Cannons have helped armies achieve massive victories and change the history of the world. A sudden and massive shift from the tough battles fought between the infantry, cannons became the “Big Brother” in the war. The effectiveness of the artillery, during the medieval times, used to guarantee victory and many battles were won purely because of the cannons.
In 1526, Babur had effectively used the cannons against Imbrahim Lodhi’s artillery-less army in the First Battle of Panipat. In 1528, in the Battle of Khanwa, between Rana Sanga and Babur, the cannons played a massive role in the victory of the founder of Mughal dynasty.
It is believed that had there not been the cannons, Rana Sanga would’ve have created history by defeating the Mughals. As historian Pradeep Barua notes, Babur’s cannons put an end to the outdated trends in Indian warfare and brought in more advanced cannons and tactics to win the wars.
Cannons are of three types: stone balls, iron balls and shot & explosive shells.
Stone balls were the first to be introduced in the 14th century in Western Europe, following a logic of increasing performance through size. They eventually evolved from small handguns to big cast iron or bronze bombards within a few decades.
Iron balls and shot came into the picture in the 16th century as a switch from stone balls to smaller but more effective iron projectiles with full swing.
The explosive shells came in during the Industrial Revolution when the need to revolutionize the artillery was felt. The explosive shells came into existence with the Paxihans Guns. Breakthrough in industrial technology and experiments in metallurgy led to a development of more powerful guns.
With the development in cannons types, the shells of these cannons also underwent a massive facelift. From iron shot balls to canister shot, the shells became more advanced with time.
The iron ball shot was a round ball of iron fired in a solid spherical projectile. It was the most accurate projectile that could be shot from a smooth-bore cannon and was used to batter the ships, forts or any other fixed emplacement of the enemy.
A canister shot included several small iron round shot in a metal can which would break upon firing. It then scattered everywhere piercing the enemy with the shrapnel.
But did you know that five out of eleven most powerful medieval-era cannons in the world were Indian?
Malik-e-Maidan translates to ‘King of the Arena’. This 700 mm calibre cannon belonged to the prosperous state of Bijapur. Made in 1549, it was made by Muhamed Bin Hussain Rumi for defending the city. A fine example of bombardment type cannon, it was in the armoury of Ibrahim Adil Shah II. Weighing 55 tonnes, the gun was named after the Battle of Talikota of 1565 in which the Vijaynagara empire was routed.
The inscription on the gun reads that the cannon was cast at Ahmadnagar in 1549 from bell metal. It also reads that the weight of the gun discouraged the British to take it as a trophy to England.
2. Rajagopala Beerangi
Produced by Vikas Naikwade in 1620, this cannon is an example of bombard cannon. It belonged to the King of Thanjavur and was used in 1650 during the Nayak period to protect Thanjavur from the enemies who entered from the eastern gate of the city. This cannon was cast at Kollamendu near Thanjavur and joined the armoury in 1620.
This 280 mm, iron ball cannon belonged to the State of Jaipur. Jaivana was cast in 1720 by Jai Singh II and it took four elephants to make it swirl around its axis. The cannon is large enough to fire a 50 kgs stone ball using hundred kgs of gun powder. Jaivana was fired only once by Jai Singh II as a test in 1720. The barrel of this cannon is decorated with flowers, elephant, peacocks and ducks.
4. Dala Mardana or Dal Madan Kaman
Dala Mardana belonged to the Bishnupur kingdom in India. The 286 mm iron ball shot cannon was made in 1565 by Jagannath Karmakar. It was commissioned by Maharaja Bir Hambir to protect the Malla kingdom. The name means “Destroyer of Enemy” – dal means enemy or horde and mardana means slayer.
5. Jahan Koshna
Made by another Karmakar brother, Janardan, this 286 mm iron ball shot cannon joined the powerful artillery at Murshidabad in West Bengal in 1637. Jahan Koshna or the “Destroyer of the World” weighs seven tonnes. The cannon is made of eight metals like silver, gold, lead, copper, zinc, tin, iron and mercury.
The Karmakars of Bengal are traditionally blacksmiths but Janardan and his brother Jagannath were dedicated gunsmiths. Janardan made this gun under the instructions of Hara Ballav Das of Dhaka. This gun was named at Dhaka when Shah Jahan was the Mughal emperor.
The paradigm shift from tools made out of animal bones to heavy artillery guns has changed the history of mankind. These cannons can aptly be called as the predecessors of modern hi-tech guns. In the earlier times, the cannons have helped protect and expand the kingdoms.