Ancient Indian Weaponry, Indian History

Ancient India as one comprehends in present times is one enriched in Oriental culture, heritage and everything that can be considered richly, adorned and grand an affair. However, owing to several petty kingdoms vying for the big picture to conquer all of India, wars, battles and capturing had been the order of the day. As a result, man had learned fast the art of weaponry to suit their needs and save themselves and their land. And this can precisely be the reason for which ancient Indian weaponry and the skilled kinds have entered the prestigious pages in Indian history. India`s widespread use of war horses was not some ancient or structural phenomenon, but a relatively late development, originating from the eleventh and twelfth centuries or even later.

However, in order to employ war horse and other implements in warring tactics, it is essential to comprehend the art of ancient Indian weaponry in Indian history. Gunpowder technology, including gunpowder weaponry had facilitated the formation of large empires in ancient India. To start with, a great deal of energy had been put in to ascertain the date and route of the introduction of this technology. For example, it is claimed that some kind of combustible substance analogous to gunpowder was known in ancient India, but that it fell into abandonment. After this incident, the technology of gunpowder and firearms was introduced into India during the fifteenth century from the Middle East, most probably before the arrival of the Portuguese. Cannons in ancient Indian weaponry were, according to historians, introduced by the Turks and were first used during the early Delhi sultanate. From the thirteenth century onwards superior varieties of gunpowder played a prominent part in sieges, albeit through various kinds of flame-throwers and fire-lances erupting from so-called `coviative` projectiles.

VascodaGama, Indian History Coming down a little later into the centuries, ancient Indian weaponry turned into a combination with the more forceful counter-weight trebuchet (maghribt) and, perhaps, also with more explosive mining devices. These weapon systems may very well have revolutionised the operation of sieges in India. Going by historians, these more forceful gunpowder devices were introduced in India through Sino-Mongol channels. Before the arrival of Vasco da Gama and Babur, ancient Indian weaponry and gun making had achieved a high standard. And this time, inspiration was gained not through Central Asian, but, most probably, through Middle Eastern channels. These Indian guns must have been fairly expensive wrought iron or brass and bronze specimens, since the country did not develop the much cheaper faculty to produce cast-iron guns. In the long run this weighed down heavily upon the mass production of standardised guns. But, it also appears that during the sixteenth century, Indian artillery was not inferior to its European counterpart. In this context, it needs to be remembered that in Europe there still did not exist effective field artillery and it was only during the late-seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that European armies successfully adopted ever lighter cast-iron field guns. Hence, India developed very effective units of camel artillery, which in fact consisted of heavy firearms on swivels attached to the back of dromedaries. Though obviously, these shutamal or zamburak were much lighter than the lightest European field artillery.

Aurangzeb, Indian History It is still a matter of disputation to what extent ancient Indian weaponry served well on the opponent battleground. On the whole, field artillery, or the `artillery of the stirrup` as it was called under the Mughals, performed extremely well defensively, mostly behind cover. Examples can be stated with the famous wagenbtng (abiir) used by Babur, or the ones fastened with chains or hide-straps to prevent the enemy`s horses from riding through. As such, these weapon tools served well in the classical tactic of steady centre with moving flanks, with the cannon gradually replacing heavy cavalry or elephants. The victories of the early Mughals were mostly due to the ingenious mish-mash of the old with the new, i.e. mounted archers and modern gunpowder technology. Although the use of artillery spread somewhat rapidly during the sixteenth century, its successful operation in actual service remained for a very long time the well-paid expertise of foreigners: either Rumi from the Ottomans Empire or Europeans. A major problem of the larger and heavier ancient Indian weaponry like field-guns was their lack of mobility, both over long distances and on the battlefield itself. For some reason or other, not the quality of the guns, but the carriage and traction section remained the least developed part of Indian artillery. Again it needs to be kept in mind that, until the late seventeenth century, the condition of field-artillery in Europe was not much of difference.

Cannons under the ancient Indian weaponry section were more effective in a setting where the targets did not move; in other words, in siege operations against forts. Nonetheless, in terms of siege tactics, the introduction of the true gun did not make for ground-breaking change, at least in India. Since guns rarely broke through mud, brick or stone walls directly, most of the efforts of the besiegers were concentrated on targeting the inside of the fort. And the preferred point for shooting down was from a mound (pashib), which reached as high as the top of the enemy`s wall. Especially the heavy mortar, although more powerful, was a continuation of earlier tactics which relied on flinging over stones, fire and explosives from various ballistae and more primitive gunpowder devices.

Apart from this, ancient Indian weaponry also employed mining, which remained an important siege instrument as well. All this intended that besiegers assayed to move extremely close to the adversary`s walls, often through zigzag trenches or covered passages (utbat). In general, though, Indian sieges were decided neither by shooting nor by mining, but by diplomacy and new alliances. Though the besieged could perhaps withstand the siege technology of the day, they could not rationally reject endless offerings of cash and employment, almost in the form of enticements. Except for new conquerors who wanted to establish an early example of their superiority, taking a fort became an affair less of shelling and more of wooing the besieged. Even the strongest of Indian forts always were `units of political bargaining power`. Ancient Indian weaponry had assimilated within itself considerable prowess to thus successfully influence alien adversaries.

The crucial importance of negotiation in capturing forts reveals itself most explicitly in the umpteen sieges of Aurangzeb in which his commanders outstripped each other in offering the best deals to the besieged Marathas. After their submission, the latter were permitted to leave the fort unscathed, together with all their personal belongings. Not surprisingly, within a few months after the Mughal train had taken up another siege, the fort was easily recaptured by their former occupiers. Triumphantly applying the clever line-up of ancient Indian weaponry and its machinations, Aurangzeb`s main strength was not his artillery but his reputation of writing feigned letters and making false professions. Equally instructive and interesting is Mir Jumla`s desertion of the Mughals which was decisive not because of his admirable artillery, but because he knew the exact prices of all the chief officers in the camp of his former allies. In those rare cases where diplomatic offers did not work, sieges remained extremely awkward and lingering an affair. Hence, it would have been really interesting to become knowledgeable whether the introduction of artillery affected the military architecture of Indian forts at all.


This is a vital piece of information. Although I think India was the major exporter of muskets and artillery during the middle ages than an importer because most of the saltpetre mines were in India.

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