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Pre-modern Warfare:India And Elsewhere - Hauma Hamiddha - 09-30-2003

Please limit this focus to premodern (prior to WWI) warfare touching on the following:

1)Weapons and their working.



4)Economics of premodern warfare.

Please keep this more technical: General history dicussions could go into the other history folder.


For starters I am posting some web logs I posted elsewhere.

Pre-modern Warfare:India And Elsewhere - Hauma Hamiddha - 09-30-2003

A Hindu contribution: the war elephant

It has often been stated that many of the martial failure of Hindus has been due to the use of ponderous and slothful elephants in war. However, the Indians seem to have persisted with elephants until very recently. They first started using elephants right at the dawn of their civilization in the Indus period. What is the truth behind the elephant's utility?

“Bhagadatta on his elephant, supratika, showering arrows on his foes, looked like the resplendent Sun scattering his rays on the earth... Like a cowherd driving his cattle in the forest, bhagadatta charged on his elephant repeatedly smiting the pANDva host. Like the cawing of confused crows when assailed by hawks and a loud noise was heard amidst the pANDava troops who fled away in great speed. That prince of elephants urged on by bhagadatta, with his ankusha, looked like a winged mount of yore. It filled the pANDu host with the fear sailing merchants feel at the sight of the swelling ocean. The elephants, chariot warriors, cavalrymen, flying in fear made an awful din that filled heaven, earth and the cardinal points. Mounted on that foremost elephant, rAja bhagadatta of pragjyotisha (Assam), pierced the hostile army like the fierce asura virochana entered the deva battle-array in the days of yore. In fear the people felt that one had multiplied into many and was coursing all over their ranks.--- Mbh. droNa parvA "

Thus did the king bhagadatta, an ally of duryodhana pierce the pANDava host on the 12th day of the great bhArata war, wreaking much havoc, before he was slain by arjuna.

About 1000 years later the descendents of the very protagonists of the great bhArata war were faced by an invasion of the mleccha king Alexander of Macedon. This time a variety of events, in addition to the leadership of Alexander made the mlecchas victorious. We are often told that the elephants proved the down fall of the Hindus in this battle however, closer scrutiny shows that this was not all the truth. From an account of the battle:

'“Some Macedonians were stamped underfoot crushing them to a bloody pulp armopur and all. Others were hoisted with their trunks and dashed to he ground. Others, again found themselves impaled by the great beasts tusks... The Macedonians never again wanted to face the elephants again in battle"

Later, in 312 BC the Indian elephants, obtained as prized gifts from the King of Kashmir, proved to be the cause for Ptolemaios victory against Demterius at Gaza, the son of Antigonos Monophathalmos, in the post Alexandrian, struggle for survival. Again in 301 Seleukos inaugurated the war elephants received as dowry from his brother-in-law Chandragupta Maurya, in his great show down with Antigonos and Demetrius at Ipsus, in Phrygia. In the fierce battle, Demetrius cut through the ranks of Cassander and Lysimachus the allies of Seleukos in a victorious cavalry charge. However, Seleukos wedged his Indian elephant division between Demetrius and his father’s main division. It is said that nothing could stop the charge of the elephant division smashing everything in their path and slaying Antigonos. Selukos’s successor Antiochus again used his elephants with devastating success against the Ptolemids in Raphia.

Thus, it appears that the elephant was not a liability, but a much sought after war technology, which the Greeks rather rapidly acquired from the Indians. This contention is supported by the prominent display of war elephants on the coins of Seleucid rulers like Antiochus III. Many Seleucid rulers also prominently displayed their elephant head gears. Furthermore, Ptolemids were also in search of elephants for themselves: They tried to capture and train the smaller African forest elephants from what is now Somalia. But it is said that the Seleucid Indian elephants frightened them even before battle was joined at Raphia.

So, the Hindu military theory about the elephant as a good war weapon, at least under certain circumstances, was probably not as ludicrous as it has been made to appear. This could explain the persistence of elephant over millennia in Indian war fare. Yet again, Timur-i-lang captured several elephants after his sack of Delhi and transported them off to Samarkand. He used these elephants with devastating success against the Mamluq army at Aleppo by smashing their cavalry with an elephant charge before descending upon them with his own cavalry. Subsequently the descendent of Timurs, the Mogols of India, extensively used elephants in their wars on various Indian rulers. Of course there were occasions when the elephants failed. A famous example was that of the Mongol attack on Narasimhapati's elephant army in Myanmar. Here, the Mongols showered arrows on the un-armored elephants and sent them crashing through the forests along with their riders.

