The second day of the Mahabharata War began with great zest and fervor. The Pandavas command 7 Akshauhinis (a military unit, consisting of 1 elephant, 1 chariot, 3 horsemen and 5 foot soldiers, multiplied by a factor of 21870) and the Kauravas have 11.
- The Pandava forces employed the Krauncha Vyuha, or the Crane Strategy. Drupada (the Panchala King) and his aksauhini formed the vyuha's head. Virata (King of Matsya) and Shikandi (Virata's son) were its eyes. Satyaki (of the Yadava Vrishni clan) and his men formed the throat. At its wings were Bheema and Dhrishtadyumna (Virata's son and the Commander-in-chief of the Pandava forces). At the Krauncha's tail was Yudhishtra himself, with the other Pandavas in between.
- Bheeshma (the Kaurava Commander-in-chief) decided to also employ the Kraucha vyuha, with himself at the beak. Bheeshma positioned Bhoorisravas and Shalya at the left wing, and Bhagadatta and Susharman (of the Trigartas) at the right wing. Kripacharya, Shakuni and Kritavarman were at the bird's tail. Duryodhana, Dusshasana and Jayadratha were at the heart of the formation. Karna unfortunately had to sit out the battle at this point because Bheeshma refused to share the battlefield with him and Duryodhana, needing Bheeshma's support, had to yield.
Philosophy of the Formations
The crane is a majestic bird that is often the subject of many ancient paintings and poetic works.
In the Japanese culture, they have a saying which translates as, “one word from the crane’, implying the “voice of authority” or the one who has the final unchallenged word. That is how high the crane is regarded, no one questions his opinions. There is also a more recent tradition of folding 1000 paper cranes as a symbol of health, happiness and peace. The crane is also viewed as a symbol of loyalty (since it mates for life) and strength (since it can tirelessly fly over great distances), which is why it's the symbol of the Japanese Airlines.
In Chinese cultures, the crane is a symbol of immortality and is said to carry the spirits of the departed to heaven. Of course, there is also an entire style of Shaolin Kung Fu inspired by the movements of the crane.
In Roman cultures, it was believed that cranes had sentries standing guard while others slept. The sentry would hold a stone in its claw, so that if it fell asleep it would drop the stone and awaken. A crane holding a stone in its claw is a popular heraldic symbol, and is known as a crane in its vigilance.
To the Greeks, the crane was an ominous bird who avenged the death of the post Ibycus when he was murdered by thieves.
The Indian Yogi Ramakrishna Paramahamsa is said to have had his first spiritual experience at the age of six, when he was walking along the paddy fields and saw a flock of white cranes flying against dark thunder clouds.
If we apply all of this cultural and mythological influence into the battle formations that both armies take, we get some interesting interpretations.
- Bheeshma is best symbolized by the crane formation. He is a strong and proud warrior, trying to protect his family and legacy. He is immortal, in the sense of being able to choose his time of death. He is a master of the martial arts and is able to tirelessly battle the enemy forces. He is one of the strongest voices of authority in the battlefield and no one dares to question his commands, especially because he places himself and the most powerful warriors at the forefront of the formation, enforcing a central leadership and forging ahead without consulting anyone or desiring anyone's cooperation.
- The Pandavas on the other hand, observe different qualities of the crane, such as loyalty, grace, strength of character, protection, compassion, and above all: a desire for peace. They have a more distributed leadership style in their army, appointing leaders for each section to function independently. Their crane formation is more balanced with powerful warriors at the wings and center instead.
Map of the Battlefield