Mahabharata (abridged)

258,337 words | ISBN-10: 8121505933

The English translation of the Mahabharata: one of the two major Sanskrit epics of India. Besides its epic narrative of the Kurukshetra War and the fates of the Kaurava and the Pandava princes, the Mahabharata contains philosophical and devotional material, such as a discussion of the four "goals of life". NOTE: this is a Summary Study (...

Chapter 1 - Ashvatthama Destroys the Pandava Army

Dhritarastra inquired: O Sanjaya, hearing of Duryodhana's death, my voice trembles and my limbs are weak. Alas, destiny is, after all, supreme. My son had gathered eleven akshauhini divisions of troops, and the Pandavas had gathered seven. Still the Pandavas have won victory. While my son was laying on the ground with his thighs broken, what deeds were performed by Drona's son, Ashvatthama?

Sanjaya replied: O monarch, all this has happened because of too much affection for your cruel son. The reactions to his sinful activities have born fruit in that he now lies on the Kurukshetra field with his thighs broken. If you had followed the advice of Vidura long ago, then this disaster could have been avoided. Listen now, O great King, to the events that took place after the fall of your son. Having heard of Duryodhana's defeat, Ashvatthama, Kripa and Kritavarman came to that place on their chariots drawn by fleet horses. O Monarch, they saw your son lying on the ground, his thighs broken and blood flowing from many wounds. Duryodhana's eyes were full of tears, and he was breathing heavily. Seeing his suffering condition, they descended from their chariots and came to his side. They greatly lamented his fallen state. The son of Drona spoke to him, Behold the irreversible influence of time! Formerly, O King, we used to see you attended by many servants and fanned with the finest Yak tails. You were the lord of eleven akshauhini divisions of troops and proudly stood at their head. Where has your vast army now gone? Where is the white umbrella that used to cover your head from the scorching heat? Once you were the master of the world, and now you have been reduced to this state. Alas, destiny, is after all, very cruel.

Replying to Ashvatthama's words, Duryodhana said, Do not grieve for me. Death comes to all beings in due course of time. It is my good fortune that I have observed the proper conduct of a king and never turned my back in battle. It is my good fortune to die at this time along with all my friends and kinsmen. I am not ignorant of Krishna's glory. It is He, through His invisible potencies, who has caused this annihilation. I have now understood that He is the Supreme God of all that be. With this meditation, I will now ascend to His abode in the spiritual world.

Beholding the King lying on the ground suffering from pain, Ashvatthama flamed up in rage. He then vowed before his master, My father was slain by those vile persons by means of deception. That does not anger me as much as seeing you reduced you to this suffering state. Listen to my vow, O King. I swear by truth itself and by all my acts of piety, all my gifts, my religion and the religious merits I have won. I shall today, in the presence of Krishna, kill all the soldiers left in that army.

Hearing this oath, Duryodhana ordered Kripa to bring a pot of water to anoint Ashvatthama as his commander in chief. He said, Let the son of Drona be appointed commander in chief of my army. Let him conquer those that are left amongst the Pandavas. With these words, Kripacharya obtained the water and bathed Ashvatthama's hair thus installing him as the commander in chief. Ashvatthama then embraced the King and left that spot roaring like a lion.

When those warriors heard the victorious sounds of the Pandavas, they were fearful and entered a forest near the Kaurava encampment. They let loose their horses and took shelter of a nearby banyan tree. The sun had set, and the darkness of night had covered the battlefield. Overcome with sleep, Kripa and Kritavarman laid down on the bare ground. However, Ashvatthama could not sleep. He stayed awake and remembered the injustices that took place on the battlefield. His body burned with grief and anger. As he thought of his plan of action, he noticed that the banyan tree was refuge for crows during the night. While he was looking at the countless crows sleeping on the tree branches, suddenly an owl appeared in the tree and began to kill the sleeping crows. The owl cut off the heads of some and tore at the wings of others. After some time the owl managed to slaughter many birds. As he witnessed this action, he thought, This owl is teaching me a lesson. The Pandavas are victorious in battle, and it will be impossible for me to kill them. However, I have promised the King that I will fight with them on the field of battle and slay them. If I fight with them fairly, then surely I will have to lay down my life. I have vowed myself to a certain death. If, however, I kill them by means of deception, as they killed my father and the King, then I will be victorious.

