Ancient Indian Military: The value and importance of the army were realized very early in the history of India. In fact, it was this importance which eventually led to the maintenance of a permanent military. The military put down any opposition within and arrest aggression from outside. This gave rise to the Kshatriya warrior caste, and the Ksatram Dharmam came to mean the primary duty of war. To serve the country by participating in war became the ‘Svadharma’ or ‘only duty’ of this warrior community.

Ancient Indian Military
Ancient Indian Military

Ancient Hindu India possessed the classical fourfold force of chariots, elephants, horsemen, and infantry. All these were together known as Caturangabala. Interestingly, the old game of chess was also called as Caturanga.

Ancient Indian War Strategies

Chess was a game of war. In each game, there is a king, a counselor, two elephants, two horses, two chariots, and eight foot-soldiers. This was a very popular game which is being played till today. The famous epic Mahabharata narrates an incidence where a game called Chaturanga was played between two groups of warring cousins.

Ancient Indian Military
Horse Chariots

The Chariots: Chariots were used in warfare from early times. There are many references to chariots in the Samhitas as well as in the Brahmanas. The chariot was an indispensable instrument of war in the days of the Vedas. Its mere possession guaranteed victory. The Rig Veda also has a hymn addressed to the war chariot. Chariots were of different types and materials.

Ancient India Warriors

In the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, their use was largely evidential. Each chariot was marked off by its pennant and banner. Besides flags, umbrellas or Chattra or Atapatra, and fans were a part of the equipment of the war chariot. Sukra mentioned an awe-inspiring chariot of iron. This chariot consisted of swift-moving wheels, 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.

Elephants: The next important force of war consisted of elephants. The numerous representations of the animal on coins and various other architectural sculptural works from Gandhara to Ramesvaram indicated of the esteem in which it was held by the ancient Indians. Additionally, there were also few bronze figures in Indonesia. All this clearly reflected its usefulness.

Ancient Indian Military
Rock Elephant statue at Dhauli

There is a reference elephant in the Rig Veda. Two elephants bending their heads and rushing together against the enemy was 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.

Ancient Indian Army

The Arthashastra also mentioned a special officer of the State who was so appointed especially to take care of elephants and lays down his duties. Megasthenes explained how the elephants were hunted, and how their distempers were cured by simple remedies. Some of these remedies included cow’s milk for eye-disease and pig’s fat for sores.

Cavalry: Kautaliya and Megasthenes have laid down in their respective works. These works indicated of a well-organized and efficient cavalry force in the army of Chandragupta. In the Artha Veda, there were references to dust-raising horsemen. In the epoch of the epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana as also in the Arthashastra, cavalry occupied as important a place in the army as any other division.

Ancient Indian Military

Megasthenes was an ambassador in the Mauryan court. He corroborated the evidence of the Arthashastra. According to him, there was a special department in the State for the cavalry. The horses of the State were provided with stables and placed under the care of good grooms.

There were several trained horsemen who could jump forward and arrest the speed of galloping horses. But the majority of them rode their horses with bit and bridle. When horses became uncontrollable they were placed in the hands of professional trainers. These trainers made the animals gallop round in small circles. In selecting horses of war, their age, strength, and size were taken into account.

Ancient Indian Military

The tactical use of the cavalry was to break through the obstacles on the way, to pursue the retreating enemy, to cover the flanks of the army, to effect speedy communication with the various parts of the army unobserved (Bahutsara) and to pierce the enemy ranks from the front to the rear.

Ancient Indian Military

The cavalry was largely responsible, for the safety and security of the army in entrenched positions, forests or camps. It obstructed movements of supplies and reinforcements to the enemy. In short, the cavalry was indispensable in situations requiring quickness of movement.