Duryodhana was alive catching on to his last few breaths. He had trouble breathing and was being eaten alive by foxes, wolves and other wild animals. He was trying his best to shoo them away and hold on to his last moments. Kṛpa and Aśvatthāmā were touched looking at his sad state. Aśvatthāmā said – ‘O dear king! You are Balarāma’s student! How did that mere cook get a chance to beat you up so much? Time and Fate are very powerful. What kind of a man is Dharmarāja – did he simply stand around looking at you getting kicked in an adhārmic manner? How can the Pāṇḍavas proudly declare that they have killed Duryodhana, having done so by compromising all rules of war? You will attain the best of the worlds, afterlife. I am not worried about you, Duryodhana. My insides get churned in pain when I think of your parents who have now lost all their children. What will happen to them with your passing away? The three of us are still alive here, even after losing a loving lord like you. Fie upon lowly human beings like us! O King! Please go, pay respects to our ācārya (Droṇa) and tell him that I have killed Dhṛṣṭadyumna. Tell the valorous heroes on our side who have now reached the svarga that I enquired after their well-being – convey my regards to Saindhava, Bhūriśrava, Somadatta and the other mahārathi-s. Now, listen to the news that will please your ears – There are only seven people left on the Pāṇḍava side – the five brothers, Kṛṣṇa and Sātyaki. Draupadī’s children, Dhṛṣṭadyumna’s children and all the remaining Pāñcālas have been eliminated. I went to their encampments at night and took my revenge. I killed Dhṛṣṭadyumna, the meek animal!”
Duryodhana was very happy listening to his words – he seemed to regain some of his lost life and said – “Neither Bhīṣma, Karṇa nor your father Droṇa performed a great feat like you have done today. Kṛpa, Kṛtavarma and you have tremendously pleased me today. The malicious commander-in-chief of the Pāṇḍavas and Śikhaṇḍi are now dead! Ah! This is as good as me wining over the throne of Indra. May the best befall upon you. Let us all meet again in the svarga of the heroes!” – with these final words, Duryodhana drew his last breath. Aśvatthāmā and his aides left the place in tears. Kṛpācārya went back to Hastināpura and Kṛtavarma headed towards his native place. Aśvatthāmā retired to Vyāsa’s āśrama on the banks of river Gaṅgā.
As the sun rose the next morning, Dhṛṣṭadyumna’s charioteer who had saved himself informed the Pāṇḍavas of the previous night's massacre and the henious deeds of Aśvatthāmā. Yudhiṣṭhira fainted as soon as he heard the news. He was brought back to consciousness by Sātyaki and his brothers. He said – “Though we won over everyone, we are now defeated. Our victory is only synonymous to a great loss. The heroes who valiantly fought Karṇa have given up their lives today due to their lack of alertness. It is like merchants who have crossed over great seas drowning in a tiny rivulet. They will all reach the heavens, but what should happen to Draupadī who hears about the death of her father, elder brother and children – all at once? How is she going to receive the news?”
Yudhiṣṭhira asked Nakula to bring Draupadī and headed to the place where the massive murder had taken place. Draupadī collapsed at Dharmarāja's feet, overcome with immense sorrow. Bhīma lifted her up. She regained composure after a while and spoke to Dharmarāja – “ O king! You have sacrificed your sons to the Kshatriya dharma and have still won the kingdom. You are digesting the sorrow as you are now pleased with what you have got. My heart shudders at the thought of Aśvatthāmā killing my innocent sons as they slept last night. If we don’t kill that sinful man along with his aides, I will commit suicide!” She sat down by the side of Dharmarāja
Looking at Draupadī who sat down helplessly, Yudhiṣṭhira said – “O Kṛṣṇā! You know dharma very well. Your brother and sons followed the Kṣatriya-dharma well and gave up their lives. You don’t need to fret over what has happened. Aśvatthāmā is now gone to a forest or is perhaps lost in the wild. How will you get to know even if we manage to kill him?”
Draupadī replied – “I have heard Aśvatthāmā carried a gem on his head that has come to him by birth. If someone can get me the gem, it will convince me that he has been killed.” She turned towards Bhīmasena and said – “O Bhīma! No man can match you in his skill and strength. You were the one who saved us when we were in grave danger – in Vāraṇāvata, during Hiḍimbā’s attack and when Kīcaka abused me in Virāta’s kingdom. You should now go and kill Aśvatthāmā!”
