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In Hinduism, an astra (Sanskrit: अस्त्र) was a supernatural weapon, presided over by a specific deity and were highly empowered by necessary occult that was responsible for the effect/impact. Later it came to denote any weapon which was used by releasing it from one's hand (e.g. an arrow, compared to keeping it one's hand e.g. a sword [shastra]).
Summoning of Astra
To summon or use an astra required knowledge of a specific incantation/invocation, when armed. The deity invoked would then endow the weapon making it impossible to counter through regular means. Specific conditions existed involving the usage of astras, the violation of which could be fatal. Because of the power involved, the knowledge involving an astra was passed in the Guru-shishya tradition from a Guru (teacher) to a Shishya (pupil) by word of mouth alone, and only following the establishment of the student's character. Certain astras had to be handed down from the deity involved directly, knowledge of the incantation being insufficient.
Astras in Hindu Epics
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Astras come into importance mainly in the Ramayana and Mahabharata, where they are used in the great battles described in each epic. They are depicted as used by archers such as Parashurama, Rama, Lakshman, Indrajit (Meghnad), Ravana, Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Ashwatthaman, Arjuna and other warriors.
The divya astras were generally invoked into arrows, although they could potentially be used with anything. Ashwatthaman invoked Brahmashirsha astra using a blade of grass as his weapon. Arjuna was capable to shoot all his celestial weapons including Pasupatastra by using mind power alone.
|Brahmaastra||Brahma, the Creator||Would destroy entire hosts at once and could also counter most other astras. In the epic Mahabharata, it is said that the weapon manifests with the single head of Lord Brahma as, its tip. In Mahabharata era, Parasurama, Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Kripa, Ashwatthama, Arjuna, Yudhishtir and in other eras several other Maharathis possessed the knowledge to invoke this weapon. It is the only weapon capable of piercing the Brahma Kavach (invincible armour of Lord Brahma). Atikaya, one of Raavan's sons possessed the invincible armour of Lord Brahma that could only be pierced by a Brahmastra and was killed by Lakshmana (brother of Lord Rama) using a Brahmaastra. In ancient Sanskrit writings, the Brahmastra was a weapon created by Brahma, along with its more powerful versions like Brahmashirsha astra and Brahmanda astra.|
|Trishula||Shiva, the Destroyer||The Trident of Lord Shiva. Most Powerful Weapon, Infallible, cannot be stopped by anyone, except Lord Shiva himself.|
|Gada (mace),गदा||Lord Hanuman||Primary weapon of Lord Hanuman. A mace is a blunt weapon, a type of club or virge that uses a heavy head on the end of a handle to deliver powerful blows. A mace typically consists of a strong, heavy, wooden or metal shaft, often reinforced with metal, featuring a head made of stone, copper, bronze, iron, or steel. Later, chosen by Bhima and Duryodhana as their primary weapon and used against each other in Mahabharata.|
|Sudarshana Chakra||Vishnu, the Preserver||The legendary discus of Lord Vishnu, given to Vishnu by Vishvakarman. Infallible, flies at the command of Vishnu. Can be stopped only by Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. It has tremendous occult and spiritual power to destroy everything or can be used to protect anything. Used by Vishnu in his Krishna avatar to behead his cousin Shishupala. Apart from Lord Vishnu, only Arjuna was capable to use Sudarshan Chakra|
|Barbarika's Teen Baan (three infallible arrows)||Shiva, the Destroyer||Lord Shiva  gave Barbarika three infallible arrows (Teen Baan). A single arrow was enough to destroy all opponents in any war, and it would then return to Barbarika's quiver. The first arrow is used to mark all the things that Barbarika wants to destroy. On releasing the third arrow, it would destroy all the things that are marked and will then return to Barbarika's quiver. If Barbarika uses the second arrow, then the second arrow will mark all the things that Barbarika wants to save. On using the third arrow, it will destroy all the things that are not marked. In other words, with one arrow Barbarika can fix all his targets and with the other he can destroy them. Barbarika came to be known by the appellation Teen Baandhaari, the "Bearer of Three Arrows". Barbarika was the son of Ghatotkacha, and the grandson of Bhima (second of the Pandava brothers) and Hidimbi.|
|Indraastra||Indra, God of Weather||Would bring about a 'shower' of arrows from the sky.|
|Vasavi Shakti||Indra, God of Weather||Magical dart of Indra. Used by Karna against unarmed Ghatotkacha in the Mahabharata war.|
|Agneyastra||Agni, God of Fire||The weapon discharged would emit flames inextinguishable through normal means. Arjuna used it against Angaraparna, the Gandharva.|
|Varunastra||Varuna, God of Water||The weapon discharged would release torrential volumes of water. This weapon is commonly mentioned as used to counter the Agneyastra.|
