The Mahabharata Research
A “Vyuha” is an arrangement of the army divisions to attain a specific objective at the end of the day’s war. Every day the commander in chief of each army will arrange the army in a specific formation, so that his army can attain the objectives of that specific day. Depending on the the objective, risks, threats, opportunities, the choice of “Vyuha” was made.
Please also note that a “Vyuha” is not a static position wherein the army would simply arrange the soldiers and generals in that formation and go attack the enemy. A “Vyuha” is dynamic in nature and it continuously adapts itself to the position and situation of the war.
If one of the Generals dies, the Vyuha is technically designed in such a way that every other general knows what needs to be done to re-structure the “Vyuha” and maintain it’s formation. If one of the wing is taking huge casualties, the other parts of the “Vyuha” would re-structure itself and save the formation. If the goal of the “Vyuha” is to capture a key personnel of the enemy, the “Vyuha” would constantly change and adapt itself so as to ensure that the target is met. The opponent will counter with their own “Vyuha” and hence the position of the key personnel would continuously change. Hence the “Vyuha” of the attacking army has to be designed in such a way, that the final objective is met through continuous re-structuring, adapting, re-organizing and re-in forcing.
Now you may wonder, How can such a huge army re-structure itself in the middle of the war? How can so many soldiers change positions, tactics and decide what to do when a key personnel dies or the attacking army changes it’s formation?
It needs to be noted that the army is composed of soldiers from various kingdoms. Each general from a Kingdom is well equipped with the decorum, code of conduct and technical details of a “Vyuha”. But ordinary soldiers, cavalry and infantry men don’t know those things and they would have to be ordered to move and re-structure themselves.
This was done through the code of big drums, Trumphets, Sankhs and other horns which would instruct the army what to do. Given below is a picture of a modern day Nagara but at that time, Nagaras were even bigger, mounted on the top of an Elephant and drummed by long bamboo pipes.
The various vyūhas (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 their own side.
When the General wants to convey a command to his army or divison to change positions, he would instruct his Nagara player to beat a specific tune. That tune is a code and the moment that tune is played, everyone in his division would know what to do and how to re-align the army.
There are other techniques as well. For example, when Arjuna fired “Varunastra”, Bheesma knew that Arjuna had fired Varunastra and instructed his army to take protective measures. He blew his “Sankh” in a specific note and all the other generals were thus informed that Arjuna has fired “Varunastra”. With this knowledge, the Vyuha would re-align itself to avoid casualities until Bheesma fired a counter weapon to stop the effects of Varunastra.
Once Varunashtra was neutralized by Bheesma, then the Sankh was played one more time and the “Vyuha” re-aligned itself once again to attain it’s objectives.
The position of a Maharathi, Atirathi and Rathi was determined by the commander in chief and as per the merit of the general, the position was given. Every counter measure was taken and analyzed, different plans were made to neutralize damages, if a Maharathi dies. A Maharathi or general simply could not choose his opponent as per his wish, everybody had a fixed target and task that had to be catered to.
Following are the different Vyuhas used in the Kurukshetra war
Krauncha Vyuha (Heron formation)
Krauncha Vyuha (क्रौंच व्युह): military formation on a pattern supposed to resemble a heron with outstretched beak and spreading wings. Krauncha vyuha, a very offensive formation, was generally attempted to induce fear in the opponent army. Pandava army was arranged in this vyuha on the second day of the Mahabharata war. Drupada was at the head and Kuntibhoja was placed at the eye. The army of the satyaki formed neck of the Kauncha bird. Bhima and Dhristadhymna formed both the wings of the Vyuha. The sons of Draupadi and Satyaki were to guard the wings. The formation of the army phalanxes in this manner was very formidable.
The Krauncha Vyuha was also arranged by Bhishma . Bhurishrava and Salya were to guard the wings. Somdatta, Ashwatthama, Kripa and Kritavarma were positioned at different important place in the formation.
Garuda Vyuha (Eagle formation)
The Heron Formation (Krauncha Vyuha) was usually met with Garuda or eagle Formation’Eagle is a Natural Enemy of Heron.Note the Swoop of the Garuda, nullifying and swamping the posture of the Heron. In its form, the Garuda Vyuha resembles the Krauncha vyuha, with a subtle difference that it resembles an eagle. On the second day Bhishma arranged his army in Garuda vyuha to counter the Krauncha vyuha of the Pandavas. Bhishma himself got posittioned at its beak. Drona and Kritavarna were the eyes. Kripa and Ashvatthama were at the head. The Trigartas the Jayadratha with their armies made the neck. Duryodhana, his brothers, Vinda and Anuvinda made the body of the formation whereas King of Kashala, Brihadbala formed the tail of the formation.
