There are a few instances in Ramayana about Lord Rama firing Brahmastra weapons but couldn't withdraw it saying that a Brahmastra weapon never goes waste, but we see in Mahabharata that Arjuna while fighting with Ashwathama withdraws his Brahmastra.

This answer describes the above instances of Brahmastra being used.

So why couldn't or why didn't Lord Rama withdraw his Brahmastra when Arjuna could?

From here:

mogham astram na shakyam tu kartum iti eva raaghava || 5-67-16
bhavaamstasyakSi kaakasya hinasti sma sa dakSiNam |

16. raaghava= O Rama!; ityeva= because; na shakyam= it is not possible; kartum= to make; astram= the missile; mogham= a waste; bhavaan= you; hinanti sma= destroyed; dakSinam akSi= the right eye; kaakasya= of the cow.

O Rama! Since it is not possible to make the missile a waste, you destroyed the right eye of the crow.

If a Brahmastra can never really be withdrawn, how is that Arjuna was able do it but Rama couldn't? How to make sense of all this?

  • Rama's words and weapons never go waste. If an astra is invoked, it must fulfill its purpose. – user1195 Apr 7 '17 at 18:40

Was Rama not aware about withdrawal of Brahmāstra?

Rama invocated Brahmāstra more than once. We can find the references in Valmiki Ramayana on this.

  1. During the exile on Kākā.(Narrated by Sita in the Sundara Kanda)
  2. Against the ocean god. But was not fired on Ocean god. It was directed towards a place called Drumatulya.(Now Malwar desert in Rajasthan).
  3. Against Ravana in the final battle. It was fired and it became successful.

Rama used the Brahmastra on a crow which finally resulted in the loss of right eye. Here Rama could invoke Brahmastra on a blade of Grass. This is because Rama has the knowledge of a particular divine weapon. The name of the weapon is ऐषीकम्(aiṣīkam) or ऐषीकास्त्र(aiṣīkāstra). You can find that Aśvatthāma also invokes a Brahmashira astra using the same missile.

अस्त्रम् ब्रह्मशिरः च एव ऐषीकम् अपि राघव || १-२७-६
ददामि ते महाबाहो ब्राह्मम् अस्त्रम् अनुत्तमम् |

astram brahmaśiraḥ ca eva aiṣīkam api rāghava || 1-27-6
dadāmi te mahābāho brāhmam astram anuttamam |

The missile called Brahma-shira [Brahma-crest]; the missile called the Aishiika missile [Grass-Blade missile,] and that way oh, Raghava, I am going to give the unexcelled and highly formidable missile called Brahma missile.

When Rama received the hymns from Viśvāmitra, all the presiding deities appeared before Rama in their astral bodies.

जपतः तु मुनेः तस्य विश्वामित्रस्य धीमतः |
उपतस्थुः महा अर्हाणि सर्वाणि अस्त्राणि राघवम् || १-२७-२४

While that intelligent saint Viśvāmitra chanted the hymns, all of those highly venerable missiles came nigh and stood accessible to Raghava in their astral form. [1-27-24]

ऊचुः च मुदिता रामम् सर्वे प्रांजलयः तदा |
इमे च परमोदार किंकराः तव राघव || १-२७-२५
यद् यद् इच्छसि भद्रन् ते तत् सर्वम् करवाम वै |

All of those highly obliging missiles in astral bodies, gladdening to come under the aegis of Rama, then spoke to him making palms-fold, "here are your thralls, Sire, we are here to accomplish whatever you bid us to do, let safety be with you." So said the deities presiding over the missiles to Rama. [1-27-25]

ततो राम प्रसन्न आत्मा तैः इति उक्तो महाबलैः || १-२७-२६
प्रतिगृह्य च काकुत्स्थः समालभ्य च पाणिना |
मनसा मे भविष्यध्वम् इति तानि अभ्यचोदयत् || १-२७-२७

On receiving them with a pleased heart, then Rama patted them with his palm, and that Rama of Kakutstha-s also spoke this way to those mightily forceful missiles in ethereal bodies saying, "you may manifest yourselves in my cognisance whenever I need you," and he motivated them to take leave and to come back at his beck and call. [1-27-26b, 27]

He not only had the knowledge of projectile missiles like Brahmāstra aiṣīkāstra etc., but also he was able to launch and withdraw many annulment missiles.

बाढम् इति एव काकुत्स्थ प्रहृष्टेन अंतरात्मना |
दिव्य भास्वर देहाः च मूर्तिमन्तः सुखप्रदाः || १-२८-११
केचिद् अंगार सदृशाः केचिद् धूम उपमाः तथा |
चन्द्र अर्क सदृशाः केचित् प्रह्व अंजलि पुटाः तथा || १-२८-१२
रामम् प्रांजलयो भूत्वा अब्रुवन् मधुर भाषिणः |
इमे स्म नरशार्दूल शाधि किम् करवाम ते || १-२८-१३

Gladdening in his heart of hearts Rama of Kakutstha received the annulment missiles saying, "Agreed! Sire!" Those missiles are with radiantly divine bodies, appealing and endowing bliss. Some are fire-like, some smoke-like, and some moon-like and some sun-like, and such as they are, some of them holding out their hollowed palms, and some with palms adjoined melodiously spoke to Rama saying, "here we are, oh, manly-tiger, what can we do for you."

