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Astra

Astra is a general term that refers to celestial weapons in Hindu mythology. They are not weapons that are wielded by the hand, but rather weapons that are invoked by chanting a mantra and then directed through a medium such as an arrow. Astras require no physical effort, but intense mental concentration is required to invoke, direct, and withdraw them. Improper use of an astra, such as not knowing all the words in the mantra or attempting to use the weapon on an unworthy foe, can be disastrous or even fatal.

Astras can be both physical and/or illusory. Some astras cause destruction through showers of arrows, fire, or radiation while others can cause mental afflictions such as confusion, unconsciousness or sleep. Each astra has a presiding deity and to obtain the astra one must meditate and conduct severe austeries, and through ascetic merit obtain the sanction of the deity in question. Alternatively, a mantra can be learned from someone who already knows it via word of mouth. However, astras are only passed on to worthy disciples who have the wisdom to use them responsibly. Word of mouth may weaken the potency of the astra as it is passed down over the course of generations. In the Mahabharata, Arjuna had learned many astras from his preceptor Drona (who had in turn learned them from Bharadwaja who had learned them from Bhargava) but he still went in search of the celestial weapons from the source (Shiva and others) because they were more potent when learned directly from the gods.

For the most powerful astras, knowing just the mantra is not enough to invoke the weapon. One must also obtain the sanction of its presiding deity to use the weapon. This is most likely due to the destructive nature of the astra, and the consequence of using it improperly. For instance, the Brahma Astra is said to be powerful enough to destroy the entire universe if not properly directed at an individual or army.

In literature, the most common medium for an astra is an arrow shot from a bow. However, not all astras are invoked in such a way. In the case of Aisika the medium is a grass stalk or reed used because it was the only object available on hand. Spears, maces, and other weapons can also be used and some astras do not require any medium and could be considered a weapon of pure thought.

List of Astras:
  • Agni Astra
  • Aindra Astra
  • Antardhana Astra
  • Bhauma Astra
  • Brahma Astra
  • Brahmasira
  • Garuda Astra
  • Mohini Astra
  • Naga Astra
  • Narayana Astra
  • Parjanya Astra
  • Parvata Astra
  • Pasupata
  • Prajna Astra
  • Sakti
  • Sammohana Astra
  • Surya Astra
  • Vaishnava Astra
  • Vajra Astra
  • Varuna Astra
  • Vayu Astra
  • Visoshana

  • Note: Many of these names are customized for a western audience by separating the presiding deity from the word "astra". It is more common to see them combined, usually converting the double 'A' to a single (i.e. Brahma Astra becomes Brahmastra). Alternative spellings are located within each article.

    Thanks to Jijith Nadumuri Ravi from Ancient Voice.

    Astra, General Term, India, Mythology, Weapon


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