Sanatan Shastra Vidya refers to an ancient science that describes the usage and workings of different weapons. Hindu mythology is host to an arsenal of divine weapons or divyastras. Each of these astras has a specific power – while some rained down arrows, some could cause winds and floods, while some others could even control the minds of the enemy. Let’s look at some of the most unique weapons found in the Puranas.
Brahmadanda is a weapon of self-defence, created by Brahma. It is only to be possessed by Brahmanas and its powers are dependent on its owner. The weapon is a rod capable of absorbing any incoming attack towards its owner. When Vishwamitra, in a fit of anger, unleashed the Brahmastra onto Vasishtha, it was his Brahmadanda that protected him from the lethal weapon.
Chandrahasa is a sword with a curved blade, representing the shape of a crescent moon. The name can be literally translated to mean ‘the laughter of the moon’. The sword was gifted to Ravana by Shiva, after Ravana sang praises of the god in repentance for his prideful act of lifting the mountain on which Shiva and Parvati were seated. The sword, however, came with a prophecy. If Ravana were to use it for any wrongful acts, the sword would return to Shiva, eventually leading to Ravana’s imminent death.
Barbarika’s Teen Baan
Barbarika was the son of Ghatotkacha and the grandson of Bheema and Hidimbi. He had received three undefeatable arrows, known as Teen Baan, from Shiva. The first arrow was a target marker; anything marked by this arrow would be destroyed when the third arrow was released. The second arrow was used to mark things that were to be saved; on the release of the third arrow, everything except the things marked by the second arrow would be destroyed. The arrows would also return to Barbarika’s quiver once their task was completed.
Vajra is considered to be one of the strongest among all the divine weapons. Possessed by Indra, Vajra is depicted as a club-like weapon made out of bones. The weapon is said to possess both the strength of a diamond and the energy of a thunderbolt. The weapon was made out of the bones of Sage Dadhichi by Vishwamitra, the divine architect. The weapon was created to defeat the demon Vritra, who was blessed with a boon that made him immune to weapons made of wood and metals.
Parashurama’s axe, Vidyudabhi, was a gift from Shiva. Shiva was also the one who taught Parashurama to wield the famed battle-axe, among other martial arts. It is believed that the warrior sage threw his axe towards the sea, which caused the sea to retreat in fear. The land that was given up by the sea now forms the western coast of India.
The Damaru plays an important role in the Puranas and is one of the main markers in Shiva’s iconography.
What is a Damaru?
A Damaru is a small, hourglass-shaped drum that is most commonly associated with Lord Shiva in Hindu mythology. While it is unclear as to when exactly the Damaru originated, some sculptures of Shiva holding this drum have been dated back to the 10th century C.E. The Damaru also makes an appearance in the Tibetan practice of Tantric Buddhism after that.
This hourglass-shaped drum is generally carved from a solid block of wood with skinheads covering each opening. A piece of string with pellets at each end (or a leather cord with knotted ends) is tied to the waist of the Damaru. The player holds the waist of the Damaru in their hand and rotates their wrist to make the ends of the string hit the skinheads, thus producing a reverberating sound.
One instrument, many interpretations
There have been various philosophical and spiritual interpretations of the Damaru in Hinduism. According to the most common interpretation, the Damaru is seen as a representation of yin and yang, since the shape of the Damaru symbolises the coming together of male and female procreative energies, with the top portion representing the lingam and the bottom portion representing the yoni.
Apart from that, the Damaru has been seen as a representation of the rhythm of the heartbeat. The alternately rising and falling sound of the Damaru is seen as mimicking the human heart, thus symbolising the energy and sound of life itself. On a larger level, the Damaru also represents the rhythm of the entire universe. According to Hindu beliefs, the universe is constantly being created, preserved and destroyed, and has a cyclical nature. The beats of the Damaru thus symbolise the continuous expansion and collapse of the universe.
The legends behind the Damaru
While the interpretations of the Damaru are abundant, it is also the central aspect of several fascinating legends and folktales. One of the legends associated with the Damaru calls it crucial to the creation of the universe. It is said that before creation, when there was simply a void, the Damaru gave rise to the first nada or sound. Shiva then performed the Tandava to the beats of the Damaru, thus creating the universe.
Some other legends state that the Damaru is responsible for the creation of all music. According to these stories, the sound of the Damaru was passed on to Shiva’s son, Ganesha, who is known to be a proficient player of the Pakhawaj. Ganesha then added more rhythm and sound to the Damaru beats and that’s how music was born.
