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Vyūha (Sanskrit: व्यूह) means - 'to arrange troops in a battle array (formation)', 'to arrange, put or place in order, to dispose, separate, divide, alter, transpose, disarrange, resolve (vowels syllables etc.)'. Its root is व्यः which means - a 'cover' or 'veil'. This word also refers to emanation and to the manifest power of Lord Vishnu.[1] It has different meanings depending on the doctrine of the treatise and the context, such as revealing of the knowledge of Vedas, manifestation of Vishnu or Buddha, and the war formations of Mahabharata.

Vyūha in Hinduism[edit]

Vyūha in the Upanishads[edit]

In the Upanishads the word vyūha occurs once, in śloka 16 of the Isha Upanishad:

पूषन्नेकर्षे यम सूर्य प्राजापत्य व्यूह रश्मिन्समूह |
तेजो यत्ते रूपं कल्याणतमं तत्ते पश्यामि योऽसावसौ पुरुषः सोऽहमस्मि ||

Pūṣann ekarṣe yama Sūrya Prājāpatya vyūha raśmin samūha, tejo yat te rūpaṁ kalyāṇatamaṁ tat te paśyāmi yo 'sāv asau puruṣaḥ so 'ham asmi.

"O Sun, sole traveler of the Heavens, controller of all, Sūrya, son of Prajāpati; remove thy rays and gather up the burning light. I behold thy glorious form; I am he, the Purusha within thee."

In this passage vyūha means "remove" (to a distance).

The sage declares that the Truth is concealed in the Vedas, covered by a golden lid or vessel[2] Bādarāyaṇa, by declaring – utpatty-asambhavāt (उत्पत्त्यसम्भवात्) (Owing to the impossibility of origin) - Brahma-Sūtras (II.ii.42) refutes the Bhāgavata view that the Catur-vyūha forms originate successively from Vasudeva, for any origin for the soul is impossible, an implement cannot originate from its agent who wields it.[3] Whereas in a vyūha an army re-sets its different able warriors and weaponry into a specific arrangement as per battle demands, the Supreme Being re-sets the contents of consciousness through yogamaya with each formation concealing yet another formation. The five layers of matter (prakrti) that constitute the human body are the five sheaths (pañcakośa), one moves inwards from the visible layers through more refined invisible layers in search of own true self.[4]

Vyūha in the Pāñcarātra Āgama: the Vaiṣṇava doctrine of manifestation[edit]

The "Four emanations"
Front: Vāsudeva and his kinsmen emanating from him.
Back: Kadamba tree and branches showing their relationship.
The Caturvyūha, showing the four emanation of Nārāyaṇa,[5] or later Vishnu.[6] Vāsudeva is four-armed, and is fittingly in the center with his decorated heavy mace on the side and holding a conch, his elder brother Balarama to his right under a serpent hood, his son Pradyumna to his left (lost), and his grandson Aniruddha on top.[6] The back of the statue shows the trunk of a tree with branches, thus highlighting the genealogical relationship between the divinities.[7] 2nd century CE, Art of Mathura, Mathura Museum.

The Pāñcarātra Āgama, which are based on Ekāyana recension of the Śukla Yajurveda, is later than the Vedas but earlier than the Mahabharata. The main āgamas are the Vaiṣṇava (worship of Vishnu), the Śaiva (worship of Shiva) and the Śākta (worship of Devi or Shakti) āgamas; all āgamas are elaborate systems of Vedic knowledge. According to Vedanta Desika, the Pāñcarātra āgama teaches the five-fold daily religious duty consisting of – abhigamana, upādāna, ijyā, svādhyāya and yoga, the name of this āgama is derived on account of its description of the five-fold manifestation of the Supreme Being viz, para (supreme or the transcendental form), vyūha (formation or manifestation as the four vyūha), vibhava (reincarnation or descent to earth as avtāra), arcā (visible image of God) and antaryāmi (cosmic form of God). Lakshmi accompanies Vishnu in His Chatur-vyūha (four-fold manifestation) as Vāsudeva (creator), Saṅkarṣaṇa (sustainer), Pradyumna (destroyer), and Aniruddha (spiritual knowledge promulgator). This is the Vaiṣṇava doctrine of Vyūha or the doctrine of formation.[8]

The Chatur-vyūha forms of Viṣṇu are related to four of the six causes of creation which six are God Himself as the final cause of creation and His five aspects – Narāyaṇa (thinking), Vāsudeva (feeling), Sankarśana (willing), Pradyumna (knowing), and Aniruddha (acting) successively. Each divinity controls its specific creative energy.[9] The six gunas – jnana (omniscience), aishvarya (lordship), shakti (potency), bala (force), virya (virtue) and tejas (self-sufficiency), acting in pairs and in totality, are the instruments and the subtle material of pure creation. Vyūhas are the first beings created, and they represent the effective parts of a coherent whole.[10] Here, vyūha means – projection; the projection of the svarūpa ('own form') as bahurūpa ('manifest variously').[11]

Vyūha in the Mahabharata: battle formations[edit]

The Mahabharata and the Manu Samhita list by name and formation many vyūhas ('battle formations'), some were small in size and others, gigantic, such as:[12]

  1. Ardha-chandra-vyūha ('crescent moon formation'),
  2. Chakra-vyūha ('circular formation') a large formation was devised by the Kauravas in which Abhimanyu, son of Arjuna, was trapped never to emerge alive.
  3. Garbha-vyūha ('womb-shaped formation'),
  4. Makara-vyuha ('crocodile formation'), adopted by Bhishma in the Kurukshetra War[13]
  5. Mandala vyuha ('galaxy formation'),
  6. Oormi vyuha ('ocean formation'),
  7. Shakata-vyūha ('cart-shaped formation'),
  8. Sarvatobhadra-vyūha ('grand formation'),
  9. Suchi-vyūha ('needle-shaped formation'),
  10. Shyena-vyuha (also called Garuda Vyuh) ('eagle formation'). At the commencement of the Kurukshetra War which lasted for eighteen days, the Pandavas, being aware that Bhishma stood protected by the "makara vyuha" and was ready for battle, they had adopted the invincible "sheyna vyuha" with Bhima leading stationed at the mouth and Arjuna stationed at the neck of the bird-shaped vyuha, and Yudhishthira patrolling the rear.[13]
  11. Vajra-vyūha was large a three-fold formation of warriors.

