Ashwathama, Hero of the Indian Epic ‘Mahabharata’, was the son of Guru Drona. He is one of the seven Chiranjivi. Chiranjivis or Chiranjeevis are the immortals in Hinduism who are to remain alive throughout the Kali Yuga until start of next Satya Yuga. Kali Yuga is the last of the four stages the world goes through as part of the cycle of yugas described in the Indian scriptures.
There are very less people who are aware of Ashwathama because most of the attention has been taken by Arjuna, Duryodhana, Bheema, Krishna and lot others. But, Ashwathama was the only one who played an important role in Mahabharata and changed the end of Kurukshetra War. Ashwathama was the son of Dronacharya and Kripi (sister of Kripacharya). Drona loves his son very dearly. Ashwathama along with his father Guru Dronacharya fought in the battle of Mahabharata from the Kauravas side against the Pandavas. Since his birth, Ashwathama had a mani (jewel) embedded in his forehead.
Killing of Ashwathama’s Father – Guru Dronacharya
After the killing of Abhimanyu, son of Arjuna in a Chakravyhu, Arjuna vows to kill Jayadratha (whom he thinks is responsible for Abhimanyu’s death). Drona places Jayadratha far away from Arjuna in the war and has a very strong army guarding Jayadratha. Drona tries to stop Arjuna, but as advised by Krishna, Arjuna avoids the fight with Drona, he just marches towards Jayadratha for which Drona follows Arjuna and tries to stop him but fails. Later on the 15th day of the Kurukshetra war, Dronacharya becomes furiosuly unstoppable, he took to more of unrighteous path. He started using Brahmastra against common soldiers while the brahmastra is supposed to be used only with an equal opponent. He killed about 20000 soldiers using brahmastra. On this day, Krishna knew that it is very important to kill Dronacharya, for that he has to lay his weapon, so Krishna comes with a plan. Bheema (one of the Pandava brothers) killed an elephant named Ashwathama and announces it loudly. Drona could not believe that his son has died, so to confirm this, he asks Yudhisthir if it is true, for this Yudhisthir says : “Ashwathama hathaha iti, narova kunjarova” which means “Ashwathama is dead, Elephant not man”, while saying the second half of the statement Yudhisthir lowered his voice and knowing that Yudhistir will not lie, Krishna blew his Conch and the second half was not heard by Drona. Though I will say efforts of doing unrighteous and making foold of each other is done by both Pandavas and Kauravas. Drona was hurt of the news and could not believe that Ashwathama is dead, he laid his weapon. Drishtadyumna (son of Drupada) then killed Guru Drona at this opportunity.
Ashwathama in Kurukshetra War / Mahabharata
Hastinapur, ruled by King Dhrishtrastra, 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.
Ashwathama meets Duryodhana
During Gadayuddha between Bheema and Duryodhana, Duryodhana was mortally wounded. Ashwathama alongwith Kripacharaya and Kritvarma visited the spot where the dying Duryodhana was lying. Ashwathama promised Duryodhana that he will never forgive Pandavas for dishonourable killing of his father and killing Duryodhana. He then swore to kill Pandavas by any means.
Ashwathama’s attack on Pandavas Camp
After Duryodhana’s defeat, on the last night of war, disturbed and restless Ashwatthama was sitting sleepless under a large tree where he observed that an owl was being attacked and harassed by crows in the morning. This owl attacked the same group of crows at night taking revenge. This gave him an idea of attacking the Pandava camp at midnight. He gathered the only other survivors Kaurava warriors — Kritavarma and Kripacharya and attacked the Pandava camp on the 18th night of the Kurukshetra war. There he killed Dhrishtadyumna, Shikhandi and many other prominent warriors of Pandava army while they were sleeping. Those who tried to flee from Ashwathama’s wrath, were hacked down by Kripacharyya and Kritavarma who were positioned at the camp’s entrance. He killed Draupadi’s five sons, the Upa-Pandavas, while they were sleeping believing them to be the five Pandava brothers. After destroying the entire Pandava camp, Ashwathama carried the five heads of Draupadi’s sons and proceeded towards Duryodana claiming that he had beheaded the Pandavas where he realised that he killed the sons of Pandavas by mistake. Ashwathama, realising his mistake, went to Sage Vedavyasa’s ashram in order to seek salvation (prayaschittam) for his crime.
Curse of Krishna to Ashwathama
Incensed over the cowardly act of Ashwathama, the Pandavas went after him to sage Vyasa’s ashram. Seeing this, Ashwathama, as a last resort, used his sacred knowledge of the Vedas to devise a Bramhastra from a blade of grass and invoked it against the Pandavas and Krishna, although he was strictly forbidden to do so by his father Dronacharya for any purpose. Krishna asked Arjuna to invoke the same. Arjuna invokes Bramhastra, which he received by Dronacharya itself, towards Ashwathama.
On seeing the two powerful astras heading for a head on catastrophic collision that would result in the total devestation 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 Brahmastra, 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 Brahmastra but he did not do so to Ashwathama, thus limiting the power of Ashwathama to invoke Brahmastra 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. But Ashwathama, out of spite, 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. Krishna used his Sudarshan Chakra to stop the Brahmashirastra and save Uttara’s unborn child.
Lord Krishna then placed a curse on Ashwathama 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 till the end of Kaliyuga; 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”. Ashwathama was asked to surrender his gem which was on his forehead. 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, till the end of Kaliyuga”. It is believed that in Kaliyuga, his name will be “Suryakant”. Thus, Ashwathama 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.
Is Ashwathama Still Alive?
Now comes the most interesting part of this blog. Ashwathama is claimed to be seen by many people. Some of the instances are as follows:
A Vaidya (Ayurvedic Doctor) in Madhya Pradesh had a tough patient with a septic forehead. After several applications of a fail-proof potion, the wound was still fresh and kept bleeding. Amazed at this, the doctor wittingly said: “Your wound seems ageless and cureless. I wonder, are you Ashwathama.. hahaha”. At the third ‘ha’, he turned around to apply the next doze and found that the seat was empty. The patient just disappeared into air, sealing Vaidya’s wit with reality. This was reported in the Kalyan Magazine as well but who know if its a truth or not!!
Legend says that in an Indian village near Burhanpur, there is an old fort called Asirgarh (in Madhya Pradesh), ancient tomb in India where Ashwathama supposedly offers flowers to a Shivaling each morning. This came very briefly on some news channels too.
Some Yogis like Pilot Baba mentioned their encounter and conversation with Ashwathama, who was living among tribes at Himalayan Foothills.
I believe in Hindu Mythology, and so I believe in the tale above and for the same reason, one day, I will visit the fort of Asirgarh too. If anyone knows of something else, please share.
PS: Some of the text above is a comprehensive important conclusion from many different sites including that of wikipedia, wayfayrer.blogspot.in and many more. I am just sharing those information in a more conclusive way…