According to yet another story, the Damaru was the source of grammar and music in the universe. It is believed that when the universe was created, Saraswati’s veena produced the first nada i.e. sound. At that time, Shiva played his Damaru fourteen times and this gave birth to grammar and music.
The language of the Damaru
There is one more story that links the Damaru to the creation of the rules of grammar. According to this legend, Panini, the Sanskrit grammarian, was a great devotee of Shiva in his youth. Wanting to be blessed with divine knowledge from Shiva, Panini began his penance. It is said that he was so deep into his meditation that he did not break his trance even when Shiva appeared before him. In order to get Panini’s attention, Shiva began to play his Damaru. The sound of the Damaru jolted Panini out of his trance, after which Panini bowed to the Lord and received his blessing. The sound of the Damaru however, was so powerful that it continued to resonate in Panini’s ears even after Shiva disappeared. Panini is then believed to have formulated the rules of Sanskrit grammar, syntax and morphology in fourteen verses all due to the Damaru’s sound. Panini’s work is known as the Maheshwara Sutrani today and is one of the most significant texts on linguistics.
Apart from these legends explaining the role and significance of the Damaru, there is an interesting folktale involving the Damaru which highlights the importance of practice in one’s life. According to this tale, a village of farmers once offended Lord Indra, thus leading him to announce that the village would not receive rain for the next fourteen years. Upon hearing the pleas of the farmers of the village, Indra then amended his statement and declared that the village would receive rain only when Shiva played his Damaru. However, still wanting to teach the villagers a lesson, Indra went to Shiva and appealed to him not to play the Damaru for the next fourteen years – a request Shiva accepted immediately. Seeing all of this play out, the farmers turned hopeless and stopped working on their fields. However, one farmer out of them all continued to plough the field and plant seeds. Upon being questioned by the others, the farmer explained to them all that he did not wish to forget his skills and thus would continue to practice farming for the next fourteen years despite the absence of rain. Upon witnessing the scene, Parvati, impressed by the farmer, decided to help the villagers. She went to Shiva and insinuated that he would forget how to play the Damaru if he did not practice for fourteen long years. Shiva, now worried about losing his art, immediately began to practice his Damaru, causing Indra to adhere to his promise and restore rains upon the village.
Although not a central character in the Mahabharata, the story of Ashwatthama, Drona’s son, is a compelling one. Having access to powerful weapons and nearly being responsible for the deaths of millions, Ashwatthama was a warrior lacking maturity and forethought, with an inflated ego and an extremely hot head.
Born to Dronacharya and Kripi after many years of penance for a child, his birth was extraordinary. He came into the world neighing like a horse instead of crying. This ear-piercing noise was heard across the world, resulting in him being named Ashwatthama: ‘the sacred voice which relates to that of a horse.’ Accompanying his birth was a celestial voice proclaiming that Ashwatthama was blessed by Lord Shiva. Certainly blessed, the boy inexplicably had a ‘Mani’ (gem) on his forehead that protected him from evil spirits.
Training with the Pandavas
Ashwatthama grew up poor until Drona was asked to teach the Pandavas and Kauravas the art of warfare. Ashwatthama learned alongside the princes and gained proficiency in battle. He had skill with the bow and arrow but was outshined by Arjun, whom Drona promised to make the greatest archer in the world. Arjun, as part of this promise, was given the knowledge of using the Brahmastra, a weapon strong enough to destroy the world.
Unknown to others at the time, the Brahmastra wasn’t only given to Arjun. Overcome by affection for his son, Drona also imparted the knowledge to Ashwatthama, even after knowing of his impetuosity. Although Drona gave clear warnings to Ashwatthama, his ego only grew after this event, even trying, in vain, to get Krishna’s Sudarshan Chakra. His egotistical behaviour was not helped by the fact that he was crowned King of Southern Panchala.
The Kurukshetra War
Due to the position of his father, as well as his strong bond and friendship with Duryodhana, Ashwatthama was loyal to Hastinapur and fought on the side of the Kauravas in the Kurukshetra war. On the tenth day of the war, Drona was made the supreme commander after Bhishma’s death. He promised to capture Yuddhisthira, to no avail. Nevertheless, Drona was too powerful to kill when armed so Krishna and the Pandavas devised a scheme to make him vulnerable. It was decided that Bheema would kill an elephant by the name Ashwatthama and then inform Drona that it was his son, Ashwatthama, who had died. The plan was successful and the grief-stricken Drona was soon killed in battle by Dhrishtadyumna, son of King Drupada.
