2,400 years ago, give or take a century or two, storytellers in ancient India described the use of strange weapons. One that’s particularly memorable is an arrow shot into the sky that explodes into thousands of spinning discs, their edges sharp as razors. This cloud of discs is designed to plunge down onto enemy ranks, killing everybody standing there.
Reminds me of modern “cluster bombs,” weapons looked down upon by modern conventions of war (supposedly), which explode above the ground and release “bomblets” that rain down upon enemy ranks, blowing whoever is down there into tiny pieces. Children in war-torn lands all over the world are still picking up unexploded bomblets from such munitions, thinking they’re toys, consequently losing their limbs or more often their lives.
In the ancient Indian case of these “mantra” weapons, or “spell” weapons, they’re described in The Mahabharata, one of the two great informing Sanskrit poems of India, the root stories of Hinduism. Arjuna, the legendary archer in this ancient story, knew many such mantric weapons, and used them on the battlefield. As an aside, he also spent time transformed into a woman during his and his brothers’ exile, along with their wife, their eldest brother having gambled away all their status and fortunes in a game of dice.
Yudisthira at Heaven’s Gate, one of the tales I’ll be telling this coming Sunday evening at the Riverwalk Cafe and Music Bar in Nashua, New Hampshire at 7 pm, comes from The Mahabharata. This particular story doesn’t include any war scenes, but does probe human virtue, as do all the hundreds of sub-stories in this old epic, the war stories included.
Interestingly, in the scene with the spinning razor discs, there’s actually a defense against them. When the opposing general looks up and sees what’s coming, he yells from his chariot to all his warriors, “Stand absolutely still. Drop your weapons. Think only of peace.”
The razor discs thunk into the ground among them, missing them all.
Tickets for the show are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. You can get them here.