Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Right strategy for Abhimanyu to defeat the Padmavyuha.

Mahabharata: What was the right strategy for Abhimanyu to defeat the Padmavyuha formation from the Mahabharata?

Abhimanyu's mention is important for accurate representation of purpose of this  question, Let it remain that way...


The Chakravyuh or Padmavyuh, is a multi-tier defensive formation that looks like a blooming lotus (padma,
पद्म) or disc (chakra, चक्र) when viewed from above. The warriors at each interleaving position would be in an increasingly tough position to fight. The formation was used in the battle of Kurukshetra by Dronacharya, who became commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army after the fall of Bhishma Pitamaha.
The various vyuhas (military formations) were studied by the Kauravas and Pandavas alike. Most of them can be beaten using a counter-measure targeted specifically against that formation. It is important to observe that in the form of battle described in Mahabharata, it was important to place the powerful fighters in those positions where they could inflict the maximum damage to the opposing force, or defend the attacks from key warriors of the opposition

The Padmavyuha is a spinning death machine on the battlefield. It has the capability to maintain its form while slowly engulfing enemy soldiers into it where they are surely doomed to fall to an endless alley of soldiers stabbing at them from every direction.

Based on the stories my grandmother used to tell me, along with some tactical research:

First off, it is difficult to imagine the scale of this formation. The Mahabharat was one of the largest wars ever fought, and armies used a scale of measure known as Akshauhini to measure strength. As single Akshauhini consisted of  21,870 chariots, 21,870 elephants; 65,610  cavalry and 109,350 infantry[1]. Now, it is said that over the course of the war, 18 Akshauhini senas (armies) were involved. I do not have to do the calculations for you to figure out how huge the armies actually  were. And this in a concentrated around the Kurukshetra.
So I imagine that there were enough men to spare for a formation like the Chakravyuha, more so when:

§     It was designed by Drona, one of the smartest tactician on the side of the Kauravas
§     The prize was to capture Yudhisthira alive, who was the leader of the Pandavas

The formation was designed as a spinning wheel (hence the "chakra" in the name) and a puzzle (hence the "vyuh"), with the formation in a constant state of rotation within itself having two cores, one core rotating clockwise while the other counter-clock wise and rotating throughout the battlefield as well.... the rotation may be seen as the motion of the helix of a screw. The formation was also called Padmavyuh (or the Lotus formation)[3]. Also, the inner layers were made of soldiers, each stronger than the ones on the immediate outer layer. Let us use a gaming terminology and call the warriors as levels. Level 7 being the strongest, and lower level warriors at the outside. Here is what would happen to anyone entering through the mouth (now imagine the same thing happening DURING WAR)....

Think about it... the warrior is in a constant state of battle while the formation circles around him. He keeps getting tired, while the further inside he goes, the less worn out fighters he meets! Both physically and mentally, this makes it difficult for the warrior who has entered.

Now, the Chakravyuh was a brilliant military tactic. Basically it was a juggernaut. The whole formation continuously spun across the battlefield, continuously fighting, and the moment one member of the formation was killed, there was a sliding motion that propagated from the position held by the killed man, right up to the center of the formation, thus ensuring that at all times, there a continuous maze existed.

Now coming to the Abhimanyu’s point of view. Let's see the following points:
§  It may seem logical to enter the Chakravyuh right when the mouth is right in front of you. As can be seen, you only have to get through 3 circles of soldiers to get through the center. However, herein lies the catch.  The moment anyone entered the formation through the mouth, the mouth gets closed, effectively trapping the person within it.... and facing Level 4 warriors.
§  Also, the warrior  density was more at the center compared to the outside, so it would be  preferable to reduce the density by (basically) decreasing the strength  of the formation (i.e kill more people) to force them to increase the  gap between each other to keep the formation going.
Now, I'll try explaining how Abhimanyu broke in (and could (probably) have broken out).


Now, a method that unarguably most people would try would be to attack the person right in front of them, as shown below. Now, what would happen is that while the warrior may successfully manage to kill the man in front of him, but his position is instantly taken over by the man to his  right, thereby making a breach impossible. 

