The five Pandavas were looking at Ashwattama with repulsion. The once handsome Ashwattama looked hideous. His features were distorted and ugly beyond comparison. The Pandavas could not believe that Ashwattama would be capable of such a thing….
Yudhishtar realized with tears in his eyes, how wrong he had been in thinking that the war was over….It was far from over….Yudhishtar thought back to the events of the previous day….
Duryodhana was dying and all the Kauravas were dead. The eldest Kaurava – Duryodhana was lying in the battlefield with no one to care for him…Atleast that is what the Pandavas thought….They had gone with Lord Krishna, leaving their people to take rest after the battle.
Unknown to all of them Ashwattama along with Kripacharya and Kritivarma had gone to see Duryodhana. Duryodhana was lying in great pain in the battlefield from the thigh wound that Bheema had given him. All of Duryodhana’s brothers, friends and relatives were dead. There was no one to come to help him….Duryodhana was all alone in his pain, just waiting to die, when Ashwatttama came to see him.
Ashwattama sat down beside Duryodhana and put Duryodhana’s head on his lap and said sadly. ‘My king…Is this what you have been reduced to…’ He said with tears in his eyes. ‘You were one of the greatest kings in the world…Now…Now look at you….’ He said.
Duryodhana spoke feebly, ‘What can I do Ashwattama? That wretched Krishna fought for the Pandavas…He single-handed took the war away from us….The Pandavas and Krishna together used every possible means….even wrong means to win….’
Ashwattama was very angry.
He conveniently forgot that the whole war was Duryodhana’s doing. Duryodhana had taken away the kingdom of the Pandavas…and humiliated them by exiling them to the forest…Duryodhana had refused to give the kingdom back when the Pandavas came after the period of exile….Duryodhana had repeatedly refused to the peace offers of the Pandavas…
Ashwattama stroked Duryodhana’s head. ‘We are still here, my king…Your army is not yet completely finished…I will finish the Pandavas for you….’ Through his pain Duryodhana gave a smile and said. ‘I….I will make you the general of this army…. Go and destroy the Pandavas…’ He said giving Ashwattama a ghost of a smile.
Ashwattama placed Duryodhana’s head back on the ground and with Kripacharya and Kritivarman walked away.
As Ashwattama walked, his head burned with anger. Ashwattama had never liked the Pandavas. His father Dronacharya loved Arjuna, the third Pandava best….His favourite pupil…Ashwattama snorted. It was because of the wretched Pandavas that he had always been loved second…His father was always talking on and on about ‘Arjuna this Arjuna that’….As far as his father Dronacharya was considered, the sun rose and set on Arjuna, the rest did not matter. And in the end did Dronacharya’s love for the Pandavas matter…They just killed him too….
‘Dronacharya was the Guru of Hastinapur. He had no choice but to fight for the Kauravas, who were the rulers of Hastinapur, during the war…Though Dronacharya loved the Pandavas, he had to fight for the Kauravas.
After Bheeshma had been wounded in battle, Dronacharya was made the general of the Kaurava army.
Duryodhana however never trusted Dronacharya. Duryodhana felt that Dronacharya was not fighting the war to the best of his capabilities…Dronacharya was purposely letting the Pandavas win because he loved them so much….
Duryodhana spoke with Dronacharya in their camp at night, ‘Are you trying to tell me, that the great Dronacharya, could not defeat the simple Pandavas…Shame on you….’ He said with a taunting voice. Dronacharya remarked in a tight-lipped fashion. ‘I will do my best in tomorrow’s battle…’
Duryodhana spoke angrily, ‘At least tomorrow, I hope you will fight on my side, instead of the side of the wretched Pandavas…’
Duryodhana’s remark hurt Dronacharya, but he did not say anything. He just nodded his head and retired for sleeping.
Then Dronacharya did the unthinkable….He went to the extent of trapping Abhimanyu [Arjuna’s son] in a maze as every single Kaurava attacked the young Abhimanyu and together killed him…
However, Ashwattama did not think of any of this. For him his father had done what needed to be done as the general of the Kauravas army.
Dronacharya was crushing the Pandava soldiers, over the next days. The Pandavas soldiers were completely stunned and did not know what to do….Dronacharya was using powerful weapons against simple soldiers….
Meanwhile in another part of the battle, Bheema, the Pandava was ploughing through the Kauravas army. He was routing them with his mace as he twirled it. It did not matter to Bheema, whether he was facing people or animals, he just crushed everything in his path.
