The invincible Chakravyuha

The Invincible Chakravyuha


Advanced war techniques of Mahabharata period


The Chakravyuha (Wheel or discuss formation)


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 Chakravyuha, is a multi-tier defensive formation that looks like a 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.


As per this military strategy, a specific stationary object or a moving object or person can be captured and surrounded and rendered fully secured during time of military conflict. The pattern is of two soldiers on both sides with other soldiers following them at a distance of three hands, drawing up seven circles and culminating in the end which is the place where the captured person or object is to be kept. In order to make Chakravyuha, the Commander has to identify soldiers who will form this formation. The number of soldiers to be deployed and the size of the Chakravyuha is calculated as per the resistance estimated. Once drawn, the foremost soldiers come on either side of the component to be captured, engage briefly and then move ahead. Their place is taken up by the next soldiers on either side, who again engage the component briefly and then move ahead. In this fashion, a number of soldiers keep on passing the component and keep on moving in a circular pattern. By the time the last bit of soldiers arrive, the component, oblivious of the design is captured within six or seven tiers of soldier formation surrounding him from all sides. The last soldiers of the formation give the signal of completing the Chakravyuha. On the signal, every soldier who so far has been facing outwards, turn inwards to face the component. It is only then that the captured component realizes his captivity. The Chakravyuha keeps on moving in a spherical order and can easily lead the component away in captivity as well. Formation of Chakravyuha is never visible from the ground. But anyone from above can easily decipher the movement. It is a hopeless 'no escape' situation for the captive. This strategy was applied during prehistoric days. The component even if heavily guarded, cannot escape the web of a chakravyuha.

Chakravyuh - the most deadliest and brilliant military formation


Drona devised the Chakravyuha on the 13th day of the war with a motive to capture Yudhishtira, the leader of the Pandavas, as a prisoner of war. Such deadly was the trap of Chakravyuh that only few talented warriors like Krishna, Arjuna, Drona, Bhisma and Pradyumna knew the way to break in and come out of it. 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 when Drona formed the most renowned Chakravyuha during the Kurukshetra war, 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.

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


Let us first understand how the Chakravyuh formation works:-

Soldier at the blue dot 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 (right) 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

See the below diagram to comprehend how the warrior gets trapped on entering the Chakravyuh.

Firstly it needs to be noted that the formation is not visible from the ground, simply because each of the layers of the maze are not in fact a single row of soldiers, but a huge batallion of army which has a depth of tens or hundreds of soldiers, and the path between between 2 layers is also multifold wide through which a batallion could pass through. So from ground, it would simply seem to be a big passage on either side of which the enimies' army are busy fighting. Only the inner row is facing the warrior or army that passes through the maze. The outer layer is busy facing the next outer passage.


Now imagine the situation where a warrior tries to enter the maze through it mouth. Let's call him "X". s. 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. If "X" is skilled enough to survive the warriors at the mouth, once he enters, the mouth closes to prevent backup supply to enter with him. Now if "X" tries to proceed through the path, he gets trapped in a maze and keeps running in a circular motion until he ends up at the centre. But in most cases, a warrior will not survice until he reaches the centre. As he goes deep inside the formation, "X" keeps getting more and more tired and would end up fighting stronger and stronger soldiers who are fresh and strong. So at the point where the skills of "X" combined with his tiredness is overcome by the skills and strength of a warrior in any of the layers, "X" falls.


Now imagine the situation where a warrior doesnot try to enter the maze, but is just conent with fighting the outermost layer. Let's call him "Y". The Chakravyuha formation keeps revolving around its axis where each solder is replaced by the one on his right, and the formation also rotates around a distance axis (like how earth moves around the sun). With the magnitude of the formation, "Y" will not be able to realize his relative position with respect to the whole formation, and at at some point the mouth of the formation will move around to engulf him, even without his realization. So even if "Y" is static, he is still engulfed by the formation


Now imagine a third situation where a warrior or his army knows that this is Chakravyuha, and he tries to penetrate it by breaking the layers. Firstly it's not that easy to create a gap to enter, since any gap is closed immediately. 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.


So irrespective of what one does, the Chakravyuha is designed to engulf the enemy, and either kill him as he goes through the maze, or spare his life, but weaken him until he's taken captive along the route. This makes it one of the deadliest formations.

Breaking into the Chakravyuha

To break into the Chakravyuha and reach the centre without being tired needs a warrior to find the shortest possible route to the centre, as well as it demands him to be really superior in skills to the warriors along his path to the centre. ie one needs to break in the layers to reach the centre than to travel along the maze to reach the centre. 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. Hence, before the warrior attempts to breach the layer on his horse or charrior, 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.

