor
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.
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.”
It was generally placed on the walls of a fort and is included among the movable machines by Kautalya.
- 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.It was commonly worn on the left side and was associated with thirty-two different movements. It measured 50 thumbs in length and four inches in width. In the Santi-parva (166,3 ff; 82 ff). Bhisma being asked as to which weapon in his opinion was the best for all kinds of fighting, replies that the sword is the foremost among arms (agryah praharananam), but the bow is first (adyam).
B.K. Sarkar says that the secret of manufacturing the so-called Damascus blade was learnt by the Saracens from the Persians, who, in their turn, had learnt it from the Hindus. Early Arabic literature provides us with a curious illustration of the esteem with which Indian swords were looked upon in Western Asia.
An early Arabic poet, Hellal, describing the flight of the Hemyarites, says:
“But they fled under its (ie. the clouds) small hail of arrows quickly, whilst hard Indian swords were penetrating them.” and again: “He died and we inherited him; one old wide (cuirass) and a bright Indian (sword) with a long shoulder-belt.”
(Hindu Achievements in Exact Science – By B. K. Sarkar p. 45).
Note: Hindus made the best swords in the ancient world, they discovered the process of making Ukku steel, called Damascus steel by the rest of the world (Damas meaning water to the Arabs, because of the watery designs on the blade). These were the best swords in the ancient world, the strongest and the sharpest, sharper even than Japanese katanas. Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Persians, Turks, and Chinese imported it.
The original Damascus steel – the world’s first high-carbon steel – was a product of India known as wootz. Wootz is the English for ukku in Kannada and Telugu, meaning steel. Indian steel was used for making swords and armor in Persia and Arabia in ancient times. Ktesias at the court of Persia (5th c BC) mentions two swords made of Indian steel which the Persian king presented him. The pre-Islamic Arab word for sword is ‘muhannad’ meaning from Hind. So famous were they that the Arabic word for sword was Hindvi – from Hind.
Wootz was produced by carburizing chips of wrought iron in a closed crucible process.
“Wrought iron, wood and carbonaceous matter was placed in a crucible and heated in a current of hot air till the iron became red hot and plastic. It was then allowed to cool very slowly (about 24 hours) until it absorbed a fixed amount of carbon, generally 1.2 to 1.8 per cent,” said eminent metallurgist Prof. T.R. Anantharaman, who taught at Banares Hindu University, Varanasi.
“When forged into a blade, the carbides in the steel formed a visible pattern on the surface.”
To the sixth century Arab poet Aus b. Hajr the pattern appeared described ‘as if it were the trail of small black ants that had trekked over the steel while it was still soft’. In the early 1800s, Europeans tried their hand at reproducing wootz on an industrial scale. Michael Faraday, the great experimenter and son of a blacksmith, tried to duplicate the steel by alloying iron with a variety of metals but failed.
Some scientists were successful in forging wootz but they still were not able to reproduce its characteristics, like the watery mark.
“Scientists believe that some other micro-addition went into it,” said Anantharaman.
“That is why the separation of carbide takes place so beautifully and geometrically.”
The crucible process could have originated in south India and the finest steel was from the land of Cheras, said K. Rajan, associate professor of archaeology at Tamil University, Thanjavur, who explored a 1st century AD trade centre at Kodumanal near Coimbatore. Rajan’s excavations revealed an industrial economy at Kodumanal. Pillar of strength The rustless wonder called the Iron Pillar near the Qutb Minar at Mehrauli in Delhi did not attract the attention of scientists till the second quarter of the 19th century.
The inscription refers to a ruler named Chandra, who had conquered the Vangas and Vahlikas, and the breeze of whose valour still perfumed the southern ocean. “The king who answers the description is none but Samudragupta, the real founder of the Gupta empire,” said Prof. T.R. Anantharaman, who has authored The Rustless Wonder. Zinc metallurgy travelled from India to China and from there to Europe. As late as 1735, professional chemists in Europe believed that zinc could not be reduced to metal except in the presence of copper.
