Ashwathama, the son of Acharya Drona, the valiant warrior of the Mahabharata Kurukshetra War, is one of the most controversial characters of the epic (Mahabharata). He is one of the bravest of men, a powerful warlike Brahmin, a great Yoga master. Sadly enough, Ashwathama is misunderstood by most people all over the world, due to twisted views and false propaganda spread by over-zealous cultists. He is often portrayed as a cowardly and sinful Anti-Hero, instead of the reality which is just opposite (as depicted in the original Sanskrit Mahabharata of Sage Vyasa). This has been possible because people in general accept without question, the untruthful biased translations put forward by sectarians as reality. Most people cannot read Sanskrit or, they don’t have access to the original Mahabharata, which is colossal!
In the Hindu Scriptures, Ashwathama is counted among the seven immortals, who have forever escaped death. The verse goes like: Ashwathama Balir-Vyaso, Hanumanscha Vibhishanah. Kripah Parashuramascha, Saptaite Chirajivinah. Meaning, Ashwathama, Demon Bali, Rishi Vyas, Hanuman, Demon Vibhishan, Kripa Acharya and Parashuram are the seven immortals. In Sanskrit writing:
Sage Angirasa was a direct son of Brahma-deva, the creator. Sage Brihaspati (the Guru of Indra), is the son of Angirasa. Sage Bharadwaj was the son of Brihaspati. Acharya Drona was the son of Bharadwaj and the father of Ashwathama. Thus one may say that Aswathama is the direct lineage holder of the Bharadwaj Gotra and numerous persons born in this Gotra(blood line from some sage) are his descendants. Also note that Kripa-acharya, another immortal, is Ashwathama’s uncle… his mother’s brother. By birth Aswathama is from the Brahmin caste, not a Ksatriya (warrior). But by his Karma in his first 40-50 years, he indeed was a supreme warrior.
He was born to Drona, a sage-like Brahmin, who lived with his wife Kripi in poverty. When the baby was born, he wailed like a horse (Ashwa in Sanskrit), hence the name Ashwathama. The local children teased Drona for he couldn’t feed milk to his only son. The Brahmin looked everywhere and tried his best to procure a milking cow by fair means, but couldn’t. So he went to his childhood friend, Drupada (of warrior caste), who was now king. But Drupad refused Drona’s friendship, saying, “Only people of equal status can be friends“. He didn’t give Drona any gold, or, cow, just turned him away severely insulting him. Drona resolved to return the insult in kind at the proper time and left.
Meanwhile Parashurama, the incarnation of Vishnu, was giving away all his material belongings to atone for his killing of thousands of warriors( he rid the land of India from all Kshatriyas 21 times!). Parashurama is another death-less warrior Brahmin, he is a Lineage holder Rishi in several Tantras, (like Gandharva Tantra of Sri-Vidya, etc,) a student of Lord Shiva and is known to be engaged in his eternal spiritual practices in mount Mahendra Parvat. When Drona approached Parashurama, the latter had already given away all his kingdoms, properties, gold, etc. So anything of material value was already gone. However, Parashurama didn’t wish Drona to return empty-handed, after having endured the hardship of journeying to mount Mahendra, his abode. So, Parashurama said, “O Brahmin, I have nothing else but the secrets of warrior lore and all Divine weapons. Tell me how I can help you?” Drona asked for the knowledge of the art of war and the mantras and applications of all kinds of weapons, and his master agreed. Drona then came to Hastinapur, the kingdom of the Kauravas & Pandavas and demonstrated his efficacy with weaponry to the young princes. He was promptly appointed Acharya (Teacher) by Bheesma and soon a Gurukul was set up in Hastinapur. Princes thirsty of the knowledge of weapons thronged from all kingdoms to his tutelage and he taught them all. In this way, Drona, who initially set out to properly feed his son, became a warlike Brahmin and began to teach swordsmanship, archery and killing arts instead of Veda. Although he was busy teaching, Acharya Drona’s heart-throb was his only child Ashwathama.
Arjuna, by the way was Drona’s most favorite student, as he excelled in archery and mental concentration. Drona promised to make Arjuna the greatest archer and taught him almost everything he knew. The other person to receive such knowledge of weapons was Ashwathama, his son. Anyway after many years of training, he asked for Guru-Dakshina from the princes of Hastinapur. He asked them to attack the Kingdom of Panchala, of which Drupada was king. The task was to conquer Drupada’s army and make him the prisoner of war and finally present him in chains to Acharya Drona. In this difficult test, Duryodhana and his 99 brothers failed, but the five sons of Pandu succeeded. After being put to shame by getting defeated King Drupada met his friend Drona at last, now an equal! Drona forgave his old friend and gave him back his kingdom and Drupada promised everlasting friendship (at least verbally!).
However, Drupada couldn’t swallow the pain and sought the Rishi’s hermitages, requesting them to perform a Yajna (fire-sacrifice), such that a powerful son capable of killing Acharya Drona could be born to him. All the sages disagreed to do his bidding. Drona was now very powerful owing to the patronage of the Kauravas of Hastinapur. Also, it was impossible for any warrior to conquer him or, kill him in a fight. Drona was not just a warrior, but a powerful Brahmin, very strict in his penances and yoga practices. He worshiped great God Shiva and received boons from the lord. Shiva also gave him a powerful weapon called Sahasra-vana (1000 arrows). (I visited the cave where Drona performed his penances for this weapon. It’s located above the waterfall Sahasra-Dhara, at Dehradun.) Finally one sage agreed.