Omnipresent, Omniscience and Omnipotent are the attributes of God. The Supreme Being is kind, merciful, and gracious but is most destructive as well. This aspect is pictorially well expressed through Hindu mythology.
Importance of Weapons
HE is always shown carrying flowers to indicate His power of blessing, conch shell to symbolize His warnings to the evil-doer, and weapons to destroy the evil. The Supreme Power is always portrayed in calm and composed disposition, without any signs of anger, revenge or hatred even when engaged in the destruction of evil. Every God and Goddess is also shown possessing weapons for the protection of Dharma – to restore natural law and order in the Universe.
Weapons were respected, ‘worshiped’ and sought after as blessings and boons from learned Rishies and superior deities through penance or other rituals. Though non-violence is regarded as supreme virtue, cowardice is considered as biggest sin. Heroic death is preferable over comfortable but inglorious life. Self-defense and protection of Dharma is a sacred duty for which sanction has been accorded in the scriptures as under:-
अहिंसा परमो धर्मः धर्म हिंसा त्थैवः चः
“Although nonviolence is ideal but violence for protection or restoration of Dharma is also the same”.
Scriptures cannot be defended without power and weapons. That is the reason the mother goddess Shakti is reverend in Hinduism. The Supreme Being has exemplified it on several occasions through His incarnations and has indicated His commitment to repeat the same from time to time.
The right of Self Defense
Nature has equipped every living being with suitable tools for self-defense, such as teeth, claws, physical strength and evasive instincts to protect own life. Even the most docile animals and persons make use of the same. Since Dharma compressed in the concept of ‘live, and let live’, contemplation of planned and deliberate war is justified for the protection of ‘dharma’ in discharge of one’s duty.
Many often offensive action is the only and best form of defense. Hinduism justified and preferred war in protection of Dharma than submission to the evil forces of adharma. The great Mahabharata war was commended by Krishna for restoration of values in the society even against own kith and kin.
The Battlefield Environment
Ancient Hindu scriptures contain comprehensive instructions regarding the conduct of ‘Dharm yudh’ for protection and restoration of Dharma. Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas make frequent mention of battlefield organizations, rank structure such as Rathi and Maha-rathies. Chaturangani Sena implied four elements under one field commander consisting of chariots (armored), horsemen, foot soldiers and services. Modern armies also have the same components.
Scripture mention about fortifications and there is exhaustive catalog of weaponry. A canon was called ‘Shataghni’. There were agni-astras, or weapons of fire, chemical astras (warheads) as well as biological warheads that could be shot or launched. The wars were fought on land, water, and air.
Principles of Warfare
Even if we assume for a moment those account to be fictional, yet the comprehension of all the principles of modern warfare and maneuvers have been depicted to present an advanced scenario of the battlefield. Unlike other epics of the globe, wars were not confined to one instance of cuddling few soldiers in a dummy horse to be dragged in to the rival camp, but Ramayana and Mahabharata battles were fought at the scale of world wars, simultaneously in different theaters spread over far off fronts for several days, but according to central command and control of the rival Commanders in Chief.
All the factors that influence modern war such as superiority of numerical strength and weaponry, aggressive action, tactics, personal chivalry, morale, planting of information, night attacks, raids, and suicidal missions have been amply illustrated to indicate the professionalism of Indian warriors and match all the standards of advanced armies of the present century also. By no stretch of imagination the Rishies could be equated to thriller writers or war correspondents of today.
Use of Battle insignia
The origin and use of flags can be traced to the Rig Veda Samhita. The term dhvaja (flag) occurs in the Veda. Besides, dhvaja, there are good number of expressions for a banner in Vedic literature. These are Akra, Krtadhvaja, Ketu, Brhatketu, and Sahasraketu. Banners and drums were counted among the insignia of ancient Vedic kings. In the Mahabharata war, every commander had his own insignia to distinguish his army division from the other’s.
Missiles and Launchers
Ancient Hindus knew the use of gunpowder. The Shukra Neeti is an ancient text that deals with the manufacture of arms such as rifles and guns. Its author Shukracharya was the Guru of demons and possessed equal capability to match the army of Devas.
Alexander mentioned in a letter to Aristotle that terrific flashes of flame were showered on his army in India. It was the fear of Military might of Emperor Ghana Nanda of the Magdha empire, that soldiers of Alexander did not dare to advance towards him and forced the world conqueror to return home.
Rockets were also Indian inventions and were used by native armies when Europeans first came into contact with them. Eliot tells us that the Arabs learnt the manufacture of gunpowder from India, and that before Indian connection they had used arrows of naphtha.
