Ashwatthama fights along side his father for Duryodhana in the Great War. He has committed 3 sins in the course of time:
- Murder of a child by unfair means: Ashwatthama is one of the six maharathis (great warriors) who killed Abhimanyu, a single child in an unfair and heinous fight. Six great warriors surround one boy, attack from all sides, and keep hammering him even after he loses his weapons and becomes defenseless. (Karna attacks him from behind and breaks his bow – apparently Karna’s most shameful crime in the epic). Participating in this murderous act is Ashwatthama’s first sin.
- Genocide -- Killing of innocent people in their sleep: On the 18th day of the Great War, after Duryodhana is defeated by Bhima in a single combat and when he is laying in his own blood, the three remaining survivors of his side – Ashwatthama, Kripa and Kritavarma – come to meet him. Duryodhana announces Ashwatthama to be the commander of his remaining (?) army. Ashwatthama, blind with fury for his father’s death (Drona is tricked and killed earlier) plots along with Kritavarma and Kripa, attacks the Pandava camp at night and slaughters all the people on Panadava side - including Dhrishtadynma (Pandava's commander general), The sons of Draupadi and all other people in their sleep.
- Foeticide -- Killing of an unborn child: The Pandavas, incensed by the above act, chase Aswatthama resulting in his fight with Arjuna during which both invoke the extremely powerful Brahmashirsha astra. Fearing the destruction of the world, the sages (Vyasa in particular) advise both to take back their weapons. While Arjuna can do so, Ashwatthama cannot and is given the option of choosing any single target to destroy. Out of spite, Ashwatthama directs the weapon to the wombs of Pandava women – specifically Uttara, Arjuna's daughter-in-law (Abhimanyu’s wife and King Virata’s daughter). Since at this time Uttara is carrying the unborn Parikshit, son of Abhimanyu, who upon birth would be the future heir to all the Pandava brothers, Ashwatthama’s weapon is successful in fatally burning the foetus.
Vasudeva Krishna revives the stillborn child (hence he is called “Parikshit” – born out of an experiment) and curses Ashwatthama with leprosy and to roam the world as an unloved castaway.
In another version of the story, Bhima removes the Mani (stone) from Ashwatthama’s forehead and Draupadi curses Ashwatthama of immortality and eternal suffering without love from anybody. In any case, this is the only Chiranjeev who has a prolonged life as a ‘curse’ – a life of suffering, solitude and pain.
In some versions, it is believed that Ashwatthama migrated to the Arabian Peninsula. An old fort near Burhanpur, India called Asirgarh has a Lord Shiva temple on top where it is believed that Ashwatthama offers a red rose everyday to Lord Shiva early in the morning. Another story says that Ashwatthama is still roaming in the forest of Gir, Junagadh in the Gujarat state of India. The story of people sighting Ashwatthama near Rishikesh has already been mentioned. All in all, here is one lonely, sad and dejected Being who supposedly has no choice but to suffer till the end of Kali Yuga.
Promise, this is the only sad story out of the eight. The rest are all quite beautiful.