The Skanda Purana

by G. V. Tagare | 1950 | 2,545,880 words

This page describes The Glory of Kotitirtha: Ashvatthama’s Liberation which is chapter 31 of the English translation of the Skanda Purana, the largest of the eighteen Mahapuranas, preserving the ancient Indian society and Hindu traditions in an encyclopedic format, detailling on topics such as dharma (virtous lifestyle), cosmogony (creation of the universe), mythology (itihasa), genealogy (vamsha) etc. This is the thirty-first chapter of the Setu-mahatmya of the Brahma-khanda of the Skanda Purana.

Chapter 31 - The Glory of Koṭitīrtha: Aśvatthāmā’s Liberation

[Sanskrit text for this chapter is available]

Note: The chapter is based mainly on Mbh, Śalya, Ch, 65 and Sauptika, Chs. I to 9.

The sages said:

1-3. How (and when) did Aśvatthāmā kill sleeping persons, O Sūta? How was he liberated from that sin by taking the holy plunge in Dhanuṣkoṭi? O most excellent one among persons conversant with the Purāṇas, describe this to us who have faith. By taking in your nectar-like words, we are not satiated.

On being asked thus by the residents of Naimiṣa forest, Sūta joyously bowed down to Vyāsa, his preceptor, and began to narrate.

Śrī Sūta said:

4-9a. Formerly, O Brāhmaṇas, a quarrel arose between Pāṇḍavas and the sons of Dhṛtarāṣṭra for the sake of kingdom. It turned into a great war involving big Akṣauhiṇīs (i.e. great divisions of soldiers).

After fighting for ten days, Bhīṣma, the son of Śantanu, was struck down. Droṇa was killed after he had fought for five days; Karṇa was killed after two days’ fight. Śalya met with his death after a day’s fight. On the eighteenth day of that battle, O Brāhmaṇas, Duryodhana’s thighs were broken with the club by Bhīma and that excellent king fell down.

All the kings were in a hurry to go back to their resting camps, O Brāhmaṇas. Those kings who survived proceeded ahead with delighted minds. Dhṛṣṭadyumna, Śikhaṇḍin and others, and Sṛñjayas—all of them and the other kings too went to their tents.

9b-12. Then the great warriors, the sons of Kuntī, entered the lonely deserted camp of Duryodhana accompanied by Kṛṣṇa and Sātyaki, O Brāhmaṇas. In the tent of the Kuru king, the sons of Kuntī were saluted (and adored) by the elderly ministers, the eunuchs and the guards of the womenfolk. They were humble. They kept their palms joined in reverence. Their garments were ochre-coloured, and dirty. The exceedingly powerful Pāṇḍavas seized all the material wealth therein. They stayed happily in the camp of Suyodhana.

13-14. Then Śrīkṛṣṇa pleasingly spoke to the sons of Kuntī, “For the sake of auspiciousness and welfare, we must stay outside the camp.”

On being told thus by Vāsudeva, Pāṇḍavas said, “So it shall be.” Accompanied by Kṛṣṇa and Sātyaki, they went out of the tent.

15-19. For the sake of safety, the excellent men, the sons of Pāṇḍu accompanied by Vāsudeva, came to the banks of the river Oghavatī. Having thus killed all the hordes of their enemies, they stayed there for that night with great pleasure.

Kṛpa, Kṛtavarmā and the son of Droṇa approached Duryodhana in the afternoon (long) before sunset. The three of them with the son of Droṇa as the head saw Suyodhana soiled with the dust of the battlefield, with the thighs shattered by the dreadful club of Bhīmasena. All his limbs were drenched in blood and he was rolling on the ground. They bewailed him. On seeing them in the battlefield (thus), King Duryodhana too bewailed.

