The Bhagavata Purana

by G. V. Tagare | 1950 | 780,972 words | ISBN-10: 8120838203 | ISBN-13: 9788120838208

This page describes Punishment of Ashvatthaman which is chapter 7 of the English translation of the Bhagavata Purana, one of the eighteen major puranas containing roughly 18,000 metrical verses. Topics include ancient Indian history, religion, philosophy, geography, mythology, etc. The text has been interpreted by various schools of philosophy. This is the seventh chapter of the First Skandha of the Bhagavatapurana.

Chapter 7 - Punishment of Āśvatthāman

[Sanskrit text for this chapter is available]

Śaunaka said:

1. Oh Sūta! After having listened to the suggestion of Nārada, what did the venerable and glorious Bādarāyaṇa do on Nārada’s departure?

Sūta said:

2. On the western bank of the Sarasvatī, the presiding deity of which is god Brahmā (Or which is resorted to by Brāhmaṇas) there is a hermitage called Śamyāprāsa which encourages (lit. extends) the sacrificial sessions of the sages.

3. Sitting in his own hermitage beautified by a cluster of jujube trees, Vyāsa, after ‘touching water’ (i.e. sipping it from the palm of his hand as is usually performed before any religious act or taking meals), concentrated his mind (as instructed by Nārada).

4. In his mind purified by devotion and thoroughly concentrated, he saw at first the Primeval Being and (his power called) Māyā (Illusion) depending on him.[1]

5. Though the individual soul is beyond the three attributes, he, being deluded by her (Māyā), regards himself as consisting of the three attributes and suffers calamities (e.g. birth, death, three types of misery etc.) caused by the notion.

6. Realizing that the path of devotion to Viṣṇu directly subsides the calamities (of saṃsāra mentioned above), the learned Vyāsa composed the sāttvata saṃhitā (the Bhāgavata Purāṇa) for ignorant people.

7. Verily, by listening to this (the Bhāgavata Purāṇa) devotion unto Krṣṇa, the Supreme Man, is developed. It (devotion) dispells all grief, infatuation and fears (of man).

8. Having composed and arranged the Bhāgavata Saṃhitā, the sage taught it to his son Śuka who was firmly fixed in renunciation.

Śaunaka said:

9. The sage (Śuka) is (known) to be devoid of attachment to the world and is unconcerned everywhere (to every thing). For what purpose did he who was delighted in his Higher Self, learn this big tome?

Sūta said:

10. Hari is of such (excellent) attributes that sages who are delighted in the Soul and even those whose knots of worldly bonds are severed, perform motiveless devotion to Viṣṇu(lit. the god with wide strides).

11. The venerable son of Bādarāyaṇa (Śuka) whose mind was fascinated with the (excellent) qualities of Hari and who liked the devotees of Viṣṇu (Or who was loved by the devotees of Viṣṇu) studied this great legendary narrative (the Bhāgavata Purāṇa).

12. I shall, henceforth, narrate to you the birth, deeds and death (or liberation) of king Parīkṣit and the great journey (to heaven) of the Pāṇḍavas in such a way as will bear upon the stories of Kṛṣṇa.

13.[2] When, in the battle of Kauravas and Sṛñjayas, the warriors had gone the way of heroes (i.e. died on the battlefield) and the son of Dhṛtarāṣṭra (Duryodhana) had his thighbone broken by the stroke of the mace hit by Bhīma.

14. The son of Droṇa (Aśvatthāman) thinking that it would be liked by the master (Duryodhana) cut off and presented (to him) the heads of the sons of Draupadī (while they were asleep)—an act disagreeable to Duryodhana[3] and for which people censured him.

15. Then (Draupadī), the mother of the children, having heard of the death of her sons became terribly tormented and wept bitterly with her eyes flowing with tears. Arjuna consoling her said.

16. “Oh blessed lady! I shall have redressed your grief when I shall present to you the head of the wretched Brāhmaṇa murdered,[4] cut off by arrows discharged from my Gāṇḍīva bow, and when you, whose sons are killed, would set your foot on it (As vatthāman’s head) and take your bath.”

