Unleashing the Power of Astras: Divine Weapons in Ancient Epics

Two major Hindu epics, Ramayana and the Mahabharata, narrate the central roles played by celestial weapons known as Astras. It is mentioned that 1,660 million warriors were killed in just 18 days during the Mahabharata war, and only ten warriors survived: 7 from Pandavas and three (Kripacharya, Ashvatthama and Kritavarma) from Kauravas . This portrays that those warriors used several celestial weapons of varying destruction capability in that war, and some of them might be equivalent to current Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs)

Unlike conventional weapons wielded by hand, astras are invoked through sacred mantras and directed through mediums such as arrows or other objects. However, harnessing the power of astras requires more than physical effort—it demands intense mental concentration and spiritual discipline.

Potent and Divine

Astras are endowed with divine powers capable of wreaking havoc upon individuals or entire armies. Some of the mightiest Astras are said to be able to devastate not only the Earth but also other planets. Each Astra is presided over by a specific deity, infusing it with the divine essence. Some Astras are reusable, while others are meant for single use, and each has its unique characteristics, ranging from physical destruction to inducing mental afflictions like confusion or unconsciousness.

Obtaining Astras

Acquiring the knowledge of Astras was no simple feat. One must undergo rigorous meditation and ascetic practices and get the approval of the presiding deity. Arjuna also traveled to the remote Himalayas and did a severe penance to obtain divine weapons from Lord Shiva.

Alternatively, one can learn the mantras from those who possess the knowledge, although this method may diminish the potency of the Astras over time. Arjuna had learned to use various Astras from his preceptor Drona (who had learned them from Bharadwaja who in turn had learned them from Bhargava).

Notably, the most potent Astras are those learned directly from the gods, emphasizing the importance of divine sanction in their usage. For example, the Agneya astra (fire weapon) belonging to Agni, the god of fire, creates fire, and the Varuna astra (water weapon) belonging to Varuna, the water deity, creates water. There are three ultimate divine weapons: the Brahmastra of Brahma, the Narayanastra related to Vishnu, and finally, the Pashupatastra of Shiva.

Responsibility and Consequence

Astras must be wielded responsibly given their destructive potential. Improper use or invocation can have catastrophic consequences, even fatal outcomes. This is why obtaining the deity’s sanction is crucial—it ensures that the wielder possesses the wisdom and moral integrity to use the astra judiciously.

Mediums of Invocation

While arrows are the most common medium for invoking Astras, other objects like spears or even pure thought can serve as conduits for their release. The choice of medium may vary depending on the circumstances, as exemplified by the astra known as Aisika, which required nothing more than a simple grass stalk or reed.

Powerful Astras

Following are the powerful Astras mentioned in the epics;

  1. Agni Astra (Agneya astra or fire weapon)
  2. Aindra Astra
  3. Antardhana Astra
  4. Bhauma Astra
  5. Brahma Astra
  6. Brahmasira
  7. Naga Astra
  8. Narayana Astra
  9. Parvata Astra
  10. Pasupata Astra
  11. Prajna Astra
  12. Sakti Astra
  13. Sammohana Astra
  14. Surya Astra
  15. Vaishnava Astra
  16. Vajra Astra
  17. Varuna Astra
  18. Vayu Astra
  19. Visoshana Astra

Launching of Astras

Mantras are required to invoke an astra. Before launching the astra, the invoker chants a mantra with utmost concentration. It is like telepathic communication to Gods, Demi-Gods, or their control unit who bestowed that weapon. This, in turn, results in a remote method invocation. Thus, the Astra is navigated through the remote invocation method controlled from distant planets or the universe using an advanced navigational system.

Most weapons are aim-and-shoot and depend on the warrior’s precision, but some require guidance or navigation. In the Kurukshetra war, arrows, mazes, and grass (biological address) were used as mediums. The force, the characteristics of destruction, and the after-effects of these weapons are described in ancient Vedas.


Astras represent not just weapons of destruction but also symbols of divine power and cosmic order. Their invocation demands physical prowess, spiritual enlightenment, and moral integrity. In the ancient epics, they remind of the delicate balance between power and responsibility and the profound consequences of their misuse.


Debroy, Bibek, translator. The Mahabharata. Critical Edition by Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune, Penguin Random House India, 2015. ISBN: 978-0-143-42523-6

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