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In Hinduism, an astra (Sanskrit: अस्त्र) was a supernatural weapon, presided over by a specific deity. Later, it came to denote any weapon which was used by releasing it from one hands (e.g. an arrow, compared to keeping it ones 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
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 Sri Rama, Lakshman, Karna, Arjuna, Indrajit (Meghnad) the son of Ravana, and other warriors.
Lord Parashurama and Indrajit (Meghnad) the son of Ravana, are believed to be the only humans who ever possessed the three ultimate weapons of trinity.Parashurama was a disciple of Lord Shiva and learned the scriptures and the arts of warfare from Lord Shiva, then acquired Divya Astras from Lord Shiva and the other gods on Lord Shiva's instructions. At a very young age, Indrajit (Meghnada) became the possessor of several supreme celestial weapons, including Brahmanda astra, Pashupatastra and Vaishnavastra, under the guidance of Shukra, the Guru of the Daityas (demons). Shukra was a disciple of Lord Shiva. In Mahabharata era Bhishma Drona and Karna possessed Brahmanda astra and Pashupatastra .
|Lord Shiva'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. Sri Krishna disguised as a Brahmin stopped Barbarika to examine his strength. When asked how many days he would take to finish the Kurukshetra War alone, Barbarika answered that he could finish it in one minute. Barbarika came to be known by the appellation Teen Baandhaari, the "Bearer of Three Arrows".|
|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 Ghatotkacha in the Mahabharata war.|
|Agneyastra||Agni, god of fire||The weapon discharged would emit flames inextinguishable through normal means.|
|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||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||Lord Parashurama||Parashurama (an avatara of Lord Vishnu) gave this astra to Karna. It caused great damage to Pandavas army.It completely destroyed one Akshauhani of Pandava army.This astra possesses Parashurama's skill in archery. Infallible. It brings a shower of much more powerful weapons than the Indrastra and could cause total destruction of a planet if not retracted.|
|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 Ramayana, Ravana's son Indrajit used it against Lord Rama.
Karna's description of Nagastra, "I have this shaft, O Shalya, of keen mouth, blood-drinking, lying alone within one quiver, equipped with wings, well-steeped in oil and well-adorned. It lieth amid sandal dust, worshipped by me for long years. Partaking of the nature and form of a snake, it is poisonous, fierce and capable of killing large numbers of men and steeds and elephants of terrible form; and exceedingly awful, it is capable of piercing coats of mail and bones."
|Nagapasha||The Nagas||Upon impact, this weapon would bind the target in coils of living venomous snakes. In the Ramayana, it was used against Lord 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||Used by Arjuna to kill weaponless and chariotless Karna from behind as Karna was lifting his chariot's wheel from out of the ground. Karna, even when unarmed and defenseless could not be killed by ordinary means.|
|Vayvayastra||Vayu, god of wind||Bring about a gale capable of lifting armies off the ground.|
|Suryastra||Surya, god of the sun||Create a dazzling light that would dispel any darkness about and dry up water bodies.|
|Vajra||Indra, god of the skies||Target would be struck with bolts of lightning (vajra referring to Indra's thunderbolt).|
|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||Would cause entire hosts/armies to collapse in a trance.|
|Parvataastra||Would cause a Parvata/mountain to fall on the target from the skies.|
|Brahmaastra||Brahma, the Creator||Would destroy entire hosts at once. Could also counter most other astras. In the epic Mahabharata, it is said that the weapon manifest with the single head of Lord Brahma as its tip. In Mahabharata era Parasurama, Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Kripa, Ashwatthama, Arjuna, Yudhishtir and several 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 Ravan'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 Brahmastra.|
|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, 4 times 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 and managed to defeat Rama and Lakshmana (albeit invisibly). In Mahabharata era Parasurama, Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Ashwatthama, Arjuna possessed the knowledge to invoke this weapon.|
|Brahmanda astra||Brahma, the Creator||A defensive weapon . Capable of repelling the Brahmastra. Used by Vashishta against Vishwamitra. In the epic Mahabharata, it is said that the weapon manifest with the all 5 heads of Lord Brahma as its tip. Brahma earlier lost his fifth head in a fight when he fought with Lord Siva. This weapon is said to possess the power to destroy the entire solar systems or Brahmand, the 14 realms according to Hindu cosmology. In Mahabharata era Parasurama, Bhishma, Drona, Karna possessed the knowledge to invoke 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 life time. 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 increases with 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.|
