In Hinduism, an Astra (Sanskrit: अस्त्र) was a supernatural weapon, presided over by a specific deity and imbued with spiritual or occult power that caused its effect or impact. Later the word 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]). In Ramayana and Mahabharata, Arjuna had more Astras than other warriors. It is said that Arjuna possessed almost all Astras except Narayanastra.
1. Sudarshana Chakra
The Sudarshana Chakra (सुदर्शन चक्र) is a spinning, disk-like weapon, literally meaning “disk of auspicious vision,” having 108 serrated edges used by the Hindu god Vishnu. The Sudarshana Chakra is generally portrayed on the right rear hand of the four hands of Vishnu, who also holds a shankha (conch shell), a Gada (mace) and a padma (lotus). While in the Rigveda the Chakra was Vishnu’s symbol as the wheel of time, by the late period Sudarshana Chakra emerged as an ayudhapurusha (anthropomorphic form), as a fierce form of Vishnu, used for the destruction of an enemy. In Tamil, the Sudarshana Chakra is also known as Chakkrath Azhwar (translated as Ring/Circlet of God).
The legendary disc, Sudarshana Chakra was gifted to Lord Vishnu by Lord Shiva. It was formed from the dust of sun and scraps taken from the Trident of Shiva and made by the architect of Gods – Vishwakarma. Most powerful, infallible, flies at the command of Vishnu. Can be stopped only by Lord Vishnu. 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.
2. Trishul (Trident)
The Trident of Lord Shiva. Most Powerful Weapon, Infallible, cannot be stopped by anyone, except Lord Shiva himself and Goddess Shakti (consort of lord Shiva in Parvati form). Though it was once stopped by Atikaya (son of Ravana), who caught hold of it mid-air.
The trishula symbolism is polyvalent and rich. It is wielded by the god Shiva and is said to have been used to sever the original head of Ganesha. Durga also holds a Trishula, as one of her many weapons.
The three points have various meanings and significance, and, common to the Hindu religion, have many stories behind them. They are commonly said to represent various trinities—creation, maintenance, and destruction; past, present, and future; body, mind and atman; dharma or dhamma (law and order), bliss/mutual enjoyment and emanation/created bodies; compassion, joy and love; spiritual, psychic and relative; happiness, comfort and boredom; pride, repute and egotism; clarity, knowledge and wisdom; heaven, mind and earth; soul, fire and earth; soul, passion and embodied-soul; logic, passion and faith; prayer, manifestation and sublime; insight, serenity and Bodhisattvahood or Arhatship (anti-conceit); practice, understanding and wisdom; death, ascension and resurrection; creation, order and destruction; the three gunas. When looked upon as a weapon of Shiva, the Trishula is said to destroy the three worlds: the physical world, the world of the forefathers (representing culture drawn from the past) and the world of the mind (representing the processes of sensing and acting). The three worlds are supposed to be destroyed by Shiva into a single non-dual plane of existence, that is bliss alone.
The Pashupatastra (Pāśupatāstra, sanskrit: पाशुपतास्त्र; the weapon of Pasupati, an epithet of Shiva) in Ancient Hindu History is an irresistible and most destructive personal weapon of Shiva, Kali and Adi Para Shakti, which can be discharged by the mind, the eyes, words, or a bow. Never to be used against lesser enemies or by lesser warriors, the Pashupatastra is capable of destroying creation and vanquishing all beings. Pashupatastra is the most destructive, powerful, irresistible weapon mentioned in the Hindu mythology. In Mahabharata; only Arjuna and in Ramayana; sage Vishvamitra and Meghanada possessed Pashupatastra. It is one of the six ‘Mantramukta’ weapons that cannot be resisted.
This one among the deadliest weapon ever acknowledge to humankind next to trishula.
In Mahabharata, Arjuna obtained this weapon from Lord Shiva. However, he never used it because the weapon would destroy the whole world.
4. Brahmashirsha Astra
The Brahmashirsha astra is a weapon described in the Indian Mahabharata, capable of killing Devas.
According to Mahabharata, the characters Ashwatthama and Arjun used this weapon. It is thought that the Brahmashirsha astra is the evolution of the Brahmastra, and showered a shower of meteors to annihilate the enemy. The weapon manifests with the four heads of Lord Brahma as its tip. The characters Sage Agnivesa, Drona, Arjuna, Karna and Ashwatthama possessed the knowledge to invoke this weapon. This weapon can be invoked into any object, even to a blade of grass.
In Mahabharata, it is explained that when this weapon is invoked, “It blazes 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 terrified with great dread. The entire sky seemed to be filled with noise and assumed a terrible aspect with flames of fire. The whole earth with her mountains and waters and trees trembled.” When it strikes an area, it will cause complete destruction and nothing will ever grow, not even a blade of grass for the next 12 years. It will not rain for 12 years in that area and everything including metal and earth becomes poisoned.
5. Rudra Astra
The Rudra Astra is one of the foremost devasting weapons at Shiva’s disposal.
Considered as the powerful weapon, it accommodates the power of one of the Eleven Rudras, the terrible energies of Shiva. In the Mahabharata, Karna attacked Arjuna with Rudra Astra that pierced his Shiva Kavach on his chest. The Kavach lost its spiritual strength due to the powerful strike by Rudra Astra and Arjuna’s grip on his Gandhiva Bow was lost to some extent.
