Delhi Field Force March to Dehli

The British army storm the batteries at Battle of Badli-ki-Serai near Delhi, during the Indian Rebellion, 8th June 1857. A lithograph by W. Simpson, after a drawing by Captain G. F. Atkinson. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The Indian Mutineers selected Delhi as their capital, but, despite their attempts to drive the British off the nearby ridge, they failed to take the initiative. British reinforcements counterattacked the city and captured it after a desperate struggle.

In 1855 John Lawrence asked Reynell Taylor, the temporary Commandant of the Guides, to undertake a thorough review of the charges against Hodson relating to financial wrongdoing. The subsequent report, presented in March 1856, exonerated the former commandant. Taylor had gone through the accounts with a fine-tooth comb and considered them to be ‘an honest and correct record from beginning to end’. He had examined every claim of alleged irregularity and had found ‘Lieutenant Hodson’s statements borne out by the facts of the case’. Though the accounts had been ‘irregularly kept’, Hodson had inherited a highly unorthodox system from his predecessor. In a covering letter Taylor recommended a second court of inquiry to consider his own findings. John Lawrence’s response was that neither the Commander-in-Chief nor the new Governor-General, Lord Canning, saw the need for a new inquiry. They were, however, prepared to grant Hodson a ‘full acquittance’ on matters relating to the Corps’ accounts and thereby hoped to put an end to ‘this harassing and painful business’.

Hodson saw his ‘full acquittance’ for what it was — an attempt to sweep the matter under the carpet — and continued to demand a public inquiry. In April 1857 he travelled to Simla to lobby Anson in person and received a sympathetic hearing. ‘He would write himself to Lord Canning and try to get justice done me,’ wrote a delighted Hodson to his brother. ‘I do trust the light is breaking through the darkness and that before long I may have good news to send you.’ Anson never did write to Canning. News of the mutinies at Meerut and Delhi reached Simla a few days after his meeting with Hodson and thereafter he had more urgent business to attend to. But he had been impressed by the forthright subaltern and, after reaching Ambala, appointed him assistant quartermaster-general with special responsibility for intelligence. Hodson’s first task was to re-establish contact with Meerut, from which place only ‘very imperfect’ information had been received. He set off on 21 May, paused for a time at Karnal, where he was joined by an escort of the Raja of Jhind’s cavalry, and finally reached Meerut at daybreak on the 22nd. ‘He had left Karnal (76 miles off) at nine the night before,’ wrote an officer at Meerut, ‘with one led horse and an escort of Sikh cavalry and, as I had anticipated, here he was with despatches for Wilson! . . . Hodson rode straight to Wilson, had his interview, a bath, breakfast, and two hours’ sleep, and then rode back the seventy-six miles, and had to fight his way back for about thirty miles of the distance.’ He rested for a few more hours at Karnal and then continued on to Ambala, arriving in the early hours of 23 May. He had covered more than 250 miles in two days.

Anson was impressed and at once commissioned him to raise and command a corps of irregular cavalry. So came into being Hodson’s Horse, mainly Sikhs from the Amritsar, Jhind and Lahore districts of the Punjab. They too wore khaki tunics and could be distinguished from the Guides Cavalry by their scarlet turbans and shoulder sashes. Their commandant was even more distinctive. ‘A tallish man,’ wrote a contemporary, ‘with yellow hair, a pale, smooth face, heavy moustache, and large, restless, rather unforgiving eyes.’ He still suffered from migraines and wore tinted spectacles to protect his bright blue eyes from the fierce Indian sun. Yet as one of his British officers observed: ‘As a cavalry soldier he was perfection, a strong seat on horseback (though an ugly rider), a perfect swordsman, nerves like iron, and a quick, intelligent eye, indefatigable and zealous, and with great tact.’

Anson arrived at Karnal on 25 May. He was billeted in relative comfort with General Palmer, a retired sepoy general; his staff had to make do with the dak-bungalow where they were crammed in six to a room. Nevertheless it was Anson who fell ill with cholera on the morning of 26 May and was dead within twenty-four hours. He lived long enough to appoint Sir Henry Barnard, just arrived in camp, as his successor. ‘Barnard,’ he said faintly, ‘I leave you the command. You will say how anxious I have been to do my duty. I cannot recover. May success attend you. God bless you. Good-bye.’ ‘Poor General Anson!’ wrote Colonel Keith Young in his diary. ‘[Colonel] Chester returned about three in the morning to say he was dead, poor man. Chester tells me that he must have felt himself quite unequal to the present emergency; and anxiety of mind has had much to do with his fatal illness. He seems to be popular with very few; and the Native troops have apparently a great hatred for him, honestly thinking that he was commissioned to convert them. Quite a private funeral in the burial-ground in the evening, Chester reading the service.’

Both before and after his death, Anson was widely criticized for his plodding response to the outbreak. ‘He ought to have been before Delhi days ago,’ wrote a doctor at Nowgong in central India on 29 May. ‘The natives even ask what he is doing. Such delay is unpardonable, particularly as so much depends upon the celerity of his movements.’ Even Canning, while recognizing that Anson had faced many problems, was convinced that he had delayed unnecessarily.

With Anson dead, Barnard took charge of the force at Karnal and the dithering General Reed succeeded by right to the command of the Bengal Army. Only the Queen, acting on advice from the British government, could appoint Anson’s permanent successor as Commander-in-Chief of India. Yet a temporary replacement was essential, and Canning and his advisers plumped for 53-year-old Lieutenant-General Sir Patrick Grant, Commander-in-Chief of Madras and a former Adjutant-General of the Bengal Army. It was a brave decision because no Company officer had ever held the Supreme Command. But in the unique circumstances that then prevailed, it was thought right to appoint a vigorous officer who had an intimate knowledge of Indian troops. Grant did not reach Calcutta to take up his temporary appointment until 17 June. Until then, Reed was supreme in Bengal, and on 28 May, defying instructions from Calcutta to leave Barnard to his own devices, he left Rawalpindi to take charge of the force advancing upon Delhi. His already frail health deteriorated en route, however, and Barnard remained in command.

Born in Oxfordshire in 1799, the son of a parson, Barnard had been educated at Westminster and Sandhurst before joining the Grenadier Guards in 1814. Since then he had spent most of his career in staff appointments, including a stint as chief-of-staff to General Simpson, Lord Raglan’s successor in the Crimea. But he had also commanded a brigade and a division in the recent war against the Russians, and, though he had only been in India for a matter of months, Canning considered him the best man for the critical task of retaking Delhi. Described by a member of the headquarters staff as a ‘very good, gentlemanly little man’ who did not ‘want for pluck’, his early zeal seemed to confirm Canning’s judgement. ‘So long as I exercise any power,’ he wrote to Sir John Lawrence on 28 May, ‘you may rest assured that every energy shall be devoted to the objects I have now in view, viz., concentrating all the force I can collect at Delhi, securing the bridge at Baghpat, and securing our communication with Meerut.’

For a time Barnard was as good as his word. The bulk of his force set off from Karnal in the evening of 30 May and five days later was at Alipore, 11 miles north of Delhi. It left in its wake a trail of death and destruction. ‘We burnt every village,’ wrote Lieutenant Kendal Coghill of the 2nd Bengal Fusiliers, ‘and hanged all the villagers who had treated our fugitives badly until every tree was covered with scoundrels hanging from every branch.’ Some positively enjoyed this gruesome task. ‘There were eleven more villagers hung yesterday, to the great delight of Fawcett, Blair, and Evans, who nearly forfeited their dinner for the butchery,’ wrote an officer of the 9th Lancers to his wife on 4 June. ‘Hope [Grant, the CO] had to approve of their sentence, and gave directions about a strong enough rope just before he sat down. All this is very horrid work, preceding as it does the blood-stained horrors of the battle-field.’ Trials were little more than drumhead courts martial with officers and men vowing to kill prisoners whether they were found guilty or not. A private in the 9th Lancers wrote on 1 June:

News was gained today that it was here that some of the Europeans making their escape from Delhi were ill used and a Doctor, his wife and child, killed. Mr Hodson went to the village where the guilty parties were and some eleven prisoners were brought in. One among them, a young man who violated the lady and then killed her and also the infant child. They were all lodged in the Provost Guard and the Provost had hard work from keeping [the members of the guard] from taking the law in their own hands. As it was their heads were shaved and pork fat rubbed all over them and then spat in their mouths; according to their beliefs this sent their soul to hell and made them unclean. About 4 o’clock in the afternoon these men were all tried and sentenced to be hung at sunset. During the time their trial was going on a number of men assembled near to the tent armed with sticks and swore by all that was good if this man, the murderer, was not sentenced to be hanged they would beat his brains out on the spot. But when the Provost came out and announced their fate and pointing to a large tree at the same time, all were satisfied . . . At last they made their appearance under a strong guard. On reaching the tree the villains called upon their countrymen to avenge their blood, but not one dared to move. They were hung and buried under the tree . . . All these men confessed their guilt before death.

Sometimes trials were dispensed with entirely. Tales of atrocities against women and children, many of them exaggerated, had infuriated the British soldiers and almost any Indian male was considered fair game. Harriet Tytler, whose husband had been appointed paymaster to the Delhi force, was shocked to see the body of a harmless Muslim baker dangling from the branch of an acacia tree. ‘From what we could gather,’ she wrote, ‘this poor man had been late for several days with his bread for the men’s breakfast, so Tommie Atkins threatened to hang him if this happened again and so they did. I can’t understand how such a cruel deed was allowed, for they in turn should have been hanged, but I suppose a single soldier could not have been spared, even in the cause of justice.’

Meanwhile Brigadier Wilson’s force had finally left Meerut on 27 May. It was made up of six companies of the 60th Rifles, two squadrons of the 6th Dragoon Guards, a troop of horse artillery, a battery of foot artillery and a small number of Sappers and Miners: a total of one thousand men and fourteen guns, two of them 18-pounders. To avoid the worst of the sun the force marched at night and rested by day. The effect was debilitating none the less. ‘I hope Barnard’s force will move down soon,’ wrote Wilson from his camp at Ghazi-ud-din-Nagar on the left bank of the Hindan River, nine miles from Delhi, on 30 May, ‘for I am quite sure no European can long withstand the exposure we are now undergoing. The heat and dust are dreadful and we are all, particularly the officers, marching in the greatest discomfort, from the [Commissariat] not being able to supply us with carriage. I sit or lie all day with a wet towel round my head.’ He had, moreover, been sleeping in his boots, ‘ready to turn out at a moment’s notice,’ since the outbreak at Meerut. Second-Lieutenant Hugh Chichester of the Bengal Artillery found the dust a particular torment. ‘It is nothing but perpetual sand storms in the day,’ he informed his mother. ‘Your tent and everything one has gets covered, you swallow oceans, it is something abominable.’

At four in the afternoon of 30 May Wilson’s camp on the Hindan was fired upon by a mixed force of mutineers that had marched out of Delhi under the nominal command of Bahadur Shah’s grandson, Mirza Abu Bakr. The main rebel position was in a village on rising ground across the river. They had, in addition, placed two guns and a strong force of infantry to cover the 600-yard causeway across the Hindan. Ensign Everard Phillipps of the 11th Native Infantry was with two companies of riflemen ordered to take the bridge:

On reaching the bridge the two companies extended, two more came in support and the long range of the rifles forced the enemy to abandon the guns. The Colonel sent me down to order the two leading companies to reform on the causeway and take the guns at the point of the bayonets. One of the 11th’s colours was with the guns — the sepoys carried it off on our taking the guns. One sepoy, Dars Singh of the 11th, fired his musket into a cart full of ammunition. Captain Andrews, Wilton and myself and about nine men were around a tumbril when it blew up. Andrews was blown to pieces and four men killed. Wilton’s head was bruised — God only knows how I escaped. I’m merely bruised, just a little blood drawn from about five places . . . When the smoke cleared up the enemy had retired to a village strongly walled, on rising ground about 200 yards off. We fired a few shots and cleared it at the point of the bayonet. The sepoys fought like fiends — in one place we left about 35 dead all in a heap, killed altogether 50 and lost five men of rifles.

The rebels’ cause had not been helped by the antics of their inexperienced royal commander, who watched the early stages of the battle from the roof of a house near to the bridge. ‘From time to time,’ wrote Mainodin Hassan Khan, ‘he sent messages to his Artillery to tell them of the havoc their fire was creating in the English ranks . . . Presently a shell burst near the battery [at the bridge], covering the gunner with dust. The Commander-in-Chief, experiencing for the first time in his life the effects of a bursting shell, hastily descended from the roof of the house, mounted his horse, and galloped off with his escort of sowars into the rear of the position, not heeding the cries of his troops. A general stampede then took place.’ The British captured five guns, four of them heavy calibre.

That evening Wilson set up camp on the Delhi side of the river. The bridge was not considered strong enough to bear the weight of the guns so, with some difficulty, they were dragged through the quicksand of a nearby ford by teams of elephants and bullocks. The following day, shortly after noon, the rebels attacked again in even greater strength. ‘They had taken up nearly the same position as the previous day,’ wrote Second-Lieutenant Chichester, ‘only a little more to the right and a higher position. We could only see the muzzle of the guns peeping over the hill and they had a most capital protection from our firing. Having no end of heavy guns in position they made some excellent long and straight shooting. The grape rattled in amongst the troop of Horse Artillery like a hail storm, and the Artillery having only two heavy guns, the rest being 6- and 9-pounders, we found great difficulty in reaching them.’ Eventually the two 18-pounders were brought forward to support the horse artillery, causing the rebel fire to slacken. At this point Wilson ordered a general advance, and the enemy withdrew under the cover of a light field battery, so preventing the loss of any heavy guns. The British troops ‘were so knocked up by the sun and want of water’ that they were unable to pursue for long. Of the forty or so British casualties during the two-day battle, several died from the effects of the sun.

