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History of South Asia
History of India
Stone Age before 3300 BCE
- Mehrgarh Culture 7000–3300 BCE
Indus Valley Civilization 3300–1700 BCE
- Late Harappan Culture 1700–1300 BCE
Islamic Rulers 1206–1707 CE
- Delhi Sultanate 1206–1526 CE
- Deccan Sultanates 1490–1596 CE
Vijayanagara Empire 1336–1646 CE
Mughal Empire 1526–1707 CE
Maratha Empire 1674–1818 CE
Durrani Empire 1747–1823 CE
Sikh Empire 1799–1849 CE
Company rule in India 1757–1858 CE
British India 1858–1947 CE
Partition of India 1947 CE
History of Sri Lanka
Nation histories
Specialised histories
MilitaryScience and TechnologyTimeline

The military history of India dates back several millennia. The first reference to armies is found in the Vedas and the epics Ramayana and Mahabaratha. There were many powerful dynasties in India such as the Sikh Empire, Maha Janapadas, Shishunaga Empire, Gangaridai Empire, Nanda Empire, Maurya Empire, Sunga Empire, Kharavela Empire, Kuninda Kingdom, Chola Empire, Chera Empire, Pandyan Empire, Satavahana Empire, Western Satrap Empire, Kushan Empire, Vakataka Empire, Kalabhras Kingdom, Gupta Empire, Pallava Empire, Kadamba Empire, Western Ganga Kingdom, Vishnukundina Empire, Chalukya Empire, Harsha Empire, Shahi Kingdom, Eastern Chalukya Kingdom, Pratihara Empire, Pala Empire, Rashtrakuta Empire, Paramara Kingdom, Yadava Empire, Solanki Kingdom, Western Chalukya Empire, Hoysala Empire, Sena Empire, Eastern Ganga Empire, Kakatiya Kingdom, Kalachuri Empire, Delhi Sultanate, Deccan Sultanates, Ahom Kingdom, Vijayanagar Empire, Mysore Kingdom, Mughal Empire, Maratha Empire, etc.

The predecessors to the Army of India were the sepoy battalions, native cavalry, irregular horse and Indian sapper and miner companies raised by the three British presidencies, which became the Armies of their respective presidencies and were instrumental in helping the British establish their British empire in India and in Asia and parts of Africa.

The Army of India was raised under the British Raj in the 19th century by taking the erstwhile presidency armies, merging them and bringing them under the Crown. The British Indian Army fought in both the World Wars. During World War II, the Army of India played a crucial role in checking the advance of Imperial Japan and also fought several battles against Axis forces in northern Africa and Italy.

Indian troops made up a substantial part of the British forces fighting the Japanese in Asia during World War II. Many of the troops that surrendered at Singapore to Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita, known as the "Tiger of the Orient" on February 15, 1942, were Indians. Some of these, approached as prisoners, chose to take up arms against the British with Subhash Chandra Bose, the leader of the Indian National Army fighting for Indian independence. Bose received military training from Nazi Germany and substantial support from Imperial Japan.

Indian troops fighting for the British Army made a significant impact in the CBI (China, Burma, India) theater. They were among the troops pushed out of Burma in 1942 and made up a large portion of the troops who fought their way back into Burma (1943–45).

In 1944, the Imperial Japanese Army launched an invasion from Burma into India. On the one hand, the Japanese goal was to establish a presence in India with thoughts that the populace would rise up and help kick the British out. The other thought, based on Allied attacks from India into Burma, was to deny the British a base from which to launch further attacks. The Japanese invasion was stopped in bloody fighting and, some might say, the IJA used up much of its energy in the effort leading to its increased inability to stop the next Allied push into Burma.

The armed forces succeeded the Military of British India following India's independence in 1947. After the second world war, many of the wartime troops were discharged and units disbanded. The reduced armed forces were partitioned between India and Pakistan. The Indian armed forces fought in all three wars against Pakistan and a war with the People's Republic of China. India also fought in the Kargil War with Pakistan in 1999, the highest altitude mountain warfare in history. The Indian Armed Forces have participated in several United Nations peacekeeping operations and are presently the second largest contributor of troops to the peacekeeping force.


Vedic period

Map of "Bharatvarsha" (Kingdom of India) during the time of Mahabharata and Ramayana. (Title and location names are in English.)

The first reference of armies is found in the Vedas. The epics Ramayana and Mahabaratha contain information on standing armies and warfare techniques like the Chakravyuha used in the Kurukshetra War. The epics contain information on the usage of chariots, war elephants and even flying machines in wars.

The Rigvedic tribes of Indo-Aryans were led by their tribal chieftain (raja) and engaged in wars with each other as well as other tribes. They used bronze weapons and had horse-drawn spoke-wheeled chariots described prominently in the Rigveda. The main share from the booty obtained during the cattle raids and battles went to the chief of the tribe. The warriors belonged to the Kshatriya varna. Earlier, most archaeologists believed that Aryan armies invaded peaceful Harappan cities and destroyed them. But now, there are contending views. Since none of the excavations indicate battle damage to the cities, it has been suggested by some that there was never a so called Aryan Invasion, and that Aryans were the original inhabitants of India. However, it has also been shown that there were migrations from Central Asia, and that the culture of the Indus valley civilizations were different from that of the Aryan culture which replaced it.



Manuscript illustration of the Battle of Kurukshetra

During the post-Rigvedic (Iron Age) Vedic period (ca. 1100–500 BC), the Vedas and other associated texts contain references to warfare. The earliest known application of war elephants dates to this period, being mentioned in several Vedic Sanskrit hymns.[1]

The two great epics of India, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, are centered around conflicts between the emerging Mahajanapadas and refer to military formations, theories of warfare and esoteric weaponry. Valmiki's Ramayana describes Ayodhya's military as defensive rather than aggressive. The city, it says, was strongly fortified and was surrounded by a deep moat. Ramayana describes Ayodhya with the following words: "The city abounded in warriors undefeated in battle, fearless and skilled in the use of arms, resembling lions guarding their mountain caves". Mahabharata describes various military techniques like Chakravyuha used in the Kurukshetra War.

