By Swami Harshananda
The art and science of warfare was highly developed in ancient era, if the accounts of war given in the Rāmāyana and the Mahābhārata are to be believed.
Weapons used were divided into two broad categories:
- Astras - Astras were missiles discharged from their sources like the bow. Arrows, discuses and spears belong to this class.
- Śastras - Śastras were weapons used by directly holding them in hand. Swords belong to this category.
By far, the most powerful of all the astras often mentioned in the epics and the mythological lore is the Brahmāstra. It is also called as ‘Brahmaśirostra’. Śiva is said to have given it to the sage Agastya. Agastya gave it to Agniveśa who gave it to Droṇa. Arjuna got it from Droṇa.
It is more likely that the Brahmāstra was not a particular missile physically existent, but a terrible power that could be invoked into any missile by the appropriate mantras. Its use was restricted to extraordinary situations and when the enemy was not an ordinary human being. Śri Rāma is reputed to have killed Rāvaṇa with this Brahmāstra.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore