The Art of War in Medieval India

Item Code: IDD911
Publisher: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Author: Jagadish Narayan Sarkar
Language: English
Edition: 1984
Pages: 421 (B & W Illus: 17, Maps: 2)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.5" X 6.5"
Weight 690 gm
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Book Description


About the Book:


Numerous books haven been written on the Art and Science of War in the West, But a comprehensive and critical study of the subject in India through the ages is still a desideratum. That it is not only of absorbing interest but highly instructive admits of no doubt. True, there exist a few valuable works on Indian Warfare, none has exclusively dealt with the art of war in medieval period during the millennium from the 8th to the 18th century. Hence The Art of War in Medieval India is a pioneer work on the field, being comparative and analytical survey of Rajput, Turko-Afghan, Mughal, Maratha, Sikh and ahom systems of war on the basis of critical studies of all relevant sources, Indian and Islamic and in the background of the military classics of ancient China and of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, of Clausewitz and Jomini. The present work is also a maiden effort to assail the skepticism prevailing in some quarters that the art had not flowered in ancient and Medieval India as in European countries. The author has skilfully shown that many principles of war strategy and operational tactics known in Europe were also not unknown in Indian. Greater emphasis has been given to what the author considers to be the basic ideas of techniques, strategy, tactics and leadership than to specific details of war.


About the Author:


Dr. Jagadish Narayan Sarkar had a distinguished academic career. He received his education at Patna and Calcutta Universities. He retired as professor and head of History, Jadavpur University. He was elected General President of Indian History Congress in 1776.

He has contributed nearly 300 research articles to different journals in English and Bengali. He has also published several books, of which important ones are : The Life of Mir Jumla Historiography (1964); Ideas of History in Medieval India (1961); Studies in Economic Life in Mughal India (1975); A Study of Eighteenth Century India (1976); Romance of Historiography from Shah Alam I to Shah Alam II (Non European) (1982); Hindu-Muslim Relations in Medieval Bengal (in Bengali, 1983) etc.



Numerous books have been written on the art and science of war in western countries. But the study of warfare in India through tile ages on a comprehensive basis is still in its infancy. The subject is, however, not only highly important but also of engrossing interest. At the same time it is profoundly instructive, as it abounds in numerous lessons not only for civilian academic students of history but, I dare say, also for the practical military experts of different periods of history. The failure to learn these lessons by our rulers and generals in the past has been one of the principal causes of many a military disaster in our country’s history.

We have some useful works for Ancient India. But for medieval India much remains to be done. The only standard works available for Medieval India are by William Irvine, The Army of the Indian Mughals, Surendra Nath Sen, The Military System of the Marathas, and Jadunath Sarkar, Military History of India. True, remarkable progress has been made in the study of Medieval Indian History on modern scientific lines during the last two hundred years or so. Besides political history, which had once monopolised the attention of scholars, several works on the administrative system and socio-economic and cultural aspects of the period have also been published during recent years. But what exist do not deal with the art of war as such. Neither the Cambridge History of India (vols. III and IV) nor the History and Culture of the Indian People has discussed this subject at all. There are, however, a few articles scattered in journals. The standard general works on political history of medieval India for the Sultanate and Mughal periods (including biographies, monographs etc.) contain at best a few sections or paragraphs on accounts of battles and wars. There is only a chapter or a section on military organization in a few books dealing with polity and administration and also with regional and dynastic histories of the period. For the purely military aspects of the Mughals the Marathas and the Sikhs in particular we have a few books. These are sufficiently detailed, highly useful and instructive in their own way and have been laid under contribution by me in the preparation of the present work. The eager enquirer may turn to all these works of the Sultanate and Mughal periods for various details. Since the achievement of independence in 1947 a few books have been published dealing with India’s armed forces through the ages with special reference to the modern period mostly by military personnel, which contain references to ancient and medieval periods as well. But there is no book dealing with the art of war in medieval India as such based on a synthetic use of all contemporary or semi contemporary sources. The result is that there is a feeling in some quarters that the art of war had not flowered in ancient and medieval India as in European countries. True, there are some differences in detail but a study of the military classics of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic era along with Indian works on polity and history and accounts of travellers etc. would show that many principles of war known in Europe were also known in medieval India. This is the first work on the subject, studied in the background of the works of Clausewitz, Jomini, and of ancient Indian, medieval and Chinese thinkers, as well as of the actual practice. The present study enables the author to assail the prevailing view, shared by distinguished writers like General Montgomery and Sardar K.M. Panikkar that India had no knowledge of art of war.

