Mahabharata Stories: 31 – Aswatthama’s Anger

Think before you speak: this maxim that has an equivalent in most languages. For, words matter much and talk, being an irreparable act, should be careful. Practicing careful talk in our day-to-day lives requires conscious effort and reaching perfection in this art is not very simple. On the other hand, we come across people who indulge in self-praise and, yet others, in slander. Does one stand to gain through these acts?

The kingdom of Matsya, where the Pandavas spent a year living incognito, was attacked by the Kauravas. The attack was strategic and there was none to defend the kingdom save the young prince, Uttara Kumara. Arjuna, made up as a eunuch to teach music and dance to the women of the court, accompanied Uttara to the battlefront. Subsequently, the identity of Brihannala the eunuch was revealed, giving much relief to the inexperienced prince.

On the battlefront, Arjuna blew the Devadatta and twanged his Gandiva and Dronacharya, immediately recognizing the sounds, said: Duryodhana, it is best to return the cattle we have captured, and go back to Hastinapura before Arjuna causes damage to the troops, which would be immense and severe.

Duryodhana said: Acharya, why do you talk in such a way as to discourage the troops? You know very well that capturing cows was only a pretext. If I succeed in exposing even one of the Pandavas before the end of the year, I can send them back to the forest for another twelve years. Please think of us and not of Arjuna at this juncture.

Radheya interfered and boastfully said: The troops seem to have lost heart, thanks to the Acharya’s words. But I fear not. I am ready to face anyone, be it Bhargava or Indra himself. I shall be immensely pleased to fight Arjuna single-handed; I have been awaiting that opportunity for thirteen long years now. Watch my arrows fly non-stop as I shoot them from my bow whose string shall make music non-stop!

Kripacharya said: Why do you want to have war when there would be much good without it? It is, by the way, a well-known fact that Arjuna can fight the enemy single-handed while you cannot. Remember who ran away, and who saved Duryodhana from the gandharvas? It is best if we all combine our efforts and arrange our troops to fight in unison against him.

Radheya, angered at this, turned to Duryodhana and said: It seems Kripacharya is frightened on seeing Arjuna. Brahmanas, my Lord, are to be consulted only in situations such as performing rituals and distributing alms. Certainly, they are not to be consulted when a war is to be fought!

Aswatthama, hitherto listening, was now enraged. He said: Oh, Duryodhana, you are doing nothing about protecting the cows. Radheya, do not brag! Brahmanas are righteous and wise, and hence do not brag.

What have you done that you may talk thus?

Did Duryodhana win the kingdom in battle? He won it through cheating Yudhishtira in a game of dice, even which he did not play but had his uncle Sakuni play on his behalf. Is that an act of a Kshatriya? He now talks of ‘his kingdom’ as if he took the Pandavas and Draupadi slaves in battle!

Learn to recognize greatness when you see it even if it be in your enemy. The Pandavas are indeed strong and can face even Indra’s army with no help from anyone else. Arjuna’s prowess needs no elaboration and even you know that he cannot be vanquished. Do not be vain in your speech.

It was not out of fear that my uncle and my father spoke highly of Arjuna but out of recognition of his greatness. It is only fair to praise a person when it is due and that is what they did. Radheya, you have always been envious of Arjuna and that does not make him any the smaller!

Aswatthama then threw down his bow and sat quiet in his chariot.

Bheeshma, intervening, said: Oh, Duryodhana, what Drona and Kripa say are right. It is indeed true that it is difficult to defeat Arjuna single-handed. Aswatthama was righteous in his anger too. Yet, let it be understood that Duryodhana and Radheya spoke thus only to encourage the troops. Please do not be angry, Aswatthama, and let us all get together to fight!

Aswatthama, somewhat placated, said: I shall fight if Duryodhana and Radheya ask for forgiveness from my father and uncle.

Sensing the urgency of the situation, Duryodhana asked Drona and Kripa to forgive him and asked Radheya to act likewise. Drona said: My anger was quenched even when Bheeshma spoke. Now it is important that we all attack Arjuna and ensure that Duryodhana does not come face to face with him, as his anger for Duryodhana would be immense. Also, the thirteen-year period is over, and nothing can be done even if he is recognized.


Duryodhana was confused at the last statement. To this, Bheeshma said: Yes, Duryodhana, what Drona says is true! In fact, according to the calculations of astronomers, it was over five months ago. However, since the layman’s years were not yet over, Yudhishtira extended the exile period until now!

Alas, Duryodhana’s purpose came to a naught!


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