Thus one may say that the elephant was definitely a useful weapon of war, and modern western commentators have grossly misunderstood its value. So rather than being viewed as a major cause of Hindu defeats, it should be viewed as a major innovation of the Hindus in the field of war.A Hindu contribution: the war elephant

Pre-modern Warfare:India And Elsewhere - Hauma Hamiddha - 09-30-2003

Bow making in Hindu lore

The making of the bow is discussed in dhanurveda.

It states that a bow should have 3 material: iron, horn and wood and should be 4 cubits in length. The Bow string is supposed to be made of bamboo fiber, hide or bark fiber. The middle part is recommended to have grip for the hand. The shape should be that of the "eye brows of a beautiful damsel" . A good bow is supposed to be made of a composite of horn, metal and wood. The good horns for a bow were said to be those of the buffalo, the rohisha deer and the recommended trees for the wood are the sAl, chandana, cane, dhavala or kakubha.. The tips of the bow termed Artni were made from horn reinforced with iron. The body was made with a combination of wood and horn or iron and horn. Additionally, Hindus also made an all iron or all bronze bow. From the hymns of the atharva veda one may infer that a composite bow was being refered to. So it is likely that the composite bow goes back to the early Aryan period. Thus the composite bow is unlikely to have been introduced to India by the hUnas, chInas, mlecchas or pahAlavans. The all metal bow could be perpetually kept strung and used a ready weapon for assault like a pistol. The Hindus also appear to have wielded the bow with a thumb ring and used a leather guard called the hastaghana to protect agains the bow string abrading the hand.

As many other Hindu traditions the traditional practice of archery had its last hold out in Thanjavur. The Maharatta king, Thulajendra Raja Bhonsle Chatrapathy ex-Raja of Thanjavur, a descendent of Chatrapati Shivaji, is said to have been trained well in the use of the bow by hindu traditions.

Pre-modern Warfare:India And Elsewhere - Guest - 10-01-2003

HH: If not relevant in this thread, let me know.

Some ancient books that you can get online:


[url=""]Art of War[/url]

Prince <-- the link I had for this broken. Will find another one and post later.

Pre-modern Warfare:India And Elsewhere - Guest - 10-01-2003

I was wondering can anyone point to one place about 'moder' warfare concerning India, mainly between Indians and one outside current boundry of India, starting from maybe 500 A.D. (i.e. from the time of Gupta's)



Pre-modern Warfare:India And Elsewhere - Guest - 10-01-2003

Can't find any references to the Gadha/(Gada?), being used in combat or any sport currently that keeps the art of mace fighting alive...apart from kalaripayattu. <img src='<#EMO_DIR#>/sad.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt='Sad' />

Pity, those huge bronze/brass gongs hammering each other with sparks flying always evinced a keen interest in me....but id have to think of practicality on the battle field...with its weight...against much lighter and fatal weapons like the Khadgamu/talwar...

[Image: gada.gif]

Pre-modern Warfare:India And Elsewhere - Hauma Hamiddha - 10-01-2003

Traditional Hindu weapons:

1) dhanu=bow

2) iShu=arrow

3) bhiNDipAla=A club hurled by the the arm or rope

4) shakti=spear (a speciality of kumAra)

5) drughaNa= a blade hurled by arm or rope

6) tomara= an axe hurled by the arm

8) nalikA= tube for hurling balls

9) laguDa= a weighted staff that is hurled

10) pAsha= a lasso (a speciality of varuNa)

11) chakra=discus (a speciality of viShNu)

12) dantakaNTaka = a harpoon or a barbed missile

13) bhusuNDi= spiked hammer hurled by a rope

The above are called muktAyudhas or hurled weapons

14) vajra=thunderbolt (a speciality of indra)

15) nishangi= a straight Aryan double-edged sword

15) parashu=battle axe (a speciality of ramo bhArgava)

16) goshIrSha= a cow headed mace for battery

17) asidhenu= a curved sword

18) lavitra= a large blade borne on pole

19) Astara= a chain mace

20) kunta= a lance

21) sthuNa=a knobed club (used by balarama against jarAsandha)\

22) prAsa= a spiked club

23) trishula=trident (speciality of rudra

24) gadA=mace

25) mudgara=mace with spikes on the surface

26) halAyudha= A plowshare

27) musala=pestle

28) paTTisha=halbred

29) maushTika= a weighted glove with spikes on the knucles

30) parigha=A large ball headed mace with a smooth surface

32) mayUkhI= an eletric rod ?

