Chakravyuh – The most brilliant and ruthless military formation.
Mahabharata was the largest war ever fought in the history of mankind. Magnitude of devastation can be apprehended from the fact that more than 1.8 million soldiers fought the war in an area of roughly 48 x 128 Km. It is hard to imagine the scale of soldiers that participated in the war and their arrangement in various formations crafted by highly experienced army commander. Still, in this article, I will try to comprehend the most dangerous formation that has destroyed thousands of soldiers on both sides at the same time.
Chakra means “spinning wheel” and “vyuha” means formation. Hence, chakravyuha means the puzzled arrangement of soldiers that keeps moving in the form of a spinning wheel. Rotation of soldiers is very similar to helix of a screw commonly seen in watches.
The most noted chakravyuha in Mahabharata war was arranged by Drona, one of the smartest military strategists of his era. The objective was to take yudhisthira, the leader of the Pandavas, as prisoner of war.
Chakravyuha was a very deadly defensive formation and also an offensive one in which whole arrangement of soldiers moves continuously across the battlefield, simultaneously attacking the invading warriors. It was like a spinning death machine that consumes everything that came on his path. It rotates along its axis with each layer rotating in alternate directions at different speeds to make it a great defensive formation. Chakravyuha not only rotates but also revolves in its orbit to destroy everything that comes in his path thus making it a very offensive and destructive force. Chakravyuh formation is similar to a typhoon that moves across the battlefield to destroy everything that it encounters. So, the opposition cannot just sit back and needs to quickly devise a strategy to stop the advancement of Chakravyuh. This is why despite of having inadequate knowledge, Abhimanyu stepped in to stop the casualty rate of Pandava army.
Fighting inside the deadly spiral formation is very damaging mentally and the psychological impact of Chakravyuha on the body and mind is very huge. Hence, thousands of soldiers were killed in a relatively short span of time due to the psychological impact of the rotating formation. Such deadly was the trap of Chakravyuh that only few talented warriors like Krishna, Arjuna, Drona, Bhisma, Pradyumna and Ashwathama knew the way to come out of it.
Layer of Chakravyuh formation
Usually, there were seven layers, level 7 being the innermost layer consisting of strongest soldiers. Soldiers of the inner level were technically and physically stronger than the soldiers of the immediate outer level. Infantry formed the outer layers of Chakravyuh and the inner layers were formed by armored chariots and elephant cavalry. At the center of Chakravyuh, are the best of warriors awaiting to kill the invading warrior. Weak and strong warriors are strategically placed in each of the layers, either to inflict the maximum damage to the opposing warriors or to defend the attacks from skilled warriors of the enemy. Each layer has openings that were closely protected by one of the highly skilled warriors and his personal troops. Role of soldiers in outer layers was to only prevent entry of warrior into the layer. If the layer is broken, aim of outer layer soldiers is to prevent further entries and not to attack the warriors who already breached the layer.
Role of infantry, cavalry and archers in chakravyuha
Infantry were tightly massed so as not to allow the incoming chariot to breach the layer easily. Skilled archers in armored chariots, cavalry and elephants on the inner layer would easily fire arrows over the heads of infantry on outer layer to kill the infantry of enemy warriors. This formation ensured the safety of the infantry from enemy warriors who are trying to breach the Chakravyuh. This defensive formation would be very difficult to breach as any attack by enemy warriors in outer layer would draw the concentrated attention and attack of all centered archers. To break this formation, a well planned strategy needs to be formulated to keep the archers engaged so that they are busy in defending themselves instead of attacking the enemy.
What makes Chakravyuha the most deadly formation
Soldier at the mid centre is responsible to start the outward oscillatory motion by taking a step to the left. This triggers a chain reaction where each soldiers in the same ring will take a step to the left to take up the position emptied by the front soldier.
Soldier in the next ring will take a step in the opposite direction to trigger the chain reaction where every soldiers moves to the right to fill up the space emptied by the front soldier. So, there are seven circles of alternate clockwise and anticlockwise rotating soldiers that moves so fast that the enemy is completely lost and totally deceived into thinking that the formation is in few numbers as the actual strength of the inner rings cannot be estimated from outside the formation.
Music of drums/conch changes the arrangements of soldiers
Arrangement and direction of the rings keep changing based on pre-indicated signals and commands issued by the army-commander though drums/conch/sound. No army commander is gifted enough to choreograph movement of thousand soldiers. Also note that the soldiers came from different kingdoms and were not trained under the marching army-commander. Movement of soldiers is controlled by the drum beats which informs the soldiers to make the move uniformly in a particular direction. Killing the drummer would be one way to break the formation into chaos as stopping the drumbeats would break the rhythm of soldiers. But killing the drummers would be against the ethics of war and no ethical warrior would take the move of killing an unarmed drummer. If any soldier in the formation gets killed, his position is covered up by the sliding motion of the soldiers following him till the space left by him is completely accommodated. This technique ensured that the maze existed at all times with soldiers distributed uniformly.
