Archive for the ‘gun history india’ Category

Guns of Indian Mutinee: First war of Independence

by Garry James
From Dixie Gun Works Blackpowder Annual

Source: Royal engineers canada

After considerable testing, they settled on an arm of the French Minie system. This practicle muzzle-loader employed a hollow-based sub-caliber conical bullet that a soldier could ram down the barrel easily, which, when the gun was fired, would be expanded into the rifling by the force of the explosion.

The first British issue Mini rifle was the .702 caliber Pattern of 1851. Externally it resembled the older smoothbores, with the exception that it mounted a sophisticated graduated rear sight rather than the customary non-adjustable notch. This arm was issued to selected troops in the Crimea, where it received almost instant acclaim.

Swiss smallbore experiments convinced the Select Arms Committee that a reduction in caliber would provide greater range, better accuracy and an advantage in logistics. Exhaustive research and redesigning resulted in one of the finest arms of the age, the .577 caliber Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle Musket. The gun was sleeker and lighter than its forebearers and, for the first time in an English military arm, had a barrell that was secured to the stock by bands rather than pins or wedges. With its brass furniture, browned barrell, case-hardened lock and oiled walnut stock, it was indeed a handsome piece.

Though tests showed that ranges of 900 yards were not excessive for the riflr, it was agreed that the P-53 Enfield did its best work at distances between 50 and 300 yards.

The cartridges for the P-53 consisted of a heavy paper tube containing 2 1/2 drams (68 grains) of musket powder and a 530-grain, pure lead “Pritchett” type bullet which had a boxwood plug in its hollow base to improve expansion. As the bullet incorporated no annular grease rings like the French and American Minies, it was wrapped with a strip of greased paper to facilitate loading. Then cartridge itself was covered with a thin mixture of beeswax and mutton tallow for waterproofing.

To load his rifle, the soldier first bit off the rear of the cartridge and poured the powder down the barrel. He then inverted the tube (the projectile was palced in the cartridge base up), pushed the end portion into the muzzle to the approximate depth of the bullet and tore off the remaining paper. The bullet could then be easily rammed on top of the charge.

P-53 Enfields saw limited used during the Crimean War, and their marked superiority over the older muskets, and even the P-51s, caused them to be in great demand. The War Department and East India Company set about equipping all their troops with versions of the P-53 rifle musket, and by early 1857 the arm was being carried in India by the regular British regiments hired out to the Company, as well as many sepoys (native troops).

At first the rifles were well received by the sepoys, but sooner a rumor was spread that the cartridges were greased with pig’s or cow’s fat. The former was regarded by the Muslims as unclean, and the latter by the Hindus as sacred. To the native troops this was just another plot by the Feringhees to force them to renounce their traditional religions.

Fears and rejection of the cartridge began to spread. Officers noticing the unrest amongst the sepoys suggested that the drills be revised to allow the men to tear off the base of the cartridge with their fingers, or to allow the troops to grease their own cartridges. These reasonable suggestions, however, had come too late.

During a parade on February 27, 1857, the sepoys of the 19th Native Infantry refused to accept their issue of cartridges. Their commander, Colonel Mitchell, rushed to the parade ground and threatened to ship the troops to Burma. The soldiers became restive and Colonel Mitchell backed down, fearing an open revolt. He allowed the men to retain their arms and return to duty while he decided what to do. On March 23 the 19th Infantry was marched some 90 miles to the south to Barrackpore where it was ignominiously disbanded.

Three days later another incident occured which brought the situation rapidly to a head. A Sepoy named Mangal Pande had run amok during a parade and cut down two British officers. He harangued the troops to join him and kill all the British, while surprised officers looked on aghast. The commander at Barrackpore, General John Hearsey, rushed to the scene and was warned by one of the officers, “Have a care–his musket is loaded!” Hearsey continued undaunted. “Damn his musket, ” he replied. “If I fall, rush in and put him to death somehow.”

The frightened sepoy turned the rifle on himself, but only sustained a minor wound. He was captured, tried and hanged, but his name became a rallying cry for the mutineers, and “Pandy” a term of contempt the British heaped on all native troops.

The Europeans soldiers were out-numbered some eight to one by the Indians, and it was decided that as many Crown troops as possible be swiftly brought to India–a decision that merely fanned the embers of the rebellion.

Events soon speeded up, and on May 10, in Meerut, 85 sowars (native troopers) of the 3rd Light Cavalry who had refused to take the Enfield cartridges were sentenced to deportation, publicly stripped of their uniforms and medals, and imprisoned. This humiliation and harsh punishment proved to be the final straw and Indian soldiers and civilians rebelled. After releasing the prisoners, they swarmed to the European bungalows where they committed unspeakable depredations.

Sepoys ransacked houses for weapons and valuables, killed the inhabitants, then burned the structures to the ground. Despite numerous warnings the British were caught completely off guard, and by the time they were able to organize a defense. Meerut was in ruins. The sepoys headed toward Delhi some 40 miles away, and when they arrived the old Emperor received them cooly, although they were hailed by other rebels as liberators. The native troops within the city rose and by May 12, Delhi itself had become a hellish scene of carnage. The rebellion had begun in earnest.

According to General G. F. McMunn, in his book The Armies of India, “The mutinous regiments, under command of their native officers, marched to Delhi, to Lucknow, or to Cawnpore, with their British colours flying, wearing British war medals, with their bands playing British airs. The British on the ridge before Delhi could often hear the mutineer bands playing the airs their officers had taught them, before the Emperor’s palace. The anomalies of the mutiny were many. In some regiments the officers were murdered with every possible atrocity. In others great pains were taken to conduct them within reach of a place of safety. One day the bulk of the regiment or the older native officers, with tears in their eyes, would protest their loyalty to their colonel and comrade of fifty years. The next morning he and his officers would be dead in the rising sun.”