33) shataghnI= fire thrower

The above are amuktAyudhas used without discharge.

The above 33 are supposed to have emerged first from the vertebra and skull of the bhArgava R^ishi dadhichi.

from the nIti by bhArgavaH ushaNas kAvya's nIti shAstra

Pre-modern Warfare:India And Elsewhere - Guest - 10-05-2003

I have a question: In the Ramayana & Mahbharatha, there are these warriors raining down arrows, all coming out of one launched initially. Also, something called 'Bramhastra' which acted much like a present day nuke. Is there a possibility that some existed like that, or they just myths?

Can someone please throw some light on these.

TIA! <img src='<#EMO_DIR#>/smile.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt='Smile' />

Pre-modern Warfare:India And Elsewhere - Guest - 10-08-2003

Yaar, koi to comment shoment karo! <img src='<#EMO_DIR#>/sad.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt='Sad' />

Pre-modern Warfare:India And Elsewhere - Guest - 10-09-2003

Krishan yaar,

Bramhastra=nuke, pushpak=Boeing etc.. are kind of things I too have heard - not any reliable source that I recollect. Mind you, my understanding on history comes from readings of Amar Chitra Katha. <img src='<#EMO_DIR#>/tongue.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt='Tongue' />

These days enjoy whatever veterans like acharya, HH, Kaushal dish out on this forum.

Pre-modern Warfare:India And Elsewhere - Guest - 10-09-2003

This article talk about Brahmastra

[url=""]Ancient Mantra Weapons [/url]


Brahmastra. In Hindu mythology, there is a weapon that is so destructive that to use it would be to cause famine to fall over all the earth for twelve years, and wherever the weapon is used, there would be no plants, and no animals. This weapon is called a Brahmastra. This divine weapon, which appears to have no clear description of its form, is given by Brahma, the creator god in Hindu mythology. In a Hindu tale by the name of ‘Sati Uttara,’ someone named Ashwatthama used a Brahmastra against the woman, Uttara, in an effort to kill her unborn child, the last of the Pandavas. From the descriptive words in the translated source used for this article, the “all-destroying” Brahmastra was “launched,” and seemed to consist of “five ignited arrows.” Uttara and her child were saved from the devastating weapon by Lord Krishna, another of the Hindu gods.

Pre-modern Warfare:India And Elsewhere - Guest - 10-20-2003

At the end of MahaBharatha, when Aswadhama (son of Dronacharya) in disgust goes into penance. On hearing the salying of Dhuryodhana by Bhima by dealing a blow on the thighs of DUryodhana (ie sort of hitting below the belt), Aswadhama goes into rage and uses the 'Brahma Siro namka' Astra ( not Brahamstra as is known widely here) on the womb of 'Uttara' becuse that would end the dynasty of Pandu ( at that time uttara was a pregnant widow as Abhimanyu was killed in earlier battle of Padmavyuham formation).

Hence the uttara gives birth to a still born boy baby, when Pandus ask Krishna ( the originator of this question <img src='<#EMO_DIR#>/smile.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt='Smile' /> in this forum) to rescue the baby, he steps on the baby with his foot to ( kinda fibrolator) revive the baby and hence his name 'Parikhsit' (who is later cursed to die by the bite of takshaka the snake king).

Brahmastra was known only to Arjuna, and Karna, IIRC Karna wanted it to be used against Arjuna but Duryodhana pesuades him to uses against Bhima's son Bakasura'.

Arjuna was awarded Brhamastra by Shiva, that is another story for another time , now over to experts like Kaushal garu and Esquired HH.


PS: Just for the sake of fun I googled with the word Bhrama Siro namaka and got this


It vindicates what I had posted above.

Pre-modern Warfare:India And Elsewhere - Hauma Hamiddha - 11-01-2003

The weapon arjuna gets from rudra is the pAshupata. It is supposed to generate a continuous stream of arrows one fired. arjuna kills jayadratha with that missile and the stream of arrows carries his head and drops it on his father vR^iddhakshtra's lap. As a result of curse when vR^iddhakshtra rises the head rolls off and he too dies.

