A Military Marvel
You will not find anyone in India who has not heard of the tale of one unbeatable army tactic – ‘The Chakra-Vyuha’. It is highlighted in the famous Indian epic, The Mahabharata. It is said that this particular formation was so terrifying that there was almost no one who wished to make a stand against it. We know that usually each and every military formation has its weakness. But the ‘Chakra-Vyuha’ was immune to any kind of known counter-attacks. There was a saying, that, the exclusive technique to stop this Juggernaut was known to only 9 living beings (7 of them participated in Kurukshetra war). The great war of Mahabharata, as mentioned in the text, wiped out entire warrior clan of that era. So, the knowledge of this mystical military science was not passed on to the next generation, whoever survived. Still, the term ‘Chakra-Vyuha’ is widely used even today, to indicate if someone is within deep trouble with no way out. Yes, the phrase “No Way Out” has become synonymous with this legendary battle formation. It was probably the pinnacle of ancient Bharat military brilliance.
Decrypting the Scripture
Chakra-Vyuha holds the honor of turning the tide in the Mahabharata war. Instead of explaining the Mahabharata reference here, I am going to highlight the factors that Mahabharata depicts about Chakra-Vyuha.
Specialized skill over power: There were only 2 people on Pandava-s side who had complete knowledge about Chakra-Vyuha: Krishna himself and Arjun. Abhimanyu only had half the knowledge. On Kaurava side, 5 people knew about it – Bhishma, Dronacharya, Kripacharya, Karna and Ashthwama. Among these seven individuals, we can see that there is one similarity: all had specific knowledge on Chakra-Vyuha. Countless other warriors of Mahabharata, in spite of being formidable in terms of power and skill, lacks that knowledge. This leads us to conclude that Chakra-Vyuha involved something beyond warrior training or capability.
Too huge to be comprehended by an individual: As Vyasdeva narrated in Mahabharata, once Chakra-Vyuha was formed during thirteenth day of the war, Yudhistira (the King of Pandavas) was not able to visualize Dronacharya (the commander of Kauravas). Dronacharya was not known to go for a hiding. It was stated that he was unbeatable as long as he is armed. The justification is that, the size of Chakra-Vyuha was monstrous. That is why one could not see distant parts of the formation.
Without knowledge, no use of valor: Pandavas requested Abhimanyu to enter the Chakra-Vyuha – why? They should have entered themselves first, instead of sending the child in the slaughterhouse. They were not cowards!!! The reason is, they did not know where was the entry point. The conclusion we can derive here is – the structure of Chakra-Vyuha was not clearly understandable by naked eye.
First and foremost, A Labyrinth: It was a well-known fact that Chakra-Vyuha could only be destroyed from within. How Dronacharya ensured that one (including Bhima, the strongest warrior in Mahabharata) could not simply punch his way through? Because, Chakra-Vyuha was like a mammoth self-healing machine. No matter how much force is applied, the Chakra-Vyuha would take the hits and move ahead to its mission; one needed to “know” where to hit. Moreover, it is repeatedly confirmed in Mahabharata that almost no one “knew” how to enter the Vyuha. This precedence of precision over brute-force implies that the Chakra-Vyuha was, in fact, a massive labyrinth. Making way through it was not a task for heavy hitters.
Strategize on the go: Since Arjun acquired complete knowledge of Chakra-Vyuha, why did not he pass the knowledge to his brothers? As far as we know, they did not have even the slightest adversary among themselves. Probably the reason was, the knowledge was never meant to be ‘memorized’. Instead, it was more aligned to being ‘realized’. One needed to apply his own intuition and analytical skill in order to achieve it. That explains why there were such rare warriors possessing this attribute. One probable conclusion we can outline here is that, the technique to breach the formation was something that needed to be devised and fine-tuned on the go.
Dynamic design: Knowing that only Krishna and Arjun from Pandavas side were capable of breaking this formation; Dronacharya ensured that they remained away while Chkra-Vyuha was in action (he was not aware of Abhimanyu’s knowledge). How was he so sure that no other person could pose any threat to it? Dronacharya’s confidence indicates that it was not possible to pre-plan the way towards the center of the formation. It seems highly likely that the map within the Chakra-Vyuha used to change in the middle of battle. This particular feature had made it near impossible to pierce through the formation.
