Hindu superiority: An Attempt to Determine the Position of the Hindu Race in the Scale of Nations By Har Bilas Sarda, B. A., F. R. S. L



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IV.—MILITARY SCIENCE.


My voice is still for war,

Gods! can a Roman senate long debate Which of the two to choose, slavery or death ?

ADDISON: Cato.

CAPTAIN Troyer says: “All the traditions of the Hindus are filled with wars, in which religion certainly had its share. I have shown this sufficiently already, without being obliged to go back so far as the contests between the Suras and the A suras.”1

War as an art as well as a science was equally well understood in ancient India. The nation which overran nearly the whole of the habitable globe and produced Hercules, Arjuna, Sagarji, Bali could scarcely be considered inferior to any other people in their proficiency in military science.

Being skilful sailors from time immemorial, the Hindus were adepts at naval warfare. Colonel Tod says: “The Hindus of remote ages possessed great naval power. “2

Being the greatest commercial nation in the ancient world, and enjoying sea trade with nearly every part of the world (see “Commerce”), they were compelled to look to their navy to guard their trade and to make it sufficiently strong to ensure their position as the “ mistress of the sea.” Their position in the ancient world being similar to that of England in the modern world

I Troyer on the Ramayana in the Asiatic Journal for October 1844, p. 514.

2Tod’s Rajasthan, Vol. II, p, 218,

so far as maritime affairs are concerned, their navy, too, was equally eminent and powerful. Manu mentions navigation to have existed among the Hindus from time immemorial. Strabo mentions a naval department in addition to the others in the Indian army.

Dhanur Veda, the standard work on Hindu military science being lost, the dissertations on the science found in the Mahabharata, the Agni Purana, and other works are the only sources of information on the subject left to us. Dr. Sir W. Hunter says: “There was no want of a theory of regular movements and arrangements for the march, array, encampments, and supply of troops. They are all repeatedly described in the Mahabharata.”

Mr. Ward says: “The Hindu did not permit even the military art to remain unexamined. It is very certain that the Hindu kings led their own armies to the combat, and that they were prepared for this important employment by a military education; nor is it less certain that many of these monarchs were distinguished for the highest valour and military skill.”‘

The ancient Hindu tactics of war were as original as valuable. It is said that the Hindus divided their army in the following manner: (1) Uras or centre (breast), (2) Kakshas or the flanks, (3) Pakshas or wings, (4) Praligraha or the reserves, (5) Koti or vanguards, (6) Madhya or centre behind the breast, (7) Prishtha or back—a third line between the madhya and the reserve.3 Array of forces in action is generally termed vyuha. lIndian Gazetteer, “India,” p. 223.

2See the Theosophist for March 1881, p. 124.

3The sage Brihaspati was a great teacher of military science, but unfortunately none of his works is now extant.

Some vyuhas are named from their object. Thus :

(1) Madhyabhedi= one which breaks the centre, (2) A n tar bhedi=that which penetrates between its division. More commonly, however, they are natned from their resemblance to various objects. For instance (1) Makaravyuha, or the army drawn up like the Makara, a mire monster.

(2) Syenavyuha, or the army in the form of a hawk or eagle with wings spread out. (3) Sakalavyuha, or the army in the shape of a waggon. (4) Aradha Chandra, or half moon. (5) Sarvatobhadra, or hollow square. (6) Gontutrika, or echelon. (1) Danda or staff, (2) Bhoja or column, (3) Mandala or hollow circle, (4) Asanhata or detached arrangements of the different parts of the forces, the elephants, cavalry, infantry severally by themselves. Each of these vyuhas has subdivisions; there are seventeen varieties of the Danda, five of the Bhoga and several of both the Mandala and Asanhata.1

In the Mahabharata (Vol. VI., pp. 699-729), Yudhishtera suggests to Arjuna the adoption of the form of Suchintukha, or the needle point array (similar to the phalanx of the Macedonians), while Arjuna recommends the vajra or thunderbolt array for the same reason. Duryodhana, in consequence, suggests Abhedya, or the impenetrable.

