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03 An Akshauhini of a Fighting Force

What is an Akshauhini?

The word 'Akshauhini' - as a unit of size of an army - is used generously in Mahabharata. The Great War was fought between Pandavas and Kauravas -- with Pandavas commanding 7 Akshauhinis, and Kauravas managing to garner 11 Akshauhinis in their command -- a total of 18 Akshauhinis.

Pandava Army and their Allies:

  1. Satyaki or Yuyudhana of the Vrishni clan - 1 Akshauhini
  2. Dhrishtaketu, king of Chedis and son of Shishupala - 1 Akshauhini
  3. Jayatsena, also called Sahadev, son of Jarasandha - 1 Akshauhini (from Magadha) -- Same Jarasandha, who was slain by Arjuna and Bhima earlier, but the boy sided with his father's killers!
  4. Drupada with his sons - 1 Akshauhini
  5. Virata the king of Matsya - 1 Akshauhini
  6. Five Kekaya brothers on Pandava side - 1 Akshauhini
  7. Assorted allies - 1 Akshauhini (Pandya etc.)

Total 7 Akshauhinis. This army of Allies was more or less for all of 18 days of war commanded by Dhrishtadyunma, son of Drupada the king of Panchal, and brother of Draupadi. He was aided by Bhima and Satyaki (commander of Krishna's army of Vrishnis).

Kaurava Army and Duryodhana's side:

  1. Bhagdatta the veteran ruler of Pragjyotishpur and elder son of Narakasur  - 1 Akshauhini
  2. Shalya, king of Madra - 1 Akshauhini
  3. Bhoorisravas, king of Balhika - 1 Akshauhini
  4. Kritavarma (Krishna's army, Narayani sena) - 1 Akshauhini
  5. Jayadratha (Saindhava, king of Sindu) - 1 Akshauhini
  6. Sudakshina, king of Kambhoja - 1 Akshauhini (has Yavanas & Sakas in his troops)
  7. Vinda and Anuvinda (from Avanti) - 1 Akshauhini
  8. Nila, of Mahishmati - 1 Akshauhini (from south)
  9. Five Kekaya brothers on Kaurava side (cousins of other Kekaya brothers)  - 1 Akshauhini
  10. Kuru's own army - 1 Akshauhini 
  11. Others - 1 Akshauhini all put together (some say 2 divisions)
A grand total of 11 Akshuhinis. It is well-known that this army was commanded by Devavrata Bhishma the great Kuru veteran for the first 10 days, then Drona the brahmin teacher of Kauravas and Pandavas too for 5 days, then for 2 days by Radheya Karna, king of Anga and then by Shalya the valiant king of Madra (and brother of Madri, second wife of Pandu and mother of the twins Nakula and Sehdeva) for only half a day. The rest half of the 18th day basically had hardly any fight left, and saw Duryodhana's one-on-one combat with Bhima in which Bhima famously broke the Kuru king's thigh.

So the above days total to 10 + 5 + 2 + 1/2 + 1/2 = 18 days.

18 days, 18 Akshauhinis --- just one of the many coincidences so beautifully weaved in that great narrative.

Which brings us back to the title of this post - what does one mean exactly by an Akshauhini?

The sage Sauthi who narrates Mahabharata to a gathering of rishis makes our life simple by very clearly giving a complete breakup of how this Akshauhini is composed in the very first Book: Adi Parva, Section II: Paushya Parva.It starts with the smallest unit of the army called a Patti:

1 Patti = 1 chariot, 1 elephant, 5 foot-soldiers, 3 horses

Here goes the complete calculation for an Akshauhini as per that:

Sr. Unit Composition: Foot
Horses Chariots Elephants
1 Patti -- -- 5 3 1 1
2 Sena-mukha 3 Patti 15 9 3 3
3 Gulma 3 Sena-mukha 45 27 9 9
4 Gana 3 Gulma 135 81 27 27
5 Vahini 3 Gana 405 243 81 81
6 Pritana 3 Vahini 1,215 729 243 243
7 Chamu 3 Pritana 3,645 2,187 729 729
8 Anikini 3 Chamu 10,935 6,561 2,187 2,187
9 Akshauhini 10 Anikini 109,350 65,610 21,870 21,870
Total of:
18 Akshauhinis
1,968,300 1,180,980 393,660 393,660

So there you are: One Akshauhini equals 109,350 foot soldiers, 65,610 horses, 21,870 chariots and the same number of elephants.

So when you multiply this with 18 (last line above), and you get the following: About 20 Lakh soldiers, 15 Lakh animals and 4 Lakh vehicles! ... This was what was seen on the first day of the war in the place called Samanta-panchaka - also known as Kurukshetra. (Makes you sympathize with Arjuna when he went weak in the knees seeing the vast expanse of the armies huh?)