These weapons are as divine as Shiva Himself. Lord Shiva is not partial to anyone nor does He despise anyone from the three worlds nor does He wish to wield His powers. But when His devotees or saints are disturbed by the demonic kings or rulers, He performs the major role in divine plans against the demons wherein He blesses whoever pleases Him with these divine weapons.
In ancient Indian history, the Brahmastra (Sanskrit: ब्रह्मास्त्र, IAST: Brahmāstra) and its variants, the Brahmashirsha astra and the Brahmanda astra were supernatural weapons used in the war of Mahabharata and are collectively called Brahma weapons. The Brahmashirsha astra was a weapon that was said to be able to destroy the world, capable of destroying creation and vanquishing all beings. It is one of the most destructive, powerful and irresistible weapons mentioned in the Ancient Hindu History. These weapons are all created by Lord Brahma, except for brahmanda-astra.
It is termed as a fiery weapon that creates a fierce fireball blazing up with terrible flames and countless horrendous thunder flashes. When discharged, all nature including trees, oceans, and animals tremble, and the sky surrounds with flame, glaciers melt and mountains shatter with copious noise all around.
When struck, it causes complete destruction to each and every resource of that area, further not a single blade of grass will ever grow in that area. There will be no rainfall for 12 years and climate conditions will worsen. The strike of Brahmastra will eventually destroy everything.
The Narayanastra (Sanskrit: नारायणास्त्र, romanized: nārāyaṇastra) (or Narainastra) was the personal weapon of Lord Vishnu in his Narayana form. This weapon in turn fires a powerful tirade of millions of deadly missiles simultaneously. The intensity of the shower rises with increase in resistance. The only way to defend against the missile is to show total submission before the missiles hit, this in turn will cause this weapon to stop and spare the target. It is one of the six ‘Mantramukta’ weapons that cannot be resisted.
Ashwathama, a warrior-hero in the epic Mahabharata unleashes this weapon on the Pandava forces after the death of Drona. Lord Krishna, who is an avatar of Vishnu tells the Pandavas and their warriors to drop their weapons and lie down on the ground, so that they all surrender completely to the power of the weapon. It was also said that this weapon can be used only once in a war and if one tries to use it twice, then it would devour the user’s own army.
When it was used, Ekadasha (Eleven) Rudras appeared in the sky to destroy Pandavas. Millions of types of weapons like Chakra, Gadha, ultra-sharp arrows appeared in rage to destroy them. Who ever tried to offend were destroyed. Shri Krishna, who knew how to cool down the Narayanastra, advised Pandavas and their army to immediately drop all types and sorts of weapons from their hands and utterly surrender to the great Astra of Lord Vishnu. Everybody does the same and survives.
When targeted, the Pandava hero Bhima refuses to surrender, thinking it an act of cowardice, and attacks the downpour of fiery arrows. The Narayana weapon concentrates its shower on him, and he gets steadily exhausted. However, he was not killed as Krishna and his brothers restrain him at the right time.
In Mahabharata only Lord Krishna, Drona and Aswathama possessed the Narayanastra.
In Ramayana, only Lord Rama possessed this weapon.
A Vajra is a weapon used as a ritual object to symbolize both the properties of a diamond (indestructibility) and a thunderbolt (irresistible force); the Sanskrit word having both meanings.
The vajra is essentially a type of club with a ribbed spherical head. The ribs may meet in a ball-shaped top, or they may be separate and end in sharp points with which to stab. The vajra is the weapon of the Indian Vedic rain and thunder-deity Indra, and is used symbolically by the dharma traditions of Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism, often to represent firmness of spirit and spiritual power. According to the Indian mythology, vajra is considered as one of the most powerful weapons in the universe.The use of the vajra as a symbolic and ritual tool spread from the Hindu religion to other religions in India and other parts of Asia.
Target would be struck with bolts of lightning (Vajra referring to Indra’s thunderbolt). Apart from Indra, only Arjuna possessed Vajra. Indra gave this Astra to his son Arjuna. The weapon of Indra was created by the bones donated by sage Dadhichi, as tribute to his sacrifice.
Puranas describe the vajra, with the story modified from the Rigvedic original. One major addition involves the role of the Sage Dadhichi. According to one account, Indra, the king of the deva was once driven out of devaloka by an asura named Vritra. The asura was the recipient of a boon whereby he could not be killed by any weapon that was known till the date of his receiving the boon and additionally that no weapon made of wood or metal could harm him. Indra, who had lost all hope of recovering his kingdom was said to have approached Shiva who could not help him.
Indra along with Shiva and Brahma went to seek the aid of Vishnu. Vishnu revealed to Indra that only the weapon made from the bones of Dadhichi would defeat Vritra. Indra and the other deva therefore approached the sage, whom Indra had once beheaded, and asked him for his aid in defeating Vritra. Dadhichi acceded to the deva’s request but said that he wished that he had time to go on a pilgrimage to all the holy rivers before he gave up his life for them. Indra then brought together all the waters of the holy rivers to Naimisha Forest, thereby allowing the sage to have his wish fulfilled without a further loss of time. Dadhichi is then said to have given up his life by the art of yoga after which the gods fashioned the Vajrayudha from his spine. This weapon was then used to defeat the asura, allowing Indra to reclaim his place as the king of devaloka.