The Wars of Hindu mythology
depict great heroes and demons in battles of celestial proportions, filled with the awesome force of celestial weapons, religious mysticism, magic, celestial and supernatural beings.
Overriding the awesome battles and wonderous features is a deep driving purpose of religion and fate.
War in Religion and Lore
While no Hindu Epic or scripture fails to describe the horrors of war and its fallout, major wars are fought with a religious purpose: often to eliminate demonic beings, or lords and rulers who pursue war wantonly for ambition and domination.
The most destructive wars in Hindu Lore are driven with the mission of good triumphing over evil.
Hindu teachings prescribe war as the final option, to be employed only after all peaceful methods are exhausted. But when this time comes, war is taught to be a matter of great personal and religious importance, where every man must do his duty as a warrior, exemplify courage, honor and fearsome prowess even against all the odds, and even at high cost of life.
The Bhagavad Gita places duty above all gain and loss, triumph and destruction, no matter how terrible or personal it becomes.
The Avatars of Vishnu
, the Inconceivable Supreme, periodically takes birth, an Avatar
upon earth to destroy evil and deliver the pious
. He is also the refuge of the Devas in their battles against Asuras.
The most martial Avatars include Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Vamana, Narasimha, Parshuram, Rama, Krishna, Mohini and Kalki.
- Narayanastra: the personal missile weapon of Vishnu in his Narayana form, this astra lets loose a powerful tirade of millions of deadly missiles simultaneously. The intensity of the shower increases with resistance. The only solution is total submission before the missile, given which it will stop.This astra was used by Ashwatthama in the Mahabharata war against the Pandava army
- Vaishnavastra: the personal missile weapon of Vishnu, once fired it cannot be thwarted by any means, save by the will of Vishnu Himself.This astra was used by Bhagadatta in the Mahabharata war against Arjuna.
- Kaumodaki: the divine mace weapon of Vishnu; invincible and without parallel.
- Sudarshana Chakra: the magical chakra, a spinning discus with sharp outer spears. The Sudarshan flies at the command of Vishnu, spinning away to tear off the heads of His opponents, or to perform any function desired by Vishnu. It was most famously used by His Avatar Krishna in the Mahabharata.
- Nandaki: The Sword of Lord Vishnu.
- Sharang: The Celestial Bow of Lord Vishnu.
The Lord Destroyer, Sarvaripati Shiva
is the most fearsome manifestation of the Supreme God. Assigned with destroying all of the universe at the end of time, Siva is the most fearsome warrior, unconquerable by any and all.
- Pashupata: discharged by the mind, eyes, words or a bow, the Pashupata is the irresistible and most destructive personal weapon of Siva. Never to be used against lesser enemies and by lesser warriors, the Pashupata is capable of destroying creation and vanquishing all beings.
- Trishula: the terrifying trident-staff of Shiva
- Pinak: the bow of Shiva
- Tandava: is the dance of the Destroyer, which He performs over the body of a demon, and simultaneously destroys all creation, all beings, material and illusion alike: the ultimate martial art.
Siva employs his power to kill the Asura Tripura, destroying the flying three cities of Tripura. He is restrained and not involved in the wars of the worlds prior to dissolution.
The Kshatriya Order
- Ashwamedha: the famous horse-sacrifice was conducted by allowing a horse to roam freely for a slated period of time, with the king performing the sacrifice laying claim to all the lands it touched. The king whose authority is contested must prove himself in battle or accept the imperial supremacy of the challenging king. When the horse returns safely after the period of time, the main sacrifice is performed, and the king, if successful in obtaining dominance over other kings, is crowned Emperor of the World. The Ashwamedha allows the opportunity to maintain peace if the kings do not choose to contest the sacrificial horse
- Rajasuya: considered the ultimate sacrifice, the king performing the sacrifice must openly challenge every king in the world to accept his supremacy or defeat him in battle. If and when the king returns successfully, having beaten all other known rulers, the performance of the sacrifice will send him to the highest abode of Lord Indra. It was performed by the Pandava hero Yudhisthira in the Mahabharata epic.
