What is the Pashupatastra?
Why did Lord Shiva get it in first place?
Did Arjuna really use it in the Kurukshetra war? If he didn't, why did he get it from Lord Shiva?
Was it the all-knowing Krishna who urged Arjuna to acquire this astra?
With regard to today's nuclear weapons, it is often said that they would result in MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) meaning both the assailant and the target would be destroyed. However, owning one supposedly has the advantage of being used as a deterrent, so in hindsight, was that Pashupatastra's real purpose in the Mahabharatha war?
1) What is Pashupatastra ?
Pashupatastra is the personal favourite weapon of Lord Shiva.
Just like weapons of Lord Brahma,
= Brahmastra, Brahmashirastra, etc...
weapons of Lord Vishnu,
= Narayanastra, Vaishnavastra, etc..
similarly weapons of Lord Shiva,
= Pashupatastra, Maheswarastra, Raudrastra, etc...
Pasupatastra = Weapon of Pasupati
So, there can be two category. One is special Pasupatastra (which Arjuna received) which is very powerful. One General Category can fall as denoting weapon of Pasupati (ie. It may be any weapons containing power of Pasupati).
General category Pasupatastra is described one time in Mahabharat. It was used by Drona and Arjuna simply destroyed it. It was not that special Pasupatastra received by Arjuna as Arjuna cuts it simply. Also, Lord Shiva had told 'No man know it..' while giving Pasupatastra to Arjuna. So, it is not that special Pasupatastra. It is just used to denote weapon presided by some subtle power of Pasupati.
When Drona failed to gain any ascendency over the son of Pandu, the son of Bharadwaja, that warrior acquainted with the course of all weapons, invoked into existence the Aindra, the Pasupata, the Tvashtra, the Vayavya, and the Yamya weapons. As soon as those weapons, issued from Drona's bow, Dhananjaya destroyed them quickly. [Drona Parva chapter 188]
However generally if we call Pashupatastra then the special weapon (which Arjuna had received) is understood.
Lord Shiva himself describes here what Pashupatastra is:
Bhava replied, 'O powerful one. I will give to thee that favourite weapon of mine called the Pasupata. O son of Pandu, thou art capable of holding, hurling, and withdrawing it. Neither the chief himself of the gods, nor Yama, nor the king of the Yakshas, nor Varuna, nor Vayu, knoweth it. How could men know anything of it? But, O son of Pritha, this weapon should not be hurled without adequate cause; for if hurled at any foe of little might it may destroy the whole universe. In the three worlds with all their mobile and immobile creatures, there is none who is incapable of being slain by this weapon. And it may be hurled by the mind, by the eye, by words, and by the bow.'" [VanaParva Chapter 60]
2)Why did Lord Shiva get it in first place?
It is personal weapon of Pasupati. So it is always with him.
Bhava replied, 'O powerful one. I will give to thee that favourite weapon of mine called the Pasupata. O son of Pandu, thou art capable of holding, hurling, and withdrawing it. Neither the chief himself of the gods, nor Yama, nor the king of the Yakshas, nor Varuna, nor Vayu, knoweth it. How could men know anything of it? [VanaParva Chapter 60]
Lord Shiva had united Pasupatastra with Shaft used in the Tripura Dahana incident:
Then Sarva, having stringed his bow and aimed that shaft with which he had united the Pasupata weapon, waited thinking of the triple city. And O king, as Rudra thus stood, holding his bow, the three cities during that time became united. When the three cities, losing their separate characters became united, tumultuous became the joy of the high- souled gods. Then all the gods, the Siddhas, and the great Rishis, uttered the word Jaya, adoring Maheshwara. [Karna Parva Chapter 34]
3) Was it the all-knowing Krishna who urged Arjuna to acquire this astra?
Arjuna had received Pasupatastra two times from Lord Shiva. At first time by the words of Indra, Arjuna starts penance for Lord Shiva:
Thus addressed, the slayer of Vritra, worshipped of the worlds, consoling him with gentle words, spare unto the son of Pandu, saying, 'When thou art able to behold the three-eyed trident-bearing Siva, the lord of all creatures, it is then, O child, that I will give thee all the celestial weapons. Therefore, strive thou to obtain the sight of the highest of the gods; for it is only after thou hast seen him. O son of Kunti, that thou will obtain all thy wishes.' Having spoken thus unto Phalguna, Sakra disappeared then and there, and Arjuna, devoting himself to asceticism, remained at that spot." [VanaParva chapter 37]
But as long time had passed Arjuna forgots the knowledge to invoke Pasupatastra during Kurukshetra war. Thus before the day of Jayadratha Vadh Lord Krishna by Yogic path took him to Kailash to receive Pasupatastra again.