|Vaishnavastra||Vishnu, the Preserver||Would destroy target completely, irrespective of target's nature.Infallible.Had to be obtained from. Lord Vishnu directly.|
|Kaumodaki||Vishnu, the Preserver||Divine mace of Vishnu. Would destroy whole armies. Infallible and without parallel. Lord Krishna slayed Demon Dantavakra with it.|
|Sudarshana Chakra||Vishnu, the Preserver||The legendary discus of Lord Vishnu. Infallible . Flies at the command of only Lord Vishnu. Cannot be stopped by anyone, except Lord Vishnu himself. It is considered to be the most powerful of all weapons. It was used prominently by Krishna in the Mahabharata.|
|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.|
|Trishul||Shiva, the Destroyer||The Trident of Lord Shiva. infallible and cannot be stopped by anyone. Said to be the most powerful weapon without any parallel.|
|Vijaya (bow)||Shiva, the Destroyer||Also called as Shiva Dhanush, the Vijaya Dhanusha was the personal bow of Lord Shiva, which was regarded as the foremost of bows. Lord Shiva left it in the care of Indra Dev who on instruction from Lord Shiva happily gave it to Lord Parashurama. Lord Parashurama kept is as his personal bow and being pleased with the devotion of his student Karna, gave the Vijaya Dhanusha to Karna. The Sanskrit name ‘Vijaya’ means ‘victory’ and this bow is said to give sure victory to the possessor. The string of Vijaya Dhanush cannot be broken by any kind of astra (weapon) or divya astra (divine weapon), nor by anyone and it is so heavy that a normal person in any yuga cannot not lift it. Every time an arrow is released from this bow, it created a terrible twang, which is said to be loud as thunder causing terrible fear in enemies and produces flashes of light as brilliant as lightning, which blinds the enemy. Every time an arrow is aimed, the energy of the arrow is amplified by multiple times as Vijaya Dhanush is charged with sacred mantras. Vijaya Dhanush is unparalleled and except Lord Parasurama, Karna or an equally or more powerful warrior, nobody can even lift it. No weapon, not even the mighty Pashupatastra, can harm a warrior who has Vijaya Dhanush in his hand, as the name Vijaya implies victory to the wielder.
The only time Karna ever fought using the Vijaya Dhanusha was on the 17th day of the Kurukshetra war when he fought against and overpowered Arjuna who was using Gandiva bow. Karna came to be known by the name 'Vijayadhari' meaning 'wielder of the Vijaya bow'.
|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. Infallible and unstoppable.It has the power to turn the entire creation to ashes|
|Rudra Astra||Shiva, the Destroyer||Contains the power of a Rudra. When it is used, it invokes the power of a Rudra out of the Ekadasha (Eleven) Rudras and destroys the target. In Mahabharata era Parashurama, Bhishma and Karna know about this weapon. In the Kurukshetra war Karna invoked Rudra astra against Arjuna and this astra hit Arjuna on his chest piercing the mantra Siva kavach(armour). Arjuna lost his grip on his bow, Gandiva, which fell down from his hand for the first time and Arjuna fell down in a swoon.
The mantra for the Siva kavach(armour) was weakened by the rudra astra, while simultaneously much of the energy of the rudra astra was expended in penetrating the Siva kavach(armour). Had Arjuna been hit by the rudra astra at full strength he would've been instantly killed.
|Pashupatastra||Shiva, the Destroyer||Would destroy target completely, irrespective of target's nature. When released, the weapon summons several monsters and a huge spirit which personifies the weapon. Sometimes it can cause a catastrophic explosion similar to a hydrogen bomb. Each time the weapon is summoned, its head is never the same This weapon had to be obtained from Shiva directly. It is Infallible and without any parallel which cannot be stopped by anyone except by Lord Shiva.|
|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 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 ordinary person could wield the Gandiva bow. When fired, the bow made the sound of thunder. It has special qualities like being indestructible, having 100 bow strings, etc. which always gave the wielder a heavy advantage over his opponent. Arjuna always used this bow since he acquired it, which gave him a heavy advantage over his opponents. After the death of Krishna Arjuna found it difficult to wield the Gandiva bow.|
|Sabda-veda astra||This weapon prevents an opponent from turning invisible. Used by Arjuna against the Ghandarva king Chitrasena.|
- Gopal, Madan (1990). K.S. Gautam, ed. India through the ages. Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. p. 72.
- Mahabharata by Roy, Chandra Pratap
- Astradhari definition
- K M Ganguly(1883-1896). The Mahabharatha Book 8: Karna Parva Section 91 Karna ivoking Rudrastra against Arjuna, October 2003,Retrieved 2014-08-11