The wicked son of Drona then made up his mind to kill the Pandavas while they were sleeping. Having made this resolution, he woke up Kripa and Kritavarman. He then told them of his plan for slaying the Pandavas. Not agreeing with the proposal, Kripa spoke to Ashvatthama, A man, who lives his life, rejecting the advice of his elders, certainly falls from righteousness and dies untimely. A man, who builds his life on sinful activities, in due course of time, reaps the results of those sinful activities. On the other hand, one who listens to the advice given by his elders and acts under their instructions certainly achieves his goals and flourishes in every respect. This Duryodhana, obsessed with hatred of the Pandavas, committed many sinful acts not sanctioned by the Kuru elders. Disregarding the wisdom of Bhishma, Vidura, Drona, and myself, this wretched person waged hostilities with the Pandavas who are superior to him in good qualities. From the very beginning he was envious and wicked. He could not restrain himself, and thus he is now bearing the fruits of his sinful activities. Why should we follow in the footsteps of this foolish person and allow another calamity to overcome us? At this time I fail to see what is right and wrong. Therefore, let us go to Dhritarastra and inquire about our duty.

This determination which has appeared in my mind, Ashvatthama replied, is the only thing capable of dispelling my grief. The Supreme Lord has awarded duties to every living being. To the brahmanas he has given study of the Vedas, and to kings he has given protection of the citizens. To the vaishya he has given cow protection, and to the shudra he has given service. I have been born in a high caste brahmana family, but to my misfortune I have taken up the duties of a warrior. Such being the case, I cannot make a decision according to the duties of a brahmana. I have my bow and arrows, and the duty of a warrior is to fight. If I do not avenge the death of my father and the King, then I will not be able to show my face in the midst of men. Therefore, in the dead of night, I will enter the Pandava camp and slay all the warriors who are left in that army. I shall attack their camp, exerting my full prowess. After butchering the Pandavas and the Panchalas, I will obtain peace of mind. I shall repay the debt I owe my father, the King, Bhishma, and Karna. After I accomplish these goals, I will be able to rest in peace.

Wait here till morning, Kripa advised, then myself and Kritavarman will assist you in your fight with the Pandavas. Angry as you are, surely the Pandavas and the Panchalas will not be able to withstand you. You are a master of celestial weapons, and so am I. Therefore, after we have rested here for some time, we will proceed against the Pandavas and defeat them in battle.

Hearing this advice, which was according to the kshatriya code, the son of Drona became angry. He said, My heart is burning, and I cannot sleep. The way in which my father was slain weighs heavily on my mind. I cannot live another moment without slaying that sinful Dhristadyumna. Who, with proper understanding of what is right and wrong, would not take action against these unscrupulous people. O uncle, I am unable to restrain the rising anger in my heart. The only way I can have peace of mind is to kill these warriors while they are sleeping.

A person whose passions are uncontrolled, Kripa said, lacks intellingence and discrimination, and cannot understand the intricacies of morality. This is my opinion. Well wishers always try to restrain their subordinates from committing sin. He who listens to such well wishers can have peace of mind, and he who does not listen reaps only misery in his life. Follow my instructions, and you will obtain happiness. If you do not, you will have to repent later. According to holy books, the slaughter of persons who are sleeping is never sanctioned. The crooked-minded man, who would commit such an act, would have to suffer eternally in hell. So far in battle you have not committed any sinful acts. It would be intelligent not to start now. Therefore, when the sun rises in the morning, we will challenge the Pandavas and conquer them according to the code of brave warriors.