The Magadha empire

Shishunaga dynasty

King Bimbisara was an expansionist and conquered Anga in what is now West Bengal. He strengthened the military of Magadh's capital, Rajagriha. Ajatashatru built a new fort at Pataliputra, Magadh's new capital to launch an attack on Licchavis, across the Ganga River. Jain texts tell that he used two new weapons – a catapult and a covered chariot with swinging mace that has been compared to modern tanks.

Nanda dynasty

The powerful Mahapadma Nanda defeated Ikshvakus, Panchalas, Kasis, Harhayas, Kalingas, Asmakas, Kurus, Maithilas, Surasenas and Vitihotras and assumed the title "the destroyer of the kshathriyas". At the time of Dhana Nanda, the Nandas had an army consisting of 80,000 cavalry, 20,000 infantry, 8,000 armed chariots, and 6,000 war elephants. Many historians hold the view that Alexander confined himself to the plains of Punjab for fear of the mighty Nandas.

Maurya Dynasty

The Maurya Empire at its largest extent under Ashoka the Great.

According to Megasthenes, Chandragupta Maurya built an army consisting of 30,000 cavalry, 9,000 war elephants, and 600,000 infantry. Some modern historians feel that this is an exaggeration on the part of Megasthenes, who was serving as an ambassador from the Seleucid Empire. Chandragupta conquered all of northern India, establishing an empire from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal. He then conquered the regions to the east of the Indus river after defeating the Macedonians and Seleucus Nicator, and then moved southwards, taking over much of what is now Central India. The entire army was administrated by six chairs, one for each of the four arms of the army (infantry, cavalry, elephants, and chariots), one chair for the navy, and one for logistics and supply.

Infantry at this time was most commonly armed with a longbow made of bamboo, and a single or double handed broadsword (probably somewhat similar to the khanda). Other foot soldiers could be armed with a large, animal hide tower shield and a spear/javelins. The cavalry is not noted especially, but Megasthenese does mention that they were armed with a few spears, of which we can assume most were meant for hurling. Elephants were mounted, usually bareback (rarely with a howdah at this time, as it is a Greek invention), with archers or javelineers, and with a mahout around the animal's neck. Chariots by this time were in definite decline, but still managed to stay an arm of the army by sheer virtue of their prestige.

In 185 BC, the last Mauryan king was assassinated by Pushyamitra Shunga, the Commander-in-Chief of the Mauryan armed forces.....

Early Middle Kingdoms (the golden age)

Classical Indian texts on archery in particular, and martial arts in general are known as Dhanurveda.

Satavahana dynasty

Simuka, the founder of the Satavahana dynasty, conquered Maharashtra, Malwa and part of Madhya Pradesh. His successor and brother Kanha (or Krishna) further extended his kingdom to the west and the south. He was succeeded by Satakarni I, who defeated the Sunga dynasty of North India. Gautamiputra Satakarni defeated the Western Kshatrapas ruler Nahapana. His brother Vashishtiputra Satakarni, was defeated by his Western Kshatrapa father-in-law in a battle.

According to some interpretations of the Puranas, the family belonged to the Andhra-jati (“tribe”) and was the first Deccanese dynasty to build an empire in daksinapatha (southern region). The Satavahanas (also called Andhra and Shalivahan) rose to power in modern Maharashtra around 200 B.C. They remained in power, for about 400 years. Almost the whole of present day Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Orissa, Goa, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu were under Satavahana rule. Paithan in Maharashtra, formerly called Pratishthan, was the capital of the Satavahanas. The founder of the Satvahanas was Simuka. But the man who raised it to eminence was Satakarni I. Sri Yajna Satakarni was the last great king in this dynasty. After him, the empire began to decline.

Gautami-putra Satakarni was the most famous king of the Satvahana dynasty. He defeated the Sakas (Scythians), Yavanas (Greeks) and Pahlavas (Parthians). His empire extended up to Banavasi in the south, and included Maharashtra, Konkan, Saurashtra, Malwa, west Rajasthan and Vidharbha. His son, Vasishti-putra, ruled at Paithan on the banks of Godavari. Two other cities, Vaijayanti (in North Kanara) and Amravati (in the Guntur district), attained eminence during the Satvahana period. Vasishthi-putra Pulumavi, Vasishthi-putra Satakarni, Yadnya-shri Satakarni are some other Satavahana rulers who succeeded Gautami-putra Satakarni some lost many of their territories but the power of Satvahanas revived under Sri Yajna Satakarni, who was the last great king. After him, the empire began to decline.

The Satavahanas inaugurated the Shalivahana Shaka. Satavahanas were very able rulers. Their empire was divided into provinces called Aharas, each under an Amatya (minister). They had a large army. They were lovers of literature and architecture. Prakrit was the court language. Women took part in assemblies. The Karle caves in Maharashtra were built during this period. Some caves of Ajanta were also built during this period. The construction of 29 galleries of Ajantha Caves continued until 650 AD.

