Muslims Warfare: Concept of the Mounted Archer and Mobilty in the Sub-Continent
Indian military history goes back to 4000 BC when the great battle of Kurukshetra took place. The Mahabharata eulogizes this battle and a great portion of the book deals with military tactics and concept of war. The pride of place from those days was the elephant. One reason for this was the abundance of the elephant in India. It is estimated that over a million of these pachyderm’s roamed about in India.
Over the centuries this concept of the elephant as an instrument of war continued. It was also success full in stopping Alexander the great. He could not proceed further into India and in 326 BC suffered a reverse. The stopping of Alexander by an elephant force under Raja Porus unnerved the Greeks. The intelligence reports of bigger forces of elephants awaiting the Greeks convinced Alexander to return. From the Indian point of view, this victory and deterrence by the elephants were almost like a catastrophe as the concept of an elephant both as an instrument of attack and defense got reinforced.
Kings who followed Porus reinforced these ideas and the art of war centered on the elephant. Thus the Magadha kings and the Gupta empire often considered the golden age of Indian history built up massive elephant forces. These beasts were a great success in a short-pitched battle or in difficult terrain, but over-reliance on the elephant spelled the doom of the Hindu armies when they faced the Muslims from about the 8/9 century AD.
Arrival of Moslems and the Mounted Archer
Arrival of Moslems
Military history is an interesting subject and many consider it an essential part of human life. The defeat of the Hindus armies at the hands of the Muslims was not for want of bravery and courage. Field Marshal Montgomery has commented in his “History of warfare” that the Hindus had great courage and a fatalistic contempt of death, but failure to understand the principle of mobility in war spelled their doom. This concept was introduced in India by the Moslem invaders, the first of who was Muhamed bin Qasim. Later Mahmud of Ghazni led 17 expeditions into India. By imbibing the principles of war that centered on the concept of offence and mobility, which gave him the power of strategic retreat and counterattack Ghazni won.
The Mounted Archer
.The Muslims introduced the concept of the mounted archer. Muslim armies in India consisted of hordes of mounted archers who encircled the enemy and could run away and come back for a counter attack. In contrast Hindu armies were slow moving sluggish affairs and were weighed down with elephants which gave then limited mobility. In additions as was seen in the First battle of Panipat in 1526, between Babur and Ibrahim Lodhi, the elephants panicked when there were cannon around and the resultant smoke and fire with loud sound of the cannons firing often unnerved the beasts who in many cases just turned turtle and ran headlong into their own army.
. The Muslim army had mobility and along with it came a better tactical sense. It also allowed a commander to change tactics and reposition his force during a battle.
The concept of the mounted archer was known to the Hindu kings and generals. Unfortunately the importance that was required to be given to a mounted archer was never given and the general concept was that an elephant charge would do the trick. The fixation of the elephants in fact spelt doom for the Hindu armies and. another was the failure to modernize weaponry. Thus when Babur introduced canon for the first time in India a new factor was added to the military history of the sub-continent.
One cannot say why the mounted cavalryman with the bow and arrow was neglected by the Hindu kings of that period. There is also no doubt that Hindus were aware of the mounted archer and many tales from the Mahabharata downwards bring out the fact that the mounted archer was a factor in war, but with the abundance of elephants it was thought that they were a wetter weapon than an archer. This is the clue to the defeat of the Hindu armies at the hands of the Turks and Afghans.