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War Fighting Traditions, Two Millenniums back and now.

    Paper no. 954          08. 03. 2004

  Guest Column-by Hari Sud.

The son of Dushyant and Shakuntla became the great king of Pratishtthan. His name was Bhaaratha (the letter “a”, was added later by English scholars to all names, places and events). The country took his name and retained it until the Arab Muslim invaders arrived in Sind in 711 AD and then later Afghan-Turks arrived in Delhi in 1191 AD. The country, during and after the reign of Bhaaratha for five millenniums, retained Aryan culture and tradition. When did Bhaaratha ruled, is not quite certain. The great dramatist Kalidas while writing the famous drama Shakuntla put the date around 6000 BC. Later kings ruled Kingdoms carved out of Bhaaratha (or Bharat) based on ethnicity, geography and cultural proximity. This peninsula enclosed by Himalayan, Cape Comarin and Hindukush had its two main inhabitants, the Aryans and the Dravids. Both subscribed to the same religion and philosophy although their ethnic background was different. The word Hindu describes the copper age descendants of Aryans and Dravids, which later were enslaved by Muslims. 

The Arabs, the Persian, the Turks and the Afghans used the word Hindustan loosely to describe enslaved people. The Hindustan became known as the country of Hindus. The Moguls chose to use the word Hindustan to describe the land Babur intended to conquer. Books and literature of that time e.g. Baburnama writes of Babur’s conquest of Hindus country. The English baptized, the land of Hindus in the nineteenth century as India. This name is universally used to describe this peninsula, today. 

The sub-continent had a glorious culture; religion and philosophy evolved over six millenniums until it was rudely interrupted by the Muslim invasion. Vedas were composed (6000 BC to 2000 BC). Religion and culture evolved. Great sages excelled in art and science.  Statecraft was discussed and implemented. Evolution of culture, religion and philosophy continued for hundreds of years. Kings contested with each other for influence and lordship of land and people. Wars were fought and victories were celebrated in poems and literature. Some of the immortalized poems are Ramayana and Mahabharata.  The good guys, Devas, fought the bad guys, Rakshaks and always vanquished the latter. Gods took sides and ensured victory for the good guys. Like this the evolution continued. 

By no means this was a peaceful time. True to their form, kings and princes indulged in their favorite pastime of grabbing each other’s land & property and settled disputes in the battlefield. Military traditions were developed and maintained. Standing armies were signs of might of the kingdom. Ashwamed Yagya  (omnipotent power display) was performed to challenge anybody who dared not to accept the suzerainty of one kingdom over its small neighbors. Yodha (a warrior) word was coined for brave militarily trained men. Weapons included Astra, where divine power was invoked and Shastras, which were personal use combat weapons. Chariot and horse formed the offensive arm of the armies.  Astras of that time were as close as possible to today’s weapons of mass destruction.  

In all its shape and form the good old days were no different than today’s world except that all conflicts were local in nature. Outside influences did not exist as nobody could cross the mountains and mount a military campaign until Alexander arrived in 325 BC or Mohammed Ghauri arrived in 1191 AD. The former was a conqueror with no intention to stay. The latter was a destroyer with intent to subjugate and settle to rule. 

Vedas and War tradition

War craft has been described in Vedas and other great texts of that time. The Rig Veda describes the battle of 10 kings. Later treatise describes, Devas and Rakshas perfecting weapons of mass destruction. The Ramayna has description of multitude of Astras where extra-terrestrial power is invoked for its effectiveness.  Rama had many such weapons and so did the Ravana. One of the heroes of the Mahabharat, Arjuna, constantly trained to retain edge over his enemies. Later period treatise describes 5 major kingdoms in the peninsula around fourth millennium BC. The warrior class (Surya Vanshis and Chandra Vanshis etc.) inherited the kingship and right to rule by virtue of chivalry, victory in the battlefield and extra-ordinary wisdom. Some were good kings others were despots. Wars ensued over one issue or the other. 

The point is that the Art of war making and actual war is not a new concept in the subcontinent. It has been practised as an ultimate tool to settle arguments.    

