The Mahabharata Research
An Introduction to weapons
A wide range of weapons were used during the Mahabharata period. From swords and javelines to Bows and Arrows there were a variety of weapons used by different class of warriors during the course of the epic. Though archery was the most talked about war skill, the Mahabharata period also had enormous importance to other short range weapons as well. The below section attempts a short overview of some of most common weapons used during the Mahabharata period.
A sword needs no introduction to anyone in modern world, as it was used extensively across the globe until the invention of gun powder. A sword is a bladed weapon intended for slashing or thrusting that is longer than a knife or dagger. Historically, the sword developed in the Bronze Age, evolving from the dagger. And it got replaced later with iron swords during the iron age. In Mahbharata era, swords were extensively used in duels. There are many fights described in the epic to be fought with swords. Nakula is described as an accomplished swordsman, though many of the other warriors are described to be efficient with the sword as well..
Spear has been used throughout human history both as a hunting and fishing tool and as a weapon. Along with the axe, knife and club, it is one of the earliest and most important tools developed by early humans. As a weapon, it may be wielded with either one hand or two. It was used in virtually every conflict up until the modern era, where even then it continues on in the form of the bayonet, and is probably the most commonly used weapon in history. In Mahabharata as well Spear is used for close range fight in duels as well as for hurling at the enemies for distant attack. Yudhistira is described to be excellent in the usage of spear as a weapon.
Axe was among the earliest metal tools invented by humans. It was primary used for cutting wood and was adopted by the tribals as a weapon to defend their terriroty along with other tools like hammers and Stones. In Mahabharata and Ramayana (as well as in the Bhagavata), the usage of axe as a weapon is revered to Parasurama (Bhargava), who used the Axe both as a tool to clean up some of the forest land across the western coast and make it cultivable as well as, as a weapon to defend his home/ashram from the King's soldiers. It went of to become Parasurama's weapon in the following revolt against the Kshatriya clan when he went around conquering kingdoms.
In Mahabharata as well, Axe had been employed as a weapon for short range attacks as well as for hurling at enemies. There are various instances where the epic describes the release of axe along with spears, stones etc at the enemy warriors.
Mace was the prime weapon of warriors who relied on sheer force in a duel. Balarama, Bheem, Shalya, Duryodhan, Jarasandha etc were all skilled mace users. The climax fight between Duryodhan and Bheem was as well a mace match. Mace was also thrown at enemy warriors to injure them with brutal force. This weapon was used in battles till Shivaji's period. (17th century) Alexander had received a blow from a mace. (300 BCE) 4 types of Mace fights ( Gada-yudha) are described in Mahabharata:
Rakshepa: weapon hurled at enemy
Vikshepa: close fight
Abhikshepa: hitting the opponent in front (of the holder)
Parikshepa: Fighting all around while in the midst of enemies.
In Hindu mythology, the trident is the weapon of Lord Shiva. Historically this was yet another tool that was developed during the bronze age as a fishing and hunting tool. Similar to the axe, this as well evolved as a weapon in tribal wars. The Mahabharata described the usage of trident as a distant attack weapon that could be hurled at the opponent army.
Bow and arrows
Archery was one of the prime warfare skills during the Mahabharata period. The most renowned and respected warriors were all Bowmen. Bows were generally made of bamboo, cane, horn or wood. The string was made of silk, cotton, entrails of buffalo, or bamboo bark. Arjun's Gandiva was made of wood and Karna's Viajaya was made of iron. Commonor bows were about 4.5 feet tall. The Gandiva and Vijaya were about 6.5 feet long. More the force it takes to bend the bow, more the force the bow releases, faster and farther the arrow flies, and harder it hits the target. The composite bows were built on this theory. Composite bows were made with horn for belly, wood or metal to give stiffness to the centre and sinew for back. Pinak, Shrang, Gandiva, and Vijaya were all composite bows.
Arrow heads were made of iron, and shafts were made of reed and bamboo. The name of the warrior was carved on the arrow. With a fine bow, an arrow could attain a speed of about 80 m/s. And could kill an enemy at a distance of 180 m. Poisoned arrows, and those having ignited matter wrapped at the tip, were forbiddden. Arrows have been in use in India for a long time. They were used as recently as 18th century in the third battle of Panipat. Many adivaasi tribes still use bows and arrows througout India.
At least 10 types of arrow heads were used in the MB war:
aramukh: serrated, like saw
ardhachandra: shaped like crescent of the moon.
naracha: steeped in oil, to make sure they pierce surely and smoothly.