On 1 June Wilson’s small force was considerably strengthened by the arrival of six hundred Gurkhas of the Sirmur Battalion. With no news from Barnard it remained on the Hindan for two further days. Finally, during the evening of 3 June, the long-awaited order arrived: Wilson was to make for the bridge-of-boats at Baghpat and a rendezvous with the main force on the 7th. Both Hewitt and Hervey Greathed, who was accompanying Wilson as his political adviser, were against such a move because they thought it would expose Meerut and the Doab to rebel attack. Barnard and his staff considered such a threat to be negligible. ‘Our object is Delhi,’ recorded Colonel Young, ‘and everything must be sacrificed to this . . . as to Meerut itself, they have fortified the school of instruction and can hold their own against any number.’ Wilson was in agreement: ‘While we are before Delhi they will not dare to detach any large force from thence.’ Hewitt’s objections he put down to fear. ‘Old Hewitt is furious with me,’ he informed his wife on 3 June, ‘and says I shew him great disrespect because I pay no attention to his orders, quite forgetting that I am commanding a Field Force under the orders of Gen. Barnard and therefore independent of him. He is a dreadful old fool, and thinks of nothing but preserving his old carcase from harm.’ Wilson began his march on the night of 4 June and reached the bridge at Baghpat two days later. On the 7th he linked up with Barnard at Alipore. ‘I can’t tell you how well they all looked,’ Keith Young informed his wife, ‘the Brigadier himself in high health . . . [Captain] Edwin Johnson [Bengal Artillery] the picture of health; and Colonel Jones of the Rifles, as fat and rosy as ever.’

As the siege-train from Phillour had arrived a day earlier, there was nothing to prevent Barnard from continuing his march towards Delhi. He now had under his command the best part of four regiments of European infantry, two of European cavalry, three troops of horse artillery, two companies of foot artillery and a detachment of artillery recruits. The 60th Native Infantry and a squadron of the 4th Light Cavalry had been sent to Rohtak and Saharunpur respectively, and the only native troops now with Barnard were the Sirmur Battalion of Gurkhas, fifty sowars of the 4th Irregular Cavalry and a small quantity of sappers and miners. The total strength of the so-called Delhi Field Force was now around 3,200 men, most of them Europeans, with twenty-two field guns and twenty-four siege guns.

Barnard knew, thanks to William Hodson and his scouts, that his advance was barred by a strong rebel force in well-constructed positions at the village of Badli-ki-Serai, halfway down the Grand Trunk Road between Alipore and Delhi. It numbered about 9,000 men and thirty guns, and was commanded by Mirza Kizr Sultan, the uncle of the disgraced Abu Bakr. Barnard’s plan was to attack the rebels from three directions: the two infantry brigades would advance on either side of the road, while the cavalry, under Brigadier Grant, crossed the canal to the west of the village ‘with a view to taking the enemy in the flank’. The plan could have been disrupted by the arrival in camp of General Reed in the early hours of 8 June. Fortunately Reed was suffering from ‘severe sickness and fatigue’ and did not interfere with Barnard’s arrangements.

The British force left Alipore in darkness and appeared before the enemy positions at Badli-ki-Serai six miles west of Delhi, at dawn. As the assault brigades deployed in the plain, the artillery advanced to engage the rebel guns. But the latter were mostly heavy pieces and got the better of the early exchanges. ‘I have never seen such splendid artillery practice as theirs was,’ noted Lieutenant Kendal Coghill. ‘They had the range to a yard and every shot told.’ One staff officer told his son that he ‘was never under a hotter fire, even at Chilianwalla’. Hugh Chichester, who was with four heavy British guns — two 18-pounders and two 8-inch mortars — recalled: ‘We had marched about 5 miles when all of a sudden a bomb was heard, and the shots went right over our heads killing several, amongst them one or two officers.’ The most grievous loss was Colonel Charles Chester, the adjutant-general, who was hit in the side by a roundshot that also killed his white horse, ‘Sir Walter’. Keith Young was on the opposite side of the road when Chester fell and was shocked when he came upon his body. ‘It seems he lived for a minute or two after he was struck down,’ wrote Young, ‘and young Barnard, the Aide-de-Camp, jumped off his horse and went to his assistance, holding his head until he died. He was quite sensible at first, and spoke to Barnard, asking him to raise his head that he might look at his wound; and seeing . . . that he couldn’t live, he wanted Barnard to leave him, which he would not do, but gave him some water to drink, on which he said, “What’s the use of giving me water?” But it seemed to revive him a little, and he died without apparent pain.’

Finding that his light field pieces were unable to silence the rebel guns, and that he was ‘losing men fast’, Sir Henry Barnard ordered the 1st Brigade to charge the left of the rebel defences. Lieutenant Kendal Coghill recalled:

When [the 1st Brigade were] within 300 yards [the rebels] poured awful volleys of round shot, shell and grape into the line, but a hearty good English cheer and a charge at the double brought the 75th Foot and 1st Fusiliers on their guns and the bayonets did the rest. About 3000 of the enemy’s infantry, some cavalry and horse artillery bolted across towards our lines on the left and met the 60th Rifles and 2nd Fusiliers who gave them a few well directed volleys and then ceased firing for close in their rear a wing of our 9th Lancers charged across, cut up a lot and captured 2 guns! It was then our turn for the sport, so the left Brigade (ours) brought its left round, went through a large jungle or forest, killed all we found, went through a large village, rooted them out and potted them and then fired it. We then turned their guns on them, gave them a few rounds of grape into the retiring mass and by half nine that position was ours . . .

As at Ghazi-ud-din-Nagar, the rebel commander was the first to flee. Intercepted by Mahbub Ali Khan, the King’s chief minister, Mirza Kizr Sultan explained that he was ‘hurrying back to the city for more artillery and ammunition’ and, ‘in spite of all remonstrances, galloped away’.

The victorious British troops were hot, thirsty and exhausted. But Barnard was determined to push on to the Ridge and allowed just half an hour’s rest before ordering an advance. A short way beyond Badli-ki-Serai, at a fork in the road, Barnard split his troops into two columns. Brigadier Wilson led one to the right down the continuation of the Grand Trunk Road towards the picturesque suburb of Sabzi Mundi at the bottom of the Ridge. Barnard took the other to the left through the destroyed British cantonments. ‘I soon found,’ reported Barnard, ‘that the enemy had posted himself strongly on the ridge over the cantonments, with guns in position, and under the range of which we soon found ourselves; upon which I determined on a rapid flank movement to the left, in the hope of gaining the ridge under cover of the cantonments, and taking the position in flank.’ Lieutenant Coghill, whose 2nd Bengal Fusiliers were at the point of the attack, recalled:

At the foot of the hill we extended in skirmishing order about 8 or 900 of us and when we got within 100 yards of the top the word to charge was given and with a yell like so many demons we rushed up and in ten minutes the battery was ours — we spiked the guns and rushed after them down the opposite side of the hill until we were fairly done and then we came up and finished off some lurkers and some wounded men who shammed dead and potted at us. We killed two blackguard Englishmen who begged for mercy swearing they had been compelled to fight but had aimed over our heads, but as they had served the guns and every shot had come into our columns and they were recognised as great blackguards by their own men, the artillery, no mercy was shown and they were killed on the spot.

These two English rebels were deserters who had converted to Islam. One British officer attributed the accuracy of the rebel fire to their expertise as former artillerymen. Their summary execution was inevitable.

At Hindu Rao’s House, the deserted former home of a Maratha nobleman on the southern end of the Ridge, Barnard ‘had the satisfaction of meeting Brigadier Wilson’, whose column had had to fight the rebels the whole way into Delhi ‘through the strongest ground, gardens and villages that could be imagined’. There many of Barnard’s officers urged him to continue on into the city. But he refused, saying, ‘No, no, we will fight them in the open.’ It was, according to Mainodin Hassan Khan, a mistake. ‘If they had instantly marched on the city, the place would have fallen easily into their power . . . The hesitation on the part of the English inspired the Sepoys with confidence and, arming the city walls with guns, they soon began to fire shots in the direction of the cantonments.’

Barnard responded by placing pickets and gun batteries at four strong-points along the Ridge: (from north to south) the Flagstaff Tower, a ruined mosque, an ancient observatory and Hindu Rao’s House. The Sirmur Battalion of Gurkhas reached this last building, just 1,200 yards from the city walls, at around one in the afternoon. ‘Had just made ourselves comfortable,’ wrote Major Reid, ‘when the alarm was sounded. In ten minutes the mutineers were seen coming up towards Hindu Rao’s house in force. I went out with my own regiment and two companies of Rifles, and drove them back into the city. This, however, was not accomplished till five p.m., so that we were under arms for sixteen hours. Heat fearful. My little fellows behaved splendidly, and were cheered by every European regiment . . . They had (because it was a Native regiment) doubts about us; but I think they are now satisfied.’

Barnard may have missed a golden opportunity to retake Delhi. But he had won a great victory, nevertheless, thanks largely to the unflinching courage of his European infantry. Thirteen rebel guns had been captured, two of them 24-pounders, at a cost of 51 killed, 132 wounded and 2 missing. The rebel deaths alone were estimated at 400. As the fighting died down, Barnard ordered a tented camp to be set up on the old parade-ground, beyond the reach of the rebel guns on the city walls. The cantonments themselves were a scene of devastation, ‘only the walls standing, and things lying about the roads in every direction — broken dinner-sets, music-books, etc.’ But this was nothing compared to the carnage of the battlefield. Harriet Tytler, who accompanied her husband over the ground in the afternoon, remembered seeing scores of dead British soldiers lying neatly in a row. The rebels, including members of her husband’s regiment, were left where they fell. ‘I saw some of our fine, tall, handsome men,’ she wrote, ‘lying somewhat swollen by the heat of those four hours and stark naked, for every camp follower robbed them of their gold and silver jewels, and the last comers of the clothes on their bodies, leaving the poor fellows just as God had made them. Such handsome, splendid specimens of high caste Hindus. One man had a hole as large as a billiard ball through his forehead, a perfect giant in death. I could not help saying, “Serve you right for killing our poor women and children who had never injured you.”’

The following morning Henry Daly’s Corps of Guides marched into the British camp. One of the first officers to greet them was William Hodson, their former commandant. ‘It would have done your heart good to see the welcome they gave me,’ he wrote to his wife at Simla, ‘cheering and shouting and crowding round me like frantic creatures. They seized my bridle, dress, hands, and feet, and literally threw themselves down before the horse with the tears streaming down their faces. Many officers who were present hardly knew what to make of it, and thought the creatures were mobbing me; and so they were, but for joy, not for mischief.’ Everything about the new arrivals excited wonder in their onlookers. ‘The Guides Corps is a sight to see,’ noted a cavalry officer. ‘Their dress is highly peculiar and the men are chiefly of two sorts, viz., the tall, powerful, swarthy Afghan, and the short, muscular, olive-skinned Gurkha. They are the admiration of the camp, having marched 580 miles in twenty-two days — a feat unparalleled in the records of Indian marching.’ The epic trek was all the more incredible for having been accomplished during the feast of Ramadan and in the hottest time of the year.

The Guides had only been in the camp a matter of hours when they were given a further opportunity to impress. Shortly after two in the afternoon, the rebels launched a strong attack on the pickets at the southern end of the Ridge. Daly and his cavalry helped to drive them back to the walls of the city — but not without cost. ‘The men hotly engaged,’ recorded Daly, ‘Battye mortally wounded — noble Battye ever in front; Khan Singh Rosa hard hit; Hawes clipt across the face with a sword and many good men down. Men behaved heroically, impetuously.’ Lieutenant Quintin Battye, the popular commander of the Guides Cavalry, had been shot in the groin and died that evening. His last muttered words are typical of the patriotic sentiments expressed by many British officers at this time: ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.’

The British position on the Ridge was, in the words of one staff officer, ‘not only a coign of vantage for attack, but a rampart of defence’. The conundrum now facing Sir Henry Barnard was what to do next: dig in and await reinforcements or risk a surprise attack. Most of the officers on the Ridge, particularly the young ones, were for the bolder course. Any delay, they argued, would be to the advantage of the rebels, whose strength was increasing daily with the arrival of fresh mutineers. British numbers, on the other hand, could only decline in the short term. At first Barnard too seemed to favour the aggressive option. On 11 June he asked William Hodson and three young Engineer officers — Greathed, Chesney and Maunsell — to assess the feasibility of a sudden assault. That same day they reported that the Kabul and Lahore Gates had not yet been bricked up, that their bridges were still intact, and that troops could approach within 400 and 900 yards of them respectively under cover. They recommended blowing up both gates simultaneously, followed by a dawn assault by two columns.

Barnard approved the scheme and gave orders for it to be carried out during the morning of 13 June. The assaulting troops, including almost all the fit Europeans, were ordered to assemble at one in the morning. But at the appointed hour three hundred members of the 1st Bengal Fusiliers were missing. The duty officer, Brigadier Graves, was to blame. A couple of hours earlier he had received a verbal order from Barnard that all European troops on picket duty were to be withdrawn for special duty. This order included a ‘vague hint that a night-assault was in contemplation’. When Graves reached the Flagstaff picket, however, and realized that it was about to be left in the sole charge of Indian troops, he instructed the Europeans to stand fast while he galloped down to the general’s tent to seek confirmation of the original order. Barnard told him that every British infantryman was needed for an immediate assault. But he was evidently having second thoughts because he then asked Graves, who knew Delhi well, the assault’s chances of success. ‘You may certainly take the city by surprise,’ replied the brigadier, ‘but whether you are strong enough to hold it is another matter.’ This response is said to have shaken Barnard’s faltering resolve still further. It was, in any case, too late to carry out the original order, because, as one senior officer commented, ‘it would have been broad daylight before we could all get down to the Gates’. The operation had to be cancelled.

