Puranic encyclopaedia

by Vettam Mani | 1975 | 609,556 words | ISBN-10: 0842608222

This page describes the Story of Ashvatthama included the Puranic encyclopaedia by Vettam Mani that was translated into English in 1975. The Puranas have for centuries profoundly influenced Indian life and Culture and are defined by their characteristic features (panca-lakshana, literally, ‘the five characteristics of a Purana’).

Story of Aśvatthāmā

Birth and genealogy.

The semen of Bharadvāja Ṛṣi fell into the hollow of a bamboo and from there was born Droṇa. As per the instructions of his father Droṇa married Kṛpī, daughter of the sage, Śāradvata. The good-natured Kṛpī gave birth to Aśvatthāmā. (See under Droṇa for genealogy). (Chapter 130, Ādi Parva, Mahābhārata)

How he got his name.

The moment he was born he made a loud hoot like Uccaiśravas and the sound resembled the braying of a horse. Immediately a voice from heaven said that the boy should be named Aśvatthāmā. The boy was, therefore, named so. (Ślokas 48 and 49, Chapter 130, Mahābhārata).

Training in archery.

Aśvatthāmā took his lesson in archery from his father Droṇa. At that time Droṇa got new lessons from Paraśurāma and they were also imparted to Droṇa’s disciples. When Droṇa became the preceptor of the Kauravas and Pāṇḍavas Aśvatthāmā also went with him. (Ślokas 52 to 64, Chapter 130, Ādi Parva, Mahābhārata).

Droṇa’s affection for his son.

Droṇa was very affectionate to his son and wanted to teach him something special in archery. So he used to instruct him during the time the other disciples went to fetch water for the āśrama. Arjuna came to know of this and he, thereafter, started bringing his quota of water quickly enough to join the special class of Droṇa. Thus Arjuna and Aśvatthāmā learned a lot more than the others in the military art. (Ślokas 17-19, Chapter 132, Ādi Parva, Mahābhārata).

The Mahābhārata Battle and Aśvatthāmā.

In Sabhā Parva we find Aśvatthāmā participating in the Rājasūya of Yudhiṣṭhira. After that we meet him only at the Kurukṣetra war. Fighting on the side of the Kauravas he played a very important role in that war. He killed many veteran warriors and kings including the following: Nīla, Añjanaparvā, Suratha, Śatruñjaya, Balānīka, Jayānīka, Jayāśva, Srutāśva, Hemamālī, Vṛṣadhara, Candrasena, the ten sons of Kuntibhoja, Sudarśana, Vṛddhakṣetra, Cedirāja, Malayadhvaja and Suratha. He defeated many including Śikhaṇḍī, Abhimanyu, Virāṭa, Sātyaki and Vindhya. By using Āgneyāstra (the arrow of fire) he made Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna fall fainting in the battle-field. He commanded the Kaurava army once. He killed many Pāñcālas and Somakas while they were sleeping. In Chapter 139 of Droṇa Parva we read about Arjuna defeating Aśvatthāmā in a single combat one day.

Aśvatthāmā sees a ghost.

Dhṛṣṭadyumna, son of King Pāñcāla, killed Droṇa. When Aśvatthāmā heard of his father’s death his rage knew no bound. He immediately went to the heart of the military camp of the Pāṇḍavas, Kṛpa and Sātvata following him. There at the gate of the camp he beheld a ghostly apparition. It is described in the Bhāṣā Bhārata (Malayālam version of Mahābhārata) as follows: He saw a huge figure standing at the door with a body blazing like the Sun and the Moon. Bathed in blood and wearing a tiger’s skin in the loins the figure wore a snake as his sacred thread and covered his upper body with a deer-skin. There were innumerable hands for this ghost and in each hand adorned with snake-bangles he held a deadly weapon. With crooked teeth and a ghastly face the goblin gave a shiver to those who saw him. Flames bursting forth from his eyes, ears, nose and mouth he barred the way of Aśvatthāmā. Undaunted the son of Droṇa showered divine arrows on the figure. But the ghost by his supreme powers absorbed the arrows to his body the moment they touched him. In despair Aśvatthāmā meditated on Śiva and the latter appearing before him in person gave him a divine dagger. With that he entered the bed-chamber of Dhṛṣṭadyumna, woke him up by striking him with his foot, caught hold of him by the hair on his head and killed him.

Aśvatthāmā and his jewel.

The anger of Aśyatthāmā did not abate even after killing Dhṛṣṭadyumna, the butcher of his father. With a view to destroying the whole Pāṇḍava dynasty he sent against the Pāṇḍavas the all-powerful Brahmaśirāstra (a missile charged with great power by a holy incantation). But Droṇa had given the same type of missile to Arjuna also and so he sent forth his to meet the other. It created such a great explosion that all the elders on both the sides joined together and requested them to withdraw the missiles. Arjuna demanded the jewel on Aśvatthāmā’s head to withdraw his missile. But Aśvatthāmā refused to part with it. He said, "This jewel of mine is more valuable than all the wealth of both Pāṇḍavas and Kauravas put together. If you wear this you need not be afraid of your enemies, disease, hunger and thirst. No harm will come to you from Yakṣas, Nāgas or thieves. I will never part with such a jewel". (Ślokas 28-30, Mahābhārata, Chapter 15, Sautika Parva). After great persuasion Aśvatthāmā surrendered his jewel but without withdrawing the missile directed it towards the womb of Uttarā who was bearing a child then. We are reminded of an incident which happened when the Pāṇḍavas were residing in Upaplāvya; a poor brahmin looking at Uttarā said, "When the Kauravas will be weakening in power a child will be born to you. The boy will have to bear a test even while in the womb and so you must name the child Parīkṣit (One who has been tested)".

When the powerful missile was flying straight towards Uttarā’s womb Śrī Kṛṣṇa said, "Even though the child in the womb will die of this arrow it will be reborn. Oh, Aśvatthāmā, you will be denounced by all as a sinner for killing this unborn babe. To suffer for this evil deed you will roam about in the earth for three thousand years. Nobody will associate with you; you will be shunned by society. You will be tormented by all diseases on earth. But the babe which you have now killed will be a famous scholar and brave King. He will rule this country for sixty years. He will be known as the next Kururāja. Look, I am giving life to the babe you have killed". Vyāsa supported Kṛṣṇa, and Aśvatthāmā repenting on his hasty action gave the jewel to the Pāṇḍavas and left for the forest with Vyāsa. (Sautika Parva, Mahābhārata).

Synonyms of Aśvatthāmā.

The Mahābhārata has used the following names also for Aśvatthāmā. Ācāryanandana, Ācāryaputra, Ācāryasuta, Ācāryatanaya, Ācāryasattama, Drauṇi, Drauṇāyani, Droṇaputra, Droṇasūnu, Guruputra, Gurusuta and Bhāratācāryaputra.

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