Kushan empire

Vima Takto, using the name "Soter Megas" (Great Saviour), conquered Gandhara and northern India in 68 AD. The Kushan warriors were assimilated into Indian society as Kshatriyas. Following Yuezhi's style, most of the Kushan nobles fought from horse back, supported by the heavier parts of the army, cataphracts. The coins of Kujula, Vima Takto, Vima Kadphises and Kanishka show the king usually unarmored, lightly armored than the later Kushan kings. In many coins Kanishka appears to have a bow, but this interpretation is debatable. Some Buddhist texts indicate the use of Indian influences like elephants leading the attacks and the use of chariots. The elephants first appeared on the coins of Vima Kadphises and probably went on to become the mount of the kings. The elephants are depicted with towers and a covering. It is not clear whether these were armor or just padding. Buddhist texts mention that the infantry were used to support these elephants. The historian Nikonorov suggests that the elephants used were provided by the Satraps. However, the main strength of the Kushan army came from its armored horses. The use of heavy cavalry increased later. Apart from the original Kushans and Indians, the Greeks, various mountain tribes, Sacas from northern India and Iranian mercenaries were also added to Kushan army. The Kidarites and Sassanids predominantly used cavalry. The Satraps provided them with additional India forces including elephants.

Gupta dynasty

See also: Military organisation of the Gupta Empire

Siva-Dhanur-veda, is considered a contemporary military classic which gives more information about the military system of the Guptas. They utilized war elephants, supplemented by additional armor. The use of horses, if any, was very limited. The use of chariots had heavily declined by the time of the Guptas, as they had not proved very useful against the Ancient Macedonians, Scythians, and other invaders. Guptas utilised heavy cavalry clad in mail armor and equipped with maces and lances, who would have used shock action to break the enemy line. They also heavily relied on infantry archers, and the bow was one of the dominant weapons of their army. Their longbow was composed of metal, or more typically bamboo, and fired a long bamboo cane arrow with a metal head. Iron shafts were used against armored elephants, and fire arrows were also part of the bowmen's arsenal. Archers were frequently protected by infantry equipped with shields, javelins, and longswords. Guptas also maintained a navy, allowing them to control regional waters.

Coin of the last Western Satrap ruler Rudrasimha III.

Samudragupta seized the kingdoms of Shichchhatra and Padmavati early in his reign. Later, he took the Kingdom of Kota and attacked the tribes in Malvas, the Yaudheyas, the Arjunayanas, the Maduras and the Abhiras. By his death in 380, he had conquered over twenty kingdoms. Chandragupta II defeated the Saka Western Kshatrapas of Malwa, Gujarat and Saurashtra in a campaign lasting till 409. He had defeated his main opponent Rudrasimha III by 395. He also crushed the Bengal (Vanga) chiefdoms. Skandagupta defeated Pushyamitra. He repulsed the attack of Hephthalites or "White Huns", c. 455, but the expense of the wars drained the empire's resources and contributed to its decline.

Late Middle Kingdoms (the classical age)

Harsha's empire

Emperor Harshavardhana (606–648) ruled northern India for over forty years. His father, a king of Thanesar had gained prominence by successful wars against the Huns. Harsha had plans to conquer the whole of India, and carried on wars for thirty years with considerable success. By 612 he had built up a vast army with which he conquered nearly all North India up to the Narmada river. But, in 620 Harsha lost to Pulakesin II, when he attempted to invade Deccan.

The Chalukyas and Pallavas

In South India, the Chalukyas and the Pallavas gained prominence. Chalukya king Pulakesi II's expansionism started with minor campaign against the Alupas, Gangas and others. He defeated the Pallava king Mahendravarman, and also conquered the Cheras and the Pandyas. His most successful military campaign was his defeat of Harshavardhana (c. 615). However, the war depleted the treasury, so Pulakesi II had to stop his expansionist campaigns.

The Pallava king Narasimhavarman had vowed to avenge Mahendravarman's defeat against Pulakesi II. He invaded Vatapi with an army headed by his general Paranjothi. He successfully defeated Chalukyas, killing Pulakesi II in 642. The clashes between the Chalukyas and the Pallavas continued. The Chalukya king Vikramaditya II won a comprehensive victory against the Pallavas in 740. The Chalukya Empire was overthrown in 750 by the Rashtrakutas. During the 970s, Tailapa II, a scion the Chalukya dynasty, overthrew the Rashtrakutas and recovered most of the Chalukya empire, except for Gujarat. The Chalukyas of this period are known as the Kalyani Chalukyas, as Kalyani was their capital. The Kalyani Chalukyas clashed with the Cholas intermittently. Someshvara I, also known as Ahavamalla, defeated the Chola king Rajadhiraja Chola in 1052.

The Chola empire

Chola's empire and influence at the height of its power (c. 1050).

The Cholas were the first rulers in the Indian subcontinent to maintain a fleet and use it to expand their dominion overseas. The Chola king Vijayalaya defeated the Pallavas and captured Thanjavur. In the early 10th century the Chola king Parantaka I defeated the Pandyan king Rajasimha and also invaded Ceylon (Sri Lanka). His son, Rajaditya, was defeated and killed by the Rashtrakuta ruler Krishna III (c.949). It is known through inscriptions that at least from Uttama Chola's time, Chola warriors were provided with waist coats of armor. Hence, one regiment was called Niyayam-Uttama-Chola-tterinda-andalakattalar. Paluvettaraiyar Maravan Kandanar is noted as an important general during Uttama Chola reign. He also served under Sundara Chola.

Rajaraja Chola began his military career with the conquest of the Cheras. He defeated the Chera King Bhaskara Ravivarman, destroying his fleet at the port of Kandalur. He also seized Pandya Amara Bhujanga and captured the port of Vilinam, Kerala and a part of Ceylon. In the 14th year of his reign (998–999) he conquered Gangas of Mysore, Nolambas (Bellary and Eastern Mysore), Tadigaipadi (the district of Mysore), Vengi (southern part of Northern Circars), Coorg (Kudamalainadu) and the Pandyas. Next, he conquered the Chalukyas of the Deccan. During the next three years, he subdued Quilon and the northern kingdom of Kalinga with the help of his son Rajendra Chola I.