In the preparation of this book more emphasis has been given to indicating and explaining what seems to the author to be the fundamental or basic ideas of army organization, methods and techniques, weapons, strategy, tactics and leadership than to specific details. Details have been given merely as illustrations. Thus the book is not an encyclopaedia of all information relating to medieval Indian warfare. It is just a modest beginning in the preparation of a comprehensive and detailed work on the Art of War in Medieval India.

The book is divided into seven parts:
Part I (General and Historical) discusses the Trip’e Bases of War and the historical background.

Part II (Military Policy and Institutions) explains the three major factors which underlie the military policy of a state-military geography, military spirit and morale and military organisation and military statistics, with suitable illustrations in each case, and then analyses the military institutions.

Part III (Preparation for War) discusses the Constituent Branches of the Army; military art and the various measures in preparing the state for War.

Part IV depicts the Army in Action on land (Land Warfare) with special reference to the methods of conducting warfare; operational art and tactics; strategy and tactics (including mountain warfare and guerrila warfare).

Part V shows the Navy in Action (Naval Warfare).

Part VI deals with Ethics of War.

Part VII contains concluding remarks; Nature of Art of War; limitations and weaknesses.

Each Part is divided into chapters, sections and sub-sections. Footnotes have en consolidated as far as possible and given either at the end of a para or a section or more frequently.

My studies on the present subject began in 1964 when I was requested by the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Gol Park, Calcutta, to contribute short paper on the Art of War in Medieval India. Subsequently an enlarged version of that paper was completed in 1968. It was first sent to the Madhya Pradesh It has Parishad at the request of its Secretary for publication in its journal. I had to withdraw it. Subsequently it was sent to one distinguished Delhi firm of publishers and booksellers for publication at their request in January, 1969. But as the terms of publication were not finalised even by end of May, I had to recall the manuscript in June. Meanwhile, at the request of The Magadh University and Visva-Bharati respectively I delivered two extra-mural lectures on the subject at Gaya in March 1969 and one in a seminar-lecture at Santiniketan in March, 1973. Subsequently, I also addressed the staff and students of Gauhati University on the subject at their request. I read a paper entitled 'Some Aspects of Military Thinking and Practice in Medieval India’ at the 28th International Congress of Orientalists held at Canberra in January 1971. While a bare summary was published in the Proceedings volume, the full paper was published in Journal of Historical Research of Ranchi University, Ranchi, and a monograph with the same title was published in 1974. I read another paper entitled ‘Geography and the Art of War in Medieval India’ in the 30th International Congress of Human Sciences in Asia and North Africa, held at Mexico in July 1976. Its publication in the Proceedings Volume is awaited. The present work incorporates some additions and alterations which made since then. Various impediments and preoccupations stood in the way of its publications earlier. Meanwhile in 1977 I sent to the Indian Council of Historical Research, a survey of the work done on history of warfare during medieval period (from 1947-72), as desired by the Council in 1972. It still awaits publication.

It is now my pleasant duty to acknowledge with deep sense of gratitude the generous assistance and encouragement which I received from all whom I approached. For my participation in the international Congresses I am beholden to Prof. A.L. Basham, and the President Graciella de la Lama of the Session at Mexico. While the Jadavpur University authorities sanctioned my air passage to Australia, my journey and stay at Mexico were wholly financed by President Graciella de la Lama. I am grateful to them for their kind encouragement and support. I deem myself fortunate in having been able to get the expert advice of some distinguished military personnel, three successive Heads of the Department of Military Science, Poona University, Brigadier N.V. Bal (Retired), (and through him, of his predecessor), Major-General Y.S. Paranjpe (Retired), an Lt. Col. Abhayankar (Retired), besides Major-General D. Pal it on some points connected with this work. I am also indebted to my seniors and colleagues for their kind suggestions for improvement of the work. Among them, unfortunately for me, Dr. R.C. Majumdar then doyen of Indian historians, and Dr N,K. Sinha, formerly Ashutosh Professor of Medieval and Modern History Calcutta University, Padmabhusan Dr. H.K. Sherwani, Dr. K.K. Dutta, formerly Vice-Chancellor, Patna University, who were keenly interested in seeing the book in print, are no more. Fortunately, others are with us: Dr. P.C. Gupta, formerly Professor and Head of the Department of History, Jadavpur University, and Vice-Chancellor, Visva-Bharati (now retired), Dr S.H. Askari, Honorary Joint Director, K.P. Jayaswal Research Institute, Patna (now retired), Dr. J.H. Voigt, then Reader, Stuttgart University, west Germany, Dr. R.S. Sharma, one of my most brilliant students of Patna, then Professor and Head of the Department of History, Patna University, and later of the University of Delhi, Dr. Tara Sankar Banerji, Reader in History, Visva-Bharati, and Sri Pankaj Kumar Datta of Victoria Memorial, Calcutta, for their kind suggestions for improvement. I am thankful to Dr. A.R. Kulkarni Professor and Head, History Deptt., University of Poona, for permitting me to peruse the thesis of Dr. M. Deshpande on Maratha Forts. The Director, Assam State Museum, Gauhati, Gauhati, supplied me with a list of cannon-pieces and guns stored there. I offer my heartfelt thanks for their labour of love. None of them, however, is responsible for any shortcomings that may still disfigure the book. I am also beholden to Dr. T.K Ravindran, Professor and Head of History Department, University of Kerala, and editor of Journal of Indian History, Dr. P.N. Ojha, then Professor and Head of the Department of History, Ranchi University, and Editor of Journal of Historical Research and Sri Nisith Ranjan Ray then Secretary and Curator, Victoria Memorial, for publishing some of my papers relating to the subject in their respective journals and bulletins and also to Sri Kshitish Chandra De of Messrs. Ratna Prakashan, for publishing my monograph on Some Aspects of Military Thinking and Practice in Medieval India. My thanks are also due to Sri Raj Kumar Research Officer, I.C.H.R., for help in completing my survey work.