|Manavastra||Manu (Hinduism), Father of the Human Race||Could overcome supernatural protections and carry the target hundreds of miles away. Can inspire humane traits in an evil being. This weapon Was used by Sri Rama on the rakshasa (demon) Maricha.|
|Varunapasha||Varuna, God of Water||A powerful noose which not even other gods can escape from.|
|Bhaumastra||Bhūmi, Goddess of Earth||The weapon could create tunnels deep into the earth and summon jewels.|
|Bhargavastra||Parashurama||The weapon releases millions and millions of arrows that shrouded the battlefield in arrows and blocked the vision of the pandava army by the sheer quantity of arrows that it released.|
|Nagaastra||The Nagas||The weapon would have an unerring aim and take on the form of a snake, proving deadly upon impact. Used by Karna against Arjuna in Mahabharata.|
|Nagapasha||The Nagas||Upon impact, this weapon would bind the target in coils of living venomous snakes. In the Ramayana, it was used against Rama and Lakshmana by Indrajit.|
|Garudastra||Garuda, the vehicle of Vishnu||A weapon that can defend against Nagaastra when attacked by the opponents. It was used by Lord Rama in Ramayana.|
|Anjalika Astra||Indra, God of Weather||Arjuna killed Karna using this astra.|
|Vayvayastra||Vayu, God of Wind||Brings about a gale capable of lifting armies off the ground. On the 14th day of the Kurukshetra War, when the battle continued after the sunset Ashwatthama used this weapon to penetrate the illusions made by Anjanaparvan the son of Ghatotkacha. Arjuna used this weapon against Karna in final battle.|
|Suryastra||Surya, God of the Sun||Creates a dazzling light that would dispel any darkness about and dry up water bodies. Arjuna used this astra against Shakuni on 12th day of Kurukshtra War.|
|Vajra||Indra, God of Weather||Target would be struck with bolts of lightning (vajra referring to Indra's thunderbolt). On the 14th day of the Kurukshetra War when the battle continued after the sunset Ashwatthama used this weapon to penetrate the illusions made by Anjanaparvan the son of Ghatotkacha. Arjuna was expert in Vajra weapon Vishwamitra and Rama too had Vajra weapon.|
|Mohini Astra||Mohini, an Avatar of Vishnu||Dispel any form of maya or sorcery in the vicinity.|
|Twashtar Astra||Twashtri, the Heavenly Builder||When used against a group of opponents (such as an army), would cause them to mistake each other for enemies and fight each other.|
|Sammohana/Pramohana||Gandharvas||Would cause entire hosts/armies to collapse in a trance. Arjuna uses this weapon against the Kaurava army during the Virata war. On the 6th day of Kurukshetra war, Dhrishtadyumna used it against Kauravas which caused them to be unconscious but Drona used his Prajna astra to stop its effect.|
|Parvataastra||Would cause a Parvata/mountain to fall on the target from the skies.|
|Brahmashirsha astra||Brahma, the Creator||Capable of killing devas. Was used by Ashwatthama on Parikshit. It is thought that the Brahmashirsha astra is the evolution of the Brahmastra and is a secret infallible weapon creates by Lord Brahma 4 to betimes stronger than Brahmastra. In the epic Mahabharata, it is said that the weapon manifest with the four heads of Lord Brahma as its tip. In the Ramayana, Indrajit invoked the Brahmashira astra and charged its power onto his chariot, bow and arrows. Aided by its exceedingly destructive power, Indrajit was able to slay 670 million vanaras in one day. In Mahabharata era Sage Agnivesha, Drona, Arjuna and Ashwatthama (only has the knowledge to release the astra did not know to retract it) possessed the knowledge to invoke this weapon.|
|Brahmanda astra||Brahma, the Creator||A defensive weapon. Capable of repelling any astra ever created including the Brahmastra. Used by Vashishta against Vishwamitra to baffle Pashupatastra and Narayanastra. In Mahabharata era no one possessed this weapon.|
|Narayanastra||Vishnu, the Preserver||Would create showers of arrows and discs. The astra's power would increase with the resistance offered to it. This weapon had to be obtained from the Narayana form Vishnu directly, and could be used only once in a lifetime. If the user were to attempt invoking it a second time, it would rebound on him, and possibly, his troops. In Mahabharata era, Lord Vishnu in his Narayana from blessed Guru Drona and his son Ashwatthama and gifted the knowledge about this weapon. In Mahabharata war Ashwatthama used this weapon against Pandava army after the death of Drona. It destroyed one Akshauhini of Pandava army completely. This astra fires a powerful tirade of millions of deadly missiles simultaneously. The intensity of the shower is proportional to the resistance. The only way of defense towards this missile, is to show total submission before the missiles hit. This in turn will cause this weapon to stop and spare the target. When it was used, Ekadasha (Eleven) Rudras appear in the sky to destroy the targets. Millions of types of weapons like Chakra, Gadha, ultra sharp arrows appeared in rage to destroy the target. Who ever tries to resist it will be destroyed. Vishwamitra used this weapon on Vashistha but Vashistha baffled it with his Brahmadanda. Rama got this weapon from Vishwamitra.|
