Warfare in Ancient India (In Historical Outline)

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Item Code: NAF943
Author: Soma Basu
Publisher: D. K. Printworld Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2014
ISBN: 9788124607336
Pages: 328
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.0 inch X 6.0 inch
Weight 610 gm
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About The Book

Differing from the existing studies on the warfare of ancient India, Warfare in Ancient India: In Historical Outline is a Comprehensive study of the defence policies, construction of forts, arms and ammunitions, commissariat, the espionage system, the rules of aggression and defence, the technical matters and war ethics, based upon a comparative study with the modern systems, and a thorough comprehension of Sanskrit and Sanskrit sources. This being done based on the existing and newly-explored sources. It also analyses the diplomatic and economic factors in aggressive designs, one of the major elements of the political history of early India.

This volume partially deals with the activities of the Indo-Aryans and their continuous struggle for survival against hostile environment in Indus Valley and their expansion towards the east along the major rivers of north India, Leading to frequent invasions and attacks. Thus came the warlike traits of some major Vedic deities ancient battles, arms and armour, chariots, forts arrays, Jain war canons, and major weapons cited in Mahabharata, Silappadikaram, Manasollasa, Kural, etc. as the main focus of the book. It also vividly addresses the war policies and tactics enunciated by Kautilya in Arthasatra and Manu in Manu-Smrti, and differentiations in their views on few aspects. The inevitable factors that led to wars Survival, and domination and economic exploitation are also well dealt.

The book should enthuse the interests and spirit of all those who are into the study and research of Vedic history, warfare and ancient culture.

About The Author

Dr Soma Basu, MA, Ph.D. is a well-Known researcher and has worked on various projects in Kolkata and Mumbai. She began her teaching stint as a Lecturer and completed a UGC research project “Student in Scientific Thoughts and Components in Vedic Literature” at the School of Vedic Studies, Rabindra Bharati University, where, at present, she is an Associate Professor.

Apart from developing proficiency in Sanskrit, she has mastered in German and Manuscriptology. She has participated in numerous national and international seminars, conference and workshops, and presented papers on Buddhist Studies, Vedic Studies, Rites and Rituals, Smrti and Dharmasastra, Ancient Indian History, etc.


EVEN if the dominant spirit of Indian civilization has been that of non-violence and compassion among coexisting creatures on earth right from the days of Atharvaveda which pronounced padbhyam daksinasavyabhyam ma vyathismahi bhumyam, instinctive struggle for the existence against vagaries of nature and unwelcome neighbours beastly and human, put primitive clans always on alert and at loggerheads. Necessary items including weapons were evolved accordingly to combat the situations. Chieftains took the lead, came to command respect, awe and allegiance of the followers and rose to the height of kingship with speculated possession of heavenly powers. It is not without reason, therefore, that in the Rgvedic pantheon of gods and goddesses, Indra the war-god comes out supreme as one who chased Sambara, the asura from one place to another and ultimately vanquished the enemy during the fortieth autumn. Warfare gradually developed as an art and craft in ramifications so much so that it came to constitute a most important part of statecraft and administration of justice to be learnt by the ruling classes and warriors as a discipline of learning. Wars have been fought for chastising the enemy and expansion of state-boundary by conquering the neighbouring states. Death at war has been glorified (cf. hato va prapsyasi svargam jitva bhoksyase mahim Gita) and fighting a war for a right cause has been eulogized as an act of righteousness for warriors (cf. dharmyiid dhi yuddhac chreyo ‘nyat Ksatriyasya na vidyate).

A cursory glance at ancient Indian literature, Vedic and classical, would reveal niceties of invasion, arrangement of army, fortification, efficacies of weapons, astra and sastra, diplomatic warfare, behaviour of the conqueror with the conquered, sanctions and injunctions during war, plight of the war widows and many such details portrayed by the poets. Smrti texts and the like too abound in such deliberations. A systematic study on this vast literature is surely to be a rewarding exercise from both academic and military points of view. It is no wonder that Paragal Khan and Chhuti Khan of medieval Bengal got Mahabharata translated in popular tongue and were used to revel in listening to the detailed description of war, etc. available in the great epic as an exercise to benefit for the sake of ruling their subjects.

