Wars History of Ancient India

by Oct 9, 2021


Hello friends, whatever I will share today, I know you will love it. Because everyone likes the breathtaking historical war in Ancient India. If you agree with me, then continue and read till the end. As at the end, I will share new upcoming topics.

Introduction to War in Ancient India

The Ancient Indian war history is fascinating. Whenever there wronged happened, Indians did not stop to look for justice. Indians were also not afraid of extending their kingdoms through conquering neighboring lands.

The ancient Indians grouped themselves into kingdoms, empires, dynasties, or even states for easier operations.

Each of territory responsible for maintaining law and order. This includes protecting its members. The independent regions also went to war to conquer new lands.

The leaders led the rest during battles. There were designated areas for the battle that could always change with the outcome of the war.

  1. Battle of Hydaspes
    This is one of the battles marking the entry of foreigners to Indian territory. The battle took place across Hydaspes River. Alexander the Great, Macedonian King, and King Porus of Paurava were engaged in battle. In the war, King Porus lost to his opponent. However, Porus put on a challenge that the Macedonian King had not encountered in his earlier series of conquests. In admiration of Porus’ bravery, Alexander allowed him to keep his rule over Paurava.
  2. The Battle of Kalinga
    The Battle of Kalinga is another major war in the Indian lands. Notably, the war took place in 261 BC. It involved two Indian empires/ states. The battle’s huge casualties make it memorable. In the conflict, Ashoka, the Mauryan emperor, faced off with Raja Anant Padmanabhan. The outcome of the war was the death of about 1,00,000 men (Testbook.com). It makes it one of the deadliest conflicts happened on Indian soil.
  3. The Battle of Ten Kings
    The Battle of Ten Kings was another epic conflict in ancient India. Essentially, the opponents were Bharat King and other confederation tribes (Wikipedia.com). Historical books estimate that the war occurred between 1450 and 1300 BCE. Notably, Bharat King won, hence taking over the entire Puru territory. Ideally, the above mark some of the key battles in ancient India.
  4. Other key battles
    Other battles, among others, include clashes and wars not mentioned. Therefore, the different dynasties constantly fought for land. It is important to understand the different ancient kingdoms in fully appreciating the Ancient Indian wars.

This article looks at these aspects of ancient Indian wars as we continue exploring more exciting details in Indian history.

Examples of fighting zones for war in ancient India

  • Low grounds
  • Sattra
  • Khanakayuddha
  • Akasayuddha

The fighting also took place at specific times, especially in the evening.

The ancient Indians prepared well for war. The kings commanded the armies while the designated generals and commanders led the troops according to the commands of the king.

There were, therefore, elaborate command hierarchies, ensuring efficiency and effectiveness during the war. For instance, the troops were divided into several units and positions under differently ranking generals.

It is crucial to understand the weapons used in Ancient India. As expected, weapons advanced over time as Indians invented new, more efficient weaponry.

Main tools of war in Ancient India

  • Katar (punch dagger)
  • Pata Sword
  • Urumi Whip Sword

Having state-of-the-art weapons without clear, well-thought strategies leads to losses. Therefore, ancient Indians did not just go to war unorganized!

Helpful war strategies were adopted by the armies to give fighting guidelines. For example, the troops placed elephants in the front line. The elephants, thus, not only transported materials but also acted as combatants.

The different dynasties constantly fought for land. Understanding the different ancient kingdoms is important in fully appreciating the Ancient Indian wars.

This article looks at these aspects of ancient Indian wars as we continue exploring more exciting details in Indian history.

Did you know?

Are you aware that war was the primary way of obtaining power and acquiring more territories in ancient India? India’s history mostly comprises battles of kingdoms fighting against each other in the contest for power and sovereignty.

Ancient India was split into

So it was either one empire ruled over the others, or a couple of them joined hands to dominate. This is similarly attested by the Vedic book (1500 – 1000 BCE) and other important writings on ancient India’s history. A state (Maula) was responsible for recruiting, training, and equipping the troops.

Many communities and specific tribes, believed to live in the forest, were acknowledged for their tactical military skills. Such people were valued and highly respected because they agreed and dedicated their entire lives to arms.

Ayudhiya, the villages that gave out warriors, were also renowned. Such villages earned a lot of respect and regularly received rewards.  There existed a group of mercenaries available for recruitment whenever necessary. The mercenaries were commonly referred to as the Bhrita.

Perspectives on War in Ancient India

For your information, not everybody was qualified to be a king or an emperor in ancient India. Typically, supreme rulers were expected to be prominent warriors. They needed to be capable of victoriously leading troops in battle and wielding power over their enemies.

When a leader accomplished their missions in all aspects, they acquired the title of Chakravarti Samrat. Ancient Indians used this title to refer to an unstoppable ruler.

