• 0 Vote(s) - 0 Average
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Pre-modern Warfare:India And Elsewhere
Hi. I am new here from an invitation from Srirangan to post my questions on Indian catapults on this forum.

I'm in the process of completing my book on Chinese Siege Warfare which includes a final chapter on catapults of other cultures. Does anyone have information on pre-islamic invasion catapults?

These are 3 that I've come across with names in Sanskrit. Does someone here knowledgeable in Sanskirt maybe help decipher the names, hopefully getting more clues on how these catapults works or looked like? Srirangan has helped with an initial translation.

1. Mahaashilaakantaka - Great Stone/Rock Obstruction?

2. Sarvatobhadra - Everywhere Stable?

3. Hastivaraka - ?

Thanks in advance.

Liang Jieming
I have a few more catapult names. Can anyone here help translate them from Sanskrit?

4. Mayayantra - ?

5. Talavrinta - ?

6. Sthira or Sthita?, Cala or Cara?, Sajiva, Nirjiva, Dhara, Dvipa, Jvara and Vyamisra
Mayayantra <i>literally</i> translates from sanskrit to "magic device". For the rest we'll have to wait for someone else to reply.
Liang, Try these online sanskrit dictionaries:
The meaning of Kantaka according to: http://webapps.uni-koeln.de/tamil/

Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon: Search Results
1 kaNTaka m. (n. L.) a thorn S3Br. v MBh. Ya1jn5. &c. ; anything pointed , the point of a pin or needle , a prickle , sting R. ; a fish-bone R. iii , 76 , 10 Mn. viii , 95 ; a finger-nail (cf. %{karaka-}) Naish. i , 94 ; the erection of the hair of the body in thrilling emotions (cf. %{kaNTakita}) ; unevenness or roughness (as on the surface of the tongue) Car. ; any troublesome seditious person (who is , as it were , a thorn to the state and an enemy of order and good government) , a paltry foe , enemy in general (cf. %{kSudra-zatru}) Mn. ix , 253 , &c. BhP. R. &c ; a sharp stinging pain , symptom of disease Sus3r. ; a vexing or injurious speech MBh. i , 3559 ; any annoyance or source of vexation , obstacle , impediment R. Hit. ; the first , fourth , seventh , and tenth lunar mansions VarBr2S. and VarBr2. ; a term in the Nya1ya philosophy implying refutation of argument , detection of error &c. L. ; a bamboo L. ; workshop , manufactory L. ; boundary of a village L. ; fault , defect L. ; N. of Makara (or the marine monster , the symbol of Ka1ma-deva) L. ; of the horse of S3a1kya-muni Lalit. (wrong reading for %{kaNThaka} BRD.) ; of an Agraha1ra Ra1jat. ; of a barber Hariv. (v.l. %{kaNDuka}) ; (%{I}) f. a species of Solanum Sus3r.
2 kANTaka mf(%{I})n. (fr. %{kaNTaka}) consisting of thorns A1pS3r. xv , 1.
3 kAntaka m. N. of a man Das3.
4 kaNTaka mfn. coming from the plant Tri-kan2t2aka g. %{rajatA7di}.


Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon: Search Results
1 Tala = %{TAla} g. %{jvalA7di}.
2 TAla mfn. (= %{Tala} g. %{jvalA7di}) tender (a fruit) , S3i1l. on A1ca1r. ii.
3 tala (m. L.) n. ( %{stR}) surface , level , flat roof(of a house) MBh. &c. (chiefly ifc. [f. %{A} R. v , 13] cf. %{nabhas-} , %{mahI-} &c.) ; the part underneath , lower part , base , bottom Mn. ii , 59 VarBr2S. Pan5cat. &c. (cf. %{adhas-} , %{taru-} &c.) [440,3] ; (m. n.) the palm (of the hand see %{kara-} , %{pANi-}) R. ii , 104 , 17 S3ak. Ragh. vi , 18 ; the sole (of the foot , %{aGghri-} , %{pAda-}) MBh. i VarBr2S. ; (without %{kara-} &c.) the palm of the hand (%{anyo@'nyasya} , or %{parasparaM@talaM} or %{-lAn-dA} , to slap each other with the palms of the hands) MBh. Hariv. R. Sus3r. ; (n. L. ; m.) the sole of the foot R. v , 13 , 47 ; (m.) the fore-arm L. ; = %{tAla} (a span L. ; the handle of a sword L. ; the palmyra tree Viddh. ii , 13) ; pressing the strings of a lute with the left hand MBh. viii ; m. N. of a hell A1run2Up. S3ivaP. (cf. %{talA7tala}) ; S3iva MBh. xiii , 17 , 130 ; N. of a teacher g. %{zaunakA7di} ; n. = %{-hRdaya} L. ; = %{talka} L. ; = %{talaka} (q.v.) L. ; = %{talla} (q.v.) L. ; the root or seed of events L. ; = %{-tra} A1s3vGr2. iii , 12 , 11 (%{tala}) MBh. R. ; (%{A}) f. id. L. ; N. of a daughter of Raudra7s3va Va1yuP. ii , 37 , 122 ; cf. %{a-} , %{jihvA-} , %{ni-} , %{nis-} , %{pra-} , %{mahA-} , %{rasA-} , %{vi-} , %{su-}.
4 tAla m. (Siddhnapun6s. 25 Sch.) the palmyra tree or fan-palm (Borassus flabelliformis , producing a sort of spirituous liquor ; considered as a measure of height R. iv ; vi , 2 , 6 Lalit. iii , xxii ; forming a banner MBh. iv , vi , xvi Hariv. ; to pierce seven fan-palms with one shot is held to be a great feat R. i , 1 , 64 AgP. viii , 2) Mn. viii , 246 MBh. &c. ; (fr. %{tADa}) slapping the hands together or against one's arm , xiii , 1397 R. &c. ; the flapping of an elephant's ears Ragh. ix , 71 Katha1s. xii ; xxi , 1 Prab. i , v ; musical time or measure MBh. &c. (cf. %{-jJa} & %{-zIla}) ; a dance Sa1h. vi , 277 ; a cymbal Pan5cat. BhP. viii , 15 , 21 ; (in prosody) a trochee ; a span measured by the thumb and middle finger Hcat. i , 3 , 855 and 6 , 171 [445,1] ; (= %{tala}) the palm (of the hand) L. ; a lock , bolt W. ; (= %{tala}) the hilt of a sword L. ; a goldsmith Gal. ; S3iva MBh. xiii , 1243 ; pl. N. of a people (cf. %{-vana} and %{apara-}) VarBr2S. xiv , 22 ; m. n. orpiment L. ; N. of a hell VP. ii , 6 , 2 and 10 S3ivaP. ; n. the nut of the fan-palm MBh. iii , 8718 Hariv. 3711 (cf. %{kAkatAlIya}) ; the throne of Durga1 (cf. %{manas-}) L. (v.l.) ; mf(%{I} Pa1n2. 4-3 , 152) n. made of palmyra wood Mn.xi , 96/97 ; (%{A}) f. (g. %{kuNDA7di}) see %{mAsa-} ; (%{I}) f. (g. %{kuNDA7dI}) N. of a tree (Corypha Taliera , Corypha umbraculifera , Flacourtia cataphracta , Curculigo orchioides L.) Hariv. 6407 R. Sus3r. &c. ; toddy W. ; a fragrant earth L. ; = %{tallikA} L. ; a metre of 4 x 3 long syllables ; cf. %{ucca-} , %{ut-} , %{eka-} , %{kara-} , %{kAMsya-} , %{kAma-} , %{kroza-}.


Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon: Search Results
1 sthira mf(%{A4}) n. firm , hard , solid , compact , strong RV. &c. &c. ; fixed , immovable , motionless , still , calm S3Br. MBh. &c. ; firm , not wavering or tottering , steady R. VarBr2S. ; unfluctuating , durable , lasting , permanent , changeless RV. &c. &c. ; stern , relentless , hard-hearted Kum. ; constant , steadfast , resolute , persevering (%{manas} or %{hRdayaM@sthiraM-kR} , `" to steel one's heart , take courage "' R. Katha1s.) ; kept secret Vet. ; faithful , trustworthy Ya1jn5. MBh. &c. ; firmly resolved to (inf.) MBh. ; settled , ascertained , undoubted , sure , certain Mn. MBh. &c. ; m. a partic. spell recited over weapons R. ; a kind of metre VarBr2S. ; N. of S3iva MBh. ; of one of Skanda's attendants ib. ; N. of a partic. astrol. Yoga MW. ; of certain zodiacal signs (viz. Taurus , Leo , Scorpio , Aquarius ; so called because any work done under these signs is supposed to be lasting) ib. (L. also `" a tree ; Grislea Tomentosa ; a mountain ; a bull ; a god ; the planet Saturn ; final emancipation "') ; (%{A}) f. a strong-minded woman MW. ; the earth L. ; Desmodium Gangeticiim L. ; Salmalia Malabarica L. ; = %{-kAkolI} L. ; N. of the sound %{j} Up. ; (%{am}) n. steadfastness , stubbornness , resistance (acc. with %{ava-tan} P. `" to loosen the resistance of [gen.] "' ; A1. `" to relax one's own resistance , yield "' ; with %{A-tan} A1. `" to offer resistance "') RV.
2 sthira &c. see p. 1264 , col. 3.


Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon: Search Results
1 cala mf(%{A})n. (g. %{pacA7di}) moving , trembling , shaking , loose MBh. &c. ; unsteady , fluctuating , perishable ib. ; disturbed , confused ib. ; m. `" agitation , shaking "' see %{bhUmi-} ; wind L. ; wind (in med.) Asht2a7n3g. i , 11 , 1 ; quicksilver L. ; a sprout , shoot Gal. ; n. water Gal. ; (%{A}) f. lightning L. ; incense L. ; the goddess of fortune Katha1s. lx , 119 ; a metre of 4 x 18 syllables (cf. %{a-} , %{niz-} , %{puMzcalI} , %{cAla}.)
2 cAla m. (%{cal} g. %{jvalA7di}) `" moving "' see %{danta-} ; looseness of the teeth VarBr2S. lxvi , 5 Sch. ; a thatch , roof L. ; (for %{cA4Sa}) the blue jay L.
3 cala (S3is3. v , 61) n. a foot-rope.
Thanks again Sri.

Perhaps this translation for Kantaka might be more accurate? Though I have no idea how it strings together with Maha & Shila. Maybe Great Stone Annoyance? hehehe. Good name for a catapult if you asked me.

5 (cap) kaNTaka m. thorn, prickle, point, sting, fish-bone; erection of the hair of the body; annoyance, vexation, pain; foe, enemy.

Sarva (to) bhadra perhaps in this case may be closer to "All Peaceful" or maybe "All Pacified?"

3 (cap) sarva a. whole, entire, all; m. sgl. everyone, pl. all (w. {api} all together); n. sgl. everything. --With a neg. not every, not every one or everything, no, nothing.
5 (cap) bhadra a. bright, pleasing, good, happy; voc. {bhadra, bhadre}, & {bhadrAs} good sir, good lady, & good people! {bhadra3m} & {bhadra3yA} adv. luckily, fortunately. n. luck, prosperity, good fortune, {bhadraM te} or {vaH} happiness to thee or you (often only explet.).

Hasti Varaka perhaps means To Deliver Misery?

3 (cap) hastI kR hand over, deliver.*

9 (cap) varAka , f. {I} wretched, miserable.

Mayayantra = Magic Device. <!--emo&Smile--><img src='style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/smile.gif' border='0' style='vertical-align:middle' alt='smile.gif' /><!--endemo-->

talavrinta is a bit more confusing. It refers to a machine that creates thunder storms etc.