Rajendra Chola later completed the conquest of Sri Lanka, crossed the Ganges and marched across Kalinga to Bengal, and sent out a great naval expedition that occupied parts of Burma (Myanmar), Java, Malaya, and Sumatra in South East Asia. Cholas were later defeated by the Hoysalas from the west and Pandyas from the south.

The Pratiharas, Palas and Rashtrakutas

In middle of 9th century, the Palas under Devapala attacked Pratiharas. Led by Bhoj, the Pratiharas and their allies defeated Pala king Narayan Pala. The Pratiharas' cavalry was described as the finest in 851 by an Arab. There were many battles between Pratiharas under Bhoj and Rashtrakutas under Krishna II with mixed results. When Rashtrakuta king Indra III attacked Kanauj, Mahipala (Bhoj's successor) fled but returned after the left. During the rule of Mahipala, in 915, Al Mas'udi from Baghdad wrote that the Pratiharas were at war with the Muslims in the west and the Rashtrakutas in the south. He wrote that Pratiharas had four armies of about 800,000 men each.

The Rajputs

After Babur's victory over Ibrahim Lodi at the First Battle of Panipat, the Mewar ruler Rana Sanga led a combined Rajput army of 20000, with an intent to defeat Babur and capture Delhi. The Mughals had superior artillery, which prevailed against the Rajput cavalry. A Tomar general betrayed Rana Sanga, resulting in his defeat by Babur at the Battle of Khanua (March 16, 1527). During the reign of Rana Udai Singh II (son of Rana Sanga), Babur's Grandson Akbar conquerod Chittor, the capital of Mewar.

The Battle of Haldighati (June 21, 1576) between Rana Pratap Singh (Rana Udai Singh II's son) and Akbar is one of the most famous battles in the Indian history. The Mughal army of 80,000 was headed by a Rajput, Raja Man Singh and Akbar's son Salim (aka Jahangir). The Rajput army's strength was 20,000. The extremely fierce battle lasted for about four hours.

After most of his soldiers were either killed or captured, Rana Pratap escaped. His legendary horse Chetak was killed in the battle. Rana Pratap was saved by his estranged brother Sakta Singh. Later, Rana Pratap organized a small army of Bhil tribals funded by a businessman called Bhamashah and started a guerrilla war against Akbar. He conquered large parts of Mewar, but was unsuccessful in conquering the capital Chittor.

The Sultanate era

Delhi Sultanate

The Delhi Sultanate, under the Khilji dynasty, was successful in defeating a number of invasions from the Mongol Empire. Zafar Khan, the general of Alauddin Khilji, was successful against several such invasions. Zafar Khan defeated invading Mongols near Jalandhar in 1297 to secure Alauddin Khilji's throne. Later in 1299, a Mongol army of 200,000 soldiers entered India with the intention of conquest. Zafar Khan showed desperate valor in battle and defeated them, though he did not survive.

Samoothiris of Kozhikode

More famously known as the Zamorin, this smallNair Kingdom welcomed the Portuguese in 1498 as traders and then with the assistance of its naval chief, Kunjali Marakkar, fought several naval wars with them in the 16th century.

Muzaffarid dynasty

Sultan Muzaffar Shah I, the Governor of Gujarat established the Muzaffarid dynasty in 1391. It expanded rapidly and peaked under Sultan Mahmud I who lost the famous Battle of Diu to the Portuguese in 1509.

Vijayanagar empire

In 1509, the Bahamani Sultan declared a jehad against Vijaynagar. His large coalition army was defeated by Krishnadevaraya, who also wounded the Sultan. In 1510, Krishnadevaraya launched a counteroffensive against the Sultan at Kovelaconda. In this battle, Yusuf Adil Shahi of Bijapur was killed. In 1512, Krishnadevaraya captured Raichur and Gulbarga after defeating Barid-i-Mamalik, the titular head of the Bahmani Sultanate, who escaped to Bidar. Later, Bidar also fell to Krishnadevaraya. However, he diplomatically restored the Bahmani Sultan to his throne, with an intention to create discord and suspicion in the Bahmani coalition.

In a battle from 1512 to 1514, Krishnadevaraya subjugated the Palaigar of Ummattur, who had rebelled against his brother. While this campaign was halfway, the Gajapati of Orissa attacked Vijayanagar and occupied two northeast provinces, Udayagiri and Kondavidu. In January 1513, Krishnadevaraya launched a campaign recover to Udaygiri. The campaign lasted till 1518, resulting in defeat of Gajapati. On January 26, 1565 the Islamic kingdoms of Ahmednagar, Berar, Bidar, Bijapur and Golconda came together to defeat the Vijayanagar decisively in the Battle of Talikota.

After the battle the remaining Vijaynagar fled with large treasury to re-establish their head quarters at Vellore Fort in Tamil Nadu and Chandragiri (Andhra Pradesh) near Tirupathi. It would be here where the British sought land grant to establish the English East India Company Fort St. George in Madras.

Later its southern Telugu governors established their independence and emerging as Gingee Nayaks in Gingee Fort, Tanjore Nayaks and the famous Nayaks of Madurai all in present day Tamil Nadu.

The effects of the Mongol wars

Indians made steel weapons that were popular in the ancient world because of their quality and durability. These weapons were forged from wootz steel, which may have existed in India as early as 200 BCE.

