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In ancient Sanskrit writings, the Brahmastra (Sanskrit: ब्रह्मास्त्र, IAST: Brahmāstra) was a weapon created by Brahma. The Brahmashirsha astra and Brahmanda astra were similar weapons, created to be even more powerful.
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 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. 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.
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.
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 Vasishta's Brahmanda Astra.
- Indrajit used the Brahmastra against the army of Rama in the Ramayana. Even Rama and Laxmana could not survive this weapon; Laxmana was felled by the weapon. Only the sanjeevani herb brought by Hanuman saved the brothers and their army. Also, Indrajit used the Brahmastra against Hanuman, but Hanuman survived because of boon previously given to him by Lord Brahma.
- In the Ramayana, a Brahmastra is used by Shri Rama several times: once against Jayanta 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. According to the Ramayana, the weapon was also aimed at Varuna to carve a path out of the sea such that Rama's army could march towards the island of Lanka. However, as Rama loaded the weapon, Varuna appeared and offered to assist the king in crossing the ocean. But once invoked, the Brahmastra must be discharged, and hence it was instead aimed towards Dhrumatulya, falling at 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 the 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 themselves. It is believed that the Brahmashirsha astra is the evolution of the brahmastra, 4 times stronger than the brahmastra. Its effect are described similar to modern day hydrogen or thermonuclear 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, and 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 there would be flames, thunder, and a thousand meteors would fall, accompanied with a great din and a trembling of the earth. When it strikes an area, complete destruction would manifest and nothing will grow for next 12 years.
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, and Karna possessed the knowledge to invoke this weapon. 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 offensive 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. During the Kurukshetra war, Drona invoked this weapon to use it against the Pandava army, but upon the requests of the Gods, the Saptarishis, and his ancestors, Drona revoked this weapon because it would completely annihilate the side of righteousness.
- Gopal, Madan (1990). K.S. Gautam, ed. India through the ages. Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. p. 80.