Why is it more difficult to exit the Chakravyuha than entering it.

On question that puzzles many is why Abhimanyu could not exit the Chakravyuha, despite being able to break into it. It's simply because the challenges increase when trying to exit the maze. There are multiple reasons for the same. Firstly while entering only the inner layers are facing the warrior who has entered the maze. The duty of the outer layers is to prevent further entry of more soldiers into the maze. But once the target is inside, the commander instructs the inner layers to face inside. So while exiting one needs to face warrios very much like entering, but the only catch is that once a layer is breached to go out, the warrior is faced not only by the soldiers standing before him on the outer layers, but also by the soldiers behind him in the inner layers. Secondly. While exiting, one needs to break the innermost layer, which has the strongest warriors while staying within the shooting range of all of them, as the diameter of the ring is smaller. Thirdly, the warrior would already be exhaused in entering the formation and fighting the strongest warriors in the inner circle. And lastly, the skills needed to create a similar panic mode in the innermost layer with the best warriors is probably too immense.


Again these are mere speculations and reasoning on how the formation could be breached and what difficulties might have to be tackled. There could indeed be more challenges that made exiting the maze a bigger challenge. And it probably needs a bit more research and reasoning.


How many times Chakravyuh was formed during the Kurukshetra war?


In fact the Chakravyuh was formed just for a single time in the story of Mahabharata.


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 Abhimanyu along with four Pandavas were protecting Yudhisthira from the clutches of Kaurava warriors. Lacking Arjuna and Krishna, the four Pandava brothers were totally clueless on how to defend against this formation. Seeing the circumstances, Abhimanyu forced Yudhisthira to let him break the vyuha. Four Pandavas followed Abhimanyu closely but as soon as Abhimanyu breached the first layer, Jayadratha was able to shut down the opening to block the entry of the four Pandavas. Abhimanyu single-handedly fought against all Kaurava warriors with great valour and bravado but was ultimately killed by the treacherous attack of Kaurava warriors.


The Padmavyuha (a subtle variation of the Chakravyuha) was formed the very next day to protect Jayadratha. Arjuna took the vow of self-immolation if he was unsuccessful in killing Jayadratha on 14th day of Mahabharata. To protect Jayadratha from the wrath of Arjuna, a combination of Padmavyuha, Shakatavyuha (Cart formation) and Soochivyuha (Needle formation) was formed. As per the the epic the three vyuhas werre 48 Miles long! Even after Arjuna had breached 2 of those vyuhas, a hundred thousand horsemen, sixty thousand chariots, 21000 foot-soldiers and fourteen thousand elephants stood between Arjuna and Jayadratha just in the last stretch of Suchivyuha alone! (though the Suchivyuha extended all the way till the mouth of the outermost Padmavyuha formation).


Despite such a well-planned formation, Arjuna killed Jayadratha at the end of the day with his incredible skills, valor and the treacherous help of Krishna.


Why was not Chakravyuha implemented more often?


This Vyuha 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 formation if Arjuna was able to disturb the rhythm of the formation and create a panic. Moreover, Arjuna had all the Divyastras to destroy everyone around him and would have caused massive destruction among the kauravas, had he entered it. Also, on the kaurava side, Drona, Bhisma and Karna knew the art of breaching Chakravyuh. Thirdly, 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.

A preferable solution would be to kill as many soldiers as possible so as to increase the gap between them so that the gap available to breach is more than what the warriors on the left could easily fill in. Or in a way, it a race between the time taken to fill the gap vs the time needed to break in. Its easier said that done, because the soldiers are already instructed or choreographed to keep moving and their natural movement keeps filling up the gap without additional chaos or panic. It is also important to ensure that one avoids stronger warriors who could tire hime out during his journey to the centre. In the epic, Arjuna mentions that there is a right time and a right place to enter the formation and a right manner to do so. ie the weak links have to be first identified, and one needs to travel along with the formation to keep creating the gap at the intended place. And the success of breaking in depends on how effectively a painc button could be hit on an ememy formation that is designed to absorb the panic mode. So probably the creation of such a panic was achieved not just by creating a gap at one fixed point, but making gaps at few points in the same ring so that the natural filling in process of the soldiers is disturbed. This is what Abhimanyu and Arjuna probably did to break into the formation. Also it needs an archer with very long shooring range and fast shooting speed to be able to create such a bigger gap before the formations moves ahead to fill the gap. If one needs to oversimplify the above concept, a simple way to exlain this is that one could create a bigger gap by killing the soldiers/batallion on either side of the soldier/batallion in front of him, so that there is enough time before the warriors in the region could move to fill the gap.