The majority of Barnard’s staff officers were secretly relieved. ‘Most fortunate, I think, that we did not attack,’ noted Keith Young in his diary, ‘for failure would have been death — and success was not quite certain; and we are not reduced to such a desperate state yet as to risk all. My own idea is — wait till the Sikh corps comes.’ There were, wrote Captain Norman, the acting adjutant-general, ‘few who did not feel that the accident which hindered this attempt was one of those happy interpositions in our behalf of which we had such numbers to be thankful for’.

But Barnard was still under intense pressure from Calcutta and the Punjab to capture Delhi. The plan for an assault, therefore, had been delayed rather than abandoned. ‘I have nothing left,’ Barnard informed Canning on 13 June, ‘but to place all on the hazard of a die and attempt a coup-de-main, which I purpose to do. If successful, all will be well. But reverse will be fatal, for I can have no reserve on which to retire. But, assuredly, you all greatly under-estimated the difficulties of Delhi. They have twenty-four-pounders on every gate and flank bastion; and their practice is excellent — beats ours five to one. We have got six heavy guns in position, but do not silence theirs, and I really see nothing for it but a determined rush, and this, please God, you will hear of as successful.’

The new assault was scheduled for the morning of 16 June. Twenty-four hours before it was due to take place, however, Barnard received word that 4,000 reinforcements were on their way from the Punjab. A council of war duly met in the afternoon of 15 June to decide whether the attack should go ahead. In attendance were Barnard, a fit-again General Reed, Brigadier Wilson, Hervey Greathed and the senior Engineer officers. Hervey Greathed was opposed to a further postponement on the political grounds that it would ‘disappoint expectations, protract the disorders with which the country is afflicted, increase the disaffection which is known to exist amongst the Muhammadan population in the Bombay Presidency, and cause distrust on the part of the Native allies’. Wilberforce Greathed, the young Engineer, was even more forceful in his advocacy of an immediate attack, ‘but his talk was too fiery and wild for any one to listen to’. Most of the senior officers present, on the other hand, were for delaying the assault until at least some reinforcements had arrived. Even Wilson, who had been urging an immediate assault, was now of the opinion that the Delhi Field Force was ‘perfectly safe’ on the Ridge and ‘with fresh troops’ would be able ‘to take Delhi with but little loss and with a certainty of destroying the mutineers’. But with so much at stake, a final decision was postponed until the following day.

At the reconvened council of war on 16 June, the balance was tipped in favour of delay by Archdale Wilson’s written assessment, which concluded: ‘It would be impossible, with the small force we now have, to leave a sufficient force for the protection of Delhi, and at the same time to send out such brigades as will be required. It appears to me a question of time only.’ Later that day Wilson informed his wife: ‘It has been decided principally at my recommendation to delay the assault till we are joined by the moveable column from Lahore.’ No one was more tormented by the decision than Sir Henry Barnard. ‘I confess,’ he wrote to Sir John Lawrence on 18 June, ‘that, urged on by the political adviser acting with me, I had consented to a coup-de-main . . . accident alone prevented it; it may be the interposition of Providence. From what I can hear, and from the opinion of others whom it became my duty to consult, I am convinced that success would have been as fatal as failure . . . Be sure that I have been guided by military rule, and that it required moral courage to face the cry that will be raised against our inactivity before Delhi; I can but act for the best, and wait any favourable opportunity for striking the blow.’

Was it a mistake to delay? Probably. General Rose would demonstrate during the Bundelkhand campaign of 1858 what a bold commander could achieve with limited resources. Every day that Barnard remained on the defensive at Delhi, his position became relatively weaker. By 21 June nearly half the native corps in the regular Bengal Army had mutinied, partially mutinied or been disbanded. They had been joined in rebellion by three local corps, the whole of the Oudh Irregular Force, the Malwa Contingent, the Bharatpur Legion and most of the Gwalior Contingent. A further thirteen regiments of native infantry, six of cavalry, seven companies of foot artillery and two troops of horse artillery had also been disarmed by this time. In the majority of cases — as if in confirmation of Ahsanullah Khan’s claim that it was agreed by the conspirators beforehand — the mutinous corps headed for Delhi. But only a relatively small number of trained Bengal troops, perhaps a couple of thousand in all, had reached the Mogul capital by the time the first council of war was held on 15 June. Over the next ten days, however, the rebels at Delhi were augmented by mutinous elements of a further ten regiments of infantry, two of cavalry and one artillery battery from stations as far afield as Nasirabad in Rajputana, Bareilly in Rohilkhand and Jullundur in the Punjab: roughly 7,000 troops in all. During the same period the British at Delhi received fewer than a thousand reinforcements. The possibility of a successful assault was becoming ever more distant; and while Delhi remained in the hands of the mutineers, the rebellion would continue to spread.

Battles of Maharajpore and Punniar 1843


Gough, quick to react , ordered a full reconnaissance of the enemy positions (conducted by General Harry Smith, serving on his staff, and also accompanied by the Governor General Lord Ellenborough ) which suggested that he was faced with up to 15,000 men , including several thousand cavalry, and possibly 100 guns. The Mahrattas were drawn up with their left on the River Asan. Their right flank was open, as if they were expecting reinforcements from that direction. Several villages had been fortified, including the village of Maharajpore, some distance to the front of the main position. Having found out where the enemy were, Gough ordered a frontal assault whilst the enemy’s left was turned.

Goughs force was divided into three columns. The Right Column, under the one-armed veteran of the Peninsula and Waterloo, General Thackwell. and the Centre Column under General Valiant, were to fall upon and turn the enemy’s left flank, whilst the Left Column under General Littler would assault their front.

The terrain in front of the Mahratta positions was cris-crossed with ravines, but despite this all three columns, setting out before dawn, reached their start points without mishap or delay. Littler’s column reached their position first and halted about one mile from the village of Maharajpore. This village was fortified and held by a strong force of infantry and artillery Little could be seen of the rest of the enemy positions due to the extreme flatness of the ground and the high crops of corn which obstructed the view almost completely, Gough spent almost an hour within quarter of a mile of the Mahratta pickets, and did manage to observe that the village was too far in front of the main enemy line at Chonda and Shirkapore to be afforded any support. At 8.30am he ordered the assault to commence regardless of the fact that he had no real idea of the enemy strength and deployment, nor of the terrain to his front!

Gough ordered up his 8 ” howitzers to bombard the village whilst the horse artillery troops of Grant and Alexander deployed within 500 yards of two enemy heavy batteries, both of which they silenced, the position being stormed by infantry from Valiants brigade. Meanwhile Littler’s infantry was deploying under heavy artillery fire for an assault on the village whilst on the extreme left Scotts Native Cavalry Brigade had repulsed a determined attack by a large body of Mahratta horse. Some of Littler’s sepoys began to waver under the weight of fire, but were urged on by Gough. The 39th Foot led the assault with the bayonet. Casualties from artillery fire were heavy, but despite storms of grapeshot the village was reached and the gunners killed defending their guns to the last. Within half an hour the defenders of the village had been destroyed and the village itself was ablaze. The heavy howitzers were not responsible for this, as they had not yet opened fire.

There now remained the problem of the main enemy position, around Chonda and Shirkapore. Both were heavily entrenched and some of the batteries were so well hidden that they were almost invisible. Again no tangible intelligence of the enemy deployment was available and the attack went in blind.

General Valiant manoeuvred around Littler’s rear and attacked Shirkapore, led by H.M. 40th Foot. Casualties including the Colonel and Second-in-Command of the 40th were again heavy as three successive lines of previously unobserved entrenchments were stormed at bayonet-point before the village was taken. Again the Mahratta gunners stood by their guns to the last. The village taken, Valiant turned towards the right flank of the enemy main position.

Meanwhile, Grants Horse Artillery was again in the thick of it, having galloped to within point blank range of a battery 12 enemy guns. (The reason for this apparent dash may be that severely outranged by the enemy cannon, it was better to get in close and at least return their fire.) So rapid and accurate was Grant’s fire that the enemy gunners were several times driven from their guns for a while, which enabled Littler’s infantry, headed by H.M. 39th , to roll up the Mahratta line from left to right with far less loss than could have been the case . The capture, by the Grenadier company of H.M. 39th, of a small entrenchment mounting four guns on the far left of the Mahratta position marked the end of the engagement. The Mahrattas ceased to form an effective fighting force and withdrew from the field. leaving over 50 guns and much of their baggage. Pursuit was not possible as Thackwell’s cavalry were halted by an impassable ravine, although he was later censured by Gough for not having carried out a more effective pursuit. Exactly how is open to some conjecture.

Casualties were quite heavy (almost 800), the 39th losing over 200 and the 40th almost that number. The artillery suffered less than 50 casualties, despite its point-blank exchanges with the enemy. Of the native regiments, most were not engaged although the 16th Bengal Native Infantry were alone in suffering any great loss: 179 dead and wounded. It was the opinion of many that the sepoys fighting ability was becoming questionable at best! Criticism was made by Sir Harry Smith o the poor standard of training and initiative shown among the officers of the Indian Army , e. g. the heavy battery failed to engage the enemy because their commander would not open fire without direct orders to do so, despite being only half a mile from the enemy positions!

Meanwhile, General Sir John Grey had commenced his march on Gwalior. Finding his route blocked by the enemy, he turned south towards Punniar to outflank the Mahratta posItions.

His line of march took him parallel with some hills, at a distance of only a few hundred yards from his right flank Despite the fact that Grey must have known that the Mahrattas were in force somewhere on the other side of the hills. he failed to send out any sort of flank guard or even patrols to the summit of the hills to see what was on the other side! So, with a line of march some 10 miles long , with no idea of the lay of the land or he presence or location of any enemy , save what the vanguard and rearguard might have told him , the front of the column reached Punniar at around three in the afternoon , only to hear the sound of guns coming from the rear of the column. Panic stricken native cavalry reported that the rearguard was under attack and being cut to pieces!

Before too long the troops were reassembled and reinforcements of cavalry and artillery sent to the rearguard’s aid. It then dawned on Grey just what was happening – the Mahratta force he was trying to outflank had been marching parallel with him on the other side of the hills! Some of their artillery was entrenched in a village near Punniar taking pot-shots at his baggage, whilst their main body occupied some high ground on the other side of the hills about four miles to his east.


Grey’s first order was to send H.M. 3rd Foot (The Buffs) and a detachment of Bengal Sappers and Miners straight over the hills to whatever fate befell them, as he had no idea whether they would encounter any enemy troops due to the dead ground between the hills and the main enemy position on hills further east! Predictably, they reported that the enemy were in position over the hills in great strength and requested reinforcements which Grey sent in the form of H. M. 50th Foot and two Bengal Native Infantry battalions under Colonel Anderson of the 50th Anderson’s Brigade crested the hills , under heavy but ineffective artillery fire, to the right of the Buffs, to face a deep valley filled with Mahratta infantry, behind which was an entrenchment holding four heavy guns. Descending the slope, Anderson’s troops took shelter in a dried upriver bed and commenced pouring volleys into the enemy. With the light fading fast, and Grey (possibly thankfully!) nowhere to be seen, Anderson ordered his men to charge. The valley was cleared and the guns taken, their gunners defending them to the death. On their left the Buffs, under even heavier fire, braved the storm of grape and captured eleven enemy guns. Again the Mahratta gunners stood by their pieces to the last and were killed to a man.

With this, and the onset of night, the extremely confused (and confusing) battle came to an end. Casualties among the two Queens battalions had again been high, as they had borne the brunt of the fighting. Out of a total loss of 213 casualties The Buffs lost 72, the 50th lost 42, and only the 39th Bengal Native Infantry suffered greatly with 62 out of a total of 97 Native casualties. Mahratta casualties were reported by Grey as being very heavy, but this is difficult to substantiate.

With these two battles the campaign was over, and on New Year’s Eve the Rani came into the British camp and a treaty was signed. The Gwalior army was greatly reduced, to around 10,000 infantry, 6,000 cavalry and 32 guns. The native contingent, under British officers was reduced to a strength of 10,000 .

As for the Generals, it is possible to criticise Gough for his handling of the battle of Maharajpore insofar as he attacked headlong and totally blind against an enemy well entrenched and far his superior in numbers and artillery. By his own confession Gough underrated the Mahratta forces, and was influenced by the presence of a number of political personages including Lord Ellenborough, Governor General of India , and may have made decisions based on their advice or influence. Gough should have known better if he had any understanding of the effects of similar influence from ‘Politicals’ during the Afghan War, and a possibly unhealthy precedent was being set for a Governor General to accompany the Commander-in Chief with the Army into the field , e. g. Hardinge during the Sikh Wars.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that, like Napier in Sind. he unknowingly marched his army straight into a trap, like Napier he fought his way out of it to eventual total victory.

Grey at Punniar is another case altogether. His performance hardly suggests that he was a very competent commander, nor were his brigadiers much better. His failure to use his cavalry during the battle, or after in pursuit, and his orders to blind send a battalion over the top in the face of heaven knows what does not suggest any particular grasp of basic military theory. The officer in command of the brigade which included the 50th Foot had accidentally shot himself with a pistol a few days before the battle. Prior to this he had failed to demonstrate any ability at all, even for peace-time soldiering, and was constantly asking Colonel Anderson of the 50th for advice! It is therefore fair to say that had the Battle of Punniar NOT been a confused affair led by the Colonels of the two Queens battalions then the result may have been very different.

It is interesting to note one other aspect of this albeit which did much to set the seal on military tradition since then; that is the awarding of medals to all participants in the campaign, rather than just a few of the senior officers.