The alchemical texts of the mediaeval period show that the tradition was live in India. In 1738, William Champion established the Bristol process to produce metallic zinc in commercial quantities and got a patent for it. Interestingly, the mediaeval alchemical text Rasaratnasamucchaya describes the same process, down to adding 1.5 per cent common salt to the ore.
Artillery – India Taught Europe
Artillery was introduced into Europe by the Roma (Gypsies), who were none else than the Jats and Rajputs of India. This has been revealed in a study by a reputed linguist, Weer Rajendra Rishi, after an extensive tour of Roma camps in Europe.
He explains that the Romas, who are the Gypsies of Europe, also taught the use of artillery to Europeans. These Roma belonged to the Jat and Rajput clans who left India during the invasions by Mohamud Ghaznavi and Mohammad Ghori between the 10th and 12th centuries of the Christian era.
He says the use of artillery was known in Asia, notably in India, from time immemorial, while it was introduced to the Europeans much later.
Mr. Rishi reveals that the Roma had helped different countries of Europe in making artillery.
“Evidence of this is given as early as 1496 by a mandate of that date granted by Wadislas, King of Hungary, wherein it is said that Thomas Polgar, chief of 25 tents of wandering Gypsies had, with his people, made at Funfkirchen musket-balls and other ammunition for Bishop Sigismond.
“In 1546 when the English were holding Boulogne against the French the latter took the help of two experienced Romas of Hungary to make great number of cannons of greater caliber than earlier guns. The Hungarian Roma of the 16th century possessed fuller knowledge of fabricating artillery than the races of Western Europe.
There were also records that the Roma were employed as soldiers by some countries of Europe. Dr. W. R. Rishi, is the author of the book, Roma – The Panjabi Emigrants in Europe, Central and Middle Asia, the USSR, and the Americas – published 1976. Mr. Rishi is a well-known linguist of India and was awarded the honour of ‘Padmashri’ by the President of India in 1970 for his contributions in the field of linguistics. He is also the Founder Director of the Indian Institute of Romani Studies. (source: Diamonds, Mechanism, Weapons of War, Yoga Sutras – By G. R. Josyer. p. 179-182).
To conclude with the words of Sir George Birdwood:
” For a variety, extent, and gorgeousness, and ethnological and artistic value, no such collection of Indian arms exists in this country (England) as that belonging to the Prince of Wales. It represents the armorer’s art in every province of India, from the rude spear of the savage Nicobar islanders to the costly damascened, sculptured, and jewelled swords, and shields, spears, daggers, and match-locks of Kashmir, Kutch and Vizianagaram. The most striking object in the collection is a suit of armor made entirely of the horny scales of the Indian armadillo, or pangolin, encrusted with gold, and turquoise, and garnets.”
Martial Arts – Fighting without weapons
“Fighting without weapons was a specialty of the Ksatreya (caste of Ancient India) and foot soldier alike. For the Ksatreya it was simply part and parcel of their all around training, but for the lowly peasant it was essential. We read in the Vedas of men unable to afford armor who bound their heads with turbans called Usnisa to protect themselves from sword and axe blows.
“Fighting on foot for a Ksatreya was necessary in case he was unseated from his chariot or horse and found himself without weapons. Although the high ethical code of the Ksatreya forbid anyone but another Ksatreya from attacking him, doubtless such morals were not always observed, and when faced with an unscrupulous opponent, the Ksatreya needed to be able to defend himself, and developed, therefore, a very effective form of hand-to-hand combat that combined techniques of wrestling, throws, and hand strikes.
Tactics and evasion were formulated that were later passed on to successive generations. This skill was called Vajramukhti, a name meaning “thunderbolt closed – or clasped – hands.” The tile Vajramukti referred to the usage of the hands in a manner as powerful as the vajra maces of traditional warfare. Vajramukti was practiced in peacetime by means of regular physical training sessions and these utilized sequences of attack and defense technically termed in Sanskrit nata.”