The Mughal era

Mughal Empire

The Maratha empire

The Maratha Empire of India, also called the Maratha Confederacy, was founded by Chatrapati Shivaji in 1674, when he carved an independent Maratha zone around Pune, Maharshtra, from the Bijapur Sultanate. Chatrapati Shivaji established an effective civil and military administration. He made it a state policy never to desecrate a mosque or seize women after military raids. He had many loyal Muslim admirers, who served in his army. He was also only the second king in Indian history to have his own active navy. After a lifetime of exploits and guerrilla warfare with the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, Maharaja Shivaji died in 1680, leaving a Maratha kingdom of great but ill-defined extent. This was followed by a period of unstability which ended with the death of Aurangzeb.

Kanhoji Angre was the first Maratha naval chief under Chattrapati Shahu, Shivaji's grandson. He harassed Dutch, English and Portuguese commercial ships on the Western coast of India in the early 18th century. He remained undefeated until his death in 1729.

Although the descendants of Shivaji continued to rule, the office of the Peshwa, or the Prime Minister, had become the dispensers of Maratha power and patronage. The Peshwas were the effective rulers of the Maratha state and oversaw the period of greatest Maratha expansion, brought to an end by the Maratha's defeat by an Afghan army at the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761. The Marathas recovered their position as the dominant power in India by 1772 until the last Peshwa, Baji Rao II, was defeated by the British in the Third Anglo-Maratha War.

Major wars:

State of Travancore

The principal military caste of Travancore was the Nairs. Raja Marthanda Varma built up this Kingdom after inheriting the small princely state of Venad in 1723, in the southern tip of India. He made it one of the most powerful Kingdoms in Southern India. Raja Marthanda Varma led the Travancore forces during the Travancore-Dutch War from 1739 – 1746 (the most famous engagement of which being the Battle of Colachel on August 10, 1741), which marks the first decisive victory by an Asian kingdom over a major European power. Raja Marthanda Varma then went on to unify most of the provinces of the native princes who had allied themselves with the Dutch against him. During Dharma Raja's reign, Travancore itself was attacked byTipu Sultan and the Travancore Army, which had been modernised and trained by D'Lennoy, the commander-in-chief (Valia Kappithan) of Raja Marthanda Varma, successfully defended the country from Tipu's numerically superior forces. This attack led to Travancore joining the British against Tipu in the Third Battle of Carnatic. The warrior clan of Nairs under the leadership of various nobles and princes like "Pazhsi Raja, Velu Thampi Dalava and Paliath Achan" also fought against British East India company on occasions, but lost to the superior arms, tactics and discipline of the Company's armies. Travancore became an ally of the British in 1805 following a treaty between Col. Maculay and Diwan Velu Tampi, and remained so until 1947 when it merged with India.

Kingdom of Mysore

Hyder Ali was instructed by French military officers. He was one of the first Indian rulers to use rockets. He used iron rockets to defeat a top British unit in battle[2]. His son, Tipu Sultan was also instructed by French military officers. Tipu participated in First Anglo-Maratha War of 1775–1779. He defeated the Brathwaite on the banks of the Coleroon in February 1782 in the Second Mysore War. After his father's death in 1782, he decided to check British advances by forming alliances with the Marathas and the Mughals. However, his plan wasn't successful. So, he turned to France. In 1789, he invaded the state of Travancore, a British protectorate. However, he didn't receive expected help from France (the French were embroiled in the French Revolution) and Mysore was defeated in what is now known as the Third Mysore War. Tipu Sultan died in the Fourth Mysore War. Although Horatio Nelson crushed Napoleon's ambitions of advancing to India at the Battle of the Nile, three armies – one from Bombay, and two British (one of which was commanded by Arthur Wellesley), marched into Mysore in 1799 and besieged the capital, Srirangapatnam. On May 4, 1799, the armies broke through the defending walls and Tipu died of a gunshot wound near the gates of his fortress.

Main wars:


Maharaja Ranjit Singh (Punjabi: ਮਹਾਰਾਜਾ ਰਣਜੀਤ ਸਿੰਘ), also called "Sher-e-Punjab" ("The Lion of the Punjab") (1780–1839) was a Sikh ruler of the sovereign country of Punjab and the Sikh Empire. His Samadhi is in Lahore, Pakistan. Ranjit Singh was a Sikh born in 1780 in Gujranwala in modern day Pakistan, into the Sansi-Sandhawalia family. At the time much of Punjab was ruled by the Sikhs, who had divided the territory among factions known as misls. Ranjit Singh's father Maha Singh was the commander of the Sukerchakia Misl and controlled a territory in west Punjab based around his headquarters at Gujranwala. Ranjit Singh succeeded his father at the young age of 12. After several campaigns, his rivals accepted him as their leader, and he united the Sikh factions into one state and he took the title of Maharaja on April 13, 1801 (to coincide with Baisakhi day), with Lahore having served as his capital from 1799. In 1802 he took the holy city of Amritsar.

Most of the territories that became a part of the Sikh Kingdom were annexed or rendered tributary before CE1822, in which year Maharaja Ranjit Singh hired European mercenaries for the first time to train a part of his troops. He modernized his army creating a powerful military force whose presence delayed the eventual British colonization of Punjab. The effect was to create a powerful and heavily armed state. He brought law and order, yet was reluctant to use the death penalty. He stopped Indian non-secular style practices by treating Hindus and Muslims equally. He banned the discriminatory "jizya" tax on Hindus and Sikhs.

One of the most important battles of the Indian subcontinent was fought by Maharaja Ranjit Singh's general Hari Singh Nalwa at the mouth of the Khyber Pass, north of Peshawar, in 1837. The Battle of Jamrud resulted in a large part of the territory lying in the trans-Indus region (ruled by Hindu kings before the 10th century CE; part of the Kingdom of Kabul, modern-day Afghanistan, in the 18-19th century), continuing as a Sikh possession. This territory became British India's North West Frontier Province in the 19th century, and a part of Pakistan at the partition of the sub-continent.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh died in 1839 and the state went to his eldest son Kharak Singh.

