(‘that by which one fights’)

An āyudha is a weapon or an imple-ment by which one fights. Several weapons have been known to have existed in ancient India. They are generally classified into three groups:

  1. praharaṇa (those by which one strikes the enemy, like a khaḍga or sword);
  2. pāṇimukta (those that are discharged or thrown from the hand, like a cakra or discus);
  3. yantramukta (those released from a mechanical contrivance, like a śara or arrow).

The images of gods and goddesses invariably carry āyudhas to signify their role in their fight against the forces of evil and sin. Hindu mythological lore is full of legends of the fights of the deities against the demons. The liberal provision of arms to the iconographical representations of the various deities is often to provide scope for carrying the various weapons, implements and emblems.

Certain weapons are invariably associated with certain deities like the cakra (discus) with Viṣṇu, triśūla (trident) with Śiva, dhanuṣ (bow) with Rāma, śūla (spear) with Durgā and so on. Consequently, these help us in identifying the particular deity represented by these icons.

Very often, these āyudhas are represented with a human form, with the parti-cular weapon shown either in the background behind the head or over the head or in its hands. Such forms are called ‘āyudha-puruṣas’ or personified weapons. The sex of this deity is dependent on the gender of the Sanskrit word for that weapon. For instance, gadā (mace) is a female deity whereas cakra (discus) is a eunuch. Śūla (spear), aṅkuśa (goad) and vajra (thunderbolt) are male deities. These deities are generally shown with one face and two hands, held in an attitude of adoration. They wear karaṇḍa-mukuṭa (bowl-shaped crown).