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History of War in India: Army and Army Divisions

History of War in India: Army and Army Divisions

I found a really interesting article on a website, with courtesy to this nice website I am sharing a part of the article, if you wanna know more go to that website:

The Game of Chess and the Four-Fold Force
Owing to peculiar geographical features, with her vast plains interspersed with forests, the ancient Indian States had to make extensive use of mounted forces which comprised cavalry, chariots, and elephants. This does not mean that infantry was neglected. Hindu India possessed the classical fourfold force of chariots, elephants, horsemen, and infantry, collectively known as the Caturangabala.

Students also know that the old game of chess also goes by the name of Caturanga. Chess is a game of war, and in each game there are a king, a councilor, 
two elephants, two horses, two chariots, and eight foot-soldiers. From the references to this game in the Rg Veda and the Atharva Veda and in the Buddhists and Jaina books, it must have been very popular in ancient India. The Persian term Chatrang and the Arabic Shatrang are forms of the Sanskrit Chaturanga.

The famous epic Mahabharata narrates an incidence where a game called Chaturang was played between two groups of warring cousins. In some form or the other, the game continued till it evolved into chess.

H.J.R. Murray, in his work titled “A History of Chess”, has concluded that,
“chess is a descendant of an Indian game played in the 7th century AD”. The Encyclopedia Britannica states that “we find the best authorities agreeing that chess existed in India before it is known to have been played anywhere else.”
On the whole the board is 8 X 8 squares. According to Taylor, the game of chess was the invention of some Hindu who devised a game of war with the astapada board as his field of battle. From the reference to the game in the Rig Veda and the Arthava Veda and in the Buddhist and Jaina books, it must have been very popular in ancient India. It is to be noted that the relative values of the chess pieces were analogous to or identical with the relative values of different arms as laid down by Kautalya, Sukra, and Vaisampayana.

The organization of the Indian army which came to be known as Caturanga, both in epic Sanskrit and Pali literature, was based on the ancient game.

The Chariots

Chariots were used in warfare from very remote times. There are many references to chariots in the Samhitas and in the Brahmanas. The chariot was an indispensable instrument of war in the days of the Vedas, and on its possession depended victory. In the Rg Veda there is a hymn addressed to the war chariot: ' Lord of the wood, be firm and strong in body: be bearing as a brave victorious hero.

Show forth thy strength, compact with straps of leather and let thy rider win all spoils of battle.' Chariots were of different types and materials. In the Ramayana and the Mahabharata their use is largely in evidence. Each chariot was marked off by its ensign and banner. Besides flags, umbrellas (chattra, atapatra), and fans were a part of the paraphernalia of the war chariot.

Sukra mentions an awe-inspiring chariot of iron with swift-moving wheels, provided with good seats for the warriors and a seat in the middle for the charioteer; the chariot was also equipped with all kinds of offensive and defensive weapons.

The conception of the sun-god in Indian tales is of value to the student of ancient Indian military history. The idea is that the sun-god wants to destroy darkness. Therefore he dons a lustrous armor and marching in his swift flying chariot drawn by seven powerful steads, Aruna (dawn) being his charioteer. The whole image presents a life-like portrait of the military dress as well as the march against an enemy.


The next important force of war consisted of elephants. The numerous representations of the animal on coins and in architectural sculptural works from Gandhara to Ramesvaram as well as bronze figures in Indonesia are an indication of the esteem in which it was held by the ancient Indians, clearly on account of its usefulness.

There is a reference in the Rg Veda to two elephants bending their heads and rushing together against the enemy, which is a fairly early reference to the animal being used in war. By the time of the Yajur Veda Samhita the art of training elephants had become common. The Arthasastra mentions a special officer of the State for the care of elephants and lays down his duties.

Megasthenes explains how the elephants were hunted, and how their distempers were cured by simple remedies such as cow's milk for eye-disease and pig's fat for sores. A Jataka story throws some light on how fire-weapons were used in ancient India.
"Once a king mounted on an elephant and led an attack on the city of Benares. The soldiers who offered defenses from within the city gates discharged a shower of missiles against the enemy at which the elephant was frightened a little."
The use of burning naphtha balls thrown against on rushing elephants to frighten them and make them turn back on their own side, is mentioned by early Mohammadan historians as a feature of the warfare between the Rajputs and the Turkish invaders from the North-West. (Elliot and Dowson, vol. I).


We hear from the Kautaliya and Megasthenes that there was a well-organized and efficient cavalry force in the army of Chandragupta. In the ArthaVeda we hear of dust-raising horsemen. In this connection it is interesting to consider the oft-repeated statement that horses are non-Indian. It is not the whole truth. They were known to the Asuras of Vedic literature. There is a legend narrated in the third book of the Hariharacaturanga (though this is work of the late 12th century A.D., the tradition recorded is very ancient). In the epoch of the epics and the Arthasastra, we find that the cavalry occupied as important a place in the army as any other division.