The Kingdom, that Maharaja Ranjit Singh had worked so hard to build, began to crumble due to poor governance and political mismanagement by his heirs. His successors were killed through court-intrigues, while the nobility and army struggled for power till the end of the Second Anglo-Sikh War (1848–49), when the Kingdom of the Sikhs was annexed by the British from his youngest son Duleep Singh. However, after the First Anglo-Sikh War (1845–46), Punjab effectively ceased to be an independent state and in 1849 was annexed by the British and all major decisions where made by the British Empire.

The British Empire annexed Punjab in c.1845–49 AD; after two Anglo Sikh Wars

The Anglo-Sikh Wars (1846–1849)

Company rule

The British Indian Army was raised to guard the factories. Later, it grew into the army of John Company Bahadur, and subsequently grew into Presidency armies of Bengal, Madras and Bombay in 1795, after the fall of French Pondicherry in 1793. The Dutch trained the military of the princely state of Travancore called the Nair Brigade.

The 1857 Sepoy Mutiny

During the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857–58, some units of the Bengal Native Infantry, Cavalry and other units revolted against the British East India Company on frivolous reasons, the most prominent being the alleged greasing of cartridges with Tallow (cow fat) and Lard (pork fat), the former being sacred to the Hindus and the latter being Haraam forbidden to Muslims. The rebels of the Bengal Army had hoped that more of their brethren and their compatriots from the Bombay and the Madras Armies would also join them; but they were disappointed in them and only a handful, just a minuscule number, from the Bombay Army took to arms against John Company. But there was no shortage of brutality, especially against women and children and unarmed civilian officials, as incidents in Delhi, Lucknow, and other placed would prove. But Kanpur (or as the British would call "Cawnpore") was the epitome of ruthlessness, betrayal, and treachery by Nana Sahib and Tantia Tope and their followers, which included rebels from the units of the Kanpur cantonment. "CAWNPORE" later became the warcry for the revenging British forces.

The reasons for the failure of the mutiny was the lack of resources and reliable troops and total absence of motivation. Furthermore, their operations were not coordinated, making the entire effort futile, resulting in some very ruthless reprisals from the reinforced and victorious British Army, assisted by the loyal regiments and the Sikh and Afghan troops, both regular and irregular.

After 1857, the Presidency Armies were abolished. Many of the existing units were disbanded or reorganised. New units were inducted into the newly formed British Indian Army such as the Sikhs, Gurkhas and irregular horse. The majority of the Madras Native Infantry and Cavalry had their class compositions changed to North Indian tribes, considered more 'martial' to the darker, shorter 'thambis' who were the majority class of the Madras Presidency Army. This was in direct contradiction to the military reputation and many battle honours won by the 'thambis' both in India and abroad. The British Indian Army came under the control of the Crown and the Viceroy.

The British Raj

The British Raj or British India, officially the British Indian Empire, and internationally and contemporaneously, India, was the term used synonymously for the region, the rule, and the period, from 1858 to 1947, of the British Empire on the Indian subcontinent. The region included areas directly administered by the United Kingdom (contemporaneously, "British India") as well as the princely states ruled by individual rulers under the paramountcy of the British Crown. The princely states, which had all entered into treaty arrangements with the British Crown, were allowed a degree of local autonomy in exchange for protection and representation in international affairs by Great Britain. The British Indian Empire included the regions of present-day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, and, in addition, at various times, Aden (from 1839 to 1937), Lower Burma (from 1852 to 1937), Upper Burma (from 1886 to 1937), British Somaliland (briefly from 1884 to 1898), and Singapore (briefly from 1819 to 1867). British India had some ties with British possessions in the Middle East; the Indian rupee served as the currency in many parts of that region. What is now Iraq was, immediately after World War I, administered by the India Office of the British government.

The Indian Air Force was established in 1932.

The British-Indian army

The British-Indian army contained members of all the major religious groups in India, it contained Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, and Muslims. The number of Sikhs in the army grew steadily with time because as well as being seen as less biased due to their cultural differences to Hindus and Muslims, less drastic then other Indian cultural and religious sects, they were also noted for their loyalty and martial fighting prowess. They were seen less likely to challenge their British superiors, this was especially noted after the Sepoy Rebellion where they sided with the British against rebellion and were noted for their loyalties and discipline to the empire. There are many reasons why they sided the British as the British had recently taken over the Punjab and via two Sikh Wars (1846 and 1849) in which the Bengalis, Biharis, Purbais and the Marathas helped and abated the British Empire, as well Sikhs were paranoid that the Muslim sects of the rebellion wished to reinstate the Mughal monarchs, which in history persecuted the Sikhs. Post rebellion the British took steps to avoid further rebellions taking place which drastically changed the structure of the Indian Army. Indian sepoys were banned from the officer corp and artillery corp to ensure that future rebellions would not be as organised and discipline and that the ratio of British Soldiers to Indian Sepoys would be drastically reduced. Recruiting percentages changed with an emphasis on Sikhs and Ghurkas which proved loyalties and fighting prowess in the conflict and new caste and religious based regiments were formed.

The World Wars

The British Indian Army's strength was about 189,000 in 1939. There were about 3,000 British officers and 1,115 Indian officers. The army was expanded greatly to fight in World War II. By 1945, the strength of the Army had risen to about two and a half million. There were about 34,500 British officers and 15,740 Indian officers. The Army took part in campaigns in France, East Africa, North Africa, Syria, Tunisia, Malaya, Burma, Greece, Sicily and Italy. It suffered 179,935 casualties in the war (including killed (24,338), wounded (64,354), missing (11,762) and POW (79,481) soldiers).

