Warfare and Military System in Vedic Literature

by Rinki Deka | 2023 | 39,711 words

This page relates ‘Fortification and Siegecraft’ of the study on Warfare and the Military System of ancient India as gleaned from the Vedic Literature. The purpose of this work is to study the defensive and offensive systems of the Vedic people, including their army divisions, political and administrative systems, use of arms and armours, fortification, ethics and other principles related to warfare; while reflecting the social system and cultural aspects of ancient India.

The fundamental principles of fortification were known and practised as early as in the Vedic period. The oldest literary record of India, i.e. the Ṛgveda-saṃhitā refers to the fort.[1] The words pur and pura occur in the Saṃhitās[2] and later Vedic texts[3] in the sense of rampart, fort or stronghold. According to A.A. Macdonell and A.B. Keith, the purs were merely places of refuge against attack, ramparts of hardened earths with palisades and a ditch.[4] The word dehī is mentioned in the Ṛgveda-saṃhitā,[5] which refers to defences thrown up against an enemy, apparently earthworks or dikes.[6]

Sāyaṇācārya interprets the term as—

dehyaḥ digdhā upacitā āsurī purīḥ tadīyān dehān vā /[7]

In the Vedic period, towns and settlements were protected by stone walls, both for strategic reasons and for the protection of the life and property from marauding bands in the neighbourhood. The city gates are mentioned in the Atharvavedapariśiṣṭa also.[8] The king should keep weapons ready around the ramparts and surrounding the city. The word āmā is mentioned in the Ṛgveda-saṃhitā,[9] which according to Griffith, means the castles of the clouds as opposed to the stone strongholds of men.[10] The term mahāpura, great fort, occurs in the Taittirīya-saṃhitā[11] and the Aitareyabrāhmaṇa.[12] The owner of pur is called pūrpati.[13]

Sāyaṇācārya explains the term pūrpati as—

pūrpatiṃ puraḥ svāminaṃ/[14]

Pūrpati, the chief of a fort under attack, might have been a ruler or governor or a regular officer, who was the commander of a permanent garrison. Pūrpati, according to J. Muir, might have been a ruler or governor or lord of a city or fortified place in a Ṛgvedic verse.[15] He was the lord of a city who ruled with good governance. Three fires are described as forts in the Aitareyabrāhmaṇa, which prevent the Asuras from disturbing the sacrifice.[16] The Asuras took to fight at the sight of those forts. The forts were sometimes made of stone (asmanmayī)[17] or sometimes made of iron (āyasī).[18] The fortification must have been occasionally of considerable size, as one was called broad and wide (pṛthvī and urvī).[19] A fort full of kine, called gomatī, is mentioned in the Ṛgveda-saṃhitā, showing that strongholds were used to hold cattle.[20] Cities with hundred walls or fortification called, śatabhuji are referred to in the Ṛgveda-saṃhitā.[21] Of course, Sāyaṇācārya explains this word śatabhuji as having countless walls.

He states

śatabhujibhiḥ/ śatamityaparimitanāma/ asaṃkhyātabhogavadbhiḥ pūrbhiḥ pālanaiḥ jetavyaiḥ śatrūṇāṃ nagarairvā/[22]

They are alluded to as figurative expression of the means of protection afforded by the gods. The autumnal forts are also referred to in the Ṛgveda-saṃhitā.[23]

Sāyaṇācārya in this context says—

śāradīḥ saṃvatsarasaṃbandhinīḥ saṃvatsaraparyantaṃ prākāraparikhādibhirdṛḍhīkṛtāḥ puraḥ śatrūṇāṃ purīḥ avātiraḥ anāśayaḥ/[24]

Griffith interprets the autumnal forts as the strongholds on high ground occupied as places of refuge during the heavy rains, or ‘the brilliant battlemented cloud-castles, which are so often visible in the Indian sky at this period of the year’.[25] According to Sāyaṇācārya, autumnal forts are cities or strongholds of Śarat, a demon.[26] There are references to the pur cariṣṇu or moving fort in the Ṛgveda-saṃhitā,[27] which may be an engine for assaulting strongholds, but sometimes it was like a kind of chariot. According to A.A.Macdonell and A.B. Keith, it may, like the Trojan horse, have been an Indian anticipation of the Roman means of assaulting a town.[28]

The sieges of forts are mentioned in the Saṃhitās and the Brāhmaṇas.[29] The fortresses, which were constructed of wood were sought to be destroyed by fire. Vaiśvānara or fire has been described to have pierced the citadel of enemy.[30]

Commenting on the this, Sāyaṇācārya says—

he vaiśvānara…/ yat yadā pūrave rājñe śośucānaḥ dīpyamānaḥ puraḥ tasya śatrūṇāṃ puraḥ darayan dārayan adīdeḥ ajvalaḥ/[31]

