Kurukshetra, located in present-day Haryana, witnessed one of the most destructive battles in the annals of Bharatvarsha. Several Astras (weapons) were used during this war, some of which could cause large-scale destruction.
The battlefield of Kurukshetra is known as ‘Dharmakshetra’ because here Dharma prevailed over adharma. The battle was fought between Pandavas; five sons of Pandu supported by Shri Krishna on the one side, and Kauravas, sons of Dhritarashtra, on the other.
There were massive armies on both sides, with seven Akshauhinis on the side of the Pandavas and eleven on the Kaurava side. Suffice here to say that an akshauhini is a battle formation consisting of 21,870 chariots, 21,870 elephants, 65,610 horses, and 109,350 infantry as per the Mahabharata (Adi Parva 2.15-23). The ratio is 1 chariot: 1 elephant: 3 cavalry: 5 infantry soldiers.
Astras used in the war
Let us look at some of the most powerful weapons used in this war.
1) Narayanastra: As the name denotes, this Astra belonged to Sri Hari Vishnu. It was a potent weapon that fired millions of deadly missiles. Resisting the weapon only made it more robust, increasing the intensity and number of missiles being showered. The only way to stop this weapon was to submit before its power.
2) Pashupatastra: The personal weapon of Bhagwan Shiva and Maa Kali, this deadly Astra had the potential to destroy the entire creation. Although Arjuna had obtained this Astra after pleasing Mahadev through his penance, he did not use it for obvious reasons.
3) Maheshwara Astra: This weapon contains the power of Bhagwan Mahadev’s third eye. It could at once turn one’s enemies into ashes. The only way to counter this weapon was by using any other weapon of Bhagwan Shiva or that of Sri Hari Vishnu.
4) Brahmashirsa Astra: was a weapon four times stronger than the Brahmastra. Use of this Astra would cause destruction. The area where this Astra was used would be rendered barren for 12 years. There would be no rain for 12 years either, besides the area becoming poisonous.
5) Brahmanda Astra: This weapon was potent enough to destroy the entire solar system (Brahmanda). It manifested the five heads of Brahma as the tip of the weapon. It could neutralize both Brahmastra as well as Brahmashirsa Astra. There was no way to stop this Astra or defend oneself from it. Devatas asked Dronacharya not to use it against the Pandavas because the latter were fighting for Dharma.
6) Brahmastra: Puranas say Brahmastra is the deadliest weapon in the annals of human history. The Astra never missed its mark and assured the destruction of the individual or army against whom the Astra. The Yoddha used it. There was neither a way to counter-attack nor defend oneself against the Brahmastra.
7) Naga Astra: took the form of a snake. Karna failed to use it effectively against Arjuna because Sri Krishna saved the latter.
8) Vasavi Shakti: This was the Astra of Deva Indra and was sure to kill anyone upon whom it was fired. Karna obtained this weapon from Indra in return for the former’s kavach and kundal. Because he could use it only once, he had saved this weapon for Arjuna but was compelled to use it against Bhima’s son Ghatotkacha.
9) Varuna Astra: Belonging to Varuna Deva, this weapon could assume the form of any other weapon. It required great skill on the user’s part to fire this weapon. Many reputed warriors such as Arjuna, Satyaki, Dhrishtadhuymna, and Dronacharya, among others, possessed this weapon.
Sri Krishna’s Sudarshan Chakra was another potent weapon, but since Sri Krishna did not participate in the war, He did not use it at Kurukshetra. However, Sri Krishna did use the Sudarshan Chakra to kill Shishupal. The Sudarshan Chakra is the Kundalini Shakti of Sri Hari Vishnu, just like the Trishul is Mahadev’s Kundalini Shakti.
It is worth noting that the warriors used these weapons with utmost caution because they knew the potential destruction these could cause to society. We cannot rule out the possibility of some of these being nuclear weapons. With good reason, Gurus did not pass on the knowledge of such powerful weapons to just about anybody. Using weapons of mass destruction with responsibility was a norm in those days. Centuries later, it is pretty difficult for us to fathom the depth of knowledge our ancestors possessed to create such weapons.