Combat weapons are one of the most frequent symbols in Indian iconography, where many gods appear in combat postures, attacking demons or simply flaunting their power. The gods all have various characteristic weapons and sometimes show them all at once, since they are represented with numerous arms, as a sign of omnipotence. The peculiarity is that these weapons all have a spiritual symbology. They do not make simple reference to the warlike aspects of the deities or their warrior abilities. They are not mere symbols of violence. On the contrary: they are an indication of some forms of spiritual advancement in which defects or vices have to be overcome. The techniques to do so are those that are represented by these instruments of war.
These divine weapons are given the generic name of astra . They are endowed with supernatural powers and are powerful symbols of the inner and spiritual world. They are generally associated with specific gods, so that the weapon evokes the god that carries it. In the hands of the gods they usually indicate the defeat of ignorance.
Vela , Sans., «lance».
It is an instrument of not very large dimensions, with a lanceolate blade and without adornments.
The spear signifies penetration of mind and open-mindedness. It is the depth of knowledge that destroys the demon of ignorance. It represents discrimination and spiritual perception. His blade is sharp, long and piercing, as our knowledge should be. It is what takes us from ignorance to knowledge and from sin to purity. It also serves as a sign of the power of protection, which safeguards us in adversity.
It is related to the symbolism of the axis. It can also be considered a phallic symbol and the solar ray around which creation arises.
Although various gods carry spears, the one who wields it most conspicuously is Kârttikeya, the god of war, son of Shiva, who is worshiped especially in South India under the names of Skanda, Murugan or Subrahmaniya.
Pâsha , Sans., “knot”.
It is a thick rope, of which only the part where it curves and which forms the loop itself is shown in iconography.
It symbolizes knowledge, the powerful force of the intellect that catches and holds objects tightly. Negatively, it is everything that limits the soul and prevents it from manifesting its full potential.
Various gods display the lasso as one of their weapons, including Brahmâ, the creator of the universe, and Shiva, the destroyer. The first Vedic god to whom it is attributed is Varuna, the god of the waters, who carries the nâgapâsha (“serpent loop”), a deadly weapon with which he punishes transgressors of the law.
Popularly, the tie of Yama, god of death and sovereign of hell, is more famous. With it he binds the immortal part of living beings to take it later to his kingdom. This tie is called kâlapâsha (“black tie”).
Dhanus , Sans., “arch”.
The Indian bow is usually large, the height of a person or even higher.
In a general sense, the bow and arrow symbolize willpower, although there are several bows associated with different gods with different symbology.
The most famous is the so-called pinâka (“cause of lamentation”), related to Shiva in his primitive aspect of Rudra, the hunter, master of the forests and wild animals. With it Shiva destroyed the demonic city of Tripura. Afterwards, he was broken by Prince Râma—Vishnu’s seventh incarnation—in a competition for the hand of Princess Sîtâ, as described in the Râmâyana epic . He is also called bhavachâpa (“arc of existence”). It symbolizes the mind that shoots arrows, the five faculties of the senses.
The bow of the god Vishnu symbolizes the power of illusion. It is called sâranga (“beautiful”). Another legendary bow also appears in the epic of the Mahâbhârata , the gândîva (“made of sugar cane”), the weapon of Prince Arjuna. It was given in the first instance by the god Brahmâ to the god Prajâpati and from him to Indra, Chandra and Varuna, who gave it to Arjuna. It was equivalent to a hundred thousand normal bows and was adorned with many colors. Arjuna used it to destroy the Khândava forest and then threw it into the sea to return to the possession of Varuna, god of waters.
Kâmadeva, the god of love, also has a famous bow, called madanâyudha (“the war of love”), made of sugar cane and spewing flowers.
In ancient India there was a custom of celebrating the dhanuryajña (“sacrifice of the bow”), a ritual in which the bows of warriors were blessed and the art of archery was displayed.
The arrows also have their specific meaning and are associated with the rays of the sun, connecting with the pre-vedic solar cults. As a penetrating element, the arrow is a symbol of thought. It can also be the symbol of overcoming problems.
Each deity of the Hindu pantheon has its own. Thus, for example, bâna is an arrow that is an attribute of the god Vishnu and that symbolizes the senses. The god of love has the so-called pañchabâna (“five arrows”), although in reality their number is greater.