Kalaripayattu, literally “the way of the battlefield,” still survives in Kerala, where it is often dedicated to Mahakali. The Kalari grounds are usually situated near a temple, and the pupils, after having touched the feet of the master, salute the ancestors and bow down to the Goddess, begin the lesson. Kalari trainings have been codified for over 3000 years and nothing much has changed.
The warming up is essential and demands great suppleness. Each movement is repeated several times, facing north, east, south and west, till perfect loosening is achieved. The young pupils pass on to the handling of weapons, starting with the “Silambam”, a short stick made of extremely hard wood, which in the olden times could effectively deal with swords. The blows are hard and the parade must be fast and precise, to avoid being hit on the fingers!
They continue with the swords, heavy, and dangerous, even though they are not sharpened any more, as they are used. Without guard or any kind of body protection; they whirl, jump and parry, in an impressive ballet. Young, fearless girls fight with enormous knives, bigger than their arms and the clash of irons is echoed in the ground. The session ends with the big canes, favorite weapons of the Buddhist traveler monks, which they used during their long journey towards China to scare away attackers.
The “Urimi” is the most extraordinary weapon of Kalari, unique in the world. This double-edged flexible sword which the old-time masters used to wrap around the waist to keep coiled in one hand, to suddenly whip at the opponent and inflict mortal blows, is hardly used today in trainings, for it is much too dangerous.
This indigenous martial arts, under the name of Kalari or Kalaripayit exists only in South India today. Kalarippayat is said to be the world’s original martial art. Originating at least 1,300 years ago, India’s Kalaripayit is the oldest martial art taught today. It is also the most potentially violent, because students advance from unarmed combat to the use of swords, sharpened flexible metal lashes, and peculiar three-bladed daggers.
More than 2,000 years old, it was developed by warriors of the Cheras kingdom in Kerala. Training followed strict rituals and guidelines. The entrance to the 14 m-by-7 m arena, or kalari, faced east and had a bare earth floor. Fighters took Shiva and Shakti, the god and goddess of power, as their deities. From unarmed kicks and punches, kalarippayat warriors would graduate to sticks, swords, spears and daggers and study the marmas—the 107 vital spots on the human body where a blow can kill. Training was conducted in secret, the lethal warriors unleashed as a surprise weapon against the enemies of Cheras.
Father and founder of Zen Buddhism (called C’han in China), Boddidharma, a Brahmin born in Kacheepuram in Tamil Nadu, in 522 A.D. arrived at the courts of the Chinese Emperor Liang Nuti, of the 6th dynasty. He taught the Chinese monks Kalaripayattu, a very ancient Indian martial art, so that they could defend themselves against the frequent attacks of bandits. In time, the monks became famous all over China as experts in bare-handed fighting, later known as the Shaolin boxing art.
The Shaolin temple which has been handed back a few years ago by the communist Government to the C’han Buddhist monks, inheritors of Boddhidharma’s spiritual and martial teachings, by the present Chinese Government, is now open to visitors. On one of the walls, a fresco can be seen, showing Indian dark-skinned monks, teaching their lighter-skinned Chinese brothers the art of bare-handed fighting.
On this painting are inscribed:
“Tenjiku Naranokaku” which means: “the fighting techniques to train the body (which come) from India…”
Kalari payatt was banned by the British in 1793. (source: The Boddhisattva Warriors: The Origin, Inner Philosophy, History and Symbolism of the Buddhist Martial Art Within India and China – By Terence Dukes/ Shifu Nagaboshi Tomio p. 3 – 158-174 and 242. A Western Journalist on India: a ferengi’s columns – By Francois Gautier Har-Anand Publications January 2001 ISBN 8124107955 p. 155-158).
Silambam – Indian Stick Fighting
The art Nillaikalakki Silambam, which exists for more than five thousand years, is an authentic art which starts with the stick called Silambamboo (1.68 meters long). It originates from the Krunji mountains of south India, and is as old as the Indian sub-continent itself.
