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Astra (weapon)

The meaning of «astra (weapon)»

In Hinduism, an astra (Sanskrit: अस्त्र) was a supernatural weapon, presided over by a specific deity and imbued with spiritual and occult powers 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, Rama had more astras than any other warrior. Various texts have stated that Parshuram possessed almost all astras except Trident.

The bearer of the weapon is called an Astradhari (Sanskrit: अस्त्रधारी).[1]

To summon or use an astra required use of a specific incantation or invocation. The deity invoked would then endow the weapon with supernatural powers, making it impossible to counter through regular means. Specific conditions existed involving the usage of astras, the violation of which could be fatal. Because of the power involved, the knowledge involving an astra was passed in the Guru-shishya tradition from a Guru (teacher) to a Shishya (pupil) by word of mouth alone, and only following the establishment of the student's character. Certain astras had to be handed down from the deity involved directly, knowledge of the incantation being insufficient.[citation needed]

Astras come into importance mainly in the Ramayana and Mahabharata, where they are used in the great battles described in each epic. They are depicted as used by archers such as Parashurama, Rama, Lakshman, Meghanada (Indrajit), Ravana, Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Ashwatthama, Arjuna and other warriors.

The divya ("divine")[2] astras were generally invoked into arrows, although they could potentially be used with anything. Ashwatthama invoked Brahmashirsha astra using a blade of grass as his weapon. Arjuna was capable of shooting all of his celestial weapons including Pashupatastra by the power of his mind alone.[3]

Any attempt of invoking it a second time would rebound back on user and his troops. In Mahabharata era, Lord Vishnu in Narayana form blessed Drona with this weapon . Drona as presented this astra to his son Ashwatthama. Although there is no direct mention of others who possessed this weapon , But with Bhishma's words of weapons possessed by Arjuna "Agneyam varunam saumyam vayavyamatha vaishnavam The weapons appertaining to Agni, Varuna, Soma, Vayu, and Vishnu, as also those appertaining to Indra, Pasupati, and Paramesthi, and those of Prajapati, Dhatri, Tashtri, Savitri, and Vivaswat, all these are known to Dhananjaya alone in this world of men![18]" stating that he got all weapons of Vishnu confirms Arjuna possessed it.

In Mahabharata war Ashwatthama used this weapon against Pandava army after the death of Drona.[19] It destroyed one Akshauhini of Pandava army.

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