How warrior gets trapped in Chakravyuh
Imagine the situation where the warrior gets trapped in a maze and keeps running in a circular motion while the formation keeps changing continuously. If somehow he is successful in penetrating one layer, he would end up fighting the stronger soldiers in the innermost layer. If somehow the warrior is successful in killing many soldiers of a particular layer, then he is forced to go inside another layer to get attacked by more ferocious and seasoned warriors. As a result, as he enters deep and deep inside the Chakravyuh, he keeps getting tired both physically and mentally and finally, gets pounded by the enemy.
Breaking in the Chakravyuh through mouth seems to be perfect as you need to break only 3 levels of soldiers but there is a catch. Moment the warrior enter the Chakravyuh through mouth, mouth would be closed and the warrior will be trapped by soldiers of 4th layers. Soldiers near the mouth are always stronger and more skilled compared to the remaining regions. So, the warrior is most likely to get killed if entered through mouth. A more preferable solution would be to kill as many soldiers as possible so as to increase the gap between them which later can be easily breached by the warriors following him.
Most warriors would think of breaching the layer by killing the soldier in front of him. No longer has the warrior successfully killed the soldiers in front of him, his place would be instantly covered up by the soldiers to the right (red line below). Hence, before the warrior attempts to breach the layer on his horse, he finds the space emptied earlier, already occupied by group of immediate soldiers, thereby making a breach impossible. Hence, Most of the inexperienced warriors lost their life while attempting to breach the challenging and deadly Chakravyuha.
How many times Chakravyuh was formed during the Kurukshetra war?
Chakravyuh was formed 3 times in the story of Mahabharata.
Chakravyuh was first formed by bhisma to take Arjuna as hostage, who was defending the kingdom of Virat from the invasion of Kaurava kingdom. This Chakravyuh formation was enforced by Duryodhan to uncover the anonymity of Pandavas during their 1 year anonymous exile. Arjuna used his divya-astras(celestial weapons) to single-handedly defeat all Kauravas including Bhishma, Karna, Dronacharya, Duryodhan, Kripacharya, Ashwathwama, Shalya, Dushshashanm Kritavarma and Jayadratha.
Second time, Chakravyuh was formed by master military strategist ‘Dronacharya’ on the 13th day of the war to capture Yudhishthir. As per the plan devised earlier by kauravas, Arjuna was distracted into another battle with Samshaptakas and ahimanyu along with four Pandavas were protecting yudhisthira from the clutches of kaurava warriors. Lacking Arjuna and Krishna, the four pandavas were totally clueless on how to defend this formation. Seeing the circumstances, Abhimanyu forced yudhisthira to let him break the vyuha. Four pandavas followed the Abhimanyu closely but as soon as Abhimanyu breached the first layer, Jayadratha shut down the opening to block the entry of four Pandavas. Jayadratha was successful in blocking Pandavas because of the boon from lord Shiva of being undefeated for 1 day. Abhimanyu single-handedly fought against all kaurava warriors with great valour and bravado but was ultimately killed by the treacherous attack of kaurava warriors.
Chakravyuh was formed for third time, the very next day to protect Jayadratha. Arjuna took the sacred vow of self-immolation if he was unsuccessful in killing Jayadratha on 14th day of Mahabharata. To protect Jayadratha from the wrath of Arjuna, mix of Chakravyuh, Sarpavyuha (Snake formation) and Soochivyuha (Needle formation) was formed.
Despite of such well-planned formation, Arjuna killed Jayadratha at the end of the day with his incredible skills, valor and treacherous help of Shri Krishna.
This Vyuh requires a large number of soldiers to be formed. When formed by small number of soldiers, it can be easily engulfed by the opposition from all sides and crushed from outside the view.
Secondly, this formation was best to be formed when no one in the enemy has the clue on how to break it. Since Arjuna and Krishna knew the technique of breaching the Chakravyuh successfully, it was not implemented more often as it causes a lot of damage to the soldiers within the view. Moreover, Arjuna had all the Divyastras to destroy everyone around him and would have caused massive destruction among the kauravas. On the kaurava side, Drona, Bhisma and Karna knew the art of breaching Chakravyuh.
Implementation of Chakravyuh requires excellent planning and execution else it results in extreme chaos and confusion. Human cost involved in Chakravyuh formation is extremely high as many lives are lost on both sides of the war in a relatively short period of time.
Chakravyuh can be termed as the most brilliant military tactic of all times. Chakravyuh resembles the fatal formation that requires skills of the highest order to survive as many warriors easily forget the ethics of war in such a cruel formation. This is why Abhimanyu is justifiably remembered as a glorious and tragic hero who lost his life while breaching the lethal Chakravyuh.
– Satish Mylavarapu