WIKI.Ashwatthama



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  • Short Title WIKI.Ashwatthama 
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  • Ashwatthama
    Ashwatthama (right) leaves after being forgiven by Draupadi and the Pandavas, 18th century Pahari miniature
    Information
    Weapon Bow and Arrow, Sword
    Family Drona (father)
    Kripi (mother)
    Relatives Kripa (maternal uncle)
    Bharadvaja (grandfather)
    Religion Hindu

    Ashwatthama (Sanskrit: अश्वत्थामा, IAST: Aśvatthāmā), also referred to as Drauni, is the son of Drona and a major character in the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata.

    In the epic, he serves as a friend to Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas. He was trained in warfare along with the Kauravas and the Pandavas by his father, Drona. He is also described as a Maharathi[1] who fought on the side of the Kauravas against the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra War and was cursed by Krishna with immortality for his attempt to kill Uttarā's unborn child.[2] Ashwatthama had gained knowledge of various divine weapons, namely the Narayanastra, Brahmastra, Brahmashirastra, and many others.

    Etymology

    According to the Mahabharata Ashwatthama means "the sacred voice which relates to that of a horse".[3] He is so-named because when he was born, he cried like a horse.[4]

    Some of his other names are:-

    • Dronaputra (द्रोणपुत्र) - Son of Dronacharya
    • Guruputra (गुरुपुत्र) - Son of Guru Drona
    • Kripi Kumara (कृपिकुमार) - Son of Kripi

    Birth and life prior to the war

    Ashwatthama was the son of Drona and Kripi. He was born in a cave in a forest (in present-day Tapkeshwar Mahadev Temple, Dehradun, Uttarakhand). Drona performed many years of severe penance to please Shiva in order to obtain a son who possessed the same valiance as Shiva.

    He was born with a divine gem on his forehead which gave him power over all living beings lower than humans; it also protected him from hunger, thirst, fatigue, old age, diseases, weapons, and deities. The gem made him almost invincible and immortal. Though an expert in warfare, Drona lived a simple life with little money or property. As a result, Ashwatthama had a difficult childhood, with his family not even being able to afford milk. Wanting to provide a better life for his family, Drona went to the Panchala Kingdom to seek aid from his former classmate and friend, Drupada, who had promised Drona that when he became king, he would share half of his kingdom with him. However, Drupada rebukes the friendship, claiming that a king and a beggar cannot be friends, humiliating Drona.

    After this incident and seeing the plight of Drona, Kripa invites Drona to Hastinapura. Thus, Drona becomes the guru of both the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Ashwatthama was also trained in the art of warfare along with them.[1] Ashwatthama becomes an expert in warfare, learning various secrets and divine weapons.

    During his time with the princes, Duryodhana observes Ashwatthama's fondness for horses and gifts the young brahman a well-bred horse. In exchange, Duryodhana gains the personal allegiance of Ashwatthama to himself and, by extension, to the Kauravas, in addition to Drona's duty-bound allegiance to Hastinapura.

    When Drona asks his disciples to give him his dakṣiṇā; requesting the capture of Drupada, while the Kauravas fail, the Pandavas defeat Drupada and present him before Drona. Drona takes the northern half of Drupada's kingdom and crowns Ashwatthama as its king, with its capital at Ahichchhatra.

    Role in the Kurukshetra war

    When Hastinapura offers Drona the privilege of teaching the Kauravas, both Drona and Ashwatthama become loyal to Hastinapura and fight on the side of the Kauravas in the Kurukshetra war.

    On the 14th day of the war, he kills a division of Rakshasas, including Anjanaparvan (the powerful son of Ghatotkacha), and defeates Ghatotkacha as well, but failed to counter his illusions. He also stands against Arjuna several times, trying to prevent him from reaching Jayadratha, but is defeated and ran away from the battlefield. However, during the entire process of protecting Jayadratha, Ashwatthama, at one point in time, successfully saves Duryodhana's divine celestial armour and life by using his Sarvastra arrow and destroying the powerful Manavastra arrow launched by an angry Arjuna towards Duryodhana.

    Bhima kills an elephant named Ashwatthama. Folio from Razmnama.

    On the 10th day of the war, after Bhishma falls, Drona becomes the supreme commander of the armies. He promises Duryodhana that he will capture Yudhishthira, but he repeatedly fails to do so. Duryodhana taunts and insults him, which greatly angers Ashwatthama, causing a rift between Ashwatthama and Duryodhana. Krishna knew that it was not possible to defeat an armed Drona. So, Krishna suggests to Yudhishthira and the other Pandavas that if Drona was to be convinced that his son was killed on the battlefield, his grief would leave him vulnerable to attack.

    Krishna hatches a plan for Bhima to kill an elephant named Ashwatthama while claiming to Drona that it was Drona's son who was killed. Ultimately, the gambit works (though the details of it vary depending on the version of the Mahabharata), and Dhrishtadyumna beheads the grieving sage.

    After learning of the deceptive way his father was killed, Ashwatthama becomes filled with wrath and invokes the Narayanastra against the Pandavas.