- Vajpeya: akin to the conduct of the Rajasuya, save only that the entire sacrifice is to please Lord Vishnu, who is the Supreme God.
Levels of Warrior Excellence
- Maharathi: a warrior capable of fighting 60,000 warriors simultaneously; circumspect in his mastery of all forms of weapons and combat skills.
- Atirathi: a warrior capable of contending with 10,000 warriors simultaneously.
Strategic Formations: the Vyuha
- Krauncha Vyuha: the crane-shaped formation of an army; forces are distributed to form spanning wing-sides, with a formidable, penetrating center depicting the crow's head and break.
- Padma Vyuha or the Chakra Vyuha: a winding, ever-rotating circular formation; considered impenetrable during the Mahabharata age by all warriors except Arjuna, Bhisma, Drona, Krishna, Pradyumna and Abhimanyu. Abhimanyu, had learnt how to break into the formation (in the womb of Subhadra) but not how to break out of it and is trapped inside in the Mahabharata war.
- Sarpa Vyuha: winding snake formation.
- Makara Vyuha: Crocodile Formation
- Sakata Vyuha: Cart Formation
- Shukar Vyuha: Pig Formation
is a missile
-type weapon which is to be hurled at an enemy. Examples include arrows from bows. A Shastra
is a personal weapon, like swords and maces, that must be constantly operated by the warrior.
- Pasupath*: The weapon granted to Arjuna by Lord Shiva is the most destructive weapon in The Mahabharata. It is said to have the power to change the course of Creation and Destruction However Arjuna never used this weapon.
- Brahmastra: imbibed with the mystical force of Creator Brahma, this is considered the most fearsome weapon in mythological works. The releaser of millions of missiles, great fires and a destructive potential capable of extinguishing all creation, if not used by and aimed only at a celestial fighter. Modern speculation has equated its destructive nature to be similar to that of a nuclear weapon.
- Nagastra:the snake weapon, used by Karna against Arjuna in Kurukshetra war. It is considered as next only to Brahmastra. It has a fame that it never misses it's target.
- Shakti: the magical dart weapon of Indra, unfailing at executing its target. Indra granted it to Karna during the Kurukshetra war. The Mahabharata also refers to it as the Amoghastra.
- Vajra: the thunderbolt weapon of Indra, who is the God of Thunder and Lightning, akin to Zeus and Jupiter in Greek and Roman mythology.
- Agniyastra: the fire weapon, incepted by God Agni, master of the flames.
- Varunastra: the water weapon, incepted by God Varuna, master of the oceans, rivers and lakes.
- Vayavastra: the wind weapon, incepted by God Vayu, master of wind.
- Brahmashir Astra: a weapon capable of greater destruction than the Brahmastra.It can burn all ceation to ashes once discharged.Gifted by Brahma
The Devas and Asuras
The perennial battle between the Devas
is undertaken over the dominion of the three worlds: Swarga
, or Heaven
and the Nether worlds
. Both races are technically equal, possessor of great religious and martial powers, but the Devas are committed to the worship of the Supreme Lord and practice of virtue. The Asuras have atheistic and devious tendencies that grow over time. The divide is the greatest in the Kali Yuga
, the final age.
- Sukracharya: is the Preceptor of the Asuras, their chief priest and martial guru. Sukracharya is a great worshipper of the Supreme Lord, but remains supportive of the Asuras, who are often identified as atheistic and demonic in nature.
- Brihaspati: is the Guru Preceptor of the Devas. Possessing unparalleled knowledge of the Vedas, scripture, religion and mysticism, Brihaspati's mastery of the military arts is akin to Sukracharya, his counterpart.