“Choking” the enemy influx: Once Abhimanyu managed to breach the gate, Jayadratha single-handedly repelled rest of the warriors from following him. How Jayadratha knew that Pandavas would not enter through some other area of Chakra-Vyuha? Because, there was only one ‘soft’ area which allowed the enemy to enter.
Summing up all the pieces, what we can say about this legendary battle-technique:
a. It was a massive labyrinth, not quite prominent to inexperienced warrior
b. One could not break through the layers using sheer power, because the design of the labyrinth used to change depending on the need
c. The technique of making way through this maze formation required immense skill of analysis, which were not achievable by even most of great warriors.
Reverse Engineering of Chakra-Vyuha
A Chakra-vyuha was one multi-tier defensive yet deadly maze-like formation which looked like an spinning wheel from above. While going through the details of Chakra-Vyuha, please keep in mind that the entire formation consumed a land area of around 48 miles X 48 miles (or 77 km X 77 km), that is almost double the size of Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata combined. The purpose of deploying this gigantic formation was to capture and bring some dedicated target to custody. For a common man, it may not be possible to even visualize such a land-leviathan. For the sake of making it simple, consider a fortified city of really large size, where the walls are formed by military units. This behemoth used to have seven layers, each layer being stronger and harder to penetrate than the immediate outer ones. That means, if a warrior managed to penetrate through the layers, the difficulty would increase as the warrior progressed towards the center.
To uncover the next level of details, now try to imagine one gigantic labyrinth within the fortified city, with a layout somewhat like Picture 1 (indicative only). The frightening Chakra-Vyuha was not formed by seven concentric circles. The design was focused on absorbing the enemy attacks to highest extent. Once the outer wall had been breached, the warriors of inner layers would offer only the minimum necessary resistance to the incoming. To counter such ‘invasion‘-s, the Chakra-Vyuha relied primarily on numerical and strategic advantage; instead of offensive force. Once an enemy entered, no matter how dangerous he seemed to be, Chakra-Vyuha focused on flushing out his stamina, slowly but steadily. It was ultimately how much the enemy could endure. The seemingly ‘opening‘ was actually the ‘mouth’ of the Chakra-Vyuha, which literally swallowed an enemy warrior, then an enemy battalion and gradually, an entire army, part by part. The forces which managed to enter the ‘mouth‘, could not directly rush to the center. As you can clearly understand from Picture 1, if the enemy forces had to reach to the heart of the formation without applying any thrust to break the layout, they needed to move across the perimeters of each layer. Keeping in mind the gigantic volume of the formation, the travel alone was enough for the enemy to catch their breathe.
Once a small chunk of army managed to enter through the ‘mouth‘(either intentionally or unintentionally), they needed to penetrate all the way up to the center to break the formation. Now the question is, why would that chunk of enemy army would want to go further inside the Vyuha, they could just come out again. That turns us towards the deadliest feature of this well-oiled system – most of the warriors were not able to realize that they are within the Chakra-Vyuha until it is too late. The layers of Chakra-Vyuha were not solid lines of soldiers. Rather, each layer (width of the lines shown in Picture 1) consisted of battalions, where soldiers usually stood by several feet apart from each other. So, what an enemy warrior saw is, waves of soldiers were coming to fight. The enemy warrior would not understand the underlying formation and misjudged it by thinking just like another traditional battle, so he would charge right away. Now the warrior had been facing hordes of enemies, amidst all such chaos, he noticed one relatively ‘free‘ area. This was actually the ‘mouth‘, but, due to the immense size of Chakra-Vyuha, the warrior did not understand the trap. The warrior, even without noticing, entered Chakra-Vyuha.