In their land army, the Hindus had, besides the infantry and the cavalry, elephants and chariots also. The elephants, “ the living battering rams,” as Macaulay



I See Agni Purana. “The most important part of Hindu battles is now a cannonade. In this they greatly excel, and have occasioned heavy ksses to us in all our battles with them. Their mode is to charge the front and the flanks at once, and the manner inwhich they perform this manoeuvre has sometimes called forth the admiration of European antagonists,”— Elphinstone’s History of India, p. 82.

calls them, were a source of great strength when properly managed and skilfully supported by other arms. Of the elephants given by Chaudragupta to Seleucus, Professor Max Dunker says: “These animals a few years later decided the day of Ipsus in Phrygia against Antogonus, a victory which secured to Seleucus the territory of Syria, Asia Minor, etc.” According to Ctesias, Cyrus was defeated and killed by the enemy, only because of the strong support the latter received from the Indian elephants.’

As regards the soldierly qualities of the Indians even of the present day, it Charles Napier, one of the highest authorities on the subject, says: “Better soldiers or braver men I never saw, superior in sobriety, equal in courage, and only inferior in muscular strength to our countrymen. This appears to me, as far as I can judge, the true character of the Indian army in the three Presic dencies, and I have had men of each under my command.”

The chivalrous conduct of the Indian sepoys on t e occasion of the defence of Arcot by Clive, and when, towards the close of the war with Tippu in 1782, the

1” The proficiency of the Indians in this art (management of elephants) early attracted the attention of Alexander’s successors; and natives of India were so long exclusively employed in this service, that the term Indian was applied to every elephant-driver, to whatever Country he might belong.”—Wilson’s Theatre of the Hindus, Vol. I, p. 15.

“In war, the King of India was preceded by 10,000 elephants and 3,000 of the strongest and the bravest followed him.”—Max Dunker’s History of Antiquity.

Sixty years after the death of the Enlightened, the Indians assisted the Persian King, the successor of Darius in the invasion of Greece, when they trod the soil of Hellas and wintered in Thessaly. They defeated the Greeks and saw the temple of Athens in flames,—Max Dunker’s History of Antiquity, Vol. IV, p. 384.

2 The Indian Review (Calcutta) for November, 1885, p. 181.

whole ofi the force under General Mathews were made prisoners is well known. The sepoys magnanimously and spontaneously contrived with great personal risk to send every pie of their petty savings to their imprisoned officers, saying: “We can live upon anything, but you require mutton and beef.” The conduct of the Indian sepoys shown on such occasions sheds lustre on the whole profession. General Wolsley, in a paper on “ courage,” contributed to a journal, highly eulogised the bravery of the Indian sepoys. “ During the siege of Lucknow,” he said, “ the sepoys performed wonderful feats of valour.”

Mr. Elphinstone says: “The Hindus display bravery not surpassed by the most warlike nations, and will throw away their lives for any considerations of religion or honour. Hindu sepoys, in our pay have in two instances advanced after troops of the king’s service have been beaten off; and on one of these occasions they were opposed to French soldiers. The sequel of this history will show instances of whole bodies of troops rushing forward to certain death.9

Clive, Lawrence, Smith, Coote, Haliburton and many others speak of the sepoys in the highest terms.

Now as regards the weapons used by the Hindus. Professor Wilson is assured that the Hindus cultivated archery most assiduously, and were masters in the use of the bow on horseback. Their skill in archery was wonderful. “Part of the archery practice of the Hindus consisted in shooting a number of arrows at once, from four to nine at one time.” Arjuna’s feats in archery at the tourna-

1 Elphinstone’s History of India, p. 108.

ment before Draupadi’s marriage, and again on the deathbed of Bhishma, must excite universal admiration.

The archery of the Hindus had something mysterious about it. The arrows returned to the archer, if they missed their aim. This was considered ‘absurd until the discovery of the “bomerang” in the hands of the Australians.]

