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A character of the Indian epic Mahābhārata, Ashwatthama (Sanskrit: अश्वत्थामा, Aśvatthāmā) or Ashwatthaman (Sanskrit: अश्वत्थामन्, Aśvatthāman) or Drauni was the son of guru Drona. Drona did many years of severe penance to please Lord Siva in order to obtain a son who possesses the same valiance as Lord Siva. Aswatthama is the avatar of one of the eleven Rudras and he is one of the seven Chiranjivi or the immortal ones. Aswatthama along with his maternal uncle Kripa are believed to be the lone survivors still living who actually fought in the kurukshetra war. Aswatthama was born with a gem in his forehead which gives him power over all living beings lower than humans. This gem is supposed to protect him from attacks by ghosts, demons, poisonous insects, snakes, animals etc. Dronacharya loved him very dearly. The rumours about his death in the Kurukshetra war led to the death of Drona at the hands of Prince Dhrishtadyumna. He is the grandson of the Brahmin sage Bharadwaja. Ashwatthama is a mighty Maharathi who fought on the Kaurava side against the Pandavas.
Along with sage Parashurama, sage Vyasa and sage Kripa, Aswatthama is considered to be foremost among the rishis in Kaliyuga. Aswatthama will become the next sage Vyasa, who in turn divide the Veda in 29th Mahayuga of 7th Manvantara. Aswatthama will also become one of the Saptarishi in the 8th Manvantara along with sage Vyasa, sage Kripa and sage Parashurama. His physical description in the Mahabharata is that he is incredibly tall, with dark skin, dark eyes, and a gem in his forehead. Like Bhishma, Drona, Kripa, Karna, and Arjuna, he is a master of the science of weapons and is regarded as the foremost among warriors. Aswatthama studied Dhanurveda or martial arts and Brahmavidya or the science of the self or atma from Lord Parasurama, Maharishi Durvasa, Maharishi Ved Vyasa, Bhishma,Kripa and Drona. Aswatthama is the master of all forms of knowledge and possesses complete mastery over 64 forms of arts or Kalas and 18 Vidyas or branches of knowledge.
Drona's love for Ashwatthama
Ashwatthama was the son of Dronacharya and Kripi, sister of Kripacharya. Drona loved his son very dearly. Dronacharya was very poor. Once when Ashwatthama was a child, he desired to drink milk, like he had seen friends drink. Not even owning a cow, Ashwatthama painted his lips with a mixture of wheat flour with water, making it seem as if he had drank milk. This scene saddened Dronacharya. He remembered his childhood friend Drupada, who in a spurt of youthful exuberance, had promised to give Drona half of whatever he had . Dronacharya went to the court of Drupada to ask for a cow. King Drupada humiliated Drona, saying friendship existed only between equals. He told Drona to ask as a Brahmin asks for alms, but not as a friend, and Drupada would do his kingly duty and provide whatever he asked. Refusing, Dronacharya returned empty-handed and humiliated.
After this incident, on seeing the plight of Dronacharya, Kripacharya, who was teaching the Kuru princes, invited Drona to Hastinapur. There, he came upon the attention of his co-disciple Bhishma. Thus, Dronacharya became the guru of the Pandavas and of the Kauravas in Hastinapur. Ashwatthama was trained in the art of warfare along with them.
Avatar of Lord Shiva
Ashwatthama, the powerful son of Drona, though known as the part incarnate of Rudra, was really born of the four parts of Yama, Rudra, Cupidity and Anger. Just before Mahabaratha war, Bhishma himself declared that it will be virtually impossible for anyone to kill or defeat Ashwatthama in war as he is the part incarnate of Lord Siva. Bhishma said when Ashwatthama becomes angry then it will be impossible to fight him as he becomes a second Siva. No one can handle his wrath and fury.
