The Astras, Part 16 – Naga-astra

BY: SUN STAFF - 9.3 2017


The last in a survey of transcendental weaponry.

In our closing segment on the Naga-astra and related weaponry, we offer the story of how Nagapasha-astra was deployed against Rama and Laksman. This missile-like-naga arrow was launched against the hero brothers Ramayana by Indrajit, the son of the asura Ravana.

Indrajit joined the battle when all his brothers had been killed by Rama and his army. Ravana had already been humiliated in the battle by Rama, and his paternal uncle Kumbhakarna had also been killed by Rama. Indrajit thus arrived on the scene, and began an epic battle with Rama's army that lasted for three days.

On the first day of battle, Indrajit devastated the armies of Sugriva. He then put out a challenge call to Rama and Laksman, demanding them to come out of hiding and fight in the open, where he could avenge the deaths of his paternal uncle and brothers.

Answering the call, Rama and Laksman appeared before Indrajit, and a fierce battle ensued. Employing his deadly weapon, the Naga-paasha, Indrajit brought a rain of venomous snakes down on the two. Rama and Laksman were entwined and trapped by the snakes, falling to the ground in breathless paralysis.

Hanuman came to the rescue of the divine brothers, praying to Garuda, the king of birds and fierce enemy of the nagas, to come and save them from the effects of Naga-paasha. Garuda flew immediately to the site of the fallen brothers and by his divine potencies, caused the naga coils to be released from their bodies. The nagas slithered away in fear while Garuda bent to touch the faces of Rama and Laksman, who immediately regained their strength and radiance.

Rama and Laksman Bound by Indrajit's Nagapasha Astra 
Manaku, Bahur, c. 1700

When Indrajit learned that Rama and Laksman had been rescued by Garuda and were still alive, he made a furious pledge to kill at least one of the brothers that day. At the start of the second day of battle, Indrajit brought all his forces to bear against the remaining armies of Sugriva. Laksman then engaged Indrajit, who quickly realized that he could not win by normal combat. He then began using his siddha powers, darting across the skies like a bolt of lightning.

Combining skills of sorcery and deceptive warfare, Indrajit repeatedly vanished and reappeared behind Laksman's back, trying to catch him off-guard. He then employed another of his fiercest weapons, the Shakti-astra, impaling Laksman in the back.

Laksman fell unconscious, and would have died at the coming sunrise, had his life not been saved again by the assistance of Hanuman. This time, Hanuman flew off to kidnap the rajvaidya (royal physician) Sushena from the Lankan fortress, and carried the whole mountain of Dronagiri from the Himalayas to Lanka overnight in order to deliver the needed remedy for Laksman -- the magical herb, Sanjivani.

At first, Sushena considered Laksman an enemy, since he had been abducted from Lanka by Hanuman on his behalf, but Rama reminded the doctor of his sacred duty: "A physician has no friends or enemies", Sushena surrendered and effected the needed cure against Shakti-astra, thus curing Laksman.

Laksman immediately recommenced his third and final day of battle with Indrajit. As described in Sri Ramayana, Laksman could not be stopped. He beheaded Indrajit with one of his own deadly weapons -- the Aindra-astra.

In some references to this pastime from Ramayana, Garuda himself is also referred to as an astra: Garuda-astra. Likewise, his natural enemies, the tribe of Nagas, are sometimes collectively referred to as the Naga-astras.

There is one more level of terminology that relates to both Garuda-astra and Naga-astra. These terms are sometimes used as common names for ordinary arrows. Winged arrows may be called Garudastra, while arrows with a head looking like the hood of a snake are called Nagastras. Likewise, arrows with deadly snake venom applied to the head are referred to as Nagastra.