Warfare and Military System in Vedic Literature

by Rinki Deka | 2023 | 39,711 words

This page relates ‘War Music (Military Music)’ 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.

Another interesting usage of the battlefield was military music. The history of military music in India goes back to the early Vedic period. Warfare music was one of the important features of the Vedic warfare. The instruments used in producing battle-music were many and varied, viz. drum, tambourine, trumpet, conch-shell, horn etc. Some instruments are found to be used at the time of sacrificial and festive occasions and others are both in war and peace. War music was played when the army marched, which heralded the beginning of the battle. There are musicians and drummers in every army squadron to encourage the soldiers by rousing their military mettle playing on warlike tune and thus spur them on to action. The Ṛgveda-saṃhitā contains verses in a hymn in praise of the war-drum.[1] The Atharvaveda-saṃhitā[2] also contains hymns in praise of the battle-drum, wherein it is described as loud-noised, thundering like a lion, exciting the weapons of the warriors and overpowering hostile plotters. The drum is called Dundubhi, which is an onomatopoeic word, so called on account of the sound it emitted when stuck. The word dundubhi is frequently mentioned in the Vedic literature.[3]

Yāska explains the word dundubhi as—

dundubhiriti śabdānukaraṇaṃ drumo bhinna iti vā dundubhyatervā syādvadhakarmaṇaḥ //[4]

It was a kettledrum and an earth-drum. The war-drum is used to become the warrior more stronger.[5] Their sound enables the warriors to defeat the scattered sections of the enemy. It is thus capable of beating off the enemy.[6] The loud noises of the drum, which act like a warrior, whetting the voice, dominate the enemies. The drum thunders loudly against the enemies like a lion, about to conquer.[7] The drum, with the divine voice, brings the warrior with strength.[8] In the Ṛgveda-saṃhitā, the Dundubhi is praised to drive out the foemen to the remotest distance, in association with the gods and Indra.[9]

Sāyaṇācārya in his commentary says—

he dundubhe saḥ tvam indreṇa anyaiḥ devaiḥ ca sajūḥ saha dūrāddavīyaḥ dūrādapi dūrataraṃ śatrūn asmadīyān apa sedha apagamaya//[10]

The drum was made of wood (vānaspatya)[11] and it was covered with the skin of an antelope,[12] but usually with the skin of cow.[13] The Purohita of the king sounds them thrice and hands them over to the warriors as they go forth to battle.[14] All musical instruments are washed, and then dipped into a mixture,which contains the fragrant substances of Tagara and Usīra.[15] The drum was the shouting herald followed by the army.[16] The army marched through forests and villages infusing terror in the hearts of the enemy and the females of enemy, by the noise of the fearful drum.[17] The sound of the string of the bows and of the drum defeat the enemy.[18] In a Ṛgvedic verse, Ulūkhalaka is praised to make the clearest and loud sound, as the drum of conquerrors—

yacciddhi tvaṃ gṛhegṛha ulūkhalaka yujyase / iha dyumattamaṃ vada jayatāmiva dundubhiḥ //[19]

Sāyaṇācārya interprets this verse—

jayatāmiva dundubhiḥ/ yathā yuddhe jayaṃ prāpnuvatāṃ rājñāṃ dundubhiḥ mahāntaṃ dhvaniṃ karoti tadvat//

The Vedic literature mentions another drum also, called Bhūmi Dundubhi, which was used at the time of war.[20] Sāyaṇācārya says that this drum was employed in the Mahāvrata rite.[21]

The Vaitānasūtra also states

bhūmidundubhim aukṣeṇāpinaddha pucchenāghnantyuccarghoṣa up śvāsaya iti//[22]

Gargara is another type of instrument, which produces sounds like that of a gargara and used in the war.[23]

Sāyaṇācārya in his commentary to the relevant verse says——

gargaraḥ gargaradhvaniyukto vādyaviśeṣo yuddhe ava svarāti bhayaṃ śabdayati/[24]

According to Wilson, it means a drum.[25] Baṃkura or Bakura was another musical instrument, which was used in times of war. Bakura is mentioned in one passage of the Ṛgveda-saṃhitā, where it is said that the Aśvins made light for the Āryan by blowing their Bakura against the Dasyus.[26] The word bakura means the thunderbolt. Sāyaṇācārya in his commentary explains the word bakura as-bakuro bhāsamāno vajraḥ//[27] According to Yāska, it means one who gives light, or who inspires awe, or one who runs effulgent.

He explains the word bakura as—

bakuro bhāskaro bhayaṃkaro bhāsamāno dravatīti vā//[28]

Karkari was another musical instrument used in the Vedic warfare. It was probably the name of a wind instrument of music which emitted a shrill, sharp and loud sound like that of a clarion. This musical instrument is mentioned in the Ṛgveda-saṃhitā.[29] According to A.A.Macdonell and A.B. Keith, it was probably the name of a lute.[30]

The Maitrāyaṇīsaṃhitā mentions that cattle branded on the ears with a mark resembling a lute

karkarikarṇyaḥ//[31]

The Kauśikasūtra mentions another types of musical instruments like, Bherī, Mṛdaṅga, Paṭaha, etc., which are used by the Purohita in the battlefield.[32]

From the above discussion, it is seen that the musicians with their musical instruments accompanied the army to the battlefield like the modern military band.

