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Aśvatthāman


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A protagonist in several key episodes in the Mahābhārata. The son of Droṇa, and so a brahmin warrior, he fights for the Kaurava faction in the battle against the Pāṇḍavas. When his father dies as a result of being told by Yudhiṣṭhira that ‘Aśvatthāman is dead’ (it is in fact an elephant of the same name), Aśvatthāman swears to destroy both the Pāñcālas and the Pāṇḍavas for this adharmic act. As recounted in Book 10 of the Mahābhārata, the Sauptikaparvan (‘The Massacre at Night’), his opportunity finally comes at the end of the battle when, as one of the four surviving Kauravas, he is inspired by the sight of an owl destroying a tree full of sleeping crows to attack his enemies' camp at night. Possessed by Śiva at the entrance to the camp, he and his two companions massacre all the sleeping warriors, with the exception of the five Pāṇḍava brothers who have been removed by Kṛṣṇa. Draupadī demands revenge, and the Pāṇḍavas catch up with Aśvatthāman on the banks of the Gaṅgā where he tries to use a magical weapon to bring about universal destruction. Instead, its power is diverted into the wombs of the Pāṇḍava women, making them barren. Kṛṣṇa, however, promises that he will later revivify the foetus in the womb of Abhimanyu's widow, which is later born as Parikṣit. The defeated Aśvatthāman is condemned to wander the earth in misery for 3 000 years, allowed to live only because he is a brahmin and the son of the Pāṇḍavas' teacher.

Subjects: Hinduism.


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