I have to record my sense of profound indebtedness to certain institutions in reparation of this work. The Curator of the National Museum, New Delhi, supplied me with nine photographs of arms and armour reproduced here. My special thanks are due to my old friend from my Patna days, Dr. Priyatosh Banerji, Assistant Curator in that Museum (now retired) for arranging their quick despatch and to Dr. G.N. Pant, Keeper of National Museum for kindly permitting me to use the photos given in his books on weapons and warfare. I have used them for supplying captions for the photos of the National Museum. Sri A.N. Lal of the same institution also helped me. The Asiatic Society, Calcutta, supplied me with microfilms and photostat copies of some Folios of Adab ul Harb Wash Shujaah with diagrams of battle orders as also a microfilm of a picture from the Akbarnamah. In this regard, Sri Shibdas Chaudhuri, Librarian and Maulavis Abdul Khallaque and Mumtaz Ahmad of the society were of great help. The staff of the Asiatic Society as well as of the National Library, Calcutta showed me inestimable courtesy and cooperation in supplying rare books. Dr. Rafiq Shibli and Maulavi Quddus of Iran Society Calcutta, also helped me in various ways. I am also greatly indebted to the Secretary and Curator of the Victoria Memorial, Calcutta, Dr. Hirendra N. Chakravarty, the Conservator, Sri Pankaj Kumar Dutt, and the Photo-Graphic section for the supply of photographs of some arms and armour from the Arms Gallery. Sri Dutt took great pains in supplying the descriptive captions of the photos. Prof. B.N. Mukherjee, Carmichael Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Calcutta University, also helped me by supplying books. Two research students of mine, Dr. Pinaki Ranjan Mahapatra, M.A., Ph.D., now Lecturer in History, Karimpur College and Sri Phanindra Nath Chakravarty, M.A. (now Ph.D. of Jadavpur University), helped me in checking Some references. The latter took upon himself the arduous task of preparing the index and errata. Constructive suggestions for improvement will be thankfully received.




Preface   xi
Abbreviations   xvi
Liest of Illustrations, Maps and Diagrams   xxiv





General and Historical

Chapter I
Physical Features     15
Psychological Factors     23
Organizational Factors     29

Chapter II
Society, Politics and War     33
Outline of Military History, 8th-18th Century     33
Military Landmarks in Medieval India     35
Causes and Nature of War in Medieval India     36


Military Policy and Institutions

Chapter III
Military Geography     43
Military Sprint and Morale     45
Military Organization and Military Statistics     52

Chapter IV

  1.   Factors Influencing Military Organaisation and Development     56
  2.   Army Recruitment - Types of Armies     57
  3.   Personnel     58
  4.   Organization of the Army Command     62
    1. Unity of Command     62
    2. Army Officers - Commander-in-Chief     63
    3. Councils of War     66
    4. The 'Ariz and the Bakhshi     68
    5. Musters     72
    6. Leadership - Generalship     70
    7. Some illustration     72
  5.   Decimal System     75
  6.   The Mughal Mansabadari System     76
  7.   The Rajput     80
  8.   The Marathas     81
  9.   The Sikhs     81
  10.   The Ahoms     82
  11.   Strength of the Army     82
  12.   Military Finance     85
  13.   Rewards and Distinctions     86
  14.   Discipline     86


Preparation for War

Chapter V
General Remarks     93
Constituent Branches of the Army     94
    Section 1: Infantry     94
    Section 2: Cavalry     98
    Section 3: Elephantry     104
    Section 4: Camelry     109
    Section 5: Other Animals     110