Warlike weapons and splendid daggers were presented at the International Exhibitions of 1851 and 1862, and a critic speaking of them, says: “Beautiful as the jewelled arms of India are, it is still for the intrinsic merit of their steel that they are most highly prized.”2

That the ancient Hindus were celebrated for their sword-fight is evident from the Persian phrase, “ to give an Indian answer,” meaning “ a cut with an Indian sword.” The Indian swordsmen were celebrated all over the world. In an Arabic poem of great celebrity, known as Sa6aa Moalaqa, there occurs the passage “ The oppression of near relations is more severe than the wound caused by a Hindu swordsman.”3

Ctesias mentions that the Indian swords were the best in the world.4

The fallowing fivefold classification of Hindu weapons is exhaustive (1) Missiles thrown with an instrument or engine called yantramukta; (2) Those hurled by hand or hastamakta; (a) Weapons which may or may

1Basides bows, other missiles as the discus, short iron clubs, and javelins,, swords, ru,ases, battle axes, spears, shields, helmets, armunr and coats of mail, etc. are also. mentioned. See Wilson’s Essays, Vol. II, pp. 191, 92,

2:Manning’s Ancient and Mediaeval India, Vol. II, p. 365,.



3 The Tafsir Azizi says 4.1,i5)Wri31 &LI

4-Max Dunli-er’, History of Antignity, Vol, Irv, p.’43G.

not be thrown, or muktanizikta, as javelins, tridents etc.; (4) Which are not thrown, as swords, maces, etc.; (5) Natural weapons, as fists, etc. Bhindipala, Tomara, Naracha, Prasa, Rishti, Pattisa, Kripana, Kshepani, Pasa, etc., are some of the arms of the ancient Hindus now extinct.

The chief distinction of the modern military science is the extensive employment of fire-arms, their invention being attributed to the Europeans, and it being supposed that fire-arms were unknown in ancient India. Nothing, however, is farther from the truth. Though the Hindu masterpieces on the science of war are all lost, yet there is sufficient material available in the great epics and the. Puranas to prove that fire-ar.

known and used on all occasions by theUiriclus, but that this branch of their armoury had received extraordinary development. In medieval India, of course, guns and cannons were commonly used. Ga_the twelfth century we find pieces of ordnance being taken to battle-fields in the armies of Prithviraj. In the 25th stanza of Prithviraja Rasa it is said that “The calivers and cannons made a loud report when they were fired off, and the noise which issued from the ball was heard at a distance of ten cos.

An Indian historian, Raja Kundan Lall, who lived in the court of the king of Oudh, says that there was a big gun named lichhma in the possession of His Majesty the King (of Oudh) which had been originally in the artillery of Maharaja Prithviraj of Ajmer. The author speaks of a regular science of war, of the postal department, and of public or Roman roads. See Muntakhab Tafsee-u1-..4khbar, pp. 149, 50.

“Maffei says that the Indians far excelled the Portuguese in their skill in the use of fire-arms.”1

Another author quoted by Bohlen speaks of a certain Indian king being in the habit of placing several pieces of brass ordnance in front of his army.2

“ Faria-e Souza speaks of a Guzerat vessel in A.D. 1500 firing several guns at the Portuguese,’ and of the Indians at Calicut using fire vessels in 1502, and of the Zamorin’s fleet carrying in the next year 380 guns.”4

But let us turn to ancient India. Professor Wilson says: “ Amongst ordinary weapons one is named vajra, the thunderbolt, and the specification seems to denote the employment of some explosive projectile, which could not have been in use except by the agency of something like gunpower in its properties.”‘

As regards “ gunpowder,” the learned Professor says: “The Hindus, as we find from their medical

1 Kist. Indica, p.. 25. 2 Das Alte Indien, Vol II, p. 63.

3 Asia Portuguesa, Tom I, Part I. Chapter 5. 4Ibid, Chapter 7.

5Wilson’s Essays, Vol. II, p. 362. The Indians are from time immemorial remarkable for their skill in fireworks. The display of fireworks has been from olden days a feature of the Dasehra festival. Mr, Elphinstone says: “In the Dasehra ceremony the combat ends in the destruction of Lanka amidst a blaze of fireworks which would excite admiration in any part of the world. And the procession of the native prince on this occasion presents one of the most animating and gorgeous spectacles ever seen,”—Elphinstone’s History of India, p, 178.