Bheema while fighting fell an elephant. By some strange coincidence the name of the elephant was Ashwattama.
Bheema roared and ran straight to Dronacharya, ‘I have killed Ashwattama…I have killed Ashwattama…’ He danced with delight as he yelled at Dronacharya.
Dronacharya almost fumbled from his chariot when he heard the words. Sick and frightened he turned and looked around the battlefield and saw no sign of his son….Then slowly Drona pulled himself together…There was no way anyone could defeat him son….But still the doubt remained in his mind. What if…
He left Bheema and talked to his charioteer. ‘Take me to Yudhishtar…’ The charioteer raced through the field towards Yudhishtar. Yudhishtar was supposed to be the personification of Righteousness and never to have spoken a lie in his life…If anyone could tell the truth it was Yudhishtar….
Drona came close and asked him, ‘Yudhishtar, you are a follower of Dharma…You have never lied in your whole life…Tell me the truth now…’ Drona asked in desperation, ‘Did your brother just kill Ashwattama?’
Yudhishtar was in a dilemma. He was not supposed to lie…But he also knew that if he told a lie now…his teacher would be finished…He spoke slowly, ‘My brother has killed Ashwattama…’ Very slowly almost to himself he spoke quietly, ‘an elephant.’
At the same time, Lord Krishna who knew what was happening blew his conch so loudly that Drona was unable to hear Yudhistar’s last words….
That did it…Drona was heart broken…With his son gone…he had no desire to fight…He threw away all the weapons from his chariot and right in the middle of the battlefield started his meditation to give up his body to die….
It is said that Yudhishtar’s chariot was always a few centimeters above from the earth because he had never told a lie. However when he spoke these words to Drona, the chariot crashed on the earth and he became like any other normal mortal.’
Ashwattama was furiously thinking how Drishtadhyumna [Draupadi’s brother. Draupadi was the wife of the Pandavas] had killed his father when he was meditating on the field! The nerve of the Pandavas…And they were claiming to be righteous people….Ashwattama fumed.
As he was walking back from his visit to Duryodhana, he realized that he would use any methods necessary to finish the Pandavas, they were a menace…
As he was walking Ashwattama saw an owl sitting on the tree. The owl was being bothered by some crows. Ashwattama watched the crows and the owl idly.
Ashwattama slept under the tree as night came. He woke up to the sound of some birds screeching. Ashwattama woke up groggily as he saw something…The owl was attacking the crows at the night… This gave Ashwattama a very bad idea.
Ashwattama that night, while the Pandava army was sleeping, killed all the main Pandava warriors! To kill someone while they were unarmed was one of the most heinous crimes of war. Ashwattama killed every single warriors without any remorse.
The remaining warriors who tried to escape were killed by Kripacharya and Kritivarman who were standing at the gates to prevent anyone from escaping….
Ashwattama did not know that the Pandavas were away with Lord Krishna at that time. He found the five sons of the Pandavas and thinking that they were the Pandavas, killed all of the them.
Subsequently Ashwattama came to know that he had not killed the Pandavas but their sons – the Upapandavas. Ashwattama realizing that the Pandavas were still alive and would hunt him down, ran to the ashrama of Sage Veda Vyasa to hide there.
The five Pandavas along with Lord Krishna came the next morning and were dumbstruck to find their army dead….The Pandavas could not believe it….After they had thought everything was over…..disaster had struck…Draupadi was inconsolable as she watched her five sons lying dead on the field….
She fiercely sat on the battlefield and spoke with glaring eyes, ‘Ashwattama is responsible for this….That man has to die…Only and only when you show me the stone in his forehead, I will believe that you have avenged…you have avenged…’ Draupadi pointed around her as her voice cracked. ‘…till you avenge their death, I will not move from here and I will not eat or drink…’
Yudhishtar knew how stubborn Draupadi could be and did not try arguing with her. He along with his brothers and Lord Krishna went in search of Ashwattama. There they came to the ashrama of Sage Veda Vyasa and found Ashwattama hiding there.
However when the Pandavas confronted Ashwattama, they were shocked. The handsome Ashwattama was looking hideous, ugly and deformed. The work that he had done the previous night had destroyed his soul…
The Pandavas were looking at Ashwattama with repulsion.
On seeing the Pandavas, Ashwattama realized that they were going to kill him.
While he had been young, Ashwattama had pestered his father to teach him the Brahmastra. Though Drona had been reluctant, he had taught his son how to invoke the powerful weapon. But Dronacharya had told him never to invoke the weapon as the consequences would be disastrous.
