|This article does not cite any references or sources. (January 2013)|
The Chakravyūha or Padmavyūha, is a multi-tier defensive formation that looks like a blooming lotus (padma, पद्म) or 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.
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 the attacks from key warriors of the opposition.
Abhimanyu and the Chakravyūha
The Chakravyūha or Padmavyūha was a special formation (Vyūha), and knowledge of how to penetrate it was limited to only a handful of warriors on the Pandavas' side, namely Abhimanyu, Arjuna, Krishna and Pradyumna. However, to the Pandavas' disappointment, Pradyumna, son of Krishna, chose not to participate in the Kurukshetra war. Abhimanyu, son of Arjuna, knew how to penetrate the Vyūha but not how to exit it, and this led to his tragic death. It is explained that Abhimanyu learned the required technique when he was still inside his mother Subhadra's womb when Arjuna discussed the formation and its conquest with his wife Subhadra. Subhadra fell asleep as Arjuna was explaining, and with his lesson still incomplete, Arjuna was called away by Krishna for the Khandava Forest extermination. Arjuna never got to tell Subhadra how to escape from the Padmavyūha once inside it.
The young Abhimanyu, due to lack of this knowledge, was killed in battle during the thirteenth day of the Kuruskshetra war as he was persevering without success to take himself out of the Chakravyūha. The Mahabharata also describes how the rules of war were broken by Kauravas to kill Abhimanyu. After Abhimanyu had penetrated the sixth tier of the spiral formation, all the great Kaurava heroes, older and more experienced than him, engaged him simultaneously. This was an act against the rules of Dharmayuddha, which prohibits multiple fighters from taking on a lone warrior at once.
The thirteenth day of Mahabharata War
The thirteenth day of Mahabharata War is remembered for the construction of Chakravyūha by Dronacharya. It was a very special day both for Kauravas and Pandavas. On this day, Jayadratha from the Kauravas side and Abhimanyu from the Pandavas side played a pivotal role. Jayadratha was very effective in stopping four of the five pandavas from entering Chakravyūha (by making use of a boon granted to him by Lord Shiva); Abhimanyu was very effective in holding all the Kaurava Mahārathis (Great Charioteers, colloquially 'Great Warriors') at bay and thereby preventing the advancement of Kaurava forces towards the Pandavas.
The rotating-circles-within-circles is a poetic concept – highly imaginative but unrealistic.
This has been promoted over the years without any study of military history, any commentary by military officers or even without actually trying to make such a formation and seeing the effects.
It is impossible to execute such a formation during an actual fight even with 10 people on foot, let alone divisions including infantry, cavalry, chariots and elephants.
Anyone who is seriously interested in verifying the rotating-circles-within-circles myth can try making such two circles of say 10 men in each circle and try rotating them within each other while being attacked by another 10 people from outside. Toy bows and arrows and toy swords can be employed so that no one gets seriously injured.
Within 10-15 minutes the myth of rotating-circles-within-circles will disappear.
This is the very reason that such a supposedly "great military formation" (rotating-circles-within-circles) was never ever used in any recorded battles.
The game of kabaddi has its basis in chakravyuha explains it all.
It is the encirclement formation, a classic military maneuver, wherein a numerically superior force lures in an encircles a smaller force.
With the 2-3-2 arrangement, the kabaddi formation also looks like the outline of a blooming flower when seen from side – hence the name padmavyuha.
This formation, keeping the front fixed while enveloping the enemy on both sides, has been widely used over last many centuries by armies all over the world. The pincer formations being another version of the same approach.
Those who are interested should read military history starting from Battle of Cannae which took place between Romans and Hannibal in 216 BC (when the weapons were similar to those in Mahabharata) right up to the siege at Stalingrad in November 1942 with modern weapons.
Once the encirclement was complete, the Russian army formed two rings around Stalingrad - as depicted in Mahabharata. The inward facing ring attacking the city whereas the outward facing ring blocking relief efforts. They are not rotating-circles-within-circles.
This is the true chakravyuha.