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Mughal weapons significantly evolved during the ruling periods of Babur, Akbar, Aurangzeb and Tipu Sultan. During its conquests throughout the centuries, the military of the Mughal Empire used a variety of weapons including swords, bows and arrows, horses, camels, elephants, some of the world's largest cannons, muskets and flintlock blunderbusses.
Most cavalrymen mainly depended upon the short arms (kotah-yaraq) for close quarter combat. They are classified into five categories: swords and shields, maces, battle-axes, spears and daggers. Weapons used for long range attacks were the bow and arrow (Kaman & Tir), the matchlock (Banduq or Tufanq) and the pistols. Rockets were also used by the artillerymen (Topkanah).
No single man carried all these weapons at one time, but in a large army all of them were in use by someone or other. The great number of weapons that a man carried is graphically described by Fitzclarence, about an officer of his guards. He was a petty officer of the Nizam's service, who commended his escort:
"Two very handsome horses with superb caparisons belong to this jamadar, who is himself dressed in a vest of green English broad cloth laced with gold, and very rich embroidered belts. A shield of buffalo hide with gilt bosses is hung over his back. His arms are two swords and a dagger, a brace of English pistols(revolver), and he has his matchlock carried before him by a servant."
Swordbelts were generally broad and handsomely embroidered. On horseback they were worn on a belt hanging over the shoulder. Otherwise a man carried his sword by three straps hanging from a waist-belt.
Types of blades:
A shield always accompanied a sword as part of the swordsman's equipment. Carried on the left arm, or when out of use, slung over the shoulder, shields were made of steel or hide and were generally from 17 to 24 inches (430 to 610 millimetres) in diameter. If made of steel they were often highly ornamented with patterns in gold damascening while hide shields bore silver or gold bosses, crescents, or stars. Some types of shields were made of sambar deer, buffalo, nilgau, elephant, or rhinoceros hide, the last being the most highly prized. Brahman soldiers wore shields made up of forty or fifty folds of silk painted with colors.
Types of shields
There were several varieties of this class of weapon. Cavalry troops generally used a lance with other types of spears used by foot soldiers and guards surrounding the emperor's audience hall. There is also some evidence, particularly among the Marathas, for the use of a javelin or short spear, which was thrown.
These were of various shapes and kinds, each with a separate name (a dagger would also indicate the ethnicity of the warrior).
Bows and arrows, matchlocks, pistols and cannons made up the four categories of missile weapons. Cavalry were mainly equipped with the bow with Mughal horsemen noted for their archery. Legend told that the bow and arrow were brought down straight from Heaven and given to Adam by the archangel Gabriel. Personal weapons were ranked in the following order: the dagger, the sword, the spear and the soldier's with the top weapon the bow and arrow.
Despite the spread of firearms, use of the bow persisted throughout the 18th century due to its superior build quality and ease of handling. Bows were widely used by the rebels during the Indian rebellion of 1857.
The matchlock, a cumbrous and no doubt ineffective weapon, was left mainly to the infantry while pistols seem to have been rare.
Mughal field artillery, although expensive, proved an effective tool against hostile war elephants and its use led to several decisive victories. After Babur's artillery defeated the armies of Ibrahim Lodi in the 16th century, subsequent Mughal emperors considered field artillery the most important and prestigious type of weapon.
Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan are given credit for the creation of the rocket. However it is very possible that the idea originated in Mughal era India.
Considered especially expert in the use of their weapons, Mughal horsemen armed with bows could shoot three times faster than musketeers.
The standard Mughal kaman (bow) was about 4 feet (1.2 metres) long and generally shaped in a double curve with a grip covered in velvet. Made of horn, wood, bamboo, ivory, and sometimes of steel, two of these steel bows.
Several strings of thick catgut lined the Mughal bow on its concave side (convex when strung) to give it elasticity and force. The belly was made of finely polished buffalo or wild goats' horn in jet black. Glued to this was a thin slip of hard, tough wood. The ends were fashioned to represent snakes' heads with the horn left plain, while the wooden back was decorated with rich intermingled arabesques of gilded birds, flowers or fruit. Indian bows carried by travellers also served for show or amusement. These types were made of buffalo horn in two identically curved pieces curved, each with a wooden tip for receipt of the string. Their other ends were brought together and fastened to a strong piece of wood that served as a centre and was gripped in the left hand. After construction, they were covered with a size made of animal fibres then wrapped in a thin layer of fine tow before the application of a final coat of paint and varnish.