17. Having thus consoled his beloved (wife Draupadī) with various sweet soothing words, Arjuna whose friend and charioteer wai Kṛṣṇa, put on his armour, wielded a terrible bow and with monkey banner flying on his chariot rode in it, pursuing the son of his preceptor.

18. Seeing from a distance Arjuna pursuing him (Aśvatthāman), the murderer of (Draupadī’s) children, with a trembling heart, fled in his chariot to the best of his capacity on the earth to save his life, as the god Brahmā[5] (v.l. Arka the Sun-god) did through the fear of god Śiva.

19. When the son of Brāhmaṇa (Aśvai thāman) found that his horses were fatigued and he had become helpless, he thought that the use of the missile Brahma-Śiras[6] was his only protection.

20. Then, being in a peril of life, he sipped water from the palm of his hand concentrated his mind and let the missile go, even though he did not know how to withdraw it.

21. Then, seeing the terrific glare of light (of the fierce flame of the missile)manifested in all directions and endangering his life, Arjuna spoke to Kṛṣṇa.

Arjuna said:

22. Oh Kṛṣṇa! Oh highly fortunate one! The saviour of your devotees from fear! You are the reliever of persons who are being burnt in the fire of worldly life. You are the First, Primeval Man, the direct controller of the universe, higher than the Primordial Nature (Prakṛti). Having dispelled the Cosmic Illusion (Māyā) by your intellectual power (Cicchakti) you stay established in your own pure nature.[7]

24. You are the same as He (God, described above). By your power, you confer blessings such as Dharma and others (Wealth, Liberation etc.) on all beings whose minds arc deluded by Illusion (Māyā).

25. Moreover, this incarnation of yours is both for lessening the burden of the earth as well as for the convenience of constant meditation by your devotees who have set their hearts only on you.

26. Oh God of gods! I do not know the nature and the source of this very terrible fire which is encompassing us from all directions.

The Lord said:

27. Know that this is the Brahma missile (astra) detonated by the son of Droṇa (Aśvatthāman) under peril of life. He does not know the method of withdrawing it.

28. There is no other missile except this very astra, (missile) which can curb its power. You are conversant with missiles. By the force of rhe same (Brahma) missile, therefore, destroy the fierce fire of that astra.

Sūta said:

29. Hearing the words of the Lord, Arjuna, the vanquisher of valiant foes, touched water (i.e. sippedit as ācamana), circumambulated him (Kṛṣṇa) and discharged his Brahmāstra against (Aśvatthāman’s) Brahmāstra.

30. The flames emanating from Brahmāstra-charged arrows of both (Arjuna and Aśvatthāman) mingled with each other and surrounded by fiery arrows they covered the earth, heaven and the space-between and increased the conflagration like the fire and the Sun (at the end of the world.)

31. All beings who were scorched (by the Brahmāstras) and saw the terrific fire of (their missiles) burning the three worlds, felt that it was the fire of Pralaya (which burns down the world).

32. Seeing the distress of the people and the destruction of the world and noticing the view of Vāsudeya, Arjuna withdrew both the missiles.

33. Then Arjuna, with his eyes reddened with rage, swiftly overtook the terrible Aśvatthāman (lit. the son of Gautamī) and roped him forcibly like a (sacrificial) beast.

34. The Lotus-eyed Lord (Kṛṣṇa) spoke angrily to Arjuna who fastened the enemy with a rope and desired to take him per force to the camp.

35. Oh Pārtha, you should not spare this (fellow). Kill this wretched Brāhmaṇa who has murdered innocent children while they were asleep at night.

36. A person, knowing the restrictions of religion (Law) does not kill an enemy who is intoxicated, inattentive (or unguarded), haunted by a ghost (or insane), asleep, or a child or a woman; (nor does he kill) a dullard (lunatic), a suppliant for protection, (an enemy) with a broken chariot or (feeling) in a frightened condition.