The news of the Pandavas’ trickery and his father’s death angered Ashwatthama to the point where he invoked the celestial weapon Narayanastra even after warnings to only use it in dire circumstances. The clouds turned grey, and a howling sound filled the air. In the sky, one arrow for each Pandava soldier appeared, ready to strike down the whole army. Luckily, Krishna knew how the weapon worked and told all soldiers to drop all their arms as the Narayanastra only killed armed soldiers. The Astra passed by harmlessly. Since the weapon could only be fired once, the Pandavas were saved from defeat.
End of the War
Much later in the war, with Duryodhana on the brink of death and the Pandavas on the brink of victory, Ashwatthama planned to go down fighting trying to inflict as much pain on the Pandavas as possible. Along with the last three survivors on the Kaurava side (Kripa and Kritavarma), Ashwatthama planned to attack during the dead of night. Mercilessly killing many, including Dhristadyumna, Ashwatthama destroyed many notable warriors of the Pandava army. He also killed all of Draupadi’s sons, mistaking them for the Pandavas.
When the Pandavas saw the havoc wrecked in the morning, they were enraged and inconsolable. After finding out who was responsible, they tracked Ashwatthama and found him at sage Vyasa’s ashram. A battle ensued, ending with Ashwatthama trying to kill a pregnant Uttara, Arjun’s daughter-in-law, in order to end the Pandava lineage. Before any damage could be done, however, Krishna rushed to Ashwatthama and cursed him to an immortal life of endless misery as a leper with no means of escape.
According to some legends, Ashwatthama is still alive, in great pain, and suffering for committing the grave sin of attempting to kill an unborn baby. An egotistical, hotheaded, but skilled warrior, the story of Ashwatthama is a fascinating and tragic one.
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Mahabharata, one of the longest epics in the world, is a lesson for life. There are many lessons worth imbibing in this great tale. The epic is full of inspiring characters like Bhishma, Drona, Karna, or even Ved Vyasa himself, who wrote the Mahabharata. Bhagavad Gita is an extension of the epic, which solely focuses on Krishna’s advice to Arjuna. So here are some lessons from the Mahabharata that we think are worth inculcating in our everyday life.
Power of Friendship
The bond of friendship between Krishna and Arjuna made a journey of hardship endurable. Krishna had vowed not to fight in the Kurukshetra war, but his advice for Arjuna protected him more than any armour could. The pair represent the power of good companionship, under which even the most crushed spirit can brighten up and achieve the impossible. Arjuna was humiliated after he couldn’t defend the honour of his wife but Krishna never questioned his credibility. Instead, it was his support and encouragement that guided the Pandavas to victory. Such is the strength of true friendship.
Honouring one’s word
What happened at Duryodhana’s court was an unspeakable horror. Bhima, to avenge Draupadi’s dishonour, had promised her the blood of Dushasana for his misconduct. Even if there was a victor, both sides lost a lot in the war. It was their determination to fulfil their given word that kept them going and led them to succeed in their almost impossible-looking resolution.
Throughout the story, there are many instances where the fates of people had changed because of the word they had given. Be it Eklavya losing his thumb, and therefore, his future as an archer, or Drona swearing to fight against his own dear pupils on the other side, each character put their words above their personal interests and honoured the promises they made.
Young Arjuna had the talent of archery which he was widely famous for. His brothers were equally good at it but the only difference between them and him was perseverance. Arjuna was dedicated and unswerving in his practice and staunchly focused on improving his skills. No amount of praise or fame as an archer made him lax in his practice. Due to his persevering nature, he could attain mastery of archery at such a young age, surpassing the talents of much older and experienced archers.
The Mahabharata teaches the valuable lesson of duty. Despite the bad hand that they had been dealt, the Pandavas took it in their stride and waited for their time. When it did arrive, Arjuna had a moment of conflict; the people behind enemy lines might have wronged his people, but they were still his family. It is here that Krishna teaches him to think beyond himself and his relationships and fulfil his duty as a warrior, without letting emotions cloud his judgement, that we all have to do things in life that we might not like or agree with, but it is our duty to perform these actions nonetheless.