Ramayana & Mahabharata are war stories

Ramayana and Mahabharata are war stories immortalized by the great sages to educate and advise the future generation on need to avoid war. If not avoided then these poems detail process to execute it with a great fineness. Tactical maneuvering to confuse the enemy like Chakarvu in Mahabharata was practiced to end the battle sooner than later. Flying machines were in use to hurl missiles at each other in Ramayana

Buddha and Mahavira are Born

The age of Buddha and Mahavira was an age of enlightenment, where suffering of people became the prime concern of the ruling class. This age began at the beginning of 6th century BC.  Buddha and Mahavira propounded pacifist thoughts. These views suited the time and became the buzzword of the whole society. Mutual incrimination of the competing kings were set aside in favor of higher thoughts. Warlike people saw 300 years of peace after Buddha. It also resulted in slow decay of the traditional instruments required to maintain your identity, independence, safety etc i.e. war and war preparations. The theory that the independence of a nation is guaranteed by its standing army was set aside. The whole nation turned to the path of enlightenment and peace. The ruling class gave up war and stayed under the illusion that the sub-continent could never be invaded. 

Alexander Arrives in the Sub-continent

Alexander in his march East took full advantage of the situation. He was aware of possible danger ahead but was confident of overcoming it when he decided to cross the Hindukush Mountains. He had been informed of great kingdoms, which lay ahead where sages meditate for months and years and comparable philosophy to his own had been developed independent of Aristotle, Plato or Socrates. He was also aware of the under currents of the political divide, which could work in his favor. He crossed the Khyber Pass and obtained an easy victory over the King Porus who ruled Taxila (east of Khyber Pass).  

Alexander although militarily superior was far away from his home. He was using local mercenaries to supplement Greek soldiers lost in previous battles in Persia, hence could not be at his best. But he defeated Porus (King Parwatwshwar) with ease. The reasons of defeat are documented in the history. Greek references speak of a midnight maneuver in which Alexander’s army suddenly appeared behind Porus’s army. This sent the latter into a panic. Victory was easy. The foregoing is a well-known maneuver in any military traditions. The question is that how could king Porus leave his flanks exposed. How come his spies never picked up the movements of a large segment of the Greek army on his flanks?  

It speaks volumes about kings lost in the depths of enlightenment and ignoring the war craft. The latter had taken a back seat in the everyday affairs of the state. It took one hundred years before the great Guru Chanakya re-invigorated the nation and ejected the Greeks out of India after Alexander’s death.   

Ashoka was cruel king to begin with but he turned into a dove under Buddha’s influence. All the hard work of Chanakya was lost. Next 900 years saw Guptas, Kanishka etc rule. Again there was no visible danger from outside hence war preparations were taking a back seat. Hardly did they know that a much bigger external political and religious force is emerging on the western border.  

Bedouin tribesmen had found a Prophet in Mohammed. The latter had a revelation from the God. The warlike desert marauders suddenly found an identity and a purpose. They began their journey of conquest by conquering initially the neighborhood and then went West all the way to Spain. In the East their internal division of Shia and Sunni prevented their rapid spread. Later an Arab army reached Sind about 3000 miles from Baghdaad and beat the local king, Rajah Dahar in 711 AD. Rajah Dahar was an Aryan descendant. With the rapid rise of Buddhism, the kingdom had turned soft. He learnt about his mistake the hard way when a 24-year-old nephew of Caliph of Baghdad with 700 men beat a home army, six times larger. The invaders had all the disadvantages but they prevailed. Reasons – When the Sindh Rajah was practicing enlightenment, the Arabs armies were perfecting the cavalry warfare and the Sindh was one of their many victories. Again the art of cavalry warfare was not new to the Aryans but it had been given up in favor of high thinking and austere life.   

 Muslim Horde Arrives in the Sub-continent

Ghauri was a Muslim marauder, who crossed over from Gazni to Multan and appeared near Delhi. First time, he did not prepare well. He lost and became King Prithvi Raj Chauhan’s prisoner. The latter very ineptly released him not realizing that it is against any war tactic to release the enemy prematurely. This, he learned the hard way a year later. Ghauri executed a well-known war tactic i.e. allied with Turks for a later victory. Ghauri was not an inept leader. He executed the adversary and forever established the Flag of Islam in Delhi. The Arabs, Turks and Afghanis found a very soft society in the sub-continent. They kept coming in droves. Feeble efforts were made to expel them by Rana Sangha at Kannah in 1527 AD but failed, A second effort was made in 1556 AD by Hemu (Raja Hem Chandra) at Panipat 2 and failed and finally to stop the Afghan marauder Ahmad Shah Abdali in 1761 AD at Panipat 3, Marathas lost all the influence they had gathered in Delhi. 

All these failures were symptoms of bigger malady i.e. the society had gone soft. Some even had welcomed the invaders. What a pity! 

Muslim on the other hand had learnt the art of war from the Arabs, Mongols, Greeks, and Romans and had perfected it. In the Muslim Middle East and Central Asia, the economic and social welfare of the society was left to the experts and ministers. The leaders practiced war only and were always on the look out for new people and territories to conquer. Further East of Central Asia lay China, which had a greater military tradition than the Muslims, hence they turned their attention to cross the Hindukush.     

