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Gunpowder and Firearms: Warfare in Medieval India.

Guns, Influence, and Power

Reviewed by: Timothy May, Department of History, North Georgia College and State University.
Published by: H-War (August, 2006)

There is no question that the advent of gunpowder weapons permanently changed the course of warfare, but exactly how this happened varies from region to region. Often in the public’s mind, the impact of firearms is relegated to Europe and its origins in China; somehow everything in between is overlooked. Thus, Iqtidar Alam Khan’s volume, Gunpowder and Firearms: Warfare in Medieval India will hopefully begin to fill that void.

Khan’s work is important for two reasons. First, it traces the origins and influence of gunpowder weapons in India as a regional history rather than as an ancillary to a larger work. The author critically examines when firearms appeared in India, and then what other influences–whether local or foreign–played in the development of the weapons. Moreover, he discusses their impact, not only on the medieval state, but on society as a whole. Second, Khan’s work serves as a model for other regional studies on firearms as well as the distribution of other forms of technology or goods.

Chapter 1 of Gunpowder and Firearms discusses the diffusion of firearms into the subcontinent by focusing on the role of the Mongols as agents of transmission. Although the author notes that the Chinese had been using gunpowder weapons before the Mongols arrived on the scene, it is not until the end of the thirteenth century that firearms of any sort, particularly rockets, appear in the Sultanate of Delhi or in regional literary references. While he places the greatest emphasis on the Mongols as the agents of technological transmission, Khan does not rule out other sources such as a Himalayan or sea route. Regardless of their origin, knowledge and use of these weapons quickly spread.

Chapters 2 through 4 focus on the use of artillery from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century. Although cannons became somewhat common throughout India, the Mughals used them the most effectively, thus giving rise to one of the popularly called Gunpowder Empires (along with the Ottomans and Safavids). Yet, these three chapters emphasize one key point. As in late medieval Europe, the expense of cannons meant that few among the nobility besides the ruler possessed the resources to purchase them. Fortress walls gave little shelter against cannons and the nobility quickly learned to acquiesce to the authority of the ruler.

Although similar situations appeared among some of the regional Indian states, the rise of the Mughals brings this phenomenon into better focus. Chapter 3 continues to deal with centralization of power, but in the context of the arrival of not only the Mughals, but also the Portuguese with their European metallurgical and artillery advances. From the Portuguese, the Mughals and others learned how to make cannons from wrought iron, thus reducing the cost of the weapon, while at the same time improving it. The Mughals, who learned from Ottoman advisors, quickly grasped the importance of light artillery as it became less expensive and more easily manufactured. While magnificent in siege warfare, the lack of maneuverability of heavy cannon left it virtually useless on the battlefield.

Chapter 4 discusses the dominance of the Mughals. By the time of Akbar, heavy mortars and cannons were rarely used in the Mughal military. Light cannons that could be used on the battlefield were the mainstay of the Mughal artillery corps, including the shaturnal, similar to swivel guns, but carried on the backs of camels and even in the howdahs of elephants. As this chapter ties into the arrival of the British East India Company, Khan continues to discuss technological developments, or the lack thereof.

In addition to artillery, handheld firearms also became ubiquitous throughout the Mughal Empire. Chapter 5 examines the nature and development of handguns in the Mughal Empire. In addition to local factors, Khan includes a good discussion of Western influences, which in this instance includes the Ottoman Empire. Western influences included new technologies in firearms manufacture. However, not all of these became widespread. As a result, stagnation occurred particularly in terms of standard weapons. The preferred weapon became the matchlock, even after other technologies surpassed it. Why the matchlock remained the weapon of choice ties into chapter 6, which discusses the role of the matchlock musket in the centralization of Mughal authority.

Mughals also used musketeers to maintain their authority. Babur began his career with a scant musket bearing force of just over a hundred men, but by the time of Akbar, over 35,000 musketeers existed in the Mughal military. One reason for this was that, despite the cost of their weapon, the musketeers were actually less expensive than garrisoning cavalry forces. The expense of feeding the man and his horse grossly exceeded that of a musketeer. Thus, a small but trained force of musket wielding troops allowed the Mughals to assert their authority in even the most remote provinces. This was also possible as, for several decades, the nobility were forbidden to recruit their own forces of musketeers. At the same time, this mass force of troops with firearms undermined the Mughals. As the matchlock became ubiquitous, its cost dropped, but it also was deemed very reliable by those using it. Thus, even when other technologies came into the region, like flintlock muskets, the Mughals failed to adopt them due to economic reasons as well as the matchlock’s popularity.