In order to make the most of the victory Lord Ellenborough issued a bronze medal to each of the soldiers of all ranks who had participated in the campaign. This was not unusual for him as at the close of the Afghan War medals had been issued to troops for Jalalabad, Ghazni and the Afghan Campaign as a whole. This had stirred up a lot of discontent from various quarters.

One school of thought , including the Duke of Wellington was against the issuing of campaign medals to all ranks (the Waterloo Medal didn’t count!) and the Duke of Richmond alluding to the Afghan disasters, stated in Parliament that “Only suffer a disaster, and you will get a medal to revive your spirits”. On the other hand persons like General Sir de Lacy Evans and Lord John Russell were for the awarding of campaign medals for all ranks, including back-dating such awards to include the Napoleonic Wars-no easy task! Whatever the arguments, the precedent was set and campaign medals have been issued as a matter of course to all ranks with clasps for different actions and rainbow ribbons, ever since Lord Ellenborough’s time as Governor General of India.


Gwalior Campaign (1843) In 1843, the East India Company was concerned about the turbulence and intrigue surrounding the succession and rule of an adopted child-heir in Gwalior, the stability of that state, and the potential threat of the Gwalior military to the British. There was apprehension that the Maratha resistance against company rule could be renewed, and it was reported that the dissidents in Gwalior were secretly seeking support from the Sikhs and other princely states. After the British humiliations in Kabul and at the Khyber Pass during the First Afghan War, the company’s military reputation and credibility needed bolstering. The governor-general, Lord Ellenborough, attempted to discuss the situation with the Gwalior council of regency, but when he was rebuffed, company forces attacked Gwalior to suppress its military force.

Company armies were assembled at Agra, under the commander in chief, Lieutenant General (later Field Marshal Viscount) Sir Hugh Gough, and at Jhansi, commanded by Major General John Grey. The two forces, beginning their march on 17 December 1843, were to converge on Gwalior, Gough’s from the north and Grey’s from the south.

The Mahratta Army of Gwalior established strong defensive positions at Chonda on the Asun River. Due to the difficult terrain, Gough’s force was divided into three columns. He intended to turn the enemy’s left flank with his cavalry and infantry, threaten the enemy’s left flank , with the main attack being a frontal assault.

Reportedly with no scouts in advance, Gough’s force m arched out of its assembly area early on 29 December 1843 and arrived at the village of Maharajpore. The Mahrattas had established new positions at this advance location, and this forced Gough to change his plan. What appeared to have been a flat plain between the forces was in fact ground devoid of cover and full of ravines. Th is made it impossible for the infantry, cavalry, and artillery to coordinate their actions, and when Gough’s force came with in 1,500 yards of the village, the well-trained Mahratta artillery opened up a murderous fire. Gough’s response was simply, “On and at them!” (Featherstone 1992, p. 33).

Gough’s three infantry and two cavalry brigades, totaling about 6,500 soldiers with 30 field guns, attacked the 17,000 Mahrattas. Amid the smoke, confusion, bad terrain, and fierce fighting, the British force was finally able to overcome its adversary. The British loss es totaled 797 all ranks killed, wounded, or missing. The Mahrattas suffered over 3,000 men killed and wounded and lost 56 guns. Gough admitted to underestimating his foe. The Battle of Maharajpore was a ‘soldiers victory’ won by the bayonet without the benefit of tactics, strategy or manoeuvring. Gough displayed no generalship whatsoever and gave but one order” (Featherstone 1973, p. 50).

On the same day, 29 December 1843, Grey’s force reached the village of Punniar, about 12 miles south of the Gwalior Fortress. A Mahratta force suddenly attacked Grey’s long bag- gage train. He sent half his horse artillery and a cavalry element to the rear of his column, and this saved the baggage.

In the afternoon, Grey’s force was threatened by 12,000 Mahrattas positioned on high hills to the east. Grey ordered the 3rd Foot and sappers and miners to conduct a frontal assault, while the 39th Native Infantry attacked the Mahratta left flank. The 3rd Foot’s determined assault was successful, and it drove the Mahrattas from their positions and captured 11 guns. At the same time, the 39th Native Infantry seized a hill that dominated the Mahratta position. After numerous volleys, the 39th rushed to the Mahratta positions and captured 2 guns, while the 2nd Brigade, which had been held in reserve by Grey, attacked and shattered the enemy right flank, capturing 11 more guns. The entire British force then advanced against the crumbling Mahratta defenses. The Mahrattas fled the field, abandoning their 16 remaining guns and more than 1,000 casualties. British total casualties at the Battle of Punniar were 217 all ranks and 11 horses.

These two decisive victories ended the short Gwalior campaign, and the Gwalior regency capitulated. Gough’s and Grey’s forces linked up at Gwalior a few days later, and on 31 December 1843 a treaty was signed that reduced the Mahratta Army, established a British resident in the capital, and provided for the British occupation of the Gwalior Fortress.

Edward Armitage (1817-96) The Battle of Meanee, 17 February 1843

The Passage of the River Chumbal by the British Indian Army’. . London, c.1850. Lithograph by Dickinson & Co. after Capt. Charles Becher Young. India. Military. Source: P801.

British Uniforms

The year following the conclusion of the Afghan War saw two further campaigns in India: the Conquest of Scinde and the very brief Gwalior Campaign against the Mahranas, sometimes known as ‘The 48 Hours War’. Sir Charles Napier conquered the Balucltis of Scinde with a force containing only one British infantry regiment, the 22nd, which distinguished itself at the Battles of Meanee and Hyderabad on 17 February and 24 March 1843 respectively. The regiment is shown at Meanee in a large painting exhibited in 1847 by Edward Armitage RA, reproduced herewith. Armitage was not primarily a battle painter but his military subjects are executed with precision, and for this painting he acquired material through the help of Napier’s brother, William. The 22nd’s officers are in uncovered forage caps and either frock coats or shells, while the men wear their dress coatees and locally-made blue-grey trousers. Their peaked forage caps, probably of the ‘pork-pic’ type, have white covers and curtains.

Paintings of Meanee and Hyderabad (sometimes called Dubba) were executed by GeorgeJones RA, advised by Napier’s officers. Napier preferred Jones’s rendering of the action to Armitage’s, but his style was less attentive to costume detail and his Meanee painting shows the 22nd in coatees but with winter trousers and white-covered shakos with curtains. However, his Hyderabad painting depicts similar dress to Armitage, so possibly the conflicting headdress and trousers resulted from misinterpretation of information he received. The latter painting also includes a troop of Bombay Horse Artillery in its full dress; its helmets had black manes and a brush on the front of the crest, whereas those of Bengal and Madras had red manes and no brush.

In Scinde Napier used 350 men of the 22nd as camel-mounted infantry in pairs for his expedition to the desert stronghold of Imamgarh.

Two battles, Punniar and Maharajpore, were fought on the same day-29 December 1843-in Gwalior. A lithograph after Capt. Young, Bengal Engineers, of troops crossing the River Chumbal before Punniar has a small figure, probably of the 9th Lancers, all in dark blue and white-covered lance-cap. At this date the 9th wore a wide waist belt, similar to the Heavy Cavalry’s, instead of the girdle. At least one officer of the 39th Foot fought at Maharajpore in a shell jacket, for the garment in which Ensign Bray was killed is preserved, together with his forage cap and colour belt, in the Dorset Military Museum. Tn the same museum is an unsigned watercolour entitled ‘European troops halting’. From the green-faced shells, the ’39’ marked on a pouch and a haversack, and from the fact that the 39th left India soon after Maharajpore, it must depict that regiment in the Gwalior Campaign. The style resembles the work of” an officer of Bengal Native Infantry, B. D. Grant, whose other drawings will be met later. All the forage caps have white covers, but while most must be of the ‘pork-pie’ type, two are of the former broad-crowned pattern. Their pale blue-grey trousers must be locally made. In addition to their cross belts, the men have haversacks and the narrow waist belt described earlier. They are armed with the new percussion musket and have a small black pouch, containing the caps for this weapon, attached to the waist belt to the right of the clasp.

The appearance of a complete British regiment in India at this period is shown in a panorama titled Line of March of one of H. M. Regiments in Guzerat, drawn in 1845 by Lt. Steevens, 28th Foot, which was employed on the periphery of the Scinde Campaign. This shows the regiment in shelljackets, bright blue trousers, and forage caps annotated by the artist: ‘The forage cap is covered with quilted cotton, with a curtain hanging down behind, as a protection from the sun’. The men are accoutered as described for the 39th but without waist belts.


Chandragupta had defeated the remaining Macedonian satrapies in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent by 317 BCE.

Around 321 BCE Chandragupta Maurya established himself as the ruler of the Indian kingdom of Magadha, supplanting the long- established and powerful Nanda dynasty. Although little historical evidence has survived of this conflict, it appears that Chandragupta took inspiration from Alexander the Great, whom he may even have met. His campaign against the Nanda was probably fought using popular guerrilla tactics. His forces drew a noose gradually tighter around the Magadha capital, Pataliputra (now Patna), until the overwhelmingly superior Nanda army was defeated.


Once in possession of the resources of a kingdom, Chandragupta seems to have used them to create a highly organized regular army, plentifully supplied with weaponry, chariots, war elephants, and horses. A Greek envoy to India, Megasthenes, was impressed by the high morale of Chandragupta’s soldiers, whom he described as “of good cheer”, a state of mind perhaps sustained by the high wages that they were paid in peace as in war. Although Magadha was in northeastern India, roughly in the area of modern-day Bihar and Bengal, Chandragupta extended his rule far to the west and south. He fought a war against Seleucus Nicator, Alexander’s former  general, who ruled the northwest of the Indian subcontinent, taking from him an area stretching from Punjab and Kashmir north into Kandahar and Baluchistan. In later years  he led his  armies south  into the Deccan.

Chandragupta’s armed strength can be gauged from his gift of 500 elephants to Seleucus to seal their peace agreement in 303 BCE – an astonishing number of valuable animals for a ruler to feel able to spare. In old age Chandragupta abdicated in favour of his son, Bindusara, bequeathing the most extensive empire seen in India up to that date.

When Alexander the Great withdrew from India, he left the defeated king Porus as vassal of an expanded kingdom. Porus remained loyal to Alexander and his successors, but he encouraged the Indian prince, Chandragupta, who emulated Alexander himself. Chandragupta had met Alexander and had been introduced to the Macedonian way of war, though he, and other Indian kings, preferred to continue using war elephants and chariots in a four-part division of their armies—elephant, chariot, cavalry, foot. After the death of Alexander Chandragupta raised an army and defeated the Macedonians in India. Buoyed by this success, he overthrew the king of Magadha—Magadha, centered on the Ganges and patron of the Buddha, was the most powerful state of some 120 independent kingdoms in India.

Chandragupta (reigned 321-297) expanded his power along the Ganges and into the Indus valley, where he had to contend with Seleucus Nicator in 305. The details of their battles are lost, but Seleucus ceded all territory east of the Indus and the western provinces of Arachosia and Gedrosia. In return Chandragupta presented Seleucus with 500 war elephants and took a daughter in marriage. (Seleucus was forced to keep his attention on his wars in the west and prepare for an impending battle—Ipsus—with his rivals.) Chandragupta founded the Mauryan Empire. His empire encompassed the whole of northern Indian and Afghanistan. A curious story relates that when a famine struck his kingdom, Chandragupta joined the religious sect of the Jains, abdicated, and accompanied a party of Jains south in search of better conditions. There he starved himself to death. His son (who took the title Slayer of the Enemy) increased the size of the empire and passed it on to his own son, Asoka.

Chandragupta organized his empire around the central point of his capital city, Patna. He maintained a standing army (according to contemporary reports) of 300,000-600,000 infantry, 30,000 cavalry, and 9,000 elephants. By now the chariot, though still a royal status symbol, was obsolete. Indian rulers lived a life of warfare, hunting, gambling, and sports (a race between chariots pulled by combined teams of horses and oxen was popular). Chandragupta feared assassination, as he was quite ready to encourage the assassination of rival kings, and so he did not sleep in the same bedroom two nights in a row. He was an absolute monarch at the head of a fully organized and closely controlled bureaucracy. One bureau had charge of the military and was divided into six boards controlled by five men each: navy, quartermaster, infantry, cavalry, chariot, and elephant. The army was to be recruited from “robbers, mountain men, gangs, forest people, and warrior clans.” Soldiers were to receive a regular salary and their equipment, but they had to be mindful of the guiding principle of Mauryan government—the art of government is the art of punishment.

Chandragupta’s right-hand man, Kautilya, is the supposed author of a work on politics and war (the Arthasatra) that describes, summarizes, and advises on the situation of the time of Chandragupta. There are sections on the duties of the ministers of the boards of elephants, boards of chariots, and boards of infantry—to inspect the troops, to check their equipment, their proficiency in training (“in shooting arrows, throwing clubs, wearing armor, fighting seated in a chariot, controlling the team of horses”), and their pay. Among sections on organization and punishment (appropriate tortures) are chapters on when and how to attack, to make and betray allies, to feign peace, and to use spies to gather intelligence. “If you face two enemies, one strong and one weak, which should you attack first? The strong, because once he is defeated, the weak will capitulate without a fight.”

Part 10 offers advice on war. The king’s camp should be sited by the commander, an astrologer, and the engineer. It should be divided into nine parts with six roads. The quarters for the king should be surrounded by trenches, parapets, and a wall with gates. There should be a place for his harem and the harem guard, his financial officials, the gods and their priests, stables for the royal mounts (elephants and horses), quarters for infantry, chariots, cavalry, elephants, and free labor, for merchants, prostitutes, hunters, spies and guards. People should not be allowed to come and go. Drinking, parties, and gambling are prohibited. Wells should be dug in advance all along the way.

