What was the right strategy for Abhimanyu to defeat the Padmavyuha formation from the Mahabharata?
Answer by Navin Pai:
OK, I think I’ll give this one a shot, based off of the stories my grandmother used to tell me, along with some (very basic) tactics 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. Now, it is said that over the course of the war, 18-20 Akshauhini senas (armies) were killed. 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, which is roughly 48 x 128 Km in area. That makes a very dense war.
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 (originally) Yudhisthira, 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…. the rotation may be seen as the motion of the helix of a screw. The formation was also called Padmavyuh (or the Lotus formation). Also, the inner layers were made of 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)….
And remember, this doesn’t mean the person who entered ran around the maze. The maze engulfed him.. yeah, imagine that:
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 upto the center of the formation, thus ensuring that at all times, there existed a continuous maze.
Now coming to the Abhimanyu bit of it. 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 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, if you’ll excuse my pathetic diagrams , I’ll try explain 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 foetus. Mind blowing eh?):
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.
Now, the original deal was that Abhimanyu creates gaps and storms in, and other Pandavas follow him. But that plan backfired because (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, both physically and mentally exhausted. Perhaps, he could continue with this same technique to break out as well. If the Pandavas had followed him in as planned, they would have more warriors on the inside, and breaking out would be easier. If the breached the centre, 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 that could, literally “screw” you!
UPDATE: People seem to be confused about the motion of the formation. It’s 2:40 AM here *yawns*, but 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