Exploring the Ancient Weaponry: The Chakram

The chakram, sometimes spelled cakram, is often associated with the fierce and skilled warriors of the kingdoms and empires of India and represents a unique blend of intricate artistry and battlefield effectiveness. This is the story of the chakram weapon, one of the most feared of all ancient armaments.

Military History
5 June 2024

The chakram is a distinctive circular weapon originating from the Indian subcontinent. Characterised by its sharp, circular metal blade with an outer edge that’s meticulously honed to a razor’s edge, the chakram weapon was designed to be thrown with remarkable precision as well as for use in close-quarters combat.

The development of the chakram evolved from simple throwing discs used for hunting to sophisticated instruments of war. Sometimes known as a chalikar, meaning ‘circle’, this deadly battle-quoit is one of the most fascinating weapons of ancient warfare.

Let’s take a trip back in time to discover the story of the chakram.

The History of the Chakram as a Weapon

Part of the epic Mahabharata (Credit: duncan1890 via Getty Images)

Called the cakra or cakram in Sanskrit, and the chakra or cakkram in Punjabi, the story of this legendary Indian throwing weapon can be traced back to ancient Indian texts, with some of the earliest mentions appearing as early as the fifth century BC.

It also appears in the famous Indian epics including the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, as well as appearing in contemporary Tamil poems from the second century BC.

In these incredible stories, the chakram, or chalikar, is often depicted as a divine weapon wielded by gods and legendary heroes. Its association with divinity and heroism underscores its revered status in ancient Indian culture.

Over time, this mythical portrayal transitioned into an effective weapon, with historical records indicating its use by various warrior classes across the Indian subcontinent. This evolution, from a symbol in epic tales to a practical tool of warfare, highlights its integral role in the martial traditions of the region.

Throughout its history, the chakram was used by soldiers and warriors of the subcontinent, who continually refined its design and application in battle. By the time of the early medieval period, it had become a staple in the arsenals of these warrior groups, valued for its unique aerodynamic properties and deadly effectiveness.

The craftsmanship of the chakram during this period saw significant advancements, with blacksmiths producing high-quality steel versions that could be thrown with extreme accuracy and deadly force. The weapon’s design also varied to suit different combat needs, with smaller chakrams, often worn on the wrist, known as chakri, used for close-range combat, and larger ones, sometimes worn around the neck, as ranged weapons for longer distances.

The Traditional Chakram

Traditional Indian metalworking (Credit: Bloomberg Creative Photos via Getty Images)

Chakrams and chakri were meticulously crafted from high-quality materials, usually iron, steel, or brass, and the process of making them involved several stages of precision metalworking. Initially, a flat piece of metal was chosen for its strength and ability to retain a sharp edge. The metal was then heated in a forge, making it malleable enough to be shaped into a perfect circle.

Once the basic shape was achieved, the edges of the chakram weapon were carefully honed to a razor-sharp finish. This process involved repeated heating, hammering, and tempering to create a fine balance between hardness and flexibility, preventing the weapon from becoming too brittle. Artisan craftsmen often added intricate engravings and decorative elements to the chakram – including brass, silver or gold inlays – not only enhancing its aesthetic appeal but also symbolising its cultural significance.

The final product – usually between 12 and 30 centimetres in diameter – was a well-balanced, aerodynamic weapon that could be thrown with precision, capable of inflicting serious damage on the battlefield.

The smaller chakri could be thrown around 40 – 60 metres, while the larger versions, known as vada chakra, were equally ranged, both with great accuracy. Warriors trained by throwing them at lengths of bamboo, and the most famous way of throwing a chakram – the tajani method – was by twirling it on an index finger to incredibly high speeds and then flicking it away. The fast revolutions added power to the throw and avoided the soldier being cut. It was said that the most proficient soldiers could spin the chakram with one hand while using a sword with the other.

An Innovative and Long Lasting Weapon of War

The tomb of Ranjit Singh (Credit: duncan1890 via Getty Images)

From its earliest mentions in the Indian epics, the chakram weapon was used all the way up to the nineteenth century, a lifespan of over 2,300 years.

The Sikhs, in particular, incorporated the chalikar and the chakri into their martial traditions, known as gatka, where it was used alongside other traditional weapons until at least the rule of Ranjit Singh, the first Maharaja of the Sikh Empire in the early nineteenth century.

The advent of modern firearms and artillery in the sixteenth century led to the decline of the chakram as a practical weapon. The increasing effectiveness and widespread adoption of muskets, rifles and cannon rendered many traditional weapons, including the chakram, more or less obsolete. Despite this, the chakram remains a symbol of martial heritage and is still used in traditional martial arts and cultural ceremonies today.

The Chakram Weapon: A Symbol of Indian Martial Excellence

Illustration from one of the major Indian epics (Credit: duncan1890 via Getty Images)

The chakram is a weapon which embodies both artistic craftsmanship and lethal efficiency. From its early depictions in legendary epics to its refined use by skilled soldiers, the evolution reflects the rich tapestry of Indian martial traditions. Though its role waned as gunpowder-based weapons became increasingly popular, the chakram’s legacy endures in cultural practices and historical memory to this day.


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