Military arms found in India during the time of the Mutiny were of two basic types: regular British service patterns carried by Crown troops, and weapons ordered from contractors by the East India Company to equip its own Army.

For the most part, the arms used by the East India Company kept pace with those used by the Regular Army. This had two distinct advantages. First, the Company was able to take advantage of the research and design work done by the Board of Ordnance, and secondly it was able to place orders with the very same contractors who were furnishing arms to Her Majesty’s forces.

Generally, Company guns were of the same style as those of the British Government. Often, however, subtle differences, such as a slightly modified trigger guard or ramrod would be encountered. The lock markings were quite different: Government locks would be engraved (later stamped) with a crown surmounting the initials “GR” Georgius Rex for King George III) or “VR” (Victoria Regina for Queen Victoria), the date of manufacture, and the name of the contractor or the word “TOWER” for Tower of London Armouries where the gun would have been assembled. The P-53s that were made at the Royal Small Arms Factory bore the name “ENFIELD”. Company lock-plates featured either a quartered heart containing the letters “VEIC” (United East India Company), a rampant lion holding a crown, or simply the contractor’s name.

Too, many richer Indian princes had their own private armies, whose arsenals were stocked with everything from the latest British and European military weapons to fine sporting arms, surplus East India Company flintlock muskets, and rifles and domestic matchlocks.

The Crown troops for the most part were equiped with the new Enfields, as were a goodly number of mutineers. Once the rebellion had begun, the sepoys seemed to forget their objections to the “accursed cartridge” and gleefully turned them on their former masters.

While undoubtedly the most common model of the P-53 in service was the 39-inch-barreled infantry rifle, two variations–the 33-inch-barreled P-56 Short Rifle and 30-ich-barreled Artillery Carbine–were also available in some quantity. In fact, all the men of the 60th Rifle Regiment, who were stationed at Meerut at the time of the uprising, were armed with Short Rifles.

The main differences among the three arms, besides barrel length, were the rear sights and bayonets. While the infantry rifle took a standard triangular bayonet, the Short Rifle and Artillery Carbine were both fitted with a long, leather-handled, wavy-bladed “yataghan” style sword bayonet designed to offset the guns’ reduced lengths.

Many Company troops still carried the older .753-caliber Pattern 1842 percussion smoothbores, and arsenals were well stocked with India Pattern and New Land Pattern Brown Bess Flintlocks. Aside from their ignition systems these three arms resembled each other quite a bit. They all featured more or less ornate brass furniture, full-length walnut stocks, and pinned barrels.

The .75-caliber India Pattern Bess had been introduced in the late 18th century. It was simplified and streamlined in 1802 and rechristened the “New Land Pattern.” When the decision was made in the early 1830s to switch to percussion ignition, the New Land models were at first converted to that system, and then, following a disastrous fire in the Tower of London where a great many of these muskets were destroyed, work was started on the manufacture of the P-42.

This last general-issue smoothbore musket was similar to its flintlock ancestors, although it incorporated simplified brasswork and a new-model bayonet catch located at the forend cap. Earlier Brown Bess bayonets simply slipped over a stud at the muzzle and, with the exception of some East India Company models, they employed no catch or retaining spring.

Two other percussion smoothbores that found favor in India were the .753-caliber Sappers and Miners Carbine and Artillery Carbine. They both looked a great deal like the P-42 Musket and, in fact, used the same locks and furniture. Their barrels. however measured only 30 inches, and this extra bit of handiness caused them to be quite popular with the sepoys. The Sappers and Miners Carbine, which was originally intended for issue only to company pioneers, was fitted for a long straight sword bayonet (early ones were saw-toothed) with a socket similar to that found on the P-42 musket bayonet. The artillery carbine mounted the standard triangular blade.

The 26-inch-barreled .733-caliber “Victoria” cavalry carbine, while never particularly popular with the regulars because of its excessive recoil, was also used on both sides during the Mutiny. It resembled its infantry cousins, but incorporated a “Paget” swivel ramrod that made the arm easier for the trooper to load on horseback.

While none of these smoothbores had the long-range accuracy of the modern P-53s, they were deadly at 50 yards, could be loaded fairly rapidly and, like all British military arms, were well made and serviceable.

Prior to the decision to equip all troops with rifles, the British Army and East India Company formed special rifle units which were at first armed with flintlock Baker rifles, and later with percussion Brunswicks.

The Baker had first come into service during the early stages of the Napoleonic Wars and had served with distinction on the Peninsula Campaign and in America. It was later issued worldwide, and continued in regular service for almost 40 years. The design of this sturdy weapon hearkened back to its Germanic Jager forebears. Its .625 barrel was rifled with seven grooves, and featured a bar at the muzzle to which a brass-hilted, 17-inch-bladed sword bayonet could be affixed. The Baker had all-brass furniture, including a buttbox on the right side of the stock where a soldier could carry tools or spare patches. It was loaded with loose powder and a patched ball in the manner of the American and German arms it emulated, although the soldiers were issued paper cartridges so the rifle could be fired rapildy with “running ball,” should the need arise.

In 1837 the Baker rifle was replaced with the Brunswick. While this percussions cap rifle resembled its flintlock ancestor externally, the rifling system was totally different. The brunswick employed a.704 belted ball which fit mechanically into two deep spiral grooves in the barrel.

