The Astras, Part 4 - Pashupati-astra


City statue, Bali

Jan 25, 2017 — CANADA (SUN) — A survey of transcendental weaponry.

We begin our final segment on the Pashupati-astra with a description of the personification of this transcendental weapon – Pashupata, who is one of Lord Shiva's topmost ganas. In Chapters 317 to 326 of the Agni Purana, Lord Shiva is describing to Skanda the worship of his ganas, Vagishvari, Aghora, Pashupata, Rudra, and Gauri.

It is not surprising that Lord Shiva should be offering this explanation to Skanda, who is also known as Murugan, Kartikeya or Subramanian. According to Mahabharata, Skanda was born of Agni and Svaha, and became a great general, leading an army of demigods in warfare. The Satapatha Brahmana refers to him as a son of Rudra. In Bhagavad-gita 10.24, Krsna says, "of generals I am Kartikeya", and in his Bhaktivedanta Purport, Srila Prahbupada says:

    "And as Indra is the chief of all kings, similarly Skanda, or Kartikeya, the son of Parvati and Lord Siva, is the chief of all military commanders."

In the latter half of Agni Purana, Lord Shiva is explaining to Skanda how he may be worshipped in the form of Pashupati-astra, who is also personified by his gana Pashupata.

The narrator of the Agni Purana is the fire-god himself, Lord Agni. Agni related the subject matter of this Purana to Vashishtha Rishi, who in turn passed the knowledge on to Vyasadeva. Vyasadeva's disciple Suta then heard the Purana, and delivered it to Shaunaka and the assembled sages at Naimisharanya.

There is an interesting description of Shiva's warrior ganas in the Shanti Parva (108:16-32) of Mahabharata. Yudhisthira is asking Bhisma about the ganas and how they operate in proliferating and defending themselves. Given the ganas' close association with various aspects of battle, we can see a correspondence between the gana Pashupata and Lord Shiva's weapon, Pashupati-astra.

Shiva's Ganas
Sri Brahmapurisvara Temple at Pullamangai, Tamil Nadu

Finally, we find an excellent passage describing how Arjuna learned to use the Pashupati-astra, from the end of Chapter Four of the Drona Parva of Mahabharata, entitled ‘Arjuna Vows to Kill Jayadratha':

    "Meanwhile, as Arjuna lay on his bed, he was contemplating the next days activities. As he thought deeply of Lord Krishna, he fell asleep. He then had a dream, and in that dream, Lord Krishna came to him. "You possess the weapon given by Lord Shiva," He said. "It is called the Pashupatra astra. However, you do not know how to use this weapon. Let us go together to Lord Shiva's abode and receive instructions on how this weapon may be implored to kill Jayadratha." Taking Arjuna by the hand, Lord Krishna took him to Kailasa. Passing through many beautiful regions, those two heroes, Nara and Narayana, finally came to the abode of Lord Shiva. Upon seeing the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, Lord Shiva offered his obeisances. Lord Krishna is the source of all the devas including Lord Shiva and Lord Brahma. After offering his worship to Lord Krishna, Lord Shiva inquired from them, "You are both welcome here. Please tell me the reason for your journey, for I will satisfy your desires, and grant whatever you wish."

    "You have previously given me the celestial weapon Pashupatra astra," Arjuna replied. "I now desire to learn how to use this powerful weapon."

    Hearing Arjuna's desire, Lord Shiva said, "I will grant your request. Just near here is a lake full of amrita (nectar). This is where I keep my celestial bow and arrows. Go there and bring them to me."

    Lord Krishna and Arjuna then went to the lake, and in the water they saw two snakes spitting fire and poison. They approached those snakes chanting prayers to Lord Shiva. As they came closer, the two snakes turned into a bow and arrow. Arjuna then took the bow and arrow and returned to Lord Shiva. While glancing at the bow, Lord Shiva produced a brahmachary from the sides of his body. That brahmachary, who was bluish in complexion, then took the bow and strung it. Placing his feet properly and chanting the proper hymns to invoke the astra, the brahmachary released the arrow into the lake nearby. After releasing the arrow, he then threw the bow into the lake. Then Lord Shiva called for the bow and arrow and gave it to Arjuna, and also gave him the benediction that he would fulfill his vow. Arjuna and Lord Krishna, fully satisfied with the worship of Lord Shiva, returned to Kurukshetra and to their own tents. Thus through that dream Arjuna learned how to use the weapon owned by Lord Shiva.

    When the morning came all the Pandavas rose from their nightly rest and offered their morning prayers. In the presence of all the assembled Kings, Yudhisthira said to Lord Krishna, "O Krishna, relying on You alone, we seek victory and eternal life. You, O Lord, are aware of the loss of our kingdom at the hands of these vile sinners. O Lord of lords, You are compassionate to Your devotees who rely on You for their very existence. O slayer of Madhu, please help Arjuna to realize his vow. O descendent of Vrishni, become the boat that will take us across this vast ocean of the Kauravas. I offer my respectful obeisances unto You who are the eternal Lord, the Supreme Destroyer. O eternal Vishnu, O Hari, O Vaikunthanatha, Narada has described You to be the Supreme Lord, Narayana, who carries the Sarnga bow and who wields the Sudarshana cakra. O Lord of all creatures, please be merciful to us and do not allow Arjuna to enter fire at the end of the day. O Lord, may his vow be fulfilled."

    To these prayers, Lord Krishna replied, "O Yudhisthira, in all the three worlds, there is no bowman who compares to Arjuna. He is the possessor of great weapons and wields the prowess of thousands of warriors. Treading over the heads of his enemies, he will certainly fulfill his oath. This very day you will see that sinful person, Jayadratha, laying on the Kurukshetra plain and his soul entering Yamaraja's abode. Today, vultures and jackals will feast on the flesh of his dead body. Even if all the demigods united become Jayadratha's protectors, that ruler of the Sindhus will not live. Dispel all your anxiety and lamentation."

    While Lord Krishna and Yudhisthira were speaking, Arjuna came into their presence. Yudhisthira, rising from his seat, embraced Arjuna and smelt his head. He then addressed him, "It is evident from your smiling face that victory awaits you today. With the full blessings of our eternal well wisher, Lord Krishna, I shall see you here at the end of the day with you vows fulfilled."

    Arjuna then described to all present his dream of the previous night. He described how Lord Shiva had instructed him to use the Pashupatra astra. He also told them that Lord Shiva blessed him with the fulfillment of his desires. Hearing this excellent story, all were struck with wonder and exclaimed, "Excellent! Excellent!" Then with joyous hearts they proceeded to the battlefield to make preparations for the day's battle."


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