Did Arjuna have the Narayanastra?

Did Arjuna have the Narayanastra - Featured Image - Picture of an archer letting an arrow fly, representing Ashwatthama.

Arjuna is the most powerful warrior in the Mahabharata universe. He is the third of the Pandavas in order of seniority, born after Yudhishthir and Bhimasena.

He is the last of Kunti’s children. After his birth, Kunti decides that she will summon no more gods and bear no more sons. Nakula and Sahadeva, the fourth and fifth of the Pandavas respectively, are born to Madri, Pandu’s second wife.

In this post, we will answer the question: Did Arjuna have the Narayanastra?

Ashwatthama is the only warrior in the Mahabharata who has the Narayanastra. He casts it on the fifteenth day of the war, eager to avenge the death of his father, Drona. It is Krishna who advises the Pandava army that the only way to quell the Narayanastra is to submit to it. Arjuna does not have any means of neutralizing it.

Read on to discover more about whether or not Arjuna had the Narayanastra.

(For answers to all Arjuna-related questions, see Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)

After Drona’s Death

During the afternoon of the fifteenth day of the Mahabharata war, the Pandavas plot together to lie to Drona in order to force him to give up his arms.

Bhimasena kills an elephant named Ashwatthama; Yudhishthir tells Drona the lie that ‘Ashwatthama is dead’; Drona gives up his arms in despair; and finally, Dhrishtadyumna climbs into Drona’s chariot and beheads him with a swipe of the sword.

The Kauravas and Pandavas have understandably contrasting responses to Drona’s death. Bhimasena jumps off his chariot and clutches the sword-wielding Dhrishtadyumna to his bosom.

‘I will hug you once again, O Parshata,’ he says, ‘at the moment of victory in this battle, after the head of that Sutaputra and that of that cruel Duryodhana have been thrown into the dust.’

(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 50: Drona Dies.)

A large number of Kaurava soldiers, consumed by grief, rummage among the numerous corpses on the battlefield, but fail to find the body of Drona.

As the word spreads across the field that the preceptor is no more, fear grips the hearts of all Kuru warriors, and one by one they flee with vacant looks on their faces, much like the Daitya army surrendered at the death of Hiranyaksha.

Ashwatthama Holds Fort

Only Ashwatthama holds his position, continuing his rampage upon the Somakas and the Panchalas. When he sees the entire Kaurava army retreat as one, he addresses Duryodhana in perplexity.

‘Why are your soldiers and leaders running away, O King?’ he asks. ‘And why are you not rallying them if they are struck by fear? Why are you fleeing yourself? Has some incident happened that has filled you with despair?’

Duryodhana does not have the heart to describe to Ashwatthama the manner of his father’s death. He instead asks Kripa to break the news.

In great detail, the Kuru elder describes how the plan to kill Drona was hatched, how Yudhishthir the truth-speaking one was entrusted with carrying the false message, how Bhima goaded the acharya into submission, how Dhrishtadyumna, not heeding the multitude of voices forbidding him from doing so, cut off the head of the preceptor with a sword and held it aloft as a prize.

Hearing the account of his father’s death, Ashwatthama becomes filled with fierce anger.

Ashwatthama Mourns

Ashwatthama says to Duryodhana: ‘O King, to imagine my father’s locks being handled by the uncouth Dhrishtadyumna in the midst of all those thousands of warriors – that boils my blood!

‘The crooked Parshata prince has committed an act that is at once sinful and dangerous. He has incurred the blame of killing a Brahmin while the latter is engaged in ascetic penance. I am certain that a place in hell is being prepared for him right now, as we speak!

‘Let me take an oath right in your presence, O Duryodhana, that I shall exterminate the entire Panchala dynasty. Fie on me, on my celestial weapons, on my prowess.

‘While I am alive, Drona had to experience the ignominy of being dragged through the dust by a mere Kshatriya. Let the Pandavas, with Janardana at their head, behold my energy today. Let me display today the same ruthlessness Rudra displays at the end of the yuga.’

The Narayanastra

Ashwatthama now reveals that he has in his possession a weapon called the Narayanastra. ‘It is more powerful than the Brahmastra and the Pasupatastra,’ he says. ‘There is no one in the three worlds capable of surviving its might.

‘That wretch among the Panchalas, Dhrishtadyumna, will never be able to escape from me today with his life intact.’

Hearing these words, the Kuru army rallies, and its leaders blow upon their conches to summon their divisions back onto the field. Filled with delightful roars and the notes of drums, the air bristles with energy.