“Armies in good locations will defeat armies in bad.” The best rate of march is ten and a quarter miles a day. There are different formations for marching. Provisions and water must be supplied in advance. “Strike the enemy when he is caught in unfavorable terrain.” Deceive the enemy, feign defeat. Look for places to put ambushes. Harass the enemy at night to prevent his sleeping. Before a pitched battle the king says to his troops, “I’m being paid just like you. You and I will both profit from this conquest.” The priests encourage the army. Priests (and poets) should say that heroes go to heaven and cowards go to hell. Offer cash rewards for acts of bravery.

The army’s back should be to the sun. “When a defeated army resumes its attack, it cares not whether it lives or dies, its fury cannot be resisted; let a defeated army flee.” The different divisions of the army do better on different terrain. The best terrain for the chariot is dry ground that is firm, level, and free of wagon ruts, trees, plants, vines, and thorns. The duties of the four armies is described in detail. The order of the army arranged for battle is: the strongest troops will lead the attack from center, left, and right. Once the enemy is broken, the weaker troops in reserve will destroy the enemy. The king should station himself with the reserve. “Never fight without a reserve.”

The moral of the Arthasatra is to deceive and divide your enemies without allowing them to deceive and divide you. “When an archer shoots an arrow, he may miss his target, but intrigue can kill even the unborn.” In part the Arthasatra is a manual of organization of the army. Chandragupta relied on a core of trained men supplemented by levies of militia and by mercenaries (independent war guilds that sold their services to the highest bidder). There were mercenary corps (guilds) of elephant troops.

The elephant was now the royal mount of the kings. Elephants were armored, had neck ropes and bells, and they carried hooks and quivers, slings, and lances. Seven men rode their backs, employing the different weapons. The elephant was used to connect different elements of the army, to guard the flanks when advancing and to guard the rear in retreat. An army might have 8,000 chariots, 1,000 elephants, 60,000 horse; an ideal division of an army would have 10,000 horse, 2,000 elephants, 10,000 foot, and 500 chariots. A unit organized to care for the wounded followed the army.

Asoka (reigned 274-232) began his reign as his father and grandfather before him—an autocrat devoted to the hunt, feasts, gambling, and war—but the campaign he led against the Kalingas (a people on the middle of the southeast coast) changed his life and the life of the whole of India. He wrote (paraphrased), “I conquered Kalinga in the eighth year of my reign (261 B. C.) and had 150,000 people carried off as prisoners, I was responsible for 100,000 slain, and many times 100,000 died. Then I suffered remorse for having conquered the Kalingas because conquest of an independent country necessitates the slaughter and the capture of the people. I regret this. Now I desire that all living creatures—even the people of the forest who I wish would mend their ways—live in peace without fear.”

True conquest (according to Asoka) depended upon the conquest of men’s hearts. Among these true conquests he included disparate people in his own domains, neighbors, and the kings of Ptolemaic Egypt, Cyrene, Asia Minor, and the Seleucid empire. Such conquests win favor in the next world, too. Asoka sponsored Buddhist missions to the Hellenistic kingdoms, to Ceylon (where they rapidly converted the inhabitants), and to east and north. As the unity of the Roman Empire in the future was to contribute to the rapid spread of Christianity, so the Mauryan unity contributed to the rapid spread of Buddhism. Asoka intended to inculcate in his people—by being accessible to them and by showing them through his own example—the three virtues, reverence to authority, respect for life, and truth. After his death in 232 the empire began to disintegrate, because of both the lethargy of his successors and the increased aggressiveness of the Seleucids.

Details of specific battles do not survive, but in the epic of the battle between the Kurus and the Pandavas an elephant battle is described. Elephant was used against elephant, but in the melee an elephant would trample and crush anything that got in its way. The most feared elephant was a male in rut. Its musk glands discharged a noxious substance that warned other elephants to give it wide berth (unless they, too, were in rut). The difficulty with elephants in rut is that they are impossible to control.


On both sides there arose a clamor, shouting, the blare of cow horns, beating drums and cymbals and tabors, and the two sides rushed upon each other. The prince’s shouts rose above the noise made by the thousands of neighing horses and filled the enemy with fear. Horses and elephants all lost control of their bladders and bowels. The sun himself was shrouded by the dust raised by the warriors.

Huge elephants with wounded temples attacked other huge elephants, and they tore one another with their tusks. They had castles and standards on their backs, they were trained to fight, and they struck with their tusks and were struck in turn, and they shrieked in agony. They were goaded forward by pikes and hooks, and so they fought each other, though it was not the mating season. Some elephants uttered cries like cranes and fled in all directions. Many elephants, bleeding from temple and mouth, torn by swords, lances, and arrows, shrieked aloud, fell down, and died.

One warrior turned his elephant with upraised trunk and rushed upon a chariot. The elephant in his anger placed his foot upon the yoke of the chariot and killed the four large horses, but the chariot warrior stayed on his chariot with the dead horses and threw a lance, made entirely of iron and resembling a snake, and he hit the elephant-warrior. The lance pierced his coat of mail; he dropped the hook and his lance and fell down from his elephant’s neck. The chariot warrior drew his sword, jumped down from his chariot, swung with all his strength, and hacked off the elephant’s trunk. The elephant’s coat of mail was pierced all over with arrows, his trunk was cut off, and he uttered a loud shriek and fell down and died.


Arising in the kingdom of Magadha, the Mauryan empire (321–185 B . C .), with its capital Pataliputra (modern Patna), was the first imperial polity in South Asia. Under the able leadership of its founder, Chandragupta Maurya (r. 321–297 B . C .), and his successors Bindusara (r. 297–272 B . C .) and Ashoka (r. 268–231 B . C .), the empire integrated several key regions of the subcontinent into a loosely structured but tightly drawn imperial network, and bequeathed a significant historical legacy to the subcontinent’s history. The sources of Mauryan history include archaeological remains, Brahmanical and Buddhist textual sources, foreign travel accounts, and most importantly, the public edicts of Ashoka.

By the middle of first millennium B.C., a number of small polities called mahajanapadas had grown up along the Ganges. The more powerful of these at the time—the kingdoms of Kashi, Koshala, and Magadha, and the more distant Vrijji confederation—were clustered in the middle Gangetic Plain, which had seen extensive development in agriculture, intensive urbanization, and the rise of new religious movements like Buddhism and Jainism. By the beginning of the fifth century B . C ., Magadha had gained the upper hand over its rivals through the leader- ship of the raja (king) Bimbisara, whose line was eventually displaced by the Nanda dynasty at the beginning in the fourth century B . C . Nanda imperial ambitions might have brought them into conflict with the generals of Alexander the Great, who conquered the eastern provinces of the Achaemenid empire in northwestern India, but his usurpation by Chandragupta Maurya in 321 B . C . brought a swift end to Nanda rule.

With the Gangetic Plain largely under his dominion, Chandragupta pursued campaigns in central India and the northwest, where by the end of the fourth century B . C . he had gained territory from a Greek successor state ruled by Seleucus Nicator. An envoy of Seleucus, Megasthenes, visited the Mauryan empire and its capital at Pataliputra and left an account of it called Indika. Toward the end of his life, Chandragupta is said to have embraced the Jain faith, abdicated the throne, and migrated to Sravana Belgola in present-day Karnataka, where he fasted to death in Jain tradition. The events of the reign of Chandragupta’s son, Bindusara, are uncertain, but by the time that Ashoka inherited the kingdom in 268 B . C ., the empire was considerably expanded. Knowledge of Ashoka’s reign is drawn from a series of public edicts, which reveal the specific policies and vision of the emperor, and provide crucial information about Mauryan society. The edicts of the earlier half of his reign were carved on rock surfaces and distributed widely through the empire, while those toward the end were issued mostly in its Gangetic heartland and were inscribed on polished sandstone pillars, each surmounted with a finely carved animal capital. Most of the inscriptions were issued in the Prakrit language written in Brahmi script, but in the northwest some have been found in Greek and Aramaic, written in the Kharoshti script used in Iran. Ashoka extended the influence of the empire even farther than his forefathers, with the southernmost limits of his inscriptions being found in the lower Deccan. Sometime around 260 B.C., Ashoka conquered the region of Kalinga (present-day Orissa). The devastation wrought by his campaign so impressed him that he publicly expressed remorse in his thirteenth rock edict. Judging from this edict, Ashoka seems to have curtailed further wars of expansion and maintained cordial relations with neigh- boring polities, both within the subcontinent and beyond.

Many of Ashoka’s edicts have a distinctly ethical dimension—enjoining his subjects to honor elders, show consideration to menials, refrain from hurting living beings, avoid needless ceremony, and most of all, follow dharma (right action, teaching). Many of these exhortations bear a distinctively Buddhist stamp, and indeed, Ashoka considered himself a lay convert to the faith and gave generously to its institutions. Perhaps as a concession to these principles, he deterred the performance of Vedic sacrifices that involved the killing of animals. In the Buddhist tradition, he became a legendary figure, being viewed as the paradigmatic Buddhist emperor, or cakravartin. The degree to which he actually propagated Buddhist doctrine, however, remains an open question, and it would seem that the dharma of his edicts did not refer to Buddhist doctrine as such but had a more general ethical sense. Yet the connection between Ashoka and Buddhism is undeniable, and it remains a fact that Bud- dhism grew into a powerful and influential religion, with imperial and universal ambitions, during the Mauryan period.

Regular agricultural revenues from the Gangetic heartland provided the basic wealth of the Mauryan empire, and punch-marked coins circulated as currency in certain sectors of the economy. Urban life continued to be important, with manufacturing and commerce forming an important source of individual and state wealth. Beyond inscriptions, another source used by scholars to understand the structure and functioning of the Mauryan empire is the Artha Shastra, a treatise on government attributed to Chanakya (Kautilya), minister of Chandragupta. While the existing text was probably not compiled in Mauryan times, certain parts may be as early, and thus provide a normative perspective on Mauryan society and polity. Ashoka’s edicts and the Artha Shastra, read together, confirm that a set of regularized ministerial offices, service cadre, judges, and revenue assessors formed the core of the state apparatus. The inscriptions themselves mark the first widespread use of written records (after the undeciphered Indus Valley script). Assessing the structure of Mauryan polity from the evidence is more difficult. Until recently, historians tended to portray the Mauryan empire as a centrally organized, uniformly administered, bureaucratic polity. Recent work has suggested, however, that such an image, driven by modern theories of state, may not be correct. It has been argued that the Mauryan empire should be seen as a metropolitan hub (Magadha) linked to a number of core and peripheral “nodes.” Cores and peripheries were not distinguished by geographical location, but by socioeconomic articulation. Core areas, typically represented by clusters of Ashokan inscriptions, were regions where the metropole significantly influenced local economy and society, while peripheral areas, less populated and developed, were largely incorporated for revenue extraction alone. Thus the empire was composed of a network of different local economies and social structures, linked through a relatively simple, but horizontal, imperial system. Although this system disintegrated not long after Ashoka’s death in 231 B . C ., the Mauryan empire—with its innovations in the technology of rule and its integration of economic networks—had a lasting effect on early India, acting as a catalyst for further economic and political development in many of the empire’s core and peripheral regions.


Allchin, F. R. The Archaeology of Early Historic India. Cambridge, U. K.: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Bongard-Levin, G. M. Mauryan India. New Delhi: Sterling, 1985. Sharma, R. S. Material Culture and Social Formations in Ancient India. Delhi: Macmillan, 1983. Sircar, D. C. Inscriptions of Asoka. Delhi: South Asia Books, 1998. Thapar, Romila. Asoka and the Decline of the Mauryas. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1973. ———. From Lineage to State: Social Formations in the Mid- First Millennium B . C . in the Ganga Valley. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1984. ———. The Mauryas Revisited. Kolkata: K. P. Bagchi, 1987


In 1756 native troops trained by, and attached to, the British army (named sepoys) were issued red uniforms, which created a very effective esprit de corps, and European-standard training and weapons were introduced readily to these units. The British forces were clearly separated into three East India Company entities by this time: the Bombay, Madras, and Bengal Armies, each with its own command and responsibilities. Some British army units were also present in the country, but the proportion of Indian to European soldiers remained high; at the time of the Indian Mutiny in 1857 the Bengal Army consisted of approximately 225,000 Indians and 40,000 Europeans.

Three major factories were established in India: at Bengal on the northeastern coast, Madras near the tip of the subcontinent, and Bombay on the western coast. It was the men hired to protect these three trading centers that were to form the basis of the military force operated by “John Compa- ny” and that finally became the Indian army. Bengal’s first troops were an ensign and 30 men along with a gunner and his crew hired in the late seventeenth century. At Madras, the watchmen and security guards were the basis of the military unit headquartered there. Most of the men recruited into these small units were native Indians who served under the leadership of Englishmen, a practice that remained in effect until Indian independence in 1947.

John Company was not the first to hire local men, however, for the French (also trying to establish an economic presence in India) first conceived of the idea. As the ruling Mogul Empire was in its final days and power vacuums existed across India, the French and other Europeans learned that even a small force trained in European tactics, armed with European weapons, and led by European officers could defeat Indian armies vastly superior in number. The first large-scale armies, therefore, were private ones raised by local princes and sultans to protect their territory and expand at the expense of their neighbors. French, as well as English, officers officially and unofficially offered their services to local rulers, not only to profit personally but to give their respective countries a foothold in local politics. This would provide them with leverage in trade con- cessions as well as physically challenge other European competitors, like the East India Company.

In 1748, the first regular European force in British service was officially formed from the three fledgling units raised by the three factories. They had now, however, established themselves to such an extent that the British government set up local administrations under the direction of officials sent from London, and the result was the presidencies of Bombay, Madras, and Bengal. To show their interest in maintaining the strongest presence in India, and certainly to intimidate the French, the British government sent a regiment of the British Army to serve with John Company, the Thirty-ninth Regiment of Foot(infantry).

