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Background
 

"This world rests on the arms of heroes like a son on those of his sire.  He, therefore, that is a hero deserves respect under every circumstance.  There is nothing higher in the three worlds than heroism.  The hero protects and cherishes all, and things depend upon the hero".

GALLANTRY has always commanded respect and recognition.  In primitive societies the leadership of the clan or tribe fell upon the most brave.  The origin of the state saw the brave elevated to kingship.  Indra, the most distinguished of the brave among the Indo-Aryans, became the King and the Commander.

The evolution of regular armies, however, demanded elaboration of the system of honours and award.  In the Vedic Age this was done by granting a share to soldiers in the booty.
 
EPIC Age

In the Epic Age, more emphasis came to be laid upon heavenly rewards. This development can possibly be related to the philosophical and religious learnings of the age which was reflected in the attitude of the people. In the Mahabharata, the merit of dying as a martyr in the cause of Dharma is all along appreciated as the easiest way to heaven. In fact, any kind of death on the battlefield was considered glorious.  "They that die slaughtered by chance go to the world of gods and kings; they that die with the thought.  I will die' join the angels' they that hold out against all odds, these go to the home of Brahma; while even those that have begged from mercy, if they still die with their faces to the foe, go to the Guhyaka world; moreover, those that die anyhow on the field of battle, even if killed by accident, go to the Kurus of the North after death." The epic concept of war is fully endorsed in the later military annals of India.

This concept, reiterated in literature, later found expression in the institution of Virakals, i.e. memorials to the gallants, widely witnessed in southern India.  That such memorials had come into vogue about the 2nd century is indicated in the Sangam literature.  When a gallant soldier fell fighting, his compatriots usually marked the spot by raising there a stone bearing the name and fame of the fallen hero.

The Arthasastra of Kautilya gives an elaborate account of the gallantry awards.  It even specifies the awards for various gallant acts.  "A hundred thousand (panas) for slaying the king (the enemy); fifty thousands for slaying the commander-in-chief or the heir-apparent; ten thousand for slaying the chief of the infantry; twenty for bringing a head; and twice the pay in addition to whatever is seized."
 
Medieval Period

GRANTS of titles, fiefs, robe of honour, cash awards and the privilege to use ceremonial music were often made to honour the the gallant in medieval India as well.

The Sultans of Delhi honoured their distinguished nobles with the title of Khan.  The lesser nobles were granted the titles of Malik or Amir.  Persons of merit were appointed to high offices with titles of honour, Nobles were also bestowed with other dignities which were designated as 'Maratib'.  It signified the privilege to use dresses, sword, dagger, horses and elephants, ensigns and musical instruments of a superior type.  Fiefs known as Aqta were also granted in recognition of meritorious service.
 
Modern India (British period)

The history of present-day Indian medals is traceable to the days of Company rule in India.  The Honorable East India Company not only brought in British customs on medals but also introduced some new concept.  To illustrate the point, it made departure from the general British custom of restricting the grant of medals officers by making all ranks eligible to them.  Some early institutions of company included the Deccan Medal for service during 1778-84, the Mysore Medal (1791-92), and the Seringapatanam Medal (1799).

About the middle of the 19th century the custom of rewarding individual acts of extraordinary gallantry came into vogue in Britain.   The Victoria Cross, the most coveted of all decorations, was institute in 1856 to honour the gallant acts of British soldiery in the Crimean War.
 
Independent India

British rule over India came to an end on 14 August 1947 and with it also ended the old institution of British honours and awards.   The new Indian awards could come into being only with the dawn of the Republic on 26 January 1950.

But on the basis of proposals already by early May 1948, the new awards, known as Param Vir Chakra, Maha Vir Chakra and Vir Chakra, were finally selected in June 1948.

Thus on becoming a Republic, decorations and medals were introduced to honour the deeds of gallantry and valor by members of Indian defence force.  Gradually, with the passage of time the range of awards kept on expanding.  A complete break with the past was, however, not possible because members of the Indian armed forces still held British honours and awards thus substituted the British decorations and medals, which could no longer be granted to Indians.  A perusal of the British and Indian awards will show that the Param Vir Chakra to the Victoria Cross, the Maha Vir Chakra to the Indian Order of Merit and the Vir Chakra is equivalent to the Military Cross.  The other group of awards i.e. the Ashoka Chakra series, meant for gallantry other than in the face of the enemy, was probably meant to replace the George Cross, Albert Medal and George Medal.

The first batch of decorations introduced on 26 January 1950 was thus made effective with retrospective effect from 15 August 1947.   The Vir Chakra and Ashoka Chakra series became important institutions of this batch.

The second installment came in March 1953 in the form of the Meritorious Service Medal and Long Service and Good Conduct Medal, Territorial Army Decoration and territorial Army Medal.  Then followed the highest award of the land-the Bharat Ratna-and Padma series in 1954.  On 26 January 1960, some more medals were instituted and these included the Vishisht Seva Medal (in the classes), Sainya Seva Medal, Videsh Seva Medal and Sena, Nao Sena and Vayu Sena Medals.

As a result of the Indo-Pak conflict of 1965, the Raksha Medal, Samar Seva Star and some others were introduced.  Then came the 1971 war and it led to the institution of the Sangram Medal, Poorvi Star and Paschimi Star.