20-21. On seeing the king with eyes full of tears, Aśvatthāmā blazed with fury like a big fire. He rubbed his palms forcibly (to express his wrath), his eyes gaping wildly with fury. With his words choked with tears, he spoke to Duryodhana:

22-24. “In the battlefield, my father was struck down fraudulently by those wretched, insignificant ones. But I do not grieve for that as for the fact that you too have been struck down. Listen to my words now, O king, as I plainly tell you the truth. O Suyodhana of great intellect, I make this vow on my good merit that this night I will kill the Pāṇḍavas along with Sṛñjayas even as Vāsudeva is watching them. Do grant me your permission.”[1]

25. On hearing his words, the king spoke to the son of Droṇa: “Let it be so.” Then, O excellent Brāhmaṇas, the king spoke to Kṛpa:

26. “O preceptor, install this son of Droṇa as the Commander-in-chief by sprinkling (on his head) the water from this pitcher.” He did so.

27. The son of Droṇa, who was thus crowned, embraced the excellent king. Accompanied by Kṛtavarman and Kṛpa, he set off hurriedly.

28. Then those three warriors went towards the South. Before sunset they reached the vicinity of the tent (Pāṇḍava camp).

29. On hearing the dreadful words of the sons of Kuntī, the three of them including the son of Droṇa desired for victory, but when they were chased by Pāṇḍavas they became frightened.

30-35. With great fear they fled towards the East for some distance. They became exhausted. They then went further for a Muhūrta (a short period). They were overwhelmed by anger and fury. Distressed by the death of Duryodhana, they halted there for a while.

Then they saw a forest full of trees and creepers of various kinds. It was infested by many beasts and cruel birds of prey. It was rendered beautiful by lakes with plenty of water. There were hundreds of lakes and tanks with red, blue and white lotuses. They drank water from the lakes and made the horses too drink water. Then they saw a big fig tree with many branches. After coming near that big fig tree, those three (warriors) got down from their chariots. They untied the horses and performed the evening Sandhyā rites after ceremoniously sipping the water there.

36. Then the sun became pale and set. Soon a dreadful night with pitch darkness set in.

37. The nocturnal animals and birds began to move about here and there. The diurnal beings began to sleep.

38. At that hour of dusk, Kṛpa, Kṛtavarmā and the son of Droṇa sat near (beneath) the fig tree. They were extremely grief-stricken.

39. (It was a pity) that they who were accustomed to luxury and who never deserved misery had to sit on bare ground. Kṛpa and Bhoja (i.e. Kṛtavarmā) of great valour fell asleep.

40. The son of Droṇa could not sleep as his mind was vitiated by anger, O leading Brāhmaṇas. He heaved deep sighs like a hissing serpent.

41. He surveyed that frightful forest all round. He saw that there were many crows on that fig tree.

42. It was there that many flocks of crows rested in their nests at night. They slept soundly on separate branches.

43-44. When all the crows were asleep in full confidence, the son of Droṇa saw a dreadful Bhāsa (a bird of prey) coming there. Its sound was harsh. Its body indicated that it was ruthless. Its body was grey and smoke-coloured. Making a loud sound the Bhāsa rushed on to the tree.

45. Jumping over the branch of the fig tree that bird, a habitual slayer of crows, killed many crows that were asleep.

46-48. That bird clipped the wings of some crows. With his own feet as weapon, he tore off the heads and feet of other crows. That powerful Ulūka (owl) cut and tore off the crows in this manner instantaneously. The space all round the fig tree was covered up with many broken limbs and bodies of the crows. After killing those crows that owl became extremely joyous.

49-53. On seeing this deed done at night thus by the Bhāsa, the son of Droṇa thought thus: ‘I too shall slay my enemies thus at night. I am single-handed. The sons of Kuntī cannot be defeated by me if I were to fight in a straightforward manner. They are proud of their victory. They must be killed by me fraudulently. Their slaughter has been vowed by me in the presence of Suyodhana. In a direct fight my life will be in danger. I will die. If I fight fraudulently I will gain victory and the enemies will perish. The act that is considered despicable by all the people, must necessarily be done by one who follows the Kṣatriya code of conduct.