    When the weapon is invoked, violent winds begin to blow, the sound of thunder echoes, and an arrow appears for every Pandava soldier. Knowing that the astra ignores unarmed people, Krishna instructs all the troops to abandon their chariots and disarm. After getting their soldiers to disarm (including Bhima with some difficulty), the astra passes by harmlessly. When urged by Duryodhana to use the weapon again, desirous of victory, Ashwatthama says that if the weapon were to be used again, it would turn on its user.

    In some versions of the story, like the Neelakantha Chaturdhara compilation, the Narayanastra destroys one Akshauhini of the Pandava arm. However, after the use of Narayanastra, a terrible war between both armies takes place. Seeing his Narayanastra fail to kill the Pandavas, Ashwatthama invokes the Agneyastra and launches it towards all the visible and invisible foes. The weapon soon overpowers and encompasses Arjuna with several fiery flaming arrows and creates havoc within the Pandava army. Upon witnessing this sight and realising the seriousness of the situation, Arjuna uses his Varunastra to subdue the effects of the Agneyastra, but by then it completely destroys another Akshauhini of the Pandava army, which only Arjuna and Krishna manage to survive. This shocks Ashwatthama as he leaves the battlefield confused and in doubt about his knowledge and skills. Later, Ashwatthama defeats Dhrishtadyumna in direct combat but fails to kill him as Satyaki and Bhima cover his retreat, in the process engaging in a battle against Ashwatthama. Ashwatthama defeats both the warriors and makes them retreat from the battlefield as well.[5]

    By using an ordinary yet powerful bow, Ashwatthama fires millions of arrows at a time, which results in the stupefaction of Arjuna himself. Ashwatthama again tries to overpower Arjuna, but at last, Arjuna defeats him by piercing his body with several arrows which makes him unconscious and his charioteer takes Ashwatthama away from Arjuna. King Malayadhvaja of the Pandya Kingdom, one of the mightiest warriors of the Pandavas, fights against Ashwatthama. After a long duel of archery between them, Ashwatthama renders Malayadhvaja weaponless and gets an opportunity to kill him on the spot, but he spares him temporarily for more fighting. Malayadhvaja then proceeds against Ashwatthama on an elephant and throws a powerful lance, which destroys the latter's diadem. Ashwathama beheads Malaydhavaja, cuts his arms and also kills six followers of Malayadhvaja. Seeing this, all the great warriors of Kaurava army applaud Ashwatthama for his act.[6]

    After the terrible death of Dushasana, Ashwatthama suggests Duryodhana make peace with the Pandavas, keeping in mind the welfare of Hastinapur. Later, after Duryodhana is struck down by Bhima and faces death, the last three survivors from the Kaurava side, Ashwatthama, Kripa, and Kritvarma, rush to his side. Ashwatthama swears to bring Duryodhana revenge, and Duryodhana appoints him as the commander-in-chief after Shalya was slain earlier during the day.

    Along with Kripa and Kritavarma, Ashwatthama plans to attack the Pandavas camp at night. When Ashwatthama reaches there, he encounters Shiva in a terrifying ghost form guarding the Pandavas camp. Not recognising him, Ashwatthama fearlessly starts attacking the terrifying ghost with all his powerful weapons but fails to inflict even a single damage upon it, after which Ashwatthama starts meditating on Shiva while sitting inside a pit of fire, which finally impresses him, after which Shiva appears in his true form in front of Ashwatthama and offers him a divine sword. Then Shiva himself enters the body of Ashwatthama, making him completely unstoppable.

    After Ashwatthama enters the camp, he first kicks and awakens Dhrishtadyumna, the commander of the Pandava army and the killer of his father.[7] Ashwatthama beats up and strangles the half-awake Dhrishtadyumna as the prince begs to be allowed to die with a sword in his hand, ultimately choking him to death. Ashwatthama proceeds with butchering the remaining warriors, including Shikhandi, Uttamaujas, Yudhamanyu, Upapandavas ( thinking them to be pandavas) and many other prominent warriors of the Pandava army. Even though many warriors try and fight back, Ashwatthama remains unharmed due to his activated abilities as one of the eleven Rudras. Those who try to flee from Ashwatthama's wrath are hacked down by Kripa and Kritavarma at the camp's entrances.

    After the slaughter, the three warriors go to find Duryodhana. After relaying to him the deaths of all the Panchalas, they announce that the Pandavas are no more. Duryodhana doesn't believe him and demands him the head of Bhima upon which he gives him the head of Bhima's son. Duryodhana out of anger punches it which breaks confirming him that it was not the head of Bhima. He reprimanded Aswatthama for his foolishness and cries in grief that he has exterminated the last hiers of his clan. With this, Duryodhana breathes his last but not before warning Aswatthama that Arjuna would surely come for his downfall, and the next morning, the three remaining members of the Kaurava army perform the cremations of the dead.

    Ashwattama gets arrested and is brought to Draupadi by Arjuna.