MILITARY SCIENCE. 357

writings, were perfectly well acquainted with the constituents of gunpowder—sulphur, charcoal, saltpetre —and had them all at hand in great abundance. It is very unlikely that they should not have discovered their inflammability, either singly or in combination. To this inference a priori may be added that drawn from positive proofs, that the use of fire as a weapon of combat was a familiar idea, as it is constantly described in the heroic poems.”‘

The testimony of ancient Greek writers, who, being themselves ignorant of fire-arms used by Indians, give peculiar descriptions of the mode of Hindu warfare is significant. “ Themistius mentions the Brahman fighting at a distance with lightning and thunder.7

.Alexander, in a letter to Aristotle, mentions “ the terrific ashes of flame which he beheld showered on his army in India.” See also Dante’s Inferno, XIV, 31-7.

Speaking of the Hindus who opposed Alexander the Great, Mr. Elphinstone says: “Their arms, with the exception of fire-arms, were the same as at present.” 3

Philostratus thus speaks of Alexander’s invasion of the Punjab: “Had Alexander passed the Hyphasis he never could have made himself master of the fortified habitations of these sages. Should an enemy make war upon them, they drive him off by means of tempests and thunders as if sent down from Heaven. The Egyptian Hercules and Bacchus made a joint attack on them, and by means of various military engines attempt-

Essays, Vol II, p. 303.



20rat, XXVII, p. 337. See Ap, Duten’.s Origin of the discoveries attributed to the Moderns, p. 196.

3Elphinstone’s History of India, p, 241.

ed to take the place. The sages remained unconcerned spectators until the assault was made, when it was repulsed by fiery whirlwinds and thunders which, being hurled from above, dealt destruction on the invaders.”‘

Commenting on the stratagem adopted by King Hal in the battle against the king of Kashmir, in making a clay elephant which exploded, Mr. Elliot says: “Here we have not only the simple act of explosion but something very much like a fuze, to enable the explosion to occur at a particular period.”2

Viswamitra, when giving different kinds of weapons to Rama, speaks (in the Ramayana) of one as agneya, another as shikhara.

04-14zrowgifzr4 fimum wriTff:

“ Carey and Marshman render shikhara as a combustible weapon.” 3

In the Mahabharata we read of “a flying ball emitting the sound of a thundercloud which Scholiast is express in referring to artillery.”4

The Harivansa thus speaks of the fiery weapon: au*zil:PA Fmgi grnigrzarrit r: I

itritEr lardie a.T7RT;’-ulPm,’ tl

“King Sagara having received fire-arms from Bhargava conquered the world, after slaying the Taljanghas

Philostrati Vit: Apollon, Lib II. C. 33.

2Elliot’s Historians of India, Vol. I, p. 365.

3 Various kinds of weapons are mentioned, some of which are extraordinary. As it is not known how they were made, what they were like, and how they were used, people think they are only poetic phantasies. ‘Mr. Elliot says: Some of these weapons mentioned above were imaginary, as for instance, the vayava or airy.” But who would not have called the gramaphone, the cinametograph and the wireless telegraphy imaginary only 50 years ago ?

4Bohlen, Das Alte Indien, II, 66.

and the Haihayas,” M. Langlois says that “these fire-arms appear to have belonged to the Bhargavas, the, family of Bhrigu.”1 Again,

“Aurva having performed the usual ceremonies on the birth of the great-minded (prince), and having taught him the Vedas, instructed him in the use of arms; the great-armed (Aurva) presented him the fiery weapon, which even the immortals could not stand.”

Brahmastra is repeatedly mentioned in Sanskrit works. Professor Wilson, in his Sanskrit Dictionary, calls Brahmastra “a fabulous weapon, originally from Brahma.” For its use see Sri Bhagwat describing the fight between the son of Drona and A rjuna with the .Brahmastra. The Rev. K. M. Bannerjea in his work, “ The Encyclopedia Bengalensis,” says that the Brahmastra was probably a piece of musketry not unlike the modern ‘matchlocks.”2 Madame Blavatsky, in her Isis Unveiled, also shows that “fire-arms were used by the Hindus in ancient times.”‘

In the description of Ayodhia is mentioned the fact of yan tras4- being mounted on the walls of the fort, which shows that cannons or machines of some kind or other were used in those days to fortify and protect citadels.

The Ramayana, while describing the fortifications,



I Harivansa, p. 68. aEncycio. Bengal., Vol. III, p. 21. 3lsis Unveiled, Chap. XIV.

