Ashwathama felt the rush of excitement within him. As the idea flashed upon his mind, he could not contain himself. Involuntarily he started pacing in a circle, around the tree, oblivious of the situation. Even with the slightly chilly winds blowing, he was perspiring. Kripacharya observed him. In a gentle voice he called him “Come on, son. You need some rest to revitalise yourself.”
He stopped suddenly and came up to both of them. “Yes, uncle, we can do it. We can be like the owl and hunt them, in the darkness of the night. “His voice was in a whisper but very distinct. Both Kripa and Kritavarma were jolted out of their blankness of mind. They could not see each other’s face distinctly in the darkness.
Ashwathama went on in a low but excited voice, as if speaking to himself “Don’t you see? O mighty Kritavarma, the scourge of enemies on the battlefield. The owl has been sent by the heavens to show us a way. Blessed be the forefathers dwelling in the stars, who had been kind enough to guide us on our road to vengeance. Our hearts are burning with the fires of revenge, for which the time is ripe. And the time is now. We must start this very moment”.
Seeing them silent, he continued “I have great reliance and faith on the abilities of our trio, as together we are like the trident of the Lord Mahadeva, his blessings be on us. But at the same time, I am realistic about our chances. The Pandavas are not like ordinary kings or princes that we have slain before. We may not be able to harm them on the battlefield. And they have the support of the scheming Krishna to help them. But we have already vowed before our king Duryodhana, who may not remain with us for long. We also have to keep our solemn word..”
“Taking them on the battlefield will be an act like ants rushing towards the blazing fire. We have to use cunningness and guile to defeat the enemy of such multifarious talents as the Pandavas, considering that we do not have an army with us. Only this way can we be sure of a degree of success. I don’t care about what the scriptures and textbooks say about the war and I have read quite a few of them in my lifetime. The only certainty in a war is that someone ends up on the winning side. Scriptures and laws are written by the winners. And I want to be on the winning side, whatever I have to do for that, I will do.”
Kripa started to say something, but Ashwathama was not finished yet. Raising his hand, in a sign of impatience he carried on with his monologue “O uncle, Kripacharya. You are the repository of knowledge and the princes were your own students, even before me or my slain father came into contact with them. Along with the great Vidura and Pitamaha Bheesma, you must have given them umpteen numbers of lessons in ethics and morality. Then tell me why the Pandavas resorted to all those trickeries in the battlefield. If indeed they followed the rules of Dharmayudha, Why did they fell the greatest of the warriors, their own grandfather by hiding behind Shikhandi? What was their motive in lying to their revered Guru? And do not forget, they gave no chance to brave Karna, who was on foot when he was killed . My friend and master the mighty Duryodhana was invincible in the fight with maces. They killed him brutally by hitting him below the navel. Our scriptures have decided justice based on the grievousness of the error. Correct me if I’m wrong ‘but I remember clearly what I’ve learnt – The enemy’s forces , even when fatigued or wounded, eating or retiring or resting within the confines of their camp should be destroyed.”
He stopped for a fraction and then said in a deeper voice” There is nothing wrong in attacking them now when they are sleeping. This is the only way that our resolution to destruct them completely can be achieved. “
Both of the warriors listened to him with their heads bowed down. They could not believe their own ears . They said nothing and kept still . But their silence spoke a thousand words. Even in the darkness, the language of their taut bodies gave away their revulsion to hear out such a proposal, as outlined before them. Ashwathama understood their sense of dismay. These were, after all the cream of the elite Kaurava warriors, grown up on the highest principles of war and ethics. He had another way to try out his proposal before he forced them to obey his diktat as their commander, for they were bound by their words to follow him.
Speaking softly and a voice filled with emotion he started “We are fighting this war to establish the glory of our Lord and King , the great Duryodhana, who was my hero and my friend. He lies there, gasping his last breath. The master who mobilised eleven akshauhinis of troops at his clarion call now lies fallen among the dead bodies of his great army, nothing worthwhile of which remains anymore. Struck down by the evil tactics of that glutton Bheema who was cheered by the assembled carrion of Panchala troops. They were jeering our fallen king by blowing conch shells and beating their drums. The sound of their obscene jubilation and laughter that carried far and wide in the winds was deafening. Till a little while ago we could hear it. “
Then with a choked voice he appealed to them “Very rarely have we seen or heard of such a havoc. We are the only three persons unconquered. But we had the stalwarts on our side. Make no mistake, dear uncle and O great Yadava scion, they were all Maharathis. Some were endowed with the strength of hundred elephants, some were master of all weapons, yet some were invincible. But time reversed everything and there they are , slain at the hands of the sons of King Pandu . But still we are left unharmed. There must be a deeper reason for this. Pray, tell me. Break your silence and guide me, I beseech you. “
Kripacharya broke his silence "Ashwathama, my son, I can well understand what is going through your mind. You are now the leader of the Kaurava army and it is my duty to follow you. But this old man has something to tell you my dear nephew. I've been advising the king and princes of Hastinapur and you too shall not be bereft of my experience and knowledge."
He continued " O mighty warrior , son of the great Drona, mark my words. In our lives we have to achieve a balance between our destiny and our efforts because both are complementary. To achieve success in our lives ,we need to create a union of them both. For neither of them can deserve sole credit for what we become. All our purpose of living is subsumed into managing them in good proportions. Our actions as also our abstentions are to be seen through the crystal of these two attributes. Nothing can be achieved by clouds that pour on a mountain top. But the same cloud can produce a great harvest when it rains on a cultivated field. Without destiny all our endeavours come to a nought and again in spite of our efforts nothing happens unless it is in our destiny. The exertions of a competent person with all the skills even when well directed will bear no fruit without the concurrence of destiny. But it does not behove of men of intelligence to sit idle and wait for destiny to unfold. The absence of action brings misery upon us."
He stopped for a moment and said “Between the impatience of action and the inevitability of destiny lies the conscience which helps us in choosing the right direction to shape our course of life. Often we need wiser counsel from the experienced to seek accomplishment of the purpose of our lives. Duryodhana was my student and the king for whom I fought the war. But I am constrained to say that he has never paid heed to the wise counsel provided to him by the elders. In his blind pursuit of his selfish purposes, he chose to disregard all those who dissuaded him from the path of hostilities with the Pandavas. The catastrophe that has befallen him is nothing but a product of his efforts along the wrong path that he chose to follow his destiny."
Kritavarma nodded. Coming over his stoic silence he spoke " I am not an educated person nor from a background of princely status. Whatever I have learnt has been from the harsh experience of life. But I can say this, O worthy son of Drona, this war has taken a heavy toll on the warriors of this great land and not only confined to Hastinapur alone. Though I offer my unflinching support and loyalty to you, as a soldier, I want to fight my opponents face to face on the battlefield and if defeated attain heaven. There is no place to carry personal grudges because all these acts of revenge create new wounds instead of closing the old ones. I too think that we can do with some good advice from the wise ones before we continue with the hostilities. That is my humble submission." He stopped rather overwhelmed by his own comments.
Kripa said again" Let us go and meet old king Dhritarashtra and the queen mother Gandhari. Let us consult them and ask from the wise minister Vidura on our next course of action."