Codes of Military Honor
The ancient Hindus had evolved precepts on fair fighting which formed a chivalrous code of military honor. Wars were characterized by less violence and savagery than wars fought elsewhere. The indiscriminate slaughter of all men of adult age or the enslavement of women and children of the conquered state were hardly known. Nowhere in the history of ancient India would one trace even a single incident of rape or arson before or after the war.
It goes to the credit of Indian culture that ethical codes were also part of military tactics, Warriors were to refrain from attacking the unarmed and unaware opponents, females, non-participants, places of worship, hospitals, and residential complexes and the battle camps at night. These codes were the precursors of Geneva conventions today, that are violated by our adversaries.
Shipbuilding and Navigation
The Rig Veda makes several references to ships used to cross the Samudra (Ocean). India was a peninsula cut off from the Northern world by the Himalayas, and by vast expanses of water on the Eastern and Western side. India had to take to shipping, if she wanted to export her immense surplus goods.
The art of Navigation was born in the River Sindhu 6000 years ago. The very word Navigation is derived from the Sanskrit word Nav Gatih. The word navy is also derived from Sanskrit `Nou‘. The Rig Veda not only refer to River Saraswati as Hiranyavartani, (path of gold), and the Sindhu as Hiranmayi (possessing gold), it also makes a direct reference to panned-gold from the Saraswati riverbed.
Trade was also a big part of this civilization. Indians traded with the Egyptians, with the Sumerians acting as intermediaries using ships. In the third century, horses were exported from India to the Malay Peninsula and Indochina, by means of ships of considerable size.
History of Indian Navy
In Indian mythology, Varuna is the God of Seas and Rivers. The Devas and Danavas, who were the sons of Rishi Kashyapa by queens Aditi and Diti, churned the ocean, in order to obtain Amrut, the nectar of immortality and other treasures. Even today the invocation at the launching ceremony of a war-ship is addressed to ‘Aditi’.
The Rig Veda credits Varuna with knowledge of the ocean routes commonly used by ships, and describes naval expeditions using hundred-oared ships to subdue other kingdoms. There is a reference to Plava, the side wings of a vessel that give stability under storm conditions: perhaps the precursor of modern stabilizers. Similarly, the Atharva Veda mentions boats, which were spacious, well-constructed and comfortable.
The Rig Veda mentions the two oceans to the east and the west, (Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea) just as they mention ships and maritime trade. The picture of the Vedic people as sea-faring merchants meshes perfectly with the archaeological evidence of the Indus-Saraswati civilization. India’s maritime history predates the birth of western civilization. The world’s first tidal dock was built at Lothal around 2300 BC during the Harappan civilization, near the present day Mangrol harbor on the Gujarat coast.
The Sanskrit text, Yuktikalpataru, explains how to build ships, such as the one depicted in the Ajanta caves. It gives minute details about ship types, sizes and materials, including suitability of different types of wood. The treatise also elaborately explains how to decorate and furnish ships so they are comfortable for passengers. Yuktikalpataru gives a detailed classification of ships.
Two Indian astronomers of repute, Aryabhatta and Varahamihira, having accurately mapped the positions of celestial bodies, developed a method of computing a ship’s position from the stars. A forerunner of the modern magnetic compass called Matsya Yantra was used. It comprised an iron fish that floated in a vessel of oil and pointed towards North.
Emperor Chandragupta Maurya established an Admiralty Division under a Superintendent of Ships as part of his war office. Charter of his responsibility included navigation on the seas, oceans, lakes and rivers. Indian ships traded with Java and Sumatra, and with countries in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Trade linkages also existed between Philippines and with the powerful Hindu empires in Java and Sumatra.
To the east, Indian mariners had gone as far as Borneo and flourishing Indian colonies had existed for over 1,200 years in Malaya, the islands of Indonesia, in Cambodia, Champa and other areas of the coast. Indian ships from Quilon, made regular journeys to the South China coast.
The Indian Ocean, including the entire coast of Africa, had been explored centuries ago by Indian navigators. Indian ships frequented the East African ports and certainly knew of Madagascar.
To the awakened Western world, conquest of India was virtually the conquest over the world. Dream of World conquest remained unfulfilled for Alexander and he had to retreat without fighting the Indian Emperor. His successor Seleucus attacked India but he also had to beg peace from Chandragupta Maurya by offering his daughter in marriage. Such was the military might of India at the very beginning of our history.
Chand K Sharma
(Next: Splashes – 49/72 – Martial Arts of India)