The Mysterious Weapons

The Mysterious Weapons

 

Advanced war techniques of Mahabharata period

Magic? Technology? Myth?

 

Mahabharata in its entirety is renowned for the usage of multiple mysterious weapons. The portrayal some of the celestial weapons has been interpreted by different kind of people in a few different ways based on their visualization/interpretation of the epic. The unbelievers cite these celestial weapons to outrightly reject Mahabharata as a myth as they believe that Ancient India was neither scientifically advanced enough to create such weapons of mass destruction, nor is it possible to accept the stories of divine interference in the then Indian political system to grant magical weapons to the kings of the period. On the other hand, the blind believers root strong for the literal interpretation of the most recent version of the epic and believe that the Gods gifted magical weapons to the powerful warriors, and the magical powers could create catestrophic effects as mentioned in the epic. There are also the alien theorists, who believe ancient India was in contact with some unkown alien species who provided advance technologies including Weapons of Mass Destruction to the then Indian sub continent.There are also a group of proud nationalists/fundamentalists who believe that science and technology was advanced enough in ancient India to create weapons of mass destruction, aircrafts etc.And finally there are also those analysts who question the very description of the power and effects of some of these weapons in the epic. And rightly, everyone who has one of the above described analysis (or a different one that's not listed here) do have the right to believe as they do. And any description that could be listed here to talk about these mysterious weapons would be contradicting the belief systems of some of the above groups. Having made the differences clear, this page would focus on describing these weapons as they are described in the epic and an analysis of what these weapons might have been and probable technologies behind them.

 

The categorization of weapons

 

According to Dhanurveda weapons are divided into four kinds as per the use of such weapons.

Mukta, Amukta and Muktāmukta are the main types of weapons.

 

  • Mukta means which is released completely from the user. Discus and darts are examples for this.
  • Amukta type of weapons cannot be released from the hand. The weapons like gadha and sword are best examples.
  • Weapons which are sometimes released are called Muktamukta. Weapons like Shula and Axe are examples of this variety.

 

Mukta weapons are again classified based on their mode of release.

  • Weapons hurled with the help of machines are called Yantramukta. A catapult ball or an arrow shot from a bow are examples for this.
  • Weapons hurleed directly by hand are called Panimukta. Throwing of stones, spears etc would fall under this.
  • Weapons which are hurled with the power of mantras are called Mantramukta. Brahmastra is an example.

Were the Celestial Weapons really magic?

 

Out of all these types of weapons, the Mantramukta weapons are the most debated and justifably the most mysterious of the weapons. While the creation and usage of all other types of weapons are crystal clear and are very much realistic in nature, the effects and usage of the Mantramukta weapons described in the epic are hard to believe since no clear description of the method to use or invoke these weapons are known to today's mankind. As as described in the introduction above different people have different views and beliefs on the existence of such weapons and the technology behind those. Contrary to popular beliefs, these so called celestial weapons which fall under the Mantramukta category could have been weapons made with some kind of bio-chemical assistance that made them deadly and over a period of time their effects got exaggerated due to the poetic language used for their description.

 

For example the Agni-astras described could have been arrows tipped with naptha (there are theories that Arabs picked it up from the Indians and Chinese, who developed naptha based weapons and later gunpowder). The Nagastra described could have been arrows tipped with snake poison. And similarly their could have some simple or complex addition to standard arrows/catapults that made them so dangerous and destructive that their effects were ubelievable to common men of that period, and hence got sung and exaggerated in the poetic recreation of the epic.

 

And it could possibly be the reason why certain warriors gained knowledge on the usage of such weapons/technology, Such knowledge would have been gained either from theri teachers or by travelling around to learn about the weapons and technolgies available in different parts of the world. For example Arjuna gained the knowledge of Brahmastra from his teacher Drona, while he gained the knowledge of Pashupatastra while travelling across the wild during the exile period.

The Celestial Weapons

 

With the background set clear and the popular beliefs and possible reality behind the celestrial weapons, a short introduction to a few of the different celestial weapons desribed in the epic is covered below.

Weapon

Possessed by (Mahabharata Period)

Description in the Epic

What it might actually have been?

Akshya Trunira

Arjuna

Trunira means ‘QUIVER’. Akshya means ‘Un-Ending’. This was given to Arjuna by Varuna during the same Khandava Vana episode.The special feature of the quiver was that it never ends in terms of arrows and was always full.

Arjuna probably learnt during the Khandava episode, the art of filling up/organizing weapons in his Chariot so efficiently that it seemed like his quiver was unending. Another possibility is the acquiring of a machine/device that keeps moving arrows from different parts of the charriot to his quiver when it gets emptied.

Agneyastra

Parasurama, Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Kripa, Ashwatthama, Arjuna and several Maharathis.

The weapon discharged would emit flames inextinguishable through normal means.

This could probably have been an arrow head tipped with naptha. And it is possible that it was fired after creating a spark on the arrowhead (scratching against the chariot surface) that creates a fire which is held on during the arrow's flight by naptha.

