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A hero of the Indian epic Mahābhārata, Ashwatthama (Sanskrit: अश्वत्थामा, Aśvatthāmā) or Ashwatthaman (Sanskrit: अश्वत्थामन्, Aśvatthāman) was the son of guru Drona. He is one of the seven Chiranjivis. 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 fought on the Kaurava side against the Pandavas in the Mahabharata war.
His physical description in the Mahabharata is that he is incredibly tall, with dark skin, dark eyes, and a gem in his forehead.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Drona's love for Ashwatthama
- 3 Ashwatthama's role in the Kurukshetra war
- 4 Ashwatthama and Brahmashir Astra
- 5 References
- 6 External links
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, Kripi 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.
Ashwatthama's 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, Duryodhana's disdain for the caste system. Moreover, like 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 11th day of the war, following the death of Bhisma, Drona is named the supreme commander of the armies. He makes a promise to Duryodhana to capture Yudhishthira. After he repeatedly fails to do so, Duryodhana taunts and insults his teacher, greatly angering Ashwatthama, and causing friction between Ashwatthama and Duryodhana. On the 15th day of battle, Drona is killed, and the means by which repair the rift between Duryodhana and Ashwatthama. Knowing that it was impossible to beat him conventionally, the Pandavas lied and told Drona that Ashwatthama had been killed by Bhima (when in reality, Bhima had just killed an elephant of the same name). In despair, Drona drops his weapons and begins meditating, and while he is defenseless, he is decapitated by Dhristadyumna. Ashwatthama rages against the Pandavas, and refuses to allow the Pandavas to attend his father's last rights.
Despite his animosity, after the death of Dushasana, Ashwatthama still suggested to Duryodhana that he make peace with the Pandavas, keeping in mind the welfare of Hastinapur. Duryodhana strongly rejected his suggestion.
Ashwatthama meets Duryodhana
On the night after Duryodhana was mortally wounded by Bhima during the Gadayuddha, Ashwatthama, along with Kripacharya and Kritavarma visited the spot where the dying Duryodhana was lying. Ashwatthama told Duryodhana that he would never forgive the Pandavas for leading Duryodhana to this situation and also for his father's (Dronacharya) dishonorable death. He swore to kill the Pandava brothers by any possible means. Duryodhana made Ashwatthama the supreme commander of the Kaurava forces.
Ashwatthama's 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. 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."
Pandavas chase for Ashwatthama
The Pandavas and Krishna who were away during night at the Kaurava camp, discover Ashwatthama's slaughter the next day. Filled with grief, Draupadi demands the diamond on Ashwatthama's forehead. The Pandavas pursue Ashwatthama to Sage Vyasa's ashram. On seeing the approaching angered Pandavas, Ashwatthama repentance becomes overwhelmed by his hatred. As a last resort, he used his sacred knowledge of the Vedas to devise a Brahmastra from a blade of grass and invoked it against the Pandavas and Krishna.
Earlier in life, jealous of how Dronacharya had taught Arjuna but not him the secret of the divine weapons, he confronted his father. To placate him, Drona taught him the theory of invoking the Bhramastra, although he strictly forbade to use it in practice. To reinforce this, he did not teach Ashwatthama how to revoke the weapon, thinking that that no Brahmin would use such a power without a check against it.
With the Brahmasira approaching the Pandavas, Krishna asked Arjuna to invoke the same. 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. After revealing his lack of knowledge, Ashwathama was instructed to deviate his weapon to a remote place, so that the Brahmashirastra does not harm anyone. But Ashwatthama, out of spite and in an attempt to end the Pandava lineage, directed the weapon towards the womb of Uttara, who was in the process of birthing Abhimanyu's son.
Enraged, Krishna then placed a curse on Ashwatthama (actually it was his Prarabdha karma) that "he will carry the burden of all people's sins on his shoulders and will roam alone like a ghost without getting any love and courtesy for 3000 years.He will have neither any hospitality nor any accommodation; He will be in total isolation from mankind and society; His body will suffer from a host of incurable diseases forming sores and ulcers that would never heal". 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 and demons. So, Ashwatthama was asked to surrender this gem. Lord Sri Krishna further states that "the wound caused by the removal of this gem on his forehead will never heal and will suffer from leprosy. It is believed that in Kaliyuga, his name will be "Suryakanta". Thus, Ashwatthama will be in search of death every moment, and yet he will never die. At the end of Kali Yuga, Ashwatthama is to meet Sri Kalki, the tenth and final avatar of Lord Vishnu.
Krishna revives Abhimanyu's son
Uttara delivered a child which was dead. Beseeched by Draupadi, Arjuna, and Sudeshna, Krishna poured a few drops of water on his hands and said, "If I have truly followed Dharma throughout my life, then let this child come back to life." He sprinkled the water on the child and touched him on his chest, reviving Abhimanyu's son. In this way, Abhimanyu's son, Parikshit(the one who has been tested, when he was in his mother's womb) gets his name.
Ashwatthama and Brahmashir Astra
Ashwatthama seeks the knowledge of Brahmastra from his father Dronacharya.
The partial knowledge of Abhimanyu and Ashwatthama
Abhimanyu is often quoted as an example for his partial knowledge about Chakravyuha. Abhimanyu knew how to penetrate the Chakravyha, but did not know how to exit from it during the time of danger contributed to his death. Similarly, Ashwatthama had a partial knowledge in the context of Brahmastra. He only knew how to invoke it, but did not know how to withdraw it. It was only Arjuna who had complete knowledge of both Chakravyuha (to break and exit from it) and Brahmastra (to invoke and withdraw it).
In case of Ashwatthama, Dronacharya teaches Ashwatthama only to invoke Brahmastra, but does not teach him how to withdraw it. If an archer is aware of both the invocation and withdrawal of any Celestial weapon (Dev-astra), then he can invoke it as many times as he wants. Hence, to avoid Ashwatthama from invoking Brahmastra multiple times, Dronacharya only gives a partial knowledge about it. If an archer invokes Brahmastra once, it not only destroys the target, but also leads to a famine in the region for 12 years. If a Brahmastra is invoked twice, then it can even lead to draining of the entire ocean on Earth.
Skill as a warrior
In Udyoga Parva of Mahabarathi, 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 hath, by these, increased both his fury and energy. Possessed of great intelligence, he hath 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.||”|
- K M Ganguly(1883-1896). The Mahabharata,Book 5 Udyoga Parva,Section CLXVIIIsacred-texts.com,October 2003,Retrieved 2013-11-14
- Smith, John. "The Mahābhārata : an abridged translation". Penguin Books, 2009, p. 565
- Smith, John. "The Mahābhārata: an abridged translation". Penguin Books, 2009, p. 565
- K M Ganguly(1883-1896). The Mahabharata,Book 10: Sauptika Parva Section 16sacred-texts.com,October 2003,Retrieved 2013-11-14
- Original text online (Sanskrit)
- etext (metrical), entered by Muneo Tokunaga
- GRETIL etext (Muneo Tokunaga)
- Mahābhārata online
- History: Encounters with Ashwatthama