The Astras, Part 15 – Naga-astra

BY: SUN STAFF - 8.3 2017

Takshaka (center) with his wife and son, Aswasena 
Takshakeswar Temple - Bhanpura, Madhya Pradesh

A survey of transcendental weaponry.

There are many famous pastimes in the Mahabharata and Ramayana that feature the use of naga-related weaponry. Among the best known battle scenes involving Naga-astra is the one described yesterday, between Arjuna and Karna. There is another famous story of the Naga-paasha told in Ramayana, in which Ravana's son Indrajit deployed Naga-astra against Rama and Laksmana. The brothers were bound up by the coils of venomous snakes, causing Sita, then Garuda, to intervene on their behalf.

One aspect of the story not mentioned in yesterday's segment has to do with the personality of Naga-astra, that is, the naga embodied in the weapon at the point in time when it was used against Arjuna. This personality was the naga Aswasena who, unbeknownst to Karna, had entered his quiver and taken the form of the Naga-astra arrow. When the Naga-astra embodying Aswasena was fired at Arjuna, Krsna caused it to miss by making the horses duck down, pressing their knees to the gound.

The involvement of Aswasena in this pastime had its beginning around the time of the Pandava's residence at Indraprastha, and the infamous game of dice. One day while Krsna and Arjuna were relaxing alongside the river Yamuna, they were approached by a venerable old man with a long beard. Announcing himself as Lord Agni, he asked the pair to hear his request.

Fire in the Kandava Forest 
Bas relief panel, Phumi Banteay Srei, Cambodia


Agni had been busy trying for some time to burn the nearby Khandava Forest, but his efforts were being thwarted by Lord Indra, who was producing thunderclouds that showered rain on the forest, putting out the fire each time Agni started it.

Takshaka, the chief of the Naga tribe, lived in that forest. He happened to be a close friend of Indra's, who was helping to protect him. But when Agni asked for help warding off Indra while he burned the forest, Krsna agreed.

When the burning recommenced, Krsna and Arjuna created a wall above the forest with their arrows and chakras, warding off the rain that Indra sent to combat the fire.

Although Takshaka was not present in the forest at the time of the fire, his wife and his son Aswasena were there. Aswasena's mother distracted Krsna and Arjuna, thus enabling her son to escape, but she was killed by Arjuna.

Grief stricken over his mother's death, Aswasena swore revenge on Arjuna and waited a long time for his chance to strike. His opportunity for revenge arose on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, while Arjuna was fully absorbed in fighting with Karna. Hiding in Karna's quiver, and manifesting himself as the embodiment of the Naga-astra, Aswasena himself was deployed against Arjuna. But once again, he found himself frustrated by the interference of Lord Krsna.