Bad company is the destroyer of goodness in you. Ashwatthama’s story is set as an example of what constant exposure to hatred and jealousy does to an individual. Even the mind of a great scholar could not outrun the effects of bad company. Ashwatthama is among the few immortals of Indian mythology. But his immortality is not a boon but a curse. He lives to remind us what war and hatred make of a man.
Drona was a great Shiva devotee. He and his wife, Kripi, were expecting a child. Both of them went into a cave and prayed to Shiva. They wanted a child with the qualities of Shiva. Shiva was impressed and granted them the boon.
When the child arrived, he had a gem stuck in his forehead, where Shiva has his third eye. The crying baby also sounded like a horse and hence the name Ashwatthama was given to him, Ashwa meaning horse.
Ashwatthama grew up with both Pandavas and Kauravas. But Duryodhana who was jealous and afraid of Pandavas kept people of power closer to him. It was for this reason that Ashwatthama grew closer to Kauravas. Also, the fact that Pandavas were sent on a 13-year exile had an impact on their relationship with Ashwatthama.
Opposite to popular opinion, Ashwatthama was not evil, instead, he was a man who loved justice. Though he was not present in the court when the Draupadi incident happened, he did criticize Duryodhana and Karna for what they did.
In the battle of Mahabharata, Ashwatthama fought from the side of Kauravas. As Drona was one of their main strategists he kept Ashwatthama in defensive positions. Drona had promised to fight only till his son is alive and hence Ashwatthama’s safety was a top priority.
But when Ashwatthama got the news that his father was killed by trickery, he let the hell loose on the Pandava army. His celestial weapons killed one-fourth of Pandavas’ army. He even used Narayanastra, the celestial weapon of Vishnu. But Krishna, being Vishnu himself knew how to minimize its damage. He made everyone drop their weapon as the Narayanastra does not harm an unarmed person.
Before leaving for his final battle with Bhima, Duryodhana makes Ashwatthama commander of his army. Later on, Bhima cheats and defeats Duryodhana. He tears his leg off and leaves him to die. Ashwatthama reaches for Duryodhana’s aid. Duryodhana makes him promise to revenge for his death.
That night, Ashwatthama decides to repay Pandavas for all their deceits and cheats. He breaks the rule of no killing after sunset and raids the sleeping Pandavas ’ tents. He personally kills Dhristadiyunma, who had killed his father. Pandavas suffer a great number of deaths that night.
Krishna, who is a preacher of everything is fair in war is not angered by this. But what Ashwatthama does next, goes beyond cruelty. He uses one of his celestial weapons on his unborn child of Arjun. Krishna not only saves the child but also punishes Ashwatthama for this heinous act. Krishna pulls out the gem from his forehead and curses him to live forever with the never-healing wound.
Ashwatthama has an incredible life. He came to this world as a blessing from Shiva and remains here cursed by Vishnu. The character of Ashwatthama also gives us an insight into the aftermath of war. Such an amount of death and grief can change a person in an irreversible way. A phenomenon we now know as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. While the book of Mahabharata is all about war, it also serves as a reason to not have it. And while Gita inspired Arjun to fight it also inspired Gandhi to choose non-violence.