Showcasing medieval military metallurgy

Rudyard Kipling’s much fabled Zam Zamah, which is actually a very big cannon, is featured in this colourful collage-cum-compendium, which appears to be a labour of love of the author; else why should an educationist be devoting so much time, energy and money into a project which is essentially fodder only for the gunners, and may be for the military history buffs and military technologists interested in medieval times?

Other Indian cannons dealt with are the Durga tope of the deccani Daulatabad Fort, the karak bijli of Golconda, the Bhawani Shankar of Jhansi, Babur’s tufangchis, Akbar’s multi-barrelled cannons, Sher Shah Suri’s bronze cannon, Tipu Sultan’s ban artillery, Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Sutlej Gun , the Dogra mortars, the Congreve rockets, the Dardennels cannon, and many others dating back in time to the very advent of the then state-of-the-art and classy metallurgy of the Indian subcontinent way back in 15th century A.D.


Zam Zamah was also known, in literary circles, as the “Kim’s Gun.” It was cast by Ahmad Shah Abdali, and later changed hands till it finally came into the possession of the English after the subjugation of the Sikhs. Apart from all this lore, song and dance, the cannon along with the gunpowder shaped the contours of empires, geography and history, ever since the Chinese Sung dynasty first used a crystalline white powder in 900 A.D. Babur, the original Moghul, speedily vanquished a vastly superior Afghan force under Ibrahim Lodhi in Panipat on April 20, 1526 with the crafty deployment of cannons with the tufangchis playing hell with the charging Afghan cavalry. Later, the British used it to great effect in their conquest of India, with the artillery gaining the “Royal” prefix. In battle, it is the artillery that inflicts the maximum casualties on the enemy; the casualties from small arms fire of the infantry are nominal.

The technology for casting (forge-welding, copper, bronze, brass, fabricated cast iron, and wrought iron) of cannons came to the sub-continent from the Ottoman Turks (rumis), the Mameluke Egyptians, the Chinese and the Portuguese, many of whom were employed in the service of the local rajas/ sultans/moghuls. There were some Poles, as well as quite a few French soldiers of fortune, who played starring roles in the manufacture, deployment and command of artillery units in the various periods of history. The main concern of the rulers was to ensure central control in respect of the command of the guns, and casting of cannon and ball.

World class

The Mughals faltered in keeping up with the latest Western trends in technology and they paid heavily for this lapse as the Marathas, who had Europeans artillery men in their lashkars, and mounted-raiders reduced Mughal rule to the confines of the very ramparts of Delhi’s Lal Quila by the time Bahadur Shah Zafar came to the throne. The British with their European-manned guns in an “artillery-centric”, sepoy army, made a mockery of even that. R. Balasubramaniam has done a good job by any standard undoubtedly; however, having started with the intention of showcasing only the world class metallurgy in medieval India, he seems to have got carried away by its use in the casting of cannon, and gone on to author this remarkable glossy which is the first of its kind. Kudos are in order as the book is a collector’s item. There are few glaring lapses in this otherwise very high standard work.


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