Through his grace thou shalt obtain that rich possession.' Hearing these words of Krishna, Dhananjaya, having touched water, sat on the earth with concentrated mind and thought of the god Bhava. After he had thus sat with rapt mind at that hour called Brahma of auspicious indications, Arjuna saw himself journeying through the sky with Kesava. [Drona Parva Chapter 80]
Then both of them gratified Lord Shiva and Arjuna received Pasupatastra one more time.
And the god also granted him the terrible Pasupata weapon and the accomplishment of his vow. Then having thus once more obtained the Pasupata weapon from the supreme god, the invincible Arjuna, with hair standing on end, regarded his business to be already achieved. Then Arjuna and Krishna filled with joy, paid their adorations unto the great god by bowing their heads. And permitted by Bhava both Arjuna and Kesava, those two heroes, almost immediately came back to their own camp, filled with transports of delight. [Drona Parva Chapter 80]
4)Did Arjuna really use it in the Kurukshetra war? If he didn't, why did he get it from Lord Shiva?
Pashupatastra was never used in Kurukshetra war. There is popular misconception that Arjuna had used it to slay Jayadratha. It is not true.
Arrow which killed Jayadratha was like this:
Sorely afflicting those mighty car-warriors of thy army thus, the son of Pandu took up a terrible arrow of fiery splendour. Looking like the thunderbolt of Indra, and inspired with divine mantras, that formidable arrow was capable of bearing any strain. And it had been always worshipped with incense and garlands of flowers. Duly inspiring it (by mantras) with the force of the thunderbolt, that descendant, of Kuru, viz., the mighty-armed Arjuna, fixed it on Gandiva. [Jayadratha Vadh Parva]
Then why Did Lord Krishna took him to Kailash to receive Pasupatastra before the day of Jayadratha Vadha?
It is because just knowledge of invoking Pasupatastra is sufficient to make one victorious and powerful. It works subtly.
And then that hero, of eyes like lotus leaves, and possessed of great energy, said these words for the benefit of Pandu's son who had resolved upon the slaughter of the ruler of the Sindhus, 'O Partha, there is an indestructible, supreme weapon of the name of Pasupata. With it the god Maheswara slew in battle all the Daityas! If thou rememberest it now, thou shalt then be able to slay Jayadratha tomorrow. If it is unknown to thee (now), adore within thy heart the god having the bull for his mark. Thinking of that god in thy mind, remember him, O Dhananjaya! [Drona Parva Chapter 80]
Furthermore, Pasupatastra is not a weapon which is to be hurled to mortals. It was to be used only in extreme emergency.
Then the god Tryamvaka said unto me, 'I will give. O Pandava, my own weapon Raudra shall attend upon thee.' Thereupon Mahadeva, well-pleased, granted to me the mighty weapon, Pasupata. And, having granted that eternal weapon, he also said unto me, This must never be hurled at mortals. If discharged at any person of small energy, it would consume the universe. Shouldst thou (at any time) be hard pressed, thou mayst discharge it. And when all thy weapons have been completely baffled, thou mayst hurl it.' [Vana Parva chapter 166]
The Pashupatastra is an irresistible and most destructive personal weapon of Shiva, Kali and Adi Para Sakti discharged by the mind, the eyes, words, or a bow. It was Never to be used against lesser enemies or by lesser warriors, if used then the Pashupatastra was capable of destroying creation and vanquishing all beings. It is said that Lord Shiva obtained Pashupatastra from Adi Para Sakti by intense penance before the creation of the Brahmand. Pashupatastra can be neutralized by personal weapon of Adi para shakti or by a another Pashupatastra .
In Mahabharata, Arjuna used this astra to slay Jayadaratha. It is said that the mantra to obtain and discharge the astra is sealed by Shiva to prevent its misuse in the Kali Yuga. It is said that no one in the three worlds can resist Lord Shiva when he shows his prowess. Apart from Arjuna, Bhisma, Drona and Karna also possessed Pashupatastra so Lord Krishna must have advised him so that Arjun remains at par with them.