If the First Carnatic War had seen indigenous forces coming to the aid of Europeans, however ineffectively, the Second witnessed the renewal of European conflict in India through the vehicle of indigenous power struggles. It is both fitting and ironic, therefore, that the dates of the Second Carnatic War (1749-1754) lie between those of the War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years’ War (1755-1763). The death in 1748 of Nizam ul-Mulk, the nabob of Hyderabad, precipitated the Second Carnatic War. Taking advantage of the confused political situation, Chanda Sahib moved against the pro-British Nabob of Arcot, and with the aid of French forces under the Marquis Charles de Bussy, easily overthrew him. Chanda was then challenged by Mohammed Ali, the slain nabob’s son, who was in turn supported by the British. Through 1749 and 1750, Ali was supported by Nasir Jang, who had succeeded his father as nabob of Hyderabad. For his part, Chanda received the aid of Muzaffar Jang, Nasir’s son, who in 1750 succeeded as Nizam after the murder of his father.

As the bloodshed within the palaces seemed to settle, matters came to a climax on the battlefield. In September 1751, Chanda laid siege to Ali at Trichinopoly, supported by 1800 Frenchmen under de Bussy. It was clear that if Ali fell, British interest in the region went with him. Yet it was equally clear that the British lacked the resources to break the siege. Ali therefore urged that what forces were available be used to attack Chanda’s capital at Arcot, thus forcing him to lift the siege on Trichinopoly. On 22 August 1751, 200 Europeans, 300 sepoys, and three cannon, under the command of Robert Clive, set out from Madras. Arriving on 1 September, they found Arcot deserted by its garrison. It was not until 22 September that Chanda’s son, Raza Sahib, arrived with 4,000 men, plus 150 Frenchmen, and opened a 50-day siege that failed to drive Clive from the citadel.

The loss of his capital inflicted great damage to the prestige of Chanda and his French allies. It likewise encouraged the British to go on the offensive. On 3 December, Clive, commanding a force of European and native troops, defeated superior numbers under Raza at the hard-fought battle of Arni. Chanda’s forces were not entirely broken, however, and in February 1752 Raza besieged Madras. Though the British succeeded in holding the city, at Kaveripak (28 February) Clive only narrowly averted annihilation when his forces were ambushed by Raza. Despite this, it was only a matter of time before Chanda’s forces were forced to withdraw from Trichinopoly, and his French allies were forced to surrender to the British at Srirangam (4 June 1752).

Defeat at Srirangam meant the end for Chanda Sahib. Captured shortly after the battle, Chanda was summarily strangled and beheaded. Though fighting would continue intermittently for the next year, with the recall of Dupleix to France in August 1754 both companies quickly agreed to end the war.

The units raised by European officers now fought each other not just for the local influence of a ruling monarch, but for European influence as well. The key battle in this conflict in India was Plassey in 1757, when British- led forces under Robert Clive defeated French-led forces in an engagement that determined the European dominance of India for almost two centuries. Although this broke French power in India and led to the eventual total withdrawal of the French from the subcontinent, it marked the beginning of serious expansion of the military forces in India. Although foreign competition was banished, local resistance to British expansion was widespread. Even where the Indian rajahs or princes did not actively antagonize the British, the overriding view of John Company was that peace was good for business. That meant that if a prince in a territory adjacent to British- dominated lands was oppressing his people or waging war against his neighbors, then British intervention was necessary to maintain order. By maintaining order from one province to another, the British expanded their influence across most of India. Expansion was never the official policy of the British government: It “just happened.” Thus, through the end of the eighteenth century, the armies of the presidencies grew.

By 1795, a general reorganization was needed to set up the Company’s army along the same lines as that employed by the British Army. In that year, some 13,000 Europeans lived in India, both civilian and military, while 33,000 Indians served in the Company’s armed forces. Three separate commands were retained, but this move established a regular army, although still owned and operated by a private business. In Bengal, the forces consisted of three battalions of artillery, three battalions of British infantry, four regiments of native cavalry, and 12 regiments of native infantry. In Madras, two battalions of British infantry, two battalions of artillery, four regiments of native cavalry, and 11 regiments of native infantry made up the contingent. All the forces accepted recruits from across India, as well as some Afghans. The stigma of fighting against one’s own people was no obstacle to these men, for most of them were misfits or exiles. In many cases the recruits were of the lowest castes in Hindu society and viewed the army as the only way out of a hopeless future. Most of the native cavalry units were made up of refugees from the private armies of defeated princes. For all of them, the promise of regular food and pay was something they could not achieve any- where else. Moreover, as India was so divided among ethnic, religious, and political factions, rarely did one fight “one’s own people.”

The turn of the nineteenth century incited a new fervor in British administrators in India to grasp a firm hold on the subcontinent, as the rise of Napoleon in Europe threatened European interests worldwide. When Napoleon conquered a country in Europe, he immediately assumed control of all its colonies. This gave him opportunities to harass British colonies around the world. This, in turn, gave the British the excuse to “temporarily” occupy the colonies of other European nations, especially those of the Dutch in Africa and the Far East, in order to deny them to the French. Troops of the Company’s army in those years served for the first time outside of India, establishing a precedent that lasted through World War II. Within India, French agents roused independent aristocrats to challenge British power, and they found sympathetic ears in the province of Mysore and among the Mahratta Confederacy in central India. Under the direction of Marquis Wellesley, the Governor-General of the entire colony, British-Indian forces commanded by Wellesley’s brother, Arthur (soon to be- come Duke of Wellington), along with those under Commander-in-Chief General Lord Lake, soundly defeated the native forces arrayed against them and established British control in the middle of India in 1803-1804. This experience brought Arthur Wellesley not only valuable command experience but official notice, both of which resulted in his transfer to Spain and victory against Napoleon’s armies in Europe. Another war against the Mahrattas in 1817 destroyed the remaining pockets of discontent.

In the period of relative peace that followed, the Company’s army was once again reorganized, and the new table of organization showed a vast increase in its size. Of particular interest in this larger, reorganized force was a huge disparity between the numbers of Indian regiments and British regiments, with the Indian infantry regiments outnumbering the British by nearly 24 to 1. In spite of this fact, all the Indian regiments had British officers. Also of note was the introduction of Indians to units of artillery. This had been avoided up until this time, as the British did not wish to share that decisive technology. But the need for artillery had proven so important that Indian units were organized. However, when the Sepoy Rebellion broke out in 1857, the Company had reason to regret their new policy of inclusiveness. In that rebellion, Indian artillery units in the rebel forces caused such great harm to the British and loyal Indian units that one of the first changes made after the rebellion was to ban all Indian artillery forces.

Through the decades of the 1820s through the 1850s the Company’s army continued to grow and fight within India, maintaining order. Service in the military now was not just an escape for black sheep, but had become a respectable profession. It was the only organization in India, until the opening of the Civil Service to Indian employees, that took recruits from any background and mixed men of all social and religious standing. The only caste system inside the army was that of rank and of the British overlords and the Indian subordinates. As new provinces came un- der British control or influence, the best soldiers of that region were incorporated into the Company’s forces. The army grew to include Mahrattas after the two wars against them, Sikhs after the two wars against them, and Gurkhas after the war against them-all in the four decades prior to 1857. The armies of the three presidencies enlisted men from every region and ethnic group in India. Men of ethnic and religious diversity recruited from a particular region usually served together. Furthermore, the Indians were not only trained in European tactics and weaponry, but they also wore European uniforms. Prior to the Sepoy Rebellion, most of the Indians wore the same red coats and white pants as their British counterparts. Later they adopted a variety of impressive and colorful dress uniforms. It was also in India, among the frontier units, that soldiers first began to wear khaki, a cloth that would come to be part of military dress worldwide.

The army of the East India Company lasted until the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857. By that time it numbered more than 311,000 Indian troops and just under 40,000 British troops, both regular army and Company soldiers.

Indian War Elephants

War elephants, India’s distinctive contribution to the art of warfare. They were first recorded by Western historians at the battle of Gaugamela (330 BC), when a squadron of fifteen was included with the Indian contingent in the army of Darius III. They seem, like the British tanks at Cambrai in 1916, to have been either too unfamiliar to the generals or too few in number for decisive use. It was not until Alexander’s men reached the Hydaspes that they were faced by a whole corps of fighting elephants which, though eventually defeated, inflicted heavy casualties. The report that King Bimbisara of Magadha, the next monarch to the east, commanded several hundred of these sagacious pachyderms was an important factor in the decision of Alexander’s army to go no farther.

What was not invented could be borrowed. After capturing eighty battle elephants from King Porus at the Battle of the Hydaspes River, Alexander acquired one hundred more before returning to the west. Alexander’s Hellenistic successors made elephants the fad weapon of the era. Able to frighten horses and terrify men, trample infantry and cavalry alike, and even demolish wooden fortifications, elephants could charge at fifteen miles per hour. At that speed, however, they were hard to stop, and they often tended to run amok, trampling friend and foe alike.

Elephants were outfitted with a housing, or howdah, covered with cloth or carpet and bells around the neck and rump. Lower-ranked warriors armed with bows and other missiles were seated in the howdah. According to the Greek historian Megasthenes (c. 350-c. 290 b. c. e.), who was sent as a representative to the royal court of India, three archers and a driver rode on each elephant.

The elephants subsequently became a major arm in Western classical armies, some even being included with the Roman troops that conquered Britain.

In India they were considered to be royal beasts, whose ownership was reserved to the government. Their primary role was in the charge, for which the strongest and largest bulls were specially trained, their tusks tipped with sharpened steel, and their flanks protected by bamboo or leather armour. They were also used to smash palisades or push down gates, or for other combat engineering tasks, such as forming a bridge over shallow rivers or ditches. Smaller bulls and cows were used as baggage animals, giving an excellent cross-country performance in a country which until modern times had few made roads. With the invention of the gun, they were taken into the artillery service as draught animals. British as well as Indian commanders found them excellent mobile command posts, and elephants continued in use by the artillery in India until the early twentieth century.

Indian generals were fascinated by the elephant arm for over 2,000 years, despite repeated evidence of its weaknesses. Disciplined armies, admittedly not always readily available in Indian conditions, could usually avoid the worst impact of the elephant charge by opening lanes in their battle line, just as the Romans did against the elephants of Pyrrhus or Hannibal. Even the best trained elephant was liable to be panicked by the sights, smells and sounds of battle, especially by incendiary devices, and might, joined by its companions, turn into a common enemy, trampling friend and foe alike. Several decisive battles were lost when a Hindu king’s elephant rushed in the wrong direction, leading his soldiers to draw the conclusion that he was deserting them, so that the whole host collapsed like a ruined building. Although the Muslim invaders themselves had come to power by defeating Hindu armies that relied on elephants, they in the course of time became dependent upon elephants themselves and were defeated by subsequent invaders in much the same way.

Elephants generally carried a driver, or mahout, and three to four warriors. In response, the use of large caltrops, iron-pointed triangular devices set in the ground to impede elephant and cavalry advances, was developed. Such Indian tactics were old-fashioned by the tenth century, but they continued into the thirteenth. Hindu pride prevented leaders from learning from their foreign adversaries. Hindus valued strength in numbers over speed and mobility, a doctrine that rapidly caused their defeat.

The elephant’s tusks might also be sharpened or lengthened with sword blades, and it might pick up enemy soldiers with its trunk or trample them underfoot. The standard battlefield role of war elephants was in the assault, to break up the enemy ranks, but elephants were also used in sieges, to push over gates and palisades or to serve as living bridges. Equipped with an iron chain in its trunk and taught to wield it in all directions, an elephant could wreak havoc against an enemy force. Although these great animals were impressive and could frighten an enemy, they were also unpredictable and could retreat under attack into the ranks of panicked Indian foot soldiers. Frequently commanders rode on the elephants so that they had the best view of the battlefield; this high perch made the commanders prime targets for enemy arrows. If the commander was wounded, or if he felt the need to descend from the howda on top of his elephant, his troops often assumed that he was dead and scattered.

Shah Jahan is famous mainly as the builder of numerous palaces, particularly the Taj Mahal (1632- 1653), a monument to his love for his wife. Militarily, he succeeded to an extent in the Deccan but failed in his numerous attempts to oust the Persians from Qandahar. His illness in 1657 triggered a fratricidal war between his four sons, who all vied to capture the throne. Alamgir emerged the victor, becoming India’s sixth Mughal emperor and ruling until his own death in 1707. Elephants were used with great effectiveness in this succession struggle. At the Battle of Khajwa (1659), Alamgir’s brother and opponent Prince Shuja (died c. 1660) utilized elephants swinging large iron chains from their trunks, wreaking havoc among Alamgir’s troops. Alamgir, however, remained calm and emerged victorious.

A far more terrible invasion was that of the Amir Timur of Samarkand, more familiar to students of English literature as Tamberlane the Great. Despite the zeal with which various Sultans of Delhi had persecuted those guilty of unbelief, or of believing the wrong thing, the vast majority of their subjects continued to practise the Hindu religion. This was felt by Timur to be as pitch upon the faces of all true believers. Moreover, India contained great riches, notwithstanding the depredations of earlier invaders, and its defences, because of a civil war between two rival contenders for the masnad or throne of Delhi, were weak. As he wrote in his autobiography, his purpose in entering Hindustan was, therefore, twofold: `The first thing was to war with infidels, the enemies of the Islamic faith, and by this holy war to acquire some claim to reward in the life to come. The other was a worldly object, that the army of Islam might gain something from plundering the wealth of infidels.’ In the autumn of 1398, with a force of 90,000 Central Asian horsemen, he crossed the Indus and advanced on Delhi. On the ancient battlefield of Panipat he was met by an army (mostly of Muslim soldiers under Muslim commanders) which included 120 war elephants. Once again, however, the elephant threat proved to have been overrated. Timur gained an easy victory and captured Delhi, which was subsequently sacked with most of its citizens being killed or enslaved.