Some possibilities.

6 (cap) tala m. n. place on or under (gen. or ---), surface, bottom, plain; often corresp. to a more special word, as {pANitala} palm of the hand, {nabhastala} vault of the sky, often otiose. n. arm-leather (cf. {aGgulitra}).
7 (cap) tAla m. the fan-palm (often mentioned as a banner or a measure of height); clapping of the hands, flapping (esp. of the ears of an elephant); beating time, musical time or measure, dance; E. of €iva, pl. N. of a people. f. {I} a cert. tree, palm-wine, clapping of the hands. n. the nut of the fan-palm.
1 (mwd) vinta m. N. of a partic. divine being Ma1rkP.
1 (mwd) viNT cl. 10. P. %{viNTayati} , `" to kill "' or `" to perish "' Dha1tup. xxxii , 116 (v.l.)

The rest are catagories of yanthas so they seem quite clear.

Sthira - firm
Cala - moving
Sajiva - alive
Nirjiva - dead
Dhara - gushing/jet??? supporting??? edged???
Dvipa - island??? elephant???
Jvara - fever???
Vyamisra - dark???
Check this thread: Pre-modern Warfare in India
To be honest I was not aware of seige engines in pre-Islamic India. Thanks for opening my eyes.

A litteral translation would not be useful for instance a hydraulic ram was translated as a water goat.

Can you give a context and some description of where the word occurs in a passage? Some of the more knowledgable folks can provide the contextual meaning.

I suspect 'kantaka' was some sort of a launcher for a pointed arrow type device. Like a giant cross bow akin to the Roman ballista. Could be generic for a hurling device.

The Shila refers to stone. So the Maha(big)shila(stone) kantaka(hurling device as noted above) might be a Big stone hurling device.

Hasti refers to elephant.

I wonder if Artha shastra describes any seige engines? What about Megasthenes?
Liang Jieming,
Please do review the other major threads in this forum and give your insights.

I found this instance of the use of a catapult by Ajatashatru, Buddha's contemporary:

Link<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->Accounts differ slightly as to the cause of Ajatashatru's war with the Licchavi republic. It appears that Ajatashatru sent a minister, who for three years worked to undermine the unity of the Licchavis at Vaishali. To launch his attack across the Ganga River (Ganges), Ajatashatru had to build a fort at a new capital called Pataliputra, which the Buddha prophesied would become a great center of commerce. Torn by disagreements the Licchavis were easily defeated once the fort was constructed. J<b>ain texts tell how Ajatashatru used two new weapons </b>– <b>a catapult and a covered chariot with swinging mace </b>that has been compared to modern tanks.<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->
I went to Liang's website and read the context.

The covered chariot with the swinging mace I think is the ratha(Chariot) musala(Mace). I think this was battering ram in modern parlance and the fact that Ajatashatru used it against a fort makes sense.

The Sarvatobhadra in context of the Liang's webpage refers to a gadget that makes one safe in all directions or omnidirectional. Srava(in all directions) Bhadra(safe). It means a device to hurl weapons in all directions. Could be a catapult on a turntable to defend a fort?

Would love to see the actual descriptions from the primary sources.
<!--QuoteBegin-ramana+Mar 28 2006, 12:13 AM-->QUOTE(ramana @ Mar 28 2006, 12:13 AM)<!--QuoteEBegin-->A litteral translation would not be useful for instance a hydraulic ram was translated as a water goat.

Can you give a context and some description of where the word occurs in a passage?  Some of the more knowledgable folks can provide the contextual meaning.

