By Michael Dolan,
B.V. Mahayogi
Vedic Art of War: Part 2
History of War Chariot,
The complex war machine
The Antiquity and Technology of Vedic Weaponry
With only a few examples in glass museum cases to study, we often forget how sophisticated was the art of weaponry in the ancient world. Now that we have laser-guided missiles and nuclear weapons, we tend to think that world of the Mahabharata was primitive by comparison. And so modern historians often fail to appreciate the technology of the weapons of war used by Vedic warriors such as Arjuna, Karna, Duryodhana and Bhishma.

Archeologists have found by careful study that the antediluvian civilizations that ruled the world in Vedic times were in fact educated and sophisticated cultures with advanced weapon-making techniques who often waged war on a vast scale as was documented by Vyāsa in Mahābharata.
Vedic Historical Records
If archeological evidence is scant in terms of discovering rusted iron swords underneath the rubble of India's modern cities, we can look to the records written by men like Vyāsa and the great Indian epic Mahābharata. But Vyāsa is not alone in describing such wars undertaken at such a sophisticated level.
The Lessons of Egypt and the Hittites
Not far from India's Kurukshetra in time or place, history records that at the battle of Kadesh, for example, the Egyptians and Hittites battled in a similar war with at least 6,000 chariots Ramses II and the Hittites led by King Muttalli. The Battle of Kadesh took place between the forces of the New Kingdom of Egypt under Ramses II and the Hittite Empire under Muwatalli II at the city of Kadesh on the Orontes River, just upstream of Lake Homs near the modern Lebanon–Syria border.
Ancient War: The Battle of Kadesh
The battle is generally dated to 1274 BC in the Egyptian chronology, and while Vyāsa describes in careful detail the battle at Kurukshetra, the battle of Kadesh is the earliest battle in the recorded history of the Western world for which details of tactics and formations are known. It is believed to have been the largest chariot battle ever fought, involving between 5,000 and 6,000 chariots in total. While it is thought that the battle at Kurukshetra predates Kadesh, it is useful to remember that such battles between ancient kingdoms are well-documented since at least the time of Ramses II.
The War Chariot
The poet Vyāsa records how Arjuna would create rainclouds of arrows--a hail of fire that would bring down a number of enemy soldiers. The slaughter at the battle of Kurukshetra was so incredible that we shudder to believe it actually happened. But while armed horsemen formed a terrifying wall of mobile murder with their compound bows, there was still another important weapon of ancient warfare that remains to be understood: the chariot.

In the ancient world, chariots became the most important piece of military equipment that a superpower could unleash on its enemy. The progress from clumsy horse-cart to the ultimate war machine would take centuries. Vedic writings document the use of the chariot. In fact, one of the most important philosophical discussions ever to unfold--the Bhagavad-Gita--is the record of a conversation held before the war begins on Arjuna's battle chariot.

A Complex War Machine: Different Models
As a complex was machine, the chariot was unparalleled. There were different models: A lightweight chariot drawn by a single horse was managed by an expert warrior who could unleash arrows rapid-fire and manage a range of weapons while racing through the battlefield.
The advantage over riding on horseback is that one could use both hands while moving. The warrior could also stand up straight, unencumbered by the sitting position on the saddle and attack his enemies from a superior height. Sometimes two horses would draw a single warrior.

Even more deadly was a chariot manned by a driver who would control the horses and manage the route of fire while an armed fighter stood behind him firing arrows and other weapons from the Vedic arsenal. Such chariots would often attack in a fleet of cars while armed bowmen joined them on horseback.
The only opposition that could successfully challenge such lethal force were the soldiers on war elephants who would attack from elaborately armored wooden castles atop the raging beasts.

The Art and Science of Chariot Construction
The artisans of Hastinapura maintained a number of workshops to create a production line of chariots for the car-warriors. Vyāsa documents how master craftsmen like Maya Danava whose art rivaled Greeks like Hephaestus and Daedalus produced a fleet of richly carved, finely decorated war machines, painted gold that could travel at deadly speed and turn tight circles with fine accuracy while the warriors fought in formation.
Kauravas vs. Pandavas
While war chariots were both art and science, different models of chariots dominated the war field. Where the Kauravas used a heavier more solid wooden chariot that was good for charging through the ranks and mowing down enemy soldiers, but often slower at turning and making complex maneuvers.

The chariots of the Pandavas on the other hand were constructed for speed, often replacing wood with lighter weight materials such as wicker and bamboo. These war machines were more maneuverable in tight corners.

Wheels were also important. Wheelwrights designed a bent wooden wheel made of a strong wood like elm or teak with tires made of a resistant combination of natural fibers tied with sinews and covered with a primitive latex made from the Indian rubber trees grown in the jungles near Hastinapura or present-day New Delhi. The wheel spokes were made of oak and would be reinforced with leather thongs--held in place with special glues that often took longer than a year to dry.

in a two man chariot, warriors like Arjuna could stand further back in the chariot over a second axle, creating a sharper turning circle allowing him to move more quickly and dart across the field as Krishna guided him through the formations of enemy soldiers. The Kaurava's heavier chariots allowed them to carry a third man into the battle who would attack from the rear or carry a heavy shield to protect the archer from flying weapons. The third man would carry a javelin to drive off infantrymen who stood in the path or lance the enemy at speed as the driver whipped the horses.

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