A Narrative from KMG translation of Mahabharat regarding the power of Pashupatastra:
O thou of mighty arms, that weapon(Pashupatastra) is superior to the Brahma, the Narayana, the Aindra, the Agneya, and the Varuna weapons. Verily, it is capable of neutralising every other weapon in the universe. It was with that weapon that the illustrious Mahadeva had in days of yore, burnt and consumed in a moment the triple city of the Asuras. With the greatest ease, O Govinda, Mahadeva, using that single arrow, achieved that feat. That weapon, shot by Mahadeva's arms, can, without doubt consume in half the time taken up by a twinkling of the eyes the entire universe with all its mobile and immobile creatures. In the universe there is no being including even the deities, that are incapable of being slain by that weapon.
Source: Wikipedia article
Very interesting conversation. My humble view added on couple of points in the above conversation.
Destroying Jayadratha didn't necessarily call for special powers. In fact Jayadratha himself didn't believe he seriously stood a chance against Arjuna. The moment Arjuna's vow came to his knowledge, he decided to flee and go into hiding. Duryodhana saw an opportunity to trap Arjuna, since Arjuna was bound to kill himself if he didn't succeed in killing Jayadratha by evening, so he persuaded Jayadratha to stay back and assured him of utmost protection. The battle on that evening became tough because Jayadratha was hidden behind ranks and ranks of army that made it almost unassailable to get closer to him. It wasn't because of his invincibility or anything of that sort. It's precisely to bring him out out of cover and expose himself that Krishna deployed his will to temporarily conceal sunlight on that evening. Technically, there was no compelling need to use special weapons especially ones like Pasupathastra on Jayadratha.
Yes, it is possible to argue that it could have been reserved for Karna, who was the ultimate challenge for Arjuna. Again, Krishna Bhagawan knew that there were several factors working against Karna and those would eventually conspire against him, which was not a common knowledge for others. Krishna was only worried about Sakthi Ayudha, which by circumstances were used against Ghatotkacha. According to Mahabharat, when Ghatotkacha was hit by Karna's special weapon (which he was allowed to use only once), Krishna apparently smiled and gave a happy reaction which annoyed Bhima. Of course, nobody at that time would have understood what caused a relief that made Krishna to smile.
I think you got answer to 1st and 2nd question.
Did Arjuna really use it in the Kurukshetra war? If he didn't, why did he get it from Lord Shiva?
NO . Arjun never used it in his whole lifetime . In some links its mentioned that Arjun used it to slay Jayadrath but as per THE MOST AUTHENTIC KMG edition or BORI critical edition Arjun didnt use . It is mentioned that Krishna advised Arjun but Arjun didnt use it .
Hearing these words (of Krishna), Dhananjaya, licking the corners of his mouth, quickly shot that arrow which he had taken up for Jayadratha's slaughter, that arrow, viz., whose touch resembled that of Indra's thunder, which was inspired with mantras and converted into a celestial weapon, which was capable of bearing any strain, and which had always been worshipped with incense and garlands. That shaft, sped from Gandiva, coursing swiftly, snatched Jayadratha's head away, like a hawk snatching away a smaller bird from the top of a tree. Dhananjaya, then, with his shafts, sent that head along in the welkin (without allowing it to fall down
Here you can see nowhere Arjun used Pashupatastra
Shiva gave it to Arjun to use it only to preserve dharma and he has no other alternatives .
I think that arjun had that divine pashupatastra that lord Shiva used to destroy tripura city &that weapon could have finished t war on t very 1st day! !?had he used it? But wasn't he supposed to be on dharma 'S side? So he could nt, ,,,and all those karna lovers who always cry for unfair means by which karn was killed and that if he had his kavach&kundal he wd me invincible =,,,,first they need to know t truth about those kavach&kundal (999 kavach&kundal of 1000 had been destroyed by NAR &NARAYAN in the previous yuga of rakshash damboduvna which was given as a boon by Surya dev,, ,,,karn got t last one of that kavach&kundal on his birth ~he was reincarnation of that raksash! !!!ARJUN&LORD KRISHNA were reincarnation of NAR &NARAYAN of TRETA yug #####.now can anyone put some COMMON SENSE to all the karn lovers that if 999 of those armour could be destroyed ,,,,why couldn't 1000th be? ?????????????????TELL ME..