- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
FROM THE EARLIEST INVASIONS TO THE CONQUEST OF BABER
IN giving a sketch of the arms and military tactics in India as far as it can be gathered from the testimony of history and public monuments, I do not propose to treat of the arms of the prehistoric period, though that field of inquiry is still open.
The rich and fertile plains of India have always proved a tempting prize to an invader from the west, and the classic tradition is therefore not altogether unworthy of belief that about 2,000 B.C. there was an invasion by the Assyrian Queen Semiramis. Her opponent Stabrobates may be identified with Sthabarpati, "Lord of hills, trees, and plains," who appears in the Indian legends as the antagonist of Shama, the wife of Mahadeva.
Another legendary invasion of India appears to have proceeded from Egypt under the leader who figures under the different names of Bacchus, Sesostris, or Parusram, so called from the Parusa or battle-axe with which he fought.
The oldest extant traditions of purely Indian origin give an account of a great contest between Rama, King of Ayodhya or Oude, and Ravana, King of Lanka or Ceylon, which has been usually referred to a period of remote antiquity, but which a recent writer has attempted to identify with the struggle between Brahminism and Buddhism.
It is in the poetic histories—the Ramáyana and the Mahábhárata—that we find the earliest references to Indian arms. The Ramáyana celebrates the deeds of the above-mentioned Rama, the conqueror of the Deccan and Ceylon. The Mahábhárata describes the wars of the two branches of the reigning family of Hastinapura, the Pandavas, and the Kauravas. The triumphant Pándavas transferred the seat of government to Indraprashtha, the site of the modern Delhi.
"Hastinapura, in which the first scenes of the 'great war of Bharat' are laid, is an ancient and vanished city, formerly situated about 60 miles north-east of the modern Delhi. The Ganges has washed away even the ruins of the metropolis of King Bharat's dominions. The poem opens with a 'sacrifice of snakes,' but this is merely a prelude connected by a curious legend with the real beginning. That beginning is reached when the five sons of 'King Pandu the Pale' and the five sons of 'King Dhritarashtra the Blind,' both of them descendants of Bharat, are being brought up together in the palace. The first were called Pandavas, the last Kauravas, and their life-long feud is the main subject of the epic. Yudisthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva are the Pandava princes; Duryodhana is chief of the Kauravas. They are instructed by one master, Drona, a Brahmin, in the arts of war and peace, and learn to manage and brand cattle, hunt wild animals, and tame horses. There is a striking picture in the earlier portion of an Aryan tournament, wherein the young cousins display their skill, 'highly arrayed, amid vast crowds,' and Arjuna especially distinguishes himself. Clad in golden mail, he shows amazing feat with sword and bow. He shoots 21 arrows into the hollow of a buffalo horn while his chariot whirls along; he throws the 'chakra,' or quoit, without once missing his victim; and, after winning the prizes, kneels respectfully at the feet of his instructor to receive his crown. Part of the story refers obviously to the advances gradually made by the Aryan conquerors of India into the jungles still peopled by aborigines. Forced to quit their new city, the Pandavas hear of the marvellous beauty of Draupadi, whose Swayamvara, or 'choice of a suitor,' is about to be celebrated at Kampilya. This again furnishes a strange and glittering picture of the old times; vast masses of holiday people, with rajahs, elephants, troops, jugglers, dancing women, and showmen, are gathered in a gay encampment round the pavilion of the King Drupada, whose lovely daughter is to take for her husband (on the well-understood condition that she approves of him) the fortunate archer who can strike the eye of a golden fish, through a 'chakra' whirling round upon the top of a tall pole, with an arrow shot from an enormously strong bow. The Princess, adorned with radiant gems, holds a garland of flowers in her hand for the victorious suitor, but none of the rajahs can bend the bow. Arjuna, disguised as a Brahmin, performs the feat with ease, and his youth and grace win the heart of Draupadi more completely than his skill. The Princess henceforth follows the fortunes of the brothers, and, by a strange ancient custom, lives with them in common."
The honourable position accorded to the profession of arms at an early period is shown by the fact that the Kshatriyas, or Rajputs, in the Vedic period were the dominant race, and subsequently stood next in the scale of caste to the Brahmins- or priests; they originally enjoyed the exclusive privilege of carrying arms.
