Unseen Passage: Militarism and War in India

India has never subscribed to the doctrine of militarism and war in her history. Here, war was never treated as an ideal. It was only tolerated as unavoidable and inevitable, and all attempts were made to check it and bring it under control. In spite of the frequency of wars in ancient India, in spite of highly developed military organization, techniques of war and imperialism and in spite of the open justification of war as national policy, the heart of India loved pacifisms as an ideal capable of realization. India’s symbolic role was that of a peacemaker and it sincerely pinned its faith on the principle of ‘live and let live’. At least philosophically, India’s intelligence supported the cause of peace not only in national affairs but in international affairs also. All the great seers of the yore visualized the unity of life, permeating all beings, animate or inanimate, which ruled out killing and suicidal wars.

This doctrine of philosophical pacifisms practiced by ancient Aryans is, no doubt, a question of controversial nature. Certainly, the great Indian teachers and savants stuck to this doctrine tenaciously and in their personal lives they translated it into practice and preached it to masses and even to princes of military classes.

Another culture of those times, the existence of which has been proved by the excavations of Mohenjo-daro, also enunciated the doctrine of pacifism and friendship to all. Strangely enough, the Indus Valley civilization has revealed no fortification and very few weapons.

Ahimsa or the doctrine of non-violence in thought, speech and action assumed a gigantic importance in the Buddhist and Jain period. By a constant practice of this virtue, man becomes unassailable by even wild beasts, who forgot their ferocity the moment they entered the circumference of his magnetic influence. The monks and nuns of these churches were apostles of peace, who reached every nook and corner of the world and delivered the message of love to the war-weary humanity. The greatest votary was the royal monk Ashoka, who in reality was responsible for transforming Ahimsa as an act of personal virtue, to Ahimsa as an act of national virtue.

Many historians recounting the causes of the downfall of the Mauryas, hold the pacific policy of Ashoka which had eschewed the aggressive militarism of his predecessors, responsible for an early decay of the military strength of the state and its consequent disintegration, leading to the rise of Sungas, Kanvas and Andhras. However, in reality the fault lies in the weak successors of Ashoka, who could not wield the weapon of non-violence with a skill and efficiency, which required the strength of a spiritual giant like Ashoka. They failed due to their subjective weakness: Pacifism itself was no cause of their failure.

Besides the foregoing philosophical and religious school of thought, even many political authorities gave their unflinching support to the cause of pacifisms. They recognized the right of rivals to exist, not mainly as enemies, but as collaborators in the building of a civilization operation. Thus, for centuries, in the pre-Mauryan India, scores of small independent republics existed and flourished without coming in clash with each other.

With regard to Kautilya, the much maligned militarist and the so called Machiavelli of India, he thinks that the object of diplomatic is to avoid war.

The Mahabharata observes in this connection: ‘A wise man should be content with what can be obtained by the expedients of conciliation, gift and dissension’. It denounces the warring world of men by comparing it to a dog kennel. ‘First there comes the wagging of tails, then turning of one round to other, then the showing of teeth, then the roaring and finally comes the commencement of the fights. It is the same with men; there is no difference whatsoever’. Yajnavalkya adds: ‘War is the last expedient to be used when all others have failed’.Likewise, Sri Krishna whose Bhagwad Gita has been styled by some as ‘a song of the battle’, should not be considered out and out a militarist. When all the three expedients were exhausted, then alone the fourth was resorted to.

All possible avenues of peace such as negotiation, conciliation through conference, meditation and so on, were explored by before resorting to war. This proves that the heart of ancient India was sound and it longed for peace, although war also was not treated as an anathema and was to be avoided as far as possible. (Extract from ‘Culture India-Pacifism has been the Ideal’ by Sri Indra)

Q. Based on your understanding of the above passage, answer any five of the questions given below by choosing the most appropriate option:

  1. The heart of India loved _______________.
    1. a highly developed military organization.
    2. techniques of wars and imperialism.
    3. loans.
    4. pacifism.
  2. Principle of ‘live and let live‘ means:
    1. imperialism.
    2. militarism.
    3. frequency of wars among nations.
    4. role of peace makers.
  3. What did Aryans preach and practice to the masses?
    1. Non-violence
    2. Freedom of speech and action
    3. Philosophical Pacifism
    4. Practice of Military organization
  4. Mahabharata compares the warring world to:
    1. wise men.
    2. dog kennel.
    3. song of the battle.
    4. militarist.
  5. Unearthing Mohenjo–daro reinforced the following regarding Pacifism:
    1. as there was no fortification and very few weapons.
    2. they delivered the message of love.
    3. as they were apostles of peace.
    4. thinks that the object of diplomatic is to avoid war.
  6. Which is not the avenue of peace?
    1. Negotiation
    2. Conciliation through conference
    3. War
    4. Meditation


  1. pacifism.
  2. role of peacemakers.
  3. philosophical pacifism
  4. dog kennel.
  5. as there was no fortification and very few weapons.
  6. War

Q. Answer the following questions briefly:

  1. Which principle India had pinned its faith on?
  2. How war has been treated by Indians?
  3. What did assume a great importance in Buddhist and Jain period?
  4. Whom did historians hold responsible for the downfall of Mauryas?
  5. How could small independent republics exist and flourish in Pre- Mauryan India?


  1. India had always pinned its faith on the principle of ‘live and let live’.
  2. India has never supported war and the doctrine of militarism. War has never been treated as an ideal.
  3. Ahimsa or the doctrine of non-violence in thought, speech, and action assumed a great importance in the Buddhist and Jain period.
  4. The historians held the pacific policy of Ashoka responsible for the downfall of Mauryas.
  5. Small independent republic existed and flourished without coming in clash with each other. They recognized the right of rivals to exist and worked as collaborators in the building of a civilization.

Q. Pick out the words/phrases from the passage which mean the same as the following phrases.

  1. express in definite and clear terms (para 3)
  2. the beginning (para 8)


  1. enunciated
  2. commencement

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