54-57. In regard to Suyodhana, deceptive activity was practised by the sons of Kuntī too. In this matter there are the following verses cited by persons conversant with ancient anecdotes. “There is no doubt about this that one must strike when the army of the enemy is tired, frightened or engaged in taking food. It must be attacked at the time of marching out or entering the camp. All the armies must be assailed by the enemies when they are overcome with sleep at midnight, when they have set aside their weapons or when there is a split among the soldiers.”[2]

After having taken this decision about the murder of sleeping warriors, that daring one, the son of Droṇa, wakened Bhoja and Kṛpa who were asleep on that night. After pondering for a short while, the son of Droṇa spoke to them thus:

Aśvatthāmā said:

58-60. King Suyodhana of great valour is dead. He, of good behaviour, has been killed by Pāṇḍavas of mean activities. The head of the king was kicked with his foot by the wicked Bhīma.

So, this night we will go over to the tent of the sons of Kuntī. With different kinds of weapons we shall kill them, when they are sound asleep.[3]

On hearing these words, O excellent Brāhmaṇas, Kṛpa said to him:

Kṛpa said:[4]

61-63. The massacre of sleeping persons is not a righteous act in the world. It is not approved. So also in the case of persons who have abandoned their weapons, chariots and horses. O dear one, listen to my words. Let this foolhardy activity be given up by you. We shall ask Dhṛtarāṣṭra and Gāndhārī, the chaste lady, as well as Vidura. We shall do what they ask us to do.

On being told thus, the son of Droṇa spoke to Kṛpa once again: Aśvatthāmā said:

64-69. O my uncle, my father has been killed earlier in the battle fraudulently by Pāṇḍavas. This fact pricks and pierces all my vital parts.

How can I (quietly) hear the (boastful) words of Dhṛṣṭadyumna in the presence of all the people: “I am the slayer of Droṇa?” The bounds of morality were broken by Pāṇḍavas first. In front of you all and all the kings my father who had cast off his weapons, was struck down by Dhṛṣṭadyumna. Similarly, Bhīṣma, the son of Śantanu, who had cast off his bow and had no other weapon was killed by Arjuna by keeping Śikhaṇḍin in front of him. Thus other kings too were killed by them fraudulently. In the same manner, I will carry out the murder of sleeping Pāṇḍavas at night.

70. After saying this, the son of Droṇa got into the chariot to which horses were yoked. Blazing with fury he went forward in the direction of his enemies.

71-76. As he went ahead, Kṛpa and Kṛtavarmā, both of them followed him. All of them went to their tent wherein all the people had gone to sleep.

After reaching the entrance of the tent the son of Droṇa stopped. At night he propitiated Mahādeva, the storehouse of mercy. From Mahādeva, the bestower of boons, he acquired a (bright) sword without impurities.[5] Then the son of Droṇa, the great warrior, asked Kṛpa and Kṛtavarmā to stand at the entrance and then he went within the tent. After the son of Droṇa had entered the tent, Kṛpa and Kṛtavarmā, the great archers, both of them stood alert at the entrance.

Then the extremely infuriated son of Droṇa seemed to blaze with his refulgence. Keeping the sword Vimala (‘free from impurities’) drawn, he wandered about in the tent at night. Then he slowly went to the tent of Dhṛṣṭadyumna.[6]

77. There Dhṛṣṭadyumna and others who had become weary and worn out were sound asleep with full confidence. They were surrounded by their respective soldiers.

78. After entering the tent of Dhṛṣṭadyumna, the son of Droṇa, conversant with missiles, looked closely at that exceedingly powerful (warrior) who was asleep on a splendid bed (with white bedsheet).

79-83. As he was sleeping the son of Droṇa kicked him furiously with his foot. On being kicked with his foot he woke up and got up from his bed. Thereupon, the hero saw the son of Droṇa standing in front of him. When he tried to get-up, the powerful son of Droṇācārya pulled him and dragged him by his hair Then he hit him with both the hands and struck him down on the ground. On being thrashed and smashed by him, Dhṛṣṭadyumna became frightened. As he was blind with sleep and agonized by the kick, he could not move at aH. The son of Droṇa trampled on his chest and fastened his neck by means of the bowstring. As he shouted and writhed with pain, he (Aśvatthāmā) killed him as though he was a beast. Similarly he killed all his soldiers.

84-88. He killed Yuḍhāmanyu, the exceedingly powerful Uttamaujas, the sons of Draupadī, the remaining warriors of Somakas, etc. With his sword he killed many others, the chief of whom was Śikhaṇḍin. Kṛtavarmā and Kṛpa killed all those soldiers who attempted to escape through the doorway because they were afraid of him (Aśvatthāmā). As the army was thus annihilated by those exceedingly powerful warriors, the tent became empty in an instant as the three worlds become a void at the time of the great deluge.

After killing everyone thus, the three (warriors) including the son of Droṇa came out of that tent. They were afraid of the sons of Kuntī. Because of their great dread, all of them swiftly fled to different places.

89-91. Then the son of Droṇa went to the charming banks of Revā, O Brāhmaṇas. Many thousands of sages, the expounders of the Vedas discussed many meritorious topics and performed excellent penance. The son of Droṇa went to the hermitages of those sages. The sages, the expounders of Brahman, knew the evil deeds of the son of Droṇa by the power of their Yoga. As soon as he entered (the hermitages) they spoke to him:

92-95. “O son of Droṇa, you are the basest of Brāhmaṇas. You are the sinner who killed sleeping warriors. Even by looking at you, we will become certainly fallen ones. Merely by talking to you we will incur ten thousand sins of Brāhmaṇa-slaughter. Hence, O vilest of men, get away from our hermitages.”

The sages who were there said thus to the son of Droṇa, O Brāhmaṇas. On being told thus by the sages, the expounders of Brahman, the son of Droṇa became ashamed. He went away from that hermitage inhabited by the sages. In the same manner he went to the Tīrthas of great merit such as Kāśī, etc.

96. Everywhere he was censured by all the Brāhmaṇas of noble souls. With a desire to perform expiatory rites he sought refuge in Vyāsa.

97. He approached the great sage Dvaipāyana who was staying in Badarikā forest[7] and bowed down to him with great devotion.

98-99. Then Sage Vyāsa spoke thus to the son of Droṇācārya: “O son of Droṇa, get away at once from this hermitage. You have incurred great sin because of your evil deed of slaughtering sleeping warriors. Hence, if I were to converse with you I will incur great sin.”

On being told thus, the son of Droṇa spoke these words to the sage:

Aśvatthāmā said:

100-102. O holy lord, I have been censured by all. Hence I seek asylum in you. If you also say thus who else shall be my refuge? O Brāhmaṇa, be merciful to me. Good people are compassionate to the wretched ones. O holy lord, lay down some means of expiation for me, to quell down the sin of slaughtering sleeping (warriors) since you are omniscient.

On being addressed thus by the son of Droṇa, Vyāsa meditated for a long time and spoke to him:

Vyāsa said:

103-107. No expiatory rite for the suppression of this sin has been laid down in the Smṛtis. Still I shall tell you the means of subduing this sin of yours. In the southern sea, on the meritorious Setu of Rāma, that bestows salvation, there is a great Tīrtha well-known as Dhanuṣkoṭi. It is highly meritorious, O son of Droṇa. It is destructive of great sins. It bestows heavenly pleasures and salvation to men. It purifies the sins of Brahmahatyā, etc. It is the most auspicious of all auspicious things. It bestows everything desired. It is the holiest of all holy things. It is the most excellent of all the Tīrthas. It dispels (the bad effects of) evil dreams. It is meritorious. It destroys the distress of Naraka.

108-112. It suppresses premature death. It increases the success of men. It removes poverty. It is the cause of increase in the life span of men. It bestows mental purity on men. It is the cause of the subjugation of the mind, sense-organs, etc.

Go to Dhanuṣkoṭi on the Setu of Rāma that bestows salvation, O son of Droṇa. Take your holy baths there continuously for a month. You will become purified immediately from the sin of slaughtering the sleeping (warriors). O son of Droṇa, carry out my suggestion quickly.