4 Yantra means “ that thing with which something, is thrown.?

says: As a woman is richly decorated with ornaments, so are the towers with big destructive machines.”1 This shows that cannons or big instruments of war like cannons, which discharged destructive missiles at a great distance, were in use at that time.

In descriptions of fortresses and battles, Shataghnis are often mentioned. Shataghni literally means “ that which kills hundreds at once.” In Sanskrit dictionaries, ,Shataghni is defined as a machine which shoots out pieces of iron and other things to kill numbers of men. Its other name is Brischi Kali RIETIWTVe

Shatagnis and similar other machines are mentioned in the following slokas of the Ramayana :

Canto 3 Slokas 12, 13, 16 and 17.

, 4 ... 23.

21 last sloka.

39 36.


60 54.

61 32.


76 68.

11 86 22.

Ramayana says that the Shataghni was made of iron. In the Sunder Kand it is Compared in size with big broken trees or their huge offshoots, and in appearance said to “ resemble trunks of trees.” “ They were not only mounted on forts but were carried to the battle-fields, and they made a noise like thunder.” What else could they, therefore, be but cannons ?

Besides the Ramayana, the Puranas make frequent mention of Shataghni being placed on forts and used in times of emergency. See Matasya Purana (wFwaTtar),



IRamanaya, Sunder Kind, Third Chapter, 18th verse. 1See Raja Sir Radh Kant Dev’s Shabdkalpadrama.

“ Art of Government.” The name used in this Purana is Sahastraghati (10. and Ti’m mean hundreds and thousands or innumerable)’guns and cannons are mentioned as existing in Lanka, under Ravana. They were called Nhulat Yantras.

Commenting on the passage in the Code of Gentoo (Hindu) Laws that “ the magistrate shall not make war with any deceitful machine or with poisoned weapons, or with cannons and guns, or any kind of fire-arms,” Halhed says “ The reader will probably from hence renew the suspicion which has long been deemed absurd, that Alexander the Great did absolutely meet with some weapons of that kind in India, as a passage in Quintus Curtius seems to ascertain. Gunpowder has been known in China, as well as Hindustan, far beyond all periods of investigation. The word fire-arms is literally the Sanskrit Agniaster, a weapon of fire; they describe the first species of it to have been a kind of dart or arrow tipt with fire, and discharged upon the enemy from a bamboo. Among several extraordinary properties of this weapon, one was, that after it had taken its flight, it divided into several separate streams of flame, each of which took effect, and which, when once kindled, could not be extinguished: but this kind of .Agniaster is now lost.”‘ He adds: “A cannon is called Shataghnee, or the weapon that kills one hundred men at once,’ and, that the

Shataghni differed widely from Matvala in that the Matvala were rolled down from mountains, while Shataghni was an instrument from which stones and iron balls. were discharged. Jamera was another machine that did fatal injury to the enemy by means of stones. See accounts of battles with Mohamed Kasim.



2.Halhed’s Code of Gentoo Laws, Introduction, 1), u2. Sec also ,Amar Kasha and Sabda Kalpacklrum, Vol. I, p. 16.

Purana Shasters ascribe the invention of these destructive engines to Viswacarma, the Vulcan of the Hindus.”

Mr. H. H. Elliot, Foreign Secretary to the Government of India (1845), after discussing the question of the use of fire-arms in ancient India, says: “On the whole, then, we may conclude that fire-arms of some kind were used in early stages of Indian history, that the missiles were explosive, and that the time and mode of ignition was dependent on pleasure; that projectiles were used which were made to adhere to gates and buildings, and machines setting fire to them from a considerable distance; that it is probable that saltpetre, the principal ingredient of gunpowder, and the cause of its detonation, entered into the composition, because the earth of Gangetic India is richly impregnated with it in a natural state of preparation, and it may be extracted from it by lixiviation’and crystallization without the aid of fire; and that sulphur may have been mixed with it, as it is abundant in the north-west of India.”‘

“Rockets,” says Professor Wilson, “appear to be of Indian invention, and had long been used in native armies when Europeans came first in contact with them.”