गंयताम् इति तान् आह यथा इष्टम् रघुनन्दनः |
मानसाः कार्य कालेषु साहाय्यम् मे करिष्यथ || १-२८-१४

"While remaining in my memory you assist me as and when needed, and till then you may go away as you wish," thus that legatee of Raghu's said to those deities of annulment missiles. [1-28-14]

अथ ते रामम् आमन्त्र्य कृत्वा च अपि प्रदक्षिणम् |
एवम् अस्तु इति काकुत्स्थम् उक्त्वा जग्मुः यथाआगतम् || १-२८-१५

Saying "it will be done that way" to Rama, the legatee of Kakutstha-s, also on performing circumambulation to him and then on taking his consent those deities have gone away as they have come. [1-28-15]

This implies that Rama was full control of the missiles. He was able to withdraw any missile with ease. Rama can withdraw all the projectile missiles and annulment missiles.

Then why didn't he withdraw Brahmāstra?

Rama invoked Brahmāstra to fire on the Ocean God when Ocean god didn't answer the prayers of Lord Rama for three long nights.

ब्राह्मेणास्त्रेण सम्योज्य ब्रह्मदण्डनिभम् शरम् |
सम्योज्य धनुषि श्रे ष्ठे विचकर्ष महाबलः || २-२२-५

Due to request of the Ocean God, he doesn't fire it on him but directs it to a place called Drumatulya.(Now Malwar desert in Rajasthan).

तमब्रवीत्तदा रामः शृणु मे वरुणालय || २-२२-२९
अमोघोऽयम् महाबाणः कस्मिन् देशे निपात्यताम् |

tamabravīttadā rāmaḥ śṛṇu me varuṇālaya || 2-22-29
amogho'yam mahābāṇaḥ kasmin deśe nipātyatām |

Then, Rama spoke to that ocean as follows: "Listen to me. This great arrow should not go in vain. In which region should it be descended?"

Rama says this great arrow should not go waste but did not say it can't be withdrawn. Brahmāstra is not an ordinary astra to withdraw. Only few could withdraw it(Of course Rama is one of them). This shows his respect towards the divine weapon Brahmāstra and the presiding deity Brahma. By invoking Brahmastra, it literally means summoning Lord Brahma in the arrow. Brahma enters into the arrow with his astral body. Withdrawing it after invoking shows disrespect to Creator of the universe. So He said this great arrow should not go in vain should not go vain. He thus reduced the power of the Brahmāstra invoked in ऐषीकास्त्र(grass-blade missile) in case of Jayanta(disguised as a crow) because Jayanta took the refuge of him(Rama).

All Translations from Balakanda and Yuddha Kanda of Valmiki Ramayana.

  • Withdrawing it after invoking shows disrespect to Creator of the universe - I don't really agree with this statement, but yes Rama said a couple of times something like his arrows never go waste even when he pointed an arrow on Lord Parasurama he said that he had to shoot it. So I am accepting it as an answer based on that logic and the references you gave. Also will it be possible to give me the verse number for the episode with Jayanta in Ayodhya kanda? – Prakash K May 16 '17 at 12:09
  • @PrakashK Jayanta episode is not directly narrated by Valmiki. It is said by Sita to Hanuman. It is the same one you have linked in the question. That incident happened during the exile. The crow was Jayanta in disguise. – Sarvabhouma May 16 '17 at 12:27
  • oops! sorry for that ... this happens when you are chatting to multiple people at the same time. The last line was for somebody else. Thanks for mentioning it. – Prakash K May 16 '17 at 13:05
  • He didn't point Brahmastra at Parshurama but infallible Vaisnava Astra. This weapon had a boon of infallibility. Lord Krishna saved Arjuna from this very weapon in section 27 of Drona Parva. – Nayonika Vats Apr 16 '18 at 1:16

Rama was not only capable of withdrawing weapon but also guiding his weapon in his desired trajectory. You don't find Brahmastra chasing someone in three worlds in the Mahabharata.

This is from Kishkindha Kandha

स विसृष्टो बलवता बाणः स्वर्ण परिष्कृतः | भित्त्वा सालान् गिरि प्रस्थम् सप्त भूमिम् विवेश ह || ४-१२-३

The golden arrow released by the mighty Rama perforated all the seven sala trees, and even the leveled areas of the mountain, and then

entered the earth. [4-12-3]

सायकः तु मुहूर्तेन सालान् भित्त्वा महाजवः | निष्पत्य च पुनः तूर्णम् तम् एव प्रविवेश ह || ४-१२-४ .