I wonder if Artha shastra describes any seige engines? What about Megasthenes?
Ramana, Arthashastra DOES refer to the Sarvathobhadra along with quite a number of offensive and defensive contraptions. Some of them include machines which spits out arrows continuously. LN Rangarajan's version has an appendix with the names. I am just moving to a new house, my Arthashastra copy is somewhere in a box. I will try and post the names of the cotnraptions when time permits.
<!--QuoteBegin-ramana+Mar 28 2006, 02:43 AM-->QUOTE(ramana @ Mar 28 2006, 02:43 AM)<!--QuoteEBegin-->To be honest I was not aware of seige engines in pre-Islamic India. Thanks for opening my eyes.

A litteral translation would not be useful for instance a hydraulic ram was translated as a water goat.

Can you give a context and some description of where the word occurs in a passage?  Some of the more knowledgable folks can provide the contextual meaning.

I suspect 'kantaka' was some sort of a launcher for a pointed arrow type device. Like a giant cross bow  akin to the Roman ballista. Could be generic for a hurling device.

The Shila refers to stone. So the Maha(big)shila(stone) kantaka(hurling device as noted above) might be a Big stone hurling device.

Hasti refers to elephant.

I wonder if Artha shastra describes any seige engines? What about Megasthenes?
Hi Everyone. Thank you for all the replies.

Searching for pre-Islamic Indian catapults has been extremely difficult. All Islamic sources definitively state the entry of catapults into India was during their 6-8th century invasions. Indian histories tend to be silent on the existance of catapults and where mentioned, in many cases tend to support this Islamic introduction theory.

I'm trying to pin down the meanings of the names (both literal translations and possible combined meanings) as well as to try and find clues on how they worked. I suspect some of these catapults like the Sarvatobhadra worked on a very different principle from the usual lever or torsion catapults of the other cultures.

Is it possible to get some agreement on the best possible sanskrit translation of the names? I'm handicapped from not knowing sanskrit or having access to much Indian primary sources and I'm hoping knowledgeable persons such as yourselves here would be able to help.


Maha shila kantaka - "Great" "Stone" "Arrow-Point?/Annoyance?"

Sarva (to) bhadra - "All Directions" "Safe?/Pacified?"

Hasti varaka - "Deliver?/Elephant?" "Misery?" (Isn't Hasti = elephant only in Tamil?)

Talavrinta - ???

One more...

Sataghni (catakkini in Tamil) - Hundred Killer?
This is what I've written in my book.

<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->There is very little known about siege weaponry in Indian warfare although it would not be inconceivable to think that with the fortresses and elephant armies, Indian dynasties had employed some type of siege weapons in their wars. Much of what is known come from Muslim sources and are almost unanimous in their assertion that the Islamic invasions of the 8th century onwards saw the first introduction of catapults into the Indian subcontinent.

Typical is this source from the History of Pakistan from the internet;

    "Islam was first brought in by Arabs in early eighth century. At that time, the religion itself was only about a century old. In 711 AD Mohammad Bin Qasam, a brilliant 19 year-old Arab general from Basra (Iraq) marched into Pakistan by way of Persia and Balochistan with the army of 60,000 men. He employed a method of warfare never before seen in the subcontinent - large carriage-drawn catapults capable of hurling heavy stones and missiles across the distances of about 200 yards. He marched all the way to Nerun (Hyderabad) where he engaged Raja Dahir, the local Hindu ruler and his massive army of 20,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry. Mohammad Bin Qasim defeated Raja Dahir with contemptuous ease."

On the other hand, there are however a few references which dispute this assertion of muslim sources. King Ajátasattu (493 - 462 B.C.) of the Magadhan empire, in a battle ca. 478 B.C. against the republican states of the Lichchhavis, used a type of catapult called the Mahashilakantaka. Jain texts described its use together with a covered "tank" chariot called the Rathamusala which helped the King win his war. Then we find yet another catapult called the Sarvatobhadra which was a fortress wall mounted cart with wheels and capable of rapid revolutions for hurling stones all around. The Hastivaraka was yet another catapult, firing three-pronged iron rods to strike at elephants. In the Indian epics we find references to the Sataghni or "hundred-killer" mounted on top of city walls. They were wheeled columns of wood, stone or metal, studded with spikes which were hurled at an enemy trying to storm and scale the walls. Smaller versions were apparently mentioned as handheld battlefield missiles as part of a hero’s chariot equipment. In the famous epic Ramayana, we find mention of the term Yantras which were weapons that threw stones and arrows from fortifications and a few references referred to Yantras carried by elephants and chariots.

