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:
- Satyaki of the Vrishni clan - 1 Akshauhini
- Yuyudhana - 1 Akshauhini
- Dhrishtaketu, king of Chedis - 1 Akshauhini
- Jayatsena, 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!
- Drupada with his sons - 1 Akshauhini
- Virata the king of Matsya - 1 Akshauhini
- Assorted allies - 1 Akshauhini (Pandya etc.)
Kaurava Army and Duryodhana's side:
- Bhagdatta the veteran - 1 Akshauhini
- Salya, king of Madra - 1 Akshauhini
- Bhoorisravas - 1 Akshauhini
- Kritavarma (Krishna's army) - 1 Akshauhini
- Jayadratha (Saindhava) - 1 Akshauhini
- Sudakshina, king of Kambhoja - 1 Akshauhini (has Yavanas & Sakas in his troops)
- Vinda and Anuvinda (from Avanti) - 1 Akshauhini
- Nila, of Mahishmati - 1 Akshauhini (from south)
- Five Kekaya brothers - 1 Akshauhini
- Kuru's own army and others - 2 Akshauhinis all put together (some say 3 divisions)
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:
|Total of: |
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 ...