Brunswick bullets were issued to the troops sewn into greased calico patches. Powder was contained in separate packets. Like the Baker, musket type cartridges were given to the soldiers for emergency use. The Brunswick took a wide-bladed sword bayonet, somewhat similar to that of the Baker.

Both Bakers and Brunswicks were on hand in some numbers during the mutiny, though it is likely they saw more use with the sepoys than with the English. The Bakers were old and in questionable condition, and because of their heavy recoil and indifferent accuracy, the Brunswicks had never been particularly popular with British riflemen.

European civilians rapidly joined existing Crown or Company regiments and some formed their own irregular cavalry or infantry units. A good number of these clerks-turned-warrior carried high-quality sporting rifles or shotguns brought from home, although when available, they would opt for military muskets or carbines.

Mutineers were known to brandish matchlocks, but they too preferred the modern percussion arms. Many Indian princes (and at least one princess–the Rani of Jhansi) even rode to battle wearing traditional gold- and silver-ornamented Indo-Persian helmets, breastplates and chain mail.

Handguns were widely used during the Mutiny, and we find many references to them in British dispatches, letters, and reminiscences.

Colt revolvers were well known to the British. In 1851 Samuel Colt had exhibited his wares at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London, and had made repeated attempts to interest the Board of Ordnance in adopting them for the military.

Large .44 caliber 1st, 2nd and 3rd Model Dragoons, as well as the widely popular .36 caliber 1851 Navy revolver, were imported into England and were eagerly snapped up by officers and civilians headed for the Crimea, Africa, India and any number of other colonial outposts throughout the world. The initial acceptance was so good that Colt was promoted to open a London factory in 1853.

The Colt’s main rival in England was the self-cocking (double-action) five-shooter of Robert Adams. Adams too had exibited his Deane, Adams and Deane revolver at the Crystal Palace and, like Colt, was an aggressive entrepreneur who was anxious to secure lucrative government contracts.

Trials by a select small-arms committee showed that the singel-action Colt navy had greater long-range accuracy than the Adams, but that the Adams was more powerful (both .442 and .50-caliber versions were available), and that it could be discharged much more rapidly than the Colt–two features that were favored by British officers. The Adams’main drawback was that it could not be fired single action.

In 1855, however, Adams incorporated the improvement of F. B. E. Beaumont, which enabled the gun to be thumb-cocked. This sounded the death knell for the Colt Navy, as reports of its lack of power began to filter back from the Crimea and, later, India.

A typical damning report of the ’51 Colt’s lack of stopping power against the sepoys was related, second hand, by Lieutenant Colonel G. V. Fosbery.

“An officer, who especially prided himself in his pistol-shooting, was attacked by a stalwart mutineer armed with a heavy sword. The officer, unfortunately for himself, carried a Colt’s Navy pistol of small caliber and fired a sharp-pointed bullet of sixty to the pound and a heavy charge of powder, its range being 600 yards, as I have frequently proved. This he proceeded to empty into the sepoy as soon as he advanced, but, having done so, he waited just one second too long to see the effect of his shooting, and was cloven to the teeth by his antagonist, who then dropped down and died beside him. My informant, who witnessed the affair, told me that five out of the six bullets had struck the sepoy close together in the chest, and all had passed through him and out of the back.”

The Board of Ordnance did favor Colt with some orders for the Royak Navy, but they eventually chose the Beaumont-Adams for general adoption by the Army. This decision, coupled with the public’s flagging enthusiasm for his wares, caused Colt to close the London factory after only 4 years of operation. Even though the Colt Dragoon revolvers were every bit as powerful as the Adams, their finish was not as good, and they were half again as large. For want of other arms, Dragoons and Navies were used in the Mutiny, though officers discarded them for more “modern” weapons as soon as they had the chance. Because of this, Deane, Adams and Deane .442 and .50-caliber revolvers and Beaumont Adams .442s seem to have been the most favored, if not most widely used, handguns during the Mutiny.

Other handguns used during the rebellion included a potpourri of English pepperboxes, transition revolvers, double-barreled greatcoat and holster pistols, and

military horse pistols. In the latter category, two particular arms saw some action in India–the Pattern 1842 Lancer’s Pistol and the East India Company pistol.

The single-shot P-42 Lancer’s Pistol was, as its name implied, adopted as a sidearm for lancers who did not carry carbines, and for cavalry troop sergeants. It was little more than a scaled-down version of the P-42 musket, and its poor balance and awkward hold, abetted by a 9-inch .75- caliber barrel, caused it to be “lost” by the men at earliest opportunity. It featured the usual P-42 brass furniture and a Paget swivel ramrod.

The East India Company Pistol, while maintaining the same general dimensions, caliber and ramrod as its Regular Army cohort, was somewhat better designed. It’s grip was not as severe as the P-42’s and the brass furniture was much hardier. Also, a lanyard ring was attached to the butt.

Crown troops were eventually sent to Dehli and finally laid siege to the sity–a siege that would provide severe hardships for both the Europeans and the mutineers. Rations became short, and disease broke out. Ammunition became so low that the British would pay natives to retrieve cannon balls after they had been fired. Finally, on September 14, 1857, Dehli was stormed by a mixed force under Brigadier General John Nicholson, and the city was reoccupied.

Other part of India, notably Cawnpore and Lucknow, both about 250 miles south of Dehli, were the scenes of fierce fighting and horrible carnage. However, by mid April, 1859, English forces had the situation pretty much under control.

