Indian Army: Righteousness Our Heritage

Sub Title : History is testimony to the fact that through the ages Indian warriors have conducted themselves righteously

Issues Details : Vol 14 Issue 6 Jan – Feb 2021

Author : Maj Gen Harvijay Singh, SM (Retd)

Page No. : 35

Category : Military Affairs

: January 25, 2021

On the occasion of Indian Army Day, this feature is a tribute to the Indian Army and the armed forces. It contains excerpts from the book which our team is putting together.

Indian Army is the ‘Sword Arm’ of the nation, defender of its Sovereignty, Integrity and Independence. It provides citizens a sense of security to sleep and work peacefully. Its strong shoulders have created an environment for business and economics to flourish; the Indian soldier epitomizes the spirit of living for the love of his country and dying for it when duty calls.

Dharma, since ancient times has been  a key concept of Indian philosophy and religions, and therefore holds an undisputed centrality  in the psyche and mind space of Indians. The key constituent of Dharma, even though the exact meaning of the  term may differ from religion to religion, is essentially Righteousness – aimed at providing a moral direction to individuals and society covering duties, rights, laws and conduct based on virtues.

Through the ages following the credo of righteousness has had an influence in matters of statecraft, war fighting and actions of our soldiers during a conflict. The concept manifests itself by virtue of the fact that activities being carried out are in consonance with the ideals stipulated by Dharma. That the consciousness of Indian soldiers was in  harmony with these principles is denoted by the fact that all great Indian warriors portrayed in our scriptures had virtues associated with Gods and were invariably fighting demons and emerging victorious in the end. This is further borne out by the fact that two of the great Indian epics viz the Mahabharat and Ramayana are greatly concerned with the ethics of war.


History is testimony to the fact that Indian warriors have conducted themselves basis the principles of virtuous conduct and hence righteousness is indeed the heritage of the Indian Army and also the two other services. What makes the Indian soldier unique? Unit mottoes and the values they preach have a significant role to play. Mottoes of the Indian Armed Forces’ Services and Regiments come from Sanskrit, English, or a regional language the specific unit is closely affiliated with. A large majority of  them are associated with mythology and inspire the soldier to do his duty selflessly with valour and honour. These values get ingrained into the soldiers’ psyche as the regimental motto is literally worn on the sleeve. Training ethos of the Indian armed forces lays great emphasis on regimentation and one of the key leadership traits inculcated is identification with the unit and men you command. You are a Gorkha, Sikh or Madrasi, not by birth or faith, but by the faith and traditions of the unit you serve with and command.

Military Unit                       Motto                                       Language           Translation

Indian Army                       Sewa Paramo Dharma                   Sanskrit                Service is our duty

Indian Air Force                Nabha sparsham deeptam            Sanskrit                Touch the sky with glory

Indian Navy                        Sha-no Varuna                                Sanskrit                 May the Lord of the oceans                                                                                                                                                                   be auspicious unto us

Regiment of Artillery      Sarvatra izzat o iqbal                Hindi/Urdu           Everywhere with honour and glory

Madras Regiment           Swadharme nidhanam shreyaha  Sanskrit             It is a glory to die doing one’s duty

All Gorkha Rifles               Kayar hunu bhanda marnu ramro Nepali          Better to die than live like a coward

Maratha Light Infantry   Kartavya, Maan, Saahas.                Hindi                       Duty, Honour, Courage

Rajputana Rifles               Veer bhogya Vasundhara             Sanskrit                 The brave shall inherit the earth

Sikh Regiment                   Nischey kar apni jeet karon          Punjabi                  With determination, I will be                                                                                                                                                                 triumphant

Sikh Light Infantry            Deg teg fateh                     Punjabi                    Prosperity in peace and victory in war

Dogra Regiment               Kartavya manvatma                        Sanskrit                    Duty before death

The Garhwal Rifles          Yudhaya krit nischya                      Sanskrit                    Fight with Determination

Kumaon Regiment          Parakramo vijayate                         Sanskrit                    Valour triumphs

Jammu & Kashmir          Prashataranvirta                         Sanskrit                    Valour in battle is praiseworthy  Rifles

Jammu and Kashmir      Balidanam vir lakshanam      Sanskrit            Sacrifice is a characteristic of the brave Light Infantry


Strategic Culture

The Strategic Culture of a nation depends on many factors, namely- history, geography, technology  and national ethos besides economics and politics.


One of the oldest civilisations along with Egypt and Mesopotamia, Indus Valley civilisation flourished around 2500 BCE.  Vedic period started around 1500 BCE.

