Military Ethos

Ancient Indians organized their armies from a small unit called the Patti to large armies, which had hundreds of chariots, elephants, cavalry and foot soldiers. Large armies also required a Commissariat to look after their logistic needs of food, clothing, etc; and since ancient Indians had known and held war ships, they even thought about an Admiralty. Such an army was required to be disciplined and loyal to the King at all times. Regular armies trained and practised the art of fighting.

The ethos essentially means the customs and traditions followed by ancient armies. Ethos means, the way a soldier or the unit behaves in war as well as in public life. For e.g. a soldier is disciplined, he is honest, armies are loyal to the country and the King. Present day armies, the world over, follow some of these customs even today.

1. Flag or Dhwaj

A flag had come to be recognized as an important symbol and was carried by kings in battle. The flag, also called the "Standard", became a recognition of a King and in turn, also became a recognition of the army. From the days of the Rig Veda, the one symbol that commanded respect and loyalty of the people was the flag.

Even today, the Indian flag is the most respected symbol for all Indians everywhere. Poets have glorified the flag as more valuable than the King. It was an object of national honour and pride.

Flag bearers carried the Flag to the battlefield. It was considered the greatest honour to defend it. For the armies fighting a battle, it was important to capture the flag of the opponent because that would symbolize victory. In ancient times there was flag of the king and also each division of the army had its own flag and it was carried on the chariot or the elephants.

Apart from the flag, Kings used emblems. These were depictions of animals such as boar, lion etc, South Indian Kings used pictures of fish, tiger, bow in their flags.

The same picture as that on a flag was also used as an emblem on the official seal or coin. A pennant was a triangle shaped flag, which was used on chariots, cavalry and even elephants. Pennants were coloured cloth and were used to differentiate between two armies in the battlefield.

2. War Music

Musical instruments for war find mention in RigVeda Samhita, implying that they were of importance in warfare. These instruments were used only for festive occasions or in war. Vedic literature mentions war drums of three types. Instruments were designed for religious festivals, cultural and art demonstrations and some exclusively for use in the battlefield.

Why were they required for the soldiers? Drums and music provided inspiration to the soldiers to be brave and fight ferociously. An instrument such as Dundubhi was used to wake up troops at dawn, signify the end of a day's fighting at dusk or commence fighting at the designated hour. Like the Dundubhi, conch or shank was also used extensively in battle.

The use of conch shells slowly faded with time and was replaced by other instrument such as a trumpet. All armies of the world, even today have military bands, trumpets and bugles as part of their armed forces. Indian army infantry units maintain a band platoon, which is used to play martial music to motivate troops and also to train them in marching. In war the soldiers of the band platoon act as paramedics and help wounded soldiers to be evacuated to hospitals.

3. Bravery and Valour

The people of India look up to the Indian soldier as the saviour of country frontiers. A good soldier demonstrates qualities of courage, self-sacrifice, integrity, strength of character and commitment to the cause of the Nation. It is therefore, the duty of the Nation to recognise and honour the sacrifice of a soldier. The valour in the soldier is a trait that goes back to ancient times.

Bravery of soldiers has often been described in poems, which form an authentic source of historical evidence. Mothers were described to be proud of their sons joining the army even after the death of their husbands in war. This was considered as the final contribution to the Kingdom. It is said that Valour, Honour, Pride and Clarity of mind were the four fold traits of a good soldier.