Varunastra

Parasurama, Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Kripa, Ashwatthama, Arjuna and several Maharathis.

The weapon discharged would release torrential volumes of water. This weapon is commonly mentioned as used to counter the Agneyastra.

This somehow sounds like a mystery, as discharging torrential volumes of water in a battlefield doesn't sound like a possibility. This could probably be a weapon used to discharge some kind of fire estinguishing material used/known during the period.

Nagastra

Parasurama, Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Kripa, Ashwatthama, Arjuna and several Maharathis.

The snake weapon was used by Indrajit against Rama and lakshmana, and was used by Karna against Arjuna in Mahabharata. This weapon take on the form of a snake, proving deadly upon impact.

This might simply be an arrow with snake poison applied to its head. Such poison dipped weapons were found to be used by multiple tribals across India, and hence this cannot be accounted as a mysterious weapon.

Nagapashastra

Parasurama, Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Ashwatthama and Arjuna

Contrary to the Nagastra, upon impact, this weapon would bind the target in coils of living venomous snakes.

It's doesn't sound practical to add live snake to a discharged weapon. This probably was similar to Nagastra with subtle differences that would make the effect more severe. For eg, there could be some kind of a heating mechanism to vapourise the venom that would enable the target to be surrounded with poisonous gases - again it's just a possibility.

Garudastra

Parasurama, Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Ashwatthama and Arjuna

A weapon that can defend against Nagaastra.

It's not quite clear, what kind of defence mechanism is needed against a poisonous arrow. To consider this as an anti-venom would make sense if used as a remedy to save people wounded with the Nagastra. Probably, the Garudastra by itself might be such a medical remedy than an actual weapon to be used on the battlefield.

Sanmohanastra

Arjuna

Would cause entire hosts/armies to collapse in a trance. Arjuna uses this weapon against the Kaurava army during the Virata war.

This weapon was probably a delivery system for sleep inducing gases. Today we could think of gases like halothane vapour (Fluothane), methyl propyl ether (Neothyl), methoxyflurane (Penthrane) and the undisclosed fentanyl derivative, all of which could put people to sleep. One probability is that some kind of chemical of this nature was discovered by someone and then integrated into a warhead, which Arjuna learnt during one of his tours.

Narayanastra

Drona, Aswasthama

The weapon belonged to Narayan (VISHNU). It was a unique celestial weapon because when fired it launches a powerful tirade of millions of deadly weapons simultaneously. 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. The intensity of the shower increases with resistance. It had the ability to kill and destroy anyone or anything. No obstacle could stop it. It can’t be destructed by another weapon. The only way to stop it was through total submission. During war it was used by Aswasthama on the 16th day of the war and Krishna adviced the Pandavas to lay down their weapons and toally submit to the Narayanastra.

It could probably have been a mechanical device or a war machine which could release multiple weapons which are loaded from the base of the machine/device (probably a dual disk launcher which uses something similar to magnetic leviation to launch weapons). And Krishna probably adviced the Pandavas to take cover, stay low and destroy the base of the machine.

Bhargavastra

Parasurama, Karna

Parashurama 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.

From the description it sounds a bit similar to the Narayanastra and Indrastra. It could also likely be a similar war machine.

Sudarshana Chakra

Krishna

The most powerful chakra weapon is always alluded to the Supreme Lord Vishnu. Krishna being an incarnation of Vishnu wielded the weapon. It has tremendous occult and spiritual power to destroy everything. It is belieived to be the most powerful weapon, and it could not be possese by any mortal (Though some versions of Mahabharata describes Arjuna as the sole human who could wield the weapon). Krishna used the Sudarshana Chakra to severe Shishupala's head during Yudhistira's Rajasooya Yagna.

Though Chakra was a weapon used by other warriors as well, the Sudarshana chakra was probably a well designed, heavy and sharp Chakra weapon that could travel greater distance and needed more skills and practice to use it efficiently. And Krishna was probably the greatest warrior who could handle the chakra weapon with ease, and probably the only one who was renowned during the period to make the Chakra an efficient weapon for wars.

Brahmastra

Parasurama, Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Kripa, Ashwatthama, Arjuna and several Maharathis.

Would destroy entire hosts at once. Could also counter most other astras. In the epic Mahabharata, it is said that the weapon manifests with the single head of Lord Brahma as its tip. The Brahmastra was 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 , as both men and women became infertile. There was also severe decrease in rainfall with land developing cracks like in a drought. This weapon is mentioned in the Vedas as the weapon of last resort and was never to be used in combat . The Mahabharata gives much detail about this weapon and narrates it as a weapon with a single projectile charged with all the power of the universe. The Hindu puranas throws much more light into this weapon stating “ An Incandescent colum of smoke and flame as bright as ten thousand suns rose in all its splendour. It was an unknown weapon , an iron thunderbolt, a gigantic messenger of death, which reduced the entire race of Vrishnis and the Andhakas, The corpses were so burned as they were never to be recognised, their hair fell and the nails as well, pottery broke without apparent cause and the birds turned white. Within hours all foodstock were infected.