Realising that he had no other way, Ashwattama plucked a blade of grass and muttered the mantras converting it into a Brahmastra!
Lord Krishna saw this and turned to Arjuna, ‘Arjuna! Brahmastra quick!’ Arjuna immediately launched a Braahmastra of his own [which he had learnt from Lord Shiva himself] to counter the attack.
That was when time stood still. The weapons stopped in the air. The great sage Veda Vyasa came forward and spoke to Arjuna and Ashwattama. ‘Using the Brahmastra will destroy the earth….Take back your weapons….the earth should not be destroyed now….take it back….’ He turned to Arjuna. ‘Arjuna! Take back your weapon….NOW’
Arjuna nodded and closed his eyes. He used all the powers of concentration. The Brahmastra was a powerful weapon….once launched it could not be taken back just like that…Arjuna shivered as he used all the powers of his mind and pulled back the weapon….When the weapon was safely back, it drained Arjuna of his strength as he swayed precariously looking at Ashwattama.
The sage then turned to Ashwattama, ‘Take back your weapon Ashwattama….’ But Ashwattama was flustered. He had pestered his father and learnt how to use the Brahmastra, he had never learnt how to revoke it!
The Sage Veda Vyasa spoke again, ‘If you cannot take it back then please divert the weapon to some place where there are no people….Atleast the damage would be minimal…’
As Ashwattama was concentrating hard, some stray thoughts came into his mind…He could divert the weapon…Why should he divert it to some place where there are no people…Ashwattama narrowed his eyes and diverted the weapon. He diverted it straight towards Draupadi and Uttara….
Draupadi’s womb was destroyed by the weapon…She could never have children again….Uttara – Arjuna’s daughter-in-law was carrying Abhimanyu’s son in her womb. The weapon destroyed the child too!
Ashwattama looked as the Pandavas and Lord Krishna looked at him horrified.
Lord Krishna spoke for the first time, his voice trembling with anger, ‘You think you have destroyed the Pandavas…I, Krishna am telling you now…You will be under the rule of Uttara’s child, whom you just killed! That child will become a great king…And you Ashwattama…’
Krishna looked at the ugly Ashwattama and spoke venomously, ‘I curse you…You will always have painful sores all over your body with all diseases…there will always be a foul smell coming from you…you will not have a single friend to talk to….and you will keep roaming the earth, without death till the end of Kali Yuga!’ Ashwattama howled as Krishna continued, ‘Hand me your stone…’ Ashwattama was born with a stone embedded in his forehead. The stone was supposed to keep him free of diseases and death…Ashwattamma having no choice handed over the stone to Krishna.
It is believed that Ashwattama still roams around the earth with no one to talk to…The wound that was caused because of the stone being removed from his head was never supposed to heal…It is believed that he would be given salvation by Kalki, the next Avatar of Lord Vishnu, which is yet to come….
Back at Kurukshetra, the Pandavas were dejected. They had won the great war but for no reason…they had no reason to keep the huge kingdom…no one to share it with…no one to continue it after them….
Lord Krishna however pointed out that they owed to their people to be good kings. The Pandavas reluctantly agreed and became the rulers of Hastinapur.
Uttara was about to give birth, when Lord Krishna came to Hastinapur. The whole kingdom was waiting as this was the heir who was going to rule them eventually.
However disaster struck!
The child was born dead….The people in the palace were brokenhearted as Krishna came forward. Draupadi and Uttara came forward as Uttara spoke between sobs, ‘My child….my child…please….please…do something….’
Krishna nodded and took the child in his arms. He closed his eyes and spoke softly, ‘I have lived a life following my purpose and fulfilling it…If that is so, I will give you life….’ The woman watched as a mysterious force flew from Krishna into the child….
The silence of the whole palace was shattered by the wailing of the young child….Uttara, Draupadi and the Pandavas were thrilled on hearing the young child’s wails. They all picked the child and cuddled him.
The child was called as Parikshit – meaning one who was tested by time. As he had already been tested by death, he was given that name…He was also called as Vishnuratha meaning the one who was always protected by Lord Vishnu
Parikshit was a very good king and always followed the path of righteousness. His people adored him. After the Pandavas gave up the kingdom 36 years later, he was made the ruler of Hastinapur and ruled his people very well…
However Parikshit died because of the snake bite as a result of a curse of a sage. That is another story.