Lord Krishna and sage Vyasa also know about this and they advised Arjuna to seek the blessing of Lord Siva himself to defeat Kaurava army in war otherwise it will be impossible to defeat the army containing Ashwatthama,the part incarnate of Lord Siva. While Arjun was doing penance, Lord Indra went to Arjuna in the guise of a celibate and asked about the purpose for which he was doing penance. Arjuna told him that he wanted to defeat the Kauravas. Indra then told Arjuna that it was not in his capacity to help him achieve victory over the Kauravas, because of Ashwatthama who was a partial incarnation of Shiva. Indra advised Arjuna to please lord Shiva by his penance so that his wishes could be fulfilled. Lord Siva blessed victory to Arjuna but warned that it is impossible for anyone to kill Ashwatthama or agitate his anger. Later the false story of Ashwatthama's death led to the assassination of his father Guru Drona.The tragic death of Drona made Aswathama extremely angry and these events led to the complete annihilation of Pandava lineage by the hands of Ashwatthama himself.
Role in the Kurukshetra war
Since Hastinapur, ruled by King Dhritarashtra, offered Dronacharya the privilege of teaching the Kuru princes, both Dronacharya and Ashwatthama were loyal to Hastinapur and fought for the Kauravas in the Kurukshetra war. Before Dronacharya's death, Ashwatthama visited his father in order to seek his blessing so that he could win the war for the Kauravas, but Dronacharya refused. He advised Ashwatthama to win the war using his own strength and not through a blessing from him.
Despite his friendship with the Pandavas, Ashwatthama had great familiarity with Duryodhana. He was attracted to Duryodhana's gregarious nature, and to Duryodhana's largesse bestowed upon him. Moreover, just as Duryodhana believed that the Pandavas were taking his birthright to the crown, Ashwatthama felt that the Pandava Arjuna was usurping his place in Drona's heart.
On the 10th day of the war, Bhisma got severely wounded and was placed on bed of arrows, Drona (Ashwatthama's father) is named the supreme commander of the armies. He promises Duryodhana that he will capture Yudhishthira, but then he repeatedly fails to do so. Duryodhana taunts and insults him, which greatly angers Ashwatthama. This causes friction between Ashwatthama and Duryodhana. Knowing that it would be impossible to beat Drona conventionally in battle, the Pandavas lie and tell him that Ashwatthama (his son) has been killed by Bhima (when in reality, Bhima had just killed an elephant of the same name). Believing that his son has been killed, and in despair at the news, Drona drops his weapons and begins meditating. While he is defenseless, he is decapitated by Dhristadyumna. Thus, on the 15th day of battle,Guru Drona was killed by the cheating of Lord Krishna and Pandava brothers,especially Yudishtira.Ashwatthama rages and the furious Ashwatthama unleashed Narayanastra on the Pandava army.The Narayanastra was the personal weapon of lord Vishnu in his Narayana form.Earlier Lord Narayana gifted this weapon to Drona and Drona himself passed this terrible astra to his son Ashwatthama.Only Drona,Ashwatthama,Parasurama and Lord Krishna possessed the knowledge of this weapon .This astra fires a powerful tirade of millions of deadly missiles simultaneously. The intensity of the shower increases with resistance. The only way of defense towards this missile, is to show total submission before the missiles hit. This in turn will cause this weapon to stop and spare the target.When it was used, Ekadasha (Eleven) Rudras appeared in the sky to destroy Pandavas. Millions of types of weapons like Chakra, Gadha, ultra sharp arrows appeared in rage to destroy them.Who ever tried to offend were destroyed and large number of Pandava troops died. Lord Krishna, who is an Avatar of Vishnu tells the Pandavas and their warriors to drop their weapons and lie down on the ground, so that they all surrender completely to the power of this weapon.When targeted, the Pandava hero Bhima refuses to surrender thinking that it as a cowardice act, and attacks the downpour of fiery arrows. The Narayana weapon concentrates its shower on him, and he gets steadily exhausted and severely injured.However, he was not killed as Krishna and his brothers restrained him and asked him to surrender.This act of surrender saved the lives of Bhima and Pandava brothers.
