Weapons have always intrigued mankind, because mankind has always been intrigued by war. The author further refers to an old quotation—”War is a joyous thing… can anyone who has tasted that pleasure, fear death”. These thoughts belong to the heroic Homerian era, long long past. War is no longer a joyous thing. A.E. Housman wrote: Now no more of winters biting. Filth in trench from fall to spring Summers full of sweat and fighting For the Kesar or the King. And Wilfred Owen: What passing bells for these who died as cattle? Only the monstrous anger of the guns… The shrill demented Choir of wailing Shells… Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes. The book is a well produced, well printed and superbly illustrated treatise on weapons and armour of a by-gone era of early and medieval warfare. The author cites examples from the Rig veda, the Mahabharata and Kautilya.There are illustrations of early Buddhist iconography from Bharut and Sanchi. He traces the development of weapons during the Kushan, Gupta and Pala periods. The author deals at length with the weaponry of the warrior Rajputs and cites examples from Todd’s Annals of Rajasthan.
He is fascinated by Rajput chivalry, dwelling in some detail on the Battle of Tarain fought in 1191 between Prithviraj Chauhan and Muhammad Ghori. The battle was joined as the Rajputs sounded the attack by blowing conch shells from the backs of elephants. The Afghanis mounted on horses and camels broke and fled before the Rajputs. Ghori and Prithviraj met in single combat, Ghori, severely wounded, fled. The rout of Ghori’s Army was complete. Ghori returned with a larger army. Jaichand Raja of Kanauj allied himself with Ghori. Prithviraj engaged Ghori at Tarain. This time victory went to Ghori. The author maintains that Prithviraj was not killed at Tarain but was captured, taken to Afghanistan and blinded. Legend has it that Prithviraj, though blinded, was able to fire an arrow through Ghori’s chest. The author mentions that when passing through Ghazni with its mud fort he espied two tombs one purported to be of Sultan Ghori and the other of Prithviraj Chauhan. He watched as Afghans stamped on the grave of Prithviraj. The author wants the remains buried there to be brought back to India, where they belong.
The author goes into details regarding the differences of the medieval swords of North India and those of the South. Swords forged during the Mughal period were influenced by Persian armourers. Persian swordsmiths were often employed at the principal Indian Courts. Indian swordsmiths soon mastered Persian techniques. the Persian sword was curved backward. The talwar, used by the Mughals and Rajputs had a curved blade with a standard Indian hilt (Indo Muslim). The Shamsheer, which is Persian in origin, has a narrower, blade and a pistol type hilt. The author touches on Babar’s victory over Ibrahim Lodi at Panipat in 1526. He describes Akbar’s armoury comprising some sixty-nine types of weapons, most of them profusely decorated. Akbar practised swordmanship almost daily. The author feels that the famous Damascus blades were manufactured in India and finished in Damascus.
He deovtes a short chapter to the Chittor battles, and the tragic fate that befell Padmini. He goes on to describe the development of the Mughal swords particularly the functional and beautiful weapons crafted during the reign of Jehangir. The Mughals established workshops (Karkhanas) for the manufacture of swords. However, the tradition of swordmaking was widespread though the country and certain villages and small towns were proud of their iron smiths, (lohars) who sold their weapons in local and regional markets. The Rajput ‘Khanda’ remained an important weapon during Mughal times. The hilt in the course of time gave way to the Hindu basket hilt derived from European Swords. The Maratha empire spread to the borders of Afghanistan. Some of the Maratha swords (dhup) used foreign blades (firangi) but were not up to standard and were soon superceded. The Pata with a gauntlet hilt is unique. The author gives details of this type of sword. There is a short chapter on Maratha warfare and the genius of Shivaji’s tactics, highlighting the mobility of the cavalry and the enveloping tactics designed to harass and cut off supplies. These tactics succeeded. They became less effective with the passage of time with the introduction of firearms and cannon. There is a chapter on types of dagger and the katar. This is followed by a short chapter on the various types of blade and hilts. These are beautifully illustrated as also the chapter on maces, spears, battleaxes and other weapons including the zaghol (pointed axe for piercing the helmets or mail), as also the tiger claw (baghnak) made famous by Shivaji in his encounter with the treacherous Afzal Khan. Another weapon described is the chakra (war quoit). This famous Sikh weapon is in the form of a flat steel ring sharpened on the outside edge. Sikh warriors are said to have carried as many as six at a time on top of their turbans or around the arm. These were effective upto eighty paces. There is a well illustrated chapter on body armour dedicated to the various categories, leather and fabric, scale armour of overlapping plates, Brigandine where overlapping plates are attached inside the garment, Lamellar armour which consists of small overlapping plates held together by laces, mail armour of interlocking steel rings, plate armour and lastly mail and plate armour combined. There is a chapter on shields followed by a description of the various types of horse armour. Like horses, elephants were an essential part of an Indian Army and were used both for fighting and load carrying. Incidentally, though not mentioned by the author, elephants were used by Younghusband across the Jelap La into Tibet in 1904. The British XIV Army used working elephants in the Burma campaign in World War II.
There is an interesting chapter on the decoration of weapons with descriptions of Damascening, the art of inlaying gold on steel. These techniques entered India from Damascus via Iran. Also described are the techniques for enamelling, jewelling, niello work, gilding, chiselling and etching. The book concludes with a description of the lost wax process used for casting hilts. The lost wax method was widely used, not only in the manner described by the author, but also in the casting of figures for several thousand years, the oldest known specimen being found at Mohenjodaro.
The book is well produced and illustrated and is an authoritative and comprehensive treatise on the subject of arms and armour. It should find a place in all libraries and officers’ messes. It will be of interest also to the general reader and should find a pride of place on the coffee table.
Lt. General J.F.R. Jacob commanded an artillery battery in World War II serving in the Middle East, Burma and Sumatra. He played a pivotal role in the War of 1971. He directly negotiated with Lt. General Niazi to convert a ceasefire into a surrender. He also served as Governor of Goa and Punjab.