Unable to bear the sight of her weeping, Bhīma asked Nakula to be his charioteer, picked his bow and arrow and headed out looking for Aśvatthāmā.
Once Bhīma left the place, Kṛṣṇa came to Yudhishitra and spoke to him – “What is this Dharmarāja! You sent Bhīmasena alone for killing Aśvatthāmā? He will fall into great danger. Aśvatthāmā has an astra called the Brahmaśiras that was gifted to him by his father. When Droṇa offered it to Arjuna, Aśvatthāmā said that he too desired to have it. An agitated Droṇa then said – “I will give you the weapon! You shouldn’t use it on the battlefield even when faced with mortal danger. Yet, I don’t trust your mind – you might not always adhere to a sinless path!” Aśvatthāmā possess the weapon right now. He is arrogant, adharmic, cruel and haughty. He might use it on Bhīma. We will need to save Bhīma from the weapon!” Kṛṣṇa got onto his chariot, asked Yudhiṣṭhira and Arjuna to join him, chased after Bhīma and finally caught him. Bhīma, however, wouldn’t change his mind – he wanted to perform what he had decided to do. They all joined him and headed together looking for Aśvatthāmā.
When Aśvatthāmā spotted Bhīma, Kṛṣṇa, Arjuna and Yudhiṣṭhira who had come with their weapons looking for him, he picked up a blade of grass and invoked his divine weapon in it – “May this eliminate the Pāṇḍavas” – he prayed and shot the weapon at them. The weapon spit out fiery flames and proceeded as though it was going to destroy the three worlds in no time. Kṛṣṇa who had foreseen the Brahmaśirāstra coming asked Arjuna to counter it with one of his own divine weapons. Arjuna prayed – “May the best befall on my brothers and this son of my acharya. May my arrow cool his weapon down!” His arrow too penetrated, blazing through the air. The two approached each other and it seemed as though the worlds would be reduced to ashes by their impact. To stop any grave disaster from happening, Vyāsa and Nārada stood between them for the well-being of the world and spoke – “O brave heroes! What kind of a duel is this? No mahārathi in the past used this kind of a weapon on other humans. Please retrieve your weapons!” Arjuna called his arrow back but Aśvatthāmā refused to do so and said – “I shot this on Bhīma as I was overcome with sorrow and was scared for my life. Bhīma has killed Duryodhana by resorting to adharmic means. Thus, I don’t wish to call my weapon back. It is definitely going to kill the off-springs of the Pāṇḍavas!”
Vyāsa said – “Please don’t do that! Arjuna shot his arrow only to calm down yours. You please call back your weapon too. Please give them your gem and in return, they will save your life!”
Aśvatthāmā said that he will give his gem to the Pāṇḍavas but would not call back the weapon. He said that his weapon was certainly going to kill the Pāṇḍava children even if they were in the womb of their mothers.
Kṛṣṇa pleaded – “Please spare the child that Uttarā is carrying in her womb”. Aśvatthāmā refused to do so. Kṛṣṇa said – “Well, that is fine then. The foetus will die and come back to live. It will live a long life. You will roam around the wild with no company for three thousand years for having killed a baby still in its mother’s womb. Parikṣit will be schooled by Kṛpācārya, will acquire the knowledge of archery and weapons from him and will rule the Kuru land for sixty years!”
A morose Aśvatthāmā handed over the gem that was in his head and went away. Kṛṣṇa and the Pāṇḍavas hurried back and offered the gem to Draupadī. Bhīma said – “Look here! We have got the gem you always wanted! We have won over the man who killed your children. Give up your sorrow and get up now! We have killed Duryodhana and drunk Duśśāsana’s blood. Our hatred has now been quenched by their deaths. Aśvatthāmā’s brāhmaṇya, self-respect and gem are all snatched away – only his body remains!”
Draupadī said – “Yes! We have taken revenge! Yet, the son of our Guru is always to be respected. He is equal to the Guru. Let the king possess this gem hereafter!”
Dharmarāja wore the gem in his head to fulfil Draupadī’s wish and out of reverence for it, as it belongs to his teacher’s son.
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.