The Narayana astra destroyed one Akshauhini of Pandava army completely.After the use of Narayana astra, terrible war between both armies took place. Ashwatthama defeated Dhrishtadyumna in direct combat, but failed to kill because many Pandava mahartha's came for the aid of Dhrishtadyumna and fought together against Ashwatthama. Though it was prohibited,Pandava maharatha's broke the code of engagement by fighting together against a single maharatha to protect Dhrishtadyumna.Then kaurava warriors came to the aid of but Ashwatthama but Dhrishtadyumna was saved by Satyaki and Bhima.Terrible war took place between the maharatha's of both sides and Ashwatthama defeated Satyaki and Bhima in direct combat and both fled away from the battle field.Yudishtira blamed himself for the heavy loss he suffered at the hands of Ashwatthama.
Despite his animosity, after the death of Dushasana, Ashwatthama still suggested Duryodhana that he make peace with the Pandavas, keeping in mind the welfare of Hastinapur. Duryodhana strongly rejected his suggestion.
Attack on Pandava camp
On the last night of the war after Duryodhana's defeat, a very disturbed and restless Ashwatthama was sitting sleepless under a large tree. An owl ambushing a group of crows caught his attention. This gave him an idea of attacking the Pandava camp at night. He gathered the only other surviving Kaurava warriors—Kritavarma and Kripacharya and attacked the Pandava camp on the 18th night of the Kurukshetra war. Aswatthama worshiped and invoked KalBhairav, a form of Lord Siva responsible for destroying everything, even time and seek his help and blessing for attacking the Pandava camp.KalBhairava entered into the body of Aswatthama and with the sword of KalBhairav, aswattahma burned the entire Pandava camp to ashes leaving nothing behind. He strangled Dhrishtadyumna to death in his sleep, beating and thrashing the semi-conscious warrior. He moved on and killed Shikhandi, Uttamaujas and many other prominent warriors of the Pandava army. Those who tried to flee from Ashwatthama's wrath, were hacked down by Kripacharyya and Kritavarma at the camp's entrance. He killed Draupadi's five sons, the Upapandavas, while they were sleeping, believing them to be the five Pandava brothers. In some versions of the story, he knows that they aren't the Pandavas, but kills them anyways because he cannot find their fathers.
After destroying the entire Pandava camp, Ashwatthama proceeds towards Duryodana claiming that he had beheaded the Pandavas. When he, Kripa, and Kritverma arrive, Duryodhana is already dead. A voice shouts out that Ashwatthama hadn't killed the Pandvas, but the Upapandavas. Ashwatthama, realizing his mistake, went to Sage Vedavyasa's ashram in order to seek salvation (prayaschittam) for his crime.
There are many different versions of the above tale where Duryodhana is not dead upon Ashwatthama's arrival. In some, Ashwatthama simply lies to Duryodhana to give him some peace before death. In others, he tells what he thinks is true in that he killed the Pandavas, and Duryodhana dies happily. In even others, he tells Duryodhana that he only managed to kill the Pandava's children, and this makes Duryodhana happy as that means that the Pandava lineage would die out.
Aswattahma believed that it was acceptable for him to attack the unexpected Pandavas due to his father’s death by unjust means. Although he did believe his vengeance to be justified, he was warned by people of his own side that it was not. Kripa even tells Aswatthama to seek the advice of Dhritarashtra and Vidura, elders of his family who are much wiser and more experienced than the young Aswatthama. “Aswatthama rejects Kripa’s reasoning: all men favour their own judgements Aswatthama, though a Brahmin, has always followed the Kshatriya Dharma." They are not too pleased with Aswattahma‘s words and advise him not to go through with this adharmic plan. “Kripa emphasises the importance of taking the advise of friends and elders, and counsels Aswatthama against pursuing his plan.". After aswatthamas attack on Pandava camp, only Satyaki,Lord Krishna and fives Pandavas were the remaining survivors of the kurukshetra war from Pandava side.
The Pandavas and Krishna who were away during night, now returned to their camp the next day morning. Incensed over this act of Ashwatthama, the Pandavas went after him to sage Vyasa's ashram. On seeing the approaching angered Pandavas, Ashwatthama who learnt that he had killed the upapandavas and not the Pandavas, realised that he was trapped with the Pandavas. As a last resort, he used his sacred knowledge of the Vedas to devise a Bramhashirastra from a blade of grass and invoked it against the Pandavas and Krishna. On seeing the Brahmashirastra approaching the Pandavas, Krishna asked Arjuna to invoke the same. Arjuna invokes Bramhashirastra, which he received by Dronacharya itself, towards Ashwatthama.
