From Vedas to Arthashastra, Guptas to Shivaji… why is the Army looking to the past for future wars?

Ronit Kawale
Ronit Kawale - Senior Editor
6 Min Read

New Delhi: The Indian Army is moving rapidly towards building a skyscraper of modernity on the strong foundation of tradition. The Army is acquiring knowledge on various aspects of nation power from epics like Mahabharata to ancient dynasties for future war strategies. Army Chief Manoj Pandey said the Indian Army has studied the 'wars of Mahabharata' and the 'strategic genius' of the Mauryas, Guptas and Marathas who shaped 'India's rich military heritage'. It is part of an initiative called 'Project Udbhav'. It aims to make the military force 'progressive and future ready' by drawing insights from the country's historical military knowledge.'

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Study of Vedas, Puranas to Economics in Project Udbhav

The Army chief was speaking at the 'Historical Paradigms in Indian Strategic Culture' conference organized under the banner of the United Services Institution (USI), India's oldest think tank, established in 1870. He talked about the Indian Army's 'Project Udbhav', which aims to make the knowledge contained in the Mahabharata, Vedas, Puranas, Upanishads and Arthashastra the basis of the army's strength. This project was launched last year by Defense Minister Rajnath Singh. It was launched in collaboration between the Army and USI at the Indian Military Heritage Festival in October 2023. The Army chief said the project 'has revealed substantial intellectual convergence between eminent Indian and Western scholars.' He said, 'In this project, an in-depth study of ancient texts like Vedas, Puranas, Upanishads and Arthashastra has been done, which are based on mutual relations, religiosity and moral values.'

Learn from the war strategies of warriors

English news website The Hindustan Times quoted a senior Army officer as saying that the traditional knowledge collected under 'Project Udbhav' will be immediately uploaded on the USI website. At the same time, strategic affairs expert Air Marshal (Retd) Anil Chopra said that India has a rich history of great warrior kings from Maharaja Ranjit Singh to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, who displayed brilliant leadership and fighting skills. Chopra said, 'For a long time India has been studying war related concepts on Western understanding. They may not be most relevant to our area and context. Our rich heritage will play a big role in guiding us and making strategies for the future.

The second largest army in the world is the Indian Army. It draws on texts such as Kautilya's Arthashastra, Kamandaka's Nitisara and Tamil poet-saint Thiruvalluvar's Thirukkural to draw lessons on statesmanship, strategy, diplomacy and warfare from ancient Indian philosophy. General Pandey said, 'Ancient Indian wisdom is rooted in the heritage of a 5,000-year-old civilization, where knowledge is given great importance. This legacy is exemplified by the vast store of intellectual literature, the world's largest collection of manuscripts and the nurturing of a multiplicity of thinkers and schools in different fields.'

He said that in this project, an in-depth study of ancient texts like Vedas, Puranas, Upanishads and Arthashastra has been done, which are based on interrelationship, religiosity and moral values. 'Furthermore, it traces the epic battles of the Mahabharata and the strategic genius during the reigns of the Mauryas, Guptas and Marathas, which have shaped India's rich military heritage.'

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Army is getting ready for the changing battlefield

Speaking at the same event, Minister of State for Defense Ajay Bhatt praised the Army and USI for this initiative. Bhatt said, 'The geopolitical landscape is constantly evolving and it is important for our armed forces to be fresh and relevant in their thinking. By delving deeply into our ancient texts and traditions, projects like Emergence not only enrich our understanding of strategic culture, but also provide valuable insights into unconventional warfare strategies, diplomatic practices and ethical considerations in warfare.'

The move comes in the backdrop of the government's efforts to encourage 'Indianisation' in various sectors, including education, health and science. The Army had earlier supported a project related to the compilation of Indian strategies based on ancient texts. This resulted in a book on the 75 Sutras and another publication, Traditional Indian Philosophy – Eternal Laws of Strategy and Leadership – Eternal Laws of War and Leadership. The Army is encouraging all ranks to read this book.

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The move comes at a time when the armed forces are focusing on indigenisation of military customs and have taken some steps to eliminate colonial traditions. These include the Navy adopting a new flag inspired by the seal of Maratha ruler Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and removing the cross of St George. The practice of senior officers holding batons has also been abolished, and the Defence Ministry has launched a drive to rename British-era cantonments as military stations.

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