In the year 1524 Zahir al-Din Muhammad, surnamed Babur, the Tiger, ruler of Kabul, previously of Samarkand, a descendant of Sultan Timur, `placed my foot in the stirrup of resolution and my hand on the reins of confidence in God’ (as he put it, in the graceful Persian idiom) and invaded India following the example of his famous and awe-inspiring ancestor. He was also related, rather distantly, to Chingiz Khan, though, like Timur, he was in fact a Turk by ethnic origin, and utterly hated the Mongols. Nevertheless, it had become the custom for the inhabitants of Hindostan to refer to any set of invaders from Central Asia as Mongols and so it was that Babur, after some initial setbacks, became the founder of the great Mughal empire that eventually ruled over almost all India. His decisive victory over the Sultan of Delhi on 21 April 1526, on the old battlefield of Panipat, proved yet again how a relatively small force of desperate but well-led horsemen from Central Asia could almost literally ride rings round the much larger but unwieldy hosts of the Indian plains. Sultan Ibrahim put a lakh of men into the field with a hundred war elephants. He was, however, inexperienced in war, in Babur’s words, a general `who marched without order, halted or retired without method, and engaged without foresight’. Babur, on the other hand, was not only a practised commander but had at his disposal the latest military technology, a battery of wheeled artillery, that would become the great gun park which was the pride of the imperial Mughal armies. After the death in this battle of Sultan Ibrahim and 15,000 of his Muslim and Hindu soldiers, all the chivalry of the Rajputs took the field, seeing a chance to regain Hindustan for themselves. At Khanua (Kanwaha) on 16 March 1527 their army, including now 500 war elephants and 80,000 cavalry, tried the same tactic of a frontal attack on Babur’s field works as had the late Sultan of Delhi, with similarly disastrous results. Babur’s heirs and successors, ruling first from Delhi, then Agra, then Delhi again, followed the familiar pattern of conducting campaigns, whether against each other or in the conquest of the remaining Muslim and Hindu princes of India, in the traditional Indian way of warfare.

Although Akbar was young, was inexperienced, and lacked validity for his imperial title, he nevertheless showed determination and valor. At the age of thirteen, he was victorious at the Second Battle of Panitpat (1556) against the Sur descendants of Shir Shah, who were led by an admirable Hindu general, Himu Bhargav, also known as Hemu (died 1556). It is significant that at this battle Himu girded his war elephants in plate armor and stationed both musketeers and crossbow archers on their backs. Clearly, the innovative changes of the Mughal invaders were being adopted and adapted to traditional Indian methods of fighting. Himu was mortally wounded on the battlefield, which led to a rout of his troops and victory for the hard-pressed Mughals.

The Battle of Talikota (1565), considered one of the most decisive battles in this period of South Indian history, demonstrated the importance of having well armed, appropriately dressed troops in combat. The forces of the southern state of Vijayanagar commanded massive numbers but failed to equip their men with armor or even practical clothing. The Indian infantry, with their bamboo bows, short spears and swords, and foreign mercenaries wielding outdated artillery and muskets, were no match for the Deccan sultans who rode on Arabian horses, their armor-clad Iranian and Turanian soldiers carrying steel bows, metal javelins, and 16-foot lances. Additionally, the Muslims had mobile artillery carried on camels and elephants. B3bur’s tactic of using supplies as a wall of protection for the front line of gunners was utilized once again. Historians estimate that the defeat of Vijayanagar resulted in the deaths of 16,000 troops. The great southern empire of Vijayanagar and its capital were destroyed by the invaders.

The military system of the Mughals likewise soon came to resemble in many ways those of their predecessors. Essentially these systems were dictated by the problems of governing a large area with no faster system of communication than that which could be achieved by dispatch riders travelling by post horses over unmade roads. ‘Dihli dur ast’ (Delhi is far away) was the saying of many a Mughal official, reluctant to comply with unwelcome instructions such as those requiring the transmission of revenue. Most rulers worked on the sponge principle, allowing their subordinates to soak up the revenue and then squeezing them to obtain the proceeds.

The military and revenue systems in fact were interdependent. Although at times the major officers of the state were paid a regular stipend, the usual method adopted was one of jagir, the assignment of the revenue of a given area, in return for which the jagirdar or holder of the assignment was required to perform his civil duties and to maintain a stated number of cavalry troopers or sawars (literally, ‘riders’). This arrangement allowed a ruler to divide up the proceeds of conquest among his followers, while at the same time producing the military garrisons by which the conquest was subsequently maintained. The disadvantages included a reluctance of assignees to give up (or of rulers to resume from their old supporters) their assignments when the holders became too old to perform military service in person, and the tendency of the more ambitious assignees to use the armed men whom they retained under this system for purposes other than those approved by their ruler. Indeed for a ruler to assign too much of the revenue invited disaster, since, without forces of his own, he was dependent on the reliability of the magnates of whose contingents his army was composed.

A further problem was that assignees who actually lived in the areas whose revenues were assigned to them and who, in most cases, were actually involved in collecting the revenues (normally the government’s share of the annual crops) tended to become local chiefs. Indeed, often they originally had been local chiefs, Hindu rajas whose lands were not worth the trouble of absolute conquest, or whose military resources made them too hard a nut to be worth cracking as long as they passed on the proper share of the revenue and acknowledged a nominal subjection. At the other extreme, assignees tended not so much to misuse the military contingents they were expected to keep up, as not to keep them up at all and pocket that element of the revenue intended for their upkeep, with the result that when the army was called out, the expected numbers of trained, properly equipped, and well mounted men failed to materialise. When, in an attempt to enforce assignees to meet their obligations, periodic musters were ordered, the same men and horses moved round from assignee to assignee ahead of the muster-masters, to be counted over and over again, hired by each assignee in turn for the duration of the muster. The abuses were countered to a certain extent by systems such as branding the horses and describing the troopers, but all depended upon the honesty, efficiency, and energy of those operating the system, just as it did in Europe at the same time.

The highest officers of the Mughal empire, the Subadars, holders of a Suba or province, were at first called Sipahsalars, ‘commanders of the troops’, and the senior officials of the Mughal state were known as mansabdars, ‘holders of commands’. There were thirty-three levels of mansab, each grade distinguished not by a title but by a number, from 10,000 down to ten, according to the number of troopers the mansabdar was expected to maintain. The later Mughal emperors recognised that many who were granted high rank would not in fact produce the appropriate number of men, and introduced a system of parallel ranks, with the higher figure being honorary (zat) and the lower being that of the actual number of troops (sawar) to be maintained. The proportion of permanently employed soldiers in Mughal armies was small and comprised the household troops, artillerymen and other specialists, including the elephant drivers. All could be used for the many ceremonial functions inseparable from Indian court life. Otherwise the army was composed of the contingents produced, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, by assignees who tended to become hereditary local governors, where sons were allowed to succeed fathers in office if central authority was too weak to enforce the appointment of another nominee.

The relationship between the revenue and the military systems in India was, until well after the Mughal era and well into that of the British, virtually one of symbiosis. The main purpose of collecting the revenue was to ensure payment for the military on whom the power of the government was based, while the main purpose of the military was to ensure the collection of the revenue from which it was paid. Even inter-state campaigns can be considered as having been undertaken with a view to increasing the base of the revenue, which in turn paid for the army which made the conquests, and the still larger army required to hold them. The expansion of the British Indian forces which took place in step with the expansion of British territorial possessions in India simply maintained a pattern set by the Mughals. Troops not involved in campaigning were required to accompany the agents of government whose task it was actually to collect the revenue, in cash or in kind. It is not without significance that the official title of the British district magistrates in the first provinces to be acquired by the British in India was ‘Collector’. The method of gathering the land revenue from the cultivators varied from region to region, but the conventional method in Hindustan was essentially one of tax farming. Wealthy individuals contracted with the government, or its assignees, to hand over an agreed sum and retain the remainder of what they had raised. Generally these tax-farmers (zamindars or land-holders) had a hereditary interest in the villages whose revenue they levied, and through custom and practice all sides knew what could reasonably be yielded, with reductions allowed in times of drought or other natural disaster. Where an area was the subject of disputed control, however, cultivators might be subjected to demands from rival rulers. Distress was also caused when, as in the early British period, market forces were left to determine what could be raised. Rival contractors tried to outbid each other in promises of what they could raise, in order to secure or retain their holdings, regardless of the productive capacity of the land and its cultivators. Troops were required to accompany the collectors, in order to ensure that zamindars actually disgorged all that they had contracted to hand over. Sometimes even artillery was included in such expeditions. As British rule became fully established, the military presence became a guard of honour rather than a threat to reluctant payers. Nevertheless it long continued, partly as a customary way of recognising the social status of those involved, and partly in acknowledgement of their martial spirit. While local chiefs expected to pay what was due, it was thought something of an insult to imply that they would have done so except under compulsion. In most societies taxpayers tend to pay their dues only in response to the threat of force majeure. In Indian society the threat took the colourful and visible form of a body of troops. When the revenue was collected, the troops were required to act as escorts against what was, in unsettled areas, a very real threat of raids by armed gangs or bandits (sometimes, the same people who had just paid it over) as it was taken back to the local seat of government.

It was with a military system based on these principles that the Mughal empire and its rivals conducted their campaigns during the course of more than 300 years. These included struggles against those Muslim states in Bengal and in the Deccan, which had previously been subject to the Sultanate of Delhi; wars of rebellion and succession among the Mughal princes themselves; invasions by Iranians and Afghans from those Central Asian territories where the Mughals themselves had originated; and, within India, risings by new or reviving Hindu powers. Akbar, the greatest of the Mughal emperors, came to power after a victory at Panipat in 1556 over a Hindu army which, in defiance of the lessons of military history, had relied on its 1,500 elephants.


Arjun Mk II

Arjun Mk-2 after incorporating The upgrade consists of 93 improvements, 17 of which were major and the rest minor modifications, gained over six tons over the MK1 and now weighs at 68.6 tons. but this is about to change and on instances of the Indian Army, DRDO has again started working on to carry out structural improvements and also develop a reconfigured Hull with new improved advanced armor material which will allow it to lose 3 tons in total weight. Indian Army had asked for weight optimized Mk-2 in 2016 and work begin soon after by DRDO put results will not be quick since reconfiguration of an accepted design will mean more painstaking and also slow developmental work which will keep the Mk-2 out of production before it is revalidated again by Indian Army in fresh trials. Experts are already questioning what advantage a 65.5 tons Mk-2 will bring over 68.6 tons Mk-2 in its area of operations. In past, even the 62 tons MK1 was criticised for being overweight and hardly 80 of the tanks were inducted or operational within Indian Army at this given point. The 46 ton Russian developed and locally manufactured T-90A Main Battle Tank is still quite popular with the Indian Army and over 1200 already are in service with Indian Army even though T-90A was outgunned and outmaneuvered by Arjun MBT in direct field trials years ago.

The Arjun is an Indian designed and built MBT. Design efforts were initiated in 1974. The original design was heavily dependent upon foreign supplied components and proto-types experienced significant teething problems, especially with regards to over-heating of the engine. Cost and schedule over-runs threatened the project. But the cooling module was re-designed for desert operations, domestic parts were developed, and the technological challenges were overcome. An order for 124 vehicles was placed by the Indian Army in 2000 at a cost of US$8.4 million per unit with full vehicle production beginning in 2004. Following a 2010 competition against a T-90 in which the Arjun performed well, the army ordered another 124 Mk 1 units as well as 124 Mk II units.


The Arjun is an Indian designed and built MBT. The original Mk I weighs 129,000 pounds (58.5 tonnes) while the latest Mk II version weighs 150,000 pounds (68 tonnes). The Arjun is 35 feet (10.6 meters) long, 12.6 feet (3.8 meters) wide and 7.5 feet (2.3 meters) in height to the top of the turret roof. Operated by a crew of 4 the driver is positioned to the right of center at the front of the vehicle and the gunner, commander and loader are located in the turret. The Arjun is powered by a single German MTU multi-fuel diesel water cooled engine rated at 1400 hp (upgraded to 1500 hp for the Mk II) with a Renk transmission and integrated with an Indian turbocharger and epicyclic train gearbox with four forward and 2 reverse gears. Mounted on a hydropneumatic suspension the vehicle can achieve a maximum road speed of 42 mph (67 km/h) and a cross-country speed of 25 mph (40 km/h). The Arjun also includes many sophisticated technologies including a GPS-based navigation system, frequency hopping radios and a Battlefield Management System (BMS).


The Arjun features a 120 mm main rifled gun with two axis stabilisation and a Fire Control System that provides excellent first-hit probability against moving targets while on-the-move. The first batch of 124 tanks have an all-digital Sagem FCS, while all other Arjuns will mount the more sophisticated BEL FCS. The FCS ballistic computer is integrated with a millimeter band radar system, thermal imager, laser rangefinder / designator, crosswind sensor, observation systems and IR and radiometer sensors. This combined system permits real-time command and beyond-vision-range target engagements. The Arjun has an auxiliary power unit to operate weapon systems in silent watch mode as well.

There is a combined day sight / thermal imager for the gunner and the commander has a stabilised panoramic sight and thermal viewer with eight periscopes for 360° vision which permits either direct engagement of targets or handing of them over to the gunner. The commander’s station also offers an extensive suite of controls and displays that are linked by a digital data bus to all other systems on the tank. These include an Integrated Battle Management System (IBMS), digital mapping, FBCB2 capabilities and C4ISR Systems.