As opposed to common initial impression, the lines which are depicted in Picture 1, does not indicate actual formation, it serves the purpose of a high-level layout. In our discussion so far, I already clarified that the labyrinth used to perform an endurance test to enemy intruders. Since the fact is unambiguous that no battle-hardened warrior would afford to go for such a terribly long travel only to lose half his energy before the entire mammoth screwed him down; I am now peeling up the cover from the next layer of challenge, which actually made this formation so unique. Let us consider an actual probable scenario: the chunk of enemy forces had come across the barrier of the ‘mouth‘ and they started to press very hard to break through the layers. Instead of concentrating force in the area of conflict, the Chakra-Vyuha first assessed the strength of the invasion. Then, it would change the design to necessary extent so that enemies were allowed to pass through (like when a fighter steps back to absorb opponent’s attack). Then the enemies were manipulated to go along a ‘free lane‘, which was created according to the commander’s instruction to lure them in (like when a fighter goes defensive, only to prepare to launch a timely counter). It used to take quite long time for the enemy to come across the ‘free lane‘, which ultimately led to a ‘dead-end‘. This amount of time, Chakra-Vyuha had utilized to make sure that the ‘dead-end‘ possessed enough strength to crush the enemy. That means, once the enemy forces broke into the ‘mouth‘, the labyrinth kept changing the design to sufficient extent until the enemies were cornered. This change in design were decided and initiated by the commander, who resided at the center. If you look at Picture 2, the commander is controlling the entire formation here using 4 ‘lever‘-s (to make it easy to understand, each of the lever’s impacted area is marked with different color-ed arrow). By ‘pull‘-ing the ‘lever‘-s to appropriate extent, he could create infinite number of variations, to which almost none had any answer. Solving the monstrous labyrinth itself was an impossible task; now when it started to change the design, obviously, the enemy’s all effort those had been spent so far, would go in vain. Once the enemy went in, there was no turning back from it, either they needed to destroy the formation or they themselves would be destroyed; the Chakra-Vyuha showed no mercy.
Even that is not the end, to turn this defensive formation into a perfect killing machine, strategies were devised so that the entire formation could rotate around its axis i.e. the center. The rotation were not something simple like clockwise or anti-clockwise; rather it depended upon the commander’s order. Once considerable amount of enemy army entered through the ‘mouth‘, the commander signaled to close that opening and instead create a new one where he thought it would suite best. You can check the indicative transition in Picture 3. The primary objective of transferring the position of ‘mouth‘ was to destroy a big chunk of enemy as quickly as possible. Going back to the analogy of fortified city again, suppose a big number of enemy managed to enter through the gate and they are attacking internal “wall”-s. Now the commander chooses to close the gate so that the enemy can be surrounded from all directions. At the same time, to give some rest to the soldiers closer to that gate, he orders to open another gate so that enemy’s penetration efforts shift to there. So, this transfer was very important to distribute the load. But there was a trade-off, while this activity was carried out, due to internal disruption, it momentarily reduced the rigidity of the formation. So, in order to complete the ‘shift‘ or ‘rotation‘ with minimal mobilization of troops in shortest time possible, researches used to be done very carefully (this sounds very similar to modern day computer algorithms). Our said invaders, are now in even more trouble because they completely have lost track about the direction they managed to enter into the enemy rank.
To worsen things further, the Chakra-Vyuha, in spite of being a defensive formation, actually revolved around in battlefield. Just imagine the enormous fortified city, with its complex structures and mazes and all kind of re-arrangements as stated above, starts to move towards your army, while continuing the destruction of whatever military units comes under its path. When such a monstrous spinning wheel started swallowing the enemy army in, it literally cleaned up the battlefield.
The ruthless Chakra-Vyuha was not known for killing with a fatal blow, instead it used to tear the enemy apart, flesh by flesh ; it allowed the enemy to scream in agony ; it calmly observed the enemy giving his everything to break free ; it watched in amusement when the enemy brought out every last bit of valor left, as a desperate attempt ; and at last, when there was nothing remained for him to continue fighting, then with just another gentle stroke, it used to stop the heart beat forever. No wonder, out of 18 Akshauhini Mahabharata warriors, only 7 dared to enter a Chakra-Vyuha, willingly.
All above descriptions are only related to the strategic details of Chakra-Vyuha, assuming our skilled warrior enters and roams into it freely, which definitely is not the case. The skilled archers within the formation made sure not only to provide heavy attacks at the opening, but they provided enough cover to the outermost soldiers also. Even if our warrior managed to get past them, inside the Vyuha, as mentioned already, the more he made progress, more fierce resistance he would be offered. The soldiers at the outermost layers were also not restrained from fighting. The formation was defensive, that did not restrict the soldiers from attacking the enemy as long as the soldiers were not breaking the rank. The objective of the soldiers at outermost layer was to make sure that the enemy was not entering the formation anywhere other than the ‘mouth‘. Once the enemy (our mentioned warrior) entered through the mouth, it became the job for the immediate inner layer (who were facing our warrior right away) to fight him. That means, under no circumstances, the soldiers could leave his position. If our warrior moved away, they would let him go and be taken care by some other soldier who is in nearest position of our warrior. Thus our warrior started to take little bit of damages very slowly, he began to run out of energy, and when last bit of spirit had been perished, then the final blow came down on him.