The British repaid the sepoy’s cruelty in kind, and in retribution committed some of the worst rapacity of the conflict. Captured mutineers were shot or hung out of had. One favorite method of execution involved tying a prisoner over the muzzle of a cannon then firing the piece [a method of execution learned from the Indians]. The results were vividly described by an eye witness at Lucknow.

“It was a horrid sight that met the eye; a regular shower of human fragments–of heads, arms and legs–appeared in the air whirling through the smoke; and when that cleared away, those fragments lying on the ground–fragments of Hindoos and of Mussulmans mixed together–were all that remained of those ten mutineers . . .

Perfect callouseness was depicted on every European face; a look of grim satisfaction could even be seen in the countenances of the gunners serving the guns. But far different was the effect on the native portion of the spectators. Their black faces grew ghastly pale, as they gazed breathlessly at the awful spectacle. You must know that this is nearly the only form in which death has any terror for a native. If he is hanged or shot, he knows that his friends or relatives will be allowed to claim his body, and will give him the funeral rites required by his religion; if a Hindoo, that his body will be burned with all due ceremonies; and if a Mussulman, that his remains will be decently interred, as directed in the Koran. But if sentenced to death in this form, he knows that his body will be blown into a thousand pieces, and that it will be altogether impossible for his relatives, however devoted to him, to be sure of picking up all the fragments of his own particular body; and the thought that perhaps a limb of some one of a different religion to himself might possibly be burned or buried with the remainder of his body is agony to him.”

Fears brought about by the Mutiny caused the British Government to transfer control of the country from the East India Company to the Crown.

The Company’s white troops were disbanded, and in the future the only European soldiers to serve in India would be those of the Regular Army. It was decided that the proportion of native to British troops would never be more than two to one, and that Indians would not be allowed to man artillery.

The Government also decreed that small arms given to natives would be of lesser quality than those used by Crown regiments. Muskets and carbines externally resembling the P-53 series, but smoothbore, were included in early issue.

In 1876 Queen Victoria assumed the title of Empress of India. However, the hate and mistrust engendered by the Mutiny would eventually cause the brightest stone in the Crown Imperial to fade in the eyes of both the Indians and the victorious British.

Guns for pleasure, anyone? Aabhas Sharma

February 24, 2007

On a recent visit to Munger, a small town in Bihar, my cabbie, speaking in a thick Bihari accent, decided to play guide, “Munger has one of the biggest gun factories in India, and guns are easily available here,” he pointed out matter-of-factly.

But forget Munger, what about the rest of the country? If one has to buy a licensed firearm, what are the choices and what are the prices? While a majority of arms dealers are tightlipped about the subject, there are a few who are more willing to divulge information.

Shyam Sodhi, owner of Delhi Arms and Armoury, feels, “It is a floundering business which has suffered a lot in the last 10 years or so.”

Sixty-year-old Sodhi, who has been running his shop since 1966, admits that there are months when he doesn’t sell a single weapon and other times when he sells four-five of them. “The most popular weapons these days are revolvers and shotguns.”

But since import of weapons was stopped almost two decades back, the guns in his shops keep doing the rounds. “We have old guns and sometimes people even leave weapons with us, after the owner has died, for safe custody,” he says.

Sodhi’s shop houses everything from the weapon world including revolvers like Beretta, Walther and Smith, Browning (these are imported), to rifles and shot guns. The business, however, faces a massive lull.

Shabbir Bandookwala, proprietor of India Arms in Mumbai’s Crawford Market, feels that most people who buy guns these days, buy them for reasons of security.

He bemoans the strict rules and regulations that govern the procurement of weapons. “There was a time when we used to have frequent visitors looking for hunting rifles, but these days we only manage to sell shotguns and revolvers.” The import of guns, he informs, was prohibited by the Indian government almost two decades back, in 1986.

But still, these imported weapons cost quite a bit so although people are left with a choice of only old weapons, the supply is scarce. An imported Beretta .32 revolver, for instance, will cost around Rs 300,000 and a Browning .32 would be Rs 280,000.

On the other hand, the ones available from the Indian Ordinance Factory will come for Rs 70,000 or so.

Similarly, a pump action shot gun would cost Rs 30,000 from the IOF and if you want an imported one, then it would cost Rs 200,000. A .315 rifle from the IOF will cost around Rs 40,000 while an imported one can be yours to shoot at around Rs 250,000.

Among imported revolvers and pistols, Smith and Wesson, Walthers and Brownings are still the preferred choice for most. Apart from revolvers, there are pistols available too, but most people don’t usually opt for them. A .22 Beretta pistol, which Sodhi terms a “ladies’ weapon”, costs around Rs 150,000.

It is not only in big cities like Delhi or Mumbai where dealers are finding it tough to sustain business. Smaller cities like Bhopal, which was once considered a hunting ground for licenced firearms, has seen business dwindle steadily over the years.

“The nawabs and those from royal families who required guns for hunting purposes would purchase their guns here. But now we don’t manage to sell guns for months together,” says a licensed arms dealer in Bhopal.

For the record, it’s the same story in towns like Kanpur and Meerut, once considered favourite spots for buying arms and ammunition.

The only way gun shop dealers can now deal in imported weapons is to wait for professional shooters to sell their guns. That makes sense because renowned shooters are still permitted to import guns and ammunition from abroad. Sodhi says that one of the biggest global markets in this sphere is Italy.

It is not guns alone, because getting ammo is as difficult a task. The cartridges are available at IOF but that, say experts, can prove an arduous task. A bullet for a pump action shot gun costs around Rs 40.

But where is the market for arms and ammunition, given that hunting is banned?