While inquisitive readers of Sanskrit literature have been going through and between the lines for ages together to suit their purpose and scholars to have been engaged in critical studies from different perspectives on the available data on the subject mentioned above, it is an ever-expanding and never-ending process for obvious reasons. It is gratifying to note that Dr Soma Basu, associate professor of Vedic Studies at the Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata has ably contributed her mite to this very interesting area of academic research. Her sincerity of purpose, critical outlook and deep penetration into the ancient texts have immensely helped her in presenting a fairly comprehensive study on ancient Indian warfare chiefly from literary sources. It rightly fetched her a doctorate degree which she deserves most. I congratulate the scholar on her success in the mission she dedicated herself to for several years and hope that discerning judgement of the wise shall lead her to further achievements.


WARFARE is ipso facto a serious business; the fight may be with bows and arrows or nuclear-tipped missiles. The seriousness is apparent in the actual use of weapons and other paraphernelia of war. It is also equally obvious in the strategy devised either with forethought and/or on the spur of the moment.

Although there are some works on warfare in ancient India by V.R. Dikshitar, G.T. Date, B.K. Majumdar, S.D. Singh and others, a more comprehensive work on military science and organization, with regard to defence policies, construction of fortresses, manufacture of arms and ammunitions, commissariat, the espionage system, the rules of aggression and defence; the technical matters and war ethics, based upon a comparative study with the modern systems and a thorough comprehension of Sanskrit and Sanskritic sources, is lacking. This book is a humble endeavour to fill in some gaps existing in the earlier works, with material drawn from newly-explored sources and to bring the seriousness attached to the use and manufacture of whatever was concerned with fighting.

This book is substantially the same as the thesis submitted to and granted a Ph.D. by the Rabindra Bharati University of Kolkata. I have taken a lot of pains to look at the weapons, forts, armies images, or a chariot, etc. from many viewpoints and constantly referred to authorities without accepting any opinion blindly to avoid dogmatism, and taken courage in both hands to point out the arguments where the authorities might have erred (e.g. Chapters 3 and 4). “Social history,” as George Macaulay Trevelyan, has observed, “might be defined negatively as the history of a people with the politics left out” (English Social History, Great Britain, 1942). However, as it appears to my limited vision, politics could not be entirely refused entrance in that “house of many mansions”, because politics determines not a little of the mode of living and thought of people in ancient as well as modern times. Manu Samhita and Kautilya’s Arthasastra bear ample testimony to this fact.

Moreover, as the same eminent historian concedes, “it has also its own positive value and peculiar concern” (Introduction, op. cit., p. vii). Economic history too plays its part in moulding social history. Architecture, religion, literature and learning (as the epics show) have their share. I had to make generalization based on a small number of particular instances, for which I must apologize to erudite scholars around. To be conscious of one’s forefathers as they really were, is our duty, for “in our ashes live their wonted fire” (Grey’s Elegy). Such concern constitutes a repayment of our limitless indebtedness to them.

This researcher, who had worked on a project on material culture in the School of Vedic Studies of Rabindra Bharati University during 1990-92, has gathered rather important materials which have been hitherto less known, and which could be utilized from the viewpoint of the historical and in- depth studies of Sanskrit sources pertaining to the arts and science of warfare. It was Samiran Chandra Chakrabarti, Professor and Director, School of Vedic Studies, RBU who was kind enough to draw my attention to this special field of study and encouraged me to undertake a thorough and systematic research for a Ph.D. thesis. Nabanarayan Bandyopadhyaya, Reader, Department of Sanskrit, Rabindra Bharati University, kindly agreed to supervise my work.