|Vaishnavastra||Vishnu, the Preserver||Would destroy target completely, irrespective of target's nature. Infallible. Had to be obtained from Lord Vishnu directly. In Mahabharata era Bhagadatta had this. Rama used this weapon to destroy the energy of Bharghava Rama.|
|Kaumodaki||Vishnu, the Preserver||Divine mace of Vishnu. Would destroy whole armies. Infallible and without parallel. Lord Krishna slayed Demon Dantavakra with it.|
|Sharanga (bow)||Vishnu, the Preserver||The bow of Lord Vishnu, also called as Vaishnav Dhanush was used by Sri Rama then Sri Krishna.|
|Nandaka||Vishnu, the Preserver||The sacred sword of Vishnu. It had a blade which was indestructible. It was used by Lord Krishna to kill countless demons.|
|Vijaya (bow)||Shiva, the Destroyer||The bow was made by Vishvakarman, Shiva presented the bow to Parashurama who gave it to his student karna.|
|Pinaka (bow)||Shiva, the Destroyer||Also called as Shiva Dhanush, was the bow of Lord Shiva, which he used to kill countless Asuras in battle (The city of Tripura was destroyed by Lord Shiva using the Pinaka). Was given to Parashurama By Lord Shiva, which was passed down to King Janaka, the father of Devi Sita, and was broken by Lord Ram in her swayamvara.|
|Maheshwarastra||Shiva, the Destroyer||Contains the power of Shiva's third eye. Shoots a really fast fiery beam which can turn even celestial beings to complete ashes. It has the power to turn the entire creation to ashes.It can only be countered by a weapon whose presiding deity is Lord Vishnu|
|Rudra Astra||Shiva, the Destroyer||Arjuna obtained this weapon from Lord Shiva, Rama used this weapon to impenetrate Kumbhakaran |
|Pashupatastra||Shiva, the Destroyer||One of the most powerful weapons among all the astras. Every time it was summoned, its head would never be the same. It summons a larger number of monsters and a huge spirit which personifies the weapon. Would destroy target completely, irrespective of target's nature. This astra was capable to destroy whole world. In Mahabharat only Arjuna possessed Pashupatastra. Vishwamitra and Rama too had this weapon |
|Parashu (axe)||Shiva, the Destroyer||The Parashu (axe) was an unconquerable and indestructible divine weapon given to Lord Parashurama by his Guru Lord Shiva along with other divine weapons due to the extreme devotion of Lord Parashurama. Lord Parashurama later gave this axe to Lord Ganesha. Parashurama means Rama who wields the axe as Rama was the name Lord Parashurama was known by till he acquired the axe from Lord Shiva.|
|Chandrahas||Shiva, the Destroyer||The divine sword Chandrahas (Chandra-Moon, Has-laugh, literally 'the laughter of the moon' but referring to the shape formed by a crescent moon which resembles a smile) was given to Raavan with a warning that if it was used for unjust causes, it would return to the three-eyed Lord Shiva and Ravana's days would be numbered.|
|Gandiva (bow)||This invincible bow was created by Brahma, the Creator of universe. Brahma held it first for a thousand years, then Prajapati held it for five hundred and three years, Indra, for five hundred and eighty years, and Soma for five hundred years. After that Varuna held it for a hundred years before handing it to Arjuna along with a Kapi/Hanuman bannered chariot, and two inexhaustible quivers, as requested by Agni during the Khandava-daha Parva. The bow was decorated with hundreds of gold bosses, and had radiant ends. The bow was worshiped by Devas, Gandharvas and Danavas. No person other than Arjuna could wield the Gandiva and Arjuna was wielder of Gandiva then he came to be known as gandivdhari (carrier of gandiva bow).|
|Sabda-veda astra||This weapon prevents an opponent from turning invisible. Used by Arjuna against the Ghandarva king Chitrasena. In Mahabharat era, only Arjuna and Krishna knew this weapon|
|Antardhana Astra||Kubera, god of wealth||The Antardhana Astra would make things, people or entire places disappear. It was given to Arjun by Kubera.|
|Prajnastra||This weapon was used to restore the senses and thoughts of someone. It was a good counter to the Antardhana Astra and the Sammohana. Warriors like Drona, Indrajita and Arjuna had and used this astra.|
|Sailastra||The Sailastra was used to make heavy winds disappear, meaning it was the counter to Vayvayastra, the wind weapon. It was used by warriors like Drona and Arjuna.|
|Visoshana||Indra, god of weather||The Visoshana was the drying weapon. It could dry anything. Indrajita possessed this weapon. It was an amazing counter to the Varunastra. Arjuna obtained this weapon from Lord Surya.|
|Jyotiksha Astra||Surya, god of the sun||The Jyotiksha Astra could brighten a dark area. Arjuna had this astra and used in the Mahabharata war.|
|Sauparna||The Sauparna weapon would release crazy birds. Hence, it was a good counter to the Nagastra. It was used by Susharma in the Mahabharata war when Arjuna used the Nagastra on the Sampshapataka army.|
|Govardhana (bow)||Vishnu, the Preserver||The Govardhana was a powerful bow of Vishnu. During the Mahabharata, Vishnu gave Vidura this bow.|
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