On the 16th Day of the Mahabharata War, Karna took up the leadership of the Kaurava Army.
The previous day, their former commander-in-chief, the invincible Dronacharya, had been struck down by cunning and deceit. Bheema had killed an elephant named Ashwatthama and proclaimed his achievement to Drona, that "Ashwatthama was dead". Drona, mistaking it for his own son, went to confirm this with Yudhistira, who was known for his truthfulness.
Knowing that there was no other way to defeat the mighty Dronacharya, Yudhistira lied that this was indeed true. Losing the will to live, Dronacharya discarded his weapons and sat down in meditation. Seizing this opportunity, Drishtadyumna, the fire-born prince of the Panchala kingdom, beheaded Dronacharya, ending his unstoppable rampage.
Karna knew that the Kaurava forces were severely demotivated after this. He rallied the army under his banner in the form of the Makaravyuha (crocodile formation), with himself at the snout, Shakuni and Bhagadatta at the eyes, Ashwatthama at the crown of the head, Dusshasana at the neck and Duryodhana at it’s heart. The forelegs were formed by Kritavarma and Kripacharya, the hindlegs by Susharman and Shalya.
The Pandavas on the other side, formed the Chandrakalavyuha (pale crescent moon), which was very thin indeed, owing to their now depleted forces. Bheema lead the left tip, Drishtadyumna led the right tip and at the heart of the vyuha was Arjuna with Yudhistira, Nakula and Sahadeva.
The battlefield itself was littered with cracks and craters after the impact of various celestial weapons.
Philosophy of the Formations
- The Moon has very many symbolic meanings in different cultures of the world. The Waning Moon represents surrender, contemplation and meditation. The New Moon represents new beginnings and rebirth. The Waxing Moon represents growth and manifestation. The Full Moon represents clarity and fulfillment.
In this case, the Pandava formation is a Waning Moon, one that has diminished even further from the earlier crescent moon formations used, which could indicate that they grow weary of the chaotic battle and all of the monstrous atrocities that were carried out in the name of Dharma, leading the heroes to contemplate the real meaning behind any victory that could be achieved at this point after the severe loss of lives on both sides.
- The crocodile on the other hand, is a more complex creature. The ancient Egyptians worshipped it in the form of Sobek, which represented the fertility of the Nile and military prowess. Due to their observed behavior of taking care of their young, the ancient Egyptians believed that the Crocodiles could protect humanity from the dangers posed by the Nile. Many stories from Indian mythology refer to crocodiles as prisons for wicked souls, a punishment for former bad karma, to remain trapped and to suffer in that form until liberated by some savior.
The Kaurava battle formation of the Crocodile led by Karna, could represent his desire to protect what is left of his shattered and hope-starved army as they face annihilation at the hands of the Pandavas. It could also represent Karna's regret at the odd way his life has panned out upto this point, starting from his abandonment at birth, his celestial gifts, his intense rivalry with Arjuna, his friendship with Duryodhana, his discovery that he is the eldest brother of the Pandavas and the promise he made to his birth mother to spare four of his brothers (except Arjuna of course), all leading him to perhaps believe that he was leading a cursed life as punishment for some past misdeed.
Map of the Battlefield