What is Brahmastra?
Brahmastra is made of two words – ‘Brahma’ and ‘Astra’. Brahma, as the lord of creation, also created this celestial weapon. Astra is any weapon that is used from a distance, like an arrow or missile (unlike Shastra, which is a weapon that is used while holding it like a sword).
Brahmastra is described in many Puranas as a deadly weapon that never fails. It is like a fiery fierce fireball which blazes up with flames and thunder flashes when deployed. Where ever it lands, all forms of life are decimated, including trees, animals and even water sources like lakes or even oceans. It has the capability of shaking mountains. There is long-term environmental damage – It is said that there would be no rainfall for 12 Brahma Years, which is around 37.32 trillion human years.
The descriptions of Brahmastra suggest that it was similar to modern-day atomic weapons.
How is it invoked?
Brahmastra can be invoked by chanting the sacred mantra. Any object can be converted into a Brahmastra. In many instances, a normal arrow was converted into it and then deployed to the target person or army.
Extreme focus and concentration is needed to invoke Brahmastra and it can be used only once in a day. Once invoked, it has to be launched. Only the one who invoked it can stop it, call it back or re-direct it.
Across Purana, Vedas and epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata, very few warriors had the knowledge to yield Brahmastra.
What happens when it is deployed?
In Puranas, it is described that when Brahmastra is used, a column of smoke along with flames is seen. The flames burn as bright as thousands of suns. It is a messenger of death which reduces everything to ashes. The dead bodies are burnt beyond recognition. Those who survive lose their hair and nails. Even the plant and animals turn white and die.
All the descriptions of Brahmastra’s effects match the destructions caused by nuclear weapons.
Use of Brahmastra in Ramayana
In Ramayana, Lord Ram could wield Brahmastra. He was given this weapon by Guru Viswamitra. Lord Ram invoked it several times –
- Against Indra’s Son Jayanta when he hurt Sita
- As per the Sundara Kanda, when Ram, Sita and Lakshman were exiled, they lived in a forest in Chitrakut. One day, Lord Ram was resting with his head on the lap of Sita. Indra’s son Jayanta took the form of a crow and attacked Sita with its claws and beaks. This caused Sita to move, thus waking Ram. When Ram saw Sita bleeding and saw the Crow’s claws covered in her blood, he got really angry. Ram then took a blade of grass and invoked Brahmastra into it and sent it after the Crow. Jayanta got scared and flew away to save his life. However, the grass-arrow kept following it where ever he tried to escape. Ultimately, he went back to Ram and surrendered and asked for their forgiveness. Ram told him that Brahmastra can not be stopped once it is invoked, but it can be redirected. So Ram redirected it towards Jayanta’s right eye. Ram spared his life but left him half-blind.
- Against Ocean to give him way to Lanka
- When Ram found that Sita was held captive by Ravana in Lanka, he gathered an army to go and rescue Sita. However, Lanka, being an island, was surrounded by the ocean. Ram thus requested the Ocean God to make way for Ram and his army to pass through. Unfortunately, the Ocean God refused. Ram then invoked the Brahmastra to use it to dry out the ocean itself. When the Ocean God saw this, he came to Ram begging for forgiveness. He promised that Ram and his army will be able to cross the ocean and reach Lanka with his help. But since Ram had already invoked it, it couldn’t be sent back. So, Ram changed its direction and fired the weapon toward the region, which is the present-day Rajasthan state in India. This caused the rivers to dry out and turned the entire land into a desert.
- Against Ravana
- In the last battle against Ravana, Ram tried every possible way to kill Ravana, but to no avail. Then he remembered that Ravana had Amrit (elixir of immortality) stored in his navel. So Ram used Brahmastra to kill Ravana. This generated so much heat that the Amrit evaporated, leaving Ravana to die.
- Others who used Brahmastra
- Indrajit was the son of Ravana. When Hanuman came to Lanka looking for Sita, he was captured and brought in front of Ravana and his court. There, Hanuman gave Ram’s message to Ravana to return Sita or else face war. This angered Ravana and everyone in the court, including Indrajit. So, when Hanuman eventually freed himself and then went on to burn down various buildings in Lanka, Indrajit was the first one to go after him. Since no one was able to stop Hanuman, Indrajit decided to use Brahmastra against him. He invoked and released it towards Hanuman. The divine weapon tied Hanuman and left him powerless. But it could not kill Hanuman as he had received a boon from Brahma himself. Thus, the weapon incapacitated Hanuman for just a few hours. When he regained consciousness, Hanuman was back to his full strength. He was able to free himself and continued creating chaos in Lanka before going back to Ram to inform him of Sita’s location.
Use of Brahmastra in Mahabharata
- Curse of Karna
- Karna learnt the skill of using Brahmastra from Parshuram. However, Parshuram had a condition that he wouldn’t teach anyone from the ruling clan. Since Karna grew up without knowing his true parentage, when asked, he could not disclose his true identity to Parshuram. One day, Parshuram was resting with his head on Karna’s lap. Suddenly, an insect started biting Karna on his thigh. He did not want his teacher to wake up, so he didn’t move. This led the insect deeper into his thigh, causing severe bleeding. When Parshuram woke and saw all this, he realised that only someone from the royal clan can endure so much pain. Parshuram felt Karn had deceived him deliberately, so he cursed his student. Parshuram cursed Karna that he would forget how to invoke Brahmastra.
- Arjun vs Ashwathama
- Dronacharya trained all the royal children, but he had a special corner for Arjuna. He taught him how to invoke and withdraw Brahmastra. Dronacharya also partially taught his own son Ashwathama how to invoke it.
- During the Mahabharata, after Dronacharya was killed, Ashwathama came looking for Arjuna to kill him and avenge his father. He invoked Brahmastra and as a countermeasure, Arjuna too invoked Brahmastra. However, the collision of two Brahmastra would wipe out the entire world. To stop this massacre, all the divine beings came and requested both Arjuna and Ashwathama to call off the Brahmastra. Arjun called back his Brahmastra, but Ashwathama did not. Instead, he redirected the deadly weapon towards the unborn child, Parikshit, in Uttra’s womb. Krishna used his powers to keep the child safe from it.
- Brahmastra is a deadly weapon, a lot like modern-day atomic weapons.
- It has been mentioned in Puranas, Vedas and epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata several times, but has been used only a few times.