The other great weapon used by the ashvathAmA was nArayaNa, which the pANDavas escape by lying flat on the ground and it passes over them. arjuna got the brahmAstra from droNa, but receives other astras from indra, and other devas...

Another interesting weapon described in the Mbh is the varuNa gada of shrutAyudha. It used to only kill combatants. So when he hurled it on kR^ishNa (technically a non-combatant) what literally happened was:


: <img src='<#EMO_DIR#>/tongue.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt='Tongue' />

Those who can peruse of the sanskrit original may want to read the great battle between ghatotkacha and ashvathAmA on day 13 of the war; would be great to make a special effects movie of just that segment!!

Pre-modern Warfare:India And Elsewhere - Guest - 11-01-2003

Very enlightening (for those who are unaware of the details. Spinster, that was a very interesting parable that you posted. Emphasizes the destructive effects of one's ego.

Pre-modern Warfare:India And Elsewhere - Guest - 11-02-2003

I think the story goes like this:

After the carnage at the Pandava military camp where Ashwattama, Kripacharya and Kritavarma murdered the entire Pandava orbat, the Pandavas, Krishna and Satyaki began their search for Ashwattama. They found him in the company of a few sages, dressed as an ascetic. When Bhima rushes out to plug him, he pulls out a blade of grass and invokes the "Brahmashirastra" weapon ..but then he was dissuaded from using it on the bros by the sages.... Since, he couln't deactivate Graduate it, he directed the weapon to the womb of Uttara, coz that was the only remaining heir (and a 3rd generation pandava too at that) to the Pandavas ..

According to lore, the weapons needn't exactly be a "weapon"....when the heroes do tapasya to get a weapon and is successfull , he is given the skill to invoke the weapon on any object....Thinking "scientifically", its possible that at that time, they had some sort of really mean hardware (lost tech now, remember greek fire?) ,...and they propagated the story that the gods themselves gave it to them so as to increase their "stature" and as psy-ops too.......but who knows?

Pre-modern Warfare:India And Elsewhere - Hauma Hamiddha - 11-08-2003

Please read this article for an account of a surviving tradition of traditional warfare in southern India (Kerala). It gives a fascinating account of the traditional Indian military system.


Pre-modern Warfare:India And Elsewhere - Guest - 11-11-2003

My late father, in his writings and translations of some Sanskrit texts mentions Shukra Niti as a source of information on ancient hindu armaments (he translated shlokas relating to making of guns and cannon, and gun powder), and Dhanur Ved. He also mentions Bharadwaaj's work: Vayoo Yaan Sahinta, and the names of six sages prior to Bharadwaaj, and their works: Naraayan (Vimaan Chandrika), Sh-Shaunak (Vyom Yaan Tantr), Gargacharyaa (Yantr Kalp), Vaachaspati (Yaan bindu), Chaakraayani (Khet-Yaan Pradipika), and Dhurindi Naath (Vyom-yaan Ark Prakaash). My father had a great interest in this subject and he left a lot of material and books (those in sanskrit I cannot read). I will post more, on the Brahmastr as I find the relevent texts.

Pre-modern Warfare:India And Elsewhere - Guest - 11-11-2003

An interesting link fit for this thread: [url=""]Ancient Indian Aerial Craft ('Vimana') - By Mukul Sharma - The Times of India - April 8, 1999 [/url]

Pre-modern Warfare:India And Elsewhere - Hauma Hamiddha - 11-14-2003

The Vaimanika shatra seems to be recent concotion that was created in the early 1900s by a certain Subbaraya. There is not much support for this being an ancient text based on its language too. There is an old manuscript in the Baroda library which still needs investigation, though. The samarangana sutradhara also needs investigation but no reliable manuscripts of the text are available again making the matter fishy.

Pre-modern Warfare:India And Elsewhere - Hauma Hamiddha - 11-14-2003

[quote name='Sudhir' date='Nov 11 2003, 10:21 PM'] An interesting link fit for this thread: [url=""]Ancient Indian Aerial Craft ('Vimana') - By Mukul Sharma - The Times of India - April 8, 1999 [/url] [/quote]

Extremely fishy article and site. Most material presented here is plainly unsubstantiated