Agni also drove out the Dasyus from their hiding places by burning and blazing fiercely.[32] Indra, with the help of kindled fire, burnt up all their weapons that bore away Dabhīti and made him rich with kine and cars and horses.[33] Indra, the Āryan battle god, goes on from fight to fight intrepidly destroying fort after fort with strength.[34] He overthrows’ the non-Āyan kings and rends their forts ‘as age consumes a garment.’[35] Therefore, one of his epithets is puraṃdara, i.e. fortdestroyer.[36]

Sāyaṇācārya interprets this word as—

puraṃdara āsurīṇāṃ purāṃ dārayitarhe indra/[37]

Griffith states that, Indra, with his lightning, destroys the cloud castles of the demons of the air.[38] Agni along with Indra, figures as a fort-destroyer,[39] and helps him to reduce ninety castles of the Dāsas.[40]

Arrows tipped with flame were also used in siege operations—

seneva sṛṣṭāmaṃ dadhātyasturna didyuttveṣapratī/yamo ha jāto yamo janitvaṃ jāraḥ kanī nāṃ patirjanī nām//[41]

In this context, Sāyaṇācārya says that the term didyut means vajra, but here the term is used in the sense of iṣu.[42] The Taittirīya-saṃhitā[43] states that the Asuras had three citadels, the lowest was of iron, and then there was one of silver and then one of gold. The gods made ready an arrow, Agni as point, Soma as the socket and Viṣṇu as the shaft. Rudra cleft the three citadels and drove away the Asuras from these worlds.[44]

Footnotes and references:

[1]:

Ṛgveda-saṃhitā , 1.33.12, 1.53.7, 1.61.5, 1,63.7, 1.103.3, 4.16.1

[2]:

Ibid., 1.53.7, 1.131.4, 1.166.8, 3.15.14, 4.27.1

[3]:

Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa , 1.7.7.5 Also vide, Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa , 3.4.4.3, 6.3.3.25

[4]:

Vide, Macdonell, A.A. & Keith, A.B., op. cit., Vol.1, p. 539

[5]:

purūṇi yaścyautnā śambarasya vi navatiṃ nava ca dehyo han/ Ṛgveda-saṃhitā , 6.47.2 Also vide, Ibid., 7.6.5

[6]:

Vide, Macdonell.A.A. & Keith, A.B., op. cit., Vol.1, p 379

[7]:

Sāyaṇa, Ṛgveda-saṃhitā , 6.47.2

[8]:

puradvare purakṣobha indrakīle janakṣayaḥ/ brahmāyatanaghāteṣu brāhmaṇānāmupadravaḥ// Atharvaveda-pariśiṣṭa , 58.4.2 Also vide, Ibid., 64.5.3,70.27.1

[9]:

āmāsu pūrṣu paro apramṛṣyaṃ nārātayo vi naśannānṛtāni /Ṛgveda-saṃhitā , 2.35.6

[10]:

Vide, Griffith, R.T.H., op. cit., p.154

[11]:

Taittirīya-saṃhitā , 6.2.3.1

[12]:

te devā abruvannupasada upāyāmopasadā vai mahāpuraṃ jayantīti…./ Aitareya-brāhmaṇa , 1.4.6

[13]:

mitrāyuvo na pūrpatiṃ suśiṣṭau madhyāyuva upa śikṣanti yajñaiḥ /Ṛgveda-saṃhitā , 1.173.10

[14]:

Sāyaṇa, Ibid.

[15]:

Vide, Muir. J., Original Sanskrit Texts, Vol. V, p. 456

[16]:

devā vai yajñamatanvata tāṃstanvānānasurā abhyāyan, yajñaveśasameṣāṃ kariṣyāma iti tānāprīte paśau pura iva paryagneryūpaṃ prati purastādupāyaṃste devāḥ pratibudhyāgnimayīḥ purastripuraṃ paryāsyanta yajñasya cā”tmanaśca guptyai, tā eṣāmimā agnimayyaḥ puro dīpyamānā bhrājamānā atiṣṭhaṃstā asurā anapadhṛṣyaivāpādravaṃste’gninaiva purastād asurarakṣāṃsyapādhnatāgninā paścāt// Aitareya-brāhmaṇa , 2.2.1

[17]:

śatamaśmanmayīnāṃ purāmindro vyāsyat/ divodāsāya dāśuṣe// Ṛgveda-saṃhitā , 4.30.20

[18]:

agne gṛṇantamaṃhasa uruṣyorjo napātpūrbhirāyasībhiḥ /Ibid., 1.58.8 Also vide, Ibid., 2.20.8, 4.27.1, 7.3.7, 7.95.1, 10.101.8