Experts say that guns, rifles and shotguns are usually procured by banks and security agencies for their professional duties.

And even as Indian guns of reasonable quality are being manufactured in places like Munger, Jammu, Kanrut district in Assam, Kolkata, Kanpur, and Jabalpur, it is imported firearms that people still desire. So who says a gun can’t be for keeps?

Getting a licence

Getting a gun licence is a big task. In Delhi, an application for a license has to be submitted to the DCP/Licencing with the required forms, photographs, other relevant documents and the approval of the local SHO.

The SHO or the local police station has to give the person a clean chit after checking (in negative) for any criminal history.

After that there is a verification process and if one gets through that then a licence can be issued to the person.

Matchlock Elephant Gun, India,


Matchlock Elephant Gun, India, ca. 1800s,
65″ barrel with 7/8″ bore 85.5″ overall length, one brass band, five areas of copper and brass wire binding barrel to wooden stock, JPR EXP 214709 stamped on barrel at breech, includes ramrod, three clusters of decorative brass studsalong right side. – Pitting on rear of barrel, age cracks to stock, finish scraped off 1′ of wood near muzzle.

1885 Bolan Pass Gun India Quetta British Military


Old Antique Historical Victorian Prints Maps and Historic Fine Art ———-.
1885 Bolan Pass Gun India Quetta British Military Print One Page From The Illustrated London News C1850-1899, The Actual Date Is In The Title Or On The Page Itself.

Matchlock gun, India, c1800 – 1850.


India: The Home of Gunpowder and Firearms

Source: Hindu Wisdom

India: The Home of Gunpowder and Firearms – By G R Josyer
(source: Diamonds ; Mechanisms ; Weapons of war ; Yoga sutras – By G.R. Josyer).

In every inquiry which is conducted with the object of proving that a certain invention has been made in any particular country, it is of the utmost importance to show that so far as the necessary constituents of the object invented are concerned, all these could be found in the country credited with such invention.

The ordinary components of gunpowder are saltpeter, sulphur, and charcoal.
1. It is now generally admitted that the nitrum which occurs in the writings of the ancients was not saltpeter, but natron, i.e. sodium carbonate; the latter word is nowhere extant in Greek or Roman literature, though the words nitrum and natron are no doubt in their origin identical.
The word neter occurs twice in the Bible. It is described as an alkali, which was used as soap:

“For though thou wash thee with nitre, and take thee much sope, yet
thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord God.” (Jerem. Ii. 22); and
“As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, and as vinegar upon nitre,
so is he that singeth songs to an heavy heart.” (Proverb xv. 22).

Herodotus mentions nitrium as litron in his description of the embalming of dead bodies as practiced in Egypt. Pliny repeatedly speaks of nitrum, and Galen records that it was burnt to strengthen its qualities. This would have had no effect if applied to saltpeter. There is no doubt that, had the ancients known saltpeter, its oxidizing properties would soon have been discovered by them, which is the most important step towards the invention of gunpowder.
The word natron was introduced into Europe from the East by some European scholars who had been traveling there about the middle of the sixteenth century, and who had thus become acquainted with this salt; and though the word natron was originally used there for denoting saltpeter, its other form nitrum has been since assigned it; however, as we have seen, the nitrum of the ancients is quite different from our nitre, which is saltpeter (potassium nitrate).
Native saltpeter, i.e. saltpeter produced by entirely natural processes is very scarce, so much so that the inventor of nickel, Freiherr Axel friedrich von Cronstedt (1722-65) was unacquainted with it. It is found especially in India, Egypt, and in some parts of America. Since the introduction of gunpowder in European warfare saltpeter has been manufactured wherever native saltpeter could not be obtained from the difference on walls (sal murale) and other sources; this exudation, together with all the other artificial modes of producing saltpeter, became a perquisite of the sovereign, and this saltpeter regale grew in time into as obnoxious a burden to the people as the hunting regale. The saltpeter regale is first mentioned as having been exercised in 1419 by Gunther, Archbishop of Magdeburg.

The little knowledge possessed by the ancients of chemical science, their utter ignorance of chemical analysis, accounts for their not improving, or rather for their not being able to improve the materials at their disposal and discovering the natural qualities of the different alkalis in their possession.

Throughout India saltpeter is found, and the Hindus are well acquainted with all its properties; it is even commonly prescribed as medicine. India was famous for the exportation of saltpeter, and is still so. The Dutch, when in India, traded especially in this article.

In Bengal, it is gathered in large masses wherever it efforeces on the soil, more particularly after the rainy season. In the “Sukraniti” saltpeter is called suvarcilavana, well shinning salt.

1. The Dhanvanatri – nighantu describes saltpeter as a tonic, as a sonchal salt; it is also called tilakam (black), krsnalavanam and kalalavanam. It is light, shiny, very hot in digestion, and acid. It is good for indigestion, acute stomach ache, and constipation. It is a common medical prescription.

2. Sulpher, the second ingredient of gunpowder, is also found in India, especially in Scind; it is, and was, largely imported into India from the East. It is well known and received its name from its smell, being called gandha or gandhaka smell, or in this case as it has not a good smell, rather from its stench. Its quality differs with its color, according as it is white, red, yellow, or bluish. Though sulphur is a very important part of gunpowder, gunpowder is in some parts in India even prepared without it. Sulphur was always in great demand in India, and in medicine it is often made use of.

