Military Academy

The Magnitude of the War


Advanced war techniques of Mahabharata period

How destructive was the war?


Going by the numbers described in the epic, Mahabharata is one of the bloodiest wars that has ever happened during the history of mankind. 18 Akshauhinis fought altogether and just 12 peopl survived the war. ie around 4 Million people are believed to be killed in the Mahabharata war. Considering that the total population of the world 5000 years back as per HYDE's estimate is ~45Millioin, the war is suppposed to have consumed ~10% of Human population in 18 days, which is unbelievable humongous.


For a comparison around 14 million people were killed in World War 1 (over 4 years) and around 60 Million People were killed n World War 2 (over 6 years) which accounted to 1% and 3% of the total world population of that time.


Going by the numbers described in the epic, in 18 Akshouhinis, a total of 3,936,600 people, 393660 Elephants, 1180980 horses, and 393660 Chariots (each having 4-8 horses) took part in the war. This math is somehow hard to digest as the existence of 400,000 domesticated Elephants and >3 Million domesticated horses in the Indian Subcontinent 5000 years back is a highly debatable story. There is definitely a high likelihood of the numbers being exaggerated in the epic, but on the other hand, with the way the military structures and construction of an army is detailed in the epic, it's also hard to doubt the numbers described in the epic.


What is an Akshauhini?


An akshauhini, is a batallion consisting of 21,870 chariots; 21,870 elephants; 65,610 horses and 109,350 infantry as per the Mahabharata.

The ratio is 1 chariot : 1 elephant : 3 cavalry : 5 infantry soldiers. In each of these large number groups (65,610; 109,350 etc.), the digits add up to 18.


An Akshouhini is actually comosed of smaller military units call Anikinis, which is turn is divided into further smaller units. The systematic construction of an Akshouhini is decribed as follows:


One elephant (Gaja), one chariot (Ratha), three horses (Ashwa) and five foot soldiers (Padhata) form a Patti;

Three Pattis form a Sena-Mukha;

Three Sena-Mukhas make a Gulma;

Three Gulmas a Gana;

Three Ganas a Vahini;

Three Vahinis a Pruthana;

Three Pruthanas a Chamu;

Three Chamus a Anikini;

Ten Anikinis form an Akshauhini.


Thus an Akshauhini, by calculation, contains 21,870 elephants, 21,870 chariots, 65,610 Horses, and 109,350 foot soldiers.


What was the composition of army on each side during the Mahabharata war?


A vast array of kingdoms partcipated in the Great Mahabharata war. Many kings and princes were slain during the course of the war. In total 18 Akshouhini of Solidier fought the war, 11 on the Kaurava side and 7 on the Pandava side, and the list of Kingdeons stretch all the way from Kashmir in the North to Tamil Nadu in the south, Assam in the east to Hindukush in the west. Of course not all the existent kingdoms in the Indian Sub-continent partifcipated, but the war included most of the prominent kingdoms of that period.


Army of Kauravas:


Kuru Army of 11 Akshauhinis is formed by the kingdom of Hastinapura in alliance with races like the Samsaptakas, Trigartas, the Narayana army, the Sindhu army and Shalya of Madra.


Commanders in Chief: Bhishma (10 days), Drona (5 days), Karna (2 days), Shalya (1 day), Ashwatthama (after Duryodhana loses the mace match with Bhima)



Size of the Army



1 Akshauhini



1 Akshauhini



1 Akshauhini


Yadavas (Krishna's Narayani sena)

1 Akshauhini



1 Akshauhini



1 Akshauhini

Vinda and Anuvinda


1 Akshauhini



1 Akshauhini



1 Akshauhini



1 Akshauhini


Kurus and Allies

1 Akshauhini



11 Akshauhinis

Army of Pandavas


Pandava Army was a coalition of 7 Akshauhinis, primarily the Panchala and Matsya forces, the Rakshasa forces of Bhima's son, The Chedi and Magadha armies and Vrishni-Yadava heroes.



Size of the Army


Vrishini (Yadava clan)

1 Akshauhini


Bhoja (Yadava clan)

1 Akshauhini



1 Akshauhini

Sahadeva (s/o Jarasandha)


1 Akshauhini



1 Akshauhini



1 Akshauhini


Panda, Chola, Rakshasas and other allies

1 Akshauhini



7 Akshauhinis


Rules of Engagement


The Mahabharata war is notable not only because of its magnitude but also for the unbelievable adherance to ethics and dignity displayed and followed during the initial phase of the war. The war indeed became a bloody madness from the thirteenth day, but still in relation to the way wars were fought in the western world (and in historic India) where doing anything to emerge victories was the only principle, the soldiers who fought the Mahabharata war till the end of its course adhered to multiple rules despite such adherance taking away decisive advantages from their hand. Before the commencement of the war, the two supreme commanders met and framed "rules of ethical conduct", dharmayuddha, for the war. The rules included


  • Fighting must begin no earlier than sunrise and end exactly at sunset.
  • No more than one warriors may attack a single warrior.
  • Two warriors may "duel", or engage in prolonged personal combat, only if they carry the same weapons and they are on the same type of mount (on foot, on a horse, on an elephant, or in a chariot).
  • A warrior needs to be challenged and warned before any duel.
  • No warrior may kill or injure a warrior who has surrendered.
  • One who surrenders becomes a prisoner of war and will then be subject to the protections of a prisoner of war.
  • No warrior may kill or injure an unarmed warrior.
  • No warrior may kill or injure an unconscious warrior.
  • No warrior may kill or injure a person or animal not taking part in the war.
  • No warrior may kill or injure a warrior whose back is turned away.
  • No warrior may attack a woman.
  • No warrior may strike an animal not considered a direct threat.
  • The rules specific to each weapon must be followed. For example, it is prohibited to strike below the waist in mace warfare.
  • Warriors may not engage in any unfair warfare.

The non-conventional Chariots


In the modern world (historic period), infantry and cavalry have been ineluctable components of any army. And in the Indian sub-continent the usage of elephants added to the list of basic components of an army. But the usage of chariots to carry archers is not a conventional way of fighting in modern world though the Romans and Egyptians used Chariots effectively for many of their battles. In all of the modern historic wars, archers were used for distant attacks mostly hiding behind the fort walls, or hiding behind the infantry/cavalry. And they were used to just shower arrows on the enermy unit and kill anyone who stays unprotected within the range of the archers. But during the Mahabharata period, archers played a leading role in wars, and they engaged in one to one combats. Archers are described as being skilled enough to attack precise targets and lead from the front. Unlike the modern world where the generals march ahead on their Horses, the leaders of ancient India commanded their army and lead the fight positioning themselves on a chariot. The usage of war chariots enabled chariot mounted archers to arrive fresh in the battle field. The Chariots could also carry large quantities of armaments (spears, arrows, javelins) enabling the archers to actually venture deep into the battle field and lead from the front. In addition the Chariots gave limited protection to the combatants and provided them a mounted platform for fighting/command & control. The Chariot of commanders and important warriors were accompanied by additional chariots that guarded all four sides, as well well by additional cavalry and infantry units that kept away attack by nearby infantry and cavalry units. They, hence, are an inevitable part of the entire epic.