The sheer size of the Chakra-Vyuha restricted itself from moving fast. It was slow, but steady, focused on its target. The objective of the Chakra-Vyuha was not increasing the kill count, it was more like a dedicated mission of making captive and bringing the target to custody. The Chakra-Vyuha did not roam around the battlefield for the sake of destruction, it focused on accomplishing its goal and was dedicated only on that purpose, no matter whatever barrier comes in its way.
Though some sources suggest that the inner layers of Chakra-Vyuha used to rotate continuously, it seems to be a misconception because it will tire the soldiers quicker. Also, the constant motion would decrease its rigidity, which is a key attribute of a defensive formation. Agility empowers offense, not defense. There are some references also, which states that the Chakra-Vyuha rotated around its axis in clockwise/counter-clockwise direction, but wouldn’t that make it too predictable for the enemy?
Why One had to enter Chakra-Vyuha
Suppose you are the commander of one army; and you noticed that your enemy has formed a Chakra-Vyuha and is planning to capture your king. How will you stop it? The first approach almost anyone can propose is to surround it from all directions. But it requires even larger amount of army (at least four times more) which makes it quite impossible. An alternate idea one may think of, since there were so many legendary warriors mentioned in Mahabharata, one could simply cast one devastating weapon and destroy major chunk of the army in the formation. Exactly that’s why the skilled warriors resided at the center of Chakra-Vyuha. If any projectile attack posed a threat to the Vyuha from any direction, they would have neutralized it. In the Chakra-Vyuha mentioned in Mahabharata, there were Aswatthama and Karna to deal with such threats along with Drona himself. Next idea what may come into mind is something like: why not attack any position of Chakra-Vyuha specifically, if an army continues to hit one specific area consistently, they will sure penerate. But we need to keep in mind that the soldiers those form the Vyuha will repel the attacks. A Chakra-Vyuha did not restrict soldiers from fighting back, it only restricted from charging ahead. So, this type of attacks could still manage to do some damage to Chakra-Vyuha, but it would be far from destroying it. The massive size of Chakra-Vyuha would allow it to complete its mission while holding off several such attacks. To effectively counter a Chakra-Vyuha, the attack had to be quick enough to reach to the center and destroy the driving force before the Chakra-Vyuha can trap the attacker(s). The sheer volume of the formation indicates that there were at least 7-8 Lakhs of well-trained, battle-hardened soldiers forming one such Vyuha. The best way to reduce their combined effectiveness was to destroy their communication. The Chakra-Vyuha had one major weakness, it was highly centralized formation, that means, the Commander(s) used to reside at the center and controlled it. In absence of the commander(s), the said ‘lever‘-s (Picture 2) would become non-functional. Then, due to lack of synchronization, the Vyuha would collapse against external pressure. So, the best way to stop Chakra-Vyuha was to breach all the layers, solve the puzzle of the labyrinth, keep oneself alive against lakhs of soldiers and millions of attack variations, beat the most fierce warriors at the center and then, if still alive, manage to get out without getting killed to tell the tale. Yes, the seemingly insane task used to be the only way against this mighty formation.
