Most heroes today are the ones that successfully avenge an evil deed. Revenge is the watchword that has a great following. Vengeance is sweet to one whose heart is aflame with anger. The argument favouring this behaviour is that the scenario of the present world warrants such acts. Yet, the fact remains that this flame engulfs truth and helps vice grow in its glow.
Duryodhana had to face Bhima in a fierce fight. Bhima mortally wounded Duryodhana by striking him on his thighs and breaking them. Aswatthama came to hear of this and rushed to see his dying friend. Aswatthama, already enraged at the killing of his father by the Pandavas, was now burning with fury. He vowed to avenge his friend’s defeat, thereby giving Duryodhana a reason to cling on to dear life for some more time. Duryodhana ordered those about him to install Aswatthama the Supreme Commander of the army.
Night had fallen and Aswatthama, along with his uncle Kripa and the Yadava warrior Kritavarma, was resting under a banyan tree. While the latter two slept of exhaustion, Aswatthama could scarce wink an eyelid. As he watched around, he saw an owl attacking a sleeping nest of crows and devouring the helpless birds. Taking cue from this lesson of nature, he aroused the other two and asked them to accompany him to attack the sleeping Pandava camp. Kripacharya was taken aback by this sudden and unfair plan. He refused to yield.
Aswatthama then recalled how the Pandavas killed his father by uttering a lie and had now killed his friend by striking at a point below the navel which was against noble fighting rules.
Kripa cautioned Aswatthama against scarring his blemish-free name by indulging in such an evil act, yet he did not budge. Forced into accepting his command, Kripa and Kritavarma took upon themselves to share the sin.
The trio barged into the Pandava camp and killed Panchali’s brother, Dhrishtadhyumna, who had killed his father, the great master Drona, and all of the Panchalas and Panchali’s sons. They then set the camp afire. As the sleeping men ran in panic, Aswatthama slaughtered them.
Now there were merely three men on the Kaurava side and seven on the Pandava side. All the other great warriors were dead. Aswatthama then went to Duryodhana and told him of what had happened and Duryodhana died with the satisfaction that he had not been let down.
The Pandavas were utterly dejected at the way they had been attacked and destroyed. Panchali prayed for vengeance and the five brothers went seeking Aswatthama. They found him on the banks of the river Ganga having taken refuge with sage Vyasa. When he saw the Pandavas and Sri Krishna approaching, he took up a blade of grass and, uttering a hymn, bade it kill the only promise of the Pandava lineage, slain Abhimanyu’s unborn child Parikshit. As the blade went hurtling towards young Uttara’s womb, Sri Krishna stopped it and prevented the mishap from occurring. Knowing that the Lord was with the Pandavas, Aswatthama yielded and gave up the shining gem that was part of his head as a result of his yoga and repaired to the forest. Bhima accepted it and returned to Panchali with it.
In this victory won by bespattering Mother Earth with blood, defiling Her with corpses and burdening Her with bereavement, Yudhishtira became king and Aswatthama’s gem glittered in his crown!