Dhrishtadyumna is the son of Drupada, the king of Panchala in the Mahabharata. He is the elder brother of Draupadi, and through her marriage to the Pandavas, becomes their brother-in-law.
In the Mahabharata war, Dhrishtadyumna serves as the commander-in-chief of the Panchala forces that fight the Kauravas on behalf of the Pandavas. His major feat during the war is to kill Drona, the preceptor of the Kuru princes, in controversial fashion.
In this post, we will answer the question: Who killed Dhrishtadyumna?
Ashwatthama kills Dhrishtadyumna during the night-time raid he conducts on the Panchala camp on the night of the eighteenth day of the Mahabharata war. Ever since Dhrishtadyumna beheads Drona (on Day 15), Ashwatthama burns for revenge against his father’s killer. On the eighteenth night, he accomplishes this aim.
Read on to discover more about who killed Dhrishtadyumna.
Dhrishtadyumna takes birth by divine means in a sacrificial fire presided over by Drupada soon after losing Northern Panchala to the young Kuru princes of Hastinapur.
He performs a sacrifice with the express intention of procuring a son who can destroy Drona. In return, he gets two children.
The first is Dhrishtadyumna, a strapping youth in blazing armour, whom a voice in the sky proclaims as the future killer of Drona. Then, a beautiful young woman emerges from the fire. This girl, says the voice, will bring about the destruction of the Kuru empire.
This incident drives home to the reader just how fraught relationships were between Kuru and Panchala at the time. Despite being neighbours, the two kingdoms were never friends.
Right from this moment, Dhrishtadyumna lives with the burning desire of one day killing Drona. That is his life’s destiny, so no matter what else he achieves, he will consider himself incomplete if he does not kill the acharya.
Killing of Drona
However, when the moment does arrive after years of waiting and preparing, it proves to be dissatisfying. In the Kurukshetra war, Dhrishtadyumna repeatedly clashes against Drona but always finds himself wanting.
What’s more, he has to endure the sight of Drona killing Drupada, his father. All these years, Dhrishtadyumna had dreamed of killing Drona and winning his father’s approval. But now he has to contend with Drupada not being around to see him perform the deed.
The Pandavas – Yudhishthir and Bhima, especially – goad Dhrishtadyumna time and again about his failure at winning battles against Drona.
As Drona sits on the terrace of his chariot to meditate, Arjuna’s intention is to take the preceptor prisoner, and to remove him from the war.
But Dhrishtadyumna sees an opportunity to fulfill his destiny. Here is the man he had been told to kill all his life, sitting unharmed and unarmed, meditating in the middle of the battlefield. Why not slice his neck right now?
Who would stop him?
Dhrishtadyumna takes his chance, and lopes off the head of Drona. This brings about harsh cries of judgement from everyone surrounding him, for it is considered sinful to attack a man who (a) has renounced his weapons, and (b) is meditating or sleeping.
When Ashwatthama, the son of Drona, later hears from Duryodhana how his father had been killed, he reserves a special place of hatred in his heart for Dhrishtadyumna.
The Pandavas are culpable too, and Ashwatthama does not pardon them. But in his opinion, it is Dhrishtadyumna who is the most sinful of them all for having killed Drona when the old man had already given up his weapons.
So Ashwatthama takes a vow that he will kill the son of Drupada.
Meanwhile, Dhrishtadyumna shows no remorse for his actions, though one assumes that deep in his heart he must have felt some.
An argument breaks out between him and Satyaki, and the two of them almost come to blows. They are separated by Krishna, who points out that the Panchala army is better served by facing up against their common enemy, Ashwatthama.
Dhrishtadyumna argues from precedence. He says, ‘If it is right for Arjuna to shoot at Bhishma from behind Shikhandi, if it is right for Satyaki to behead a meditating Bhurishrava, then it is equally right of me to kill my father’s killer, Drona.’
He does have a point. Ashwatthama will use the same argument to later kill him as he sleeps.
The Sauptika Parva
Ashwatthama gets his chance to avenge his father’s death on the night of the eighteenth day, after the Panchalas and Pandavas declare themselves victors of the war.
But a war does not end when one of the sides proclaims it is so. After the Pandavas leave from the scene, Duryodhana appoints Ashwatthama as commander to his three-person army.
With Kritavarma and Kripacharya for company, Ashwatthama travels to the Panchala camp in the middle of the night and – with Shiva’s blessings – unleashes a torrent of bloodshed upon the sleeping, unsuspecting men.
As it turns out, the Pandavas are not present at the camp on this night. Krishna takes them – along with Satyaki – to the banks of the river Oghavati to say some prayers.
All the others – the sons of Draupadi, Shikhandi and Dhrishtadyumna included – perish to Ashwatthama’s sword.
The first person that Ashwatthama visits that night is Dhrishtadyumna. With the image of Drona’s severed head tormenting his mind, he walks past sleeping guards and enters the Panchala prince’s bedchamber.
He sees Dhrishtadyumna lying on his back with his arms spread out, and his body unarmoured, clad in white.
The son of Drona tiptoes over to the bed and shakes Dhrishtadyumna awake by gripping the prince’s hair and pulling on it.
The Panchala prince opens his eyes, and when he sees that it is Ashwatthama with a sword standing atop him, he knows that his time has come. ‘Kill me with the sword in one swoop, O Drauna,’ he says. ‘Do not tarry.’
Ashwatthama laughs. ‘A man such as you who committed the sin of killing one’s preceptor can never be given such an easy death, you wretch.’
He drags Dhrishtadyumna to his feet and begins pounding over his body with his fists and heels, using the weapon only to threaten.
This brings about howls and moans of pain from the Pandava leader, but Ashwatthama relentlessly beats his enemy until the latter vomits blood and dies.
At the time of Dhrishtadyumna’s appointment as the commander of the Panchala forces, his legacy is almost secure.
While it is by no means a certainty that the Pandavas will win the war, many reasonable people on both sides conclude that with Arjuna, Krishna and Bhima fighting for Yudhishthir, it is almost impossible for them to lose.
From this perspective, all Dhrishtadyumna needs to do is refrain from making mistakes and ride on the Pandavas’ wave.
He will then secure his reputation as the commander-in-chief who won the war against the mighty Kuru empire.
If he had refrained from killing Drona on the fifteenth day, it is very likely that Ashwatthama’s rage would not have been kindled to the same extent. The massacre of the Sauptika Parva might have been averted.
The Pandavas would have taken Drona prisoner, and would have released him after the war is finished.
Having said this, the Mahabharata also states that by the time Dhrishtadyumna’s sword met Drona’s neck, the acharya’s soul had already begun its upward journey. So maybe nothing would have changed.
But at the very least, Dhrishtadyumna would have escaped Ashwatthama’s personal ire.
Alas, it was not to be.
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