Behind the Scenes
To describe about Chakra-Vyuha, Vyasdeva, the narrator of Mahabharata, commented : “Even Gods cannot penetrate it”. What made the Chakra-Vyuha near-invulnerable? The above comment clarifies that the strength of Chakra-Vyuha did not rely on individuals that much. As we have already discussed earlier, this formation emphasized defense and employed a slow-kill approach. Since the commanders’ job was to make sure that the enemies fall into the trap within Chakra-Vyuha, meticulous analysis was carried out prior to deployment of the formation. The Chakra-Vyuha was, in fact, the final outcome of flawless mathematical modelling. First, the commanders decided the suitable regions within the formation to create ‘dead-end‘-s, where the targets would be lured in. To establish a dead end, the analysts needed to seed in the factors like availability of backup or ‘thickness‘ of the ‘wall’-s of the trap. Needless to mention, the primary goal of a ‘dead-end‘ was to maximize the chance of enemy annihilation with a minimum effort spent by own side (probably sounds familiar to scholars of Computer Science). Then, they needed to anticipate the probable routes any intrusion might take. The dimensional magnitude of this formation and the maze-like layout indicates that there would have been near-infinite variations of such routes. The commanders needed to identify the ‘rational’ ones from them (finding out fittest solutions from infinite possibilities – genetic algorithm? may be?). To avoid being flooded away with the numbers, count of ‘entry point‘-s was restricted to one. After computing the severity and likelihood of each sample route, the appropriate ‘dead-end‘-s had been spotted, where the intruding force would be channeled down. Finalizing the ‘channel‘-s was not a simple task either. The ‘channel‘ should have been long enough to wear down the enemy before they enter into the trap, and short enough to deny the enemy any space to escape (optimization – a very common technique in advanced mathematics). If the first ‘dead-end‘ is compromised, contingency plans were made handy to deny the enemies any space. The re-organizations of Chakra-Vyuha were not arbitrary ones, they were based on elaborated measurement of ‘shortest path’ technique. While modifying the design of the labyrinth, the commander needed to maintain the internal disruption as low as possible (very synonymous to complexity reduction procedure in today’s software programs). To determine the perfect moment for a shift of the ‘mouth‘, the commander was expected to keep track the capacity of each and every single ‘dead-end‘. As soon as the invading force reached the ‘threshold‘ of any ‘dead-end‘, the commander, in order to prevent any possible ‘overflow‘, blocked each possible gateway destined for that ‘dead-end‘ and closed the ‘mouth‘. That means, that ‘dead-end‘ was marked as ‘occupied‘. Then, the new position of ‘mouth‘ was selected in such a way that there were maximum possible ‘available‘ ‘dead-end‘-s and minimum possible ‘occupied‘ ‘dead-end‘-s nearby.
Does it feel like some kind of modern day computer simulation? Absolutely!!! the invincibility of Chakra-Vyuha was crafted from mathematical perfection; after all, no amount of brute force is able to tamper mathematical derivations.
How did Chakra-Vyuha destroy enemies?
Let us assume that one small group of warriors had entered the Chakra-Vyuha through the mouth, unwillingly. None of them have any idea of how to breach a Chakra-Vyuha. They continue to fight enemies. Since all of them are very skillful, they managed to kill hundreds of warriors in a very short time. Now, they have noticed that more and more enemy are approaching them. To gain some tactical advantage, they move to another area and continue fighting. Again, after a short and tough battle, they see that even greater number of enemies are surrounding them. They again move to another tactical place. This process continues for 3-4 more times. Now the warriors start feeling that something is wrong, no matter how hard they fight, they cannot finish off the enemy. They have decided to retreat and join their own army. So, they intensify their effort and go on to breach the enemy wall nearby. Being very skillful, they are offered little resistance in doing so. But, they encounter another wall of enemy. They manage to break past that one also. But again, there are still enemy walls all around. They understand that they lost their way. Still, it is against warrior ethics to give up. So, they resume fighting again while moving. Now they are not trying to kill, they are just trying to find a way out. But no matter whatever direction they take, there is no trace of any friendlies anywhere. What they see is just waves of enemy army. They start to lose confidence this time. It’s not that they are afraid of not being able to take on the enemy; actually they have no clue what to do. As of now, the only option they have is to keep themselves alive and somehow manage to escape. Even after several hours of fighting, still there is nothing hopeful to them. Not only they have become tired by constant fighting, they are also demoralized enough. After some more time, they have become almost exhausted, both physically and mentally. They actually give up this time, since they have found no benefit out of trying. Though they have no idea about what is happening, they actually have lost all their will to get going. And the only thing they are waiting for now is the killing strike from the enemy.
What actually happened here?
