(Last Updated on : 13/10/2010)
Details about warfare in ancient India can be obtained from the great epics of Ramayana
and Mahabharata and the Puranas. In ancient Indian army Chariots and horses were hugely employed they were more for dignity and show than for obtaining tactical superiority. Indian chariots were massive, made of either wood or iron, and elaborately decorated in gold. Some of the chariots held more men the largest could hold up to seven men. Indian chariots were large and heavy and that required around four to six horses for pulling them. Elephants and chariots also formed a part of the armies during campaigns.
and Samudra Gupta
, two great conquerors of ancient India also laid great emphasis on this aspect of warfare. In his edicts Chanakya
laid down strict rules for statecraft and warfare as also for spies and envoys. Proper warning was always given to an adversary before the actual fighting took place. During the battle sword met sword, spear struck spear, mace struggled with mace, arrow crossed arrow and when all arms had been broken or exhausted, the warriors met each other in unarmed combat. Great attention was paid to the development of the physique and personality of the soldier. Lord Rama
won his consort in an open tournament when prowess and the art of war were given the fairest trial and in which warriors and leaders of men from far and near participated.
In the ancient times, it was necessary to maintain so large an army because of the unsettled conditions of the times in which weak states had very little chance of survival. Officers and men were paid regularly. The crown prince was the highest paid person in the army. The practice of allowing extra allowances in advance to the army before a campaign also prevailed at the time. Uniforms were provided to the regular army by the state for which implications were made from their pay. With these compensations the military budget must have amounted to near about fifty percent and even more of the total revenues of the state. Modes of payment varied from division to division. Some were paid in cash and some in kind. Some received it both in cash and kind. Soldiers were also given a part of the booty in war.
A balanced force was to consist of 45 chariots, 225 horses, 675 men and as many servants to attend upon the horses, chariots and elephants. Of these the chariots had to be in groups of three each in front, with the same number on the flanks. The number of chariots in the front could be increased, if required, until the total number was twenty one. In the same manner the surplus horses had to be balanced and thus no confusion was occasioned during fighting. According to Sukraniti the foot-soldiers (infantry) had to be four times the cavalry, oxen one-fifth of the cavalry, camels one-eighth, elephants one-fourth of the camels, chariots half of the elephants and cannon twice the chariots. The field army was divided into five different groups namely centre or uras, flanks or kaksas and wings or paksas. Great stress was laid on reserves which had to be the `flower` of the army and one was never supposed to fight without them. These had to be detached and kept in a favourable position from where they could be usefully employed. Battle formations were divided into various classes namely Staff, Snake, Circle and Detached order.
Further, the sounding of a trumpet six palikas (two and two-fifth of an hour) before sunrise and after sunset prohibiting the movement of people, is surely a forerunner of the present practice of sounding reveille and retreat in cantonments and military camps. These bugles and trumpets were an essential accompaniment to an army. All important commanders carried their conch-shells. A flag was a symbol of the strength, unity and inspiration and was prominently displayed by the king and commander during a battle. For a demoralised army the standard served as a rallying point. According to historical records, it is claimed that during most of the great battles the fighting was severe around the flag. Many a battle was lost due to the loss of the standard, as then the soldiers had nothing to fight for and would hurriedly retire or give up. The capture of the enemy`s standard has always been considered to be a great honour and even now some of them, though two hundred years old, adorn military messes and halls.
If there was a possibility of a threat of the enemy blocking the road, the army was required to march in crocodile or array, makara in front, in cart-like array behind and on the sides in diamond-like array and in a compact array on all sides. The diamond-array consisted of four or five rows, each having a front, rear and sides. During the Mahabharata battles the opposing sides adopted different battle arrays on each day. Some of the formations used were vajra or thunderbolt, mandala or circular, suchi or needle shaped and krauncha or heron shaped. The battle formations and tactics employed in these battles indicate existence of four kinds of movements namely compact, separate, circular and crooked.
The science of fortress warfare was developed to a great extent. In the epic Mahabharata
there are references to many types of durgas - forts. The excavations at some ancient cities indicate existence of walled cities, bastions and elaborate defence works at the time. Small strongholds were sited at strategic points along the borders on all fronts. The capital formed the main bastion. Due emphasis was laid on height, thickness and invulnerability. A king without a fort was comparable to an elephant
without rut or a snake without poison.