Can you kindly clarify the position of Ekalavya?
From: Jitendra Prabhu
Ques: Eklavya is glorified as a real hero in most of India. It is believed that he was a better archer than Arjuna and could have killed Arjuna. Fearing this, Dronacharya asked thumbnail as Dakshina. Can you kindly clarify the position of Ekalavya?
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Answer: Eklavya appeals to the modern psyche of being a self made person, a self taught student. The modern culture is the culture of independence whereas the Vedic culture is the culture of inter-dependence. Independence means "I can do anything and everything and I don't need anything from anyone”. Just as Eklavya could learn archery without Drona and could learn archery better without Drona, without Drona's blessings and Drona's sanction and Drona's knowledge than even his best student Arjuna. At times, this idea that one can teach oneself without submitting to any teacher, appeals to the rebellious modern and post modern psyche. And that's why he is often treated as a hero.
Let us look at the Mahabharat details and the Mahabharat context. So Eklavya was born in a tribe, nishada tribe and that tribe was known to be engaging in anti-social activities. They were always creating trouble for the law abiding citizens as well as for the administration of the Kuru dynasty, of the kings of the Kuru dynasty. So they had been allocated their space to live in the forest. But from there, not being satisfied by where they were, they were creating trouble for others. So that is why when Eklavya approached Dronacharya to be admitted in his gurukul, Dronacharya told him, "No, I have been given shelter by the Kuru kings and I cannot teach anyone who is working against the interest of the Kuru kings". Now at an external level, some people may say that because he was not a kshatriya and Drona would teach only kshatriyas, that’s why Drona was so narrow minded that he did not allow him to learn. Let us look at this. If Drona's concerns were so narrow minded, if he was just self centered and selfish about his own interest, then why did Drona accept Dhristadyumna as a student even though he knew that Dhristadyumna had born with the prophecy that Dhristadyumna would become killer of Drona? So Drona was in that sense quite liberal. That means to one who was qualified, he was ready to give knowledge, but to one he felt was not qualified and would misuse that knowledge, he was not ready to give the knowledge. So now, that may be expressed in one way or the other, but the important point was that Dronacharya observed that Eklavya had not the character of a kshatriya or protector. A person becomes a kshatriya or archer not just by competence in archery but also by the character of wanting to give protection to others. So Eklavya had the potential to become expert in archery but he did not have the character by which he would use his competence in weaponry to benefit others. So anyway, Eklavya went away disappointed but he was determined to learn, so he made an effigy, a clay form of Drona and tried to learn from there. Some people say that he would also hide in the trees and he learnt what Dronacharya was teaching the other kauravas and pandavas and his other students, without being noticed. But over a period of time, he practiced and he learnt and he became very expert.
So one day when Drona and his students were going out into the forest, they saw, Arjuna saw that there was a dog which had his full mouth totally sewn up by arrows going through his mouth. Eklavya had been practicing archery and this dog had been
barking. So irritated, he just shot that dog and he shot in such a way as to silence it. So now, when Arjuna saw this, he was amazed as well as alarmed. Amazed because there was extraordinary competence in archery but also alarmed because such a feat of archery was exhibited against a relatively harmless animal. Barking is a natural instinct of a dog and the dog had been deprived of that natural facility by this cruel act of sewing of his mouth. So he wanted to know who could have done such a thing. Then at that time he went to Drona and informed him. And as Drona went forward, Eklavya, noticing that Drona was coming there, came and bowed to him. Drona asked him, “who are you?" And then Drona recognized him vaguely. And he said, "I am Eklavya, I am your student". At that time when he spoke this, Drona thought deeply. Now at a superficial level, people may say that Drona was concerned that his official student Arjuna be the greatest archer; Drona had promised Arjuna that "I will make you the greatest archer ". So that's why, in order to protect his honor, to protect his student, he very cunningly asked Eklavya for his thumb of the right hand. But actually, Drona's purpose was far more deeper and much nobler. Drona was thinking that this person has such extraordinary competence but he does not have the character. That's what he had felt originally and now he saw that confirmed by his act of archery against an innocent dog, instead a relatively harmless dog. And so, he realized that if Eklavya was allowed to continue to use his archery skills with equal expertise, in the same way that he had, then he would harm any other people. By harming other people, he would become an antisocial element, and not only that, he would create bad karma for himself. He would create suffering for others and he would create bad karmas for himself and he would have to suffer the consequences of that bad karma eventually. And seeing this, for the sake of Eklavya's future, Drona told him " If you consider that I am your teacher and you are my student, then you should give me gurudakshina'. Eklavya immediately agreed. He said "whatever you want I will give you". Drona said, “give me the thumb of your right hand". And Eklavya without hesitation gave that. People glorify him how he sacrificed his whole carrier as a dakshina for his guru, how surrendered he was to his guru and followed his instructions. Yes, certainly where credit is due, it should be given. Eklavya exhibited extraordinary obedience to his spiritual master, to his martial teacher or martial master, by giving his thumb at that time. But if he really had so much respect for Dronacharya, why did he not obey his instruction for the first time. For the first time when Drona told him that, "you are not qualified to be a kshatriya archer. Don’t take up this vocation". Why did he not obey Drona's instruction at that time? If somebody has to be glorified as an ideal disciple, as a guru-bhakta, then he should follow all the instructions of his spiritual master. Selective obedience can often be deceptive obedience. It is not actual obedience. So Eklavya was protected through this by Drona from doing bad karma, from harming others and from having to suffer himself. But unfortunately, Eklavya did not learn that lesson. And he tried to practice archery with his other finger and tried to again become competent and he decided to fight for the kauravas eventually in the war. So before the war started, Krishna had taken a vow that “I will not take any weapons during the war", so before the war started, Krishna challenged Eklavya for a battle , and Krishna purified and liberated Eklavya by killing him in that battle. So, his malevolent mentality, which would have led to further bad karma and trouble for him if he had fought on the side of Duryodhana, that was purified by being killed by Krishna, in the presence of Krishna and he attained auspicious destination. This is described in the mahabharat also.
So therefore looking at the complete picture, Eklavya had the competence to become a great archer, but not the character. And Drona told him that he will not educate him, not just only because he was not born in the kshtriya family but because he had character deficiency. Certainly he was obedient to Drona in a glories way by giving his thumb, but why he was not obedient earlier? When Drona told him,“ Don’t go in this vocation”. If he was truly having the kshatriya character then why did he used his violence, his archery skills against a relatively harmless dog? Still, in spite of all his mixture of excellence and competence and deficiency in character, he was delivered by Krishna.
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