Aśvatthāmā, Kṛpa and Kṛtavarma left Duryodhana and by sunset reached a forest in the vicinity. They fed their horses with water, gulped down sips from a river nearby and rested below a banyan tree. In no time, the Sun went down the horizon and night, like a nurse of the entire world night enveloped the place. The sky that was decked with stars and looked like a saree decorated with flowers. Rākṣasas started roaming around the forest in the darkness. Humans were consumed by deep slumber. That night, Aśvatthāmā, Kṛtavarma and Kṛpācārya who were wounded by the Pāṇḍava weapons rolled over on the ground, lamenting over the loss of life on the Kaurava and the Pāṇḍava side. Kṛpācārya and Kṛtavarma fell asleep. Aśvatthāmā, however, was looking around the forest from the place where he lay – the forest was full of wild animals and was scary. His anger and sorrow didn’t let him slip into sleep. Several crows had fallen asleep on the banyan tree without any fear. Suddenly, a big owl appeared out of nowhere, rushed to the resting spots of the crows and started pecking on the sleeping crows. The wings and feathers of a few of the crows got injured and some broke their necks. A few crows fractured their legs. In a moment’s time, dead crows and their mutilated body parts fell to the ground below the banyan tree. The owl looked happy and content after having done its job.
Looking at the owl, Aśvatthāmā said to himself – “The owl has taught me a wonderful lesson in warfare. I cannot defeat the Pāṇḍavas in the battlefield. However, I have pledged before my Lord that I am going to kill them today. I cannot do so by going through dhārmic means and will need to resort to other crooked ways. The Pāṇḍavas too have often slipped off from the dhārmic path.” With these thoughts in his mind, he shook Kṛpācārya and Kṛtavarma awake and asked them what their next course of action should be.
Kṛpa said – “We will need to have the support of the Divine and of Fate for any task that we undertake. Only if a man works with great skill, planning and efficiency, he will be successful in his endeavours. If he executes tasks motivated by desire, anger, greed or fear, he will lose his men, wealth and honour in no time. Duryodhana is the best example for this. Even today, if I were to speak my mind to him, I'm sure he isn’t going to pay any heed to it. When a person is unsure of what needs to be done, he needs to consult his close aides and act as per their suggestions. Thus, let us go and seek the advice of Gāndhārī, Dhṛtarāṣṭra and Vidura. Let us act according to their words. There is no point sitting here doing nothing. Let us put in our efforts and if Fate proves to be an obstacle, we need not worry about its consequences.
These words which were dhārmic and had a positive perspective towards artha too, didn’t appeal to Aśvatthāmā. His mind which had turned cruel, having got his insides boiled in the fire of agony and jealousy, said – “Everyone seems to be proud of their own thoughts and intellect and demeans the other. If the thoughts of two people meet and overlap with each other, they feel happy and gain mutual respect. Yet, it is natural for the human mind to be fickle; if a person thinks out in detail what would work the best for him, he will do well in life. Each one will need to choose the path that will go well with his mindset and only then he will be successful in his errands. Thus, I will tell you what I feel in these times of despair. Pray listen to me – Today, the Pāñcālas are extremely joyous and have put away with their armour and weapons. They sleep in their camps like laymen. They are under the impression that we are defeated and fatigued too. I plan to attack them as they sleep peacefully in their camps. I will regain my calm and will be content only by killing the Pāñcālas – I can avenge my father’s death in this manner. Killing them will be a fitting reply for the deaths of Duryodhana, Karṇa, Bhīṣma and Saindava!”
Kṛpācārya replied – “It is due to divine providence that you seemed have developed this vengeful heart. None can stop you from doing what Fate has in store for you. Let’s not do that now. We should rest today. We will join you tomorrow morning – you may eliminate them with your might. You have remained awake for too long. Go sleep. Once your mind gets some rest and is rejuvenated, you will be able to fight your enemies more efficiently. We will come along with you in the morning – let us kill the Pāṇḍavas and the Pāñcālas together. If we are not successful, let us may our way to the svarga.”
Aśvatthāmā replied – “How can a person who is eager to execute a task fall asleep? My heart gets churned in pain thinking of the death of my father. Those sinful men killed my father in resorting to adhārmic means – this thought pierces my insides. I cannot live any longer without killing Dhṛṣṭadyumna. Anybody who hears those painful cries of Duryodhana cannot stop himself from getting reduced to tears. Even those with a stone-heart will get melted in no time. I am firm on vanquishing my enemies – do you think I can catch any sleep? I cannot rest until I have done my task. Any rest or peace is only after I have killed them all tonight. My decision is final and I will act accordingly!”
Kṛpa did not agree with this – he argued that Aśvatthāmā’s thoughts and the planned course of action were not right. Aśvatthāmā said that he didn’t care even if he accumulated pāpa. He declared that he would kill Dhṛṣṭadyumna even if he was unarmed, like killing an animal.
Looking at him hurrying away, Kṛpa and Kṛtavarma said – “We would like to share your joys and sorrow too! We'll join you!” They went after him.
The three reached the entrance to Pāṇḍava camp. Aśvatthāmā asked Kṛpācārya and Kṛtavarma to stand at the door. He said – “I will go in and perform the task of the Antaka – Yama. Eliminate anyone who tries to escape from the encampment!”
Aśvatthāmā entered the area of the encampment stealthily through a secret passage instead of going through the main entrance. He kicked awake the men who were asleep in peace. As they stood up, he held their hair and smashed them to the ground. When they tried to get on to their feet, he pushed them down again and beat them up on their neck, chest, legs and all other parts of the body, showing no mercy. Dhṛṣṭadyumna lost his strength and pleaded – “O revered son of my teacher! Please take the life out of me quickly by using a weapon. Let me get a good death and reach the heavens!” Aśvatthāmā replied – “How can a person who has killed his own teacher by cheating reach the heavens?” He hit him on his private organs and killed him.
He then looked for Yudhāmanyu and other heroes and tore them apart. The warriors who were sleepy and scared didn’t get a chance to gather the situation and retaliate appropriately. Even those who tried to pick their weapons and fight him back were not successful. Aśvatthāmā was soaked in blood and so was his sword. Some thought he was a rākṣasa and the others were confused and fled – knowing no directions. Some called out loud, helplessly. Hearing the men’s cries, horses and elephants got perplexed and agitated and forced themselves free from the pegs they were tied to. As the animals ran helter-skelter, men fell under their hooves and paws – there was a massive stampede. Those who managed to find the main entrance of the encampment and tried to rush out got caught by Kṛpa and Kṛtavarma. They were beaten up and pushed into the jaws of death by the two. Moreover, they put the camps on fire at three to four places.
Amidst this chaos, Aśvatthāmā was extremely thrilled that he had avenged his father’s death by killing Dhṛṣṭadyumna. He joined Kṛpa and Kṛtavarma outside. He said – “I have killed the Pāñcālas, Draupadeyas, Somakas, Matsyas and everyone else. Our lives have found their fulfilment now. If Duryodhana is still alive, let us tell him this sweet news!” They hurried to the spot where he was fallen alone.
This is an English translation of Prof. A R Krishna Shastri’s Kannada classic Vacanabhārata by Arjun Bharadwaj and Hari Ravikumar published in a serialized form.