Other names: Ashwatthama, Ashwatthaman
Ashwathama was the son of Dronacharya, teacher of Kauravas and Pandavas in the Dwapar Yuga (the third age of the four ages, Sat, Treta, Dwapar and Kali). His mother’s name was Krupi. It is said that at the time of birth there was a sound of neigh from his throat that is why he was named Ashwathama (Ashwa means horse in Sanskrit). Ashwathama had a valuable gem or “Mani”, set on his forehead, the wearer of which ceases to have any fear from weapons or disease or hunger, and ceases to have any fear of gods, Danavas (a race of the Demons) and Nagas (a deity or class of entity or being, taking the form of a very large snake, found in Hinduism and Buddhism).
He was very heroic and an expert archer. In the war of Mahabharata, he was the commander of the army of the Kauravas. In the war, to defeat Dronacharya Sri Krishna planned a clever war tactic. On the side of Pandavas there was an elephant by the name of Ashwathama. Shri Krishna told Yudhishthir to spread the rumor that Ashwathama was dead! The elephant was killed and everyone shouted, “Ashwathama is dead, Ashwathama is dead!” Dronacharya also heard these words and suspected his lone son Ashwathama was killed in the battle.
Gloomy at the loss of his son he approached Yudhishthir and asked, “O Yudhishthir, I know you never speak untruth, please tell me what has happened. Is Ashwathama really dead?
With great effort Yudhishthir said, “Yes, Ashwathama is dead”; but added in whisper, “I do not know whether he is a man or an elephant.” Dronacharya in the din and bustle failed to hear the second half of the sentence and thinking that his loving son has died gave up the fight and was subsequently killed by by Dhristadyumna, son of Drupad.
Here Ashwathama, son of Dronacharya, learnt about the trick played by Sri Krishna and Yudhishthir in the killing his father. To take his revenge, at the end of Mahabharata, one night Ashwathama went to the Pandavas camp. Pandavas were not present in the camp at that time. Thinking that the Pandavas were sleeping, Ashwathama killed all the five sons of Pandavas and also the baby in the womb of Uttara, wife of Abhimanyu (Arjun’s son). Shri Krishna revived the stillborn child. This child further became famous as King Parikshit.
Draupadi started lamenting at her sons being killed. When Pandavas returned to their camp and came to know that Ashwathama had killed their sons, they were very angry
Here, even Ashwathama was scared and knew that Pandavas will not spare his life. He ran away and hid himself in the forest on the banks of River Ganga. There, Sage Maharishi Vyas was sitting with few other Sages. Pandavas came there in search of Ashwathama and Arjun challenged him for a battle.
Frightened Ashwathama propelled the unfailing weapon Brahmastra (a kind of weapon which dealt infallible destruction and was set in motion by the force of mantras). Arjun also had the knowledge of Brahmashtra and he also used the same to reduce the effect of Ashwathama’s weapon.
With the collision of these weapons, it was feared that the whole universe might be destroyed. Then, Sage Maharishi Vyas and Narad made these weapons inactive with their powers. Arjun was about to kill Ashwathama, but in the honor of Maharshi Vyas, Narad and others, he left him alive and snatched away the “Divya mani” (Divine gem) from him.
At this sinful act of Ashwathama, Shri Krishna was very upset and cursed Ashwathama that he will be wandering on this earth for thousands of years and always a foul smell will come out of his body due to which he will not get a place in the human society. He will wander in the jungles and live a cursed life. It is believed that even today Ashwathama is roaming around in the jungle suffering the punishment of his sinful act.
It is believed that he is cursed to remain alive till the end of the Kali Yuga. An old fort near Burhanpur, India called Asirgarh has a Lord Shiva temple on top where it is believed that Ashwathama offers a red rose everyday to Lord Shiva early in the morning. It is said that as Krishna took away the gem from his head, Ashwathama is seen wandering with his head bleeding.