Arjuna is the most powerful warrior in the Mahabharata universe. He is the third of the Pandavas in order of seniority, born after Yudhishthir and Bhimasena.
He is the last of Kunti’s children. After his birth, Kunti decides that she will summon no more gods and bear no more sons. Nakula and Sahadeva, the fourth and fifth of the Pandavas respectively, are born to Madri, Pandu’s second wife.
In this post, we will answer the question: Where was Arjuna during Chakravyuha?
During the thirteenth day of the Kurukshetra war, Arjuna is busy fighting the Samshaptakas. These are soldiers belonging to the kingdom of Trigarta, employed specifically by the Kauravas to keep Arjuna occupied so that Drona can fulfil his promise to Duryodhana of killing at least one Pandava atiratha.
Read on to discover more about where Arjuna was during the Chakravyuha.
(For answers to all Arjuna-related questions, see Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
Who are the Samshaptakas?
There is a kingdom called Trigarta ruled by a man named Susharma. He makes an appearance during the Virata Parva of the Mahabharata, when he proposes to Duryodhana that the Kuru and Trigartan armies together should attempt to loot cattle belonging to the kingdom of Matsya.
Susharma tries to distract the army of Matsya from one direction so that the Kurus can ride in from another and steal Virata’s cattle. But on the one hand they run into the four Pandavas, and on the other they get routed by Arjuna in disguise as Brihannala.
During the Kurukshetra war, early on in the Drona Parva, the Trigartan army and their king take an oath and rename themselves Samshaptakas (‘those who have vowed to die or conquer’).
Their assigned mission is to engage with Arjuna such that they keep his attention diverted from the main action of the battle. Drona, meanwhile, plans to try and capture Yudhishthir and make him a prisoner of war.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 30: Brihannala Defends Matsya.)
Drona takes over as commander of Duryodhana’s army after the fall of Bhishma late on Day 10. From the beginning of Day 11 to the end of Day 15, Drona leads the Kuru forces.
Duryodhana’s initial wish from Drona is to have him capture Yudhishthir alive. When Drona asks why he does not want the eldest Pandava killed, Duryodhana replies:
‘If we kill Yudhishthir, Bhima and Arjuna will definitely kill us all. But if we capture Yudhishthir, I will trick him into another dice game and send them into another exile. His younger brothers will blindly obey him.’
Drona thus promises Duryodhana that he will capture Yudhishthir. But he warns that Arjuna is the only one powerful enough to thwart those plans. ‘Keep Arjuna away from my path and I will certainly complete this quest.’
King Susharma steps forward at this point and takes on the responsibility of engaging with Arjuna. The Samshaptakas are thus born.
Days 11 and 12
Both on Days 11 and 12, Drona comes perilously close to capturing Yudhishthir. But just as the acharya is about to land the killer blow, Arjuna arrives and protects his elder brother.
Drona is frustrated by this, as is Duryodhana. On the eve of the thirteenth day, Drona gives a different promise to Duryodhana. He says, ‘Tomorrow I will kill at least one Pandava atiratha. But you will have to ensure that Arjuna is kept away for the whole day!’
The Samshaptakas vow to fight with extra diligence on the thirteenth day. Early on, they challenge Arjuna and lure him away to one edge of the battlefield.
Meanwhile, Drona arranges the Kuru army in the shape of a complex array called the chakravyuha. (‘Chakra’ means ‘wheel’, ‘vyuha’ means ‘strategy’.)
The implication is that the formation is in the shape of a wheel. Though there are no accurate descriptions of any of the vyuhas used in the Mahabharata war, people have speculated that the Chakravyuha is the most complex of them all.
(Suggested: 21 Battle Formations used in the Mahabharata War.)
Abhimanyu gets trapped
Of the warriors on the Pandava side who are in fighting form and available – because Krishna and Arjuna are away – only Abhimanyu knows how to penetrate Drona’s chakravyuha.
However, he does not know how to exit it in case he is trapped inside it by himself. (One assumes at this point that there are ‘best practices’ regarding how each of these vyuhas can be entered and exited. It is not just a question of brute strength.)
The Pandavas formulate a plan, therefore: Abhimanyu is to lead them into the chakravyuha. A host of Pandava warriors and their armies will follow him closely, thus ensuring that the breach in the array does not close.
This is a reasonably solid strategy, but they have not reckoned for the endeavours of Jayadratha, who gets blessed by Shiva with the power of defeating all the Pandavas (with the exception of Arjuna) on one day of the battle.
The thirteenth day happens to be that day, and Jayadratha guards the entrance of the chakravyuha ably. Abhimanyu gets trapped inside Drona’s formation.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 25: Jayadratha Abducts Draupadi.)
Arjuna stays Busy
On this day, the Samshaptakas perform their task better. They keep Arjuna busy for the whole day. In fact, he is so involved in his battle that he does not even know of Abhimanyu’s death until he returns to camp that evening – long after the conch has sounded.
It is unclear how Susharma and his soldiers keep Arjuna away for this long. Even allowing for the fact that Arjuna is fighting only with earthly weapons, he and Krishna should be more than a match for the Samshaptakas. Fighting exclusively each other, Arjuna should emerge victorious in a matter of a few hours.
But the plot requires him to be away so that Abhimanyu can die.
And Abhimanyu’s death becomes the turning point of the war because Arjuna becomes a ruthless warrior from Day 14 onwards.
The death of Abhimanyu propels Arjuna into this frenzied desire for revenge on Jayadratha. Day 14 is all about how Arjuna avenges his favourite son’s death despite Drona’s best efforts to stop him.
And from then on, the violence just feeds on itself and the war rapidly eats up the Kuru dynasty.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 46: Arjuna Kills Jayadratha.)
Meanwhile the Samshaptakas…
The Samshaptakas continue to challenge Arjuna right to the end of the war. It is only on the eighteenth day that Arjuna manages to rout them all and declare victory.
Susharma dies to an Arjuna arrow on this day as well.
This Samshaptakas therefore perform an important role during the Mahabharata war: that of matching Arjuna’s skill with their own and removing him from battle so that other Kuru heroes can fight more freely with their marked opponents.
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