Agni Purana: The Science of Fighting

Posted by The Editor - 8.9 2015


The section on Dhanurveda is on arms and weapons.

There are five types of weapons that are used in war. The first category is that of yantramukta weapons, released from a machine (yantra). This machine may be a launcher or even a bow. The second category is that of panimukta weapons, weapons that are flung by the hand (pani). Examples are spears and stones. The third category is known as muktasandharita. These are weapons that can be flung and also withdrawn. The fourth category consists of weapons like swords that are never released from the hand during battle.

These are known as amukta weapons. And the last category of weapons consists of brute force and strength. This is of use in bouts of wrestling.

The best form of fighting is that with bows and arrows. Next comes fighting with spears, followed by fighting with swords. Wrestling is the worst form of fighting.

Before aiming, the bow (dhanusha) should be held with the arch pointing down towards the earth. The arrow (vana) should be placed against the bow with the head pointing down. The bow should now be raised and the lower end of the bow should be in line with the archer’s navel. The quiver should be at the back. Before releasing the arrow, the bow should be held firm with the left hand and the arrow with the fingers of the right hand. The string of the bow should be pulled back such that the tassel of the arrow is between the archer’s ear and right eye. The body should not be bent when one is releasing an arrow. Nor should on get excited. The archer has to be still as a pillar. The target has to be in line with the left fist and the archer’s posture has to be like that of a triangle. It is best to pull back the string of the bow upto the right ear.

A noose (pasha) is ten arms in length, with both ends of the weapon being circular. The main body of the weapon is made of rope. There are eleven different ways in which a noose may be held. A noose must always be flung with the right hand.

A sword (asi) must hang to the left of the waist. When a sword is to be taken out, the scabbard should be grasped in the left hand and the sword should be taken out with the right hand. There are thirty-two different way in which a sword and a shield may be held.


What happens to a person’s debts when he dies? If he does not have any sons, the person who inherits the property also inherits the debts and had to pay them off. If there is a son, the son pays the debts off. But a woman is not to be held responsible for debts contracted by her husband or her son. Nor is a man responsible for debts contracted by his wife or son. Exceptions are instances where a husband and a wife contract a debt jointly.

If there are no witnesses to a contracted debt but the king feels that the debt was indeed contracted, the king must arrange for the debt to be repaid within a period of sixty-four days. In cases of a dispute, the person who brings a false suit will be punished by the king. And a false witness will be given twice the punishment that is meted out to the one who brings a false suit. A brahmana who bears false witness will be banished from the kingdom. A person who agrees to be a witness, but later withdraws, will be punished eight times as much as the bringer of the false suit. A brahmana who does this will be banished from the kingdom.

It is better that the details of a debt contracted be written down, with the names of the two parties and the witnesses clearly indicated. If the debtor pays in instalments, the details of all such payments must be recorded on the written document. Debts made in the presence of witnesses should also be repaid in the presence of witnesses. If a witness has to take an oath, the oath should be administered after cotton, fire, water or poison has been placed on the head of the witness.

Fire or water can be used to find out if a person is lying or not. If fire is used, seven banyan leaves are placed on the accused’s hand. A red hop lump of iron is then placed on the hand and the accused had to go around a fire seven times. If it is found that the hand has not been burnt, the person has been telling the truth. And if the hand has been burnt, he had been lying. Similarly, an accused person can be immersed in the water and if he does not drown, he has been telling the truth. Alternatively, the accused can be made to drink poison. If the poison does him no harm, he is truthful.

If the father makes a will, the property will be divided amongst the sons in accordance with the provisions of the will. But if all the sons get an equal share of the property, the wife should also be given an equal share, otherwise, the father can leave all his property to the eldest son. The sons and the father obtain equal shares to any property or debt that has been left by the grandfather. But the sons are not necessarily entitled to any property that has not been left by the grandfather, but been earned by father. If a son is born after the property has been divided, he too will be entitled to an equal share of any property left by the grandfather. Daughters are not entitled to property. But sons who have go married will use one-fourth of their inherited property to get their sisters married.

Donating the Puranas

The Agni Purana now describes the benefits of giving alms along with the purans. The puranas are to be donated together with cows. And in talking of the mahapuranas, the Agni Purana also mentions most of their length, in terms of the number of shlokas (couplets) that each has. This is worth stating.