On seeing the two powerful astras heading for a head on cataclysmic (catastrophic) collision that would result in the total annihilation of the entire Earth, sage Vyasa stopped these divine weapons from colliding with each other by using his yogic power. He asked both these warriors to withdraw their respective weapons. Arjuna was able to withdraw his Brahmashirastra, while Ashwatthama could not do so as Dronocharya did not teach his son how to withdraw it.An archer who is able to invoke and withdraw any Divyastra (Divine Weapon) can invoke it as many times as he wishes. Dronacharya taught Arjuna to withdraw Brahmashirastra but he did not do so to Ashwathama, thus limiting the power of Ashwathama to invoke Brahmashirastra for only one instance. However, Ahswathama was given the option of deviating his weapon towards one single isolated object in a place that was not inhabited by any form of life, so that the Brahmashirastra does not harm anyone on Earth. But Ashwatthama, out of rage, directed the weapon towards the womb of Uttara (wife of Abhimanyu) who was carrying Abhimanyu's son (Parikshit) in an attempt to end the lineage of the Pandavas.The angered Pandavas want to kill Aswatthama, but Sage Vyasa prohibited Pandavas from doing so because Pandavas themselves employed deceit to kill their own Guru Drona. Sage Vyasa explained that it was due to the severe sin of killing their Guru Drona by unethical means ,the Pandavas suffered severe tragedy and their entire lineage came to extinction. Further Sage Vyasa warned Pandavas that he will curse Pandavas if they ever tried to kill aswatthama, the lone survivor of their Gurus lineage.
Ashwatthama had a gem which was similar to Shamantakamani on his forehead which used to protect the wearer from fear of any snakes, ghosts, demigods,demons,old age and diseases. So Ashwatthama was asked to surrender this gem.Enraged Krishna then cursed Ashwatthama that for 3000 years he will roam in the forests with blood and puss oozing out of his injuries and cry for death but even death would not have mercy on him. He will have neither any hospitality nor any accommodation; He will be in total isolation from mankind and society; The wound caused by the removal of this gem on his forehead will not heal and his body will suffer from a host of incurable diseases forming sores and ulcers that would never heal for 3000 years" . It is believed that in Kaliyuga, his name will be "Suryakanta".
Alternate theories about Ashwatthama's fate
||This section possibly contains original research. (November 2014)|
In a Kannada version of Mahabaratha written by Kumara Vyasa, the author claimed that he wrote Mahabaratha by listening to Sage Aswatthama. It was said in different sources and alternate theories that, in order to escape from the curse of Lord Krishna, Aswatthama approached his Parama Guru (guru's guru) Lord Parasurama, who was also an avatar of Lord Vishnu. Lord Parasurama felt pity at Aswatthama and agreed to help him. It was said that Aswatthama was only an instrument in Lord KalBhairav's or Lord Siva's plan to exterminate all the evil people from earth. Since it was KalBhairav who entered into Aswatthama's body and exterminated Pandava forces, Aswatthama was absolved of all sins. It was said that Pandavas met Aswathama once again 36 years later when they were travelling to the Himalayas to seek pardon from Lord Siva for their heinous crimes in war. The description says Pandavas found Aswatthama happy in the company of Lord Parasurama and Sage Durvasa in an ashram on the banks of river Ganga and Aswatthama was found free from all curses. It was believed that Lord Parasurama and Maharishi Durvasa initiated Aswatthama into Sakthi worship, which is considered to be the supreme of all modes of worship. By worshipping Adi ParaSakthi, the mother of Lord Brahma,Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva, Aswatthama bypassed the curse of Lord Krishna.
It is said in ancient scriptures that "If God is angry at you, Guru can save you. But if Guru is angry at you, even God cannot save you". Alternate theories suggest that as per the words in scriptures Aswatthama sought the help of his gurus and escaped the wrath of God. Maharashi Ashwathama lives along with his mother Kripi and his maternal uncle sage Kripa, both being great yogis somewhere in the Himalayas.
