It is good news that 48 mantras used for vitalising or shooting the weapons found mentioned in Mahabharata have been found in a private collection in Kerala. The process of digitizing them along with numerous other such rare manuscripts on ancient branches of knowledge is under way. It is hoped that those information will be available in public domain soon.
The weapons mentioned in the two Ithihasas are of two types, astra and shastra. It is said that shastras are weapons shot with skill while astras are mantra based ones. The passages on weapons in the Ithihasas make me think that some level of mental thought and mantra based concentration were required to shoot any weapon, be it an astra or shastra.
Where and why a specific weapon (astra or shastra) was preferred over the other is also another area of research. While Rama used a blade of darbha grass as an astra to teach a lesson to Kaakasura, he did not do a similar thing to Samudra Raja by plucking out the blade of grass from his darbha bed to shoot at him. Instead He called up Lakshmana to fetch his weapons.
Likewise another comparison can be made. Rama did not hesitate to shoot the Brahmastra at the Ocean whereas he was not easily forthcoming in using it on Ravana. The same Brahmastra in the hands of Karna could not be used twice.
Thinking of Shiva Dhanush, Sita as a little girl had casually lifted it whereas lifting it up was considered as an ordeal by itself which is why it became the testing issue for Sita's swayamvar. However the mighty Ravana could not even lift it, but he lifted Sita herself!!
Like this there are interesting issues in the two Epics on weapons including the way they were procured and disposed off. Let us hope that these mantras give us some idea of what actually was the secret behind them.
Found: 'User guide' for Mahabharata weapons
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Ever wondered how our mythological superheroes operated those deadly weapons such as agneyastra, varunastra, brahmastra and nagpash?
A manuscript found from the collections of Ashtavaidyan Vaidyamadham Cheriya Narayanan Namboodiri, who passed away recently, clearly mentions the mantras to use brahmastra, agneyastra, among others. The 63-folio manuscript in palm leaves, believed to be rewritten about 120 years ago, is the only manuscript retrieved so far in the country that tells how to use all the deadly weapons mentioned in the Mahabharata in about 48 well-described mantras.
"It was Cheriya Narayanan Namboodiri's wish to digitize all his manuscript collections — 1,300 bundles — for the benefit of researchers, students and the future generation. The particular manuscript was noticed while we were digitizing the collections using the most reliable method, reprography," said A R Krishnakumar, project manager at Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences (CCRAS). Krishnakumar is part of a team from the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), New Delhi that has been bestowed with the responsibility of digitizing all the manuscripts available with both public and private parties in the country. "People may wonder why the manuscripts should be digitized. It is because they would throw light on our history, culture, customs, ancient religions besides giving information on the environment, health and science of ancient times," said Krishnakumar.
"Till now, we haven't even used 15% of the information from the manuscripts being written on ayurveda. Yet ayurveda is considered to be one of the most accepted system of medicine in the world. Now imagine if the knowledge in five lakh-odd bundles of manuscripts are made available to the society, how much more effective would ayurveda be," he added.
"We had digitized a portion of the manuscripts available with libraries, colleges, universities and other institutions in Kerala a few years ago. We started the second phase of the initiative from Vaidyamadham at Mezhathur in Palakkad district. Our next destination is Kanippayyur Mana near Kunnamkulam, famous for thachu sasthra (architectural science), and other centres that have hundreds of manuscripts preserved with them. Thankfully, all these private parties are now coming forward to share the knowledge they have been preserving from the past," said senior reprographic officer of IGNCA Krishnakumar B.
Krishnakumar, adding that the knowledge in manuscripts is not limited only to the subject of ayurveda, but covers nuances in the subjects of chemistry, physics, and astrology in detail.