In the previous essay, we have seen the three main classifications and ethics of war and their respective features as defined and explained by our ancients: Dharma, Lobha, and Asura. We can now look at some more related aspects of the Hindu conception of war and war ethics in a fair of bit detail.
The Kutayuddha or the unrighteous war is one such topic. Kutayuddha is a war in which principles are sacrificed at the altar of expediency. A hymn in the Atharva-Veda, gives the meaning of Kuta, which can be translated differently as horn, trap, hammer, etc. The hymn says:
“Here are spread the fetters of death, which stepping into thou are not released, let this horn (kuta) slay of yonder army by thousands.” (8.16)
According to the Brahmandapurana, Kutayuddha was also known as Citrayuddha in which Maya (deception, trickery) was practiced. This Purana says that a commander of Bhanda resorted to Citrayuddha and created a Sarpani from whose limbs thousands of poisonous snakes came out in torrents and bewildered the Saktis (forces) of the enemy. (IV.2).
Shorn of these supernatural elements, Kutayuddha, according to #Kautilya, means that it is a form of war where crafty methods, intrigue, charms, spells, and prohibited, deadly weapons were used against the enemy.
However, in the Sanatana code of war ethics, Kutayuddha is actually the negation of the ethics of war. It permitted the use of fatal and poisoned weapons which would culminate in what’s today known as genocide. Another facet of Kutayuddha is the Tushnim yuddha, or Silent Warfare. This involved striking the enemy in stealth and silence, as contrasted with Prakasa yuddha or open warfare, which was the honourable method. As the Atharva Veda shows, Kutayuddha also employed sorcery, black magic, and the use of fatal plants and potions with the sole aim of winning the war at any cost. As an aside, so enduring has this method of black magic been that we see its practical application even to this day by our politicians. It is widely held that the most famous practitioner of this Dark Art is former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda.
Chanakya supplies elaborate details of this form of warfare. Ever pragmatic, he laid down that if the enemy employed Kutayuddha, the defender was also free to retort in kind. In R K Mookerji’s masterpiece, Chandragupta Maurya, we have details of how every warrior in his military force was taught every form of warfare. Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s classic tele-serial, Chankaya shows a creative depiction of Kutayuddha that Kautilya practices against the internal and external enemies of Bharatavarsha. The essence of such defensive Kutayuddha was to guard against being overpowered by trickery or intrigue. Else, Kutayuddha was forbidden.
As the foregoing discussion shows, Kutayuddha results in large scale destruction of citizens, property, cattle, and other non-combatants. Thus laying entire villages and agricultural lands to waste, poisoning tanks and wells, using weapons with poisoned tips, setting fire to the camp, attacking the enemy camp when sleeping, etc were completely prohibited. Other methods classified as Kutayuddha include inciting rebellion among the enemy’s subjects through bribery, by spreading deceptive narratives and creating fissures within the society. In a way, the sorry history of Bharatavarsha since 1947 is but one long and unending tale of these tactics.
Essentially, Kutayuddha can be regarded as an aspect of the Asura Vijaya and the Lobha Vijaya to varying degrees. Both these types of warfare are essentially Adharmic. For example, we see the Asura form of warfare in the Ramayana where Ravana’s son, Indrajit concocts a fake image (Maya) of Sitadevi and kills her before Sri Rama’s army in a bid to demoralize it. According to the principles and tenets of Dharma Yuddha or fair warfare, the vanquished enemy’s kingdom should not be annexed, no bodily punishment should be inflicted upon the king, nor his treasury be gobbled up, nor his women treated unchivalrously.
But the Asura Vijaya, the most heinous of all the three, approves of all these reprobate and contemptible methods and tactics. I shall refer the reader to the Pakistani Brigadier S K Mallik’s book, The Quranic Concept of War for a detailed exposition of the Asura Vijaya method as laid down in the Holy Book.
Indeed, so farsighted was Kautilya that he advises an inferior king to stay far away from a conqueror who employs Asura Vijaya methods by offering him land and wealth in advance. Otherwise the said inferior king would be annihilated. The destructive raid of Kalinga by the eternal hot-favourite of our secularists, Ashoka, can be cited as an example of Asura Vijaya.
There’s also a penal aspect in the Hindu ethics of war. If a Kshatriya or a soldier broke these ethics or slackened in following them, the State had a right to punish the transgressor. The commonest punishment was social ostracism. The fallen soldier became an outcaste and was debarred from enjoying the social privileges that accrued to a Ksatriya. Equally, if the warrior retreated from the battlefield to save his life, leaving his comrades behind, he would be stoned or beaten to death with sticks. If his transgression was harsher, he would be rolled in a mat of dry grass and burnt to death. No doubt these are extreme punishments, but they helped maintain strict discipline.
This two-part essay has touched only a few general and main points of the Hindu code of war ethics. A nobler, more chivalrous, more evolved, and even a more compassionate system cannot be found in any other culture or country.
This code also eventually became the cause for the continuing downfall of the Hindu civilization and culture. In the memorable words of V.R.R. Dikshitar, this attitude led to
“…the gradual extinction of the martial qualities by misplaced generosity through forgiving dangerous enemies who sought shelter or refuge in order to study the enemy’s weakness and then attack him with redoubled force….The sad fate of Prithivi Raja Cahamana at the close of the Hindu period,’ says a recent writer, ‘tells an eloquent tale of the military tragedy of ancient India.’”