Karna, the firstborn of Queen Kunti, was the son of Surya. He was disowned by his mother as she was unwed when he was born. Karna was adopted by Adhiratha, the chief charioteer of Hastinapura. Even when Karna was made the ruler of Anga, he was a people’s king, often mocked among other nobles due to his presumed lowly birth. This is why despite being on Kauravas’ side, he is still the most rational and empathetic character in the epic. He was a victim of circumstances due to the acts of Kunti, yet he had the heart to console her in her time of need. Even if he had no filial obligation to Kunti due to her abandonment, he promised her that she will always have five sons no matter what, by promising that he will only fight Arjuna and never kill the four others. Karna could empathize with his estranged family even after suffering insults all his life due to them, thus, highlighting his greatness.
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Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations aren’t complete without an offering of twenty-one Modaks to Lord Ganesha. This jaggery stuffed sweet is an integral part of who Ganesh is, even resulting in the nickname ‘Modakpriya’, meaning the one who loves Modaks. Hindu mythology has various stories on the creation of Modaks and their importance to Ganesha, but we’ll focus on two.
The first folktale starts with Lord Ganesha’s maternal grandmother, Queen Menavati. In her love for her grandson, Queen Menavati would tirelessly make laddoos to feed Ganesh’s growing appetite. This was unsustainable, and as he grew older and bigger, the Queen realised it was impossible to prepare laddoos as quickly as Ganpati could gobble them down. She thought of an alternative – Modaks. Requiring less time to make, she could satisfy Lord Ganesha, who gleefully ate them.
The second legend explains why twenty-one Modaks are offered during Ganesh Chaturthi. One day, Devi Anusuya called Lord Shiva, Parvati, and Ganesha for a meal, stating that the others would only be fed once baby Ganesha was content and full. However, Ganesha simply kept asking for more food! At the end of his meal, he was given a single sweet – the Modak. Interestingly, something happened after he swallowed it. Ganesha released a loud burp, a sign of satisfaction. Interestingly, as Ganesh burped, so did Lord Shiva; twenty-one times in fact. Parvati, stunned and curious as to what she had witnessed, asked Devi Anusuya for the recipe of the seemingly magical sweet. Upon learning what a Modak is, Parvati requested that all her son’s devotees offer exactly twenty-one Modaks to him, one for each burp Lord Shiva gave out.
Regardless of which story people choose to believe, the preparing, offering, and eating of Modaks during Ganesh Chaturthi is essential and super fun!
Read the stories of Ganesha in our special release Ekadanta. Now available on the ACK Comics App.
Ganesha, one of the most beloved gods in Hindu mythology, is also known as ‘Ekadanta’, the one with one tooth. Ganesha’s broken tusk is a very significant part of his iconography and there are multiple stories behind how he broke his tusk, all of which are as enthralling as they are varied. Here are some of the most popular legends behind Ganesha’s tusk, their sources ranging from the Mahabharata to the Brahmanda Purana.
Ganesha, the Scribe
Perhaps the most well-known story about Ganesha’s tusk comes from the Mahabharata, with Ganesha acting as Vyasa’s scribe. It is believed that when Vyasa was composing the epic Mahabharata, he required a scribe who could write down the poem as fast as he could dictate it. Finding nobody that was capable of this task, Vyasa approached Ganesha and requested him to act as his scribe. Ganesha agreed, but on one condition: he demanded that Vyasa dictate the epic without any pauses. Vyasa, knowing that it would be hard to keep up with Ganesha’s speed, made a counter-condition that Ganesha must write only once he understood every word of what he was being told. Having agreed to Vyasa’s terms, Ganesha sat down to write the epic and as a marker of goodwill, broke off his tusk to use as a pen. Thus, the Mahabharata was composed with Vyasa dictating the long and complicated verses to Ganesha who had to slow down his writing speed to understand the words he was being told. In another version of this story, it is said that Ganesha started writing with an ordinary quill, which broke off in the middle of the dictation. Not wanting to stop to fetch a new quill, Ganesha simply broke off his tusk and continued writing with that instead. The tusk of Ganesha, hence, is significant in bringing to life one of the two most important epics to come out of India.