Ashwatthama and Brahmashirsha Astra
Ashwatthama sought the knowledge of Brahmashirsha astra from his father Drona. Dronacharya taught Ashwatthama only to invoke Brahmashirsha astra, but does not teach him how to withdraw it. This was because Drona earlier gave his word to Arjuna that he will make Arjuna the greatest archer. So in order to fulfill his promise Drona gave only partial knowledge of Brahmashirsha astra to Ashwatthama but he gave full knowledge to Arjuna.Drona was bound by his word to Arjuna, so later he was also forced by circumstances to cut off the thumb of Karat prince Ekalavya because he seemed superior in skill to Arjuna. Ashwatthama had a partial knowledge in the context of Bramhashirastra. He only knew how to invoke it, but did not know how to withdraw it.If an archer is aware of both the invocation and withdrawal of any celestial weapon, then he can invoke it as many times as he wants. Hence, to avoid Ashwatthama from invoking Bramhashirastra multiple times, Dronacharya only gives a partial knowledge about it. If an archer invokes Bramhashirastra once, it not only destroys the target, but also leads to a famine in the region for 12 years. If a Bramhashirastra is invoked twice, then it can even lead to draining of the entire ocean on Earth.
Skill as a warrior
In Udyoga Parva of Mahabarath, Bhishma declared Ashwatthama as a mighty Maharathi, or a warrior capable of fighting 60,000 warriors simultaneously; circumspect in his mastery of all forms of weapons and combat skills.
|“||The mighty bowman (Aswatthaman) who is Drona's son surpasseth all bowmen. Acquainted with all modes of warfare, and of unbaffled weapons, he is a Maharatha. Like the wielder of Gandiva(Arjuna), the shafts of this warrior, shot from his bow, proceed in a continuous line, touching one another. If he wishes it, this Maharatha is capable of consuming the three worlds. Engaged in austerities in his hermitage, he has, by these, increased both his fury and energy. Possessed of great intelligence, he has been favored by Drona with (the gift of all) celestial weapons...Possessed of a strong frame, he can split the very mountains by the flaps of his bow-string, striking against the leathern fence on his left arm. Endued with innumerable qualities, this smiter of fierce effulgence will wander (over the field of battle), incapable of being withstood like Yama(the lord of death) himself, mace in hand. Resembling the fire at the end of the Yuga as regards his fury, possessed of leonine neck, and endued with great lustre, Aswatthaman will extinguish the embers of this battle between the Bharata's.||”|
In Drona Parva of Mahabarath, it gives a detailed explanation of the skill of Drona's son Aswatthaman.
|“||Obtaining all the secrets regarding celestial weapons with every detail, the son of Saradwat's daughter has become a second Drona, and a great hero. Aswatthaman is equal to Karna in knowledge of weapons, to Purandara in battle, to Kartavirya in energy, and Vrihaspati in wisdom. In fortitude, that youth is equal to a mountain, and in energy to fire. In gravity, he is equal to an ocean, and in wrath, to the poison of the snake. He is the foremost of all car-warriors in battle, a firm bowman, and above all fatigue. In speed he is equal to the wind itself and he careens in the thick of fight like Yama in rage. While his engaged in shooting arrows in battle, the very earth becomes afflicted. Of prowess incapable of being baffled, hero is never fatigued by exertions. Purified by the Vedas and by vows, he is a thorough master of the science of arms, like Rama, the son of Dasharatha. He is like the ocean,incapable of being agitated.||”|
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- id=7DYnAgAAQBAJ&pg=PT114&lpg=PT114&dq=ashwathama+narayanastra&source=bl&ots=4Xffl7YUwm&sig=pXITzKAcwWb9igoWv2V5XPog8XI&hl=en&sa=X&ei=4futVKuPKMzGuAT35ICwAQ&ved=0CC8Q6AEwAzgK#v=onepage&q=ashwathama%20narayanastra&f=false The Puffin Mahabharat By Namita Gokhale Aswathama uses Narayana astra
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- Original text online (Sanskrit)
- etext (metrical), entered by Muneo Tokunaga
- GRETIL etext (Muneo Tokunaga)
- Mahābhārata online
- History: Encounters with Ashwatthama