And what was the outcome of the war? They were all slain! Only 10 people survived - 7 from Pandava side (the five Pandava brothers, Krishna and Satyaki) and 3 from Kaurava side (Ashwatthama, Kripa and Kritavarma) -- that was all the residue that was left of all these Akshauhinis we just calculated.

Note that Bhishma had promised Duryodhana that he will personally kill 10,000 soldiers every day, but will not hurt the heros (Pandavas). So in his 10 days on the field, this man alone killed 100,000 soldiers. Some score huh?

More later, on Bhishma and what was so special about his vow ...

- Shreekant


utsav said…
You know, i was reading somewhere, that the one of the many reasons why the Kauravas lost the war was because of their lack of work-load distribution. All the Kauravas in a given day were controlled by one general. However, the Pandavas had more distribution. Each Akshauhini was controlled by one man. Hence, the leadership was much more easy and co-ordinated in the case of Pandavas.
Just imagine, how would you stand controlling 11 Akshauhinis all by yourself even when you are yourself fighting. Although, the Pandavas did have overall masters. Dhrishtyadyumna as you said was the Overall General and Arjuna was the Supreme Commander of the Pandava Army.
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Hectacon said…
i have read that Karna killed about 4 akshauhinis senas of Pandavas army .And the rest were killed by the other Maharathis. Is it true?

There is a lot that is said about Karna theses days in efforts to deify him. I do not know if any of it is true. However, considering that 4 Akshauhinis would mean about 450,000 people, along with 250,000 horses, 80,000 chariots and 80,000 elephants, this seems like a tall order for a single man.

Especially when you consider that Karna did not fight the war for the first 10 days when Bhishma commanded the Kaurava army.

Even after Bhishma's fall, Karna was just one of the many warriors or a general at max for the next 5 days, when the war started getting bloody under Drona's command. Karna actually handled the entire army as a commander-in-chief only for 2 short days. So he fought the war for a total of 7 days.

Bhishma apparently killed 10,000 men each day he fought on his own. This brings his tally to 100,000 for the 10 days he fought - which is just about one Akshauhini. It is highly unlikely that Karna would do four times that much damage in just 2 days - or even 7 days.

In the 2 days that he was commander in chief for Duryodhana, Karna was basically trying to avoid direct confrontation with Arjuna. His charioteer, Salya, kept calling him a coward for this reason.

In an attempt to glorify Karna, it is also said that he met the other four Pandava brothers during this time and apparently won over them, but spared them because of the promise he had given to Kunti.

All in all, it seems unlikely that Karna killed more than half of Pandava army on his own. He may have been a great warrior, but this would be undermining other great heros and warriors on Kaurava side - like Drona, Bhishma, Aswattaman and all their allies.

Kent said…
Hey, good post.
One question: so 1 patti has 5 foot solders, 3 horses, 1 chariot and one hathi.
Does the chariot, hathi and horses drive themselves? Nobody sitting on them?
sumtin wong.
Would really appreciate if this was not misidentified as "mythology". It is not mythology, it is ancient history.
tips and tricks said…
Bhishma killed nearly 1.27 Akshouhinis = 100,00,00,000
Drona killed nearly 1.00 Akshouhinis = 78,76,26,180
Karna killed nearly 2.37 Akshouhinis = 186,28,78,540
Salya killed nearly 0.29 Akshouhinis = 22,60,46,000
Ashwatthama killed nearly 0.09 Akshouhinis = 7,20,24,400
Rest of the warriors 1.98 Akshouhinis = 156,48,08,140
can you clarify is it true i am getting doubts about 1 akshauni means. i paste the link i found.i will happy if any one clarify it is nearly crossing crores
Good question Kent, frankly I don't know ...

I have a related question too. There is a chariot there. So it must require at least 2 horses. Are they included in the '3 horses' of the description?

So there are two possibilities - either the numbers given above include everything. So the foot soldiers themselves man the beasts and the chariots - but this does not sound right.

The other one is that there are additional people - 3 on the three horses, 2 on the chariot (one to drive, one to fight) and 2 on the elephant (again one mahout and one warrior) - so there are 7 additional resources as warriors.

This sounds more like it. But this would include 7 warriors per Patti, and there are 21,870 Pattis in the total of one Akshauhini, or 393660 in total for the war (18 Akshauhinis).

This adds 153090 people per Akshauhini - more than double of the current value. And at the meta level, this adds 2755620 warriors in the melee -- 27 Lakh additional people !!!

So the total becomes 4723,920 people, 1180,980 horses, 393,660 chariots and an equal number of elephants - wow! 47 lakh people!