The Brahma Purana – twenty-five thousand
The Padma Purana – twelve thousand
The Vishnu Purana – thirteen thousand
The Vayu Purana – fourteen thousand
The Bhagavata Purana – eighteen thousand
The Narada Purana – twenty-five thousand
The Markandeya Purana – nine thousand
The Agni Purana – twelve thousand
The Brahmavaivarta Purana – eighteen thousand
The Linga Purana – eleven thousand
The Varaha Purana – fourteen thousand
The Skanda Purana – eighty-four thousand
The Vamana Purana – ten thousand
The Kurma purana – eight thousand
The Matsya Purana – thirteen thousand
The Garuda Purana – eight thousand
The Brahmanda Purana – twelve thousand

The only mahapurana which is missing from the above list is the Bhavishya Purana. You now have a pretty good idea of how long the Puranas are. The Skaknda Purana is the longest and the Kurma and Garuda Puranas the shortest. But unfortunately, the numbers in the Agni Purana are not terribly accurate. The Padma Purana has fifty-five thousand couplets and not twelve as stated. The Varaha Purana has twenty-four thousands couplets and not fourteen thousand. The Agni Purana itself has slightly over fifteen thousand couplets land not twelve thousand. But at least you have some approximate idea about the lengths of the various Puranas.

The Brahama Purana is to be given in the month of Vaishakha. The Padma Purana is to be donated in the month of Jyaishtha. The Vishnu Purana is to be donated in the month of Ashada and the Vayu Purana in the month of Shravana. The Bhagavata Purana is to be given in the month of Bhadra, the Narada Purana in the month of Ashvina, the Markandeya Purana in the month of Kartika, the Agni Purana in the month of Margashirsha and the Bhavishya Purana in the month of Pousha. The Brahmavaivarta Purana in the month of Pousha. The Brahmavaivarta Purana is for the month of Magha, the Linga Purana for the month of Falguna and the Varaha Purana for the month of Chaitra.

The Skanda Purana is to be given to brahmanas. The Vamana Purana is to be given in the autumn. The Kurma Purana is to be given together with a golden urn. The Matsya Purana is to be donated together with a golden swan. The Brahmanda Purana is to be given to brahmanas.

Great benefits are also to be derived from hearing the Puranas recited. The reciter has to be given alms and the brahmanas must be given cows, rice and land at the time of the recitation. If one arranges for a recitation of the Puranas, one lives long, stays healthy and attains heaven.

Dynasties (Vamsha)

Brahma was born from Vishnu’s navel. Brahma’s son was Marichi, Marichi’s son Kashyapa and Kakshyapa’s son Vivasvana. From this line was descended Pururava and Pururava’s descendants were the kings of the surya (solar) dynasty.

Brahma also had a son named Atri and Atri had a son named Soma. Soma performed a rajasuya yajna (royal sacrifice). Having performed the sacrifice, Soma became the ruler of all the worlds. This made him very arrogant and he abducted the sage Brihaspati’s wife Tara. This led to a terrible war between the devas and the asuras. Tara was eventually restored to Brihaspati, but Soma and Tara had a son named Budha. From Budha were descended the kings of the chandra (lunar) dynasty.

There were twelve major wars between the devas and the asuras. The first of these was known as the Narasimha War. This took place when Hiranyakashipu was the king of the asuras. Vishnu adopted the form of Narsismha and killed Hiranyakashipu. He then made Prahlada the king of the demons. The second war was the Vamana war and it took place when Vali was the king of the demons. Vishnu adopted the form of a dwarf (vamana) to subjugate the demons. The third war was the Varaha war and this took place when Hiranyaksha was the king of the demons. Vishnu adopted the form of a wild boar (varaha) and killed Hiranyaksha. The fourth war was the Amritamanthana war and this took place over the manthana (churning) of the ocean for amrita (nectar).

The fifth war between the devas and the asuras took place over the abduction of Tara and this came to be known as the Tarakamaya war. The sixth war was known as the Ajivaka War. The seventh war took place when Tripura led the asuras and this was known as the Tripuraghatana war. It was Shiva who killed the demon Tripura in this war. The eighth war, the Andhaka war, took place when Andhaka led the asuras. It was Vishnu who engineered that Andhaka be killed when Andhaka expressed a desire to abduct Shiva’s wife.

The ninth war was known as Vritrasamhara and took place when Vritra led the demons. The tenth war was simply known as Jita. In this war, Vishnu killed Shalva and the other demons, and Parashurama killed the evil kshatriyas. The eleventh war was known as Halahala. An asura named Halahala (poison) had invaded Shiva’s body and flooded it with poison. But Vishnu managed to destroy the demon. In the twelfth war, known as Kolahala, Vishnu destroyed an asura named Kolahala (tumult).


Dhanvantari was the physician of the gods and he taught Sushruta the art of ayurveda (medicine). The Agni Purana now describes what the sage Ssushruta had learnt, that is, the treatment for various diseases. This does not simply mean the treatment of human illnesses. There is a section known as vriksha ayurveda, which describes what trees are to be planted where. It describes how a garden is to be constructed and maintained.

The chapters on medicine also describe the treatment of elephants, horses and cattle. The mantras (incantations) which are the remedy for snake poison are also related.