This is indeed one of the mysterious weapons, as the description of its effects is very much similar to a modern day missile or atomic weapon. Many of the alien theorists believe that it's indeed some kind of nuclear technology handed over to ancient Indians. In reality, the effects of these weapons seem to be too exaggerated. And assuming even 10% of the description being real, would still make this a real mysterious weapon. And the only possibility of it being a real weapon (and not an imaginative story) is that ancient Indians had knowledge to weapons that could really explode like an atomic warhead, which seems to be a very very distant possibility and hard to believe.

Bramashirshastra

 Parasurama, Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Arjuna and Ashwatthama

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. The Mahabharata explains this weapon when invoked “ It Blaze up with terrible flames with a huge sphere. Numerous peals of thunder were heard , thousands of meteors fell and all living creatures trembled with utter dread. The whole earth trembled , mountains , water bodies and trees all alike. When this weapon was targeted and used , there was no escaping. It would bring total annihilation. The area it hit, it will create a complete destruction and nothing were to grow , not even a single blade of grass for the next 12 years . The area would not have a single drop of rain for the next 12 years. Everything in that entire area would be poisoned including metal & earth

Similar to the Brahmastra, this is another weapon with increased effects. So the same mystery applies here as well - even if we assume it to be an improved version of the Brahmastra with more horsepower.

Brahmandastra

Parasurama, Drona and Karna

A defensive weapon. Capable of repelling any astra ever created. In the epic Mahabharata, it is said that the weapon manifest with the all 5 heads of Lord Brahma as its tip. This weapon is said to possess the power to destroy the entire solar systems or Brahmand, the 14 realms according to Hindu cosmology. When this weapon is invoked , events similar to Brahmashirsha astra and Brahmastra takes place . According to the Puranas , when this weapon is invoked it will cause “ The Oceans to boil due to its heat . Earth and Mountains will float on air , and everything will burn without ever leaving ashes “

This is yet another magnified version of the Brahmastra and Brahmashirshastra which is described to be more powerful than the Brahma and Brahmashirsha weapons, and hence enters the list of un-decoded mysteries.

Pashupatastra

Arjuna

One of the most powerful weapons among all the astras. Would destroy target completely, irrespective of target's nature. When released, the weapon summons several monsters and a huge spirit which personifies the weapon. Each time the weapon is summoned, its head is never the same.

The description of the effects of Pashupatastra is also very severe, except that this weapon is described more as a personal attack weapon which destructs the surroundings as well (unlike the Brahma, Brahmashirsha and Brahmanda whose effects are more related to explosions and devastations). Another mysterious description indeed.

Vaishnavastra

Bhagadatta

This is the celstial weapon of Vishnu and had to be obtained from Vishnu directly, and only Vishnu can halt the weapon. In the Mahabharata war, Bhagadatta used the Vaishnavastra against Arjun, and Krishna stood up and let the arrow hit him which in turn becomes a garland. As per Vishnupurana, this is the fastest astra out of all weapons used in Mahabharata.

This was probably some kind of a arrow with a special nock to enable great launch speed and special fletchings to enable higher flight speed, and may be a very rigid head that can penetrate rigid armours.

Vasava Shakti

Karna

This powerful weapon belongs to Indra and it was graced to Karna by Indra. Karna was planning to use it against Arjuna, but had use it against Ghatothkachan to save the army of Duryodhana from mass destruction. This weapon is also described as one which is certain to kill any target.

This might probably have been an arrow with a sharp arrow head (something like a diamond head) which would make the wound a mortal one. Another possibility is that the arrow head gets cut off once the arrow pierces the target.

Anjalikastra

Arjuna

This weapon of Indra was used by Arjuna to behead Karna.

Likely a simple arrow with a crescent shaped arrowhead.

Gandharvastra

Arjuna

Just after launching this weapon, the whole chariot gets covered with Manojava particles (particles that can travel faster than speed of light). Due to these particles the cariot and the warrior on it becomes able to travel more than the speed of light which give the perceptio that they are present at different places at the same time. Thic confuses the enemy and gives enough time to cause huge devastation to enemey forces.

It's still quite unrealistic to imagine that someone during the Mahabharata period had the skills/technology to deceive the enemy with illusions as mentioned in the epic. Gandharva weapon might probably the name of a war technique/strategy used to confuse the enemy with illusions and use the time to cause damage (something similar to a Guerilla warfare technique).

Rudrastra

 Parasurama, Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Arjuna and Ashwatthama

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 enemies in thousands. Ashwatthama used this during the nocturnal slaughter at the end of the war.

By the description of the weapon during the slaughter by Ashwatthama, this sound like another war machine that could used for a massacre - something similar to the Narayanastra mentioned above.

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Email: princevenus@mahabharata-research.com