Without doubt, Ashvatthama replied, it is as you say. However, the Pandavas have broken all bridges of proper conduct, because within the sight of all Kings, Dhristadyumna killed my father unfairly. Karna was killed while trying to pull his chariot from the earth. Bhishma was unfairly slain after he had laid aside his weapons. Bhurishravas was also slain by Satyaki by unfair means. Finally, the King has been killed by Bhima with a mace aimed at the thighs. All these atrocities burn my heart. Why don't you seek to chastise they who have committed these sinful activities? After slaying the Pandavas and the Panchalas in their sleep, I don't care whether I become a worm or an winged insect in my next life. There is no man who will succeed in preventing me from obtaining my goal.

After expressing his determination, Drona's son yoked his horses to the chariot and proceeded toward the Pandava camp. Kripa and Kritavarman followed him, desiring to restrain him from the sinful act. They soon arrived near the gate of the Pandava camp. Suddenly, a gigantic being appeared before Ashvatthama, making the hair on their bodies stand on end. He was as effulgent as the moon and the sun, and he was guarding the entrance. Around his waist was a tiger skin dripping with blood, and he wore a black deer skin for his upper garment. He wore a sacred thread in the form of a huge snake, and his arms were long and massive. He had many different kinds of weapons and fire seemed to blaze from his mouth. There was thousands of eyes adorning his face. He was indescribable by words. Beholding that superhuman being, Ashvatthama was fearful and covered it with his celestial weapons. However, that being devoured those weapons. Ashvatthama then hurled a golden dart that blazed like fire. The dart, however, broke into fragments upon hitting the chest of the monster. The son of Drona then drew his sword and flung in at the strange being, but the sword disappeared into his body. Ashvatthama then threw his mace, but it was devoured by the mouth of that superhuman being. Ashvatthama used all of his weapons, and when they were exhausted, he remembered the words of Kripacharya warning him to take advice from his well wishers. Having no other savior from death, and seeing the Rakshasa of mighty proportions coming toward him, he stepped down from his chariot and fell to the ground offering prayers to Lord Shiva.

While offering prayers to his worshipable deity, a golden sacrificial altar appeared and on it was a burning fire. Many mighty beings suddenly appeared. They had the faces of animals, and they were carrying huge weapons. It was all very wonderful. Understanding that he was to offer himself in sacrifice, Ashvatthama folded his hands, and deeply thinking of Lord Shiva, he proceeded toward the fire. Suddenly, Lord Shiva appeared in person and spoke to Ashvatthama, Because I am the servant of the lotus eyed Krishna, and because there is no one more dear to me than Him, I have protected the Pandava camp. For His satisfaction, I have displayed various illusions to insure their safety. However, according to the influence of time, their life span has run out. I will now give you protection, and the power to kill all those who dwell in this camp. He then gave the Drona's son a fine sword and entered his body to enliven him with invincible energy.

When Ashvatthama was thus empowered, he shone effulgent as the sun. He posted Kripa and Kritavarman at the gates of the camp and ordered them to kill anyone who tried to escape. He then entered the camp and headed for Dhristadyumna's tent. The Panchalas were asleep and felt confident of their victory. Ashvatthama entered the tent of Drupada's son, and saw him laying on a bed covered with silken sheets. Red hot with fury remembering the death of his father, Ashvatthama kicked Dhristadyumna in the side. The son of Drupada awoke and saw Ashvatthama standing next to him. As he rose from bed, the son of Drona seized him by the hair and threw him down to the ground. By the influence of destiny, the prince was not able to defend himself. He was tired from the day's events and was still half conscious. Ashvatthama mercilessly kicked him again and again in all parts of his body. Dhristadyumna tore at him with his nails and endeavored to get up, but it was no use.

He then pleaded with Ashvatthama, O son of Drona, kill me with a weapon so that I may attain to the regions set aside for brave heroes!

