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Bow And Arrow In Hinduism – Dimension – Size – Material

Bow and arrow held a place of great significance in ancient Hindu world. The very fact that military science of ancient Hindus was named Dhanurveda (Dhanur refers to bow) suggests that the bow and arrow were the chief weapons of war in Hinduism.

Bow and arrow was counted among the mukta weapons (those that were released). 

Chapter 245 of Agni Purana furnishes material and structural details of a bow used by ancient Hindus.

Bow Material

The rod of the bow could be made of metal, horn or wood. Strings were to be made of fiber of bamboo or other trees.

Hors used in the making of bows were those of a buffalo, rhinoceros, or rohisa, while wood was obtained from sandal, sala, cane, or dhavala.

The bow made of bamboo, especially if obtained in autumn, was considered to be the best.
Metal bows could be of steel, gold, silver or copper.

Bowstrings were made of muja grass, arka plant, hemp, cavedu, bamboo and sinew.

Chanakya in his Arthashatra distinguishes four kinds of bows, karmuka made of palmyra, kodanda of bamboo, druna of darnwood and dhanusa of bone or horn (2-18, 8-11)

The bow Sarngarava of Sri Krishna was made of horn as its name suggests.

Bow Dimension - Size

The size of a good bow had to be in proportion to the strength of its bearer. Taking 24 angulas (1 cubut or hasta), 1 angula to be 0.75 inch approximately, the size of bow could range from 3.25 cubits (hasta) to 5.5 cubits. Agni Purana recommends four cubits as the most appropriate length. Thus, the word Dhanusa came to signify a measurement of four cubits.


The shaft of an arrow was usually made of reed (sara), sometimes also of wood and bamboo (Mahabharata, Drona Parva, 97-7; Agni Purana 245-12).

An arrow was usually feathered for the purpose of a stable and coherent flight and a pankha (feather butt) was often added to the shaft for the purpose of making a more secure notch.

The size of the arrows usually varied from two to three cubits in length. The shorter and longer ones were used in close and distant combat, respectively.

Feathers used were usually of a swan, brown hawk (sasada), osprey (matsyada krauncha, peacock or a vulture.

Usually four feathers were trimmed about six inches long, but those meant for horn-bow arrows were slightly longer. The feathers were fastened by threads or sinews.

In Arthashastra (2-18, 8-11) are mentioned five kinds of arrows: venu, sara, salaka, dandasara and naracha. Out of these, naracha needed special expertise in shooting. Entirely made from iron, it had five big feathers attached to it.

Head Of Arrow

The head of an arrow was usually tipped with horn, bone, wood or metal. The arrowheads at times had some inflammable matter wrapped around them, and such fiery arrows were used on special occasions only. Mention of such inflammable fire arrows is found in Arthashastra, Rajatarangini (7, 982-30).

The peculiar shape of the arrowhead, apart from material differences, distinguished one arrow from another. Thus there was aramukha (arrowhead shaped like an owl), kshurapra (arrowhead with a razor like barb), gopuccha (arrowhead resembling a cow’s tail), ardha Chandra (crescent shaped arrowhead) and suchimukha (needle-shaped head).

The arrows were carried in a tarkasa (quiver) fastened to the archer’s back.

The numerous postures to use the bow have also been minutely elaborated. Samopada, Vaishakha, Mandala, Alidha, Pratyalidha and Nischala are some of the various shooting positions described in Agni Purana (249.9.19)

The Encyclopedia of Hinduism Volume XI - (IHRF) (page 484)
The Art of War in Ancient India (PC Chakravarti 1989) Low Price Publications
War in Ancient India (V.R. Ramachandra Dikshitar 1944) Macmillan Publishers