Vyūha in Buddhism[edit]

In Mahāyāna Buddhism, the word vyūha means "arrangement", the like of marvelous, supernatural, magical arrangements, or supernatural manifestations.[14] It is also extant in the Pali language, where it means "an array" or "grouping of troops."[15]

The term is also found among the titles of some Buddhist texts. In Pure Land Buddhism, the character of Amitābha Buddha is elaborated upon in both the Longer Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra and the Shorter Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra. The term "Sukhāvatīvyūha" may translated as "description of Sukhāvatī".[16] The Kāraṇḍavyūha Sūtra has been translated as "The Basket’s Display".[17]

See also[edit]

Vyūhas Image Attributes Symbol[21][22] Direction Face Concept
Vāsudeva Chakra Wheel
Gadā Mace
Shankha Conch
Garuda Eagle East Saumya
(Placid/ benevolent)
Jṅāna Knowledge
Samkarsana Lāṅgala Plough
Musala Pestle
Wine glass
Tala Fan palm South Simha Lion Bala Strength
Pradyumna Cāpa Bow
Bāṇa Arrow
Makara Crocodile West Raudra Kapila Aiśvaryā Sovereignty
Aniruddha Carma Shield
Khaḍga Sword
Ṛṣya (ऋष्य) White-footed antelope North Varaha Boar Śakti Power


  1. ^ V.S.Apte. the Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary. Digital Dictionaries of South Asia. pp. 157, 1522.
  2. ^ Upanishads and Sri Sankara's Bhasya. V.C. Seshacharri. 1905. p. 24.
  3. ^ Brahma Sūtra Bhaṣya of Śankarācārya. Advaita Ashrama. p. 439.
  4. ^ D.Dennis Hudson (25 September 2008). The Body of God. Oxford University Press. pp. 40, 42. ISBN 9780199709021.
  5. ^ Srinivasan, Doris (1997). Many Heads, Arms, and Eyes: Origin, Meaning, and Form of Multiplicity in Indian Art. BRILL. pp. 209–210. ISBN 978-90-04-10758-8.
  6. ^ a b Paul, Pran Gopal; Paul, Debjani (1989). "Brahmanical Imagery in the Kuṣāṇa Art of Mathurā: Tradition and Innovations". East and West. 39 (1/4): 132–136, for the photograph p.138. ISSN 0012-8376. JSTOR 29756891.
  7. ^ Paul, Pran Gopal; Paul, Debjani (1989). "Brahmanical Imagery in the Kuṣāṇa Art of Mathurā: Tradition and Innovations". East and West. 39 (1/4): 136 [26]. ISSN 0012-8376. JSTOR 29756891.
  8. ^ S.M.Srinivasa Chari (1994). Vaisnavism: Its Philosophy, Theology and Religious Discipline. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 15, 163, 213. ISBN 9788120810983.
  9. ^ Ashish Dalela (December 2008). Vedic Creationism. iUniverse. p. 327. ISBN 9780595525737.
  10. ^ A History of Indian Literature Vol.2 Part 1. Otto Harrassaowitz. 1977. p. 60. ISBN 9783447017435.
  11. ^ Julius Lipner (2 October 2012). Hindus: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. Routledge. pp. 349–350. ISBN 9781135240608.
  12. ^ Science, Technology, Imperialism and War. Pearson publication. 2007. pp. 295–296. ISBN 9788131708514.
  13. ^ a b Mahabharata Vol.5. Penguin U.K. June 2015. p. 288. ISBN 9788184756814.
  14. ^ Julian F.Pas (January 1995). Visions of Sukhavati. SUNY Press. p. 369. ISBN 9780791425190.
  15. ^ Buddhadatta Mahathera, A.P. (1949). Concise Pali English Dictionary. Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 8120806042.
  16. ^ Bowker, John (2000). The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780192800947.
  17. ^ Roberts, Peter Alan; Tulku Yeshi (2013). "The Basket's Display". 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha. Retrieved 2019-12-25.
  18. ^ Atherton, Cynthia Packert (1997). The Sculpture of Early Medieval Rajasthan. BRILL. p. 78. ISBN 978-90-04-10789-2.
  19. ^ A Comprehensive History of India: pt. 1-2. A.D. 300-985. Orient Longmans. 1982. p. 866.
  20. ^ Parlier-Renault, Edith (2007). Temples de l'Inde méridionale: VIe-VIIIe siècles. La mise en scène des mythes. Presses Paris Sorbonne. pp. 38–42. ISBN 978-2-84050-464-1.
  21. ^ "A shrine of Aniruddha, the fourth of the 'vyuhas', which had within its precincts a 'rsyadhvaja', i. e. a column bearing on its top the figure of a 'rsya' or a white antelope which was his characteristic 'lanchana'." in Journal of the Indian Society of Oriental Art. Indian Society of Oriental Art. 1937. p. 16.
  22. ^ Gupta, Vinay K. "Vrishnis in Ancient Literature and Art". Indology's Pulse Arts in Context, Doris Meth Srinivasan Festschrift Volume, Eds. Corinna Wessels Mevissen and Gerd Mevissen with Assistance of Vinay Kumar Gupta: 80–81.