Hearing Dhristadyumna's appeal, Ashvatthama replied, O most fallen of your race, there is no region for those that kill their preceptors. For this sinful act, I will not kill you with any weapon. Ashvatthama then repeatedly kicked him with his heels until his life force left his body.

While Ashvatthama was repeatedly kicking the dead body of Dhristadyumna, the wives and servants of the prince awoke and cried in horror. Ashvatthama ran out of the tent and entered the tents of the other Panchala warriors. He saw Uttamaujas sleeping on his bed. Ashvatthama threw him to the ground and stomped on his throat and chest until he was dead. Yudhamanyu awoke from sleep, and believing that his friend had been slain by a Rakshasa, rushed at the son of Drona with a mace. He repeatedly struck Ashvatthama, but Drona's son seized him and killed him with his sword.

While this fighting was going on, all the warriors awoke from sleep and attacked Ashvatthama. All their attempts were futile, because, being empowered by Lord Shiva, Ashvatthama could not be harmed. With his death dealing sword, Ashvatthama killed all who came before him. The sons of Draupadi came out of their tents and began to pierce Drona's son with their mighty weapons. Warding off their arrows with his shield, the mighty Ashvatthama struck Yudhisthira's son, Prativindhya, in the abdomen, at which the latter fell down dead. The son of Bhima, Sutasoma, pierced Ashvatthama with a lance, and then ran at him with a sword. The wicked Ashvatthama cut off Sutasoma's arm and then struck him in the side depriving him of life. The valiant Satanika, the son of Nakula, took up a chariot wheel and struck Drona's son. Not minding the force of the weapon, the preceptor's son cut of the head of that great warrior. The son of Sahadeva, Srutakarman, then attacked Ashvatthama with a spiked bludgeon. However, Ashvatthama struck him in the face with his sword, and that heroic prince fell down dead. Srutakirti, the son of Arjuna, then showered arrows upon the sinful son of Drona. Countering those arrows with his sword, Ashvatthama cut off the head of Arjuna's son.

Shikhandi, the son of Drupada and the slayer of Bhishma, then struck Ashvatthama in the forehead with a golden shafted arrow. Filled with anger, Drona's son severed his body in two. There were thousands upon thousands of warriors left in that camp, and they all awoke in a state of confusion. As they came out of their tents, they were slaughtered by Ashvatthama. The son of Drona set the camp on fire in three places causing greater confusion. The elephants bolted in fear and began trampling servants, soldiers and tents in their attempt to escape from the camp. Some warriors who were bewildered, slew each other in the confusion. Ashvatthama then ascended his chariot and began to slaughter all who approached him. He severed the heads, arms, and legs of the Panchalas, the Somakas, and the Shrinjayas. Anyone who attempted to escape were killed by Kripacharya and Kritavarman, who had now developed the same mentality of Ashvatthama. Stationed at the gates of the camp, they killed all who endeavored to leave. By the time the morning had arrived, the Pandava camp was again quiet. The remnant of the Pandava army had now been slain. Thousands upon thousands of men, servants, elephants, and horses lay in pools of blood, silenced by the weapons of the merciless son of Drona. The Rakshasas had already appeared in the camp attracted by the stench of blood and flesh. They devoured human bodies one after another in great happiness.

After the slaughter of the Pandava army, Ashvatthama desired to inform Duryodhana of the good news. He severed the heads of the Pandava's sons and took them as a prize to his master. Kripa and Kritavarman greeted him at the gate, and together they went to see the dying Duryodhana. By this time Duryodhana was on the point of death. With great effort, they revived him, and Ashvatthama, wanting to please him before his death, told Duryodhana that he had beheaded the Pandavas and brought their heads as a gift. When Duryodhana felt the heads, he could understand that they were the Pandava's sons and not the Pandavas. He lamented the sinful action and was not pleased in the least for the Kuru dynasty, now, had no heir. He then gave up his life and ascended to the higher regions.

Thus Ends the First Chapter of the Sauptika Parva, Entitled, Ashvatthama Destroys the Pandava Army.

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