Col. Tod says: “Jud Bhan (the name of a grandson of Bajra, the grandson of Krishna), the rocket of the Yadus,’ would imply a knowledge of gun-powder at a very remote period.”2

Rockets were unknown in Europe till recently. “We are informed by the best authorities that rockets were first used in warfare at the siege of Copenhagen in 1807.”3 Mr. Elliot says: “It is strange that they



I Bibliographical Index to the Historians of M. India, Vol. I, p. 373.

2 Tod’s Rajasthan, Vol. II, p. 220. 3 Penny Encyclopedia, V, “Rocket.”

(rockets) should now be regarded in Europe as the most recent invention of artillery.”‘

There were in ancient India machines which, besides throwing balls of iron and other solid missiles, also threw peculiar kinds of destructive liquids at great distances. The ingredients of these liquids are unknown; their effects, however, are astonishing.

Ctesias,2 Elians and Philostratus4 all speak of an oil manufactured by Hindus and used by them in warfare in destroying the walls and battlements of towns that no “ battering rams or other polioretic machines can resist it,” and that “it is inextinguishable and insatiable, burning both arms and fighting men.”

Lassen says: “That the Hindus had something like ‘ Greek fire’ is also rendered probable by Ctesias, who describes their employing a particular kind of inflammable oil for the purpose of setting hostile towns and forts on fire.”‘

Eusebe Salverte, in his Occult Sciences, says: “The fire which burns and crackles on the bosom of the waves denotes that the Greek fire was anciently known in Hindustan under the name of barrawa.”6

But what establishes the superiority of the ancient Hindus over the modern Europeans in the noble game of war is the Ashtur Viclya of the former. “The Ashtur Vidya, the most important and scientific part (of

Bibliographical Index to the Historians of Mohamedan India, Vol. I, p. 357.



2 Ctesie, Indica ExceTta, XXVII (ed. Baer), p. 356.

3 De Natura Animal, Lib. V., cap. 3.

4Philostrati Vita Apollonu, Lib. III, cap. 1.

5Lassen’s Ind, Alt, II, p. 641.

6English Translation, Vol. IL p. 223.

the art of war) is not known to the soldiers of our age. It consisted in annihilating the hostile army by envolving and suffocating it in different layers and masses of atmospheric air, charged and impregnated with different substances. The army would find itself plunged in a fiery, electric and watery element, in total thick darkness, or surrounded by a poisonous, smoky, pestilential atmosphere, full sometimes of savage and terror-striking animal forms (snakes and tigers, etc.) and frightful noises. Thus they, used to destroy their enemies.’ The party thus assailed counteracted those effects by arts and means known to them, and in their turn assaulted the enemy by means of some other secrets of the Ashtur Vidya. Col. Olcott also says: “Ashtur Vidya, a science of which our modern professors have not even an inkling, enabled its proficient to completely destroy an invading army, by enveloping it in an atmostphere of poisonous gases, filled with awe-striking shadowy shapes and with awful sounds.” This fact is proved by innumerable instances in which it was practiced. Ramayana mentions it. Jalindhar had recourse to it when he was attacked by his father, Mahadeva (Shiva), as related in the Kartik Makitama.

Another remarkable and astonishing feature of the Hindu science of war which would prove that the ancient Hindus cultivated every science to perfection, was that the Hindus could fight battles in the air. It is said that the ancient Hindus “could navigate the air, and not only navigate it but fight battles in it, like so many war-eagles combating for the dominion of the clouds. To be so perfect in aeronautics, they must have known

1 Thcosoplst, March 188], p. 124.

all the arts and sciences relating to the science, including the strata and currents of the atmosphere, the relative temperature, humidity and density and the specific gravity of the various gases.”‘

Viman Vidya was a science which has now completely disappeared. A few years ago, facts concerning this science found in ancient records were rejected as absurd and impossible of belief. But wireless telegraphy and the recent developments in balooning have prepared the Europeans to entertain the idea of the possibility of human knowledge advancing so far as.to make it practicable for men to navigate the air as they navigate the sea. And a day will come as assuredly as that the day will follow the night, when not only will the ancient Hindu greatness in this _science be recognised, but the results achieved by them will again be achieved by men to mark their rise to the level of the ancient Hindus.

1 Colonel Olcott’s lecture at Allahabad in 1881. See the Theosophist for March 1881.

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