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Warrior classes in Hindu mythology


If we look at the army, there are classes of soldiers. These classes in modern days are distinguished with the skills, experience and knowledge.

In a war, these classes are important to form a strategy which lays the path of victory.

Similarly, in ancient times when wars like Mahabharat took place there must be some classification of soldiers.

This classification laid in the form of hierarchy is also important as it motivates the warrior to always move up.

What was the criteria of hierarchy ? Was it more advanced than our modern army structure ?

To answer these questions, let us first understand the number of levels in this hierarchy of warriors.

It is common belief that there are 3 warrior classes namely
1) Rathi
2) AtiRathi
3) MahaRathi

If we go by Mahabharat then we can only figure out these 3 classes. In Mahabharat, Bhishma categorised the warriors participating in Kurukshetra war in these 3 classes.

On further studying the epic Mahabharat, I can only make out that 3 warrior classes are described but no where it is claimed that other classes did not exist or these are the only warrior classes.

So, to fulfil my curiosity, I studied Ramayan as well. Ramayan clearly gives an indication of another class which is AtiMahaRathi. It is stated that Meghnad(King Ravana’s son) was AtiMahaRathi.

This description clearly gives a clue that other classes do exist.

After referring several sources, I got to know 5 warrior classes which consist of all the warriors that we have heard till date.
1) Rathi
2) AtiRathi
3) MahaRathi
4) AtiMahaRathi
5) MahaMahaRathi

Then why did Bhishma narrated only 3 classes ?
The answer may be that in Kurukshetra war, he was categorising only those warriors who were participating in the battle.

Since, no AtiMahaRathi and MahaMahaRathi participated in the war, he didn’t mention them at that time in the battlefield.

Now, before coming to the levels of each of these classes, Let us first understand the units by which they measure of calculate strength. Starting with the smallest unit i.e.

  • Infantryman
  • 12 Infantryman = 1 Horseman
  • 12 Horseman = 1 Elephant
  • 1 Elephant = 1 Chariot
  • 12 Chariot = 1 Rathi warrior
  • 12 Rathi = 1 AtiRathi
  • 12 AtiRathi = 1 MahaRathi
  • 12 MahaRathi = 1 AtiMahaRathi
  • 24 AtiMahaRathi = 1 MahaMahaRathi

These ranks were classified on the knowledge of battle formation, experience, skill set and tactical knowledge.

After understanding these units, lets know who fell in these classes.

  1. Rathi
    Duryodhana, Bheema, Nakul, Sahadev, Yudhisthir, Shikhandi, Drupad’s son, 99 Kaurava brothers, Uttar, Shakuni and Jayadrath. They were all categorised under Rathi class.
  2. AtiRathi
    Kripacharya, Kritvarma, Yuyutsu, Drishtadyumna, Satyaki, Shishupala, Bhurisrava, Draupadi’s sons, Salya, Kuntibhoja and Ghatotkacha.

    Rishi Vyasa considered both Duryodhana and Bheema as AtiRathi. The only weak point they had was weak strategical and tactical thinking. So, he ranked them as 8 Rathis.
  3. MahaRathi
    As described by Bhishma, warriors like Drona, Arjuna, Karna, Ashwathama, Abhimanyu, Drupada, Virata, Vrishasena(Karna’s son), Dhrishtaketu, Jarasandha, Bhagadatta, Narakasura, Balarama and himself fall in this category.

    As per Rishi Vyasa – Only Bhishma, Karna and Arjuna were equal to 2 MahaRathi.
  4. AtiMahaRathi
    This class of warrior did not participate in the Kurukshetra war. Only Krishna was the AtiMahaRathi after Parshurama because of the powerful and divine weapon – Sudarshan chakra.

    Apart from them, Ravana’s son Indrajit(Meghnad) was also considered as AtiMahaRathi.
  5. MahaMahaRathi
    This class as stated earlier was not mentioned in Mahabharat. It is believed that only Lord Shiva and Goddess Kali fall in this category. They possess the ultimate power to destroy the whole universe in one blink of an eye.

    It is also believed that apart from these 2 ultimate powers only Ashwathama had the capability to become a MahaMahaRathi but he was unaware of his true potential.

    It is believed that he was an avatar of Rudra(Lord Shiva) which is the only reason he had the destructive power.

    His power was never revealed to him to preserve the world. He was immortal warrior with highly destructive power.

These were the classses I could find after going through several sources. The warriors were categorised in these 5 classes after going through a strict evaluation of tactical knowledge, strength, strategical knowledge and experience.

What do you think?

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Written by Pradeep Mittal

I run a couple of tech agencies by profession. I like reading and blogging about tales and stories from Mahabharat and Ramayan.


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