Rathi, Atirathi/Maharathi, AtiMaharathi, etc.

The above were titles or honours attributed to warriors riding a rath (chariot). Usually these warriors were archers like Bheeshma, Arjun, Karna, Drona, Abhimanyu, etc. but included wielders of other weapons also such as spear (Yudhishthir), mace (Bheem, Duryodhana, Dushasan), etc. The battle of Kurukshetra was fought between 11 akshauhini strong army on the Kaurava side and 7 akshauhini sena on the Pandava side. An akshauhini, was an army formation that consisted of 21,870 chariots, 21,870 elephants, 65,610 cavalry and 109,350 infantry. The ratio is 1 chariot : 1 elephant : 3 cavalry : 5 infantry soldiers. Each akshauhini on both sides was (sub) commanded by a maharathi on either side.

Akshouhini Table

Types of Group Chariots Elephants Horses Foot Fighters
Patti
1
1
3
5
Senamukha
3
3
9
15
Gulma
9
9
27
45
Gana
27
27
81
135
Vahini
81
81
243
405
Pritana
243
243
729
1215
Chamu
729
729
2187
3645
Anikini
2187
2187
6561
10935
Akshouhini
21870
21870
65610
109350

In the days of Mahabharat, chariots were the mainstay of the cavalry. Elephants were also a popular form of war transport but warriors especially archers preferred chariots over everything else because of obvious reasons of speed and agility. A Rathi was known to a warrior riding a rath (chariot). But not everyone was given this title. Simply because an archer rode a chariot did not make him a rathi – the archer/warrior needed to have some fearsome reputation and class battle experience too.

The next higher title was “atirathi” (super-rathi) or the one who displayed the power and finesse of many rathis (chariot borne warriors) combined. “Maharathi” is also a super-rathi. It is unclear whether there is any distinction between atirathi and maharathi because in Mahabharat, the same warrior is at times described as one or other. For example:

  1. K M Ganguly describes the process of classification as “numbering the Rathis and Atirathi.” and not as “numbering the rathis, maharathis and Atirathi”
  2. When Duryodhana addresses Bheeshma as “O Kaurava, to know who amongst all the warriors of the foe and my own are to be counted as rathis and who Atirathi?”, here also maharathi is left out
  3. Drona is called as maharathi by Bheeshma , while called atirathi by Vyasa
  4. Abhimanyu is called as Maharathi by Bheeshma , but atirathi by Vyasa

Finally, the atimaharathi. Actually this word is never described or used in Mahabharat but just coined to describe the invincible. Bheeshma, Drona, Karna, and Arjun fell into this category. Bheeshma never classified himself (see (2) above) and as for Arjun, he was described something else. Karna was defeated sometimes but I think that it was lack of focus on his part sometimes. He was super warrior anyway. When Duryodhana asked Bheeshma to describes the rathis and atirathis on each side, Bheeshma replied:

O King, on your side, your 99 brothers are all rathis as are Sudakishna, Vinda, Anuvinda, Nila, Five Trigadha Warriors, Laksmana, Dushasan’s Son, Dandadhara, Vrihadvala, Shakuni, Jalasandha, Achala, and Vrisha. Your brother-in-law is equal to 2 rathis. Kritavarma, Shalya, Bhurishravas, Somadatta, Bhagdatta, Vrishasena, Satyavan, Alambhusha, Ashwathama are all atirathis. Drona himself is a maharathi. You are a maharathis yourself. Your friend Karna, having being cursed twice, is only half a rathi.

(Karna is often said to be equal to two maharathis, but Bheeshma, who knew Karna’s birth history and did not want him to fight, called him ardh-rathi (half a rathi) to ridicule and taunt him.)

On the Pandava side, Yudhishthira, Nakul, Sahadev, Yudhamanyu, Sikhandin, Kshattradeva, Chitrayudha, Chekitana, Satyadhriti, Chandrasena, Kasya, Pandya, Uttar, Uttamaujas, Five Brothers (Kasika, Sukumara, Nila, Suryadatta and Sankha), and Vyaghradatta are all rathis. Bheema, the strongest, is equal to 8 rathis. Dhristadhyumna, Satyajit (Draupad’s son), Srenimat, King Vasudeva and Kuntibhoja are atirathis. Satyaki, Abhimanyu, Virata, Drupada, Dhrishtaketu, Dhridadhanwan, Rochamana, Ghatotkacha, Draupadi’s 5 Sons, Jayanta and Amitaujas from Panchala, Aja, Bhoja, and Vardhakshemi are all maharathis.

Arjun riding the chariot gifted to him by Lord Agni with Hanuman on his flag, driven by the divine Lord Krishna himself, Arjun who has all the celestial weapons at his disposal, is equal to none. He is the supreme warrior and is undefeatable because Arjun and Krishna are Nara and Narayana themselves in an avatar. Arjun can single-handedly wipe out the entire Kaurava army if he chooses to do so.

(Hearing this discourse Karna was mighty insulted and after angrily retorting to grandsire Bheeshma, vowed that he will never fight till Bheeshma is fighting and he left.)

Post Author: Prasanna Bhalerao

IT Professional with interest in History, Mythology and Photography. Likes to travel and see interesting places.

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