The Astras, Part 14 – Naga-astra

BY: SUN STAFF - 7.3 2017

Arjuna Confronts Karna at Kurukshetra 
Jammu/Kashmir, c. 1820

A survey of transcendental weaponry.

During the battle of Kurukshetra many different transcendental weapons were deployed, and we have already mentioned several of them in this series. During various battles these astras were met with retaliatory astras, the combatants attempting to counteract the potency of whatever weapon was engaged against them. One such drama is found in the parva from Mahabharata describing a famous fight between Arjuna and Karna.

Repeatedly Karna had broken Arjuna's Gandiva bowstring, which Arjuna immediately restrung again, eleven times in a row. Arjuna then sent a number of astras after Karna, including the Agni-astra, which Karna met by releasing the Varuna-astra. The Varuna-astra produced rain to put out the firestorm created by Agni-astra. Arjuna then countered the strike by releasing his Vayu-astra, which produced winds that blew away the storm clouds of Varuna-astra.

Next, Karma released the deadly Bhargava-astra, given to him by its owner, Parasurama. This weapon destroyed all the arrows sent by the Pandava armies. Krishna then encouraged Arjuna to strike with his Brahma-astra, which brought an even more potent rain of arrows down on the heads of Karna and his men. Karna returned the arrow fire, as he and Arjuna traded blows with their deadly arsenal of astras.

Entering the battle at this point was the astra we will focus on for this segment -- the Naga-astra. In fact, the Naga-astra is the topmost astra in a whole class of supremely powerful naga related weapons.

Shaking off the last round of Arjuna's volley of arrows, Karna sent five snake arrows towards Krsna, thus enraging Arjuna for this attack on his charioteer. Understanding his adversary's wrath, Karna then decided to release his final blow, sending his mostly deadly weapon in Arjuna's direction -- the Naga-astra.

Karna had been advised to take aim at Arjuna's chest with Naga-astra, but being overly confident in his bowman skills, he instead aimed at Arjuna's neck. Krsna, seeing the Naga-astra coming, made the horses drawing their chariot duck down, causing the astra to miss Arjuna's body. It did, however, hit his jeweled crown, Kirthi, which broke into a thousand pieces and fell to the ground. So powerful was the Naga-astra.

Having promised his mother that he would only use the Naga-astra once during the battle, after this failed attempt to kill Arjuna, Karna did not try to deploy the weapon again at Kurukshetra.

The Nagas

Collectively, the Nagas are the presiding deity of Naga-astra (nagaastra). When deployed, their weapon takes on the form of a snake. With unerring aim, the astra proves deadly upon impact.

Among the various snake-related weapons, another astra under the control of the Nagas is the Nagapaasha. Upon impact, this weapon binds the target in coils of live venomous snakes. A passage in the Ramayana describes Nagapaasha-astra being sent by Indrajit against Rama and Laksmana.