Mandala Vyuha (Galaxy formation)
It was a defensive circular formation very difficult to penetrate. The Commander-in-chief, situated at the centre of hte formation, usually leads the army and is surrounded by several small groups of armymen, each grup lead by a Maharathi. On the seventh day of the war Bhishma made Mandala Vyuha.The Pandavas countered it by Vajra Vyuha.
Vajra Vyuha ( Diamond or Thunderbolt Formation)
Pandavas chose Vajra Vyuha to counter Mandala Vyuha formation on the 7th day. This formation was also used by the Pandavas on the first day of the war. In this formation, all maha-rathis are situated at the centre of the squared formation and are surrounded by infantry from all sides. Drishtadhyumna lead the formation and was followed by the five Pandavas on the 7th day. And it was Bhima who lead the formation on the first day.
Pandavas' Vajravyuha on day 1
Makara Vyuha (Crocodile formation)
On the fifth day of the war, Bhishma chose to arrange his army in Makarvyuha. Arjuna, Yudhisthira and Dhristadhyumna decided for the Hawk formation of their Army. All the warriors of both sides were assigned to specific places in the formations with special responsibilities.
On the sixth day it was the Pandavas who preferred the Makara Vyuha. The Kauravas chose Krauncha Vyuha. On this day Bhima was coming in and out of the Vyuha of the kauravas, killing soldier at will, swinging his terrible mace.
Kauravas' Makaravyuha on day 5
Ardha Chandra Vyuha (Half crescent formation)
Arjuna arranged this formation in consultation with commander of Pandava army Dhristadhyumna on the 12th day of the war. his arrangement. At the right end was the powerful Bhima. Abimanyu was at left end. Ghatotkacha and Kokaya brothers were at the left rear. Satyaki, and five sons of Draupadi were at the rear centre.Yudhisthira was placed at the centre of the formation. The armies of Drupada and Virata led from the front guarding Yudhistira. Neel and Dhristadhymna were placed next to them with Dhristaketu and Shikandi following at the rear end. At the tip was Arjuna at his Chariot with Krishna.
Shakata Vyuha (Box or Cart formation)
Shakata vyuha is an array in which the army is draw up in a narrow and compact order and its rear expanding in extended columns like the back of an Indian cart. Drona used this formation on the 11th day for the Kauravas
Sarvatomukhi Dand Vyuha
This was the formation used by Bhishma on the 1st day of the Kurukshetra war. The head of the cormation had 6 Maharathis arranged in a circular form and the rear end is shaped like a rod (Dand) to keep resourcing the head.
Suchimukha Vyuha (Needle formation)
The Suchimukha Vyuha was not used as a stand alone vyuha in the Kurukshetra war. But on the 14th day of the war, Drona created a complex triple layered formation called Chakrashatak Vyuha . First was the Chakravyuha where he was standing guard himself. That Vyuha opened in to the second Sakatavyuha the charge of which was in the hands of Duramarshana, the brave brother of Duryodhana. At the third tier was the Soochimukha Vyuha (shaped like the mouth of a needle) with Karna, Bhurishrava, Ashvatthama, Salya, Vrishasena, Kripa to guard it and Jayadratha was at the very end of the Vyuha.
Chakra Vyuha (Wheel or Discuss Formation)
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.
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 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 is correct on formation of Chakravyuha. This strategy was applied during prehistoric days. The component even if heavily guarded, cannot escape the web of a chakravyuha.
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. It is the most renowned among the different formations used in the Mahabharata war, simply because this was part of the turning point in the war. Drona made the Chakravyuha with 6 layers under the guard of 6 Maharathis - Karna, Drona, Ashwatthama, Dushasana, Shalya and Kripacharya. Duryodhana was positioned at the centre with different warriors at the various layers. Jayadratha and his army were at the gate of this vyuha.
Padma Vyuha (Blooming Lotus Formation)
The Padma Vyuha is often confused with the Chakravyuha, and many writers use these terms interchangeable. There is considerable difference between these 2 formations though there are quite some similarities as well. SImilar to Chakra-Vyuha, this is a multi-tired defensive formation inteh form of a blooming lotus when viewed from above. Again only a handful of warriors knew the tehncique of breaching this formation.
Sarvatobhadra Vyuha (Safe from all sides) and Nakshatramandal Vyuha (constellation formation)
On the ninth day Bhishma went for a Vyuha called Sarvatobhadra Vyuha which meant safe from all sides. Bhishma was in the front, Guarded by Kripa, Kritaverma, Shakuni, Jayadratha, Kamboja and sons of Dhritarastra. Trigartas were also there. The Pandavas formed a Vyuha called Nakshatramandal vyuha in shape of a constellation. The Pandavas and sons of Draupadi were leading from the front. Shikhandi Chekitan and Ghatotkacha were holding important positions to defend. Abhimanyu, Kekaya brothers and Drupada were guarding the rear.
