In our classes we are studying the 1st canto of the Bhagavatam when Asvattama is captured and punished. In the verses and Prabhupada’s purports, it appears that the five sons of Draupadi were small children. But isn’t it the case that they were old enough to be warriors and that is why Asvattama mistook them for their fathers even though he knew the fathers very well having grown up with them from his own childhood?
Can you tell us approximately how old they were at the time Asvattama attacked them? One devotee pointed out “they were born before the exile and the killing took place right after that. One a year would make them 8 to 13 maximum.” I know the question is not going to help us go back to Godhead but we are just curious to know the answer.
Draupadi’s sons were definitely old enough to participate in warfare. Abhimanyu was 16 and the Draupadeyas might have been around that age, some a few years older. Assuming they were born before the exile, they were not necessarily born right before the exile. We have to see how many years the Pandavas spent in Indraprastha before the gambling match.
I never heard that Asvatthama mistook them for their fathers. And he never said that in his defense, nor did anyone in the Bhagavatam say that in his defense. Rather, the Bhagavatam indicates that he intentionally killed the Draupadeyas. In any case, Asvatthama’s purpose was very clear: he wanted to literally annihilate the Pandavas and their line. That would certainly include killing their heirs.