- Indra: the God of thunder and lightning, he is the King of Swarga, or Heaven, and the leader of all the Devas against the demon hordes. The greatest performer of sacrifices, Indra is the most famous and fearsome warrior in the three worlds, but faces opponents often equal or greater to him, and is sometimes unable to vanquish enemies like Indrajit, who was able to humiliate Indra owing to his past sins. When facing opponents like Vritra, Indra seeks the aid of Lord Vishnu.
- Skanda: the Vedic God of War, more so the generalissimo.
- Narakasura: the great Asura opponent of Vishnu.
- Vritra: the brahmin Asura, who was performing a sacrifice to obtain sovereignty of the three worlds.
- Vishwamitra: is the preceptor of Rama and Lakshmana, a powerful tapasvin and Brahmarishi. He bestows the knowledge of all divine weaponry to Rama and Lakshmana, leads them to kill powerful demons and instructs them in advanced religion and military arts.
- Rama: is the Seventh Avatar of Vishnu, and the greatest warrior-tapasvin in the three worlds. His knowledge, prowess and tapasya is above all. Rama single-handedly slays the 14,000 demon hordes of Khara (in 14 minutes, according to the Ramayana), the demons Maricha and Subahu, Ravana's chief commander Prahasta and is responsible for the ultimate killing of Ravana himself.
- Lakshmana: is as powerful and excellent a warrior as his brother, and slays extremely powerful demons, including Atikaya and Indrajit - which is considered to be the turning point of the war.
- Hanuman: the Vanara minister of Sugriva is the greatest devotee of Rama, famous for his unerring service, absolute loyalty and great feats of courage. Hanuman is responsible for killing many demons, as well as burning the city of Lanka. His strength is given by his father Vayu, and by virtue of the boons bestowed on him by various Gods, he could increase his size and strength beyond any limit he desired.
- Prahasta: the chief commander of Lanka's army, Prahasta defeated the host of the Gods, and subjugated many kings on Ravana's behalf.
- Ravana: is blessed by his fearsome 10,000 year tapasya to be the most powerful being on earth, invulnerable to every God, demon and living being, save man. Although an expert on the Vedas and a great king, and a numero uno devotee of Lord Shiva, he is the Emperor of evil by his patronage of demons, desecration of women, the murder of kings and humiliation of the Gods headed by Indra.
- Indrajit: as his name suggests, Ravana's first-born son defeated Indra, king of Gods. Master of mystical warfare and celestial weapons, and blessed by boons from Gods, Indrajit was considered the most fearful warrior, virtually invincible.
- Kumbhakarna: the gigantic brother of Ravana is a fearsome monster-demon who sleeps for six months at a stretch, rising for only day and then returning to his slumber. Kumbhakarna is a giant who can slay hundreds of warriors by the sweep of his hand or stomp of his foot. He is slain by Rama in the war.
- Kuru Army: of 11 Akshauhinis is formed by the kingdom of Hastinapura in alliance with races like the Samshaptakas, Trigartas, the Narayana army, the Sindhu army and Shalya of Madra.
- Commanders in Chief: Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Shalya
- Atirathis: Shalya, Somadatta, Bhurisrava, Bhagadatta, Jayadratha, Kritavarma
- Maharathis: Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Ashwathama,
- Pandava Army: is a coalition of 7 Akshauhinis, primarily comprising of the Panchala and Matsya forces, the Rakshasa forces of Bhima's son, and Vrishni-Yadava heroes.
- Bhishma: the most consummate warrior trained by Parashurama, Bhishma is indestructible by any warrior when he lifts his weapons. Having mastered his preceptor himself and all the kings of the earth, he is the Commander in Chief of the Kuru Army. He has the boon of wishful death.
- Drona: the preceptor of the kshatriyas and kings of the age, Drona is a great master of Vedic military arts, almost every celestial weapon, with great religious knowledge and wisdom. He becomes the second Kuru commander, and Arjuna is his favorite student. Drona's rejection of Karna as a student, owing to his unknown caste lays the foundation for the great Karna-Arjuna rivalry.
