Kurukshetra, located in present day Haryana, witnessed one of the most destructive battles in the annals of Bharatvarsha that ushered the end of Dwaparyuga and beginning of Kaliyuga. The battlefield of Kurukshetra is known as ‘Dharmakshetra’ because here Dharma prevailed over Adharma. This battle gave the world “Bhagavad Gita”, song of the Lord, which is Sanata Dharma’s biggest gift to humanity. The Gita is a treatise for spiritual upliftment of the individual. The battle was fought between Pandavas; five sons of Pandu supported by Shri Krishna, on the one side and Kauravas, sons of Dhritarashtra on the other.
There were massive armies on both sides with seven Akshauhinis on the side of the Pandavas and eleven on the Kaurava side. Suffice here to say that an akshauhini is a battle formation consisting of 21,870 chariots; 21,870 elephants; 65,610 horses and 109,350 infantry as per the Mahabharata (Adi Parva 2.15-23). The ratio is 1 chariot: 1 elephant: 3 cavalry: 5 infantry soldiers. Besides the massive armies a number of weapons were used during this war some of which had the capacity to cause large scale destruction. Let us take a look at some of the most powerful weapons used in this war.
1) Narayanastra: This Astra, as the name denotes, belonged to Sri Hari Vishnu. It was a potent weapon that fired millions of deadly missiles and resistance to the weapon only made it stronger thereby increasing the intensity and number of missiles being showered. The only way to stop this weapon was to submit before its power.
2) Pashupatastra: The personal weapon of Shiva and Devi Kali, this was probably one of the deadliest weapons that could destroy the entire creation. Although Arjuna had obtained this Astra after pleasing Mahadev through his penance, he did not use it for obvious reasons.
3) Maheshwara Astra: This weapon contains the power of Mahadev’s third eye and can at once turn one’s enemies into ashes. The only way to counter this weapon was by using any other weapon of Lord Shiva or that of Sri Vishnu.
4) Brahmashirsa Astra: was a weapon that was four times stronger than the Brahmastra. Use of this Astra would cause nothing but complete annihilation. The area where this Astra was used would be rendered barren for a period of 12 years and there would be no rain for 12 years either besides the area becoming poisonous.
5) Brahmanda Astra: This weapon was potent enough to destroy the entire solar system (Brahmanda) and manifested the five heads of Brahma as the tip of the weapon. It could neutralize both Brahmastra as well as Brahmashirsa Astra. There was no way to stop this Astra or defend oneself from it. Hence when Dronacharya used this against the Pandavas, he was requested by the devatas to withdraw it as the latter were fighting for Dharma.
6) Brahmastra: As per Hindu Puranas the deadliest weapons in the annals of human history is the Brahmastra. Not only did the Astra never miss its mark but the destruction of the individual or army against whom it was used was a given because there was neither a way to counter attack or defend oneself against the Brahmastra. Legend has it that Ashwathama and Arjuna fired this weapon on each other after the war ended in the ashram of Vyasa Maharishi. However, the Maharishi intervened and asked both of them to withdraw the weapon. Arjuna did so promptly but Ashwathama could not withdraw the weapon because he only knew how to fire it and not withdraw the same. He redirected it towards the unborn Pandava heir Parikshit for which Shri Krishna cursed him to suffer till the end of Kaliyuga.
7) Naga Astra: took the form of a snake and the speciality of this weapon was that it would never miss the target it was fired upon. However, Karna failed to use it effectively against Arjuna because Sri Krishna saved the latter.
8) Vasavi Shakti: This was the Astra of Deva Indra and was sure to kill anyone upon whom it was fired. Karna obtained this weapon from Indra in return for the former’s kavach and kundal. Because it could be used only once he had saved this weapon for Arjuna but was compelled to use it against Bhima’s son Ghatotkacha.
9) Varuna Astra: Belonging to Varuna Deva, this weapon could assume the form of any other weapon and required great skill on the part of the user. Many reputed warriors such as Arjuna, Satyaki, Dhrishtadhuymna and Dronacharya among others possessed this weapon.
Sri Krishna’s Sudarshan Chakra was another very powerful weapon but since Sri Krishna did not participate in the war it was not used at Kurukshetra. However, Sri Krishna did use the Sudarshan Chakra to kill Shishupal. The Sudarshan Chakra is the Kundalini Shakti of Sri Hari Vishnu just like the Trishul is Mahadev’s Kundalini Shakti. It is worth noting that these weapons were used with utmost caution because the warriors knew the potential destruction these could cause to the society. The possibility of some of these being nuclear weapons cannot be ruled out. It was with good reason that the knowledge of such powerful weapons were not passed on to just about anybody. Using weapons of mass destruction with responsibility was a norm in those days. Centuries later it is quite difficult for us to fathom the depth of knowledge our ancestors possessed to create such weapons.