The campaigns of Alexander the Great in 326 B.C. brought his Greek army into the northern reaches of the Indian subcontinent where it is written that they encountered the artillery of the Oxydraces people of Punjab. In the words of Philostratus, we have the reply by Alexander to Apollonius on why the army was refraining from battle.

    "...these truly wise men dwell between the rivers of Ganges and Hyphasis. Their country Alexander never entered, deterred not by fear of the inhabitants but, as I suppose, by religious motives, for had he passed the Hyphasis he might doubless have made himself master of all the country round; but their cities he never could have taken, though he had a thousand men as brave as Achilles, or three thousand like Ajax; for they come not out into the field to fight those who attack them, but rather these holy men, beloved of the gods, overthrow their enemies with tempest and thunderbolts shot from their walls. It is said that the Egyptians Hercules and Bacchus, when they invaded India, attacked this people also, and having prepared warlike engines attempted to conquer them; they in the meantime made no show of resistance, appearing perfectly quiet and secure, but upon the enemy's near approach they repulsed them with storms of lightning and flaming thunderbolts hurled upon their armour from above."

This was a remarkable description of 4th century B.C. Indian incendiary and long range artillery by a non-Indian source, which when read together with the Indian epics of the period, points to the possible existence of catapults in the ancient Indian arsenal. The types and forms of these interesting catapults of the ancient Indians however, are lost to us, veiled in legends and myth, remaining as yet undetermined and unresearched and therefore unknown to this day. India, it would seem, suffers not from a scarcity of catapults but from a scarcity of information on its catapults.<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->
Liang, Apropos shatagni refer to the thread Pre modern warfare. In post 7 H^2 in item 13, translates it as fire thrower. Makes sense as agni is fire and yes shata is 100. So literally it means 100 fires or a fire thrower engine.
I would say shatagni = firethrower engine.

Thanks for researching about pre Islamic seige engines in India. We need to look far and wide in travellers accounts to get an idea of such machines of war.
I see. So the correct spelling would be Shata instead of Sata? Hehe no wonder I couldn't find the translation when I used the online translator.

But I have some doubts on the translation for ghni or agni. I understand agni means fire but ghni when used as part of a word I believe means Killer? eg. sahasraghni meaning Killer of thousands, or purusaghni which means a woman who killed her husband?
The more I read the more I think you're right. Hastivaraka I think means "Elephant Opposer".

One more.
Deva-dańda: It was a cylindrical cannon-like object placed on the ramparts and was also known as pratitaroca.

Devadanda = divine cudgel?
<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->Isn't Hasti = elephant only in Tamil?<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->

No hasti is a sanskrit word, in tamil elephant is "YAnaI".

In silapadikaram(an ancient tamil classic), this is what it says where the weapons in madurai fort

- an automatic bow and arrow

there are other lot of weapons stated here, somebody good in classical tamil can interpret them correctly...

<img src='http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v130/indiaforum/tamil_weapons.gif' border='0' alt='user posted image' />

Hasti varaka

Hasti (sanskrit)- an elephant

varh (v) (sanskrit)- hinder, conceal
varaḥ (sanskrit_— the biggest or most powerful
varah (sanskrit)- occasion, oppurtunity

śataghni — with weapons called śataghnis
a weapon of war, supposed to kill a hundred men at one discharge
Hmm..liam i just visited your site, under "Siege Weapon Types in Other Cultures" you have mentoned "South Asian" instead of "Indian" and listed all the weapons which where used in ancient India, south asian is a term which is used from pakistan to indonesia, and since there is harldy any weapon from other culutres plz change it to Indian since else its very misleading.

Forum Jump:

Users browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)