Ashwathama the son of Guru Dronacharya played a crucial role in the Mahabharata and was one of the most intricate characters– with strong positive and negative personality qualities. Son of Guru Dronacharya and grandson of sage Bharadwaja; Ashwathama didn’t have animosity towards the Pandavas but still fought against them and led the Kaurava army in the battle of Kurukshetra.
Both his parents Dronacharya and Kripi badly wanted a child who was immortal, so they prayed to God to bless him with paranormal abilities. He cried like a horse at the time of his birth so he was called Ashwathama meaning “sacred voice of a horse”. It is said that highly impressed by his parents’ prayers, Lord Shiva made him so invincible that even by gods like Lord Krishna himself couldn’t kill him.
Ashwathama also had a gem (mani) embedded in his forehead to protect him from bad dreams, snake bite, animals, ghosts, and even unnatural death besides giving him immunity from hunger, fatigue, and thirst. This meant that he could survive without eating and drinking for days together. As time went Ashwathama lived up to the expectations from him and became a devotee of Lord Shiva. But his biggest drawback was that he couldn’t control his anger which proved to be his weakest trait.
Ashwathama virtually spent his entire childhood in extreme poverty without even the means to buy enough food, milk, vegetables, or fruits. That is because Guru Dronacharya didn’t have any money or property. Though an expert in warfare he found it extremely difficult to run the household. Hence one-day Dronacharya decided to seek the help of King Dhrupad his former classmate and friend. But instead of helping him, Dhrupad humiliated him and told him that a king and beggar cannot be friends.
Dronacharya narrated this to his brother-in-law Kripacharya (his twin sister Kripi was married to Drona) who invited him to Hastinapur and introduced him to Bhishma who employed Dronacharya to teach the Pandavas and Kauravas in Hastinapur. Ashwathama also learnt the art of war along with them.
The biggest lesson that one can learn from Ashwathama’s life is that each person has positive and negative qualities but when and how he uses them — makes the difference between right or wrong; good or evil and the person eventually has to pay the price for his actions.
Before going to battle Ashwathama asked his father to bless him with victory but Dronacharya abruptly refused and advised him to win the war on his merit.
HOW DRONACHARYA WAS KILLED?
On the 10th day of the war, after Bhishma Pitamah was incapacitated, Guru Drona promised to capture Yudhishthira but failed to do so. This made Duryodhana humiliate and insult Dronacharya. This led tiff between Ashwathama and Duryodhana. Shri Krishna saw this as an opportunity to mislead and kill Dronacharya. As per plan; Bhima killed an elephant named Ashwathama jumped around loudly proclaiming that he had killed Ashwathama (Dronacharya’s son). Dronacharya did not believe him and asked Yudhishthira who replied “Ashwathama is dead. But don’t know if it was the elephant or your son.” Sri Krishna, who knew Yudhishthir’s nature, made sure that the other warriors produced such a loud noise that Dronacharya could not hear the complete sentence. Assuming that his beloved Ashwathama was no more alive he lost the will to live or fight and dropped his weapons. Taking advantage of the situation Draupadi’s brother who was the commander-in-chief of the Pandava army beheaded Guru Drona.
Some people say that the manner in which Dronacharya’s was killed was unethical and violated the rules of the war, but others including Lord Krishna justify saying that it was meant to avenge Abhimanyu’s death by deceit at the time when Guru Drona was the Commander in Chief of the Kaurava’s army.
Let’s have a look at the positive and negative aspects of Ashwathama’s personality
He was a powerful warrior with mastery over all kinds of combat skills. Being a Maharathi he could shoot arrows in a continuous line one after another and fight many warriors at the same time. He also managed to acquire many celestial weapons
But unlike Bhishma Pitamah, Duhshasana and Karna who avoided calling — spade a spade; he dared to tell Duryodhan not to go to war and avoid the bloodshed. Ashwathama was a very good friend of Yudhisthir, Balarama, and Bheema. Even on the battlefield he had no enmity towards Pandavas. Even during the war on several occasions he tried to convince Duryodhan to stop the war but still fought because it was his dharma.
Thus he had all the capabilities to change history if he wanted, but when he came to know how his father was killed he could not control his anger
No human being could stop him once he went berserk with rage.
Towards the end of the war Ashwathama was appointed commander-in-chief of the Kaurava Army and blatantly broke the rule that no war will be fought sunset.
Ashwathama was so overwhelmed with rage when he came to know that Duryodhan was seriously wounded and was about to die that he along with Kripacharya and Kritavarma attacked the Pandava camp in the middle of the night and killed Dhrishtadyumna, Shikhandi, Yudhamanyu, Uttamaujas, and many other prominent warriors of the Pandava army.
Even the five sons of the Pandavas and other sleeping soldiers were not spared. This was one of the worst unethical and immoral phases of the war.
Anyone who tried to flee was hacked down by Kripacharya and Kritavarma who blocked the exit. After the slaughter, the three warriors went to meet Duryodhana on his deathbed and conveyed to him their exploits. Duryodhana was full of joy to know that the Pandavas too would have no sons to rejoice their victory. Duryodhana died the next morning. So Ashwathama, Kripacharya, and Kritavarma performed his last rites as the last three surviving members of the Kaurava army
SHRI KRISHNA’s CURSE
After learning of his father Dronacharya’s death Ashwathama became so angry that he destroyed two-third of the Pandava army and tried to use Narayan Astra a very powerful weapon that can kill anyone with a weapon in hand and trying to fight.
Lord Krishna (an incarnation of Narayana) advised the Pandava soldiers to lie down on the ground with folded hands and keep their weapon aside. This is because the Narayan Astra hurts only armed soldiers.
This helped. The Pandava army was saved as the Narayana Astra gradually calmed down when it’s time expired. This proved to be a big setback because if used again the Narayanastra can damage the user.
The lesson learnt is that wars aren’t just about attack and counter-attack. Some battles are won even by ducking down.
On yet another occasion in which Ashwathama and Arjuna were fighting each other, Aswathama invoked “Brahmastra”. Lord Krishna then asked Arjuna to invoke “Pashupatastra”. Both these weapons could destroy the whole world so the celestial beings asked both of them not to fire the weapons.
Arjuna withdrew the Pashupatastra but Ashwathama diverted the Brahmastra to towards the unborn child in the womb of Arjuna’s daughter-in-law and Abhimanyu’s wife Uttara but lord Krishna saved the unborn child.
This seemingly was the last straw on the camel’s back. Lord Krishna ripped off the Mani from Ashwathama’s forehead, as a result of which now he has no divine protection and kept searching for food and water. Ashwathama was cursed to roam the world for 3000 years as an unloved castaway.
Another version, says he was cursed to remain alive and even death would not come near him till the end of Kaliyuga. According to legend Ashwathama is alive somewhere closeby and will remain so till the end of Kalyuga and see the evil things that no one could have even imagined in satyug, dwapar or treta yuga.
Lessons Learnt from this Legend:
- Battles are not just about attack and counter-attack. Battles are won by choosing the right time, place, and force to fight.
- Every individual has a mix of some good or bad qualities. The good help him to rise above with honour, the bad ones lead to his dishonour and doom.
- One should never misuse one’s powers – behind every power there is an overriding super-power.
- No one is finally immortal and supernatural. Each has strengths and weaknesses. Never let your ego, anger, or deceitfulness overcome you. Your Karma will catch up with you always.
- Living a life of honor is better than a life of despair and suffering. It’s not the years in your life, but the life in your years which counts.