As the Pandavas regroup on the other end of the battlefield, ready to receive this renewed Kaurava onslaught, Ashwatthama touches some holy water and invokes the Narayanastra.

Internal Quarrel

On the other end of the plain, in the Pandava camp, Arjuna berates Dhrishtadyumna for having killed Drona. But Bhimasena supports the actions of the Panchala prince.

As Dhrishtadyumna stands his ground against Arjuna, Satyaki – the Vrishni chief – loses his temper and enters the argument. And Dhrishtadyumna sneers at Satyaki, reminding him that he had killed Bhurishrava in exactly the same manner just a few hours ago.

(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 47: Satyaki Kills Bhurishrava.)

With Satyaki and Dhrishtadyumna ready to draw weapons on each other, Krishna intervenes and speaks to both warriors with soft tones. He points across the battlefield to the oncoming Kaurava army.

‘Let us not fight amongst ourselves, O Heroes,’ he says. ‘The enemy has regrouped under Ashwatthama, and they are about to challenge us. Put aside your quarrels and ride out as one!’

Quelling the Narayanastra

The Narayanastra is one weapon that Arjuna does not possess. But he has with him Krishna, to whom the Narayanastra belongs. Without Krishna, this moment could well have caused the destruction of the entire Pandava army.

But Krishna addresses the soldiers around him and says in a loud voice: ‘Drop your weapons, everyone! The Narayanastra can only be defeated by peace.

‘Remove from your heart all desire to fight, and you will see that the weapons in the welkin disappear one by one if you do that. But even if you entertain the thought of violence in your mind, the weapon will feed off it and grow in power.’

Obeying his command, the vast majority of the Pandava soldiers drop their weapons, and begin to work on quelling thoughts of battle from their mind. Slowly, they notice that the number of weapons dotting the sky is steadily decreasing.

Bhima’s Anger

But Bhimasena does not like this way of destroying the Narayanastra. He picks up his mace and roars at the sky. ‘I am Bhimasena,’ he says, ‘the son of Vayu, the brother of Hanuman. I am the strongest man in the world. I shall fight this weapon and annihilate it with the strength of my arms.’

Saying so, he begins shooting arrows at the sky, only to see that the weapon grows stronger with each volley of shafts that it consumes.

And when it retaliates, a great shower of lances and spears fall upon Bhima, covering him completely. At Krishna’s bidding, Arjuna intervenes in time with the Varunastra and protects his brother.

Bhima stubbornly continues to shoot arrows at the Narayanastra, and again he receives a severe backlash. This time, some of the weapons force through the protective shield and injure him.

Krishna’s Advice

Krishna then steers the chariot up close to where Bhima is standing, and in a calm voice, asks the latter to lay down his weapon. ‘Look at all the warriors of your army, O Vrikodara,’ he says. ‘They have all dropped their weapons.

‘The only fuel feeding the fire that is the Narayanastra is your foolishness. Descend from your car, O hero, and seek that kernel of peace that resides in your heart. That is the only way, I assure you, that this great weapon can be vanquished.’

Krishna himself ascends Bhima’s chariot, and taking him by the arm, guides him down to the ground. As the Pandava is pacified, the last of the weapons disappears, and the sky becomes clear once again.

For a few anxious moments both armies stand watching with their heads craned, as a steady breeze blows across the Kurukshetra.

Then, when it becomes clear that Ashwatthama’s terrible weapon has been successfully defeated, the Pandava army breaks out in cheers of rapturous joy.

Ashwatthama’s Realization

The sage Vyasa then appears on the battlefield, and Ashwatthama asks him: ‘have I been deceived by the weapon? What is the reason for which it has become fruitless? Has there been any mistake in my invocation of it? Or is there some divine reason that has been kept secret from me?’

Vyasa replies that in the olden days, Narayana had pleased Shiva with his many austerities, and had won the boon that he would never be hurt in battle – not even by the weapons of Shiva himself.

‘You, O Ashwatthama,’ says Vyasa, ‘have the essence of Mahadeva in you, and therefore you are powerful too, but because of the boons that Narayana received at the feet of Maheshwara all those years ago, none of your weapons will ever hurt him.’

Hearing this story from Vyasa, Ashwatthama bows down to the image of Rudra in his head. He returns to his chariot and calls off the Kuru army, bringing to an end the fifteenth day of the battle of Kurukshetra.

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