As soon as our warriors managed to get through the ‘mouth’, the central commander instantly noticed it. As you can see in Picture 2, the commander holds the ‘lever‘-s to control different parts of the Vyuha (just like a spider sits at the center and controls entire web). The commander kept noticing how the warriors did fare against his soldiers. Initially, he saw that the warriors are skilled enough to quickly beat his soldiers. Hence, he pulled one of his ‘lever’-s to send an order to re-organize on a distant part of the Vyuha so that it creates a dead-end. It took some time to complete the task and until then, he ordered soldiers to fight the warriors defensively. Going by the principle of Chakra-Vyuha, the commander knew that eventually the warriors will be worn out. As soon as the re-organization completed, the commander pulled another ‘lever’ and instructed his soldiers to create a ‘free lane’ or ‘narrow gap’ nearby to the warriors; thus creating an illusion of escape route for the warriors. The warriors noticed the gap and fell to the trap, what appeared to them like an escape route was actually drawing them towards to the dead-end that the commander created. The vast size of Chakra-Vyuha was an advantage into these kind of tricks. On their way, a couple of times the warriors actually felt that they were being manipulated and they tried to break free of the predefined ‘gap’. But whenever they were trying to make their own pathway, the commander was ready with all the ‘lever’-s to quickly create another ‘lane’ or ‘gap’ to lure them to the dead-end. When at last, the desperate warriors actually tried to go entirely opposite direction, the commander just created another dead-end for them. Now the commander waited until they enter any of these ‘dead-end’-s. While all these were in progress into one part of Chakra-Vyuha, the commander ordered to close the nearest ‘mouth’ to block any second incoming in the same area, instead he instructed to open another ‘mouth’ in a distant part to shift the enemy concentration there. After making sure, that the enemy is sufficient tired, demoralized and surrounded by all directions. The commander ordered for a finishing touch. Chakra-Vyuha was built to withstand more than one such incoming forces at once, by restricting each of them in different parts of the formation.
Probable Approach to enter a Chakra-Vyuha
Let us now get into the topic about the details of entering into the Chakra-Vyuha. The great sage, Vyasdeva did not write any details about it, probably because he himself did not know the technique. The knowledge of entering/exiting Chakra-Vyuha was part of the highest degree of training. Since it required immense battle-experience, very fast analytical power and extreme skill at the same time, not many warriors could even qualify for that stage.
Every coin has two sides. It’s true that mathematics had made the Chakra-Vyuha near-unstoppable, but it also forced it to follow a ‘pattern‘. The same mathematics provided the counter-measures to anyone who wished to stop it. If you have ever got a chance to peek into advanced mathematics, you will know that a formula can yield more than one potential solution; which implies that design of a Chakra-Vyuha could be selected from a varieties of permutations and combinations. Consider you are tasked with stopping this Juggernaut. You only know the generic features of it – the dynamic maze, the concept of ‘dead-end’-s, the ‘channeling’ mechanism etc. (as I have explained earlier). During your military training schedule, you were also gone through mock drills, simulating a real-life Chakra-Vyuha. But you don’t have any specific details about the design of the one you are facing right now. So, what will you do? The first task to do is to find out a way to enter. Normally, you would go for entering through the ‘mouth‘, after you find it. Because, this is the area where you will face least resistance; and you need to save your energy for later phase, deep within Chakra-Vyuha. As you are extremely skilled, you can penetrate the ‘mouth‘ quite easily. Now, as you managed to breach the first barrier, now the labyrinth tries to surround you and then crush you. You are prepared for it. Now you are going to use your own technique. You point out one particular area, launch some low-powered attack and quickly move away to another place. You decide to move quickly to avoid getting trapped. You are going to repeat the steps a number of times. Now, after some time, probably you can see that at last, you manage to clear out some of your blockage ahead. BUT….. you know that is THE TRAP… the ‘dead-end‘. So, instead of going there, you continue to attack somewhere else. Here is the catch, you just cannot keep attacking here and there; you need to be precise in identifying potential points of conflict so that your little effort can cause maximum/long-lasting impact. Your objective is to disrupt the structure of the labyrinth. As soon as you change your focus of attack, Chakra-Vyuha initiates its re-organization to minimum possible extent to trap you. The procedure of re-organization incurs a cost; the rigidity of the structure reduces temporarily to an extent, depending on the troop mobility that takes place. Given the massive size of Chakra-Vyuha, it takes some amount of time for the activity being carried out : this is your opportunity, your task is to change your angle of attack within this window. After successful execution of the tactics, you can force the commander to abandon the earlier re-construction and come up with new plan. Since the entire formation is not transparent to you, the effectiveness of your strategy depends on how accurately you can identify the ‘pattern‘ of the formation. Since the Chakra-Vyuha cannot change its pattern once it is deployed, you can continue this ‘hit-n-run‘, and force a constant ‘re-designing‘ within the formation. This procedure ensures that the commander does not get enough scope to retain the initial rigidity. That is the basic strategy any warrior used to follow while trying to break ‘Chakra-Vyuha’. They knew that they could not overpower it; so, they focused on outsmarting it instead. On one hand, the Chakra-Vyuha tried to anticipate the warrior’s next move and initiated re-design accordingly, to maximize the chance of trapping the warrior. On the other hand, the warrior tried to foresee the Chakra-Vyuha’s next step and modified his plan of attack accordingly, to minimize the chance of getting trapped (for scholars of Computer Science – remember Game Theory?). The outcome depended on which side was able to devise smarter strategy. You can easily concur that both parties needed to go through so a series of ’round’-s (like Turn Based Strategy). If the warrior could stay one step ahead after one ’round’, then the battle would continue to the next ’round’ as long as the center of Chakra-Vyuha remained intact; but if the Chakra-Vyuha could outwit the warrior in a ’round’, that meant the end for the warrior. Clearly the stakes greatly favored the Chakra-Vyuha, as it used to launch a threefold attack to our hero warrior – physical, psychological and strategic.
