Sauptika means “the sleeping”. This book describes the killing of the entire Pandava army and Draupadi’s five sons while they are sleeping. The war is over but Duryodhan is not dead yet. Only three warriors remain from the 11 aukshahoni’s army of the Kauravas – Kripacharya, Kritvarma and Aswatthama. They discover Duryodhan wreathing in pain and the deceitful method by which he is vanquished. Aswatthama is extremely angry and promises to annihilate the entire Pandavas with their army. Duryodhan is pleased and asks Kripacharya to crown Aswatthama as the new commander in chief. Aswatthama ponders on how to do his bidding and gets an idea from an owl attacking a tree full of nests of crows and butchering them. Aswatthama wakes up his sleeping partners and goes to the Pandava camp and annihilates the whole camp. Unfortunately for him, the five Pandavas and Krishna are not in the camp.
Knowing that all her five sons are dead, Draupadi is not just distraught but wild with anger. She flays all the five brothers and especially Yudhishthir. Finally Bheem in an attempt to pacify her rage, agree to subdue/kill Aswatthama. Meanwhile Aswatthama, Kripacharya and Kritvarma have all run away. Aswatthama takes refuge in the ashram of sage Vyasa. Bheem discovers his whereabouts but Krishna fearing the life of Bheem, take the other four brothers and they rush to sage Vyasa’s ashram. Aswatthama sees them approaching and invokes the Brahmashira astra. Arjun invokes the same to counter it. The Brahmashira astra is “the most” potent of all weapons capable of destroying the region for generations.
The sages Narada and Vyasa who were witness to the battle that was brewing, became alarmed. They knew that the Brahma weapon was not meant to be used against humans, and that if the two weapons met, there would be disastrous results on earth. They stood in between the two warriors, and holding the rival weapons in the air, appealed to both the antagonists to withdraw. Arjuna had the knowledge to withdraw his arrow, and he complied. Aswatthama did not know the art of withdrawing the weapon. It was in the nature of the weapon that if a proper target were not assigned, it would return and kill the person who invoked it. Aswatthama had to find a target for the weapon. He let it go with instruction that it should destroy the children in the womb of every Pandava woman.
Due to their respect for their teacher, Drona, the Pandavas spared Aswatthama’s life. He was however compelled to give up his jewel that was besot on his forehead in return. Without the jewel, Aswatthama was shorn of all courage and became incapable of fighting.
Krishna told Aswatthama, “Your weapon will no doubt kill the foetus in every Pandava womb. But I shall revive the son that is developing in the womb of Abhimanyu’s wife, Uttara. That son would bear the torch of the Kuru race and bring glory to it. As for you, for your evil deed, you shall roam the world for three thousand years without a companion. You will be shunned by all, and people would forsake your company.”
Considering that it was the preceptor’s son and sufficient punishment had been meted out to him, Draupadi reconciled herself to Aswatthama’s life being spared.
(to be continued)…