Back then, war was religiously supported and upheld as a way of achieving someone’s royal ambition. Hinduism encouraged “dharma Yudha.” This is a concept that means “War fought for principles and morals.” This concept meant to exact revenge for injustice and as a means of retrieving someone’s right to inherit the throne.

Regardless of their support for peace, Buddhism and Jainism recognized the role of war and battle in the prevailing political system. Notably, the recognition was for protecting one’s empire against trespassers.

Ajatashatru tried many times to capture Vaishali, but every time he failed. Therefore, Buddha personally counseled the monarch of Magadha, Ajatashatru, and his ministers (492–460 BCE). They discussed their difficulties in conquering Vaishali.

The Mauryan ruler, Ashoka (272-232 BCE), with his philanthropic work, similarly did not disband his military. Instead, he kept up effective strategies for the security of his subjects. He considered this as a feature of his obligations as a Buddhist ruler taking care of his subjects.

Throughout history, a greater number of the most amazing leaders, kings, heroes, and unexpectedly unique warriors were devout Jains.

The Ancient Indian Army

Infantry, rangers, chariots, and elephants were the four arms of the ancient Indian army, which was called “Chaturanga Sena.” All four army components would be deployed on the war ground altogether, in a formation, which they called Vyuha. Vyuha (the formation) was collaboratively designed and analyzed by commanders based on various factors like the battlefield landscape and the composition of the enemy troops.

Preparations for War in Ancient India

Ancient Indians trained both animals (elephants) and men with a lot of concern and seriousness. The Warriors were regularly engaged in the education of the skills of war and leadership. They also inclusively participated in the various battles.

Sangramika (wooden war chariots) played a very important role on the battlefields. Ancient Indian warriors used them to transport warriors to war. Archers used wooden chariots to shoot while moving across the battlefields. This was an effective strategy to win against the enemy because it made it difficult for the rivals to shoot them in motion.

Initially, these chariots were pulled by horses. Two or four horses were yoked on one chariot. Yoking several horses on one chariot made it even easier for the warriors to move down the plains and attack their enemies unaware.

At the beginning of the sixth century BCE, elephants took over. Elephants started to be used in place of the chariots. They were regarded as noteworthy due to their immense destructive force. Warriors, therefore, used them for transportation and as a means of inflicting fear on the enemy. Using elephants on the war grounds was a great idea, for it gave them an easy victory against their rivals.

The foot soldiers were the biggest in numbers. However, towards the end of the ancient era, cavalry started to prominence. This was under the Rajput kings of north, central, and western India, who also used camels.

The climate in the southern part of India was not conducive to breeding horses. Hence, the army encouraged the use of elephants, the navy, and the infantry.

The Ancient Indian Battlefields

Once the fight kicked off, the troops would stray from it and fight generally, regardless of whether the generals planned a tactical arrangement.

The infantry (foot soldiers) had it tough since elephants, chariots, and cavalry brutally attacked them. The foot soldiers did not fight within set formations, like the Greek or Macedonian phalanx. In contrast, they unknowingly scattered, making it easier for their rivals to attack.

The main goal was to beat the opposing soldiers and murder the king or the commander. Killing the leader scared his men, who then ran away in defeat.

There were designated places where fighting took place.

These include:

  • On low grounds
  • An open fighting ambuscade (Sattra)
  • At the front of the entrenchment (Khanaka Yuddha)
  • From the heights (Akasa Yuddha)
  • In the evening
Oleographic painting of Mahabharata character- Mahabali BhimImage Credits: Ravi Varma Press B

The central leader was responsible for directing the advance or withdrawal of the troops. He did this by designating trumpets, sheets, banners, or even flags.

The foot soldiers also fought in the wilderness, rough terrain, and isolated areas. The rangers fought as a unit on the battlefield. The infantry destroyed enemy arrangements and fortifications, scouting and observing, and assaulting the enemy, particularly on the flanks and in the back. The rangers also safeguarded other military units by covering advances and withdraws and pursuing the fleeing opponent.

The Command Hierarchy

The supreme commandant was always the ruler or king. The crowned prince served as his deputy called Yuvaraja. The third in rank was the general, his post named Senapati.

Units and positions, after the general, fluctuated across various kingdoms and across different time-frames. The Chief Ministers also joined the soldiers on the battlefields from time to time. Things were running differently in the Magadha Kingdom. The Mahamatras (group of officials) were in charge of the battle department.

Weapons Used in the Ancient India Battles

There’s much to learn from a Community’s weapons. Weapons reflect the level of civilization a particular community has adopted. Things were not so different in Ancient India. A kingdom could characterize its richness and complexity through the weapons its troops used.