3. Charcoal is the third component of gunpowder. Its constitution varies necessarily with the plants which in the different countries are used in its manufacture. In Prussia the coal of the alder, limetree, poplar, elder, willow, hemp, and hazel is used for powder. The charcoal of willow trees is especially esteemed on account of its excellent qualities. In the Sukraniti the arka (Calatropis gigantean), the snuhi, snuhi or snuh (Euphorbia neriifolia), and the Rasona (Allium saticum) are given as the plants whose charcoal is best fitted for gunpowder.

(a) The arka, gigantic swallow wort, is a common bush growing in great
quantities all over the country. It has a very good fiber, and is regarded by
the natives as possessing most powerful and useful qualities. If the arka is
used with discretion when iron is being forged, it contributes greatly to the
excellence of the Indian steel. It is applied against epilepsy, paralysis,
dropsy, etc. Its milky juice is smeared on wounds. It is a common sight in India
to see suffering people applying it. The root is also used against syphilis. Its
charcoal is very light and much used for pyrotechnical preparations, and its
qualities in this respect are so well known that every school boy is acquainted
with them and prepares his own powder and mixture from this plant. Its name in
Tamil is erukku, in Malayalam eruka, in Telugu jilledu, in Bengali akund, and
Hindustani mudar or ark.
(b) The snuhi, snuh, (triangular spurge, kalli in
Malayalm pasan kalli in Tamil, bontajammudu in Telugu, narashy, seyard in Hindi
and narsy in Bengali) grows like the arka in waste places all over the Indian
Peninsula. The qualities of this plant for pyrotechnic displays are as well
known as those of the Calatropis gigantean. Dried sticks of this plant are
scarce. It is widely used as a medicinal plant, externally against rheutmatism,
and internally as a purgative; it is given to children against worms.
© The rasona is a kind of garlic; the Marathi equivalent is lasuan. Its botanical name
is Allium sativum.

The prescription for making gunpowder is, according to the Sukraniti, as follows:
Mix 5 parts of saltpeter with 1 part of sulphur and 1 part of charcoal. The charcoal is to be prepared from the arka snuhi, and other similar plants in such a manner that during the process the plants are so covered that the smoke cannot escape. The charcoal thus obtained must be cleaned, reduced to powder, and the powder of the different charcoals is then to be mixed. After this has been done, the juice of the arka, snuhi, and rasona must be poured over the powder which is to be thoroughly mixed with this juice. This mixture is to be exposed and dried in the sun. It is then finally ground like sugar, and the whole mixture thus obtained is gunpowder!
The proportion of saltpeter varies, as some take 4 or 6 parts instead of 5, but the quantities of sulphur and charcoal remain unaltered. These two are the usual recipes. Nevertheless the mixture is often changed when the gunpowder is to be of a particular color or if it has to serve a special purpose. The three principal ingredients are mixed in different proportion, and realgar, orpiment, graphite, vermilion, the powder of magnetic iron oxide, camphor, lac, indigo, and pinegum, are added to the compound according as they are required.

It seems peculiar that gun-powder should not be mentioned in some Sanskrit works, but it is most probable that the very common occurrence of gunpowder interfered with its being regarded as something extraordinary and worth mentioning. The actual mode of preparing the different sorts of gunpowder may, on the other hand, have been kept a secret in certain classes. Explosive powder either used for rejoicings as fireworks for discharging projectiles was known in India from the earliest period, and its preparation was never forgotten.

In an extract taken from the Mujmalut Tawarikh – which was translated in 1126 from the Arabic, into which language it had been translated a century previously from a Sanskrit original – we read:

“that the Brahmins counseled Hal to have an elephant made of clay and to place
it in the van of his army, and that when the army of the king of Kashmir drew
nigh, the elephant exploded, and the flames destroyed a great portion of the
invading force. Here we have not only the simple act of explosion, but something
very much like a fuse, to enable the explosion to occur at a particular time.”

Vaisampanyana mentions among the things to be used against enemies smoke-balls, which contained most likely gunpowder, and which are according to the explanation proposed by his commentator made of gunpowder.

The following stanza, which is taken from the Rajalakshminarayana-hrdaya, a part of the Atharvanarahasya, is no doubt a clear proof of the fact that the Hindus were familiar with gun powder at a very remote period:

“As the fire prepared by the combination of charcoal, sulphur, and other
material depends upon the skill of its maker so also may thou, O! representative
of knowledge (Lakshmi), by the application of my faith manifest thyself quickly
according to my wishes.”

The Sanskrit word for gunpowder is agnichurna, firepowder, which is occasionally shortened to churna. The Dravidian languages have all and the same word for medicine and gunpowder; in Tamil marundu, in Telugu mandu, in Kanarese maddu, and in Malayalam, maruna. Occasionally the word gun (tupaki) is prefixed to remove any doubt as to what powder is meant. In Malayalam, the word vedi, which means explosion, is prefixed. The Chinese crackers are called by the Tamilians Sini vedi – Chinese crackers – to distinguish them from the Indian crackers. The word marunda is most probably derived from the Sanskrit past participle mardita, pounded, in the sense of different ingredients being pounded together, as a medicine powder. The meaning of gunpowder is then in a special sense derived from the general expression. The Dravidian equivalent of churna is Sunnambu in Tamil, Sunnamu in Telugu, chalk.

Two kinds of firearms are described in the Sukraniti, one is of small size and the other is of large size. The former is five spans long, has at the breech a perpendicular and horizontal hole, and sights at the breech and muzzle end of the tube. Powder is placed in the vent, near which is a stone, which ignites the powder by being struck. Many dispense with this flint. The breach is ell wooded and a ramrod compresses the powder and ball before the discharge. This small musket is carried by foot-soldier.