While firearms aided the process of centralization, it also played a role in undermining the Mughal’s authority. Because of the affordability of matchlocks and the relative simplicity in gaining expertise with them, one did not have to train for years to be a warrior. Ultimately this let to the diffusion of firearms into the general populace and resistance to central authority. Beginning in the late-sixteenth century, not only political rebels, but even peasants opposed to tax collection acquired firearms. As domestic tensions grew, the widespread use and manufacture of matchlock muskets played a role in the breakdown of central authority, and the Mughals, despite several innovative attempts, failed to halt the eventual Balkanization of their empire. Khan’s work is impressive and is the result of twenty years of research that ranged over four hundred years of history. Utilizing Persian, Turkish, Urdu, Hindi, Bengali, and English primary sources and supplemented by a wide array of secondary works, Iqtidar Khan has produced an excellent work. The four appendices are useful supplements dealing with the use of firearms by the Mongols, the analysis of terminology in a couple primary sources, and the origins of the Purbias, who were gunners for a few Indian states in the 1500s. The volume also contains almost thirty illustrations of firearms and their use. These dramatically illustrate Khan’s points as well as show the reader the variances between the weapons.

Yet, the book is not without faults. While Gunpowder and Firearms is an insightful and well-argued work, the author exaggerates the Mongols’ use of gunpowder. While it is true that the Mongols never met a weapon they did not find a use for, there is no concrete evidence that the Mongols used gunpowder weapons on a regular basis outside of China. Indeed, the author recognizes this and notes that his claims are based on Persian terms which could be interpreted as firearms. Unfortunately, while many of these terms such as manjaniq are used to refer to cannons, during the medieval period manjaniq meant a mangonel. It is plausible that in later periods, the Mongols did make more extensive use of gunpowder weapons, but in period of the conquests (1206-60), there is inadequate evidence to support Khan’s assertion.

One other minor criticism is the exclusion of Kenneth Chase’s Firearms: A Global History to 1700 (2003). I suspect that, given their publication dates, Chase’s and Khan’s books crossed paths. Although Chase takes a global perspective, the authors reach similar conclusions. Nonetheless, Gunpowder and Firearms will appeal not only to historians of India, but also anyone interested in the development of weapons and military systems or the creation of states. In summary, not only is Iqtidar Alam Khan’s work an impressive study on the diffusion of firearms in India, it will also serve as a model for others pursuing similar research on the spread of technology or goods on a regional basis.

Tracing the history of the Gun / weapon Deprivation

  • “Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms, as the blackest.” — Mahatma Gandhi (An Autobiography OR The story of my experiments with truth, by M.K. Gandhi, p.238)
  • “If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun.”The Dalai Lama, (May 15, 2001, The Seattle Times) speaking at the “Educating Heart Summit” in Portland, Oregon, when asked by a girl how to react when a shooter takes aim at a classmate
  • “The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to possess arms. History shows that all conquerors who have allowed the subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by so doing. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the supply of arms to the underdogs is a sine qua non for the overthrow of any sovereignty.”Adolf Hitler (H.R. Trevor-Roper, Hitler’s Table Talks 1941-1944)

The Indian Mind / psyche has been vaccum for the Weapons.

The proof lies in the History of the gunners of various kings emperors and leaders being outsourced from either Turkey / European nations.

Manucci (an Italian, then in Mirza Raja’s service as chief gunner, and the author of Storia Do Mogor)
Tipu Sultan had better artillery than the English (and imported instructors/gunners; yes, European!)

the roots of India’s anti-gun legislation

  1. After the 1857 upraising the british were busy putting in place measures to ensure that the events of 1857 were never repeated. Lord Lytton as Viceroy (1874 -1880), brought into existence the Indian Arms Act, 1878 (11 of 1878)
  2. Aftre 12 years of Indian independence the Arms Act, 1959 was enacted and later supplemented by the Arms Rules, 1962.
  3. In the mid to late 1980s, the Government, citing domestic insurgency as the reason, put a complete stop to all small arms imports.
  4.  Indian Arms Act 1959 (on the same lines “distrust for the armed citizenry)
  5. Indian Arms Rules 1962 (on the same lines “distrust for the armed citizenry)

Shivaji Exhibition FACT INDIA
Shivaji was right in thinking that only by arms would his people be able to secure their rights which were far superior to those of the foreign intolerant Muslim rulers – Mughal, Nizam Shahi or Qutb Shahi. Shivaji thus changed the psychology of the masses, assisted by the awakening created by the saints of Maharashtra, and filled them with fresh confidence to fight the Muslim rulers and wipe off their rule. His words, matched by action, transformed the Marathas into a nation before which he eloquently placed “the higher ideal of Swarajya, and political emancipation from the chains of grinding slavery that held down his country for centuries together”.

An ode to the gunners

This piece of article is from the Indian Express and shows the importance of the gunners in the Armies the oldest piece of the armed forces.

