The Suta—the storyteller—is narrating the tale of how Krishna guides Arjuna to send the Brahmastra weapon towards Ashwathama who killed the sleeping sons of Draupadi. When the flames from the weapons of Arjuna and Ashwathama met midway, it appeared as if another sun had formed between the earth and the skies. The people, who were hurt by the heat of the flames, concluded that it was the time of destruction of the entire universe.
Krishna’s idea to ask Arjuna to send the missile was because Ashwathama knew how to use it but did not know how to withdraw it. Arjuna saw how people were suffering on account of the heat caused by the clashing Brahmastras and he who knew how to recall the weapon, took both back into his quiver.
Arjuna gathered himself and bound Ashwathama. Krishna advised him not to spare him and be done with such a hard-hearted criminal who had the audacity to commit a cold-blooded murder by killing children deep in sleep. However, it was not within the ken of a good warrior to kill an enemy who was inebriate, not protected, who was mad, who was sleeping, a young boy, who was an idiot, full of fear and had surrendered at the feet, a woman or one without a chariot. Arjuna was not ready to carry out the suggestion of his friend as he knew Ashwathama was the son of his teacher Dronacharya. He brought him before Draupadi, bound by ropes.
Despite her loss, Draupadi took pity on Ashwathama. She told Arjuna, “Drona who taught you how to use different missiles and recall them is present in front of us as his son. Kripi, the sister of Kripacharya—another teacher of the Pandavas—is his mother and should not cry as I did, losing her son.”
Everybody else in the family, except Bhima was for pardoning Ashwathama. Krishna said that a Brahmana (Ashwathama was a Brahmana) ought to be killed if he performed a felony. Yet Krishna put Arjuna in a spot by leaving the decision to him, to follow the instructions of dharma which he had taught: do what other members of the family feel and take into account the words of Bhima and Draupadi.
Arjuna instantly understood what was in the mind of Krishna. Ashwathama was endowed with a precious gem hidden in the tuft of hair on his head. With a swipe of a sharp sword, Arjuna cut off the tuft and along with it that precious gem. Ashwathama lost all his splendour. The ropes that bound him were removed and he was allowed to go. According to the law of the times, shaving off the tuft, seizure of property and expulsion from the land was akin to capital punishment. It is said that Ashwathama is still alive and roaming about the country, miserably repenting for his sins.
The family of the Pandavas left the scene to cremate their beloved children.
The author is Sevak, Chinmaya Mission, Tiruchi; firstname.lastname@example.org