A big gun has no wood at its breech; moves on a wedge in order to be directed towards the object to be shot at, and it is drawn on cars.

The distance which the shot travels depends upon the strength of the material from which the gun is made, upon the circumference of the hole, and the gun’s compactness and size. The ball is either of iron or lead or of any other material. Some big balls have smaller ones inside. The gun itself is generally of iron, occasionally also, as we have seen in the Nitiprakasika, of stone. The gun is to be kept clean and must be always covered.

The term used for gun nalika (nalika) is derived from the word nala a reed, a hollow tube, which is another form for its synonyms nada, nadi, or nadi; in the same way nalilka corresponds to nadika. Considering that the guns were in ancient times made out of bamboo, and that some bamboo guns are still used in Burma, the name appears both appropriate and original. That the idea of bamboo being the original material for guns was still in the mind of the author of the Sukraniti seems to be indicated by his calling the outside of the stock of a gun bark (tvak).
In all European Sanskrit dictionaries the word nalika has been rendered as stalk, tube; arrow, dart, etc, but the third significance is not given; though it is one which is known to every learned Pundit. At the outset every body can easily see that the meaning of arrow and of gun can be rightly applied to a reed; the arrow is a reed which is discharged as a missile, and a gun is a reed out of which missiles are shot.

In the sholkas 21 and 24 of our extract of the Sukraniti we read that a king should keep on a big war chariot two large guns, and in sholkas 31, we are further informed that his beautiful iron chariot should be furnished with a couch, a swing, and among other things also with sundry arms and projectile weapons.

This tallies with an account concerning the fortifications of Manipura, as described in J. Talboys Wheeler’s History of India: “On the outside of the city were a number of wagons bound together with chains, and in them were placed fireworks and fire weapons, and men were always stationed there to keep guard.” The above mentioned statement appears to rest on good authority, as the Sukraniti declares, that the wall of a fortress “is always guarded by sentinels, is provided with guns and other projectile weapons, and has many strong bastions with proper loop-holes and ditches.”

In the second stavaka of the Bharatacampu composed by Anantabhatta, some three hundred years ago, we find the following simile: “The fierce warrior who killed his enemy with heaps of leaden balls, which emerge quickly from the gun lighted by a wick, is like the rainy season which killed the summer with hailstones which descend quickly from the gun lighted by a wick, is like the rainy season which killed the summer with hailstones which descend quickly from the rows of black clouds lighted by lightning.”

While the verse just quoted from the Bharatacampu reveals an intimate knowledge of firearms, yet its apparent recentness may be alleged as an objection against its being produced as an authority for the existence of firearms in India at an early period. To obviate such further objections as sloka will now be given from an undoubted early poem, the Naisadha which describes the adventures of Nala and is generally ascribed to one Sriharsa, a Brahman, who must not be confounded with Sriharsa, the King of Karmira. It s date goes back to the twelfth century. i.e., before the introduction of firearms into Europe. The verses in question run as follows: “The two boys of Rati and Manmatha (Cupid) are certainly like her (Damayanti’s) two elevated nostrils.” To leave no doubt that guns are meant here, the learned commentator Mallinaatha explains nalika as the Dronicaapa, the projectile weapon from which the Dronicapaastra, a dart or a ball is discharged, an expression, we have already noticed in Vaisampayana’s Nitiprakaasika.

On the other hand it is doubtful whether the asani missile, which was given by Indra to Arjuna and which made when discharged a noise like a thunder-cloud, alludes to firearms, as Von Bohlen explains it.

In the first book of the Sukraniti we find it stated that the royal watchmen, who are on duty about the palace, carry firearms. The Kamandakiya, acknowledged as one of the earliest works on Nitisastra, says that “confidential agents keepingnear the king should rouse him by stratagems, gunfiring and other means, when he is indulging in drinking bouts, among women, or in gambling. It seems from this statement that the practice of firing guns as signals was in vogue among the ancient Hindus, if we can trust the evidence of one of the older Sanskrit writings.
In the preface to a Code of Gentoo Laws or Ordinations of the Pundits: From a Persian translation, made from the original, written in the Shanscrit language, occurs the following passage: “It will no doubt strike the reader with wonder to find a prohibition of firearms in records of such unfathomable antiquity; and he will probably from hence renew the suspicion which has long been deemed absurd, that Alexander the Great did absolutely meet with some weapons of that kind in India as a passage in Quintus Curtius seems to ascertain. Gunpowder has been known in China, as well as in Hindustan, far beyond all periods of investigation.
The word firearms is literally Sanskrit Agnee-aster, a weapon of fire; they describe the first species of it to have been a kind of dart or arrow tip with fire and discharged upon the enemy from a bamboo. Among several extraordinary properties of this weapon, one was, that after it had taken its flight, it divided into several separate darts or streams of flame, each of which took effect, and which, when once kindled, could not be extinguished; but this kind of agnee-aster is now lost. Canon in the Sanskrit idiom is called Shata-ghnee, or the weapon that kills a hundred men at once, from (Shata) a hundred, and (ghnee) to kill; and the Purana Shastras, or Histories, ascribe the invention of these destructive engines to Vishwakarma, the architect who is related to have forged all the weapons for the war which was maintained in the Suttva yuga between Devta and Asur for the space of one hundred years.”

