Hinduism is a peaceful religion. Hindu spiritual practices
aim to inculcate the ideal of nonviolence among its practitioners.
However, Hinduism recognizes the need for war for righteous
Hindu warriors of ancient India were one of the most feared
valiant fighters of their times. They preferred to die in the
battlefield rather than submit to their enemies. Some of the
toughest and bloodiest battles of the ancient and medieval periods
were fought in India. If Indian kings lost their wars against
foreign aggressors it was not because they lacked courage or
fighting spirit, but because they were often betrayed by their
own trusted followers and counselors.
In Hinduism, a war is justified when it is fought to uphold
Dharma or protect the weak and the innocent. All the Hindu deities
have a warrior aspect about them and carry weapons of various
kinds. When challenged by the Asuras (demons) they participate
in wars on their own or seek the help of other gods to join
them in the fight.
The epics and the Puranas are filled with the instances of
wars fought between gods and demons and sometimes between gods
and gods. When challenged, tradition dictated that a warrior
should not withdraw from fighting or show any hesitancy.
Indian warriors exemplified the virtues of the great warriors
portrayed in the scriptures. In fighting their battles, they
followed the examples of gods and legendary heroes. They would
not turn away from the battlefield except under extraordinary
circumstances. Since they believed in rebirth, they considered
it an opportunity to die in the battlefield and go the warriors
heaven where enjoyments of various kinds awaited them.
Numerous battles were fought on the Indian soil from the
earliest times. The Vedas refer to the battle of ten kings.
Both the epics narrate the great battles fought in remote antiquity.
The kings employed spies and kept a close watch on neighboring
kingdoms. Often they entered into matrimonial alliances to strengthen
their position and relationships. As part of their ambitious
plans to expand their rule, they often went on long and grueling
campaigns travelling hundreds of miles to engage their enemies
in wars, which often lasted for months and resulted in huge
Indian armies were large and consisted of several divisions.
They were well maintained, and the soldiers were well paid.
Megasthanese wrote that Indian soldiers enjoyed a special status
in society. They were honored and respected for their valor
during peace times. And when there was a war they fought valiantly
with great spirit. The archers used large bows with which they
could penetrate any armor and strike fear.
Indian kings employed elephants to create diversion among
enemy ranks and create confusion. The elephants were captured
systematically and trained until they were battle ready. They
were served with an intoxicating drink before they were marched
into the battlefield by trained elephant riders. Mechanized
contraptions were used by the armies during the time of Mauryas
to throw large stones at the enemies. The battles were bloody
and the Indian soldiers showed no remorse when it came to physical
fighting. Indian swords were made of special alloys and prized
very much for their toughness.
Alexander personally witnessed the valor of Indian soldiers
and changed his campaign plans. Apart from elephants, Indians
used chariots and horses. Army commanders used numerous tactics
to defeat their enemies. They used several vyuhas or strategic
positioning of the soldiers in the battlefield to prevent the
enemy from breaking in.
Certain ground rules were observed by both sides during a
war, until foreigners invaded the country and changed the rules
and war tactics. Night fighting was not allowed. A warrior would
not fight with an opponent if he was already engaged in a fight
with another. Stabbing from behind or hitting below the navel
was considered a dastardly act. After the fighting was concluded
for the day, both sides were allowed to look for dying and dead
and clear the battlefield for the next day fight. A war continued
until one of the warring kings was killed, captured or surrendered.
In ancient India wars were fought mainly by men. Women
rarely participated in them. However, warrior women were not
uncommon in ancient India. They were trained warriors and participated
in wars without fear. Some of them were employed for spying
and killing the enemies deceptively. Chandragupta Maurya employed
many women in his administration as soldiers and bodyguards.
He lived in a large palace guarded by women warriors. When he
went into public he was surrounded by them. The trend was continued
by many kings. Indian history is replete with the names of many
brave warrior women who fought for their land. Even Akbar had
a hard time fighting against Rani Durgavathi (1524 - 1564) of
the Chandela Dynasty. Sri Krishnadeva Raya, one of the most
notable kings of the south had many warrior women serving in
his army. They also participated in contests and the public
display of their fighting skills.
Hinduism regards life not much different from a war. The
body is the battlefield, in which good and evil wage a relentless
war. The Bhagavad-Gita illustrates the point clearly. Waging
a war in life or on the battlefield is an obligatory duty, which
cannot be avoided. You must bring out your best to fight against
evil and subdue the enemy. Not fighting a war either mentally
or physically, when it is needed most, is bad karma. Similarly,
engaging in it with desires and expectations, especially evil
intentions, is also not good, since it leads to karma and bondage.
The best way to fight a war is with detachment, indifference
and as a service to God.
The Buddha preached the philosophy of nonviolence and integrated
it into the Eightfold Path. The concept of not hurting or harming
others formed the core practice of many ascetic traditions of
ancient India. Those who renounced worldly lives, eschewed all
forms of violence aimed to live in peace and harmony. Many spiritual
traditions of ancient India, including Buddhism and Jainism
made it an integral part of their essential teachings.
The spiritual masters of ancient India advocated nonviolence
when violence was a way of life in many parts of the sub-continent.
The kings fought among themselves regularly, which reflected
the harsh realities of the time in which they lived.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Asoka was the only ruler in the ancient world who tried to
introduce the concept of nonviolence as a state policy. His
law of piety exhorted people to practice nonviolence. Unfortunately,
his legacy was never carried forward by his successors.
In Hinduism, nonviolence was practiced mostly in the spiritual
field. It is difficult to say that the people of ancient India
were nonviolent. Fighting was an art and warriors took great
pride in their fighting abilities. Defending one's honor, women
and family interests against evil was upheld as an obligatory
duty. Non violence as a creed became famous during the British
rule when Mahatma Gandhi took it as the means to shake the British
Raj. However, Gandhi's nonviolence, as he himself said, was
not of the weak and timid. It was the weapon of the courageous
to face evil with equanimity of mind. Gandhi was successful
because he was both feared and respected by the British. Both
had a love for the law of the land. It is difficult to imagine
the fate of Gandhi and the Indian independence movement, had
India been colonized by the Germans, Spanish. We know from history
what these nations did to the people and their cultures when
they occupied their lands.
According to Hinduism, God is pleasant and indifferent under
normal circumstances. He would not interfere in the lives of
beings or their actions. However, when evil rises its head and
begins to oppress people, He incarnates upon earth to fight
with it and restore balance. Thus, God Himself sets an example
to humans what to do when they are oppressed by evil beings.
Defending yourself against evil doers is your duty and honor.
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