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We see Ekalavya, the hunter who sacrificed his thumb as Guru Dakshina, again in Mahabharata, now as a king during the Rajasuya yaga conducted by Dharmaputra. Of course we don’t see him directly, but we hear about him from the mouths of others.
Right at the commencement of the Rajasuya Yagam, there cropped up a problem. When the ritual (known as argaharanam) of honouring and worshiping one of the invitees as the venerable chief guest came up, there was a question as to who was the most deserving person for it. Bhishma’s preference was lord Krishna. Yudhishthira was more than happy to do it. But Shishupala vehemently opposed it. He got up angrily and started listing out points as to why Krishna did not deserve such an honour.
He started by saying “When there are so many kings assembled here, how come Bhishma chose Krishna who is not even a king? By this act, Bhishma has made himself ridiculous among the respectable people of the world”. (Mahabharatham, 40th chapter Sabha Parvam, Page 137 In Kumbakonam edition – Part 2).
From this, the message conveyed was that Krishna, though belonging to a lineage of Kings, was not ruling any country. Of course what he said was true. But let us not go into those details now. Then Shishupal started listing out the names of other, more deserving Kings than Krishna. It was a rather long list of names. In that list the name of Ekalavya also appears. He said, “We have Bhishmaka of stellar qualities, who is as unconquerable as King Pandu, we have the great Rugmi here, we have Ekalavya, we have Salya, the king of Madra Kingdom.. But how come you chose Krishna for worship”.
In the above sentence, Bhishmaka was the father of Rukmini (Krishna’s wife); Rukmi was Rukmini’s brother. Salyan was the brother of Madri, the mother of Nakula and Sahadeva, and thus related to Pandavas as their uncle.
We must note here that when Sishupala listed out the names of reputed Kings, the name of Ekalavya found inclusion. It means Ekalavya, The hunter who lost his thumb, had become king and been invited to attend the Rajasuya Yagam, and was present in the august gathering. Thus, we gather one significant piece of information about Ekalavya from this scene.
Kouravas returned to their kingdom after the Rajasuya Yagam had ended. Duryodhana was lamenting to Shakuni about the great honours and gifts that Dharmaputra got by conducting the yagam. Here we come across another piece of information about Ekalavya from the mouth of Duryodhana,. Duryodhana, who was seething with envy, says “….The king of Matsya presented golden dices, Ekalavya presented footwears, the King of Avanti presented holy waters meant for sacred bathing of deities…..” (Kumbakonam Edition, Part 2, page 253 in Dyuta Parva 79th Chapter).
Interestingly, Bharati has translated this portion in his Tamil Panchali Sabadam. His Tamil verse reads “patralar anjum perumpugazh Ekalaviyane sembor padhukai kondu yudhittiran thaaLinil aarththathum…” (The highly reputed Ekalavya offered golden footwear at the feet of Yudhishthira). Actually I should credit this specific verse of Bharati for igniting my curiosity to hunt for the hunter Ekalavya inside Mahabharata.
From these bits of information, we can safely assume that Ekalavya did not become fit-for-nothing on account of losing his thumb, but had risen to be a venerable king, worthy enough to be mentioned by Sishupala. He was prominent enough to be invited to the Yagam by Dharmaputra and rich enough to present a pair of footwear made of gold to Dharmaputra. There cannot be any doubt about it.
Just because these kings attended the Yagam as invitees and honored Dharmaputra, we cannot come to a hasty conclusion that all of them were on friendly terms or possessing goodwill towards Yudhishthira. The fact was that a sizable section of these kings were on the side of Duryodhana at the time of Mahabharata war.
When we think of the Mahabharata war, we must remember one important fact. The war was not just between Pandavas and Kauravas. It was Krishna who masterminded the war against Kauravas by standing at the side of Pandavas, where so many other kings fought on either side. This has been expressed in so many ways right from the start of Udyoga Parva and right through the happenings in the war. It was Krishna who virtually conducted the war, without carrying arms.
During Pandavas’ exile in the forest, Krishna decided that the war would eventually happen. There were extremely powerful kings who were not easy to vanquish if the war happened. He set out to finish them off one after the other, even before the war broke out.
One glaring example was King Jarasandha. Jarasandha was immensely powerful and Krishna finished him off even before the beginning of Rajasuya Yagam, by engaging Bhima to kill him in a wrestling combat.
Jarasandha and Ekalavya were mentioned to be close friends. Look at the following reference from Wikipedia: “Later, Ekalavya worked as a confidant of King Jarasandha. At the time of the Swayamvara of Rukmini, he acted as the messenger between Shishupala and Rukmini’s father Bhishmaka, at the request of King Jarasandha”, Read more.
This news that Jarasandha and Ekalavya were close to each other comes through the mouth of Krishna himself, later during the war, as found in Drona Parva. But I am not so far able to find any clinching evidence to the above Wikipedia statement (that Ekalavya acted as a messenger at the behest of Jarasandha) in any purana, including Bhagavata Purana. My search for verifying the statement is still inconclusive.
But one thing is clear. It was indeed Krishna who killed Ekalavya, based on available references in Vyasa Bharata. This fact has been stated by Krishna himself in Drona Parva. But how exactly did Krishna kill Ekalavya? There are two or three different narratives about it found on the web. Some are pro-Krishna and some are anti-Krishna. In one narrative essentially anti-Krishna, it is said that Krishna who could not restrain Ekalavya, killed him by stabbing on his back, Read more
The reason for me to mention this is to make it clear that I could not find any valid reference either from Itihasas or from puranas to validate this accusation. It is also contrary to what Krishna states, rather briefly, as to how he killed Ekalavya in the descriptives of the Kurukshetra war in Bharata.
So the challenge before truth seekers, who want to find the middle path, is to decide which one of the contradictory pieces of information is right. .
My search on this matter is yet to conclude. Yet, a verbal statement of Lord Krishna on how Ekalavya was killed, as appearing in Bharata, can be taken as the best reference.
What exactly did Krisha say on this subject? Let us see it in the next chapter.
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