Ancient Indian Military- Aerial Warfare: It was 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 domination of the clouds. To be so perfect in aeronautics, they must have known all the arts and sciences related to the science, including the strata and currents of the atmosphere, the relative temperature, humidity, density and specific gravity of the various gases…”
There are numerous illustrations in our vast Puranic and epic literature to show how well and wonderfully the ancient Indians conquered the air. As old as in the Vedic literature in one of the Brahmanas occurred the concept of a ship that sailed heavenwards.
The ship is the Agnihotra of which the Ahavaniya and Garhapatya fires represent the two sides bound heavenward. The steersman is the Agnihotrin who offers milk to the three Agnis. Again in the still earlier Rig Veda Samhita, it is mentioned that the Ashwins conveyed the rescued Bhujya safely by means of winged ships. The latter could be presumed to have been referred to the aerial navigation in the earliest times.
The Samarangana Sutradhara of Bhoja dedicates a whole chapter devoted to the principles of construction underlying the various flying machines and other engines used for military and other purposes. This chapter consisted of about 230 stanzas.
The various advantages of using machines, especially flying ones, were given elaborately. Special mention was made of their use at one’s will and pleasure, their uninterrupted movements, their strength, and durability etc. In short of their capability to do in the air all that is done on earth.
Three movements were usually ascribed to these machines. These were namely, ascending, cruising thousands of miles in different directions in the atmosphere and lastly descending. It is said that in an aerial car one can mount up to Suryamandala or the ‘solar region’ and the Nakshatra mandala or the ‘stellar region.’
It could also travel throughout the regions of air above the sea and the earth. These cars are said to move so fast as to make a noise that could be heard faintly from the ground. The evidence in its favor is overwhelming.
An aerial car was made of light wood. It resembled a great bird with a durable and well-formed body having mercury inside and fire at the bottom. It had two resplendent wings and is propelled by air. It flew in the atmospheric regions for a great distance and carries several persons along with it.
The inside construction resembles heaven created by Brahma himself. Iron, copper, lead and other metals are also used for these machines. All these show how far art and science was developed in ancient India in this direction.
Kathasaritsagara refers to highly talented woodworkers called Rajyadhara and Pranadhara. The former was so skilled in mechanical contrivances that he could make ocean crossing chariots. On the other hand, the latter manufactured a flying chariot to carry a thousand passengers in the air. These chariots were stated to be as fast as thought itself.
There was an old notion that the Hindus were essentially a landlocked people. They lacked a spirit of adventure and the heart to brave the seas can be safely disregarded. The researches of a generation of scholars have proved that from very early times the people of India were distinguished by nautical skill and enterprise. They also went on trading voyages to distant shores across the seas and even established settlements and colonies in numerous lands and islands.
In ancient India, owing to the geographical influence, nautical shill and enterprise seems to have been best developed in three widely separated region of the country. These were Bengal, the valley and delta of the Indus, and the extreme south of the Deccan peninsula, called Tamilagam.
Boat-making and ship-building industries were found in India since ancient times. In the Vedic period, the sea was frequently used for trade purposes. The Rig Veda mentioned, “merchants who crowd the great waters with ships”. The Ramayana also spoke of merchants who crossed the sea and bought gifts for the king of Ayodhya.
Manu legislated for safe carriage and freights by river and sea. In some of the earliest Buddhist literature, we read of voyages ‘out of sight’ of land. Some of these lasted for six months or so while Kautilya’s Arthashastra, the admiralty figured as a separate department of the War Office. This is a striking testimony to the importance attached to it from very early times.
The Rigveda Samhita has frequently made references to boats and ships. The classical example often quoted by every writer on the subject was the naval expedition of Bhujya. Bhujya was sent by his father with the ship which had a hundred oars or ‘Aritra.’ Being ship-wrecked he was rescued by the twin Ashwin in their boat.
Ancient Indian Military
An intense and deep research on the military of ancient India helps us to arrive at an inference that wars were based on fair fighting. They also formed a chivalrous code of military honor. Overall, wars in ancient India were characterized by less violence and savagery than wars elsewhere.
There is no record of such unjustifiable and cold-blooded atrocity as Athens perpetrated against Melos, Corcyra, and Mytilene, or the wearers of the Cross against the defenders of the Crescent in 1099 A.D. On the whole, the chiefs were considerate of each other’s rights.