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  • Writer's pictureanjali mohapatra

Ashwatthama - the cursed Chiranjeevi!

Ashwatthama was one of the most interesting characters described in the great Mahabharata epic. He was a great warrior but a cursed Brahmin. It is believed that he still exists wandering across the world without any companion, love, or friendship! His act of revenge after the post-war period of Mahabharata was incredibly cruel and against the Kshatriya rules of war!

Guru Dronacharya worshiped Lord Shiva for a long time and at last was blessed with a son- Ashwatthama. He was the only son of Guru Dronacharya and Kripi (twin sister of Kripacharya). When he was born, he didn't cry but neighed like a horse. A voice from the firmament announced, ‘This is no ordinary child! He has been born with the blessing of Lord Shiva.’ Thus, it is considered that Ashwatthama was a portion of Lord Shiva or Yama. He had a jewel (precious mani) on his forehead from birth. He was one among the other Chiranjeevi.

Before Drona became the Guru of royal princes Kauravas and Pandavas, he was a poor Brahmin. He couldn't afford to provide the minimum necessities like cow milk to his family. Once, Ashwatthama was humiliated by his friends for not having tasted cow milk ever! This incident hurt Gur Dronacharya. Thereafter, he desired wealth to satisfy the bare necessities of his family. In due course, he was appointed as the royal preceptor by Pitamaha Bhishma to teach all the shastras and science of warfare to Kauravas and Pandavas. Somehow, when he taught the Kuru princes Ashwatthama also learned the art of warfare. Ashwatthama was quite talented but Arjun out of all the disciples of Guru Dona surpassed everyone. That made Ashwatthama jealous of Arjun! Thus, he preferred Duryodhana more than Pandavas. Due to his father's status, he became very loyal to King Duryodhana and Hastinapur.

Guru Dronacharya was so fond of Arjun that he taught him the most lethal weapon- Brahmashira how to hurl and how to withdraw. Out of weakness for his son, Drona taught the same to Ashwatthama also but warned him repeatedly not to use it in ordinary situations or against ordinary people which could wipe out the entire planet! But, arrogant Ashwatthama was unable to understand its value! Guru Drona loved Arjun too much and of which Ashwatthama was jealous of him! But, he admired his prowess! When Karna was babbling on the battlefield saying- 'Where is that Dhananjay! Today itself I will slay that third Pandava and prove my prowess and many more.' That time Ashwatthama mocked him reminding him how none of them could face the Gandharvas when Duryodhana was made a captive, and Arjun was the only hero who saved him from the Gandharvas! 

On the tenth day after the fall of Bhishma, Drona became the commander-in-chief of Kauravas. It was well known to everyone that Drona with weapons in hand was invincible! None on this earth could win over him! Thus, Lord Krishna being crafty played the trick by using Yudhishthira as the means to an end! He requested Yudhishthira to tell a lie- ‘Ashwatthama is dead!’ Yudhishthira didn't agree to tell a lie neither did he tell a lie ever! But for the benefit of thousands, he uttered the words. The first phase of his words ‘Ashwatthama is dead’ was heard but the second part- ‘Nare ba kunjarah’ became inaudible because of the high pitch of drums, trumpets, and other musical sounds.

Drona had taken a vow that the moment he would hear the demise of his beloved son, he would give up the weapons! Coincidentally, Bhim killed an elephant named Ashwatthama and King Yudhisthira repeated that word! As Guru Drona fully trusted Yudhishthira, he asked about the news and the latter’s answer was affirmative. Thus, distressed Drona sat in meditation giving up his weapons! Taking that opportunity, Dhristadyumna killed Drona brutally! Ashwatthama heard the brutal murder of his father. Enraged he invoked the deadly divine weapon- Narayanastra and released it to kill all the Pandavas. Having been warned repeatedly to save that weapon for an appalling situation, Ashwatthama couldn't control his wrath! As the weapon was released, the sky darkened, the volcano erupted, meteors fell rapidly and oceans made terrible sounds! The whole atmosphere filled with that sound. Knowing the power of his own Astra( Krishna was the” incarnation of Lord Vishnu) asked all the Pandavas and his troops to lay down their weapon. That was the only way by which that divine weapon disappeared without harming anyone!