World War I

Indians were in action on the Western Front within a month of the start of the war, at the First Battle of Ypres where Khudadad Khan became the first Indian to be awarded a Victoria Cross. After a year of front-line duty, sickness and casualties had reduced the Indian Corps to the point where it had to be withdrawn. Indian formation were also sent to East Africa, Egypt and Gallipoli and nearly 700,000 then served with great distinction against the Turks in the Mesopotamian campaign.[3]

While some divisions were sent overseas others had to remain in India guarding the North West Frontier and on internal security duties. During WWI the Sikh battalions fought in Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Gallipoli and France. The 14th Ferozepore Sikhs were in Gallipoli in April 1915 and fought in a number of battles in the Gallipoli campaign . After Gallipoli the battalion was in the Persian Gulf region and took part in some fierce fighting on the Tigris River. The 15th Ludhiana Sikhs were in France in September 1914 and participated in fighting at Fauquissart, Festubert and Neuve Chapelle. Normally the annual recruitment for the army was 15,000 men, during the course of the war there were over 800,000 volunteers for the army and more than 400,000 volunteers for non combatant roles, in total almost 1.3 million men volunteered for service by 1918.[4]

One million Indian troops would serve abroad , 62,000 died and another 67,000 were wounded.[5] IN total,74,187 Indian Soldiers died in the First world war [6] 90,000 soldiers who lost their lives fighting in World War I and the Afghan Warsare commemorated by the India Gate.

World War II

India was an active participant in the World War II as a part of the British Empire, and was a major contributor of troops and resources to the war effort, with 2.5 million Indians enlisting, making the largest volenteer draft in history. Indian units and troops fought in almost all the major campaigns in which the British were involved, and presented an excellent account of themselves. Of particular significance were the campaigns against the Italians in Abyssinia and North Africa, against the Germans in North Africa and Italy, especially the Allied victory at El-Alamein and the Burma Campaign as a whole.

Azad Hind Fauj

Azad Hind Fauj, also known as the Indian National Army was led by prominent freedom fighter Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and his Axis recognized Provisional Government of Free India. As repeated promises by the British to grant independence failed to surface, Bose backed by the forces of Germany and Japan led the INA to liberation of Burma in their march to northeastern India and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Republic of India

The Republic of India has fought three wars and one major incursion battle with Pakistan and one border war with China.

Major wars

First Indo-Pak war, 1947

Independent India, formed on August 15, 1947, has seen three wars with Pakistan (1947–48, 1965, 1971). The first war took place after Pakistani soldiers and armed tribesmen invaded the independent province of Kashmir. When the forces almost reached the capital Srinagar the Maharaja, Hari Singh signed an agreement with India in which all Kashmiri lands were ceded to India. India sent their troops in shortly after and freed a some of the new Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir from Pakistani inflitrators.However,India lost one third of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistani forces in the war which is to date under Pakistani control.

Operation Polo, 1948

After the Indo-Pak war of 1947, India realized that a major problem was the Hyderabad State an independent enclave in India. Realizing that a Muslim state could mean trouble in any future conflict with Pakistan, India invaded and quickly overran Hyderabad.

Invasion of Goa, 1961

In 1961 tension rose between India and Portugal over the Portuguese-occupied territory of Goa, which India considered Indian territory. After Portuguese police used extreme violence to suppress an unarmed and peaceful attempt by demonstrators to be reunited with India, the Indian government decided to invade. After an air campaign by the Indian air force, Indian ground and naval forces quickly drove through Goa, forcing the Portuguese to surrender.[7] Portuguese losses were 31 killed, 57 wounded, and 3,306 captured. Indian losses were 34 killed and 51 wounded.

Sino-Indian war, 1962

India fought a border war against China (1962). China won the border war, leading India to revamp the entire military system. After the war ended, the Department of Defence Production was set up to create an indigenous defence production base which is self-reliant and self-sufficient. Since 1962, 16 new ordinance factories have been set up.

Second Indo-Pak war, 1965

The second Indo-Pak war was also fought over Kashmir issue. It ended in overall stalemate with India and Pakistan capturing each others terrotories. Though Indian Airforce (IAF) suffered very heavy losses due to better performance of Pakistan Airforce (PAF) in the battle, IAF decided to revisit all plans and purchase of new aircraft after the war. A major USSR interfered and got the truce between the two nations at Tashkent agreement, which also saw the mysterious death of Indian PM Lal Bahadur Shastri. At the same time, there was the possibility of a second Sino-Indian war along the Nathu La Pass in Sikkim[8].

The Chola Incident

A Sino-India skirmish took place in 1967 and is known today as the Chola Incident.

Third Indo-Pak war, 1971

In the third Indo-Pak war, India intervened decisively in what was then East Pakistan due to the mass exodus of refugees to India following West Pakistani military action there. The new nation of Bangladesh was created as a result. India succeeded in removing Pakistani soldiers from what is now known as "East Pakistan" resulting in the formation of Bangladesh. This conflict is often cited as India's greatest military victory. Bangladesh claim a huge genocide committed by Pakistan Army but latest research suggests that the figures are highly exaggerated

Siachin war, 1984

The Siachin war between India and Pakistan occurred in 1984. The area of the dispute was the Siachen Glacier – the world's highest battlefield. The Glacier was under territorial dispute, but in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Pakistan began organizing several tourist expeditions to the Glacier. India, irked by this development, mounted Operation Meghdoot, and captured the top of the Glacier by establishing a military base which it still maintains to this day at a cost of more than US$1 million per day.[9] Pakistan on the other hand spends just under US$1 million per day, though as % of GDP Pakistan spends 5 times as the Indian Military does to maintain its share of the glacier.[10] Pakistan tried in 1987 and in 1989 to re-take the Glacier but was unsuccessful. A stalemate has arisen where India controls the top part of the Glacier and Pakistan is placed at the bottom of the Glacier.