Vajra , Sans., “thunderbolt”.
It is similar to a stinger, small in size and silver in color.
It symbolizes the control of spirit over mind and mind over matter.
It is associated with Indra, king of the gods and lord of storms. The thunderbolt of this god is called dambholi (“the deceitful one”). Ganesha, god of intelligence, also carries one, with three points, similar to a trident.
Among the lesser divinities there is a specific goddess of lightning, Vidyut, who is considered by some not to be a separate goddess, but to be an aspect of Indranî, Indra’s consort.
Ankusha , Sans., “stinger”.
It is a goad with a slightly curved tip that guides and guides the elephant or any other mount.
It is a symbol of the action that takes place to remove obstacles from the spiritual path. It is also the force that keeps negative things away from us.
The focino is one of the attributes and weapons of the god Shiva, although Ganesha, god of intelligence, also uses it.
Sudarshana , Sans. su , “good”, “beautiful”, and darshana , “beautiful”: “beautiful to see”.
It is a gold throwing disk, in the shape of a cogwheel.
It is a solar symbol, its spokes are lightning and it is associated with the god Vishnu. It represents the cosmos, which is in his hand, in his power and where everything is united. It is also a representation of intelligence that overcomes ignorance.
It is often called a Vaishnavâstra (“Vishnuite weapon”). According to the myth, Vishnu set out to offer to Shiva, giving him a thousand lotuses and, as one was missing, he plucked one out of his eyes and offered it to him. Shiva, grateful for his devotion, gave him the disk. It was built by Vishvakarman, the heavenly architect, with the rays of the sun. From then on Vishnu is known as chakradhara (“The holder of the disk”), since he holds it on the index finger of his right hand.
Yama, god of death, has a similar one, called kalachakra (“the disc of time”).
Among Vishnuite devotees it is customary to tattoo this symbol of their god on their chest, which also appears at the entrances of temples dedicated to Vishnu.
Parashu , Sans., «axe».
It is an ax with a short handle, a large blade and a double edge.
It means the way God protects creatures.
Several divinities hold it, all having the same meaning. The ax of Indra, king of the gods, is called a tanka (“heavy”). Shiva is also shown wearing one.
But the god most closely related to this weapon is Vishnu, who incarnated as Parashurâma (“the Râma of the axe”), a Brahmin who was the annihilator of the kshatriya (“warriors”) caste . King Kârtavîrya had come to the hermitage of Parashurâma’s father and, in his absence, had taken a calf destined for sacrifice. Parashurâma was outraged by this fact and swore eternal hatred to the kshatriya , took up arms and spilled the blood of the sons of Kartavîrya and after them that of his entire caste.
Gadâ , Sans., “mace”.
It is a long-handled weapon, with a spherical end. It is usually golden in color.
Although in the West it represents brute force, the Indian mace is the power for knowledge, the force that overcomes lust and the weaknesses of the body. It symbolizes the law and inner discipline that can end external afflictions, whether mental or physical.
The two main gods of Hinduism carry it. Shiva has a so-called khatvânga (“the one that goes over the shoulder”), made with human bones and a skull. Vishnu’s mace is made of iron, was given to him by Agni, god of fire, and is called kaumodakî (“the full moon”.
Trishûla , Sans. tri , “three”, and shûla , “pointed”: “three-pointed”.
It is a long spear, finished in three points, the central one straight and the lateral ones curved.
It is a triple solar ray and has the mystical characteristics associated with the number three, which is the number of the perfect, finished and culminated. Many meanings have been attached to it. Its three points come to signify the three functions of the divinity: creation, preservation and destruction, and the three gods of the trimûrti or Hindu trinity: Brahmâ, Vishnu and Shiva. It also represents the past, present, and future, and the three fundamental powers of divinity: ichhâ (“desire”), kriyâ (“action”), and jñâna (“wisdom”).
The owner of the trident is Shiva, par excellence. The god appears on many occasions carrying various weapons, but the most important is the trident, called pâshupatâstra (“weapon of the Lord of animals”), one of the most important aspects of the god.
According to legend, Shiva gave it to Prince Arjuna and his power was such that with it he could even kill his own master. Its origin is the burning of the sun and it was built by Tvashta, the divine builder.
The trident is the emblem of all Shivaite saints and renunciates and its origin is very old, samples having been found in the Indus Valley civilization.