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Dharmayuddha is a Sanskrit word made up of two roots: dharma meaning righteousness, and yuddha meaning warfare. In the ancient Indian texts, Dharmayuddha refers to a war that is fought while following several rules that make the war fair.

For instance, in a righteous war, equals fight equals. Chariot warriors are not supposed to attack cavalry and infantry, those on elephants are not supposed to attack infantry, and so on. The rules also forbid the usage of celestial weapons (divine weapons bestowed by the gods) on ordinary soldiers (as opposed to soldiers of noble birth). The build-up of weapons and armies is done with the full knowledge of the opposing side and no surprise attacks are made.

The rules of engagement also set out how warriors were to deal with noncombatants. No one should attack an enemy who has temporarily lost or dropped their weapon. The lives of women, prisoners of war, and farmers were also sacred. Pillaging the land was forbidden.

Dharmayuddha also signifies that the war is not fought for gain or selfish reasons. A Dharmayuddha is waged to uphold the principles of righteousness.

Dharmayuddha in the Mahabharata.

In the Mahabharata epic, which describes the Kurukshetra war, the two sides agreed on the following rules:

Fighting must begin no earlier than sunrise and end exactly at sunset.

Multiple warriors may not attack a single warrior.

Two warriors may "duel," or engage in prolonged personal combat,only if they carry the same weapons and they are on the same mount (no mount, a horse, an elephant, or a chariot).

No warrior may kill or injure a warrior who has surrendered.

One who surrenders becomes a prisoner of war and a slave.

No warrior may kill or injure an unarmed warrior.

No warrior may kill or injure an unconscious warrior.

No warrior may kill or injure a person or animal not taking part in the war.

No warrior may kill or injure a warrior whose back is turned away.

No warrior may strike an animal not considered a direct threat.

The rules specific to each weapon must be followed. For example, it is prohibited to strike below the waist in mace warfare.

Warriors may not engage in any "unfair" warfare whatsoever.

While King Yudishtira of the Mahabharata began his war for righteous reasons, by the end of the 18 days of fighting he and his relatives had broken every other rule of righteous war.

Dharmayuddha in Other Texts

Beyond the Mahabharata, the principles of dharmayuddha are referred to in many other ancient Indian texts, including the Ramayana and the Dharmashastras or law texts.

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