The Tale of Warrior Robots from Ancient India

It may seem hard to believe but stories of robots have been around from the time of Buddha. This particular narrative is set in the mid-400 BCE. The fable goes that Buddha entrusted King Ajatasatru with defending his relics. Ajatasatru was well-known for his military inventions, including powerful catapults called Bahubali Clips and a mechanised war chariot with whirling blades.

After Buddha’s demise, the king hid the precious remains in an underground chamber near his capital Pataliputra in the northeastern part of India. While traditionally, giant warriors or statues protected the treasures, Ajatasatru’s guards were extraordinary! It was foretold that robots would remain on duty until a future king  distributes Buddha’s relics through the realm.

It is believed that a community of robot-makers, ‘Yantakaras’ lived in the western land of ‘Yavanas’. They belong to the Greco-Roman culture (Roma-visaya) of the Mediterranean world and held a secret robotics technology with them. Their robots carried out trade and farming and also captured and executed criminals. Moreover, these robots could not divulge anything lest they would be pursued and killed by other robotic  assassins. When the rumours of these fantastical kingdoms soon reached India, a young  artisan and Pataliputra got inspired to learn how to make automatons, and after a reincarnation in the heart of ‘Roma-bisaya’, he became a master robot-maker.

Many decades later, his son recovered his remains, brought them back to Pataliputra, and followed the instructions left by his father to build automated soldiers for King Ajatasatru. The marvellously-crafted, fierce android warriors then fell into obscurity, only to be discovered two centuries later by King Asoka, who ruled the Mauryan Empire from 273-232 BCE.

(Source: Adrienne Mayor, The Conversation)

Read about the evolution of real-life robots in the Emerging Technologies issue of The Plus magazine.

Apply Now