Warfare Of The Ancient Hindus: An Analysis

The Hindus

The Hindus is generic term to denote the inhabitants of India. The history of India is dotted with numerous wars and conflicts. In India, like the Greeks and Chinese, the existence of a 'Heroic Age' in war is known.

Manuals like the Arthashastra of KAUTILYA indicate the prominence of war. The Army was called the 6th of the seven essential elements in the state. But from all accounts no single king or soldier of prominence arose. Battles were confined to multiple duels between Charioteers accompanied by foot soldiers.

The Elephant

At about this time the elephant was introduced in war. The preference

of the elephant over the horse was probably dictated by necessity, as good breeds of horses were not available. Though elephants had strength and terrifying appearance yet by all available accounts they made a poor showing in battle.

Between 325-27 BC, Alexander invaded India. Alexander crossed the Hindu Kush and after a series of battles was met by king Poros on the bank of the river Jhelum. The battle is well documented and Alexander won a Pyrrhic victory. From all accounts it was a bitter battle with the Greeks unable to make much headway. So fierce was the resistance that Alexender's men refused to go forward. It was a decisive battle and heralded the end point of Greek conquest.

Hindu Armies

After the departure of Alexander to the time of Harsha the composition of Hindu Armies and their tactics and strategy in war did not alter appreciably. Chandragupta, Samudragupta, Yasodharan, Skandagupta and Harsha are the important military contributors of this period. But it appears that all of them lacked tactical sense, as the passes of the Hindu-Kush were left unguarded. The Armies of that period consisted of Foot Soldiers armed with spears and bows. There was also a corps of chariots and elephants.

Earlier chariots had two horses, a driver and a bowman.

Later chariots had 4 horsemen and carried 6 men - two archers, two drivers and two shield bearers. Elephants had a pride of place in Hindu Armies. They were defended by elaborate armour of steel. Elephants were trained to move into battle to the accompaniment of drums and couch-shells. The commander-in-Chief normally mounted an elephant and directed the battle. Cavalry was another arm. Though theoretically, it was rated above infantry but practically it was neglected Arm. Cavalry was of two types - heavy and light. Mounted Cavalry men carried spears and swords, but mounted bowmen were never developed.

The Hindu Army was essentially a voluntary force. The recruitment was carried out accordingly. From the Arthasastra, we learn that the recruitment was from the following five sources viz Choras-robbers and bandits, Mlechennias-highlanders, Organized gangs( Choraganas), Atavikas-foresters and lastly warrior clans ( Sastropajivas and srenis).Such recruitment militated against professionalism.
The Indian Army in battle was divided into the following groups:

(a) Regular corps - The professionals
(b) Hereditary troops
(c) Mercenaries
(d) Contingents from feudal chiefs
(e) Bandits and jungle tribes

Last Word

From what has been written in the proceeding paragraphs, it can be seen that basically the post Poros Armies lacked mobility and were slow moving affairs. The Hindu Kings and Generals did not learn anything from the Macedonian's. Generally, the strategy of the Magadha Kings centered on a huge elephants force (e.g., Chandragupta 9,000 elephants, Harsha 60,000 elephants etc). These were decisive in positional warfare and jungle areas, but were found wanting against quick moving horsemen in the plains.


Article Written By Madan G Singh

An early retired Gp Capt from Air Force who is an Executive Director in the Corporate world. Loves to write fiction and articles. Published over 60 short stories and his novel" Romance of the Frontier" is published from Notion Books.His second novel is on way for publication. The author also has close to 10,000 articles on the b net with millions of views

Last updated on 29-05-2016 59 0

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