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Brahmasira
(also known as Brahmashira, Brahmashir Astra, Brahmasirsha, Brahmasirsha Astra)

Brahmasira is a celestial weapon in Hindu mythology. Although Brahma is the name of the Lord of Creation, in this context Brahma likely means "to expand, grow, swell, or enlarge". "Sira" means head, therefore the Brahmasira could mean "expanding head" or in more modern interpretations "expanding warhead". It is said to be the weapon used by Lord Shiva to destroy the universe at the end of a Yuga and usher in the birth of the next one, and there are inevitable comparisons between it and a modern nuclear device.

Arjuna learned the Brahmasira from his preceptor Drona after proving himself to be the most adept of the disciples under his tutelage in the Mahabharata, Adi Parva section 135.

"Accept, O thou of mighty arms, this very superior and irresistible weapon called Brahmasira with the methods of hurling and recalling it. Thou must not, however, ever use it against any human foe, for if hurled at any foe endued with inferior energy, it might burn the whole universe."

Later in the story, Arjuna goes on a quest to learn the celestial weapons directly from the gods and requests the Brahmasira from Lord Shiva. Although he already knows the astra, receiving the mantra directly from Shiva will likely result in a more powerful version than the one learned from Drona, which was passed by word of mouth over several generations. (Vana Parva section 40)

"Arjuna said, O illustrious god having the bull for thy sign, if thou wilt grant me my desire, I ask of thee, O lord that fierce celestial weapon wielded by thee and called Brahmasira, that weapon of terrific 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 between myself on one side, and Karna and Bhishma and Kripa and Drona on the other, that weapon by which I may consume in battle Danavas and Rakshasas and evil spirits and Pisachas and Gandharvas and Nagas, that weapon which when hurled with Mantras produceth darts by thousands and fierce-looking maces and arrows like snakes of virulent poison, and by means of which I may fight with Bhishma and Drona and Kripa and Karna of ever abusive tongue, O illustrious destroyer of the eyes of Bhaga, even this is my foremost desire, viz, that I may be able to fight with them and obtain success."

Lord Shiva ultimately grants Arjuna the celestial weapon Pasupata so it is believed that the two weapons are actually one and the same. However, it is unclear why the same astra has two distinct names. If you have any information which would help in this regard, please leave a comment.

There is also a relation between Brahmasira and Aisika. Astras are primarily invoked upon an arrow and fired from a bow. However, in dire situations where such a weapon is not available the astra can be invoked into whatever is on hand such as a blade of grass or reed stalk. The word Aisika refers to the medium in which the astra is delivered, but it is believed that the actual astra used is Brahmasira.

There are inevitable comparisons between Brahma Astra and Brahmasira. Literature seems to indicate that they are indeed separate and distinct astras governed by different deities, although their destructive power is roughly equivalent. Brahma Astra appears to have more restrictions over its use. The mantra must be obtained directly from Lord Brahma (as opposed to learned via word of mouth) and cannot be used without his sanction. Brahmasira on the other hand can be passed down via word of mouth and does not require Lord Shiva's assent to use.

Thanks to Jijith Nadumuri Ravi from Ancient Voice.

Astra, India, Mythology, Weapon


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