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Do we know approximately or absolutely how many people participated in the Mahabharata war from Pandava & Kaurava sides respectively? Do we know approximately or absolutely how many people died in the Mahabharata war from Pandava & Kaurava sides respectively?

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The answer is dependent on the Definition of Akshauhini, which is a unit invented for ease of calculation/command in battles in old days.

Participants in the war

An Akshauhini is defined as a battle formation consisting of 21,870 chariots (Sanskrit ratha); 21,870 elephants; 65,610 cavalry and 109,350 infantry as per the Mahabharata (Adi Parva 2.15-23).

The Rishis said, 'We have a desire to know, O son of Suta, what is implied by the term Akshauhini that hath been used by thee. Tell us in full what is the number of horse and foot, chariots and elephants, which compose an Akshauhini for thou art fully informed.'"

Sauti said, 'One chariot, one elephant, five foot-soldiers, and three horses form one Patti; three pattis make one Sena-mukha; three sena-mukhas are called a Gulma; three gulmas, a Gana; three ganas, a Vahini; three vahinis together are called a Pritana; three pritanas form a Chamu; three chamus, one Anikini; and an anikini taken ten times forms, as it is styled by those who know, an Akshauhini. O ye best of Brahmanas, arithmeticians have calculated that the number of chariots in an Akshauhini is twenty-one thousand eight hundred and seventy.

Calculations

1 chariot, 1 elephant, five foot-soldiers, and three horses = 1 patti

3 Pattis = 1 Sena-Mukha (3 chariots, 3 elephants, 15 infantry, 9 horses)

3 Sena-Mukhas = 1 Gulma (9 chariots, 9 elephants, 45 infantry, 27 horses)

3 Gulmas = 1 Gana (27 chariots, 27 elephants, 135 infantry, 81 horses)

3 Ganas = 1 Vahini (81 chariots, 81 elephants, 405 infantry, 243 horses)

3 Vahinis = 1 Pritana (243 chariots, 243 elephants, 1215 infantry, 729 horses)

3 Pritanas = 1 Chamu (729 chariots, 729 elephants, 3645 infantry, 2187 horses)

3 Chamus = 1 Anikini (2187 chariots, 2187 elephants, 10935 infantry, 6561 horses)

10 Anikini = 1 Akshauhini (21,870 chariots, 21,870 elephants, 109,350 infantry, 65,610 horses)

Adi Parva (MBH 2.15-23)

Military details

From Pandava Side : 7 Aksauhini Details of Pandava Army Udyoga Parva(MBh 5.151)

From Kaurava Side : 11 Aksauhini Details of Kaurava Army Bhishma Parva (MBH 6.19)

Total 18 Akshauhini which consists of

  • 109,350 * 18 = 1,968,300 Infantry Soldiers
  • 65,610 * 18 = 1,180,980 Cavalry Soldiers
  • 21,870 * 2 * 18 = 787,320 Chariots (one driver one warrior)
  • 21,870 * 2 * 18 = 787,320 Elephants (one driver one warrior)
  • Total = 4,723,920

Loss of Life in the Battle

Vaishampayana said, "Hearing these words of Vasudeva that were disagreeable to her, Gandhari, with heart exceedingly agitated by grief, remained silent. The royal sage Dhritarashtra, however, restraining the grief that arises from folly, enquired of Yudhishthira the just, saying, ‘If, O son of Pandu, thou knowest it, tell me the number of those that have fallen in this battle, as also of those that have escaped with life!’

"Yudhishthira answered, ‘One billion 660 million and 20,000 men have fallen in this battle. Of the heroes that have escaped, the number is 240,165.

Yudhishtira's figure

  • 1,660,020,000 Martyrs
  • 240,165 Alive
  • Total = 1,660,260,165 participation

Stri-parva (MBH 11.26)

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    Total people were under 5 million and yet more than a billion people died?!! That Yudhishthira figure is completely messed up. – Chinmay Sarupria Nov 24 '16 at 19:00

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