Narendra Nath Bhattacharya, Professor, Dept. of Ancient Indian History and Culture, University of Calcutta, contributed enormously at the time of wirting the thesis. His help was particulary prominent in the Buddhist and Jam sections. His untimely demise has deprived me of an invaluable source of information and advice. His active supervision would most certainly have made this book a much better product in terms of both content and presentation.

My regards are due to Mrs. K. Sankarnarayan, Professor and Director, K.J. Somaiya Centre for Buddhist Studies, Mumbai, for guiding me into an understanding of Buddhist thought on the issue of my interest.

I am indebted to my parents, Prof. B.N. Sikdar, and Mrs. K. Sikdar and my brother Prof. S. Sikdar for their life-long support in matters both academic and non-academic. In particular, my father’s contribution to stylistic improvement was substantial.

Also without the unquestioning support provided by my husband Mr. Tapas Basu, a Chartered Accountant by profession, and my children Saptarshi and Devdattaa Basu, it would have been absolutely impossible to undertake and finish this work.

Sincere thanks are due to Samiran Samanta, Project Fellow of the UGC Major Research Project, School of Vedic Studies, Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata for his untiring efforts in the final stage of proof reading and Ms. Renu Chosh, Ms. Ishita Chakrabarti, Mrs. Sanjukta Basu amd Mrs. Indira Duttagupta, Project Assistant of the same department for their overall assistance and support.

Previous studies in this special branch were made mostly by historians who collected relevant materials and arranged them in a chronological sequence according to the demand of their discipline. But a Sanskritist has the scope of going into further details and interpretations on the basis not only of the texts but also of the commentaries. For example, Arthasastra of Kautilya has been utilized by all historians but few have paid attention to the commentary of Bhattasvamin. Similarly, Manu-Smrti has been used by all but its vast commentarial literature has scarcely been touched, instances can be multiplied.

Since there are certain works on this subject already set in historical and chronological sequence, what I have tried to do is to chalk out what, at best, may be called an outline. This sketch has been substantiated and supplemented by other materials which have not been previously satisfactorily utilized, the nature of which has been indicated above.

Besides, the generally utilized Sanskrit sources mostly pertaining to the Vedic, epical, Dharmasastra and Arthasastra literature, greater emphasis has been laid upon works of technical nature like Manasollasa of the Calukyan king Somesvara.

This book serves a twofold purpose, general overall comprehension of topics on the one hand and detailed information on particular aspects on the other.

This book also aims at analysing the diplomatic and economic factors in aggressive designs, one of the major elements of the political history of early India. I have looked at war not merely as a military activity but also as an economic one and sought to examine the resource-gathering aspect of war. Another object has been to tackle, as far as I could, the ideas and activities of rulers prompting war efforts as recorded in history, which largely were dominated by two primary motives: (i) an urge for survival, and (ii) the almost equally powerful urge following to dominate over others by exercising raw physical force and/or economic exploitation. “Disinterested curiosity is the life-blood of real civilization” (G.M. Trevelyan’s adage) was surely an additional motive.

I beg forgiveness of the reader for one serious shortcoming which concerns the notes and references provided in some chapters of the book. A large number of the notes originally given in chapters 3, 6, 8 and 9 at the time of writing the doctoral dissertation could not be checked at the stage of final proof reading. This is chiefly because these chapters were written in Mumbai using material and texts available in the libararies/academic institutes of that city. Much of that material is unavailable in Kolkata where the thesis was given its final shape as book after a gap of about ten years.

For the portion pertaining to Vedic literature though checking of the notes and references was possible due to the availability of the relevant material in the department and library of the School of Vedic Studies at Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata, the author’s current place of work.