The use of bows and arrows required learning it from a Guru. The knowledge of archery had progressed enough to call this knowledge as Dhanurved. 10 types of archery is mentioned: aadan, saNdhaan, moKshaN, vinivaRtan, sthaan, mushThi, prayog, prayashchitta, manDal and rahasya
Chakra is a throwing weapon. It is circular in shape with a sharpened outer edge and ranges in size from approximately 12–30 centimetres. Chakras are traditionally made from steel or brass which is beaten into a circular shape against an anvil with an indentation for the curvature. Two ends are connected with a piece of brass and then heated, forming a complete circle before the brass is removed. Some chakras, even those used in combat, were ornately engraved, or inlaid with brass, silver or gold. The chakra is half an inch to one inch wide and is typically between 5-12 inches in diameter. The smaller variations are known as chakri while the larger ones are called vada chakra which were as large as a shield.
The chakra's combat application is largely dependent on its size. Regular-sized (15+ cm dia.) steel chakra could be thrown 40–60 meters, while brass chakras, due to their better airfoil design, could be thrown in excess of 100 metres (330 ft). If properly constructed, it should be a perfect circle. Warriors trained by throwing chakram at lengths of green bamboo. In single combat, the chakram could be thrown underarm like a modern Aerobie. In battle, it was usually thrown vertically so as to avoid accidentally hitting an ally on the left or right side. A stack of chakra could be quickly thrown one at a time like shuriken. On elephant or horseback, chakras could be more easily thrown than spears or arrows. Because of its aerodynamic circular shape it is not easily deflected by wind.
The most iconic method of throwing a chakra is tajani, wherein the weapon is twirled on the index finger of an upraised hand and thrown with a timed flick of the wrist. The spin is meant to add power and range to the throw, while also avoiding the risk of cutting oneself on the sharp outer edge. An adept user can twirl the chakra while using another weapon with the other hand. In Mahabharata Chakra is always related strongly to Krishna. Krishna was probably the best wielder of Chakra in the Mahabharata period and is described in the epic to have wielded the Sudarshana Chakra, which is believed to be the iconic Chakra of God Vishnu.
The Epic also names a few other Chakras used by some of the other deties (Indra Chakra, Maheshwara Chakra etc)
Different kind of sophisticated war machines are in existence in modern world. The oldest direct references of gigantic machines to aid in warfare date back to the medieval period. Catapults and archery machines evolved to cannons and guns with the discovery of firepower. But simple mechanical devices mounted on Elephants or Chariots were in use much before the gigantic machines came to existance. In Mahabharata, there is no direct reference of any mechanical device/machine used in wars. But the mysterious description of some of the Mantramukta weapons are too hard to believe and an arguable reality could be that these mysterious weapons (like Narayanastra, Brahmastra, Rudrastra etc) are poetic references to some kind of war machines used to release multiple weapons at greater speed to cause higher degree of destruction. Many researchers of ancient weapons have finally arrived at the possibiity of the existence of war machines that got exaggerated as magical weapons of mass destruction in the epic over a period of time. It's indeed a mystery and highly debatable on whether such machines existed in pre-historic India.
Following warrior accessories were used during the MB war:
MB mentions chariots that were 4 / 8 wheeled. Drawn either by 2 / 3 / 4 oxen, horses or donkeys. It was driven by one person, had space for another warrior to ride (standing / sitting) with still more space to stack weapons. Its body and wheels were made of wood. Solid as well as spoked wheels were used. It could move at a speed of about 30 km/hr.
The axle might have been of tough cane-like bamboo. (requiring a narrow wheel base.) They were somewhat unstable and easily toppled by a strong man. In the MB War Bheem upsets these chariots by turning them over.
The chariot carried a staff (called as dhwaj but not to be taked as flag.) This staff hosted a symbol of the rider. Arjun's chariot carried an icon of Hanuman.
Different parts of chariot that are mentioned in MB and Rg Ved as Rath (Chariot), Rathavahan (Body of the chariot), Chakra (Spoked wheel / solid disc wheel), Nabhya (navel of the wheel), Ara (Spoke), Pavi (Tyre. Mostly made of metal), and Nemi (Felloe of a chariot wheel).
Chariot making was an industry during MB times. Driving a chariot required special skills and people of Suta class were skilled in this area. Horse breeding and looking after horses was also an occupation. Nakul(?) had taken this position during his stay with Virat.