Only three survivors of the Kaurava side- Kritaverma, Kripacharya, and Ashwatthama remained to witness the painful death of Kuru King Duryodhana. Beholding the miserable condition of Duryodhana who was lying down on the ground in severe pain waiting for his death, Ashwatthama lost his control. He promised before Duryodhana to kill all the Pandavas. His heart was saturated with hatred against all the Pandavas and their friends! Infuriated over the death of his father and friend, Drauni(son of Drona) was determined to take vengeance and vengeance only! Thereafter, the trio set out for Pandava’s camp.

At nightfall, they began their journey towards Pandavas camp. On the way, they took a rest under a banyan tree where hundreds of crows had taken a peaceful slumber in their nests. Being exhausted Kripacharya and Kritaverma fell asleep but Ashwatthama couldn't sleep. Looking at the branches of that tree, he was deeply engrossed with the evil thought of revenge! Suddenly he noticed an owl attacked the sleeping crows and killed them one by one! Immediately he jerked out as if he had an excellent idea! He thought to himself, ‘ This owl taught me a lesson! Why shouldn't I attack the Pandavas at night when they are sleeping and kill them all? It is impossible to win over them by fighting!’  Thus, he told his plan to the other two. None of the duos agreed with his sinful idea which was against the war rule. But Ashwatthama ignored their warning and advice! Ashwatthama broke the rule and entered the Pandava camp. His first attempt to enter failed miserably as the door was guarded by Lord Shiva in a terrible form. Having failed, Drauni sat in a fir pit worshiping Lord Shiva! Being pleased with his devotion, Lord Shiva appeared before him and gave him a boon. Being blessed Ashwatthama entered the Pandava camp, and brutally murdered Dhristadyumna, Uttamouja, Shikhandi, Upamanyu, and all the five young sons of Draupadi thinking of them as Pandavas! After creating havoc in Pandava camp, he ran away with the other two.

Krishna with Pandavas were out of the camp when this awful incident occurred and when they reached their camp, they were aghast! Yudhishthira and Draupadi became unconscious. Infuriated Bhim took a vow to kill Ashwatthama. After searching everywhere, Krishna, Arjun, and Bhim found Ashwatthama at the hermitage of Vyasa Deva at the bank of the river Bhagirathi. 

Out of fear and to protect himself Ashwathama took a blade of grass and chanted the mantras of Brahmastra. Intending to kill all the Pandavas, he released it. Seeing the radiant, shining weapon that could destroy the entire universe, Krishna asked Arjun to release his Brahmastra to counteract the other. Arjun did what he was asked to. Sage Vyasa stepped in and ordered Ashwatthama and Arjun to withdraw their weapons. Arjun obeyed his command and withdrew but Ashwatthama was not aware of that knowledge! With his evil intention, he directed it to Uttaraa’s womb to destroy the unborn child- the future heir of Pandavas! Realizing the fatal danger, Lord Krishna sent his Sudarshana Chakra to protect the baby. The baby was born dead, but Lord Krishna with his yogic power gave back his life!  Thus, Krishna saved the child and gave him the name Parikshit! 

As a punishment for his most inhuman and heartless deeds, Krishna asked Bhim to pull out the precious jewel from Ashwatthama’s forehead and cursed him, ‘O Ashwatthama! You never thought before killing five innocent boys barely in their teens! That was not enough, you couldn't even spare an unborn baby?’

‘O Ashwatthama, I curse you- you will be afflicted with leprosy, wandering over 6000 years without any love, affection, or companion! You will cry for death but you can never meet him as you are a Chiranjeevi! Nobody will provide you either any food or any help!’

It is believed that Ashwatthama is still alive and he visits Asirgarh Fort to worship Lord Shiva!

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