And again we read in page 53 of the same works: “The Magistrate shall not make war with any deceitful machine, or with poisoned weapons, or with cannon and guns, or any other kind of firearms; nor shall he slay in war a person born an enunch, or any person who putting his hands together supplicates for quarter, nor any person who has no means of escape, nor any man who is sitting down, nor any person who says. “ I am become of your party,” nor any man who is asleep, nor any man who is naked, nor any person who is not employed in war, nor any person who is come to see the battle, nor any person who is fighting with another, nor any person whose weapons are broken, nor any person who is wounded, nor any person who is fearful of the fight, nor any person who runs away from the battle.”

As these passages are so often quoted without their origin being stated, it may at once be remarked that the prescription about the use of arms and the treatment of persons is a free translation from the seventh book of the Institutes of Manu, vv. 90-93.

The meaning of arrow (sara, baaba) is much wider than is generally supposed. It was, and became more so in time, the usual term for any missile, whether it had the shape of an arrow or not; in the same way as the word Dhanu signified, in course of time every missile or weapon, so that the Dhanurveda, the knowledge of the bow comprised the knowledge of all other arms.
For instance, the shot out of a gun is called a sara, as we have seen when describing the nalika, but it may be a ball and not an arrow. A rocket is generally styled a baana (compared the Hindi term bana rocket); and banapattrai in Tamil, or banapatra in Telugu denotes a gunpowder or firework factory.

A comparison of the context of the Manavadharmasastra with those of the Sukraniti and the Nitiprakasika make it clear that Manu alludes to firearms. The Sukraniti runs in our extract as follows:

A king, bearing in mind the six principles of policy and the designs of his
enemy and his own, should always kill his enemy by fair and unfair
When the king gladdens his soldiers on the march with a quarter
extra pay, protects his body in the battle with a shield and armor;
Has induced his soldiers to drink up to a state of intoxication, the strengthener of
bravery, the soldier kills his enemy with a gun, sword, and other weapons.
A charioteer should be assailed by a lance, a person on a carriage or elephant by
an arrow, an elephant by an elephant, a horse by a horse.

G R Josyer is also the author of Vymaanika Shaastra Aeronautics of Maharshi Bharadwaaja – By G. R. Josyer International Academy of Sanskrit Research 1973). For more refer to chapter on Vimanas
(source: Diamonds ; Mechanisms ; Weapons of war ; Yoga sutras – By G.R. Josyer).

South India Guns

A 17th century forge-welded iron cannon, at Thanjavur’s eastern entrance (India).

Jaivana, world’s largest cannon

The Jaivana cannon is the largest wheeled cannon ever constructed. It is located at the Jaigarh Fort, Jaipur. It was cast in 1720, during the reign of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II of Jaipur. The formidable strength of its builder, the scientifically inclined warrior Sawai Jai Singh II, lay in the large number of artillery and copious supply of munitions which he maintained. Jaivan rests on a high 4 wheeled carriage. The front wheels are 2.74 m in diameter and the rear wheels are 1.37 m in diameter.

The length of the barrel of the cannon is 20 feet 2 inches and it weighs 50 tons.

Blast from the Past

Author: Rohit Parihar
Publication: India Today
Date: July 12, 2004

Introduction: Efforts are on to give a facelift to a foundry producing weapons of massive dimensions in Jaipur

Legend has it that when Jaivana, the world’s largest cannon on wheels at the Jaigarh Fort in Amer, Rajasthan, was fired, expectant mothers living nearby suffered miscarriages. But the foundry that made and assembled this massive weapon in 1720-it was then one of the world’s oldest cannon factories-is falling apart and efforts to restore it to its former glory are on.

Its sheer size gives some idea of what a monumental task Jaivana’s manufacture might have been. The 50 tonne cannon rests on six massive wheels, each 9 ft in circumference. The cannon is 31 ft long with a 20 ft barrel that can be raised or lowered by an 8 ft tall elevating screw. Four elephants were used to rotate it. The cannon is believed to have been fired only once- towards Chakshu, 22 km away. About 100 kg of explosives launched a 50 kg iron ball which created a huge depression when it landed. It is a pond now.

Jaigarh Fort was built in the 11th century and developed under Raja Man Singh, a trusted general of Emperor Akbar. Man Singh learned about casting cannons while serving in Afghanistan. He set up the gun foundry complex in 1584. Now, Kunwar Narendra Singh, son-in-law of Jaipur’s erstwhile Maharaja Bhawani Singh, is restoring the factory that produced thousands of cannons for close to three centuries before shutting down owing to lack of demand.

The most prominent features of the cannon complex are the giant wheels with teeth measuring 9 inches for rotating cutters to drill holes in mammoth barrels. Each cutter is 9 ft long. Four pairs of bulls rotated the gear system made from thick wooden crossbars fixed to a central beam. It is these wooden parts that have eroded and need repair. Narendra Singh has hired a master carpenter to work on the missing parts. Delhi’s National Museum too has been approached for help. Since the erstwhile kings used to supervise the making of cannons themselves, the royal pavilion where they were seated is also being renovated. In addition, a support system is being fabricated to ease the burden on the wheels of Jaivana that are wearing out under the cannon’s weight.

With government assistance Narendra Singh believes the factory will once again produce cannons-mini replicas of the original. With its ancient heritage restored, it could also mean a tourist boom for Jaigarh.


Source: Wikipedia
An illustration from the Akbarnama written by Abu’l-Fazl ibn Mubarak (1551-1602) depicts a gun in Akbar’s court (bottom center).

Lieut. Pattinson recaptures the gun: Maratha wars

Source: Heritage History
Lieut. Pattinson recaptures the gun
Second Maratha War : 1802-1803

Other related wars

First Maratha War : 1775-1783
Third Maratha War, a.k.a. Pindaras War : 1817-1818
Gwalior Campaign : 1843