Principles of War in Dhanurveda (धनुर्वेद)

In the ancient Indian philosophical system, there are fourteen primary knowledge sources — the four Vedas, six Vedangs, Puranas, Meemamsa, Nyaya sastras and Dharmashastras.

Among four Vedas — Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, Atharvaveda — Dhanurveda is, a upaveda (applied knowledge), associated with Yajurveda. It was composed between 1100–800 BCE and deals with the knowledge of weapon systems, close combat and military science. It says that the primary objective of the war is to protect Dharma (the cosmic law). And, while discharging one’s dharma he or she must be aware of his or her own conduct and responsibilities towards the people under his or her command, and the environment.

Following is the excerpt of the Sloka (verse) 5 from Vasistha’s Dhanurveda in the Sanskrit language:

दुष्टदस्युचोरादिभ्यः साधुसंरक्षणं धर्म्मतः।

प्रजापालनं धनुर्वेदस्य प्रयोजनम्॥ (verse 5)

(The primary purpose of learning Dhanurveda is to protect saints, sages and seers (i.e.those are unarmed, harmless, and follows spirituality and preserves the soul of a kingdom) from evil and take care of one’s subjects (people) with dharma.)

Hence, the principles of war are neither immoral nor moral, but amoral. It is the application, the instruments used, the context, the conduct, the target, the proportion applied, and the impact that decides the direction, outcome and consequence of the war.

In the Hindu system of thoughts following are the priorities:

  1. Dharma (preservation of cosmic/universal law)
  2. Raj Dharma (duty to towards nation and its people)
  3. Raj Niti (conduct of state affairs and policies for the preservation of Raj Dharma)
  4. Koot Niti (Use of diplomacy and statecraft for the preservation of national interest and the universal good)
  5. Dhanurveda (If kootniti fails, then use war as the final option)
  6. Kanika Niti (And, if the option for direct war is not available, then use machinations to neutralise the enemy).

In Dhanurveda verse 4, the weapons systems are categorized into four types. Following are the types and their modern forms:-

Dhanurveda, verse 4
  1. Mukta- one that can be released from the hand. E.g. Hand grenade
  2. Amukta- one that cannot be released or left behind. E.g. personnel weapons, assault rifle.
  3. Muktamukta -one that may/may not be released from the hand. E.g. UBGL, miniature combat drones, knife (commando knife) etc.
  4. Yantra Mukta -one that can be released via mechanics/engines. E.g. Artillery, Missile systems etc.

(Reference: Vasistha’s Dhanurveda Samhita (translated) by Purnima Ray (2003))

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