Bow strings were sometimes made of strong threads of white silk laid together to form a cylinder about 1.25 centimetres (0.49 in) in diameter. Whipping of the same material was then bound firmly round for a length of three or four inches at the centre, and to this middle piece large loops of scarlet or other coloured material attached by a complicated knot. These gaudy loops then formed a striking contrast to the white silk.
A Bow string holder consists of a broad ring made of precious stone, crystal, jade, ivory, horn, fishbone, gold or iron in accordance with an individual's rank.
Arrows were of two types: those in common use relied on reeds for their fabrication and used against tigers had wooden shafts. Reed-based arrows used resin to attach the head while those of wood had a hole bored into their shaft into which a red-hot head was forced. Some arrows in the India Museum[clarification needed Which one?] are 2.4 feet (0.73 m) long; one example, obtained at Lucknow in 1857, extended to 6 feet (1.8 metres) and would have required the use of a larger than average bow. Feathers used for arrows were frequently mixed black and white (ablaq) while the arrowhead was ordinarily of steel although the Bhils used bone.
Known as the tufang, Mughal emperor Akbar introduced many improvements in the manufacture of the matchlock. Nevertheless, up to the middle of the 18th century, the weapon was looked on with less favour than the bow and arrow. The matchlock was left chiefly to the infantry, who occupied a much inferior position to that of the cavalry in the opinion of Mughul commanders. It was not until the middle of the 18th century, when the way had been shown by the French and the English, that efforts were made to improve the arms and discipline of the foot soldier.
The barrels of Akbar's matchlocks were of two lengths: 66 inches (1,700 mm) and 41 inches (1,000 mm). They were made of rolled strips of steel with the two edges welded together. In the Deccan Plateau the introduction of the flintlock weapon, owing to intercourse with the French and English, may have been somewhat earlier.
Matchlock barrels, covered with elaborate damascened work, had their stocks adorned with embossed metal work or with various designs either in lacquer, paint, or inlays of different materials. The stocks were at times decorated with embossed and engraved mounts in gold, or the butt had an ivory or ebony cap. The barrel was generally attached to the stock by broad bands of metal or by a wire made of steel, brass, silver or gold. The broad bands were sometimes of perforated design and chased. The stocks were of two designs, the first narrow, slightly sloped, and of the same width throughout and the second sharply curved and narrow at the grip, expanding to some breadth at the butt. When not in use, matchlocks were kept and carried about in covers made of scarlet or green.
The set consisted of a powder flask, bullet pouches, priming horn (singra), matchcord, flint and steel with the whole ensemble attached to a belt often made of velvet embroidered in gold. The receptacles which contained powder and musket balls were unwieldy, and as the Mughal troops never used cartridges for their pieces, they were slow to load. Some soldiers carried more than twenty yards of match about their person, similar in appearance to a large ball of pack-thread.
Mughal infantryman armed with musket would be placed upon an elephant making them mobile, and sharpshooter in their task.
Special type of guns
The pistols were called as tamanchah. The pistol was in use in India, to some extent at any rate, early in the 18th century. For instance, it was with a shot from a pistol that in October 1720 a young Sayyad, related to Husain Ali Khan, killed that nobleman's assassin. The pistol was confined to the higher ranks of the nobles, very few soldiers having European pistols and tabanchah.
The Mughal military employed a broad array of gunpowder weapons larger than personal firearms, from rockets and mobile guns to an enormous cannon, over 14 feet (4.3 m) long, once described as the "largest piece of ordnance in the world." This array of weapons was divided into heavy and light artillery.
Possession of mobile field artillery is seen by some historians as the central military power of the Mughal Empire and distinguished its troops from most of their enemies. A status symbol for the emperor, pieces of artillery would always accompany the Mughal ruler on his journeys through the empire. In battle the Mughals mainly used their artillery to counter hostile war elephants, which made frequent appearances in warfare on the Indian subcontinent. However, although emperor Akbar personally designed gun carriages to improve the accuracy of his cannons, Mughal artillery proved most effective in frightening the other side's elephants on the battlefield. The chaos that ensued in the opposing army's ranks allowed Mughal forces to overcome their enemy. Animal-borne swivel guns became a feature of Mughal warfare with stocks often more than 6.7 feet (2.0 metres) in length, which fired a projectile 3.9 to 4.7 inches (99 to 119 mm) in diameter
It is a widely held belief that smaller pieces of Mughal artillery were even placed upon the elephant.
The Bengali forces that fought at the Battle of Plassey owed a degree of loyalty to the "Great Moghul" they owned metallic silver lustre cannons which were placed upon specially designed bullock.
This article incorporates text from The army of the Indian Moghuls: its organization and administration, by William Irvine, a publication from 1903, now in the public domain in the United States.