The Astras, Part 7 – Vaishnava-astra


Krishna Storms the Citadel of Naraka
Bhagavata Purana, Mysore, c. 1840

Feb 06, 2017 — CANADA (SUN) — A survey of transcendental weaponry.

In our first segment on the vaishnava-astra, we mentioned that Sri Krsna killed the demon Naraka, father of Bhagadatta. In answer to Mother Bhumi's plea, Krsna then put her grandson Bhagadatta on the throne as the new ruler of Pragjyotisha (modern Myanmar, on the border of Assam). Bhagadatta was allowed to took the place of his demoniac father, so that the son's reputation would not be ruined by the father's bad acts.

Naraka was killed by Krsna for stealing a sacred bowl and earrings from the goddess Aditi, and other paraphernalia from the demigods. Mother Bhumi later returned these stolen items to Krsna, offering Him prayers and asking for Bhagadatta's seat of power.

It was Bhagadatta who later used the vaishnava-astra during the battle of Kurukshetra, employing it in an effort to kill Arjuna. Krsna intervened, taking the blow and neutralizing the astra's impact – an act only the Supreme Personality of Godhead could perform. Bhagadatta was eventually killed by one of Arjuna's arrows.

The pastime of Krsna killing Naraka, illustrated in the painting shown in the first segment, was discussed in some detail in a previous Sun Feature critiquing curatorial remarks on the painting. That article mentioned some additional background on the activities of Naraka and Bhagadatta, and Krsna's pastime marrying 16,000 wives at Dwarka.

In reading about these pastimes in the Mahabharata, a question may arise about the timeline of events, i.e, when Naraka got the vaishnava-astra, when he passed it on to Bhagadatta, when it was used in the battle of Kurukshetra, and how these events relate to the time of Krsna's pastimes in Dwarka. In his book, Krishna: A Sourcebook, Edwin F. Bryant offers this explanation:

    "During the epic's [Mahabharata's] seventh book, in which Drona marshals the Kaurava army, Krishna saves Arjuna by intercepting a weapon intended for him, receiving it on his chest. Arjuna protests that when Krishna agreed to drive Arjuna's chariot, he vowed to be a noncombatant. Krishna then explains his intervention by telling a "secret of old". This weapon just hurled by Bhagadatta, king of Pragjyotisha (Assam), was the Vaishnava weapon [vaishnava-astra], and no one else could have neutralized it. Bhagadatta got it from the former Pragjyotisa king Naraka Bhauma, "Naraka the son of Earth", who got it from Krishna's fourth [chaturthi] form [murti].

    Prithivi (Earth) had requested the Vaishnava weapon for her son Naraka to make him invincible by gods and demons. After Krishna had killed Naraka, the weapon passed on to Bhagadatta, whom Arjuna, says Krishna, should now "divest of that supreme weapon as I formerly slew Naraka." (7.28-16-35).

    Naraka Bhauma would thus seem to have gotten his weapon long, long ago; but when did Krishna kill him? If a sequence in the Narayaniya is to be taken as implying consecutiveness, Krishna killed Naraka after Krishna and his Yadava clan had moved to Dvaraka, and before the killing of Jarasandha, an event that occurs near the beginning of book 2. Krishna's slaying of Naraka is first recalled at the beginning of book 3.

    When Krishna first visits the Pandavas in the forest and is enraged at their exile, Arjuna calms him by reciting his past deeds; among them are the following: "You slew Naraka Bhauma taking the two jeweled earrings [nihatya narakam bhauman ahritya manikundale] … The Mauravas and Pashas have been set down, Nisunda and Naraka slain; the road to Pragjyotisha city has again been made secure [kritah kshemah punah pantha puram Pragjyotisha pranti]" And this victory is soon recalled in other passages that laud Krishna's past deeds, three of them in book 5.

    In addition to getting the Vaishnava weapon from his mother Earth, Naraka Bhauma thus stole Aditi's earrings, which Krishna killed him to retrieve. The epic does not say what Krishna did with these earrings. But in what appears to be the first full account in the Harivamsha (91.5-92), once Krishna slew her son Naraka, Bhumi (Earth) picked up the earrings and gave them to Krishna, saying, "Even given by you, Govinda, so this one is made to fall by you; as you desire, so you are like a child at play with his toys. Protect these two earrings, O God, and his children." Krishna then gave the earrings to Indra on Mount Meru, and he and Indra then return them to Aditi (HV 92.46-56)."

The author's point, as it relates to our study of vaishnava-astra, is that in carrying out His mission to settle the Yadavas in Dvaraka, Krishna must have slain Naraka and retrieved the earrings sometime after His childhood.


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