    The Pandavas and Krishna, who were away during the night, now return to their camp. Hearing the news of these events, Yudhishthira faints, and the Pandavas become inconsolable. Bhima angrily rushes to kill Drona's son. They find him at Sage Vyasa's ashram near the bank of the Ganges.

    The now-triggered Ashwatthama at sight of the still alive pandavas invokes the Brahmashirastra against the Pandavas from a tiny blade of grass to fulfill the oath of killing them. Krishna tells Arjuna to fire his own Brahmashirastra as an anti-weapon against Ashwatthama to defend themselves. Vyasa intervenes and prevents the destructive weapons from clashing against each other. He asks both Arjuna and Ashwatthama to take their weapons back. Arjuna, knowing how to do so, takes it back.

    Ashwatthama, however, not knowing how ( Drona didn't thought him how to take it back because he knew that he is not patient and capable like Arjuna and would surely use it for his own benefit, so he reduced his capability to use this weapon to only one time by only teaching him how to invoke) redirects the Brahmastra towards the womb of the pregnant Uttara in an attempt to end the lineage of the Pandavas.

    Krishna saves Uttara's unborn child from the effects of the Bramhshirastra, on the request of Draupadi, Subhadra, and Sudeshna. Ashwatthama was then made to surrender the gem on his forehead and cursed by Krishna that he would roam in the forests until the end of the Kali Yuga with blood and pus oozing out of his injuries and cry for death, but death would not meet him.[8] Aswatthama was then arrested and dragged by Arjuna on the back of his chariot to Draupadi for his execution, but Draupadi prohibited it as it was not morale to kill a brahmin in their kingdom. So, he was released by Arjuna and went to the forest never to be seen again.

    Lineage

    A theory is proposed by historians R. Sathianathaier and D. C. Sircar, with endorsements by Hermann Kulke, Dietmar Rothermund and Burton Stein.[9] Sircar points out that the family legends of the Pallavas speak of an ancestor descending from Ashwatthama and his union with a Naga princess. It was the son born from this union, that would have started this dynasty. This claim finds support in the fact that Kanchipuram was where the Pallavas would dwell, and this was earlier a part of the Naga Kingdom.

    A further corroboration is that the gotra of the Pālave Maratha family is Bharadwaja (grandfather of Ashwatthama), same as the one which Pallavas have attributed to themselves in their records.[10]

    There is a shrine for Ashwatthama in the famous Ananthapadmanabhaswamy temple of Thiruvanthapuram.

    Literature

    The Sapta Chiranjivi Stotram is a mantra that is featured in Hindu literature:

    अश्वत्थामा बलिर्व्यासो हनुमांश्च विभीषण:।
    कृप: परशुरामश्च सप्तैतै चिरञ्जीविन:॥
    सप्तैतान् संस्मरेन्नित्यं मार्कण्डेयमथाष्टमम्।
    जीवेद्वर्षशतं सोपि सर्वव्याधिविवर्जितः॥


    aśvatthāmā balirvyāsō hanumāṁśca vibhīṣaṇaḥ।
    kṛpaḥ paraśurāmaśca saptaitai cirañjīvinaḥ॥
    saptaitān saṁsmarēnnityaṁ mārkaṇḍēyamathāṣṭamam।
    jīvēdvarṣaśataṁ sopi sarvavyādhivivarjitaḥ॥

    Sapta Chiranjivi Stotram

    The mantra states that the remembrance of the eight immortals (Ashwatthama, Mahabali, Vyasa, Hanuman, Vibhishana, Kripa, Parashurama, and Markandeya) offers one freedom from ailments and longevity.

    References

    1. 1 2 "The Mahabharata, Book 5: Udyoga Parva: Uluka Dutagamana Parva: section CLXVIII". www.sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 24 December 2022.
    2. Chaturvedi, B. K. (2020). Srimad Bhagwat Puran. Diamond Pocket Books Pvt Ltd. p. 16. ISBN 978-81-288-2252-0.
    3. "The Mahabharata, Book 7: Drona Parva: Drona-vadha Parva: Section CXCVII".
    4. "Sanskrit – Asien.net".
    5. "The Mahabharata, Book 7: Drona Parva: Drona-vadha Parva: Section CCI". www.sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 24 December 2022.
    6. "The Mahabharata, Book 8: Karna Parva Index". www.sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 24 December 2022.
    7. "The Mahabharata, Book 10: Sauptika Parva: Section 8".
    8. Chaturvedi, B. K. (2020). Srimad Bhagwat Puran. Diamond Pocket Books Pvt Ltd. p. 16. ISBN 978-81-288-2252-0.
    9. Stein, Burton (2016). "Book Reviews: Kancipuram in Early South Indian History, by T. V. Mahalingam (Madras: Asia Publishing House, 1969), pp. vii-243". The Indian Economic & Social History Review. 7 (2): 317–321. doi:10.1177/001946467000700208. ISSN 0019-4646. S2CID 144817627.: "...the rather well-argued and plausible stand that the Palavas were indigenous to the central Tamil plain, Tondaimandalam..."
    10. Vaidya C. V. (1921). History Of Medieval Hindu India.

    Original text online (in Sanskrit)

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