The most important aspect of the special ability of the Varu is that it acts on multiple units at the same time. A single Varu will reduce the Combat Strength of all enemy units next to it! So, the best use for these majestic beasts is to throw them directly into the line of battle and support them with other hard-hitting troops. The Varu will not only weaken all adjacent enemies, but they will also do decent damage. By surrounding the enemy with Varu you will effectively make them extremely weak, making it very easy for your other troops to swoop in for the kill. Varu are also an amazing defensive troop since a group of them will weaken an entire army, reducing the damage done to your cities.
The drawback is that the Indians won't have a fast-moving unit until the late Medieval Era, but that shouldn't be such a problem for a skilled commander.
Under Gandhi, this unit is more defensive with a domination tendency for skilled players since it is quite slow, but under Chandragupta, the Varu force turns absolutely deadly. Once a War of Territorial Expansion is declared (one of the easier Casus Belli to satisfy), it moves as fast as the standard Horseman, boasting 45 Combat Strength and can reduce surrounding enemies' strength, making it the strongest military unit on the field. A Spearman, the classical anti-cavalry unit, when fighting next to one Varu only has 30 Combat Strength, and even lower if next to more than one of them (prior to Gathering Storm, in which the penalties from multiple Varu are no longer cumulative). Aim for Military Tradition to unlock Maneuver and keep cranking out an army of Varu, and nothing will be able to stop your march.
Civilopedia entry Edit
Although not the most reliable of battle-mounts (as apt to trample friendly troops as enemy when panicked), war elephants were a staple in Indian warfare for centuries until the advent of gunpowder. In pre-gunpowder combat, the 'vāru' (“royal elephant”) served two purposes. Their scent tended to terrify horses, thus rendering the enemy cavalry relatively useless. Second, they could usually break through even the strongest line of infantry, especially if armored, crushing spearmen and archers and everything else in their path (and reaching 25 kph on the run). Too, elephants were notoriously hard to kill, and there are records of them surviving as many as sixty arrows. Usually surmounted with a howdah or other platform for archers, the vāru could wade right into the fray. But, in case the elephants did go berserk and start squashing their own side, the driver carried a spike and mallet to kill them with a blow to the skull.