On being told thus by the great Sage Vyāsa, the son of Droṇa went to Rāmasetu and Dhanuṣkoṭi, the sanctifier. With the requisite rite of Saṃkalpa he took his bath continuously for a month.

113-114. He served (worshipped) Rāmanātha everyday during the three junctions (morning, noon and dusk). On the thirtieth day after taking the bath in the waters the son of Droṇa performed the Japa of the five-syllabled Mantra (śivāya namaḥ) at Dhanuṣkoṭi. On that day the son of Droṇa observed fast too.

115-116. In the night he remained awake in the presence of Rāmanātha. On the next day, he took his holy bath in Dhanuṣkoṭi along with the requisite Saṃkalpa rite. He served Rāmanātha after eulogizing him with great devotion. He danced in front of Śaṃbhu with tears of joy flooding (his eyes).

117. Then the delighted Lord appeared in front of him. On seeing Mahādeva Parameśvara he eulogized him:

The son of Droṇa said:

118-122. Obeisance to you, O lord of the chiefs of Devas. O merciful one! O Śaṅkara! O lord, your lotus-like feet are the raft for those who are sinking in the ocean of adversity.

O Mahādeva, O personification of compassion, O Dhūrjaṭi, O Nīlalohita, O Lord of Umā, O uneven (three)-eyed one, O moon-crested Lord, bow unto you.

O conqueror of Death, O three-eyed one, kindly protect me with your benign glance. Obeisance to you, to the Lord of Pārvatī. Hail to Śaṃbhu, the destroyer of the three Puras. Obeisance, obeisance to you, to the three-eyed one armed with the Pināka bow. O lord adorned with necklaces and other ornaments consisting of Ananta and other great serpents, O trident-bearing lord, obeisance to you. O Gaṅgādhara, O Mṛḍa, O immutable one, O lord, protect me compassionately from the cage of sins.

On being eulogized thus, the delighted Mahādeva said to the son of Droṇa:

Mahadeva said:

123-125. O Aśvatthāmā, the sin of slaughtering sleeping warriors committed by you has perished, because you have taken the holy plunge in Dhanuṣkoṭi. Choose your boon, O good performer of holy rites. When I am delighted, what is not accessible to men in all the worlds? Hence, choose what you desire from me now, O son of Droṇa.

On being told thus by Śaṃbhu the son of Droṇa spoke to Parameśvara:

126-128. “O Maheśvara, on seeing you I have become blessed and contented. To those devoid of merit your vision is unobtainable even in the course of a crore of births. Hence let my devotion to the lotus-like feet of yours be steady. O Śaṃbhu, grant me only this boon. Obeisance to you.”

After saying “So be it” to the son of Droṇa, Maheśvara, the lord of Devas, vanished there itself even as the son of Droṇa was watching.

129-132. Aśvatthāmā too, O leading Brāhmaṇas, became rid of all his sins merely by taking his holy bath in Rāmacandra Dhanuṣkoṭi instantaneously. He was devoid of impurities. Ever since then all the great sages accepted the son of Droṇa, because he was pure, devoid of impurities and rid of all sins.

Thus, O Brāhmaṇas, how the son of Droṇa got rid of his sins, has been recounted to you. It was solely due to the glory of the holy bath in Rāmacandra Dhanuṣkoṭi.

He who reads this chapter or listens to it with mental purity and concentration, gets rid of all his sins here. He is honoured in the world of Śiva.

Footnotes and references:


Cf. Mbh, Śalya 65.34-37.


Cf Mbh, Sauptika 1.45-56.


Vide Mbh, Sauptika, Ch. 3.


VV 61-69 summarize Mbh, Sauptika, Chs. 4 and 5 up to v 37.


Cf Mbh, Sauptika 7.66.


VV 76-88 summarize Mbh, Sauptika 8.17-132.


Vyāsa Āśrama is at Manal, a village near Badrinath in Garhwal in the Himalayas. (De 42).

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