The natives called Narikuravar were using a staff called Silambamboo as a weapon to defend themselves against wild animals, and also to display their skill during their religious festivals. The Hindu scholars and yogis who went to the Krunji mountains to meditate got attracted by the display of this highly skilled spinning Silambamboo. The art Nillaikalakki Silambam therefore became a part of the Hindu scholars and yogis training, as they were taught by the Narikuravar.
They brought the art to the royal court during the reign of the Cheran, Cholan and Pandian emperors, once powerful rulers of India.
Army and Army Divisions
The Game of Chess and the Four-Fold Force
Owing to peculiar geographical features, with her vast plains interspersed with forests, the ancient Indian States had to make extensive use of mounted forces which comprised cavalry, chariots, and elephants. This does not mean that infantry was neglected. Hindu India possessed the classical fourfold force of chariots, elephants, horsemen, and infantry, collectively known as the Caturangabala.
Students also know that the old game of chess also goes by the name of Caturanga. Chess is a game of war, and in each game there are a king, a councilor, two elephants, two horses, two chariots, and eight foot-soldiers. From the references to this game in the Rg Veda and the Atharva Veda and in the Buddhists and Jaina books, it must have been very popular in ancient India. The Persian term Chatrang and the Arabic Shatrang are forms of the Sanskrit Chaturanga.
The famous epic Mahabharata narrates an incidence where a game called Chaturang was played between two groups of warring cousins. In some form or the other, the game continued till it evolved into chess.
H.J.R. Murray, in his work titled “A History of Chess”, has concluded that,
“chess is a descendant of an Indian game played in the 7th century AD”. The Encyclopedia Britannica states that “we find the best authorities agreeing that chess existed in India before it is known to have been played anywhere else.”
On the whole the board is 8 X 8 squares. According to Taylor, the game of chess was the invention of some Hindu who devised a game of war with the astapada board as his field of battle. From the reference to the game in the Rig Veda and the Arthava Veda and in the Buddhist and Jaina books, it must have been very popular in ancient India. It is to be noted that the relative values of the chess pieces were analogous to or identical with the relative values of different arms as laid down by Kautalya, Sukra, and Vaisampayana.
The organization of the Indian army which came to be known as Caturanga, both in epic Sanskrit and Pali literature, was based on the ancient game.
Chariots were used in warfare from very remote times. There are many references to chariots in the Samhitas and in the Brahmanas. The chariot was an indispensable instrument of war in the days of the Vedas, and on its possession depended victory. In the Rg Veda there is a hymn addressed to the war chariot: ‘ Lord of the wood, be firm and strong in body: be bearing as a brave victorious hero.
Show forth thy strength, compact with straps of leather and let thy rider win all spoils of battle.’ Chariots were of different types and materials. In the Ramayana and the Mahabharata their use is largely in evidence. Each chariot was marked off by its ensign and banner. Besides flags, umbrellas (chattra, atapatra), and fans were a part of the paraphernalia of the war chariot.
Sukra mentions an awe-inspiring chariot of iron with swift-moving wheels, provided with good seats for the warriors and a seat in the middle for the charioteer; the chariot was also equipped with all kinds of offensive and defensive weapons.
Warrior Arjuna with Krishna – driving the chariot in the epic The Mahabharata.
The Bhagavad Gita has influenced great Americans from Thoreau to Oppenheimer.
Its message of letting go of the fruits of one’s actions is just as relevant today as it was when it was first written more than two millennia ago.
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.
An Elephant Armour: An important force of war consisted of 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 defenses 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.
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.
How important the science of horses was to the ancient Indians is best seen from the Laksanaprakasa which quotes from several important old authorities some of which are probably lost to us. Among them are the Asvayurveda and Asvasastra, the former attributed to Jayadeva and the latter to Nakula. Both the Puranas and the epics agree that the horses of the Sindhu and Kamboja regions were the finest breed and that the services of the Kambojas as cavalry troopers were requisitioned in ancient wars.