In the Institutes of Menu (Chap. VII. sec. 185) we learn that the constitution of the army was sixfold, viz., elephants, cavalry, cars, infantry, officers, and attendants. The division was, however, practically into the four first parts only. The chariots were large, and hung round with bells, and, together with the elephants, carried the chief men of the army. The infantry were probably armed with a spear or short broad sword, and with bows and arrows. They wore a turban and girdle, short breeches, and a piece of leather about the loins, from which were suspended a number of small bells. The cavalry were not then so numerous as in later times. The plan of a campaign is simple, as might be expected, being drawn up by Brahmins. The king is to march when the vernal or autumnal crop is on the ground, and is to advance straight to the capital. When marching he is to "form his troops" either like a staff or in an even column, or in a wedge with the apex fore-" most, like a boar, or in a rhomb, with the van and rear narrow and the "centre broad, like a macara, or sea monster, that is, in a double triangle" with the apices joined; like a needle, or in a long line; or like the bud of. "Vishnu, that is, in a rhomboid, with wings far extended. Let him at his" pleasure order a few men to engage in a close phalanx, or a larger number "win loose ranks, and having formed them in a long line like a needle, or in" three divisions like a thunderbolt, let him give orders for battle. On a "plain let him fight with his armed cars and horses, on watery places with" manned boats and elephants, on ground full of trees and shrubs with bows, "on cleared ground with swords and targets and other weapons."
One hundred bowmen in a fort are said to be a match for 10,000 enemies, so far was the art of attack behind that of defence.
Their castles were built on precipitous rocks, and were impregnable to an enemy who possessed no warlike engines.
The laws of war are honourable and humane. Poisoned and mischievously barbed arrows, and fire arrows, are prohibited. Among those who must always be spared are unarmed or wounded men, and those who have broken their weapon, or who surrender themselves and beg for their lives.
The different "puranas" contain allusions to works on the art of war, called Dhanur Veda, or the science of bows, none of which unfortunately have been preserved, but from the Agni Purana we learn that the bow was the principal weapon of war.
"The Hindus," says the Abbé Dubois, "have 32 different kinds of weapons," and each of the 32 gods has his own peculiar weapon. Krishna and Ram "are armed with a battle-axe and a bow and arrow. Vishnu holds the "'chakra" (steel quoit). Kartikeya, the god of war, and Ravan, the giant, bear in their hundred arms a display of every species of military offensive weapon. Indra, the god of the Kshatriyas, is represented. as riding on an elephant, and armed with the sword and 'chakra,' the battle-axe and the thunder-bolt. (Wheeler, Vol. III., p. 21.)
There has been considerable controversy as to the extent to which firearms were known at this period. Sir H. Elliot comes to the conclusion, after examining all the best authorities, that they were used (see Vol. VI., p. 481, History of India, Appendix). Rockets, or weapons of fire, "Agny astra," were certainly known at a very early period. They were a kind of fire-tipped dart, discharged horizontally from a bamboo, and were used against cavalry. The invention is ascribed by the "puranas" to Visvacarma, their Vulcan, who for 100 years forged all the weapons for the wars between the good and bad spirits. The knowledge, however, of the manufacture of gunpowder or some material composed of sulphur and saltpetre, and the use of projectiles, probably died out before the historic times, and only an inflammable projectile or naphtha ball was used till the revival of firearms from the West.
The period just described may be characterised as the legendary and heroic age of India. Already, in that remote age, there appears to have existed an intercourse for purposes of trade, dating probably from the earliest times, between India and the countries on the seaboard of the Mediterranean, and especially Phnicia. It is probable that Southern India is the land of Ophir from which Solomon obtained "gold and silver, ivory and apes, and peacocks" (I Kings, x. 22). Of Indian manufactured products, probably iron and steel were the most important, as even at so early a date as that of the Institutes of Menu, iron is mentioned as an article of great consumption. In later times they are mentioned in the "Periplus" as imports into the Abyssinian ports.
But it is only with the appearance of the Greeks that the historic age of India may be said to commence. Already in Herodotus and Ctesias we find allusions to the Indians who followed Xerxes to Greece, and who came probably from the Punjab. They wore cotton dresses, and carried bows of cane with iron-tipped arrows.