Chapter VI
Section 1: Arms and Armour     111

  1. General remarks on the level of Military art       111
  2. Offensive Arms    112
          1. The Bow and the Arrow
          2. Sword
          3. Sears, Javelins, Lances
          4. The mace or war club
          5. Battle axe, hatchet, halberd, dagger, knives, etc.
          6. Discus or quoit
          7. Noose and lasso (Lariat)
          8. Spades
          9. Stones
          10. Fighting at close quarters
  3. Defensive Armour     123
        (a) Head (b) Neck (c) Trunk (d) Hand and Foot
    Section 2: Special Arms     126
        (i) Artillery     126
        (ii) Military Engineering: Fortification    143
    1. Importance of fortifications
    2. Classification of fortification
    3. Principles of fort architecture in medieval India -
      1. Defensive aspects; Small castles; Field fortification
      2. Impressive aspect
      3. Decorative aspects
      4. Weaknesses
    Siege-craft     160
        Escalade     162
        Elephants     163
        Siege Engines     163
    1. Kharak
    2. Ram
    3. Manjaniq
    4. Charkh; Siege Device     166
      1. Filling up the ditches
      2. Pashab
      3. Siege Towers
      4. Movable shields or mantlets
      5. Sap and mine
      6. Trench warfare
      7. Storming
      8. Investment
      9. Starvation
      10. Bribery and treachery; Anti-siedge     172 - Defence Methods; Defence, Thirteenth and seventeenth centuries     173


Chapter VII
Principles of Strategic Intelligence     175
Strategy and Diplomacy Preferred to War     184


Army in Action Land Warfare

Chapter VIII
1. Role of Strategy, Logistics and Tactics in War     189
2. Logistics and Commissariat     190
3. Army on March     196
4. Reconnaissance     200
5. Spectacular Side of the Army     200
Appedix     202

Chapter IX
1. Selection of the Battle Ground     204
    (a) Principles of Military Encampment     (b) Bases
2. Battle Array: Deployment of Troops     208
3. Signals     214
4. Principles of War    215
5. System of Operations: Offensive and Defensive     217
(A) Offensive" Characteristics

  1. Keep the lines of communications open
  2. Direct the main thrust from different sides
  3. Use of shock tactics
  4. Encircling or enveloping the enemy
  5. Combined arms
  6. Deception
  7. Surprise attack

6. System of Operations (Contd.)
(B) Defensive Strategy

  1. Its advantages
  2. Fortresses, entrenched lines and turning movements
  3. 'Scorched Earth' policy
  4. Danger of static defence
  5. Defensive-Offensive strategy

Appendix A: Stages in Evolution of Battle Arrays according to Hindus Theorists    233
Appendix B: Various Battle Orders According to Hindu Theorists     234
Appendix C: New Synonyms for Old Order     234
7. Special Type of Warfare     235
(i) Mountain Warfare (ii)Guerrilla Warfare

The Navy, Regional and Imperial

Chapter X
1. Importance of Navy     253
2. Naval Requisites and Regional Centres     254
      (a) The Indus Delta (Sind)
      (b) The Ganges Delta (Bengal)
      (c) Assam
      (d) Peninsular India
3. Organization Under the Delhi Sultans and the Mughal     257
4. Maratha Naval Organization     261
5. Varieties and Numbers of Vessels: Dockyards     264
    Organization of Artillery in Navy; Types of Maratha Warships; Maratha Navy - Operational Tactics
6. Weaknesses of Mughal and Maratha Navies     267
      (a) Mughal Navy       (b) Shivaji's Navy

Ethics of War in Medieval India

Chapter XI
Section 1: Ancient and Medieval India     273
    (i) Two principles of Inter-state warfare
    (ii) Law of belligerents
Section 2: Laws of War and Peace in Islam     279
Law of Peace in Islam     281
Section 3: A Comparison     282
Section 4: Eighth to Seventeenth Century     284
    (i) Deviation from the policy of exclusion of non-Muslims
    (ii) Retention of the pre-existing administrative machinery
    (iii) Expediency in religious policy
    (iv) Deviation from canon law



Chapter XII
Section I: Nature of the Art of War in Medieval India     303
    (i) Absence of an unified art of war
    (ii) Some common misconceptions
Section 2: Limitations and Weaknesses       309
    (A) Causes of the Downfall of Hindu Powers before the Turks - Political, Military and Social
    (B) Weakness of the Indian powers
    (i) 13th - 16th Centuries
    (ii) 16th - 18th Centuries
Selected Bibliography     332
Index     368

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