Kargil war, 1999, Operation VIJAY

India fought a brief border skirmish with Pakistan in the Indian state of Kashmir in 1999. Dubbed the Kargil War, after the infiltration of Pakistani soldiers and paramilitary in the Kargil area, India reclaimed the territory through military and diplomatic channels. India lost 4500 soldiers in the conflict, while Pakistan lost a little over 500.

By 21 May, the Indian army had isolated Tiger Hill from three directions, east, north and south. In order to inflict casualties the enemy positions on Tiger Hill were subjected to artillery and mortar fire. A fresh battalion of well known Gurkhas viz. 18 Grenadiers was brought in to capture the peak with regiments holding the firm base. On the night of July 3, 18 Grenadiers captured the eastern slope but further advance was held up due to effective enemy fire from Helmet Top, India Gate features on the western slope. By morning July 4 Tiger Hill was captured by the 18th Grenadiers, effectively ending Pakistan's Kargil War.

Other Operations

Sri Lanka mission, 1987–1990

The Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) carried out a mission in northern and eastern Sri Lanka, in 1987–1990 to disarm the LTTE as per the Indo-Sri Lanka accord. It was a painful experience for Indian Army to fight unconventional war which was probably not trained enough to fight such a war. With losses of approximately 1200 persons and some T-72 Tanks, India finally abondened the mission in consultation with Sri Lankan Government. In what was labeled as Operation Pawan, the Indian Air Force flew about 70,000 sorties to and within Sri Lanka.

Operation Cactus, 1988

In November 1988, the Maldives Government appealed India for military help against a mercenary invasion. On the night of November 3, 1988, the Indian Air Force airlifted a parachute battalion group from Agra and flew them non-stop over 2000 km to Maldives. The Indian paratroopers landed at Hulule, secured the airfield and restored the Government rule at Malé within hours. The brief, bloodless operation showed the capability of the Indian Air Force in what was labeled as Operation Cactus.

Missile program

India has a well developed missile capabilities, which traces its roots to the Indian Space Program.

Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP)

The Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP) was formed in 1983 with the aim of achieving self-sufficiency in missile development & production.

Presently it comprises five core missile programs

This program has given India self reliance in Missile development. So, attempts like Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) to control access to and availability of advanced weapon systems for developing nations are not a major concern for India now. Currently the DRDO is engaged in developing the most advanced series of ICBM named Surya, which would probably have a range of more than 10000 km. Unlike US, Russia & Israel.[11], India became the fourth country in the world to develop a successful Missile Defence Shield Indian Ballistic Missile Defense Program, to protect it from any potent missile attack at any moment of time.

Nuclear program

Smiling Buddha, 1974

In 1966, India had declared that it can produce nuclear weapons within 18 months. In 1974, India tested a device of up to 15 kilotons. The test was a "peaceful nuclear explosion" and was codenamed "Operation Smiling Buddha".

Operation Shakti (nuclear tests, 1998)

On May 11 and May 13, 1998, India conducted five underground nuclear tests (3 on May 11 and 2 on May 13) and declared itself a nuclear state.

Overview and recent developments

The Indian military today ranks as the world's third largest after the USA and China in terms of troops. Over a million strong, the paramilitary unit of the Republic of India is the world's largest and most elite paramilitary force. Eager to portray itself as a potential superpower, India began an intense phase of modernization and upgradation of its armed forces in the late 1990s. India is focusing more on developing indigenous military equipments rather than relying on other countries for military supplies. This change in policy has paid off well for the Indian Armed Forces. Most of the Indian naval ships and submarines, military armoured vehicles, missiles and ammunition are indigenously designed and manufactured.

Military collaborations with other Countries

The Indian Government is also focusing on collaborating with other countries to develop cutting-edge military technology and weapons. Jointly developed by Russia and India, one of the world's most advanced supersonic cruise missiles, known as the BrahMos, was successfully test-fired in 2001. In 1997, India agreed to participate in the development of Russia's Prospective Air Complex for Tactical Air Forces program. One of the primary objectives of the program is to develop a 5th generation fighter aircraft, a prototype of which, known as the Su-47, flew its first successful test-flight in 1997. India is also collaborating with Israel to develop Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. India is now focusing on purchasing the technology behind the military equipment rather than the military equipment. Recent examples of the successful implementation of this Indian policy include the purchase of Sukhoi Su-30 MKI multi-role fighter aircraft and T-90 main battle tanks from Russia and diesel-powered Scorpene submarines from France. In 2004, India purchased US$ 5.7 billion worth of military equipment from other countries, making it the developing world's leading arms-purchaser.


On April 28, 2000, ammunition worth Rs. 393 crore was destroyed due to a fire at the Bharatpur ammunition depot. Another fire at Pathankot sub-depot resulted in loss of ammo worth Rs. 27.39 crore. On May 24, 2001, another blaze at the Birdhwal sub-depot destroyed ammunition worth Rs. 378 crore.


In Independent India, the gallantry awards for exemplary display of bravery in war time are the Param Vir Chakra, Maha Vir Chakra and Vir Chakra in the decreasing order of importance. Their peace time equivalents are the Ashoka Chakra, Kirti Chakra and Shaurya Chakra. The latter two awards were formerly known as Ashoka Chakra, Class II and Ashoka Chakra, Class III respectively. Sometimes, the peace time awards are bestowed on civilians as well. For meritorious service, the awards are Param Vishisht Seva Medal, Athi Vishisht Seva Medal and Vishisht Seva Medal in decreasing order of importance.

See also

External links

Official war histories

The list of official war histories, written & researched by the History Division, Ministry of Defence, Government of India.



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