- Arjuna: known all over the three worlds as the foremost warrior alive, he is the son of Indra and the most powerful maharathi. He is greatest Archer on Earth.He single handedly defeated entire kuru army with all its warriors including karna at battle of viratnagar.He is responsible for vanquishing Bhishma, as well as exterminating an entire Akshauhini of warriors and Maharathas in one day, in addition to the armies of Samshaptakas, Trigartas and Narayanas - millions of soldiers and heroic warrios..He is also the protagonist of the most intense personal rivalry of the war, between the two reputed greatest warriors, with Karna, whom he slays. (Pandava's chief army general was Drushtadhymna and not Arjuna as it was mentioned in the earlier editions of this page)
- Bhima: the second and most impetuous Pandava, Bhima's personal strength is phenomenal. He is an unsurpassed master of the mace weapon, and a consummate wrestler. He slays all but one of the one hundred Kuru brothers, and the chief antagonist of the saga, Duryodhana.
- Abhimanyu: the son of Arjuna, Abhimanyu is a consummate warrior almost equal to his father. When he enters the unbreakable Chakra vyuha, he holds the entire Kuru host, with Drona, Karna and hundreds of other heroic warriors, in addition to hundreds of thousands of foot soldiers at bay single-handedly. He is killed however, by deceit and a merciless and most unlawful slaying while he is unarmed and without a chariot, by all these powerful Kuru heroes.
- Karna: the tragic hero of the epic, Karna is the first-born of Kunti, the mother of the five Pandavas, but abandoned as a child owing his mother's maidenhood and fear of destroying her honor. As a result, Karna is raised by charioteers and denied the recognition and benefits of belonging to the Kshatriya order. Karna has to employ deceit to dodge the question of his caste, but obtains training from Parashurama.The entire rivalry is a question of who is truly superior. Karna's prowess meets par with Arjuna's, and Karna devises a fearsome ploy to kill the Pandava prince. He uses snake arrow against Arjuna. His ploy is thwarted by Krishna, who sinks Arjuna's chariot just so as the arrow passes Arjuna's head by an inch!
Here is what Lord Krishna says unto Arjuna before the war between Karna and Arjuna - "Hear in brief, O son of Pandu! I regard the mighty car-warrior Karna as thy equal, or perhaps, thy superior! With the greatest care and resolution shouldst thou slay him in great battle. In energy he is equal to Agni. As regards speed, he is equal to the impetuosity of the wind. In wrath, he resembles the Destroyer himself. Endued with might, he resembles a lion in the formation of his body. He is eight ratnis in stature. His arms are large. His chest is broad. He is invincible. He is sensitive. He is a hero. He is, again, the foremost of heroes. He is exceedingly handsome. Possessed of every accomplishment of a warrior, he is a dispeller of the fears of friends. Engaged in the good of Dhritarashtra's son, he always hates the sons of Pandu. No one, not even the gods with Vasava at their head, can slay the son of Radha, save thee, as I think. Slay, therefore, the Suta's son today. No one possessed of flesh and blood, not even the gods fighting with great care, not all the warriors (of the three worlds) fighting together can vanquish that car-warrior".
During the war between Karna and Arjuna, Arjuna's chariot was hit by Karna's arrows and was displaced a few meters backwards from the impact of the arrows. At that time Lord Krishna, who was driving Arjuna's chartiot, praised Karna for his feat. Arjuna, whose arrows had displaced Karna's chariot by several hundred meters, was shocked at Krishna's praise for Karna and questioned him. Krishna said "Arjuna, I myself who own the whole weight of the entire Universe am sitting on your chariot and your chariot is covered by the blessing of Lord Hanuman. Without these two factors, Karna's arrows would have hurled your chariot off the Earth."
Karna was killed by Arjuna when he was lifting his chariot wheel because he was cursed to die in that way by a Brahmin.