Thus that arrow which briskly drilled all the sala trees came up in a moment from under the earth, and again swiftly re-entered the quiver of Rama. [4-12-4]

That arrow not only drilled one tree as asked by Sugreeva, but all the seven, and also a mountain from peak to core, and even entered the seventh earthly plane, that which is beneath the sixth plane of the earth, where atala, vitala, sutala, paataala, rasaatal, talaatala are the names of six strata of earth.

Not ONLY Rama but Ravan's Brahma weapon was also guided missile.In Sarga 59 of Yuddha Kanda, the divine Brahma spear hit Lakshmana and returned to his chariot.

Rama didn't revoke Brahmastra in Jayanta case because Jayanta hurt Sita. Revoking Brahmastra without punishing him was tantamount to injustice.

The verses in Yuddha Kanda where Rama didn't revoke Brahmastra against ocean is NOT in the critical version of Valmiki Ramayana. So I'll NOT comment.

The third argument is not revoking Vaisnava divine weapon against Parshurama.

न हि अयम् वैष्णवो दिव्यः शरः पर पुरंजयः | मोघः पतति वीर्येण बल दर्प विनाशनः || १-७६-८

"This Vishnu's divine arrow is the conqueror of opponents' citadels, and a vanquisher of their vigour and vainglory, and it will not fall through wastefully... isn't it!" So said archer Rama to axeman Rama. [1-76-8]

The fact of the matter is that Vaisnava astra is infallible. Lord Krishna saved Arjuna from Vaisnava astra in the Drona Parva of the Mahabharata.

p. 67

his arrowy down-pours. Partha then cutting off his bow and quivers, quickly struck him with two and seventy shafts, afflicting his vital limbs. Thus pierced, he was excessively pained. Filled then with rage, he with Mantras, turned his hook into the Vaishnava weapon and hurled it at Arjuna's breast. That all-slaying weapon, hurled by Bhagadatta, Kesava, covering Arjuna, received on his breast. Thereupon, that weapon became a triumphal garland on Kesava's breast. Arjuna then cheerlessly addressed Kesava, saying, 'O sinless one, without battling thyself, thou art to only guide my steed! Thou hadst said so, O lotus-eyed one! Why then dost thou not adhere to thy promise? If I sink in distress, or become unable to baffle, or resist a foe or weapon, then mayst thou act so, but not when I am standing thus. Thou knowest that with my bow and arrows I am competent to vanquish these worlds with the gods, the Asuras, and men.' Hearing these words of Arjuna, Vasudeva replied unto him, saying, 'Listen, O Partha, to this secret and ancient history as it is, O sinless one! I have four forms, eternally engaged as I am in protecting the worlds. Dividing my own Self, I ordain the good of the worlds. One form of mine, staying on the earth, is engaged in the practice of ascetic austerities. Another beholdeth the good and the evil deeds in the world. My third form, coming into the world of men, is engaged in action. My fourth form lieth down in sleep for a thousand years. The form of mine which awaketh from sleep at the end of a thousand years, granteth, upon awakening, excellent boons to persons deserving of them. The earth, knowing (on one occasion) that that time had come, asked of me a boon for (her son) Naraka. Hear, O Partha, what that boon was. Possessed of the Vaishnava weapon, let my son become incapable of being slain by the gods and the Asuras. It behoveth thee to grant me that weapon. Hearing this prayer, I then gave, in days of old, the supreme and infallible Vaishnava weapon to the Earth's son. I said also at that time these words, 'O Earth, let this weapon be infallible for the protection of Naraka. None will be able to slay him. Protected by this weapon, thy son will always, in all the worlds, be invincible and crush all hostile hosts.' Saying, So be it! the intelligent goddess went away, her wishes fulfilled. And Naraka also became invincible and always scorched his foes. It was from Naraka, O Partha, that the ruler of the Pragjyotishas got this weapon of mine. There is none, in all the world, O sire, including even Indra and Rudra, who is unslayable by this weapon. It was for thy sake, therefore, that I baffled it, violating my promise. The great Asura hath now been divested of that supreme weapon. Slay now, O Partha, that invincible foe of thine, viz., Bhagadatta, enemy of the gods, even as I formerly slew for the good of the worlds, the Asura Naraka.' Thus addressed by the high-souled Kesava, Partha suddenly overwhelmed Bhagadatta with clouds of whetted arrows. Then, the mighty-armed and high-souled Arjuna fearlessly struck a long arrow between the frontal globes of his enemy's elephant. That arrow, splitting the elephant like the thunder splitting a mountain, penetrated into its body to the very wings, like

Drona Parva Section twenty seven

Vaisnava weapon was Amogh. So revoking it doesn't make sense

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