Asura Vyuha (Demon formation) and Deva Vyuha (Divine formation)
On the tenth day the Kauravas army chose, Asura Vyuha and the Pandavas countered it by arranging their army in Deva Vyuha. In the lead was Shikandhi with Bhima and Arjuna to protect his sides. Behind him were Abhimanyu and the children of Draupadi. Satyaki and Dhristadhyuma were with them. Virata and Drupada had two charge of the rest of the army. Kekayu brothers, Dhristaketu and Gatotkacha were in their ranks. The Pandavas had the single pointed aim to kill Bhishma and were successful in that.
Kurma Vyuha (Turtle formation) and Trishula Vyuha (Trident formation)
The Kurmavyuha was formed by Bhishma on the 8th day of the war. The Pandavas countered it with the Trishula vyuha.
Oormi Vyuha (Ocean formation) and Sringataka Vyuha (Horned formation)
On the afternoon of the 8th day, Bhishma changed his formation to Oormi Vyuha. In this formation, the army is arranged on either side like the waves of the sea. Arjuna chose Sringataka Vyuha to counter-attack this formation.
The Mahabharata lists the following 18 battle formations or vyuhas:
And the below list summarized how each side used the different Vyuhas during the 18 day battle
Kauravas – Bheesma – “सर्वतोमुखी दण्डव्यूह”(“Sarvatomukhi Dand Vyuha”)
Pandavas – Arjuna -“वज्र व्यूह”(“Vajra Vyuha”)
Kauravas- Bheesma -“गरुड़-व्यूह” (“Garuda Vyuha”)
Pandavas- Dhristyadhumna -“क्रौंच व्यूह” (“Krounch Vyuha”)
Kauravas – Bheesma – “गरुड़-व्यूह”(“Garuda Vyuha”)
Pandavas – Arjuna – “अर्धचन्द्र व्यूह” (“Ardhchandra Vyuha”)
Kauravas – Bheeshma – “मंडल व्यूह” (“Mandal Vayuha”)
Pandavas – Arjuna – “श्रीन्गातका व्यूह” (“Sringataka Vyuha”)
Kauravas – Bheeshma – “मकर व्यूह” (“Makar Vyuha)
Pandavas – Arjuna – “श्येन व्यूह”(“Shyen Vyuha”)
Kauravas – Bheeshma – “क्रौंच व्यूह” (“Krounch Vyuha”)
Pandavas – Dhrishtdyumna – “मकर व्यूह” (“Makar Vyuha”)
Kauravas – Bheeshma – “मंडल व्यूह” (“Mandal Vyuha”)
Pandavas – Arjuna – “वज्र व्यूह” (“Vajra Vyuha”)
Kauravas – Bheeshma – “कुर्मा व्यूह” (“Kurma Vayuha”)
Pandavas – Arjuna – “त्रिशूल व्यूह” (“Trishul Vayuha”)
Kauravas – Bheeshma- “सर्वतोभद्र व्यूह” (“Sarvatobhadra Vyuha”)
Pandavas – Arjuna – “नक्षत्र मण्डल व्यूह” (“Nakshtra Mandal Vyuha”)
Kauravas – Bheeshma – “असुर व्यूह” (“Asur Vayuha”)
Pandavas – Arjuna- “देव व्यूह” (“Dev Vayuha”)
Kauravas – Drona – “शकट व्यूह” (“Shakat Vyuha”)
Pandavas – Arjuna – “क्रौंच व्यूह”( “Krounch Vyuha”)
Kauravas – Drona – “गरुड़ व्यूह” (“Garuda Vyuha”)
Pandavas – Arjuna – “अर्धचन्द्र व्यूह” (“Ardhchandra Vayuha”)
Kauravas – Drona – “चक्र व्यूह” (“Chakra Vyuha”)
Pandavas – Abhimanyu – No Vyuha was formed on this day because Abhimanyu was the only warrior that entered Enemy’s formation while rest of the army was held back on gate 1.
Kauravas – Drona – “चक्रशकट व्यूह”, (“Chakrashatak Vayuha)
Pandavas – Arjuna – “खड्ग सर्प व्यूह” (“Khaddag Sarp Vyuha”)
Kauravas – Drona – “पद्म व्यूह”(“Padma Vyuha”)
Pandavas – Arjuna – “वज्र व्यूह” (“Vajra Vyuha”)
Kauravas – Karna – “मकर व्यूह” (“Makar Vyuha”)
Pandavas – Arjuna – “अर्धचन्द्र व्यूह”(“Ardhchandra Vyuha”)
Kauravas – Karna- “सूर्य व्यूह” (“Surya Vyuha”)
Pandavas – Arjuna – “महिष व्यूह” (“Mahish Vyuha”)
Kauravas – Shalya – “सर्वतोभद्रव्यूह”(“Sarvatobhadra Vyuha”)
Pandavas – Arjuna – “क्रौंच व्यूह”( “Krounch Vyuha”)