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In ancient Sanskrit writings, the Brahmastra (Sanskrit: ब्रह्मास्त्र, IAST: Brahmāstra) was a weapon created by Brahma,along with its more powerful versions like Brahmashirsha astra and Brahmanda astra. Brahmastra and Brahmashirsha astra are said to be mythical and far more potent that any equivalent modern day weapons, so powerful that they can destroy multidimensional physical realms at once.
As described in a number of Purana, it was considered as a very destructive weapon. It is said that when the Brahmastra was discharged, there was neither a counterattack nor a defense that could stop it, except by another Brahmastra, Brahmashirsha astra or a Brahmanda astra. The Mahabharata epic narrates that during the Kurukshetra war, Karna neutralised a Brahmastra discharged by Arjuna with another Brahmastra and the destruction caused by the colliding of this astra's was catastrophic. The Brahmastra never missed its mark and had to be used with very specific intent against an individual enemy or army, as the target would face complete annihilation. It was believed to be obtained by meditating upon the Lord Brahma, or from a Guru who knew the invocations. According to ancient Sanskrit writings, the Brahmastra is invoked by a key phrase or invocation that is bestowed upon the user when given this weapon. Through this invocation the user can call upon the weapon and use it via a medium against his adversary. It is said that the weapon manifests with the single head of Lord Brahma as its tip. The user would have to display immense mental concentration. It could only be used once in a day.
Since Brahma is considered the Creator in Sanatana Dharma, it is believed by Hindus that Brahmastra was created by him for the purpose of upholding Dharma and Satya, to be used by anyone who wished to destroy an enemy who would also happen to be a part of his (Brahma's) creation. The target, when hit by Brahmastra, would be utterly destroyed. In the Hindu epic poetic narrative, the Mahabharata, Parasurama, Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Kripa, Ashwatthama, Arjuna and few Maharathis possessed the knowledge to invoke Brahmastra weapon.
The weapon was also believed to cause severe environmental damage. The land where the weapon was used became barren and all life in and around that area ceased to exist. Both men and women became infertile. There was also a severe decrease in rainfall with the land developing cracks, like in a drought. The Brahmastra is mentioned in the epics and Vedas as a weapon of last resort and was never to be used in combat.
The Brahmastra, described in the Mahabharata, is a weapon which is said to be a single projectile charged with all the power of the universe. It is considered equivalent to the modern day nuclear weapons. In Hindu Puranas, the launch of a Brahmastra is described as “An incandescent column of smoke and flame as bright as ten thousand suns rose in all its splendor: it was an unknown weapon, an iron thunderbolt, a gargantuan messenger of carnage and annihilation, which reduced to ashes the entire race of the Vrishnis and the Andhakas...the corpses were so burned as to be unrecognizable. Their hair and nails fell out; pottery broke without apparent cause, and the birds turned white. After a few hours all food was infected...to escape from this fire the soldiers threw themselves in streams to wash themselves...”
There are numerous instances within Sanskrit scriptures where the brahmastra is used or its use is threatened, including:
- Maharaja Kaushika (who later became Brahmarshi Vishvamitra used it against Maharishi Vasishta, but the brahmastra was swallowed by the Brahmadanda used by Maharishi Vasishta which is the Saptarishi's countermeasure against the brahmastra. The brahmadanda was invoked with mantras and blessed by the saptarishis.
- Indrajit used brahmastra against the army of Rama in Ramayana. Even Rama and Laxmana cannot survive this weapon and the sanjeevani herb brought by Hanuman saved the brothers and their army.
- In the Ramayana a brahmastra is used by Shri Rama several times: once against Jayanta (Indra's son) when he hurt Sita, against Mareecha in their last encounter, and finally the brahmastra was used in the last battle with the Asura emperor Ravana. Also, Indrajit used Brahmastra against Hanuman, but Hanuman survived because of Lord Brahma's boon, when he was destroying the Ashok Vatika after meeting Sita. According to the Ramayana the weapon was also aimed at Varuna, the God of the Oceans, to carve a path out of the sea such that Rama's army could march towards the island of Lanka, however at that moment, Varuna appeared and offered to assist the king in crossing the ocean. However, once invoked, the Brahmastra must be dischgarged, and hence it was later aimed towards Dhrumatulya by Lord Rama, which fell at the place of modern day Rajasthan, causing it to become a desert for aeons to come.
- In Mahabharata, Bhishma used a brahmastra against his guru Parashurama, and this weapon was neutralized by a counter brahmastra.
- In Kurukshetra war Karna neutralized a Brahmastra send by Arjuna with an equal Brahmastra and the colliding effect of these astras was catastrophic.
This creation of Lord Brahma is cited capable of killing the devas (Gods) themselves. It is believed that the Brahmashirsha astra is the evolution of the brahmastra, 4 times stronger than the brahmastra. It's effect are described similar to modern day hydrogen bombs or thermonuclear (fusion) bombs. In the epic Mahabharata, it is said that the weapon would manifest with the four heads of Lord Brahma as its tip. In the Mahabharata era Parasurama, Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Ashwatthama, Arjuna possessed the knowledge to invoke this weapon. This astra can be invoked by using sacred mantras onto any object, even to a blade of grass.
In the Mahabharata, it is explained that when this weapon was invoked "it blazed up with terrible flames within a huge sphere of fire. Numerous peals of thunder were heard; thousands of meteors fell; and all living creatures became filled with great dread. The entire welkin seemed to be filled with noise and assumed a terrible aspect with those flames of fire. The whole earth with her mountains and waters and trees, trembled." When it strikes an area, complete destruction would manifest and nothing will grow for next 12 years. It will not rain for 12 years in that area and everything including metal or earth would be poisoned.
In the Mahabharata epic, it is said that the weapon manifests with all the five heads of Lord Brahma as its tip. Brahma earlier lost his fifth head when he fought with Lord Shiva. This weapon, Brahmanda astra is said to possess the power to destroy the entire universe or Brahmand, the 14 realms according to Hindu cosmology. In the Mahabharata era Parasurama, Bhishma, Drona, Karna possessed the knowledge to invoke this weapon. Parashurama, who had sworn to teach Brahmins only, laid a curse upon Karna because he lied about his real identity, that he would forget all the knowledge required to wield the divine weapon Brahmanda astra at the moment of his greatest need when fighting with an equal. When this weapon is invoked, events similar to invoking brahmastra and Brahmashirsha astra take place. As recorded in Hindu puranas, when this weapon is invoked it will cause "the oceans to boil and vaporize due to its heat and earth and mountains will float on the air and everything will burn without even leaving ashes". This weapon is used for defensive or offensice purposes or as a counter to brahmastra and Brahmashirsha astra. When used as a counter to brahmastra and brahmashirsha astra it will swallow the brahmastra or brahmashirsha astra to neutralize it. When used as an offensive weapon nothing can stop or escape from it. Guru Drona possessed the knowledge about this weapon and he never gave it to his son Ashwathama and his favorite student Arjuna. During the Mahabharata war, Drona invoked this weapon to use it against the Pandava army but upon the requests of the Gods themselves, the Saptarishi's and his ancestors, Drona revoked this weapon because it would completely annihilate the Pandava army who were fighting on the side of righteousness.