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The Brahmastram and Other Divine Weapons in the Puranams

The astras are transcendental, supernatural weapons created by the Lord, and pre
sided over by a specific Deity. In order to summon or use an astra, one must hav
e the required knowledge, i.e., the specific mantra that will arm, direct, and d
isarm the astra. The presiding deity, once properly invoked, endows the weapon,
making it essentially impossible for foes to counter its potency through regular
means.
As described in sastra, specific conditions existed involving the usage of vario
us astras, and the violation of proper protocol could be fatal. Because of the p
ower involved, the knowledge involving use of an astra was passed from guru to d
isciple by word of mouth alone, and only the most qualified students were made p
rivy to the information. Certain astras had to be handed down directly from the
presiding deity himself, as having knowledge of the mantras alone was insufficie
nt.
The importance of astras is described in particular detail in the Ramayana and M
ahabharata, which describes their use in epic battles. Various pastimes describe
the use of astras by archers such as Rama, Arjuna, and Bhisma. They generally i
nvoked the astras into arrows, although they could potentially be used with anyt
hing. For example, Ashwatthama invoked an astra using a blade of grass as his we
apon.
One of the most famous astras is Pashupatastra, being the inconceivably potent a
nd highly destructive personal weapon of Lord Siva. He discharged Pashupatastra
by means of his mind, eyes, words, or bow. Never to be used against lesser enemi
es or by lesser warriors, the Pashupata is capable of destroying creation and va
nquishing all beings.
In Mahabharata and Srimad Bhagavatam we also read about the foremost astra, Sri
Brahmastra, which will be discussed in tomorrow's segment.
Following are the primary astras mentioned in Ramayana and Mahabharata (Astra, P
residing Deity, Weapon's Effect):
Aindra astra:
Presiding Deity: Indra, the god of weather
Weapon's Effect: Would bring about a shower of arrows from the sky.
Agneya astra:
Presiding Deity: Agni, the god of fire
Weapon's Effect: The weapon discharged would emit flames inextinguishable throug
h normal means.
Varuna astra:
Presiding Deity: Varuna, the god of water
Weapon's Effect: The weapon discharged would release torrential volumes of water
. This weapon is commonly mentioned as used to counter the Agneyastra.
Naga astra:
Presiding Deity: The Nagas
Weapon's Effect: The weapon would have an un-erring aim and take on the form of
a snake, proving deadly upon impact.
Naga paasha:
Presiding Deity: The Nagas
Weapon's Effect: Upon impact, this weapon would bind the target in coils of livi
ng venomous snakes. In the Ramayana, it was used against Lord Rama and Lakshmana
by Indrajit.
Vayu astra:
Presiding Deity: Vayu, the god of wind
Weapon's Effect: Bring about a gale capable of lifting armies off the ground.
Surya astra:
Presiding Deity: Surya, the sun god
Weapon's Effect: Create a dazzling light that would dispel any darkness about.
Vajra astra:
Presiding Deity: Indra
Weapon's Effect: Target would be struck with bolts of lightning (vajra referring
to Indra's thunderbolt).
Mohini astra:
Presiding Deity: Mohini, Visnu avatar
Weapon's Effect: Dispel any form of maya or sorcery in the vicinity.
Twashtar astra:
Presiding Deity: Twashtri, the heavenly builder
Weapon's Effect: 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 astra:
Presiding Deity:
Weapon's Effect: Would cause entire hosts/armies to collapse in a trance.
Parvata astra:
Presiding Deity:
Weapon's Effect: Would cause a Parvata/mountain to fall on the target from the s
kies.
Brahmaastra:
Presiding Deity: Brahma, the Creator
Weapon's Effect: Would destroy entire hosts at once. Could also counter most oth
er astras.
Brahmasirsha astra:
Presiding Deity: Brahma, the Creator
Weapon's Effect: Capable of killing devas. Was used by Ashwatthama on Parikshit.
Narayana astra:
Presiding Deity: Visnu, the Preserver
Weapon's Effect: Would create showers of arrows and discs. The astra's power wou
ld increase with the resistance offered to it. This weapon had to be obtained fr
om Vishnu directly, and could be used only once.
Vaishnava astra:
Presiding Deity: Visnu, the Preserver
Weapon's Effect: Would destroy target completely, irrespective of target's natur
e. Infallible. This weapon had to be obtained from Vishnu directly.