Karna is the very embodiment of sacrifice. Sacrifice is a synonym for Karna. In the entire world you cannot find one other man equal in the spirit of sacrifice to Karna. In weal or woe, truimph or defeat he could not forget the quality of sacrifice.
Darkness had enveloped the battlefield. Krishna was proceeding with Arjuna. In His sweet voice, Krishna was exclaiming,"Karna! Karna!" Karna was gasping for breath in his last moments.
He cried, "Who is calling me? I am here." Following the direction from which the words came, Krishna went near Karna.
Before approaching Karna, Krishna assumed the form of an indigent Brahmin. Karna asked him, "Who are you, sir?" Karna was nearing his last breath. Even at that moment, without any hesitation or faltering in his voice, he put that question to the stranger. Krishna (as the poor Brahmin) replied, "For a long time I have been hearing about your reputation as a charitable person. You have acquired the title, 'Daana Karna' (Karna the great giver). Today, not knowing about your plight, I came to ask you for a gift. You must give me a donation." "Certainly, I shall give you whatever you want," replied Karna. "I have to perform the marriage of my son. I want a small quantity of gold," said Krishna. "Oh what a pity! Please go to my wife, she will give you as much gold as you need", said Karna. The Brahmin broke into a laughter. He said, "For the sake of a little gold have I to go all the way to Hastinapura? If you say, you are not in a position to give me what I ask, I shall leave you." Karna declared, "As long as breath remains in me, I will not say 'no' to anyone." Karna opened his mouth, showed the gold fillings for his teeth and said, "I shall give this to you. You can take them." Assuming a tone of revulsion, Krishna said, "What is it you suggest? Do you expect me to break your teeth and take the gold from them? How can I do such a wicked deed? I am a Brahmin."
Immediately, Karna picked up a stone nearby, knocked out his teeth and offered them to the Brahmin. Krishna in his guise as Brahmin wanted to test Karna further. "What? Are you giving me as gift teeth dripping with blood? I cannot accept this. I am leaving", he said. Karna pleaded, "Swami, please wait for a moment." Even while he was unable to move, Karna took out an arrow and aimed it at the sky. Immediately rain dropped from the clouds. Cleaning the teeth with the rain water, Karna offered the teeth with both his hands.
Pleased with his supreme sacrifice,Krishna grants Karna the vision of himself seated on Garuda, accompanied by his wives Radha and Rukmini. The Lord promises Karna to grant him whatever boon he wishes. Karna says that, although he could ask Krishna to give victory to Duryodhana and bring his armies back to life, he does not want to do so. He then requests two things: firstly, that as soon as he dies, his mother Kunti shall be informed. She will rush to the battlefield and proclaim publicly that Karna is her son and that he is not of low caste. Secondly, in order to reach Krishna's feet (that is, the liberation of his soul from the cycle of births) Karna wants to fulfil the good deed of feeding others (annadanam). This is the only danam he has not been able to carry out in this life, because nobody wanted to eat in the house of a person of low caste. He asks Krishna to give him in his next births the means to be liberal and the opportunity to carry out annadanam. A moved Krishna grants Karna these favours and tells him that in his next life he will be reborn as Siruttontar Nayanar, famous for offering his own son as food to Lord Siva, after which he will attain moksham.
The End of the World
- The end of the world, all creation and illusion is prophesied to happen at the end of the Kali Yuga.
- Lord Siva Nataraja, the Destroyer kills the paramount demon of the time and performs the Tandava Nritya (The Dance of Tandava) on his back.
- The mystical dance is the penultimate martial art, destroying all forms of matter and energy, materials, beings and illusions, which are absorbed within the Supreme Brahman.
- Kalki, the final Avatar of Vishnu is also prophesized to appear the end of the Kali yuga, to wage the final battle between good and evil. It is not clear how to reconcile this prophesy with Siva's role as the Destroyer, but Kalki will appear upon a white horse, amassing an army of the few pious remaining, and incarnations of all of Hindu God-head, to destroy the demons and sin manifest in the world.