Insight to the Mahabharata Event
According to Mahabharata, on Pandava’s side, only Krishna and Arjun knew the means to counter the legendary Chakra-Vyuha. Arjun was the most feared archer (apart from Krishna, who is supreme), and probably he had too many trump cards under his sleeve to stop Dronacharya from deploying Chakra-Vyuha as long as he was present in battlefield. Now, Krishna was the charioteer for Arjun. You can easily imagine what would happen if both of them had to enter Chakra-Vyuha. Krishna could take care of the strategy; that left Arjun enough freedom to concentrate on devastation only. The Chakra-Vyuha stood no chance against the duo. Hence, Dronacharya deployed it once both of them were away. Then, out of nowhere, Abhimanyu was proved to possess the secret knowledge also. From the narratives of Vyasdeva, it seems like Abhimanyu employed some entirely innovative approach to breach into Chakra-Vyuha, which even Dronacharya was not prepared for. Let us check how the events took place:
Phase 1- Dronacharya’s formation was destined to capture Yudhistira alive. Arjun was occupied elsewhere. Jayadratha was guarding the ‘mouth‘ and was in charge for repelling rest three Pandava-s. Abhimanyu was out-of-equation.
Phase 2- Abhimanyu did not enter through the ‘mouth’. Had he tried to do it, he would have ended up encountering Jayadratha first, which did not happen. The mentioning of Jayadratha happened much later. Actually, there was no mention of any specific warrior while Abhimanyu launched his initial attacks on the Chakra-Vyuha. So, we can assume that, he selectively chosen some other area of the outer wall and went on to create a hole there. As Sage Vyasdeva described, once Abhimanyu hit the initial strikes, at that region, there were echoes like ‘Hold your position’, ‘Need backup’, ‘Cover me’; implying that no one within the formation was prepared for it.
Phase 3- The first major opponent Abhimanyu ended up against was none other than Duryadhana himself. That indicates Abhimanyu purposefully chosen an area to enter, from where Duryadhana’s position was nearest. It may be possible that Abhimanyu did not target specifically Duryodhana, he attacked that particular region because he has identified that area as the weakest point of Chakravyuha, from a strategic angle.
Phase 4- From the narrative, we see that once Abhimanyu engaged Duryadhana in a duel, Dronacharya (the commander) ordered other most powerful warriors (Karna, Duhshasana, Kripacharya, Shalya etc.) to go to Duryadhana’s aid. That actually tells us that Abhimanyu had accurately identified the most vulnerable area of Chakravyuha. Dronacharya understood that Duryadhana’s fall would de-stabilize the Chakra-Vyuha. So, he ordered a major change of design so that the power balance within the Chakra-Vyuha shifts to the area where Abhimanyu was wrecking havoc.
Phase 5- Right now, Dronacharya could anticipate Abhimanyu’s next move. He correctly guessed that rest of Pandavas will try to enter through the ‘hole’ that Abhimanyu created. So, he ordered to shift the ‘mouth’ of Chakra-Vyuha to that point. Why? Because, in that case, Jayadratha will be present nearby to repel any backup.