For the purpose of classification, Indian honours and awards can be divided into two categories :

   (a)   Gallantry awards.
 
   (b)   Non-gallantry awards.
 

The gallantry awards are again divisible into tow categories:

   (a)   Those for gallantry in the face of the enemy.
  
   (b)   Those for gallantry other than in the face of the enemy.

The first category of the gallantry awards comprises :

   1.    Param Vir Chakra.
 
   2.    Maha Vir Chakra.
 
   3.    Vir Chakra.
 
   4.    Sena, Nao Sena and Vayu Sena Medal.
 
   5.    Mention in Dispatches.
 
   6.    Chiefs of Staff Commendation Card.

The second category of the gallantry awards comprise the following :

   1.    Ashoka Chakra *
 
   2.    Kirti Chakra * 

   3.    Shaurya Chakra *  
 
* These were originally named Ashoka Chakra Class I, Class II, Class III

Among non-gallantry awards, the following can be mentioned :

    1.    Bharat Ratna.
 
    2.    Padma Vibhushan.
 
    3.    Padma Bhushan.
  
    4.    Param Vishisht Seva Medal.
 
    5.    Padma Shri.
 
    6.    Sarvottam Yudh Seva Medal.
 
    7.    Uttam Yudh Seva Medal.
 
    8.    Ati Vishisht Seva Medal.
 
    9.    Yudh Seva Medal.
 
    10.  Vishisht Seva Medal.
 
    11.  30 Years Long Seva Medal.
 
    12.  20 Years Long Service Medal.
 
    13.  9 Years Long Service Medal.
 
    14.  Meritorious Service Medal.
 
    15.  Long Service and Good Conduct  Medal.
 
    16.  General Service Medal - 1947.
 
    17.  Samar Seva Medal.
 
    18.  Sainya Seva Medal.
 
    19.  Videsh Seva Medal.
 
    20.  Commendation Card.
 
    21.  Raksha Medal.
 
    22.  Poorvi Star.
 
    23.  Paschimi Star.
 
    24.  Sangram Medal.
 
    25.  Wound Medal.
 
    26.  25th Independence Anniversary Medal.

Attached to a colorful ribbon, a medal, short of the symbol or motif it bears, is a piece of metal.  Due thought seems to have been given to this aspect when the gallantry awards were instituted.  The superb choice of Vajra (thunderbolt) to serve as the motif for the Param Vir Chakra amply proves this.   Great mythology surrounds this mysterious weapon of Vedic origin.  It was the Amogha Astra (unfailing weapon) used by Indra to kill vitra, the demon of drought, to release lifegiving waters for the benefit of mankind.  In Puranic literature it is said that this Vajra was made out the the Asthis (bones) of Dadhici, a sage of high attainments, for the benefit of the word.

The choice of star as a symbol for the Maha Vir Chakra and Vir Chakra as also for Vishisht Seva Medal series is again meaningful.    The star, a heavenly body known for its firm, steady and fixed position, symbolically denotes everlasting  glory.  In Indian mythology, Dhruva, the son of King Uttanapada and Queen Suniti, was given a place in northern horizon by Lord Vishnu in appreciation of his firm determination and supreme effort.  The polar star is therefore, called Dhruva Tara in Indian mythology.

Another widely used motif on Indian medals is the Ashoka Chakra.  This is a twenty-four-spoked wheel occurring on the National Flag and the Ashoka Chakra series of medals.  This wheel generally symbolised a sense of activity and forward movement.  In 4th century BC, the Buddhists adopted this symbol in the service of religion, calling it the Dharma Chakra.  The preaching of the gospel by Lord Buddha was denoted with the Chakra (wheel) symbol and the act was called Dharma Chakra Parvartana.

The Ashokan Lions form the obverse or the reverse device in most of the medals.  This motif when represented along with the motto 'Satyameva Jayate' represents the National Emblem.  Three lions facing the four directions are again Buddhist in significance.  They symbolise the universal application of the Dharma comprehending all the four directions i.e. east, west, north and south.  In respect of medals, the symbol represents service of a very high order.

Ribbons are integral to the scheme of medals and decorations.  In fact, ribbons when worn on the chest by a soldier adequately convey stories of heroism associated with him. It is notable that all ribbons are intended to convey some motif or symbol by means of colours.  

A ribbon, generally speaking, is a combination of meaningful colour imprinted on silk, Saffron, green, blue, red and white are the most commonly used colours in the Indian ribbons.  Of these red stands for courage and bravery, saffron for self-effacement and dedicated service; green for growth and auspiciousness; white for glory and purity and blue for devotion and sacrifice.   Occasionally red symbolises the Indian Army, dark blue the Indian Navy and sky blue the Indian Air Force.  Stripes on ribbons generally denote the class of the award.   The ribbons are worn by the awardees on their left breast in a specified sequence, the position and priority being the centre of the chest.

In India there also exists the custom of granting 'Battle Honours','Theatre Honours', and 'Honour titles' to various Army units for distinguished performance on the battlefield.  In India, the practice came into vogue in the nineteenth century.  The recipient regiments display a selected number of battle honours on their colours, standards and kettle drums. These emblazoned battle honours present an epitome of the history of the regiment.

 
 
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