The Eastern Ethiopians, who came from Bilúchistán, and were probably of a Cushite race, were marshalled with the Indians, and their equipment in most points resembled that of the Indians, but they wore on their heads scalps of horses with the ears and mane attached; the ears were made to stand upright, and the mane served as a crest. For shields they made use of the skins of cranes. The cavalry were dressed in like manner; they rode in chariots drawn by horses and wild asses
Herodotus tells us that the Indians (probably those in Sind) clothe themselves with garments made of rushes, and formed into a "thorax" by being interlaced into mats. He further states that the swords taken by the Greeks were golden, i.e., inlaid with gold.
In the Greek writers we also find references to two Persian invasions of India. The first of these is said to have been led by Cyrus, who according to Xenophon made the Indus the eastern boundary of his empire, and whose general Rustum, according to the Persian writers, penetrated into the heart of India. At a later time Darius sent an expedition under Scylax to the mouth of the Indus, and probably conquered a few provinces on the banks of the Indus, which were made into a satrapy, and paid tribute to himself and his successors.
But it is only since the invasion of India by Alexander in the year 327 B.C. that India is brought into a direct contact with the classic world. The relations then established lasted for several centuries, and we owe to them the full descriptions of India found in the contemporary classic authors. From the accounts of Quintus Curtius we learn something of the character and condition of Indian armies at that period, how gallant was their defence, but how little able they were to oppose the superior tactics of the Greeks. Alexander crossed the Jhelum by a stratagem, taking advantage of the cover afforded by a wooded island. The opposing force of Porus consisted of 85 elephants, 300 chariots, each of which carried six men, two bearing shields, two archers, and two driving the horses and throwing darts; 30,000 foot, among whom were archers who shot barbed arrows difficult to extract, and 4,000 horse. Alexander's first onset was with the chariots, which got into confusion from the slippery nature of the ground, and lost their drivers, after inflicting some damage on the Macedonian infantry by the vigour of their charge. The elephants formed the second line, and behind them were the infantry, and the archers who beat drums during the fight.
The Macedonian phalanx pressed them in front, and the cavalry took them in flank. The elephants, on which they most relied, were maimed by the axes and swords of the Greeks, and at last gave way, and the capture of Porus put an end to the fight.
The next object of Alexander's ambition was to attack the great Gangetic kingdom of Magadha beyond the Sutlej. Its king could bring 30,000 cavalry, 600,000 foot, and 9,000 elephants into the field. Alexander's troops, however, refused to cross the Sutlej, and after his death we have no further accounts from India, till one of his successors, Seleucus, crossed the Indus, and defeated Sandracottus (Chandragupta), and the whole strength of the Magadha empire. The result of that expedition was that he sent as his ambassador to that monarch Megasthenes, from whom we derive some knowledge of Indian arms at that time.
After the period just mentioned the connexion between India and the classic world was maintained by the Greek kingdom of Bactria. The rule of the Bactrians and their successors, the Indo-Scythian kings, extended at times over a considerable part of Upper India, where the influence of the Greeks was long felt, and may be traced even as far as Orissa. On the defeat of the Scythians by Vikramaditya several Hindoo dynasties shared Hindostan between them, but our knowledge of the military events of this period is extremely imperfect, and continues so until the time of the conquest of India by the Mahomedans.
The accounts of the Greek historians and geographers refer only to the earlier part of the period just mentioned, but they may be supplemented by a mass of invaluable contemporary evidence in support of history in the shape of coins and sculptured bas-reliefs, extending from the 3rd century B.C. to the 15th A.D.
The art of coinage seems to have been introduced into India by the Bactrian Greeks, and the numerous coins extant of the Bactrian and other dynasties of Northern India frequently afford most interesting illustrations of the arms of the period.
The Indo-Scythian kings, the successors of the Bactrian dynasty, are represented on their coins as wearing coats of chain mail, with a short straight sword sheathed by their side, and a lance. Kanerki holds a short curved sword, others hold a club and a short sword or dagger. (See Fig. 1.)
Excerpted from Indian and Oriental Armor by Lord Egerton of Tatton. Copyright © 2002 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted July 26, 2009
No text was provided for this review.