The objective of this article is not to give details about the story of Ashwatthama, nor is it to speculate whether the story is true or not. As a practicing Hindu, I firmly believe that the events in Mahabharat actually happened as described. Ashwatthama was cursed by Lord Krishna to stay alive until the end of Kali Yuga, the ‘mani’ on his forehead taken away. He was further cursed to have various incurable diseases, such that no human being would want to even come near him. Thus he would have to suffer various agonies in isolation until the time for his death came. I believe this story to be true, and I decided to look into various eye-witness accounts of people sighting Ashwatthama, to find a clue as to his whereabouts.
I found more than 10 accounts on blogs/websites and one youtube video by zee tv, about an attempt to find Ashwatthama. Here are the ones which provided details about the place and time. (links given at the end of article)
- Locals claim to have seen him in Chandod near Bharuch in Gujarat
- Seen by a railway employee in the jungles of Navsari (Gujarat) (around 2006?)
- By Prithviraj Chauhan in a jungle (1192 AD)
- Saint Narnappa in Gadag, Karnataka (late 14th, early 15th century)
- On the way from Vrindavan to Chappaiya by Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s parents (200 years ago)
- In Ludhiana, Punjab by a vaidya (1968-69)
- By saint Vasudevanand Saraswati in the dense forest of Shulpaneeshawar, somewhere in Dhar district, MP (1912)
- By Pilot baba on Narmada Parikrama, living amongst Bhilas in Shulpaneshwar forest. In this account, Ashwatthama mentions that “Once in a while I go to the Himalayas to meet Kripa Charya and Vidhur.”
- Asirgarh fort near Burhanpur, MP. According to locals, he visits the Shiva temple there every day. This place is near Narmada and Tapti rivers and Omkareshwar temple.
- Near Hafeshwar temple by a blogger on Narmada Parikrama. This temple is very close to Shulpaneshwar forest. (2016?)
- Khaireshwar temple at a place called Shivrajpur near Kanpur, he is said to visit a temple every night (Zee news story)
- Lilotinath Temple near Lakhimpur (Zee news story)
At first it may look like he has been sighted all over India. However, a very interesting theme soon became apparent in the written accounts. Most of the recent sightings were in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, near by the Narmada river. Specifically, 6 out of the total 12 accounts have occurred in the vicinity of Narmada river.
The descriptions vary to some extent, but in almost all cases he is described as tall, well-built, with intense eyes and charismatic personality, and with festering wounds that do not heal which is his characteristic recognizable trait. In almost all accounts, he is found near Shiva temples either worshiping Lord Shiva, or guiding lost pilgrims. In most cases, he disappears as soon as someone recognizes him, the exception being the encounters with Pilot Baba and Saint Narnappa.
The conclusions I can draw from these is that it is highly likely that Ashwatthama is alive. Narmada river forests seem to be the favorite hiding place of Ashwatthama. He can appear and disappear at will, possibly even change his appearance to some extent, but by most accounts appears to be significantly taller than normal human beings. He, after all, was an exalted being with many siddhis. So it is no surprise that he reveals himself to people only when they are in dire need and disappears as soon as he is recognized by them.
He seems to favor worship of Lord Shiva, probably as penance. Some of the other sightings that have happened, can easily be explained by his occasional visits to other religious places. He avoids being seen publicly, and travels through forests and other deserted areas. All of these are in line with the curse that he was given in Mahabharata by Lord Krishna.
First posted on Speaking Tree