Ganesha and the Moon
According to one story, Ganesha’s broken tusk is the result of his conflict with the moon. According to the story, Ganesha was once invited to the abode of the moon for a feast. Ganesha, with his tremendous appetite, devoured the spread, especially indulging in his favourite modaks. After the meal was over, Ganesha left the moon’s palace on his vahaana, Mooshak. However, on the way, a snake appeared in their path startling Mooshak, who in his fright caused Ganesha to fall. As Ganesha fell down, his stomach burst open and all the modaks he had consumed tumbled out onto the ground. Ganesha then quickly collected the modaks and put them back into his stomach and tied the snake around his torso. Watching this from the sky, the moon burst into laughter. Angry at the moon’s laughter, Ganesha ripped off one of his tusks and flung it at the moon. He also cursed the moon to become invisible, to teach him a lesson in humility. As soon as the moon disappeared, the earth was plunged into total darkness. Worried about the moon’s disappearance, all the gods appealed to Ganesha to amend his curse. Ganesha softened his punishment and declared that the moon would wax and wane every fortnight, completely disappearing once a month. And thus, the moon waxes and wanes constantly, with its blemished surface still bearing the marks of Ganesha’s tusk.
In another popular legend, Ganesh’s tusk was broken off by Parashurama. According to this legend, Parashurama, the great devotee of Shiva, once visited Mount Kailash to seek Shiva’s blessing. However, Shiva was meditating at the time and had instructed Ganesha to turn away anyone that came to see him. Upon his father’s orders, Ganesha forbade Parashurama from entering Kailash, thus angering the sage greatly. In his rage, Parashurama threw his axe at Ganesha. Although Ganesha could have easily stopped the axe from harming him, he noticed that the axe was the same divine weapon that his father had gifted to Parashurama. Therefore, out of respect to Shiva and his divine axe, Ganesha refused to defend himself against the attack. The axe hit Ganesha’s tusk and broke it, thus making Ganesha ‘Ekadanta’.
The Defeat of Gajamukha
The story of Gajamukha’s defeat at the hands of Ganesha is quite well known. It is said that the demon Gajamukha, attained great power through penance and then used his strength to harass the gods and sages. Upon finding themselves unable to defeat Gajamukha, the gods turned to Ganesha, who then vanquished Gajamukha. In many versions of this story, Ganesha broke off his own tusk to use as a weapon against Gajamukha. It is believed that Ganesha turned him into a mouse who became his vahaana Mooshak!
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Narada was very proud of his devotion to Vishnu. Once, during a music recital in Vaikuntha, Narada presented one of his most impressive songs in praise of Vishnu. He was sure that Vishnu would declare him the best. To his surprise, Vishnu beckoned to Hanuman who was sitting at the back and asked him to sing. Narada was appalled. Vishnu was asking a monkey to sing! To top it, he even asked Narada to lend Hanuman his veena. Hanuman sang of Rama and as he sang he was lost in his love for him. When the song was over, Narada angrily went to retrieve his veena but to his surprise, it was stuck to the floor. He pulled and pulled but to no avail. Vishnu smiled and asked Hanuman to sing again. Hanuman did and Narada could lift up his veena. The floor itself had melted on hearing Hanuman’s devotion and the veena had got embedded in it. When Hanuman sang again, the floor melted once more and Narada could pick up his veena.
Ashamed of his arrogance, Narada asked Hanuman to forgive him which the large-hearted vanara did willingly.
Gandaberunda, the two-headed bird of unimaginable strength, sits majestically as the official emblem of the Government of Karnataka. Before the Karnataka government adopted Gandaberunda, the mighty bird was the royal insignia of the Wodeyars, a dynasty that ruled the kingdom of Mysore from 1399 to 1947. Images of this mythical bird have been found carved on the walls of the Chennakeshava temple in Belur, and on coins belonging to the Vijayanagara empire. Gandaberunda is often depicted holding an elephant in each of its talons and is said to signify royalty and power.
According to the Puranas, when Vishnu descended to earth as Narasimha to destroy the evil king, Hiranyakashapu, the taste of his blood made Narasimha crave for some more. He lost sight of his true purpose and started to wreak havoc on earth, even the gods feared him. They turned to Shiva for help. Shiva took the form of Sharabha, a half-bird and half-lion being. Sharabha approached Narashima and tried to calm him under his wings but instead, Narasimha got furious. From his body emerged a celestial being even more powerful than Sharabha, Gandaberdunda. The two divine beings fought a fierce battle that lasted for eighteen days destroying everything in its wake.
At the end of the eighteenth day, Gandaberunda stopped to look around. It dawned upon him that their battle had caused enormous devastation. He spilt into two and Vishnu emerged from the centre of the fearsome beast. Shiva too resumed his form. The two returned to the heavenly abode and peace was restored.
In another version of the story, it was Sharabha, and not Gandaberunda who lost sight of his true mission and started destroying everything in his wake. Narasimha was then forced to take the form of Gandaberunda to curb the chaos Sharabha was causing.
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