Phase 6- Then, we see that Pandavas were repelled successfully. But that did not worry Abhimanyu that much. Whenever the warriors tried to surround him, he always went on to ‘push’ any one of them away and move from there. At first he attacked Shalya and made him retreat, next time he charged towards Karna and managed to went away again, then it was the turn for Dudhshasana, then Shalya again. It clearly proves that Abhimanyu indeed came with a well-thought strategy which actually worked. In this phase, we see that Abhimanyu was not going for a killing blow, instead, he focused on defense. His objective was to go deep within Chakra-Vyuha quickly. Hence he was not interested in being engaged in a battle. Since the most powerful Kaurava warriors were hunting down Abhimanyu within Chakra-Vyuha, we can deduce that Abhimanyu was quite successful in reducing the rigidity of the Chakra-Vyuha.
Phase 7- Now we see Abhimanyu attacking some relatively insignificant warriors (Basatiya, Lakshman, Ruknarath, Satyashraba etc.). This time, he appeared to be more aggressive. He actually went on killing the warriors. The notable part is that, while he was attacking these ‘weaker’ warriors, he still managed to evade the powerful ones (Karna, Shalya etc.). His strategy is quite clear now, at first he drew the most powerful warriors within a smaller area and then he went ahead to attack the ‘unguarded’ parts of Chakra-Vyuha. The ‘insignificant’ warriors were not able to resist him in absence of the Kaurava powerhouses.
Phase 8- Going by the above strategy, at last, Abhimanyu managed to reach to the heart of Chakra-Vyuha. We can say that because he was then facing Dronacharya himself, the commander. Until now, we did not see any full-powered attack from Abhimanyu. He only applied the necessary force just to make his way. But right now, his objective was to destroy the core. Then the memorable battle began. Abhimanyu, being true to his paternal and maternal heritage, kept defeating all the Kaurava warriors single-handed. This time, his strikes were so ferocious that Karna (who was considered as per the same level as Arjun) was knocked unconscious at one point; Duhshasana’s son dropped dead by one melee attack; the mighty Ashathwama had no answer; Dronacharya himself was impressed by his bravery and skill. The change in mode of attack is pretty prominent.
Phase 9- Dronacharya sensed that the destruction of Chakra-Vyuha was inevitable. So he ordered a simultaneous strike on Abhimanyu (which was considered ‘unethical’ at that era). As a result, the entire formation collapsed down on Abhimanyu. So, at the end, Abhimanyu actually managed to destroy the Chakra-Vyuha, though he was not alive to celebrate.
So, what was Abhimanyu’s plan, as per the description above? – First, enter through an unconventional region and attack a ‘soft’ target. It will make Dronacharya move his defensive strongholds to reinforce the vulnerable area. This will make other parts of Chakra-Vyuha more penetrable. So, then just abandon the earlier target and move ahead to find a potential ‘opening’. Do not engage directly with any strong warrior, instead make them chase you. All these chasing and frequent attacks will create enough chaos and rest of the Pandavas will have an opportunity to break into. Once reaching the heart, destroy it.
Abhimanyu’s plan executed very well except one fact. Abhimanyu was not aware of Jayadratha’s ability. Though Abhimanyu managed to make his way. Rest of the Pandavas could not beat Jayadratha. However, after Abhimanyu’s death, we do not see any presence of Chakra-Vyuha on that day; clearly implying that Abhimanyu managed to counter it successfully.
The Escape Route
After going through the entire article till now, probably you can imagine why the Chakra-Vyuha used to inflict a spine-chilling sensation even to the legendary warriors. And probably you can also apprehend now, that, it was almost a suicidal mission to enter a Chakra-Vyuha and make it collapse. Well, the most insane part is still not being mentioned – The Technique to “Exit the Chakra-Vyuha”. That is, after you manage to destroy the center, making your way out. Yes, the difficulty of entering into the formation will seem like nothing, when compared against that of the return trip. When a warrior started to enter Chakra-Vyuha, he had been at the peak of his stamina, unharmed. But if the warrior was lucky enough to survive to think of making his way out, by then, he would be wounded, bruised, covered with blood, almost out of energy. When the warrior was on his way towards the center, the Chakra-Vyuha usually fought defensively, to retain its layout intact. But, once the core is destroyed, the ocean of lakhs of soldiers would jump upon the warrior. During the phase of “Entering”, the Chakra-Vyuha applied a ‘slow-kill’ approach; but during the phase of “Exiting”, it would switch to ‘instant-kill’ mode. Since Vyasdeva did not mention any account where any warrior managed to escape a Chakra-Vyuha, it is still not possible to predict what could have been any effective strategy to achieve it.
The Mahabharata – Vyasdeva, Translated by Kaliprasanna Singha