In the Mahabharata war the Kambojans (Cambodians) were enlisted. The steeds of Bahalika were also highly esteemed. Horses had names and so did elephants. Unlike the chariot horse, the cavalryman drove his animal with a whip which was generally fixed to the wrist. This allowed his hand free play. The cavalryman was armed with arrow or spear or sword. He wore breastplate and turban (unsnisa). Worth noting is the fact that horses were made to drink wine before actually marching to battle.
The tactical use of the cavalry was to break through the obstacles on the way, to pursue the retreating enemy, to cover the flanks of the army, to effect speedy communication with the various parts of the army unobserved (bahutsara) and to pierce the enemy ranks from the front to the rear. The cavalry was responsible, in a large measure, for the safety and security of the army in entrenched positions, forests or camps. It obstructed movements of supplies and reinforcements to the enemy. In short, the cavalry was indispensable in situations requiring quickness of movement.
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
- 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.
The Sukraniti also mentions that foot-soldiers possessed fire-arms when they fought.
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.
The Caturanaga was a classical division of the army accepted by tradition. But in the epoch of the epic we hear of a Sadanga or the six-fold army, including commissariat and admiralty. The use of commissariat can be traced to the epic age. This belonged to the category of administrative division of troops as against the combatant. We are told that this division of the army into two categories was first seen in the battle of Mansikert (1071 A.D.)
But, centuries before, the Indian army leaders had realized the value of such a division. It is said that when the Pandava army marched to Kurukshetra it was followed by ‘carts and transport cars, and all descriptions of vehicles, the treasury, weapons and machines and physicians and surgeons, along with the few invalids that were in the army and all those that were weak and powerless. This was purely a civil department attached to the army. Care was also given to wounded animals.
The numerous references in our authorities to the Commissariat demonstrate beyond doubt that wars were planned methodically and conducted systematically.
The Admiralty as a department of the State may have been a creation of Chandragupta but there is evidence to show that the use of ships and boats was known to the people of the Rig Veda. In the following passage we have reference to a vessel with a hundred oars.
“This exploit you achieved, Asvins in the ocean, where there is nothing to give support, nothing to rest upon, nothing to cling to, that you brought Bhujya, sailing in a hundred-cared ship, to his father’s house.” (refer to Naval warfare section).
There is no special word in Sanskrit for a ‘a map.’ There is, however, reason to believe that in ancient India a map or chart was regarded as a citra or alekhya, i.e., ‘a painting, a picture, a delineation’. That maps were made in ancient India seems to be quite clear from the evidence of the New History of the T’ang Dynasty which gives an account of the Chinese general Wang Hiuen-tse‘s exploits in India in the year 648 A.D.
With reference to the knowledge of map-making among the people of India, especially the Dravidians of the South:
“The charts in use by the medieval navigators of the Indian Ocean – Dravidas, Arabs, Persians, were equal in value, if not superior, to the charts of the Mediterranean. Marco Polo (1498) found them in the hands of his Indian pilot, and their nature is fully explained in the Mohit or ‘the Encyclopaedia of the Sea'”
The Hindus were declared the by the Greeks to be the bravest nation they ever came in contact with. (source: History of India – by Mountstuart Elphinstone p. 197).
It was the Hindu King of Magadha that struck terror in the ever-victorious armies of Alexander.
Abul Fazal, the minister of Akbar, after admiring their noble virtues, speaks of the valor of the Hindus in these terms:
“Their character shines brightest in adversity. Their soldiers (Rajputs) know to what it is to flee from the fields of battle, but when the success of the combat becomes doubtful, they dismount from their horses and throw away their lives in payment of the debt of valor.”
Francois Bernier, a 17th century traveler says that:
“The Rajputs embrace each other when on the battlefields as if resolved to die.”
The Spartans, as is well known, dressed their hair on such occasions. It is well known that when a Rajput becomes desperate, he puts on garments of saffron color, which act, in technical language, is called kesrian kasumal karna (donning saffron robes). (source: Hindu Superiority – By Har Bilas Sarda p. 79 – 91).