As stated by ancient Indian accounts, various types of weapons totaling over 130 were designed back in the old days. These weapons were classified as thrown and un-thrown, respectively. The two categories are subdivided into various subclasses. With time, evolution gradually crawled in, and ancient Indians made more weapons, and the old ones advanced. This way, various ancient Indian armies adopted well-designed weapons and artillery.

There are three major weapons that ancient Indians commonly used in Ancient India.

1. Katar

If you have seen a punch dagger before, this one should be quite easy to absorb. The punch dagger concept is not new to the Indians. The Katar weapon resembles a punch dagger in shape and usage. The main feature of Katar is the H-shaped grip area that allows the user to have a firm hold while fighting. It had a leaf-shaped blade that was designed with a thicker tip to make it steadier.


This weapon had a design that allowed the warriors to use it on their opponents in punching moves. The punching moves made it easier for them to do powerful thrusts compared to when using a regular dagger. The Katar could also be used for slushing purposes. However, this was never recommended at all. This is because it was short and needed the user to be much closer to the opponent.

Katar was often coupled with a small-sized buckler shield. The shield was meant for deflecting attacks and helping the user get closer to their opponent. Katars could be used on the one hand or both hands, depending on the user preference and expertise.

2. Pata Sword

The Pata sword was yet another amazing weapon used in Ancient India. It is considered as an advancement of the Katar. However, it differs from the Katar because it has a long premium steel blade attached to a fine steel gauntlet. The Gauntlet was meant to protect the warriors’ forearm.

Its design does not correspond to ancient craftsmanship. The truth is, Pata Sword was first created and used during the reign of the Mughal Empire until the middle of the 18th century. Pata Sword was considered special in Ancient India and thus used by pro warriors. It was an excellent weapon and mostly helped the warriors to stub a horse-riding opponent easily.


Like many other weapons, warriors also used the Pata in conjunction with various weapons like the ax and the Javelins. The main reason is it was meant for experts and not amateur warriors/recruits. There’s a lot of mythology surrounding the Pata Swords. For instance, it is believed that the Maratha Warrior would wait until his opponents surrounded him. He would then strike with a sword to great performance against his multiple enemies.

The Pata sword was primarily meant for stubbing, but the warriors could also use it for sloshing on many occasions. History accounts of Ancient India that a general of Maratha king Shivaji was once traced holding that sword. I think it might be in portrait or sketch format. In it the author depicted the general holding a sword with both hands flaunting to attack the enemy.

3. Urumi Whip Sword

This is the strangest of all. The Urumi sword appears spectacular but quite terrifying at the same time. It was not just like any whip you can think of out there.

The Urumi is made of several flexible blades made of fine steel. It co-relates with a whip in its usage; the more it bears the name whip sword.

The Urumi weapon comes with a grip equipped with a handguard to protect the forearms of the warriors from possible cuts by the opponent.

Alongside the exotic design of the Urumi, it happens to be the oldest compared to the three discussed in this post. It is believed to have been designed around 300 BCE when the Mauryan Empire dominated the Indian subcontinent. The name Urumi is from Keralan, a southern Indian region, where the weapon is believed to have originated from.


Urumi is designed with a long reach that makes it a reliable weapon when tackling multiple enemies. One blow of the Urumi Sword Whip can cause numerous deep cuts on the body of an enemy.

War Strategies Used in Ancient India

In every battle, there must be predefined strategies towards victory. The Ancient India troops also had procedures laid down for the soldiers to follow. In most cases, the supreme rulers designed and analyzed these strategies in conjunction with the army generals.

According to Ancient India’s writings, the troops then operated with various strategies. These included:

1. Using Elephant Costumes on Horses

This was a very creative strategy that the Mewar Rulers mostly used. The plan was intended to fool the opposition elephants. Making the horses wear an elephant trunk would make them look like baby elephants. That way, the opposition’s elephants would consequently refuse to attack them with the perception that they were real baby elephants. Amazing, right?

Maharana Pratap used this tactic in the famous Haldi Ghati Battle.

2. Small Gates Inside Forts

This could sound useless, but it was an effective strategy back in the day. These small gates looked like construction errors to the enemy. The gates were so small that an opposing warrior would be forced to bend down to enter the fort. This would make things much easier for the host warrior standing next to the gate to attack the enemy. Sometimes, the small gates would lead nowhere but to a dead end. Scary, uh?

3. Placing South Indians On the Frontline To Confuse Pakistanis

This strategy was once deployed during a battle between India and Pakistan in the early 1970s. The South Indians used a strange language to communicate secretly on the battlefield. This tactic was implemented after the Pakistanis put up a superior language encryption system than India. So, the Indians had to come up with a comeback strategy in which they succeeded.





Featured Image Credits: Pahari School, Source: British Museum

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