The modern images of India often depict pictures of poverty, sickness and lack of development. However, India was the richest country on earth until the advent of British colonial rule in the early 17th Century. Christopher Columbus was attracted by India’s wealth and it was in his pursuit of India, that he landed in the Americas and thinking he was in India, he called the native Americans, Indians.
What is also not apparent immediately are the treasures of India in the form of its long history dating back to 3000 B.C. and its vast philosophical schools, one of which is Buddhism. India is the birthplace of the Buddha (Born Siddharta Gautama in 563 B.C.). India’s offering to the world has been numerous. For example, India invented the numeric system, algebra, trigonometry and calculus. The art of navigation was born in the river Sindh around 5000 years ago (the word navigation is derived from the Sanskrit word navagatih).
The ancient civilization of India grew up in a sharply demarcated sub-continent bounded on the north by the world’s largest mountain range – the Himalayas, which, with its extensions to east and west, divides India from the rest of Asia and the world. The barrier, however, was at no time an insurmountable one, and at all periods both settlers and traders have found their way over the high and desolate passes into India, while Indian have carried their commerce and culture beyond her frontiers by the same route.
One such example was Hiuan Tsang (c. AD 600-64) a Chinese pilgrim and one of the most distinguished Buddhist scholar of his time who traveled to India in 629 A.D. and stayed for 16 long years, traveling extensively and holding discussions with other scholars and gathering scriptures and texts to take back. In Kanchipuram he became a friend of the local king and his face was later carved on the temple built shortly after his visit.
Much has been written about India’s influence over the Chinese martial arts. Some are true and some are unfounded. For instance there is no scholarly consensus that Bodhidharma introduced Indian martial arts to China. The list of travelers from India to China is not limited to Bodhidharma, but a wide variety of merchants and numerous Buddhist scholars such as Ajitasena, Amoghavajra, Bodhivardhana and Buddhapala. If India has had a direct influence on Chinese martial arts, it would be historically inaccurate to place that burden only on one traveler such as Bodhidharma. However, it goes without saying that the Indian influence over China has been enormous. The past ambassador of China to USA, Hu Shih could not have placed India’s influence over its neighbor more clearly, when he stated that, “India conquered and dominated China culturally for 20 centuries without ever having to send a single soldier across her border”. In fact over the centuries Indian philosophy and culture has had a profound influence over China, Burma, Tibet, Nepal, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the entire Indochina.
Mythology has had a profound influence on every facet of Indian life and literature. The origin of its history is also often depicted in mythological language and it goes without saying that the origins of its martial arts are also often depicted in mythological language.
The warrior arts of India were imparted to the ascetic meditative sages (Rishis) by Shiva the lord of yogis. Shiva is known by various names including the terrifying Rudra. His consort is the goddess Parvati also known by various names such as Shakti, Uma and Kali. According to the scriptural texts known as Purana, the physical abode of Shiva is at mount Kailasa near lake Manasarovar, presently located in the Tibetan high plateau. After mastering the arts the Rishis established various hermitages in order to impart the divine knowledge received from Shiva to those worthy of initiation (Diksha). The disciples (Shishya) were selected carefully and had to meet strict criteria in order to be initiated. An individual lacking nobility in character would not be taught. “With soap you can not whiten the coal” said Kabir the famed Indian mystic saint (c. 1440 A.D.).
Numerous hermitages were established throughout the ages, which were responsible for guiding the initiate to enlightenment. The hermitages were responsible for the entire educational training of the disciple. Topics covered were as esoteric as philosophy to the mundane art of cooking. Combative arts (Kshatriya Vidya) were taught in Gurukulas or Rishikulas (hermitage of the master usually located in the forest) where the Acharya (teacher) or Rishi was well versed in the martial arts. The master (Guru) must have achieved final enlightenment, and reached the zenith of spiritual perfection (Siddha). In addition to being a Siddha those who had also crafted their body in the internal fire (Yajna) of warrior studies were called a Kshatriya Siddha Guru (Spiritually Perfected Warrior Master).
Among the renowned hermitages were those of Anangadeva situated at the confluence of river Ganges and Sarayu, Valmiki’s situated at Citrakuta Hill and Bharadwaja’s situated near the confluence of Ganges and Yamuna river. Sukra’s hermitage was situated in the kingdom of Raja Danda between Vindhya and Saivada. The hermitages most noted for their warrior trainings and their resident Kshatriya Siddha Gurus were those of Vasistha, Agastya, Drona, Vyasa and Parashurama. Many great legendary warriors were students at one of these hermitages including Arjuna, Rama, Krishna, Bhima, Vishvamitra and Bhishma.
India boasts a multitude of manuscripts and scriptures covering a wide variety of subjects including the warrior arts. The great epics known as Ramayana and Mahabharata, as well as the Puranas, and various Shaivite texts are just portion of this vast storehouse of wisdom. Dhanurveda a part of Agni Purana, written by Sage Vyasa, discusses the training of a warrior and particularly an archer.