The main gun can fire indigenously developed armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding-sabot (APFSDS) ammunition, HE, HEAT and High Explosive Squash Head (HESH) rounds. The Arjun carries 39 rounds of ammunition in blast-proof canisters and has a firing rate of 6 to 8 rounds per minute. The Arjun Mk II is also capable of firing the Israeli developed semi-active laser guided LAHAT missile, which is designed to defeat both enemy armor and enemy combat helicopters. The secondary armaments on the Arjun include a PKT 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun and a turret roof mounted NSVT 12.7 mm heavy machine gun.


The hull and turret of the Arjun are fabricated with an all-welded steel construction. Add-on-armor modules are then applied over the vehicle surfaces to provide enhanced protection levels, with an emphasis on protecting the frontal arc. The turret and glacis are protected with “Kanchan” (“gold”) modular composite add-on-armor which consists of composite panels sandwiched between Rolled Homogenous Armor (RHA) panels. The Kanchan armor provides effective protection against both APFDS, HESH and HEAT rounds. Testing trials conducted in 2000 demonstrated the system’s ability to defeat APFSDS rounds fired at point blank range by a T-72.

A broad range of additional protective systems have also been integrated into the Arjun Mk II vehicle. There is a honeycomb designed Non-Explosive / Non-Energetic Reactive Armor (NERA) system, nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) protection equipment, automatic fire fighting system (AFFS), and an electromagnetic-counter mine system that can disable magnetic mines and disrupt the associated electronics in advance of the tank. Various signature reduction technologies to reduce detection by Infrared, thermal, radar-thermal, and radar bands have also been made available as optional upgrades. These include a Mobile Camouflage System (MCS) and an aerosol grenade discharging system.

he millimetre band radar system mounted on the turret is capable of operating as a Missile Approach Warning System (MAWS) and also has a Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) and radar jammer. An Advanced Laser Warning Countermeasure System (ALWCS) that could be integrated with the FCS has also been developed. This systems consists of four all-bearing Laser Warning Receivers (LWR) and Electro-optical/IR infrared jamming “dazzlers”. A Tank Urban Survival Kit (TUSK) has been developed for the Arjun as well which provides enhanced vehicle protection in an urban setting.


The Arjun tank was evaluated during the Ashwamedha exercise in the deserts of Rajasthan as part of the Auxiliary User Cum Reliability Trials (AUCRT) from September 2007 to summer of 2008. The army cited several deficiencies that included a deficient fire control system, inaccurate and inconsistent main weapon performance, low speed capability in tactical situations, repeated power pack failures, failure of hydropneumatic suspension units, and a persistent inability to operate in temperatures over 50 degrees Celsius. In the 2007 winter trials, the Indian army deemed Arjun’s performance unsatisfactory, including at least four engine failures.




Chandragupta had defeated the remaining Macedonian satrapies in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent by 317 BCE.

Chandragupta Maurya’s origins were probably undistinguished; they certainly remain so. Buddhist texts claim that he was related to the Buddha’s Sakya clan, others that he was related to the Nandas. Both may be taken as fairly transparent attempts to confer lustre and legitimacy on a new dynasty whose founder was of humble caste, possibly a vaisya. If not born in the Panjab, he seems to have spent some time there, as suggested by Plutarch and as confirmed by a legend, found in both Indian and Graeco-Roman sources, associating him with the lion. Tigers were widely distributed throughout India, but the Indian lion, now retaining a clawhold only in a corner of Gujarat, seems never to have roamed further east than Rajasthan and Delhi.

At some point in his youth the self-possessed Chandragupta was adopted as a promising candidate for future glory by Kautilya (otherwise known as Chanakya), a devious and disgruntled brahman who had been slighted at the Nanda court. Kautilya sought his revenge by exploiting the unpopularity of the Nandas; and, disqualified from kingship himself because of deformity (possibly only the loss of his teeth), he championed the ambitions of Chandragupta. An early attempt to overthrow Nanda power in Magadha itself was a failure. Perhaps Kautilya hoped to achieve his ends by a simple coup d’état but failed to win sufficient support. The pair resolved to try again, and took their cue from a small boy who was observed to tackle his chapati by first nibbling round its circumference. This time, instead of striking at the heart of Nanda power, they would work their way in from its crusty periphery, exploiting dissent and enlisting support amongst its dependent kingdoms before storming the centre.

A good starting place may have been the Panjab, where Alexander’s departure had left a potential power vacuum. Settlements founded by the Macedonian seem not to have prospered, and their garrisons to have trailed home or gravitated to older power centres like Taxila. While in western Asia Alexander’s successors disputed his inheritance, the Indian satrapies reverted to local control. Ambhi and Porus, designated governors for the region by Alexander, had no love for the Nandas and may, under the circumstances, have felt themselves entitled to endorse Mauryan ambitions. Troops from the gana-sangha republics, of which there were still many in the north-west, are also said to have joined Chandragupta, along with other local malcontents. So, more certainly, did a powerful hill chief with whom Kautilya negotiated an offensive alliance.

Overrunning the satellite states and outlying provinces of the Nanda kingdom, the allies eventually converged on Magadha. Pataliputra was probably besieged and, aided no doubt by defectors, the allies triumphed. The last Nanda was sent packing, quite literally: he is supposed to have been spared only his life, plus such of his legendary wealth as he could personally crate and carry away. The hill chief, with whom Kautilya seems previously to have agreed on a partition of the spoils, was then poisoned, probably at Kautilya’s instigation, and Chandragupta Maurya ascended the Magadhan throne in, as has been noted, c320 BC.

Of his reign very little is known for certain. There are hints that pockets of Nanda resistance had to be laboriously stamped out, and there is ample information in the Arthasastra that could be used, and usually is, to flesh out the policies and methods on which Mauryan dominion was founded. Firm evidence of the extent of this dominion comes mainly from later sources. But since few named conquests can definitely be credited to his successors, it seems likely that Chandragupta, adding the Nandas’ vast army to his own, found ample employment for it. He may reasonably be considered the creator as well as the founder of the Mauryan empire, indeed ‘an Indian Julius Caesar’ as nationalist historians call him (though chronologically speaking Caesar should, of course, be ‘a Roman Chandragupta’).

The suggestion has also been made that Chandragupta derived the very idea of an empire based on military supremacy from his observation of Alexander’s conceit. Yet unlike Alexander, whose campaigns progress from one victorious encounter to the next, he cannot certainly be credited with winning a single battle. The Mauryan empire was probably the most extensive ever forged by an Indian dynasty; even the Mughals rarely achieved a wider hegemony. Yet we have positive knowledge of only one campaign undertaken by a Mauryan ruler – and we know of that only because the man responsible chose publicly to express his remorse. All of which may say more about relative attitudes to the past and about the variable nature of the source materials than about Mauryan imperialism.

In assessing Chandragupta’s conquests it would be helpful to know the extent of the empire to which he succeeded when he overthrew the Nandas. We can only presume that, as well as Magadha and Anga, it included most of the erstwhile Gangetic states (Koshala, Vatsya, Licchavi, etc.) and reached south across the Vindhya hills to central India and the Narmada river; beyond that river the Deccan preserves only highly doubtful hints of any Nanda presence.

From a later inscription found in Kalinga, the modern Orissa, it is evident that that region had also formed part of the Nanda empire. It may have been retained by Chandragupta, but must subsequently have slipped from Mauryan control since it would have to be reconquered by his grandson. A thousand miles away, on the other side of India at Girnar in Junagadh (Gujarat), another inscription refers to the repair of a local dam which, it says, had originally been built under the direction of Chandragupta’s governor in the region. Nanda power may have reached as far west as Avanti (Malwa), but is unlikely to have reached Gujarat. It is therefore assumed that Chandragupta conducted a successful campaign in western India and probably also reached the Bombay region. The Mauryan empire thus became the first to stretch from sea to sea – from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea. The object, however, may not have been ‘to unite India’, an unlikely ambition at a time when geographical, let alone national, horizons were still hazy. More probably its westward extension was intended to engross that lucrative maritime trade, pioneered by the Harappans, in timbers, textiles, spices, gems and precious metals between the ports of India’s west coast and those of the Persian Gulf.

In the Panjab and the north-west Chandragupta’s successes were no less extensive, as is coyly acknowledged by those Graeco-Roman sources. From these we know that, after a prolonged struggle, Seleucus Nikator, one of Alexander’s generals, succeeded to the eastern half of his empire. Much of it had to be reclaimed, and it was not until 305 BC that Seleucus turned his attention to India. There it seems that Chandragupta had already ‘liberated’ (as one Latin source has it) the Panjab. Seleucus, nevertheless, crossed the Indus, and possibly the Jhelum too, before he came to terms with Chandragupta and retired. It may be inferred that Seleucus, like Alexander, had to fight his way forward and that, like Alexander’s men, he soon thought better of the venture. Perhaps he was roundly defeated. The terms on which he withdrew certainly suggest so. Chandragupta presented him with five hundred war-elephants, which would prove decisive in further struggles with his main rivals in the west, although they can scarcely have dented Mauryan resources. In return Seleucus ceded to Chandragupta not only the Panjab but also Gandhara and all of what is now Afghanistan save Bactria (the northern region between the Hindu Kush and the Oxus). The treaty may have been sealed with a matrimonial alliance by which Chandragupta, or his son, received a daughter of Seleucus as a bride.

To cement their friendship further, Seleucus appointed an ambassador to the Mauryan court at Pataliputra. This was Megasthenes, whose account of ‘Sandrokottos’ and his empire, as viewed from its capital, survives only in fragments quoted or paraphrased by later authors. As a first-hand description of anywhere in fourth/third-century BC India east of the Panjab, these fragments are nevertheless valuable. Indeed Megasthenes, in his emphasis on the bureaucratic and absolute nature of Mauryan rule and on the structure of its standing army, goes some way towards vindicating the utility of the Arthasastra as a possible source material. Back home in Greece, his work was seen as vindicating those who dismissed all descriptions of India as a pack of lies. To the floppy-eared and umbrella-footed monstrosities already on record were added such palpable fantasies as reeds which yielded syrup and trees that grew wool. Rocking, no doubt, with Attic mirth, his readers confidently rubbished such early accounts of sugarcane and cotton production as more tall stories from the impossible East.

Although Chandragupta certainly left his successor an empire which reached from Bengal to Afghanistan and Gujarat, there is no clear indication of how far south it extended. Jain tradition insists that, when he abdicated in favour of his son, Chandragupta retired to a Jain establishment in Karnataka. At Sravana Belgola, a picturesque little town nestling in the cleavage between two steeply swelling hills west of Bangalore, the emperor is said to have passed his final days in austerity and devotions. The pinnacle of one of the hills comprises a massive nude sculpture of Gomateshwara, an important Jain teacher; mostly free-standing and nearly twenty metres high, it is one of the sights of south India – ‘nothing grander or more imposing exists anywhere out of Egypt and even there, no known statue surpasses it in height.’ But it is on the other hill, the less sensational Chandragiri, that Chandragupta is supposed to have resided. Inscriptions and reliefs dating back to the fifth century AD record his presence; and a low cave amidst the granite scarps is said to be where, in the ultimate act of Jain self-denial, the emperor finally starved himself to death.

Scholarly doubts, of course, remain, particularly since the imperial lifestyle as recorded by Megasthenes amidst the splendour and luxury of Pataliputra seems the very antithesis of Jain asceticism. But abnegation was not uncommon in Mauryan society and, in the light of subsequent evidence of Mauryan authority in the south, the story ‘may be accepted as proof of his acquisition of this part of the peninsula’.6

That it probably represented the frontier of his empire is evident from the prologue to the story. The emperor had chosen to abdicate (c297 BC) after receiving information about an imminent famine from the revered Bhadrabahu, who was reputedly the last Jain monk to have actually known the Jain founder Mahavira Nataputta. (Just such a famine is anticipated in two very early inscriptions, engraved on copper plates found in Bengal and UP, which have been dated to Chandragupta’s reign; and unless Bhadrabahu was extraordinarily long-lived, his connection with Mahavira, the Buddha’s contemporary, may be further evidence in favour of the Buddhist ‘short chronology’.) As a result of this prophecy not only Chandragupta but an entire Jain congregation is said to have migrated south. In what, judging by remarks in the Arthasastra, was a continuing pattern of settlement in lands newly conquered or on the margins of existing settlement, the Jains journeyed south till they reached Karnataka. There, where a stream slid between the twin hills of Sravana Belgola, they stopped and stayed, nourishing the legends beloved of generations of pilgrims and patrons whose donations would enable them to dig a fine tank, build a dozen neat temples, and whittle their granite surroundings into megalithic images of the starkest abstraction. The Jains have been there ever since; and to this day they tell much the same story of the emperor Chandragupta.

Such continuities are not uncommon in India. Sir William Jones had likened first meeting his brahman informants to discovering an isolated community of Greeks who, two thousand years on, still wore toga and sandals, worshipped Zeus, recited Homer, and stood guard over a written archive reaching back to the Stone Age. Even now historians of India continue to scrutinise their own surroundings and society for clues to the past. In one of the most compelling exercises in modern historical writing D.D. Kosambi, armed with his notebook and a stout stick (‘fitted with a chisel ferrule for prying artefacts out of the surface … it also serves to discourage the more ambitious village dogs’), conducts his reader on a short walk from his home on the outskirts of Pune (Poona). Chance finds, encounters with neighbouring social groups, careful scrutiny of domestic routines and patient enquiries about local images reveal a three-thousandyear panorama of settlement patterns, trade contacts, and Sanskritic acculturation. ‘There is no substitute for such work in the field for the restoration of pre-literate history,’ writes Kosambi.7 Most of India’s history prior to the arrival of Islam fits his definition of pre-literate; and no society retains a more rewarding consciousness of the past than India’s. Legend and oral tradition, when credible, may be quite as reliable as authentic contemporary documentation.