J.Robert Oppenheimer an American theoretical physicist, famously referred to as “the father of the atomic bomb”, played a major role in developing the nuclear weapons during World War II. Once during a lecture at Rochester University, a student asked him, “Was the (nuclear) bomb exploded at Alamogordo during the Manhattan Project the first one to be detonated? Dr. Oppenheimer replied: Well — yes. In modern times, of course…
Let us delve into the pages of Mahabharata and Ramayana to discover the culture that knew the science of nuclear weapons and used these weapons called astras and shastras in ancient times, thousands of years before Oppenheimer.
Astra and Shastra vidya, like any other science or art, was an exchange between the Guru and Shishya. Guru, depending on the ability and thought pattern of the shishya, would initiate him/her into sadhna of the specific energy, whose Shakti was sought in the form of a weapon.
Mentioned below are some iconic astras that were so acquired by some of the greatest warriors history has known,
As the name suggests, the Brahmastra is the divine weapon created by Lord Brahma himself. According to historic accounts, once the Brahmastra is deployed it cannot be called back and there is no defense against it or even a counterattack to it, except by another Brahmastra or by Brahmashirsha astra, or a Brahmanda astra.
Since these weapons are invoked through internalization and one-pointed focus, they never miss their mark and culminate into complete destruction of the target. The aftereffects of unleashing it are comparable to nuclear weapons of present times – area becomes barren, population vanishes, effect propagates across generations.
In Ramayana, when Lord Ram’s army needed to cross the ocean to reach Lanka, Lord Ram deployed Brahmastra towards the ocean to carve the way out. At that moment, Varun, the Lord of Oceans, appeared before him and offered to help. He requested Lord Ram to retract the Brahmastra to save the oceans. However once invoked, the Brahmastra had to be discharged. As per Ramayana, Lord Ram then redirected the weapon towards Dhrumatulya, (modern-day Rajasthan) causing it to become a desert for eons to come.
This weapon is attributed to Varun, the Lord of the Seas. It is said to assume any weapon’s shape, just like water. It could release torrential rains that could drown the enemy and could also counter Agneyastra by extinguishing the wide fires set alight by this weapon of Agni Deva.
Iconic warriors like Arjun, Satyaki, Dhrishtadhuymna, Dronacharya, Bhishma and Karna are said to have possessed the siddhi of Varunastra. The weapon was acquired by rigorous penance of Lord Varun and Lord Shiv, and was to be used with great care and skill. The usage of weapon was not possible for any inexperienced warrior, as a slight mistake committed, and the user himself could be destroyed.
According to Mahabharata, “when a warrior discharges a Varunastra which is made of such materials, whose smoke is converted into a cloud. The moment it comes in contact with air it converts the cloud to rain.” It may be compared to modern technology of creating artificial clouds and inducing rain.
These are missiles that are fueled by the energy of sound. They would track even the slightest sounds made by the enemy and be set into motion to destroy them. This type of technology is used today in passive sonar systems, which detect sounds from marine objects. In nature, bats make use of multiple sonar frequencies to identify and distinguish their prey.
In the Van parv of Mahabharata, Lord Krishna is said to have used these missiles. He is quoted as saying”… In that fierce battle, I then, with the object of destroying them, fixed on my bow-string the weapon capable of piercing the foes if but his sound was inaudible. Upon this, their shouts ceased. But those Danavas that had sent up that shout were all slain by those shafts of mine blazing as the Sun himself, and capable of striking at the perception of sound alone.”
This weapon was accidentally used by King Dashrath against Shrawan Kumar along the banks of river Sarayu mistaking his sound to be the sound of an animal.
The much-guarded weapon of Lord Shiv, Pashpupat Astra is known to destroy the target completely, irrespective of target’s nature. It had to be obtained from Lord Shiv directly. It could only be nullified by another astra of Lord Shiv or by an astra of Lord Vishnu.
In Mahabharata 3.41.7–10, Arjun requests Lord Shiv to grant him the weapon thus –
“O illustrious god having the bull for thy sign, if thou wilt grant me my desire, I ask of thee, lord that fierce celestial weapon wielded by thee – that weapon of terrible prowess which destroyeth, at the end of the Yuga the entire universe – that weapon by the help of which, O god of gods, I may under thy grace, obtain victory in the terrible conflict which shall take place – that weapon by which I may consume in battle Danavs and Rakshasas and evil spirits and Pishachs and Gandharvs and Naags – that weapon which when hurled with Mantras produceth darts by thousands and fierce-looking maces and arrows like snakes of virulent poison.”
From the above fragment it is evident that Pashupat is no ordinary weapon, but one that could cause catastrophic effects. Even the hydrogen bombs of present times, could not compare to its power.
These weapons were capable of causing the entire hosts/armies to collapse in a trance.
Arjun uses this weapon against the Kaurav army during the war of Viratnagar. Virata Parva of Mahabharata mentions that Arjun used an irresistible weapon obtained from Lord Indra, called Sammohana, which stupefied the senses of the Kuru heroes.
Similarly, Bhishma Parv of Mahabharata narrates King Drupada having used another weapon called Pramohana causing heroic warriors to get deprived of their senses, their minds and strength…Then Drona used a counter weapon called Pragya, to neutralize the Pramohana weapon.
These are just some examples, the magnitude and power of vedic weaponry is limitless. Even the Jewish born Oppenheimer, could not deny it. To quote him, “access to the Vedas is the greatest privilege this century may claim over all previous centuries.” He is also known to often gift Bhagavad Gita as a present to his friends and kept a copy on the shelf closest to his desk!