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The king prepared the ground and orchestrated the call to arms. It was customary of the king to lead in the field, often engaging in single combat against enemy nobles of similar rank.

States then, as now, had flags which they carried into battle. The respective flags of the Cheran, Cholan and Pandyan kings included emblems of the bow, the tiger and the fish.

In an earlier post—The Kuravars of the Kurinji Hills—I mentioned that flowers played a large part in the culture of ancient Tamilakam. They used flowers for prayers and private moments, celebrations, public events and war.

[Flowers continue to play an important part in present day South India.]

Kings and generals adorned their persons with garlands. Each king had a preferred flower steeped in the geographical region, history and culture of his nation. For example: the Cherans used Palmyra flowers, the Cholans adorned themselves with Athi (fig), and the Pandyan wore Neem garlands.

Three self-sufficient formations made up a field regiment (precursor to the modern “combined-arms” units):

  • Vanguard (akkam)
  • Colours guard (kodi-padai)
  • Rear-guard (kulai)

The vanguard was the shock-troop; the colours guard the reserve; and the rear-guard provided cover for the army to regroup. Each regiment was complete with fighting men and war animals, messengers, and coolies for sundry chores. The unit deployed bullock-carts, donkeys and camels for hauling baggage and war engines. A regiment on the march lived off the land.

In later centuries, the south adopted the traditional (and specialised) formations of the north: chariot, elephant, horse and foot regiments.

Nobility and generals rode chariots and elephants. Chariots, drawn by two horses, carried a warrior and the charioteer. The king rode on a chariot under the shade of a royal parasol—a valued war booty. He also rode elephants when required.

The cavalry wore leather armour and carried light weapons such as bows and arrows, swords and lances. Foot-soldiers wore armour of various sorts including metal plates, and carried shields and heavy weapons such as the spear and mace. Soldiers of all ranks wore helmets, turbans, greaves and arm-guards made from leather and metal.

The ancient South Indian military shared many parallels with other far-flung societies. One can assume that for a problem there are only so many optimal solutions.

Historians remember kings and their victories. But people die in war and we forget the vast majority who perished. But sometimes, someone reaches out.

In the early 20th century, diggers continued to find headstones of fallen soldiers from this ancient era all over South India.

An epitaph dated 936 CE on a veerakkal (warrior-headstone):

“In the 9th year of Raja Parakesari Varman who conquered Madura when the Perumanadigal lifted cattle in Muttukur, a son of the land, Vedunavaran Varadan, who helped recover the cattle, attained a warrior’s death.”

That wraps up the two posts on ancient South Indian military.

Next week: Town Planning in Ancient Tamilakam

Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2019

I’m away all week and shall reply to your comments upon my return. Cheers!