The art of capturing elephants from the wild and taming and training them, both for war and peace, seem to have been developed originally in Asia and dates back to over 4,000 years. In the different regions of the Indian subcontinent, different methods were used for capturing wild elephants and training them.
The pit method, practised in southern India, seems to be the oldest systematic method used for capturing elephants. The mela shikar and kheddah (stockade or pen method) are later refinements of the capturing techniques. The records of capturing and training elephants date back to the fifth century BC. Megasthenes (200 BC), Strobo (130 AD) and Indicopleutes (600 AD) have written on the art of elephant capturing, training and handling. The Chola kings in southern India and the Ahoms of Assam had left massive literature on elephants (Stracey 1963). For thousands of years, the main demand for elephants was as a war machine used by many kings, notable among them being king Porus of Taxila who fought Alexander. The Magadhas, the Cholas and the Chalukyas reportedly had thousands of elephants in their armies, which were used to batter down the forts. With the advent of cannons, use of elephants as a war machine lost its importance. The Mughal emperors, Akbar and Jehangir, had a force of over 25,000 elephants. The rise and fall of many kingdoms and empires in the range countries were instrumental in developing the skill of elephant capture and training. The standard army of major kings of olden days comprised of four divisions known as chaturanga sena (army of four divisions), comprising of elephants, chariots, cavalry and infantry. Hence, elephants were an integral part of the army probably performing the role of tanks in modern army.
“A king relies mainly on elephants for achieving victory in battles. With their very large bodies, they are able to do things in war, which are dangerous for other arms of the forces. They can be used to crush the enemy’s foot soldiers, battle arrays, forts and encampments”
Kautilya (Rangarajan 1992; p. 12)