37. He who supports his life by killing others is merciless and wicked. To mete out capital punishment to him is in his interest as he really goes to hell on account of that crime (if not expiated by judicial punishment).

38. It was in my presence (lit. while I was hearing) that you promised to Draupadī: ‘I shall bring to you the head of the man who killed your sons.’

39. Oh valiant one! Let, therefore, this sinful desperado, the murderer of your sons, be slain as he is a disgrace to his family and has acted against the interests of his master.

40. Though thus urged by Kṛṣṇa who tested his (Arjuna’s) sense of Dharma, the great son of Pṛthā (Arjuna) did not wish to kill his teacher’s son (even though he was) the slayer of his children.

41. Having returned to his camp, Arjuna, whose dear charioteer was Kṛṣṇa, presented him (Aśvatthāman) to his beloved who was weeping.

42. Seeing the evildoer, the preceptor’s son, produced before her, bound with a rope like a (sacrificial) beast with his head bent low due to his censurable act, the good-natured Draupadī bowed to him out of pity.

43. And the virtuous lady (Draupadī), not tolerating the act of bringing him thus bound (with cords) said, “Let him be released immediately, especially as this Brāhmaṇa is veritably the preceptor.

44. Through his favour Your honour has studied the Dhanurveda (the Military Science) along with its secret formulae (incantations or Mantras) and a number of missiles along with the technique of discharging and withdrawing them.

45. This (Aśvatthāman) is venerable Droṇa existing in the form of a son. Kṛpī who is Droṇa’s (better) half, is alive; she did not immolate herself after him as she was the mother of a warrior.

46. Therefore, Oh highly fortunate one who know religion, the family of the preceptor which deserves constant respect and worship, should not be subjected to misery by Your honour.

47. Let not his mother Gautamī who regards her husband as a god, weep just as I constantly do, with my face full of tears, due to grief at the death of my children.

48. The Brāhmaṇa race which is provoked by Kṣatriyas of uncontrolled tempers and is subjected to grief, burns down within a short time, that Kṣatriya family with its kith and kin.”

Sūta said:

49. Oh Brāhmaṇas, King Yudhiṣṭhira (son of Dharma) approved of the queen’s speech of great significance which was consistent with religion and justice and was remarkable for its compassion, sincerity and equitability.

50. Nakula, Sahadeva, Sātyaki, Arjuna, the venerable son of Devakī and other ladies present also expressed their approval (of her speech).

51. There (then) the enraged Bhīma spoke:

‘It is desirable (even from the point of Aśvatthāman) that he should be -killed as he killed the sleeping children in vain neither in the interest of his master nor his own.’

52. Hearing the words of Bhīma and Draupadī. the four- armed[8] Kṛṣṇa looked at the face of his friend (Arjuna) and spoke smilingly as follows:

Śrī Kṛṣṇa said:

53. “The (two) injunctions that a Brāhmaṇa even though fallen, should not be killed and that a wreckless ruffian deserves capital punishment, have been laid down by me. Carry out the twofold command.

54. Carry out what you have promised to your beloved (Draupadī) at the time of consoling her. Do what is agreeable to Bhīma, Pāñcālī and me as well.”

Sūta said:

55. Understanding at cnce the intention of Hari, Arjuna, with his sword, took away the jewel that was in the head of the Brāhmaṇa along with the locks of hair.

56. Releasing him (Aśvatthāman) from the rope (with which he was bound), Arjuna drove him (Aśvatthāman) out of the camp, as he had lost all his lustre due to the murder of children (committed by him) and the loss of the brilliant gem.

57. (For, disgraceful) shaving of the head, confiscation of property as well as expulsion from the place (of residence) is a (veritable) capital punishment to unworthy Brāhmaṇas; there is no other physical punishment prescribed for that caste.

58. All the Pāṇḍavas along with Draupadī, who were afflicted with grief for their sons, performed rites connected with the funeral of their relatives.