British walked all over India – How?

British walked all over India with ease. They were technologically superior and used another classic war tactic i.e. divide the enemy and destroy it piecemeal. Bribing the adversary’s commanders was common to ensure complete battlefield victory. All these three British strategic tactics i.e. technology, splitting the enemy with dissension and bribery had been practiced by them for 600 years prior in Scotland and then in France. They had no difficulty in implementing these concepts in India. Even the Muslim military prowess of medieval age could not stop their rampage. Realizing that the country is diverse and large, they needed a large standing army. To which, they decided to recruit the locals. In order to kindle the fire of bravery, chivalry and tradition they took full advantage of ancient Hindu military texts traditions. They did the similar to get Muslim recruits. They exploited ethnicity and cultural divide to create an army of politically reliable people. The word “martial class” was coined. Only people who fitted this description were recruited. This worked well for them.  

When the British left in 1947, the army had to be re-organized by accepting both the martial classes as well as ordinary people into the army.  

Post Independence

Mahatma Gandhi who peacefully ejected the British also had some inclination to believe in Buddha philosophy. He and his successors who inherited the power in Delhi believed in peace and co-existence. This illusion resulted in ignoring the legitimate defense needs for 25 years. Even though the Chinese mounted pressure in the North and newly created Muslim Pakistan created pressure in the West, enlightened philosophies were enunciated. The matter came to a head in 1965, when Pakistan decided to fight the Fourth Battle of Panipat . They were not lucky this time. The martial traditions, which the British had previously decided to exploit for their own good, had taken a hold in the Indian Army. The latter held their defensive line in the face of a massive attack and prevented the breakthrough, by Pakistan. Now Jehadism is being used to bolster their intention. The latter has the same purpose. Kashmir issue is mere tip of the iceberg. 

How could India not make its military stronger than its adversary? I believe a lesson has to be leant from now un-officially admitted statement that it was the Pakistani terrorists who attacked the Indian Parliament in December of 2001. Indian move to threaten the enemy with retaliation was the right move at that time. America could broach the peace at that time but only time will tell whether peace will succeed or not.  

The modern day military in India has to be built to a level where adventurism on enemy’s part becomes an expensive proposition for him. Enemy cannot be spared to try again as Ghauri did. They have to be dealt with severely first time. 

1 962 Chinese Invasion was an Eye Opener

Indian Army performed miserably in 1962 when the Chinese struck across the Thagla Ridge in NEFA. It was an old military strategy of fixed defenses the Indian Army followed. Chinese had learnt to outflank fixed defenses in Korea. They repeated it in NEFA and outflanked all Indian defenses at Sela Pass. Politicians shared most of the blame for lack of preparation. The Army’s strategists could not be held blameless for precipitating defenses at one point and ignoring the flanks completely. It was Porus-Alexander situation all over again. Indian Army at that time was much more of a parade ground army. The defeat in1962, lead to the complete re-organization of the army. By 1965, it was able to give a better account of itself. As a matter of fact the political masters and the military leaders were jolted into learning war-making techniques. Hence1962 is considered as a watershed year where better preparation for future wars became a national priority. 

Has nonviolence paid any dividends? 

History is our classroom. Foreign powers from Alexander to Muslims occupied India when India became soft. Blame it on Buddha or natural shift in human behavior. This resulted in subjugation, slavery, economic decapitation, lack of self-esteem etc. The non-violence in old times resulted in Alexander scoring an easy victory 2400 years back. Then successive waves of Muslim invaders had an easy picking even though the locals in the battlefield heavily outnumbered them. What was wrong – possibly we had lost the skill to make war. Mahatama Gandhi was probably right in not challenging the British military might. Instead he exploited one British weakness i.e. rule of law. Also by mid twentieth century the British had fought too many wars, which had weakened them economically. Hence they wished out. Leaving the colonies after dividing them, to fight amongst them was the easiest way out.  

In the end I may say that, India has to keep its powder dry. The art of making war has to be restored to its pre-eminent position. Tendencies to ignore defense in favor of moral high ground do not serve well, if history is our guide. War is not a moral affair and it cannot be treated as such. Enemies are to be kept at bay. Only then independence is assured. 

(The author is a retired Vice President from C-I-L Inc. and has lived in Canada for the past 34 years. A graduate of Punjab University and University of Missouri; Rolla, USA, the author is a former investment strategies analyst and international relations manager. The Views expressed are his own. email-