Warfare and Military System in Vedic Literature

by Rinki Deka | 2023 | 39,711 words

This page relates ‘Principles of Division of Booty, Seized in War’ 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.

Principles of Division of Booty, Seized in War

The Āryans seems to have frequently raided neighbouring territories in quest of booty besides ordinary wars of defence and conquest, which is stated in the Ṛgveda-saṃhitā thus,

yadudvato nivato yāsi bapsatpṛthageṣi pragardhinīva senā//[1]

Here commenting the passage pragardhinīva senā, Sāyaṇācārya says—

pararāṣṭraṃ gacchato rājñaḥ senā tatratyaṃ dhanajātamabhikāṅkṣamāṇā itastataḥ saṃghaśo gacchati tadvat//

The king used to enrich his treasury with the wealth obtained in battles by conquering enemy territories. Therefore, a battle is known as mahādhana, due to the fact that it yielded a large amount of wealth.

In this context, Sāyaṇācārya says—

mahānti dhanāni asmin prāpyante iti mahādhanaḥ saṃgrāmaḥ/[2]

The king should take away the goods and treasures of the enemy in the war.[3] The booty of war was shared by the king with his nobles, leaders or the warriors.[4] In the Ṛgveda-saṃhitā, it is mentioned that Soma shares the mighty booty in the van of war.[5] The charioteer received one-fourth of the booty of war. The Aitareyabrāhmaṇa states that Indra, the charioteer of Vāyu received one-fourth of the wealth in the form of Soma.[6]

The warrior should receive the property, and the vehicles, i.e. horses, elephants, chariots, etc., which are found in the war belong to the king only—

jetā labheta sāṃgrāmikaṃ vittam// vāhanaṃ tu rājñaḥ //[7]

Haradatta in his commentary of the relevant passage of the Gautamadharmasūtra says—

rājñā niyukto rājabhṛtyādiḥ saṃgrāme śatrūnnirjitya yadvittaṃ labhate tatsa eva jetā labheta na rājā // vāhanaṃ hastyaśvādikaṃ nirjitya labdhaṃ rājño bhavati na jetuḥ//

The Ṛgveda-saṃhitā also mentions that the valuable things were enjoyed by the warriors in the battlefield

tvāṃ ha tyadindrārṇasātau svarmīḷhe nara ājā havante/tava svadhāva iyamā samarya ūtirvājeṣvatasāyyā bhūt//[8]

While explaining the verse, Sāyaṇācārya states that the term mīḷha means the wealth—

mīḷhamiti dhananāma/ suṣṭhu araṇīyaṃ dhanaṃ yasmin//

In the Aitareyabrāhmaṇa also, it is mentioned that after the killing of Vṛtra, the gods divided the booty among them and gave to Indra also.[9] The Pañcaviṃśabrāhmaṇa states that the gods and the Asuras made a compact that cattle should fall to the share of that of the two contending parties, which should vanquish the others. In this war, by means of Sañjaya Sāman the gods vanquished the Asuras.[10] In one of the Ṛgvedic verses, it is stated that Indra seized the hundred-gated castle’s treasure in the battlefield.[11] If the battle is won by many warriors, then a special share of property belongs to the king,[12] and the remaining portion is distributed by the king among the warriors in order of their performance and position.[13] When the glorious victories were achieved, the king rewarded the priest by giving them cattle, horses, chariots, asses, camels, gold, jewels, slaves, etc. For instance, king Sudās, after defeating the Ajas, Śigrus and Yakṣus, distributed everything, which is gained from the battle among the seers.[14]

The Atharvaveda-saṃhitā contains an explicit reference to the prisoners of war.[15] It also contains two hymns, which are devoted to the tying up of the enemies.[16] In the battlefield, young women, boys and girls were taken as captives and enslaved. Though prisoners were taken on the field of battle, a large number of them were only led away to death, but some must have been pressed into menial service. The Ṛgveda-saṃhitā[17] mentions of slaves, who were possessed by the kings and nobles, some of whom were given away to deserving seers. A sage prayed to Indra for the gift of one hundred slaves.[18] The Aitareyabrāhmaṇa refers to ten thousand female slaves, brought from various countries, all daughters of wealthy men who were given away to the Brāhmaṇas in celebration of all round conquest.[19]

Footnotes and references:

[1]:

Ṛgveda-saṃhitā , 10.142.4

[2]:

Sāyaṇa, Atharvaveda-saṃhitā , 4.31.6

[3]:

uttarastvamadhare te sapatnā ye ke ca rājan pratiśatravaste/ ekavṛṣa indrasakhā jigīvāṃ chatrūyatāmā bharā bhojanāni//Atharvaveda-saṃhitā ,4.22.6 Also vide, Ibid., 4.22.7

[4]:

nirhastāḥ santu śatravoṅgaiṣāṃ mlāpayāmasi / athaiṣāmindra vedāṃsi śataśo vi bhajāmahe // Atharvaveda-saṃhitā , 6.66.3 Also vide, Ṛgveda-saṃhitā , 7.32.2, 10.84.2

[5]:

agre vājasya bhajate mahādhanaṃ svāyudhaḥ sotṛbhiḥ pūyate vṛṣā//Ṛgveda-saṃhitā , 9.86.12

[7]:

Gautama-dharma-sūtra , 2.1.20, 21

[8]:

Ṛgveda-saṃhitā , 1.63.6

[9]:

Aitareya-brāhmaṇa , 3.2.10

[10]:

devāśca vā asurāśca samadadhata yatare naḥ sañjayā steṣānnaḥ paśavo’sāniti te devā asurān sañjayena samajayan yatsamajaya stasmātsañjayampaśūnāmavarudhyai sañcayaṃ kriyate// Pañcaviṃśa-brāhmaṇa , 13.6.7

[11]:

anarvā yacchatadurasya vedo ghnañchiśnadevā abhi varpasā bhūt// Ṛgveda-saṃhitā , 10.99.3

[12]:

yadi sarve sainikāḥ saṃbhūya jayeyurjitvā ca kimapi labheraṃstasminnapṛthagjaye rājña uddhāro viśeṣadravyaṃ svayaṃ vṛto deyaḥ // Haradatta, Gautama-dharma-sūtra , 2.1.22

[13]:

yatsvayaṃ vṛtaṃ māṇikyādi tato’nyadyathārha yasya yāvānvyāpāro yāvadvā śauryaṃ tadanurūpeṇa bhājayet// Haradatta, Ibid., 2.1.23

[14]:

Ṛgveda-saṃhitā , 7.18.19, 22,23,24

[15]:

Atharvaveda-saṃhitā , 5.20.3, 4

[16]:

Ibid., 6.103, 6.104

[17]:

Ṛgveda-saṃhitā , 7.86.7, 8.56.3

[18]:

śataṃ me gardabhānāṃ śatamūrṇāvatīnām/ śataṃ dāsā ati srajaḥ// Ibid.,8.56.3

[19]:

deśāddeśātsamohaḷānāṃ sarvāsāmāḍhyaduhitṛṇām/ daśādadāt sahasrāṇyātreyo niṣkakaṇṭhyaḥ//Aitareya-brāhmaṇa ,8.4.8

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