Footnotes and references:


Māyāṃ tadapāśrayām—The binding power called Māyā which involves individual Souls (jīvas) in worldly existence and transmigration (saṃsāra) but which is subservient to Hari-Padaratnāvalī


This introduces the story how Kṛṣṇa protected Parīkṣit (who was in his mother’s womb) from the Brahma-missile of Aśvatthāman.


Bhāgavata Candrikā thinks that the murder of the children of Draupadī was not liked by Dhṛtarāṣṭra. VC.’s statement that this killing was disagreeable to Duryodhana, has no basis in the MBh. According to the MBh. Sauptika Parvan 9.54, Duryodhana praises Aśvatthāman as follows: What you. Kṛpa and Bhoja achieved for me today, was not done by Bhīṣma, Karṇa or your father. That wretched Dhṛṣṭadyumna was killed along with Śikhaṇḍin. I, therefore, regard myself as equal to Indra today... Farewell. May you be blessed. We shall meet again in heaven.


ātatīyin—A person who commiti a heinous crime, e.g. a thief, a ravither, a murderer, incendiary, a felon etc.

Śukra Nīti enumerates them, as follows:

agni do garadaś caiva śastronmatto dhanāpahā /
kṣetra-dāra-haraś caitān ṣad vidyād ātatāyīnaḥ //


Bhāvāratha Dīpikā refers to the episode of god Brahmā’s flight when Rudra wanted to punish him for his lust after his daughter. Bhāvāratha Dīpikā notes another v.L Arka—the Sun-god—and states that this refers to the story in Vāmana Purāṇa. Vidyunmāli, a demon, got from Śiva, a heavenly car of gold in which he followed the Sun, dispelling the darkness in the part of the world when the Sun had set. The Sun, finding the ditappearance of night from the world, melted down the heavenly car of Vidyunmāli. At this, Śiva got enraged with the Sun and opened his third eye. The Sun, terrified at the terrible fire so released, ran for his life but was scorched by it and fell down at Vārāṇasī where he is known as ‘Lolārka’. Padaratnāvalī reads- ārki, the son of Arka, i.e. the Saturn and refers to the story in the Vāyu Purāṇa in which the Saturn had to flee for his life before the fire emanating from the thiṛd eye of Rudra.


Bhāvāratha Dīpikā regards Brahma-Śiras and Brahmāstra as the same. But as Bhāvārtha-dīpikā-prakāśa points out, they are different missiles. He quotes Skanda Purāṇa as his authority.


Some more interpretations:

(i) Bhāvāratha Dīpikā: ‘You are the direct controller (of the universe) as you are the Man beyond the Primordial Nature (Prakṛti). You are the First cause who having dispelled Illusion (Māyā) by your intellectual Power (Cicchakti) are established in the absolutely pure state of your Self.’

(ii) Bhāgavata Candrikā distinguishes between the individual Soul (Jīva) and God; the individual soul, due to his limited knowledge, wrongly attaches the attributes of the body to the Soul while God dispels them by His Power of Knowledge (Cicchakti), God being within all individual Souls, dispenses the fruit according to the actions of respective individual Souls and acts as their support.

Bhāgavata Candrikā interprets the text of this verse as follows: ‘You alone are the veritable Ruler (of the universe). You are the First (cause of the universe), Man (existing in all individuals and controlling them) untouched by the attributes of Prakṛti (Primordial nature). By your Power of knowledge you are untouched by Māyā. You lie established in your own absolute greatness.’

(iii) Padaratnāvalī: “You are the destroyer of sins (Puruṣaḥ [Puruṣa]), the First (= existing before everyone and everything); the controller incarnate, superior to Intelligent Primordial Nature (Prakṛti). By your Power of Knowledge, you, having removed the power of bondage (Māyā) stay established with Your Self which is absolute (=beyond the bonds of Prakṛti).


Bhāvāratha Dīpikā states that Kṛṣṇa manifested his four arms as he used two arms to prevent Bhīma from killing Aśvatthāman and two to ward off Draupadī who suddenly came in the way of Bhīma for warding him off from that act.

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