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Drona’s disciple

May 17, 2022 - 9:19

There are thousands of characters in Mahabharata. Except for the prime characters, we are not able to get wholesome or detailed information on the rest of most of the characters. I would like to re-emphasize ‘most of the characters’.

information about a character like Ekalavya is available very rarely, that too at expected locations. If we miss those locations In our search, we may not be able to clearly understand such characters, and at times, even some crucial knots in the story. There are plenty of pieces of stories and comments about Ekalavya in Wikipedia and many other websites on the web. Each of them contain a biased point of view and present some arguments or explanation, but they don’t mention any book or source from which they have put forth those ideas.

That being the case we have to explore to what extent the details presented in the above sources correlate with Vyasa Mahabharata. In other words, we have to get the picture of Ekalavya in full clarity, only based on a proper search and investigation.

Vyasa Bharata gives direct pieces of information about Ekalavya in three places.

The first one is in Adi parvam, when he approached Drona. It is here that Drona refuses to accept him as his disciple. He subsequently makes an image of Dronacharya and practices archery in front of it with his self effort. Arjuna goes for a hunt in the forest where he notices a dog hit by 7 arrows right in its mouth. He wonders how such a skillful hunter could exist. When he asks this question to Dronacharya, Dronacharya demands and gets Ekalavya’s thumb as Gurudakshina.

After the above details in Adi Parva, the next mention about Ekalavya comes at the time of the Rajasuya Yagna conducted by Dharmaputra. The third one comes in Drona Parva. By collating together the pieces of information contained in these three portions, we can Arrive at the right conclusions in our analysis.

One of the most prominent and erroneous conclusions about Ekalavya was that he was a forest dweller. One thing must be mentioned here. Dronacharya was primarily employed by Bhishma for teaching archery to the princes of the Kuru Vamsam. When Pandavas and Kauravas were undergoing learning from him, many princes from other countries too were undergoing coaching from him. Here we can presume that he was teaching archery to such princes from other kingdoms which were on friendly terms with Kuru Vamsam.

In principle, he could not and should not teach archery to those who were likely to become antagonistic to Kuru Vamsam. Strengthening the hands of the enemy knowingly cannot be a sign of right discrimination.

It would be appropriate here to recall a past story of a love-hate relationship that existed between Drona and King Drupada here, to understand better about Dronacharya’s motives.

Drupada was a boyhood friend of Drona, but a feud developed between them during their youth. Dronacharya engaged Arjuna to fight and win the kingdom of Drupada on his behalf. Subsequently he partitioned The Kingdom and returned half of the kingdom back to Drupada. He said “Now we have become equal in status. Friendship can exist only between people of equal status, as you said earlier. Now we have become equal and hence we can be friends now. Thus Dronacharya put an end to their enmity and extended his friendly hand. But the humiliated dupada wanted to avenge Dronacharya. For that purpose, he conducted a Yagya and to beget a son and daughter (Draupati and Dhrishtadyumna). Dhrishtadyumna was destined to kill Dronacharya.

Dhrishtadyumna too was one of the students of Dronacharya. As the king Drupada was favourably positioned as an ally to the Kuru Kingdom, it will be right to presume that Dronacharya taught archery to Dhrishtadyumna, even though he knew that the latter was born in order to kill him.

So, the argument that Dronacharya showed partiality gets weakened, though not negated.

Let us now come back to Ekalavya.

The next mention about Ekalavya appears in Adi Parva Sambhava Parvam at chapter 42. Look at the following statement here: “Having heard of Dronacharya’s mastery in archery, several kings and princes came in thousands to undergo coaching under him. Dronacharya offered his services to all of them. O king, subsequently the son of hunter King Hiranya, by name Ekalavya came to Dronacharya. Drona, considering his own commitment to Kauravas, declined to accept Ekalavya as his disciple.”

It is based on this statement that criticism about Dronacharya is made strong and loud. However such critics tend to push aside several facts. The most important fact here is that white Ekalavya belonged to the Hunters’ clan,he was indeed the son of a king whose lineage belongs to the Nishada clan. Among many Royal lineages well known in those tImes, Nishada too was one. Matsya Vamsam, for example, relates to kings of the fisherman Clan. In the same vein, King Hiranya Dhanush ( Ekalavy’s father) was from the Nishada clan. Thus, Ekalavya is not just an ordinary hunter, who does hunting for a living.

Any action that strengthens the hands of small kings might create trouble in future when a powerful Emperor above them dies. The small kings may tend to create mischief and attempt to usurp power into their hands in such troubled times.

In Kamba Ramayana, there exists a beautiful verse about such a possibility, given as a metaphor in a poem describing the beauty of an evening. The poet says, “At sun set, the lotus flower withered, expelling the Goddess Lakshmi and other bees residing inside it. As it withered, lily flowers blossomed. It was just like small kings rising their heads at the demise of a mighty emperor.”

Thus, the fact was Dronacharya did not refuse to teach archery to thousands of kings and princes who approached him. As we mentioned earlier, he did not even refuse Dhrishtadyumna, the son of Dhrupada, who was destined to kill him, a fact that Drona was already aware of.

Then why did he hesitate to teach Ekalavya? Please read the lines given earlier: “considering his own commitment to the Kauravas”. Yes. This is the crux of the matter that requires contemplation. If this statement is ignored, then Drona’s motive would get only distorted.

What was that commitment or loyalty factor? If he strengthens the hands of a small king, it could prove to be detrimental to the Emperor of the Kuru kingdom in future. That should be his thought. If he had refused Ekalavya just because he was a hunter, he could also have rejected Dhrishtadyumna as he was his potential executer.

Why go that far? Even Karna, before he went for tutelage under Parasurama, was a student of Dronacharya. His presumed birth in the family of a Suta (i.e. not a Kshatriya) was not a hindrance in teaching him archery by Drona. (A note here: Regarding being a ‘Suta’, there are some contradicting meanings about it. This requires a separate elaboration that we will take up later).

Even though he did not agree to teach Ekalavya, Drona made a significant statement to Ekalavya, which no critic talks of. Drona said to Ekalavya, “O son of Nishada King, You shall become an expert in Archery. You are indeed my disciple. I permit you to go back home.” (Source: Page 534 of Kumbakonam edition).

Relook at his statement. He has meant, “You shall be an expert in Archery (despite my not teaching you and you are de facto) my disciple”. With what is implicit as given in the brackets, is it not clear how deeply significant Drona’s statement is? Does it not convey his blessings and an affirmation that he had accepted him as if he was his disciple only?

Thus, Ekalavya went back; he practiced archery keeping a firm faith that Drona was indeed his Guru and became an expert archer. When Drona met him later and demanded his guru dakshina, he willingly came forward to cut off his thumb. Subsequently, as said in the sourcebook, ‘he continued to shoot arrows from his bow using his other fingers, but was not as effective as before.” (same book page 536).

Did this limitation bother him across his life? Was he, as some critics accuse, became so inept that he could not even hunt birds with his bow and arrows?

Let us look deeper into this.

Author Profile:

Shri Hari Krishnan is an independent researcher in Mahābhārata based in Bangalore.

Translated into English by Shri. C.V.Rajan

Disclaimer : This article belongs to the author in full, including opinions and insights. Amrita University is not responsible or liable for the information contained in this article, or its implications therein

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