The a~Nkusha is a common weapon of the gods. This in itself appears a bit strange. Among the gods it is most closely associated as the weapon of choice of the dreadful vinAyaka and kAmeshvarI. Most medieval icons of these deities show the a~Nkusha as the elephant goad and a~Nkusha is even translated as such. In classical Sanskrit and the vulgar prakrits that temporally overlap with the former it is again used in the context of the elephant goad. However, it appeared a bit strange that the a~Nkusha is hardly used as a weapon in the warfare of the mAnavas.
When we look at the R^ig veda we find that it was a weapon of the gods even there, and was wielded by indra in battle:
imaM bibharmi sukR^itaM te a~NkushaM yenArujAsi maghava~n-ChaphArujaH |
asmin su te savane astvokyaM suta iShTau maghavan bodhyAbhagaH || (RV10.44.9)
I bear this well-made a~Nkusha of yours, with which you, maghavan, tears the [attackers] dismembers them under the horse’s hoofs. At this soma-pressing you be pleased and drink the juice and accept the sacrificial share, maghavan.
The implication is reasonable here- it was used as a weapon in chariot or horse-borne combat against the attacker.
Other vedic references add more to the picture:
A nastujaM rayiM bharAMshaM na pratijAnate |
vR^ikShaM pakvaM phalam a~NkIva dhUnuhIndra sampAraNaM vasu || (RV 3.45.4)
In this mantra vishvAmitra asks indra to bear him wealth with his a~Nkusha even as one would pull down ripe fruit from the tree.
dIrghaste astv a~Nkusho yenA vasu prayaChasi | yajamAnAya sunvate || (RV 8.17.10)
A similar metaphor is used by iriMbiThi kANva in this mantra where indra is asked to pull in wealth with his long a~Nkusha (dIghaste astv a~Nkusho). Similar to the idea of pulling in wealth is the concept of pulling a woman towards you and indra’s a~Nkusha is invoked for that purpose in the strI-vashIkaraNa mahA-mantra in the atharvanic rite for obtaining a wife (this mantra is also used in the marriage ritual of the atharvavedins):
yas te .a~Nkusho vasudAno bR^ihann indra hiraNyayaH |
tenA janIyate jAyAM mahyaM dhehi shachIpate || (AV-S 6.82.3/ AV-P 19.17.6)
That wealth-giving, great golden a~Nkusha of yours O indra, with that O lord of shachI give me who seeks a woman, a wife.
In a comparable context, there are two closely related mantras from the paippalAda atharva veda describing the use of extracts of the pATa herb (Stephania hernandifolia or a related plant) by a woman seeking to break up the connection between her lover and a rival female (AV-P 7.12.9 and 20.42.11).
pATA bibharty a~NkushaM hiraNyavantam a~Nkinam |
tena saptnyA varca A lumpAmi mamed asat || (AV-P 7.12.9)
pATA bibharty a~NkushaM hiraNyavantam a~Nkinam |
tenAham anyeShAM striya A lumpAmi mamed asUn || (AV-P 20.42.11)
Both the mantra-s use the metaphor of the a~Nkusha to describe how the pATa herb pulls away the rival woman (or her fertility or sexual fervor). Here, again the a~NkuSha is used in the context of hooking and pulling away a human entity. Interestingly, some modern studies have shown the menispermacean plants like S.hernandifolia to cause depression of testosterone levels in male rodents. It is important to note the use of the verb ‘lumpati’ along with the noun a~Nkusha, which means to pull or tear away. It is the same verb which is used again in the context of the a~Nkusha in an atharvanic surgical procedure (below).
From these earliest allusions to the a~Nkusha we notice the following: 1)The a~Nkusha is a weapon which was actually used and most probably by horse-/chariot- borne warriors. 2) It is never mentioned in the context of an elephant, unlike in classical sanskrit and the depictions in medieval Hindu iconography. Instead, multiple references to it allude to pulling away/down human entities, even if metaphorically. 3)Unlike the short elephant goad, the weapon is clearly described as being long and used in the context of pulling down fruits from trees. 4) However, at this point it must be mentioned that in the paippalAda atharvaveda the a~Nkusha is also used describe a surgical instrument devised by the ashvins. In AV-P 2.81.2 it is mentioned that a metal a~Nkusha is used to incise and pull out the cataract that causes blindness (the earliest account of the cataract surgery).
Thus, the a~Nkusha, in large part, was originally not an elephant goad but a pole-arm similar to the fouchard or the Mongol hook-spear. Especially the latter was an effective pole-arm — deployed by the Mongols on horseback to pull down the enemy and then finish them off, fitting well with the description of the a~Nkusha of indra in RV 10.44.9. However, in the medical literature of the atharvans the a~Nkusha was used as a technical term to describe a surgical instrument for cataract removal- a technique which continued into the later day Ayurveda. The a~Nkusha in traditional iconography is often mentioned with another weapon the pAsha. Interestingly, this was also used in a similar context by the Mongol warriors in lassoing enemies and pulling them down from horse back. The description of the construction and use of the pAsha in the surviving fragments of Hindu dhanurveda is very similar its reported use by Mongol warriors. The pAsha, the dhanurveda, states is used in combination with a club that is used to finish of the enemy after pulling him down with the pAsha. Thus, it appears that the a~Nkusha and the pAsha were originally used by the early Aryans in a manner similar to other steppe warriors — in pulling down riders or chariot warriors by other horse/chariot riding users. This use appears to have eventually gone out of vogue in India and the object with a similar shape which was in common use, the elephant goad, took over its name.
However, it should be noted that the symbolism associated with it– as an instrument by which the gods draw wealth or a woman for the yajamAna — is an old one, which persisted in context of the new Hindu deities. It is not without reason that the wealth-giving vinAyaka and the fulfiller of all kAma-s, including shR^i~NgAra bhoga, kAmeshvarI wields the a~Nkusha. This another remarkable case of functional persistence of symbolic motifs in the Hindu world from the earliest times, despite changing meanings and deities.