Now assuming the color blue indicates a neutralized enemy, here's what happened:

So, here is the technique Abhimanyu used (apparently he learnt about it as a fetus): Abhimanyu,  the son of the great archer Arjuna, took out, in quick succession the  people to the left and right instead of up front.

Now, what this did was, create a movement of soldiers to cover up the gaps,  but for a brief period, left the position right in front of Abhimanyu  open

Now by using this technique, one may assume that he managed to get through the first few levels easily, but on the inside, as the density of warriors increased, the gap created lasted for shorter and shorter periods of time, making it more and more difficult. Also, no doubt, the constant rotation would have started playing mind games, but Abhimanyu's strategy involved simply creating a path straight though the formation.

Why Pandavas were unable to follow Abhimanyu, this is where Jayadrath's role comes into picture. Jayadrath had a boon that one day in his lifetime, he will be unbeatable by all Pandavas except Arjun (and Abhimanyu of course). So he must be standing at the mouth of the Vyuh. Abhimanyu killed his left and right soldiers to move ahead, but other Pandavas were stopped by him.
Now, the original deal was that Abhimanyu creates gaps and storms in, and other Pandavas follow him. But that plan backfired because of Jayadrath and (I guess) the formation regained shape quickly enough to prevent people from following Abhimanyu. Why they didn't follow the same technique is something I simply do not know. Perhaps it took a skilled archer to take out 2 people quickly and get in through the gap, and very few people (as Drona himself is said to have acknowledged) were as skilled as Abhimanyu.

So, over time, Abhimanyu keeps going deeper and deeper, all alone.


Making it to the center, Abhimanyu had to face a high density ring on the best warriors on the Kaurava side, while he was physically and mentally exhausted. Perhaps, But he did not knew the technique to break out from formation!!! If the Pandavas had followed him in as planned, they would have more warriors on the inside for the battle. If they breached the center, then the formation may have collapsed on itself. But it's all ifs and buts.

It is said that upon the breach, the whole formation broke and converged upon Abhimanyu, making it one man against a continuous onslaught of others. It is difficult to see how long he could survive the attack with nowhere to escape to.

And that is how it ended. Abhimanyu was killed, trapped in a maze with warriors like Drona, Karna, Duryodhana etc.
Another reason why the Kauravas decided to use this formation is they realized that Abhimanyu cannot be defeated in a fair one on one battle (he was the second best Archer in the Pandava side and held a very important military rank). The only way to break the formation is to take out the guy in the center which will create an opening after which point it is routine slaughter and keeping this in mind Abhimanyu embarked on the mission. However once Abhimanyu crossed the outer flanks (level 4) the inner spiral broke down(intentionally) while the outer lines were keeping the other warriors at bay. The Kauravas ganged up on Abhimanyu and his few remaining royal guard (I believe it would be of the order of 1000 to 1) and he eventually fell. This was against the rules of the war (only 1-on-1 battles were allowed) and hence there would be virtually no way to break out unless you slay everyone in the inner spiral which was obviously an impossible task even for the likes of Abhimanyu.

UPDATE: People seem to be confused about the motion of the formation. I'll try to quickly explain it out!

Let's not view the formation as a single structure but a combination of 2 structures, a helix, and a multiply curved line. Here is the representation:

Now, for motion, only 2 soldiers become crucial... these are:

The soldier in the blue is responsible for starting the motion; say he takes a step diagonally forward to his left. This starts off a chain reaction, with each soldier taking the position of the soldier on his left, which over time (try to visualize this in your head). In other words, on his 2nd move, the guy to right of the man who starts the motion takes a diagonal step. Which the guy on his right copies on his 3rd move. Now the point where the diagonal step is being taken, may be viewed as an exploitable weakness in the structure (I guess) but this position changes fast enough to deceive the enemy.

The helix motion is initiated by the 2nd important soldier. It is his job to ensure no gaps are left between the 2 structures. So he moves accordingly to ensure the same, and that leads to the helix slowly spinning clockwise. (and forward). The helix is made up of the superior soldiers.

Now again, I'm not Drona, or a military tactician, so it's difficult to predict if this indeed is how it operated, but in my opinion, this would make a pretty efficient labyrinth.... and all it takes is 2 long lines of soldiers


Military Techniques in Mahabahrat to make VYUHA

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