Footnotes and references:

[1]:

upa śvāsaya pṛthivīmuta dyāṃ purutrā te manutāṃ viṣṭhitaṃ jagat / sa dundubhe sajūrindreṇa devairdūrāddavīyo apa sedha śatrūn // ā krandaya balamojo na ā dhā niḥ ṣṭanihi duritā bādhamānaḥ/ apa protha dundubhe ducchunā ita indrasya muṣṭirasi vīḍayasva // āmūraja pratyāvartayemāḥ ketumaddundubhirvāvadīti / samaśvaparṇāścaranti no naro’smākamindra rathino jayantu // Ṛgveda-saṃhitā , 6.47.29-31

[2]:

Atharvaveda-saṃhitā , 5.20, 5.21

[3]:

Ṛgveda-saṃhitā , 1.28.5, 6.47.29-31 Also vide, Atharvaveda-saṃhitā , 5.20.1, Vājasaneyi-saṃhitā , 16.35, 29.55-57, Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa , 1.3.6.2, Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa , 5.1.5.6

[4]:

Nirukta , 9.12

[5]:

rājanye dundubhāvāyatāyāmaśvasya vāje puruṣasya māyau/ indraṃdevī subhagā jajāna sā na aitu varcasā saṃvidānā// Atharvaveda-saṃhitā , 6.38.4

[6]:

Ibid., 6.126.1-4

[7]:

uccairghoṣo dundubhiḥ satvanāyan vānaspatyaḥ saṃbhṛta ustriyābhiḥ / vācaṃ kṣuṇuvāno damayantsapatnānsiṃha iva jeṣyannabhi taṃstanīhi // Ibid., 5.20.1

[8]:

saṃjayan pṛtanā ūrdhvamāyurgṛhyā gṛhṇāno bahudhā vi cakṣva/ daivīṃ vācaṃ dundubha ā gurasva vedhāḥ śatrūṇāmupa bharasva vedaḥ //Ibid., 5.20.4

[9]:

Ṛgveda-saṃhitā , 6.47.29

[10]:

Sāyaṇa, Ibid.

[11]:

uccairghoṣo dundubhiḥ satvanāyan vānaspatyaḥ saṃbhṛta ustriyābhiḥ / Atharvaveda-saṃhitā , 5.20.1

[12]:

parāmitrān dundubhinā hariṇasyājinena ca // Ibid., 5.21.7

[13]:

Ibid., 5.20.1, 5.21.3

[14]:

uccairghoṣaḥ iti sūktena trāsanaparasenāvidveṣaṇakarmaṇi bheryādivāditrāṇi prakṣālya tagarośīreṇa lepayitvā sapātya tristāḍayitvā vādakāya purodhāḥ prayacchet// Sāyaṇa, Ibid., 5.20

[15]:

uccairghoṣa upa śvāsayeti sarvavāditrāṇi prakṣālya tagarośīreṇa saṃdhāvya saṃpātavanti trirāhatya prayachati// Kauśika-sūtra , 16.1

[16]:

saṃkrandanaḥ pravado dhṛṣṇuṣeṇaḥ pravedakṛd bahudhā grāmaghoṣī / śreyo vanvāno vayunāni vidvān kīrtiṃ bahubhyo vi hara dvirāje //Atharvaveda-saṃhitā , 5.20.9

[17]:

dundubhervācaṃ prayatāṃ vadantīmāśṛṇvatī nāthitā ghoṣavuddhā / nārī putraṃ dhāvatu hastagṛhyāmitrī bhītā samare vadhānām// Ibid., 5.20.5

[18]:

jyāghoṣā dundubhayobhi krośantu yā diśaḥ / senāḥ parājitā yatīramitrāṇāmanīkaśaḥ // Ibid., 5.21.9

[19]:

Ṛgveda-saṃhitā , 1.28.5

[20]:

Taittirīya-saṃhitā , 7.5.9.3 Also vide, A Ār., 5.1.5

[21]:

tathā mahāvrate anena sūktena bhūmidundubhiṃ tāḍayet// Sāyaṇa, Atharvaveda-saṃhitā , 5.20

[22]:

Vai. Sū., 6.4

[23]:

Ṛgveda-saṃhitā , 8.69.9

[24]:

Sāyaṇa, Ibid., 8.69.9

[25]:

Vide, Wilson, H.H., Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, Vol.V, p.276

[26]:

yavaṃ vṛkeṇāśvinā vapanteṣaṃ duhantā manuṣāya dasrā/ abhi dasyuṃ vakureṇā dhamantoru jyotiścakrathurāryāya// Ṛgveda-saṃhitā , 1.117.21

[27]:

Sāyaṇa, Ibid.

[28]:

Nirukta , 6.25

[29]:

yadutpatanvadasi karkariryathā bṛhadvadema vidathe suvīrāḥ // Ṛgveda-saṃhitā , 2.43.3 Also vide, Atharvaveda-saṃhitā , 4.37.5

[30]:

Vide, Macdonell, A.A. & Keith, A.B., op.cit., Vol 1, p. 139

[31]:

Mai. S., 4.2.9

[32]:

purodhā vāditraiḥ abhiyāti/ bheryādīni vādīni vāditrāṇi bherīmṛdaṅgajhallarikādīni// Dārila, Kauśika-sūtra , 14.4

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