“The ancient Hindus could navigate the air, and not only navigate it, but fight battles in it like so many war-eagles combating for the domination of the clouds. To be so perfect in aeronautics, they must have known all the arts and sciences related to the science, including the strata and currents of the atmosphere, the relative temperature, humidity, density and specific gravity of the various gases…”
~ Col. Henry S Olcott (1832 – 1907)
American author, attorney, philosopher, and cofounder of the Theosophical Society in a lecture in Allahabad, in 1881.
“No question can be more interesting in the present circumstances of the world than India’s contribution to the science of aeronautics. There are numerous illustration in our vast Puranic and epic literature to show how well and wonderfully the ancient Indians conquered the air.
To glibly characterize everything found in this literature as imaginary and summarily dismiss it as unreal has been the practice of both Western and Eastern scholars until very recently. The very idea indeed was ridiculed and people went so far to assert that it was physically impossible for man to use flying machines. But today what with balloons, airplanes…..”
Turning to Vedic literature, in one of the Brahmanas occurs the concept of a ship that sails heavenwards. The ship is the Agnihotra of which the Ahavaniya and Garhapatya fires represent the two sides bound heavenward, and the steersman is the Agnihotrin who offers milk to the three Agnis. Again in the still earlier Rg Veda Samhita we read that the Asvins conveyed the rescued Bhujya safely by means of winged ships. The latter may refer to the aerial navigation in the earliest times.
In the recently published Samarangana Sutradhara of Bhoja, a whole chapter of about 230 stanzas is devoted to the principles of construction underlying the various flying machines and other engines used for military and other purposes.
The ancient Hindus could navigate the air, and not only navigate it,
but fight battles in it like so many war-eagles combating for the domination of the clouds
The various advantages of using machines, especially flying ones, are given elaborately. Special mention is made of their use at one’s will and pleasure, of their uninterrupted movements, of their strength and durability, in short of their capability to do in the air all that is done on earth. Three movements are usually ascribed to these machines, – ascending, cruising thousands of miles in different directions in the atmosphere and lastly descending.
It is said that in an aerial car one can mount up to Suryamandala, ‘solar region’ and the Naksatra mandala (stellar region) and also travel throughout the regions of air above the sea and the earth. These cars are said to move so fast as to make a noise that could be heard faintly from the ground. The evidence in its favor is overwhelming.
An aerial car is made of light, wood looking like a great bird with a durable and well-formed body having mercury inside and fire at the bottom. It had two resplendent wings, and is propelled by air. It flies in the atmospheric regions for a great distance and carries several persons along with it. The inside construction resembles heaven created by Brahma himself.
Iron, copper, lead and other metals are also used for these machines. All these show how far art and science was developed in ancient India in this direction. Such elaborate description ought to meet the criticism that the vimanas and similar aerial vehicles mentioned in ancient Indian literature should be relegated to the region of myth.
The ancient writers could certainly make a distinction between the mythical which they designated as daiva and the actual aerial wars designated as manusa.
After the great victory of Rama over Lanka, Vibhisana presented him with the Puspaka vimana which was furnished with windows, apartments, and excellent seats. It was capable of accommodating all the vanaras besides Rama, Sita and Lakshman. Again in the Vikramaurvaisya, we are told that king Puraravas rode in an aerial car to rescue Urvasi in pursuit of the Danava who was carrying her away.
Similarly in the Uttararamacarita in the flight between Lava and Candraketu (Act VI) a number of aerial cars are mentioned as bearing celestial spectators. There is a statement in the Harsacarita of Yavanas being acquainted with aerial machines. The Tamil work Jivakacintamani refers to Jivaka flying through the air.
Kathasaritsagara refers to highly talented woodworkers called Rajyadhara and Pranadhara. The former was so skilled in mechanical contrivances that he could make ocean crossing chariots. And the latter manufactured a flying chariot to carry a thousand passengers in the air. These chariots were stated to be as fast as thought itself. (source: India Through The Ages: History, Art Culture and Religion – By G. Kuppuram p. 532-533).
For more information refer to Vymanika Shashtra.