  • Ancient. During the second millennium BCE, Aryan tribes migrated into the Subcontinent. They settled in the Ganges River valley and adapted to antecedent cultures. The political map of ancient and medieval India was made up of myriad kingdoms with fluctuating boundaries. In 4th and 5th centuries AD, northern India was unified under Gupta Dynasty. During this Golden Age, Hindu culture and political administration reached new heights. India’s rich abundance has kept the Indian Soldier, ‘the sentinels’ on their toes through centuries.
  • Medieval Period. This was a period of invaders and foreign rule. There were also numerous pockets of resistance and struggle for freedom. In the 10th and 11th centuries, Turks and Afghans invaded India and established sultanates. In the early 16th century, descendants of Genghis Khan swept across the Khyber Pass and established the Mughal Dynasty. From the 11th to 15th centuries, Southern India was dominated by Chola and Vijayanagar Dynasties. During this time, the two systems–the prevailing Hindu and Muslim, mingled, leaving lasting cultural influences on each other. Many famous battles were fought which exhibited the inherent valour of Indian soldiers and leadership qualities of the Generals; prominently Guru Gobind Singh, Shivaji Maharaj, Rana Pratap, Prithvi Raj Chauhan and Maharaja Ranjit Singh among others.
  • The British Rule. With start of the 17th century the British started to establish outposts. Later, East India Company opened permanent trading stations at Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta. The British soon expanded their influence and, by 1850s, controlled most of present-day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. In 1857, a rebellion by Indian soldiers caused the British Parliament to transfer political power from East India Company to the Crown. India gained independence in 1947.

For the purpose of understanding the Strategic Culture, there is also a need to examine the period of World Wars wherein Indian Army established its mettle overseas.

  • During World War I, many Indian soldiers died in Europe, they left behind a legacy of good deeds and bravery. Over 138,000 Indian troops fought in the War known for its trench warfare and gas attacks. They fought in the battles of Ypres, Flanders, Somme, Gallipoli, East Africa, Palestine, Egypt / Suez Canal, Mesopotamia, covering all theatres of the war. More than one quarter would become casualties.
  • World War II. resulted in over 50 million military and civilian deaths. The Indian Army in the war in 1939, numbered under 200,000. By the end of the war, it was over 2.5 million. They fought on three continents in Africa, Europe against the Germans and Italians. However, bulk was committed to fighting the Japanese Army, first in Malaya and the retreat from Burma, and, later, after rest and refit the victorious advance from Kohima back to Burma. Over 87,000 Indian servicemen were killed in the war and 34,354 wounded.

Post-Independence, India has fought one war against China, three against Pakistan and many smaller battles.

  • In 1947, Pakistan set out to acquire the state of Jammu and Kashmir by force, sending in tribals with Pakistani army regulars. Only when the tribals were plundering Baramulla did the Maharaja capitulate and sign the accession document with India. Despite the late start and extremely difficult terrain, Indian Army fought many intense battles during 1947-48 to evict the raiders. Prominent amongst these were at Srinagar, Tithwal, Poonch and Zojila. The Indian Army sprung a surprise in Zojila by taking tanks to a height of 11000 feet; it created shock and awe among the belligerents who were killed in large numbers.
  • 1962 brought the Chinese aggression, the Indian Army was surprised and defeated. The Army’s morale and a parity was however restored in 1967 when Indian Army hammered the Chinese during the NathuLa and ChoLa clashes.
  • Handsomely equipped with foreign grants and weapons, Pakistan launched Operation Gibraltar in Aug 1965 in Jammu and Kashmir. Soldiers of the Special Services Group (SSG), Mujahids (Muslim warrior) and Razakars (Volunteer Guerrilla), disguised as locals entered the state. Every infiltrating commando was given two rifles and additional ammunition; one to fight with and the second to be distributed to locals to fan what was called a “massive indigenous war against Indian occupation”; belligerence bordering on comical foolhardiness. The Indian Army hammered Pakistan in all theatres. Notable battles were fought in Hajipir, Dograi, Barki and Khem Karan (Assal Uttar). Khem Karan became the graveyard of the very contemporary American built Patton Tanks.
  • In 1971, India liberated Bangladesh in style with over 90,000 Pakistani soldiers surrendering, they as Prisoners of War were treated with dignity and compassion. The Indian Army carried out very bold moves in East Pakistan which included a Para Drop at Tangail and Helilifts over the Meghna River. Fierce battles were also fought at Garibpur and Hilli. Meanwhile, Yahaya Khan sought to strike a balance in the West. Another failed strategy because here too the Indian Army captured 100s of Square Kms of Pak territory. Some outstanding battles exhibiting Indian Army’s valour in the Western Theatre were fought at Longewal, Basantar and Parbat Ali.

Other noteworthy battles have been fought with Pakistan in Siachen and Kargil. A standoff with China is ongoing in East Ladakh.


