(pp. 515, 674)
Naga-paśa or Nagāstra is a powerful destructive weapon, an arrow capable of inflicting enormous damage. The following story about this astra is told in the Yuddha Kanda of Kamba Ramayana. In olden times there was a very powerful and mean asura called Naga. Brahma resorted to virulent black magic to kill Naga, and from the fire-pit arose a terrible goblin called Naga-paśa. It was deputed to kill Naga and the Trimurtis followed it.
Naga-paśa vs Nagāsura
The main weapon of Naga-paśa was a sharp, piercing cry. Naga-paśa went to the city of Nagāsura called Viramahendra, ascended its tower and made a terrible noise the echo of which caused abortion in all the pregnant naga women. Many children fainted and many died.
Nagāsura deputed his army chieftain Virasena with an army to kill the naga goblin. At the sight of the army the goblin raised another terrible cry, which blew off Virasena and his army, reducing them to powder. Then Nagāsura's minister with a big army attacked the goblin. But the minister was devoured by him, and the army annihilated. Enraged at this defeat of his minister, Nagāsura attacked the goblin with an army of crores of soldiers. But, within seconds the goblin devoured the mighty army.
At last Naga-paśa and Nagāsura engaged themselves in a duel which lasted for years. Ultimately the goblin swallowed up Nagāsura also. Then he went to the Trimurtis and saluted them. They granted him many boons, and Śiva, in excess of joy, wore it as one of the ornaments round his neck.
Some time later Naga-paśa set out on a tour to see the fourteen worlds, and Śiva specially instructed him not to visit the Śalmali island. He visited the various worlds earning all knowledge and started for mount Kailasa. On his way he saw Śalmali island, the abode of nagas, and in violation of Śiva's instructions, he entered the island.
Śalmali island, which is double in extent of Plaksa island is surrounded by Iksurasa (sugar-cane juice) ocean on all four sides of it. There are seven mountains there which produce gems and they are seven boundaries which separate the regions. Just like this, there are also seven rivers there. The seven rivers are Yoni, Toya, Vitrna, Candra, Mukta, VimocanI and Nirvrti. Mere remembrance of the seven rivers is sufficient to annihilate all sins. Here people divided into the four lasses live. Brahmins, Ksatriyas Vaishyas and Shudras here are called Kapilas, Arunas, Pitas and Kṛṣnas. These devout people worship Visnu in the form of Vayu by sublime yajnas. Devas are ever present on this most beautiful island. A tree named Śalmali which gives mental comfort grows in this island. The island is urrounded on all four sides by an ocean of Sura (liquor).
The nagas there did not onour him and his false pride made him tremble with rage. Then the nagas of the island told him thus: "We have a powerful enemy, who visits us every month, and unless we feed him sumptuously he will devour all of us for food He is to come today, and if you are capable enough, you defeat and drive him off and save us. If you do so, we shall crown you as our King and honour you."
The powerful enemy of the nagas was Garuda and he came. All the nagas ran off at his sight. Garuda then attacked the goblin Naga-paśa, who was standing unperturbed before him. There being no chance of victory for the goblin he ran away and took refuge with Śiva.
Garuda also followed him, and demanded of Śiva to return to him, his enemy, the goblin. Śiva told Garuda thus: "If, in future he (the goblin) interferes with anybody connected with you, you may either punish or eat him. Do not do anything with him now". Garuda agreed to the above proposal of Śiva. From that day onwards Naga-paśa lived in Vaikuntha entwined with nooses. He became the arrow called naga-paśa or nagāstra, which can be acquired by devas, humans and demons through penance and devotion to the deities. Sometimes nagāstra and naga-paśa are considered the same type of weapon, and sometimes differents.
Nagāstra in epics
In the Ramayana, Ravana used the nagaastra against Sri Rama. From the single arrow he shot, thousands of snakes darted towards Sri Rama, spewing flames. Sri Ram to stop the Nagāstra discharged garuda-astra. The arrows became Garudas and cut off the serpent arrows on all sides. Garuda is the enemy of serpents. Garuda nullifies the effect of nagāstra. Indrajit, son of Ravana, had used nagāstra against Lakshmana. This made him senseless.
Karna had used it against Arjuna. Kunti had got a word from Karna that he will not use the Nagāstra twice against Arjuna. When Karna used it the first time, Krishna cleverly rides the chariot into a pit and lowers the chariot, the nagāstra hits the crown of Arjuna.