Pashupata astra:
Presiding Deity: Shiva, the Destroyer
Weapon's Effect: Would destroy target completely, irrespective of target's natur
e. Infallible. This weapon had to be obtained from Shiva directly.
The Brahmastra:
As described in the sastra, a Brahmastra is an astra, or celestial weapon create
d by Lord Brahma. It is sometimes known as the Brahma Astra (astra referring to
'missile weapon'). As described in a number of the Puranas, Brahmastra is consid
ered to be the very deadliest of weapons. When a Brahmastra is discharged, neith
er a counterattack nor a defense of any kind can stop it.
The Brahmastra never misses its mark and must be used with very specific intent
against an enemy, whether an individual or army, as the target will face complet
e annihilation. Brahmastra is said to be obtained by meditating on Lord Brahma,
and can be used only once in a lifetime. The user would have to display immense
amounts of mental concentration in order to get sanction to arm and use the weap
on. Since Brahma is the Creator in Sanatana Dharma, it is understood that Brahma
stra was created by him for the purpose of upholding Dharma and Satya.
According to sastra, the Brahmastra is invoked by a key mantra that is bestowed
upon the user when he is given the weapon. By properly chanting the mantra, the
user can call upon the weapon and deploy it with annhiliative force against his
adversary.
The Brahmastra also causes severe environmental damage. The land where the weapo
n is used becomes barren for eons, and all life in and around that area ceases t
o exist. Women and men become infertile. There is severe decrease in rainfall an
d the land develops cracks, like in a drought.
There are numerous descriptions of weapons created by various demigods, such as
the astras and presiding deities mentioned in part one of this review: Agneyastr
a, Brahmastra, Chakram, Garudastra, Kaumodaki, Narayanastra, Pashupata, Shiva Dh
anush, Sudarshana Chakra, Trishul, Vaishnavastra, Varunastra, and Vayavastra. Am
ong them, the Brahmastra is considered to be the most powerful of all.
There are numerous instances found within the Vedic scriptures wherein the Brahm
astra is used, or its use is threatened. For example, there is the confrontation
of Arjuna and Ashwatthama in Mahabharata, where Arjuna retracts his weapon as o
rdered, but Ashwatthama, unable to do so, instead sends it to attack Arjuna's un
born grandson, Parikshit, who is subsequently saved by Krishna. Ashwatthama did
not have his bow and arrow near him when he was confronted by Arjuna, so he took
a piece of grass and after silently invoking the mantra, he threw the straw at
Arjuna, and it carried the power of the Brahmastra.
Similarly in the Ramayana, passages describe how the Brahmastra was used by Rama
as the final blow against the rakshasa Ravana, during their battle in Lanka.
In the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana the following descriptions are given:
Srimad Bhagavatam 1.7.30: "When the rays of the two brahmastras combined, a grea
t circle of fire, like the disc of the sun, covered all outer space and the whol
e firmament of planets."
Purport by Srila Prabhupada: "The heat created by the flash of a brahmastra rese
mbles the fire exhibited in the sun globe at the time of cosmic annihilation. Th
e radiation of atomic energy is very insignificant in comparison to the heat pro
duced by a brahmastra. The atomic bomb explosion can at utmost blow up one globe
, but the heat produced by the brahmastra can destroy the whole cosmic situation
. The comparison is therefore made to the heat at the time of annihilation."
Srimad Bhagavatam 1.7.32: "Thus seeing the disturbance of the general populace a
nd the imminent destruction of the planets, Arjuna at once retracted both brahma
stra weapons, as Lord Sri Krishna desired."
Purport by Srila Prabhupada: "The theory that the modern atomic bomb explosions
can annihilate the world is childish imagination. First of all, the atomic energ
y is not powerful enough to destroy the world. And secondly, ultimately it all r
ests on the supreme will of the Supreme Lord because without His will or sanctio
n nothing can be built up or destroyed. It is foolish also to think that natural
laws are ultimately powerful. Material nature s law works under the direction of
the Lord, as confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita. The Lord says there that natural la
ws work under His supervision. The world can be destroyed only by the will of th
e Lord and not by the whims of tiny politicians. Lord Sri Krishna desired that t
he weapons released by both Drauni and Arjuna be withdrawn, and it was carried o
ut by Arjuna at once. Similarly, there are many agents of the all-powerful Lord,
and by His will only can one execute what He desires."