Gopal K. Piplani  
Published : Sep 28, 2005 at 0000 hrs IST

The largest and most elite Indian Army regiment — the Regiment of Artillery — celebrates its 179th raising day tomorrow. It was on September 28, 1827, that it was Indianised with the raising of the 5 Bombay Mountain Battery. This unit has an unbroken record of service since then and presently forms a part of the 57 Field Regiment. It has the glory of being conferred with 11 honour titles to date. Other units of that vintage include the 1 Kohat, 2 Derajat and 4 Hazara Mountain Batteries.
Babur is credited with being the first to use artillery in India, in the first Battle of Panipat (1526). Then, artillery was used in wars throughout the Mughal period and later during the reign of the Marathas under Hyder Ali, Tipu Sultan, Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the East India Company.
‘Gunners’ are a breed of professional warriors. The Regiment of Artillery has a history of dauntless grit and selfless sacrifice. Its valour during the military operations of 1948, 1962, 1965 and 1971 is much celebrated. Names like Dinshaw Mistri at Naushera (J&K, 1948); 2/Lt Goswami and his TA Gurdip Singh VrC, of 13 field Regiment, at Chushul (Ladakh, 1962); Major S.K. Mathur at Kanjarkot (Kutch, 1965) and Brigadier Tom Pandey (Bangladesh, ’71), are still remembered. They were all awarded the Maha Vir Chakras for their gallantry and devotion to duty.
Talking about the gunner fraternity, the French go ga-ga about their gunner — General Napoleon — even today. The British still adore their master gunners, Lord Alanbrooke and Air Defence C-in-C, General Sir Freddie Pile, of 1939-45 vintage. The Indian gunners, too, hold their institutions and legends in high regard. And why not, seeing that it was this regiment that has given the nation four army chiefs?
The other half of this revered institution is The School of Artillery, Deolali. It is the Malgudi of gunners. Located along with it is the Artillery Training Centre and its welfare wing, the Artillery Association, at Nasik Road Camp. There is another training centre at Hyderabad. Together they have become the temples of learning, training, bonding and caring.
The gunner’s motto — ‘Sarvatra: Izzat-O-Iqbal’ (everywhere with honour and glory) — is a reflection of their professional ethos and values. Their colours are their guns. In its 178th year, this formidable part of the Indian Army is alive and ticking.
September 28 will be marked by prayers, mess parties and barakhanas where all ranks join in. The gunners will pay their respect to their colours and heroes — both living and dead. It will also be a time for them to rededicate themselves to the high traditions and professional values of their distinguished forbears.

The writer is a member of the Academic Council of Bangalore University

Antique pistol found in locker

Source: TOI
13 Oct 2006, 0231 hrs IST, TNN

MUMBAI: The British may have left us six decades ago but fascinating traces of empire continue to pop up in unexpected places. On Tuesday, when
an unclaimed locker at the State Bank of India’s head office at Fort was finally opened, the authorities found a gun and a small pile of ammo: an automatic Mauser pistol and five magazines with 261 cartridges.

The locker, registered in the name of Lt A B Greenwood, also had a copy of The Times of India dated September 14, 1923.

Brijesh Singh, deputy commissioner of police (zone-I), said on Wednesday that the bank came across the little haul when it was checking on its unclaimed lockers. On January 27 this year, two carbines and 12 grenades, believed to have been stashed away by Khalistani terrorists, were found in a locker at the SBI’s Bandra branch. The SBI was earlier known as the Imperial Bank. The police believe that the Mauser pistol and the cartridges were placed in safe-keeping before Independence. Seven big cartridges, inscribed with ‘K-10 VIII’, a rod to clean the barrel, a wooden box, some documents and a holster were also in the locker. The Times of India copy has a prominent advertisement from Richardson & Cruddas, the 1858 engineering firm whose nameplate still dominates the factory shed at Byculla. It was nationalised in 1972.

After the general manager of the bank, Tarachand Walve, informed the MRA Marg police about the find, a team of policemen arrived on Tuesday morning to take possession of the goods.

From the documents available DCP Brijesh Singh provided additional details: ‘‘There was a letter from the deputy post master general to Greenwood acknowledging receipt of the two packets found in the locker. There was also a piece of paper which stated that the automatic pistol had been custom made for a Rajah (whose name is not mentioned) and that it cost Rs 300.

“The cartridges cost Rs 200, according to another receipt. The receipt also mentioned that the pistol was a present given to Greenwood,” Singh added.

Unfortunately, there are no personal papers to give us a lead to learning more about Greenwood’s identity or his address. But given that the weapon has lain peacefully in the locker for 83 years, the police have ruled out a possible conspiracy. The ISI has not been blamed.