We may remark in passing that Abhimanyu's horses were only three years old.

We hear from the Kautaliya and Megasthenes that
 there was a well-organized and efficient cavalry force in the army of Chandragupta.
In the ArthaVeda we hear of dust-raising horsemen.
How important the science of horses was to the ancient Indians is best seen from the Laksanaprakasa which quotes from several important old authorities some of which are probably lost to us. Among them are the Asvayurveda and Asvasastra, the former attributed to Jayadeva and the latter to Nakula. Both the Puranas and the epics agree that the horses of the Sindhu and Kamboja regions were the finest breed and that the services of the Kambojas as cavalry troopers were requisitioned in ancient wars.

In the 

The next important division of the army was the infantry, or foot-soldier. The Arthasastra speaks of the infantry as a separate army department under the charge of a special officer of the State. This receives confirmation from Megasthenes statement. Besides the maula or hereditary troops which formed a considerable portion of the army, there were,
  • the bhrta or mercenaries
  • the sreni or soldiers supplied by the different group and guild organizations
  • the mitra or soldiers supplied by allies
  • the amitra or deserters from the enemy ranks
  • the atavi recruited from forest tribes
According to the Sukraniti and the Kamandakanitsara, the army was to be made as imposing as possible to frighten the enemy by its size. The Agni-purana says that victory ever attends the army where foot-soldiers are numerically strong.

The Sukraniti also mentions that foot-soldiers possessed fire-arms when they fought.
In their left hand they carry bucklers made of undressed ox-hide which are not so broad as those who carry them but are about as long. If we turn to the ancient nations and especially the ancient Egyptians we meet with almost a similar description.

The Commissariat
The Caturanaga was a classical division of the army accepted by tradition. But in the epoch of the epic we hear of a Sadanga or the six-fold army, including commissariat and admiralty. The use of commissariat can be traced to the epic age. This belonged to the category of administrative division of troops as against the combatant. We are told that this division of the army into two categories was first seen in the battle of Mansikert (1071 A.D.)

But, centuries before, the Indian army leaders had realized the value of such a division. It is said that when the Pandava army marched to Kurukshetra it was followed by 'carts and transport cars, and all descriptions of vehicles, the treasury, weapons and machines and physicians and surgeons, along with the few invalids that were in the army and all those that were weak and powerless. This was purely a civil department attached to the army. Care was also given to wounded animals.

The numerous references in our authorities to the Commissariat demonstrate beyond doubt that wars were planned methodically and conducted systematically.

The Admiralty
The Admiralty as a department of the State may have been a creation of Chandragupta but there is evidence to show that the use of ships and boats was known to the people of the Rig Veda. In the following passage we have reference to a vessel with a hundred oars.
"This exploit you achieved, Asvins in the ocean, where there is nothing to give support, nothing to rest upon, nothing to cling to, that you brought Bhujya, sailing in a hundred-cared ship, to his father's house." (refer to Naval warfare section).


There is no special word in Sanskrit for a 'a map.' There is, however, reason to believe that in ancient India a map or chart was regarded as a citra or alekhya, i.e., 'a painting, a picture, a delineation'. That maps were made in ancient India seems to be quite clear from the evidence of the New History of the T'ang Dynasty which gives an account of the Chinese general Wang Hiuen-tse's exploits in India in the year 648 A.D.

With reference to the knowledge of map-making among the people of India, especially the Dravidians of the South:
"The charts in use by the medieval navigators of the Indian Ocean - Dravidas, Arabs, Persians, were equal in value, if not superior, to the charts of the Mediterranean. Marco Polo (1498) found them in the hands of his Indian pilot, and their nature is fully explained in the Mohit or 'the Encyclopaedia of the Sea'"

Hindu Valor

The Hindus were declared the by the Greeks to be the bravest nation they ever came in contact with. (source: History of India - by Mountstuart Elphinstone p. 197).

It was the Hindu King of Magadha that struck terror in the ever-victorious armies of Alexander.
Abul Fazal, the minister of Akbar, after admiring their noble virtues, speaks of the valor of the Hindus in these terms:
“Their character shines brightest in adversity. Their soldiers (Rajputs) know to what it is to flee from the fields of battle, but when the success of the combat becomes doubtful, they dismount from their horses and throw away their lives in payment of the debt of valor.”
Francois Bernier, a 17th century traveler says that:
 “The Rajputs embrace each other when on the battlefields as if resolved to die.”
The Spartans, as is well known, dressed their hair on such occasions. It is well known that when a Rajput becomes desperate, he puts on garments of saffron color, which act, in technical language, is called kesrian kasumal karna (donning saffron robes). (source: Hindu Superiority - By Har Bilas Sarda p. 79 - 91).

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