  • India has 15107 Km of land border (terrain varying from coastal, deserts, plains, jungles, high altitude and glaciers; including Siachen, the world’s highest battlefield).
  • Coastline of 7517 Km and the world’s largest peninsula.
  • 197 islands account for 2094 Km of additional coastline.
  • India shares a long and hostile border with Pakistan: 3323 Kms and China 3380 Kms. India also shares its borders with Bangladesh – 4097 Kms, Myanmar – 1643 Kms, Nepal 1758 Kms and Bhutan – 600 Kms.

India has to be organised and prepared to meet all round challenges as it is easy for the enemy to indulge in low cost proxy war and asymmetric strikes using terrain to advantage.

India has a dominant location in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) which contains vital sea lanes that feed Asia’s largest economies.


Science and technology is an important tool for fostering and strengthening economic and social development of a country. India takes pride in having world class science and technology institutions, trained manpower and innovative knowledge base. The nation has notable achievements to its credit in strategically significant spheres of Atomic Energy, Nuclear Science, Missile and Satellite technology. Technology, however, is effective only when supported by relevant organizational structures, doctrines and under circumstances where threat is well defined and strategy well established.

The Role of Religion, Scriptures and Mythology

To reemphasise aspects of Dharma already touched upon in the introduction, it is reiterated that righteousness has indeed been the ethos of the Indian warrior who through the ages has been greatly influenced by religion, scriptures and mythology.  These aspects have also impacted the strategic culture of India. Strategic culture can thus be traced back to Manu (700 BCE) who proposed the strategic thought of Dandaniti in Manu Samriti. The same is also described in Mahabharata and Arthasastra. Kautilya’sArthashastra written around 300 BCE is an important guide on strategy. Despite the Mosaic of historical diversity, the continuity of strategic values was periodically overlaid but never broken. Accordingly, the strategic culture has remained assimilative retaining the ability to coopt rather than coerce. Traditionally Indian warriors have exemplified virtues of the God, for him death in battle meant a ticket to ‘ViraSvargam’, a heaven reserved for warriors. Soldiering has always been considered a noble profession that safeguards good over evil.

A few quotes and examples to amplify the same.

Deh Shiva bar moheihai, shubhkarman the kabhunataroo

Na darooarsiyoo jab jahlaroon, Nischaikarapni jeet koroo -Guru Gobind Singh

Translated as: O Lord grant me the boon that I may never deviate from doing a good deed. That I shall not fear when I go into combat. And with determination I will be victorious. These are verses from ‘ChandiCharitra’, a heroic poetic composition in the ‘DasamGranth’ by Guru Gobind Singh, the Sikh Guru who wrote this to inspire the common man to rise against tyrannical rule, become soldiers of the faith and be prepared to fight and sacrifice. The mood is essentially audacious, valiant and fearless.

While martyrs inspire awe, scriptures seek from a soldier a resolute desire for victory.

hatovāprāpsyasisvargam, jitvāvābhoksyasemahīm

tasmāduttisthakaunteya, yuddhāyakr ta-niścayah

Translated as:  O son of Kuntī, either you will be killed on the battlefield and attain the heavenly planets, or you will conquer and enjoy the earthly kingdom. Therefore, get up with determination and fight: as stated in The Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2, Verse 37.

These documented scriptures and India’s tradition of storytelling (Katha) always highlight the principal of righteousness in war. The Hindu science of warfare values both niti and shaurya i.e. ethical principles and valor. The Rig Veda sets down rules of war, with a caveat that an erring warrior will go to hell:

  • do not poison the tip of your arrow,
  • do not attack the sick or old,
  • do not attack a child or a woman,
  • do not attack from behind.

This is the defining foundation of the Strategic Culture of our great nation.

Not too far back in history Bhai Kanhaiya, a Sikh of Guru Tegh Bahadur during the battle at Anandpur Sahib in 1704 served water to wounded soldiers. He did this sewa without discrimination between the Guru’s soldiers and enemy. When reported upon, he was questioned, Bhai Kanhaiya replied that “he saw no Sikh or enemy he only saw wounded humans”. So pleased was the Guru with his reply that he ordered that “From now on, you should also put balm on the wounds of all who need it”.

More recently Indian Army soldiers gave dignified burials to Pakistani soldiers killed in battle in Kargil when Pakistan refused to accept the bodies back. Indian soldiers responded to this challenge with exceptional grace and buried them with appropriate rites with Indian Muslim soldiers reciting suras from the Quran.

Chivalry, heroism and compassion even in grimmest of struggles were virtues of soldiers of ancient India. Quality and virtuous soldiering remains an Indian Soldier’s forte even today. Thus, righteousness is our heritage.