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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 lead 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, without 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.