Literature And Grammar

Thereafter, the Agni Purana has many chapters on literature and grammar. It describes the different types of chhanda (metres)that are used in poetry.

Next it discusses the alphabet. There are sixty-four letters (varna) in the alphabet, of which twenty-one are vowels (svara varna). There are three tones (svara) in which the letters of the alphabet may be uttered. Their names are udatta, anudatta and svarita. There are eight places from which the letters may be pronounced. These are the chest, the throat, the head, the back of the tongue, the teeth, the nose, the lips and the palate. Pronunciations should be clear and audible. They should not be nasal and mumbled.

The Agni Purana then discusses the alamkaras (rhetoric) that are used in poetry and plays. Poetry is entirely different from the shastras (sacred texts) and itihasa (history). The sacred texts are full of words and historical texts are full of narrations of incidents that took place. But that does not constitute poetry. Real men are difficult to find on this earth. Amongst these real men, it is difficult to find men who are learned. Amongst the learned men, it is not easy to find some who have a poetic sense. And amongst those who have poetic sense, it is difficult to find a few who can compose poetry. Poetry is impossible without a knowledge of the rules of poetry and even more important, without a sense of feeling.

Sanskrit is the language of the gods. The language of humans is Prakrita. Poetry can be either in Sanskrit or in Prakrita. There are three types of poetry. These are gadya (prose), padya (poetry) or mishra (a mixture of the two). Genuine poetry is, however, only padya

Gadya can be of three types-churnaka, utkalika and vrittagandhi. Churnaka prose is easy on the ears, it has very few compouond words. Utkalika prose is hard on the ears, it is full of compound words. Vrittagandhi prose is some where between churnaka and utkalika.

An epic must always be split up into sections (sarga). It has to be written in Sanskrit, although some mixture of Sanskrit words with Prakrita ones is permissible. The theme of an epic must always be good and historical elements may be introduced if the author so desires.

Literature is useless without the flavour of sentiments (rasa). There are nine sentiments that are used. The first is hasya (humour). The second is karuna rasa (pathos). The third is roudra rasa (that which is wrathful and awe-inspiring). The fourth is vira rasa (heroic themes). The fifth is bhayanaka rasa (horror). The sixth is bibhatsa rasa (vulgar and obscene themes). The seventh is adbhuta rasa (that which is strange). The eighth is shanta rasa (placidity). And the ninth is shringara rasa (amorous themes).

But the sentiments must be used with feeling. Without feeling, all literature becomes mediocre. Particularly in a play, sentiments can be supplemented with skills (kalal). These skills are normally associated with women and there are sixty-four of them. The more important ones are singing, playing musical instruments, dancing, acting, drawing, making garlands, sewing, hairdressing and using magic.

Grammatical rules of sandhi and samasa (rules for forming compound words) are next described. The difference between the two is that in sandhi, the two words that are being joined retain their original senses in the compound word. The case of samasa is different. Sandhi occurs when two varnas (letters) met. Samasa is a condensation or conversion of two or more words into one. Sandhi does not create any new word. Samasa leads to the formation of a third word which refers to something related to but distinct from either or any of the words combined. Pita (yellow) and ambara (cloth) combined by way of sandhi are pronounced pitambara and mean cloth that is yellow. The same two words combined by way of samasa result in the third word pitambara which means “the one dressed in yellow”, that is, Krishna.

There are several possible declensions of words, depending on the vachana and the vibhakti. The vachana refers to the number. Eka-vachana is when there is only one (phalam, a fruit) dvi-vachana when there are two (phale, two fruits) and vahu-vachana when there are more than two (phalani, more than two fruits). There are three genders, pumlinga (masculine), strilinga (feminine) and klivalinga (neuter). Deva, asura, Vishnu are, for example, masculine in gender. Devi, Kalika or maya are feminine. Pushpa (flower) or phala (fruit) are neuter.

There are six karakas (cases) and seven vibhaktis (case-endings). The agent who performs the action indicated by the kriya (verb), is the kartri or doer. To the kartri karaka or Nominative Case, the prathama vibhakti or first case-ending is attached. The object of the action is karma and to the karma karaka or objective Case, the second (dvitiya) case-ending is attached. The means or instruments by which the action is performed takes on the karana karaka or Instrumental Cases and the third (tritiya) case-ending. When a gift is given irrevocably, the recipient takes on the sampradana karaka or Dative Case and the case-ending in question is the fourth (chaturthi). That which is the source of something takes on the apadana karaka or Ablative Case and the fifth (panchami) case-ending. When there is a relation of possessions, the possessor takes on the shashthi vibhakti (sixth case-ending). There is no counterpart of the possessive Case of English grammar because the relation of possession is not directly related to the verb (kriya) and therefore to the doer (karaka). In case of the location in which the action takes place, the karaka is adhikarana (Locative Case) and the case-ending the seventh (saptami).