An Akshauhini

The easiest, shortest definition would be – a battle unit in the Mahabharat. You will find some description in Wikipedia and another related article here.

An Akshauhini was a specific ratio of foot soldiers, chariots, horses and an elephant. A single Akshauhini comprised of two hundred and eighteen thousand and seven hundred (218,700) “units”. Now, “units” is slightly misleading because it doesn’t necessarily mean those many persons. In my opinion there were more.

Let’s back up a little bit and know more about the composition of an Akshauhini. The Akshauhini itself has eight sub-divisions – Anikini, Chamu, Pritana, Vahini, Gana, Gulma, Sena-mukha, and the lowest sub-division, the Patti. The Patti comprised of a chariot, an elephant, five foot-soldiers and three horses. Each subdivision was a multiple of the previous one. Here is the whole composition (not the best visual representation – but it helps give an idea):

Akshauhini Composition

Akshauhini Composition

The x3 and the x10, of course, represent the multiple of the unit below it, i.e. a Gana was three times the Gulma. Each unit is three times its previous unit – except for the Akshauhini itself – which was ten times the Anikini. Now that’s a something to think about. Was there a good reason why the last unit was a multiple of ten, rather than three?

Now, lets go back to thought of how many ‘persons’ were actually there in an Akshauhini. In a Patti, the base unit, there were five foot-soldiers, and we can assume that one horseman over the three horses; makes it eight ‘persons’. Do we count the chariot-driver and the elephant-driver (mahout)? Obviously these people didn’t fight – they steered the vehicle or the animal. And of course we don’t know if the chariots were drawn a single horse or a couple of them. When you do these combinations, of course, the entire number game changes and we have much more people (and animals) fighting in the Mahabharat War.

Of course the most important fact is that there were eighteen Akshauhini’s (both sides – I do not know the break up – but we all know that the Kaurav army was larger than the Pandav army) that fought the famous Mahabharat war. That means, there were three million, nine hundred and thirty-six thousand and six-hundred (18 x 218,700 = 3,936,600) people who fought the war. And of course you know how the war ended – in eighteen days and a night – these three million, nine hundred and thirty-six thousand and six-hundred were slain. All of them.

Mahabharat is known as an epic poem – and of course there are enough arguments of whether it is fact or fiction. I am not making that argument – that is not the point of the post. What intrigues me most – is that if this be a work of literature or a moral book – imagine the level of detail in the poem.

References: Wikipedia and The Internet Sacred Text Archive. The entire Mahabharat is available unabridged and online at the The Internet Sacred Text Archive. It is an amazing initiative; see if you can support them in any way.

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16 thoughts on “An Akshauhini

  1. adi says:

    i love this and have thought about it often… considering that the mahabharata consisted of all the folks across the globe with only two kings (balram & yayati) opting out, these numbers are not entirely unbelievable.

    there’s a more basic query, how do u calculate the age of ppl in mahabharata? or in ramayana? i think shivaji savant’s yugandhar sheds some light on this in the preface. i’ve ought it in the book fair this time but one of my freinds has it now and wont give me back for months.

    so, if u can check yugandhar, perhaps it might help a bit.

    and thanks for sharing it all with us. i loved every word of it.

  2. gaizabonts says:

    ==Adi:
    Unfortunately – i dont have yugandhar – but will check it out when i get it 🙂 There may be other sources for doing so – if i find anything – I will let you know. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Raghu says:

    gaizabonts,

    fantastic! i had done the same calculations using the Sacred Text source… just a couple more mind-boggling observations: not only were there people, but also horses and elephants. Further, your calculation, which I had also done initially, assumes one person per chariot and one also per horse and elephant. But every chariot had 2 occupants – the driver and the warrior!!! What this means is that the total number, by the computation :
    393660C +393660E + 1968300FS + 1180980H
    where C is chariots, E-elephants, FS foot soldiers and H horses, we add another 393660 warriors to get the grand total of 4,330,260 – 4 million 330 thousand 260 people.
    The Pandavas and Krishna survived, but I wonder who else did?
    Also, how many were killed in both World Wars together…

  4. yudhamanyu says:

    This is very ineresting. Some more numbers.

    Total chapters (Parv) in Mahabharat – 18
    People alive at the end of the war.
    Pandav – 5
    Krishna
    Ashwathama
    Kritvarma
    Kripachaya

    total 9

    Number of days of war – 18
    Kaurav Army Chiefs
    Bhishma – 10 days
    Drona – 5 days
    Karna – 2 days
    Shalya – 1 day

    Anybody know the significance of the number 18 in mahabharat?

  5. siddhant says:

    satyaki also survived from the pandavas side
    this makes the number of survivers= 10 (which is checked)

    By the way wonderful information ………….REALLY ENJOYED !!!!!

  6. Neeraj says:

    Bhishma Pitamaha promised Duryodhana of slaughtering 10K soldiers per day. Knowing him to be keeper of promises, in the 10 days that he fought, he alone would have killed 100K soldiers.

  7. USHA says:

    We are either left to believe the prowess if we believe in Rama, Krishna, so on, and thought fully as on the modern day, we are given to disbelieve.

  8. Surabhi Somasekhar says:

    1 Akshouni = (21870 Chariots + 21870 Elephants + 61160 Horses + 109320 Soldier) – Surabhi Somasekhar, Tirupati

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