PEOPLE all over the world seem to pass through a kind of Childhood when heroes and their deeds are all important. These heroes may be historical figures; they may be semi divinities. Even when they are mythical/legendary (i.e. unhistorical), the true points of their stories, however, are that they typify the ideals of the people who made them heroes; these ideals are what the people considered essential existence itself. Because prehistoric times were inimical to anima1 life in many ways, the ancient people had to be strong and courageous for survival, he had to face the hardships of nature in a rude environment. As people lived in small groups or tribes they met hostility at every step, as the group migrated to gather food or to graze herds.

The ancient literature of India presents us accounts of the Indo-European (or Aryan) heroes and their warfare with natural odds, beasts and/or other tribes. The various stories cut these semi-divinities were first transmitted through oral tradition and subsequently recorded in books called the “Vedas” (to know); the earliest of the “Vedas”, i.e. Rgveda samhita may be referred to a date between 2000 and 1500 BCE.

However regarding the date of composition of Rgveda Max Muller is of the opinion that the date must be anterior to 1000 BCE, thus 1200 to 1000 BCE, may be indicated as its date, or the whole mass of literature produced by them during the first thousand years of their settlement in India in which can be found, besides the knowledge of high philosophical thoughts, emotions and realizations, religious practices, also materialistic knowledge of warfare, weapons, cattle rearing and so on.

The most interesting, perhaps, of this aspect of heroic life which had its share of human passions like hatred, malice and intrigue is from one point of view, the story of their battles and conquests, of their armoury and strategy. In the following pages an attempt has been made to collect and survey the military aspects of it. The heroic age in India was inaugurated (as seen from various sources like text, archaeological evidences and secondary sources) by invaders from the north early in the third millennium BCE. The so-called Aryan invasion of India must have taken place as a continued action covering decades sometime between 2000 and 1500 BCE. From 1gveda, which is the “methodically arranged collection of Vedic seers in praise (of deities)” (J. Gonda), we get the most important source of information so far about the ancient Indo-Aryans. It shows that in the earliest period the Aryans in India were confined within the north-western stretch of the subcontinent, including the area where the remains of the Mohenjo-Daro culture have been discovered. Our chosen theme is a part of the Indo-Aryans’ activities in this subcontinent and their continuous struggle for survival against hostile environment and their expansion towards the east along the main river courses in northern India. It is the detailed study of history which enables us to visualize the past as really as the present.

Further research which has thrown refreshing light on the much discussed Aryan invasion theory could not be brought in there, as this will add up surely to quite a few pages which would not be simply possible at this stage. So I abstain from taking that pain with much apologies.


1A Critical Survey of Preceding Scholarship1
on the Subject
2The Sources14
3The Pre-Historic and Proto-Historic Period: 22
Sporadic Archaeological Evidence
4Warlike Traits of the Vedic Deities and Hordes: 45
Political Events and Tribal Wars
Vedic Warfare: An Introduction45
Warlike Traits of Some Major Vedic Deities50
Devas and Asuras: A Note on Concept,70
Meaning and Relationship
Some Ancient Battles84
Of Tribes Hostile to Each Other89
Some Comments on the Dasarajna War93
by Eminent Historians and Personalities
5Vedic Warfare: An Overall Estimate95
Chariot and Horse Riding98
chariot as the Constituent of an Army102
General Information
Chariot of Deities: Mythological Information105
Parts of a Chariot111
Arms and Armour115
6Forts and Battle Arrays: A Post-Vedic Perspective124
7Warfare and Diplomacy: Post-Vedic Concept142
On Rajadharma155
8War in Mãhabharata157
9Indian Weapons: As169
Mentioned in Ancient Texts
Some Special Texts169
Military Aspects as Reflected in lain Canons173
Kamandaka: on War181
on Forts183
on Army185
on War186
on Army188
on Tactics189
Appendix: A Study of the Warlike Deities and193
Their Weapons as Gathered from Iconography
with Special Reference to Buddhist Deities
Iconography: General Introduction193
Description of the Iconic Features of Some of214
the Major Puranic Deities
Buddhist Deities245
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