Nitiprakasika (Critical Analysis)

by S. Anusha | 2016 | 34,012 words

This page relates ‘Weapons and War in Vedas’ of the study on the Nitiprakasika by Vaisampayana which deals primarily with with Dhanurveda, i.e., the science of war, weapons and military strategies of ancient Indian society. It further contains details on Niti-shastra, i.e., the science of politics and state administration but most verses of the Nitiprakashika deal with the classification and description of different varieties of weapons, based on the four groups of Mukta, Amukta, Muktamukta and Mantramukta.

Weapons and War in Vedas

Military forces train people in actual warfare by imparting skills in the use of weaponry. In addition, warfare entails many allied professions. The manufacture of weapons nurtures men with knowledge of metallurgy and ironsmiths and goldsmiths. There were specialists with knowledge of veterinary science also. The Ṛgveda (VII.87. 3) reveals the existence of a good intelligence network by its mention of the spaśa[1] (spy). According to Atharvaveda (III. 22. 3), there were veterinary experts who took the role of the elephant tamer[2]. On similar lines, the Śuklayajus Saṃhitā (XXX) notes the professions of the arrow-maker, bow-maker as well as bowstring-maker, respectively called iṣukāra, dhanuṣkāra and jyākāra.

Indra was the war-god who was propitiated for glory in the battlefront as the hymn (Ṛgveda. VI. 31. 5)[3] in his praise shows. The hymn Ṛgveda. X. 103 tells us about the invocation of the Gods on the eve of the battle, how the soldiers were inspired to fight with high-spirits to embrace victory.

War as a profession was carried on by the warrior class. There were occasions, however, when, in times of actual war, the ṛṣis (Ṛgveda. VII. 33. 3)[4] used to join the warriors in the battlefield.

Usually, the wars were raiding expeditions for cattle-lifting (gaviṣṭi) (Atharvaveda. IV. 24. 5)[5], or punish cattle-thieves or to recover stolen cattle (Ṛgveda. II. 12. 3)[6] (Ṛgveda. VI. 22. 3)[7]; or for capturing women (Ṛgveda. IX. 67. 10-2)[8]

(i) Army March

The protocol for setting out to battle included traditions regarding the use of flags and banners. The warriors would march for battle with raised banners (Ṛgveda. X. 103)[9]. It is mentioned that war-flags used to be unfurled and carried aloft on a pole before a marching army (Ṛgveda. VII. 83. 2)[10]. It continued to be held high during start and progress of the fight. Lowering or capture of the flag indicated defeat or surrender. The war drum was beaten to announce the start of the fight. It also indicated the warriors taking hold of their weapons and rushing for the fight. The playing of the instrument dundubhi (Ṛgveda. I. 28. 5)[11] indicated not only the beginning of the fight but also the success of one side. The warriors dazzled with their blazing weapons (Ṛgveda. I. 92. 1)[12].

(ii) Ambuscade

In order to surprise the enemy sometimes, the soldiers would bend low or crawl on the ground to pounce upon the enemy (Ṛgveda. IX. 64. 29)[13]

When the enemy fled after defeat, the victor would pursue the enemy into his own territory and loot and pillage the country. Valuables and cattle were usurped.

(iii) Weapons in Vedic Age

(a) Weapons Of Defence–Armours:

The soldiers wore well-stitched armours and looked radiant with golden ornaments and war implements. Armours for the head–bilma[14] and well-stitched armour for the trunk–drāpi (Ṛgveda. I. 25. 13[15]; 116. 10), varman (Ṛgveda. VI. 75. 1)[16] and kavaca (Ṛgveda. V. 53. 4)[17] and the defensive weapon of shield–varūtha (Atharvaveda. V. 5. 4)[18] have been mentioned in the Vedas.

(b) Weapons Of Offence:

There are numerous references to an assortment of weapons in Vedic lore which are as follows–spiked clubs which look like the sacrificial posts (yūpa); clubs of iron –ghana (Ṛgveda. I. 36. 16)[19] and matya (Atharvaveda. XI. 2. 19)[20]; nets or jāla (Atharvaveda. VIII. 8. 5) stretched on poles to catch enemy. Missiles in the Vedic times were as varied as iron missiles (Ṛgveda. I. 121. 9)[21], which were shot from leather slings and stone missiles. In addition senya (Atharvaveda. I. 20. 2), heti (Atharvaveda. I. 26. 1) and sāyaka (Atharvaveda. IV. 31. 6) could also be included under the class of missiles. Knives were fitted to fellies (Ṛgveda. I. 166. 10)[22].

There are many instances where Pavi has been mentioned. This could have been a weapon like a javelin which was hurled against the enemy or like a spear that could be used for breaking rocks (Ṛgveda. V. 52. 9; VI. 8. 5; X. 180. 2). Kārpaṇa (modern kṛpaṇa) is the weapon which warriors beseech from Indra before the battle (Ṛgveda. X. 22. 10). Cakra (Ṛgveda. VIII. 96. 9)[23] or discus was hurled against the enemy and fetched definite results in rending the limb of the enemy. It needed great practice and skill. Sṛka, the bolt of Indra, has also been mentioned in the Ṛgveda quite often–(Ṛgveda. I. 32. 12; X. 180. 2).

Śakti is another weapon that is mentioned in the Vedas (Ṛgveda. VI. 75. 9). It resembled a long with the difference that it is fiited with an aṅkuśa. Ṛṣṭi, the weapon of the Maruts was probably similar to a spear (Ṛgveda. I. 37. 2; 64. 4. 8) and (Ṛgveda. V. 52. 6). Ārā (Ṛgveda. VI. 53. 15) the characteristic weapon of the pastoral god Pūṣan was a goad with pointed metallic tip. It was probably used to pierce the foe. Vāśī , held by Tvaṣṭṛ was possibly a hatchet or knife (Ṛgveda. VIII. 29. 3). It is mentioned as carpenter’s knife in the Atharvaveda (X. 6. 3). Since the Maruts used it as a weapon, it is possible that it was used in wars also (Ṛgveda. I. 37. 2; I. 88. 3; V. 53. 4). Paraśu was an axe and also used in battles (Ṛgveda. I. 127. 3; VII. 104. 21). There is mention of a warrior proceeding to battle carrying a heavy paraśu in Ṛgveda. (VII. 83. 1). Svadhiti was also a sword similar to the axe and was used for cutting wood (Ṛgveda. II. 39. 7; III. 2. 10; V. 7. 8). It is also a weapon of war, as Indra had used it. He is said to have brought forth excellent water using this. It was supposed to have cut open the clouds and is described as the best of weapons (Ṛgveda. IX. 96. 6). Finally, Pāśa was a non-metallic weapon of war possibly used by equestrian warriors to fling and capture enemies (Ṛgveda. IX. 83. 4).

(iv) Hymn On Weapons–Ṛgveda. VI. 75

The hymn reveals many interesting points regarding armour, war cries and the use of poisoned arrows. The warriors wore metallic armours and archers had arm-guards. The bow was the most effective weapon. The arrow was shot only after drawing the string upto the ear. Usually, the warriors gave a loud cry before attack to terrify the enemy and to invigorate themselves. The charioteer drove the chariot with skill to all vantage points. There were chariot guards armed with spears and bows. The arrows had feathers and had iron or horn in the tip. Poisoned arrows were also used. The warriors believed in the power of mantras. Commanders guided their respective sides in the battle.

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