[19]:

agne tvaṃ pārayā navyo asmāntsvastibhirati durgāṇi viśvā / pūśca pṛthvī bahulā na urvī bhavā tokāya tanayāya śaṃ yoḥ //Ibid., 1.189.2

[20]:

ā na indra mahīmiṣaṃ puraṃ na darṣi gomatīm/ uta prajāṃ suvīryam //Ibid., 8.6.23

[21]:

śatabhujibhistamabhihruteraghātpūrbhī rakṣatā maruto yamāvata / janaṃ yamugrāstavaso virapśinaḥ pāthanā śaṃsāttanayasya puṣṭiṣu //Ibid., 1.166.8 Also vide, Ibid., 7.15.14

[22]:

Sāyaṇa, Ibid., 1.166.8

[23]:

viduṣṭe asya vīryasya pūravaḥ puro yadindra śāradīravātiraḥ sāsahāno avātiraḥ/Ṛgveda-saṃhitā , 1.131.4 Also vide Ibid., 1.174.2, 6.20.10

[24]:

Sāyaṇa, Ibid., 1.131.4

[25]:

Vide, Griffith, R.T.H., op. cit., pp. 91, 120

[26]:

śāradīḥ śarannāmno’surasya saṃbandhinīḥ sapta saptasaṃkhyakāḥ puraḥ purīḥ../ Sāyaṇa, Ṛgveda-saṃhitā , 6.20.10

[27]:

Ṛgveda-saṃhitā , 8.1.2-8

[28]:

Vide, Macdonell.A.A. & Keith, A.B., op. cit., Vol.II, p.417

[29]:

Taittirīya-saṃhitā , 6.2.3.1 Also vide, Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa , 3.4.4.3-5

[30]:

tvadbhiyā viśa āyannasiknīrasamanā jahatīrbhojanāni / vaiśvānara pūrave śośucānaḥ puro yadagne darayannadīdeḥ // Ṛgveda-saṃhitā , 7.5.3

[31]:

Sāyaṇa, Ibid.

[32]:

tve asuryaṃ vasavo nyṛṇvankratuṃ hi te mitramaho juṣanta / tvaṃ dasyūrokaso agna āja uru jyotirjanayannāryāya //Ṛgveda-saṃhitā , 7.5.6

[33]:

sa pravoḷhṛṛnparigatyā dabhīterviśvamadhāgāyudhamiddhe agnau/ sam gobhiraśvairasṛjadrathebhiḥ somasya tā mada indraścakāra// Ibid., 2.15.4

[34]:

yudhā yudhamupa ghedeṣi dhṛṣṇuyā purā puraṃ samidaṃ haṃsyojasā/ namyā yadindra sakhyā parāvati nirbahayo namuciṃ nāma māyinam// Ibid., 1.53.7 Also vide, Ibid., 1.32.6,1.33.12,1.61.5, 3.34.1, 4.30.20

[35]:

Ibid., 1.53.8, 9, 1.54.6, 2.14.6, 4.16.13

[36]:

Ibid., 8.1.7,8

[37]:

Sāyaṇa, Ibid., 8.1.7

[38]:

Vide, Griffith, R.T.H., op. cit., p.65

[39]:

agne sa tvaṃ puraḥ āsurīstisraḥ purīḥ rurojitha bhagnavānasi/ yadvā tripuradahanasādhanabhūte bāṇe’gneranīkatvenāvasthānādagniḥ purāṇi bhagnavānityucyate/ Sāyaṇa, Ṛgveda-saṃhitā , 6.16.39. Also vide, Ṛgveda-saṃhitā , 7.6.2

[40]:

indrāgnī navatiṃ puro dāsapatnīradhūnutam/Ṛgveda-saṃhitā , 3.12.6

[41]:

Ibid., 1.66.8

[42]:

didyuditi vajranāma/ tena cātreṣurlakṣyate/ Sāyaṇa, Ibid.

[43]:

teṣāmasurāṇāṃ tisraḥ pura āsannayasmayyavamā’tha rajatā’tha hariṇī tā devā jetuṃ nāśaknavantā upasadaivājigīṣantasmādāhurścaivaṃ veda yaśca nopasadā vai mahāpuraṃ jayantīti ta iṣu samaskurvatāgnimanīka soma śalyaṃ viṣṇuṃ tejanaṃ te’bruvanka imāmasiṣyatīti //T S., 6.2.3.1

[44]:

Ibid., 6.2.3.2

Let's grow together!

I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased sources, definitions and images. Your donation direclty influences the quality and quantity of knowledge, wisdom and spiritual insight the world is exposed to.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: