Mahabharata Characters 11 – Drona 01 – From poverty to power
This talk is a part of the “Fascinating Mahabharata Characters” series. To know more about this course, please visit: bhakticourses.com
Transcribed by : Sadananda Das
We are now starting with the second character which is Dronacharya. The first character we discussed was the most magnificent character in the Mahabharat; that is Bhisma pitama and the second character is also extraordinary.
The birth name of Dronacharya is Drona and he appears in the Adi Parva; that is the first Parva where he becomes the teacher of the Pandava’s and the Kauravas and then he has a significant presence throughout all the parvas till there is one parva dedicated to him known as the Drona Parva when he is the commander of the Kaurva army for five full days, from the eleventh day to the fifteenth day. Drona reigns across the Warfield and practically he is breathing fire; it is very difficult for the Padava’s to even conceive victory as long as Drona is in command. So, he is an extraordinary teacher and warrior himself. So, let’s discuss about his life from the beginning.
The name Drona is indicative of his extraordinary birth. He was not born in an ordinary way. The most people when they are born they have go into the mother’s womb and suffer in the mother’s womb and then the soul gets a body, but Drona is born from a great sage and also is born in an extraordinary way. His father was Bharadwaj; once Bharadwaj along with several other sages had gone to the Ganges. While they were bathing Bharadwaj was bathing at a distance from the other sages and there he saw a celestial damsel or an Apsara named Gritachi. She was so attractive looking that his reproductive seed emerged and for a great sage the reproductive energy itself is very powerful, and he had no desire to give up his renounced order. It is just a slip that happened, but even in such a slip because he had for a long time practiced austerity and conserved his energy, when that seed came out, that seed itself had extraordinary power. He collected it in a Drona and kept it; Drona is a container made of natural elements like leaves and other things; often small yelpings? 2.43 of food are served in drona and from that drone soon Dronacharya appeared. When Dronacharya appeared in his childhood he was known as Drona and Bharadwaj was a sage. Gritachi had no interest. In fact she didn’t even come to know immediately that such a thing had happened.
Drona lived in his father’s hermitage itself, and there from his childhood he was surrounded by sages, and while he was living among the sages his father did not directly become his teacher or spiritual master. One of the senior sages in his father’s hermitage who was also a disciple of Bharadwaj was Agnivesh. Bharadwaj’s disciple,
Agnivesh became the teacher of Drona and Drona not only became learned in scripture but also in warfare. He learned warfare so expertly that he eventually went on to become a peerless teacher.
The brahmana’s normally do not take up weapons but they are quintessentially teachers and they teach not only scriptures but they teach other branches of knowledge also. In general teaching is itself a brahminical activity because one is sharing knowledge; whatever field that knowledge might be, actually the sharing of knowledge is considered to be a brahminical activity. So, the brahmana knowledge is not only other worldly, it is also this worldly. Even the demons – It is described in the Ramayana that there are rakshasas who are demons and are called Yatudhana’s, and they would perform the pilgrimages and the rituals and the other rights necessary for the raksashas which they wanted to do for serving their nefarious ends.
The post of teacher is important in the society and every field in life needs to be taught. Now Drona became an extraordinary teacher while he was there in his father’s hermitage under the tutelage of Agnivesh who was a famous warrior teacher himself. In that gurukul many other people also came in; one of those people was Drupada who later on went to become the king of the Panchala desh.
Drupada and Drona became close friends while they were staying together in the gurukul, and eventually both of them graduated and they went their own separated ways, but while they were there close to each other Drupada in one moment of great affection told Drona, “We are such close friends that whatever is mine is yours; whatever I get in life I will give half of it to you, we will share it together.” They would share their food, they would share their lives, and at that moment they fell that they will share everything together. So they will share the kingdom also. Now Dronacharya at time that was still Drona; he went on and he got married to Kripi. Kripi is the sister of Kripacharya who we will talk about when Dronacharya reaches Hastinapur. Now when he got married he was a brahmana. In vedic culture generally brahmana’s are poor, they do not hoard wealth, they are interested in living simply, but sometimes this simple living is not just a choice but it can be a discomforting imposition. Just like we know in Krishna lila, Sudama was a very poverty stricken brahmana. Similarly, although Drona was married he was very poverty stricken, and he and Kripi begot a child; a powerful child who was known as Aswathama but in his infancy he was just a small baby and at one time Drona could not provide for him and the way he was crying desperately, the mother was saying, “Please he needs food regularly.” Although Drona did not want to ask favors from anyone still he decided to do something to mitigate his poverty; “If it is not for myself, then it is for my family, for my small child” and he remembered the promise of Drupada, and then he went into the palace and in the palace he approached
Durpada and he reminded him of his words which he had spoken during their friendship. Now the response of Drupada over here seems quite uncharacteristic to the way Drupada is in the rest of the Mahabharata. He seems a gallant king who is quite respectful of brahminical culture, but here Drupada tells Drona that friendship can only be among equals. “When both of us were children both of us were at the same level; neither you nor I had any property. At that time we could be friends but now I am a king and you are an indigent, how can we be friends?” It may seem, “Why did Drupada turn away from friendship like that and speak such biting words?” Actually Drupada spoke something also. Drupada said, “You are a brahmana and as a brahmana it is my duty to help you. So, I will give you charity as I give to other brahmanas also, but do not expect friendship. Friendship can only be there among equals.” Actually the beauty of the Mahabharata is that it doesn’t depict ideal characters who are so unrealistically perfect that it is impossible to emulate them in our life. This was a blemish on the part of Drupada; he did not acknowledge the friendship and he hurt bitterly and terribly the feelings of Drona. Drona if had wanted charity could have got charity anywhere else. Now here you will see that Drona’s disposition is not entirely or exactly like a brahmana. A brahmana is satisfied with charity but Drona is very much interested in warfare and was interested in fighting. Actually we will see later that he fought in the war in Kurukshetra and before that also in another war he would help. So, he did not want to accept charity where he was expecting friendship and he walked away terribly hurt and at that moment he decided, “I will take revenge against Drupada who has so publicly mortified and insulted me.”
Then Drona went from Panchala desh walking and he came to the Kuru kingdom, and at that time the Pandava’s and the Kauravas were young and they were playing in the vicinity of the palace. As the five pandavas and the hundred kauravas were playing with a ball the ball just went into a well. Generally when the children are playing and something like this happens, all the children get upset thinking, “How can we continue playing?” Then they are just at the ball and peering inside and thinking what to do; at that time Drona came along. At that time they looked at him who was regal, majestic. Drona would be in white robes, he had white beard, he had a whitish hair and his body was decorated with white sandalwood and he looked majestic. Although he was a brahmana but still he had an aristocracy about him which was captivating, and he asked the boys what was the matter. They told him, “This ball has fallen and we don’t know how to get it out.” Drona said, “You are princess. You don’t know how to do such a simple thing; get a ball out of this well.” Then he said, “If you will provide for my meals, then I will get this ball out for you.” Yudhisthir looked at him carefully and he said, “O brahmana if you get this ball out for us what to speak of providing a meal for you; with the permission of Bhisma we will arrange for you maintenance lifelong.” Drona looked at
Yudhisthir. Just from the beginning there was a natural affection that happened between Drona and the Pandavas. So, he knew that Yudhisthir was virtuous, and Drona just increased the sense of excitement. He took out his own ring, and the ball was already there in the well and he threw the ring also in the well and the prince’s started looking at him and thought what this is? They thought he will bring something out but he put something in further. Then he took a bunch of straw and he chanted some mantras. By the power of mystical mantras he endowed those straws with the strength as if they became like spears and he threw one straw that went and hit right in the ball and just penetrated it gently; then he threw the second straw, that penetrated the first straw. Like this he threw straws one by one and they all penetrated into the preceding straw and it became a rope which extended all the way upto the top and he just gently pulled out the rope and the ball came out and he gave it to the Pandava’s and the Kaurava’s. All the princess were amazed, “What is this?” They had never seen anything like this. Similarly, he chanted some mantras and he took a straw and a stone and he threw it down in such a way that the impact of that caused the ring to rise. By the power of his skill in throwing and his skills in chanting mantras he not only met the challenge that was there, but demonstrated his excellence even further in dealing with another challenge. When he got both the ring and the ball out the princes were stunned and they ran back. And just as children sees something wonderful they go home and tell this to their parents, the Pandavas and the Kauravas did the same. This was obviously about somebody who had military skills. They ran and told this to Bhisma. Bhisma was their primary caretaker; the Pandava’s father, Pandu had already departed and Dhritarastra, the Kaurava’s father was incapacitated because of being blindness. So, Bhisma was actively acting as their caretaker and trainer and they reported to Bhimsa, and when Bhisma heard this, at that time he understood, “Oh this must be the great Drona.” Now Drona had already become quite famous because when he had taken training from Agnivesh, at that time itself Agnivesh had recognized him to be a great warrior and a great teacher of warfare, and thereafter Drona had also gone to Parsuram.
Parsuram had one of his students as Bhisma. When Ganga had taken Devavrata who had been a baby to the heavens, she had him trained by Markendeya, Brishapati and Sukracharya in warfare, and similarly they trained him in scriptures, and she had him trained in warfare especially by Parasuram. Parsuram had told him many stories and he knew whatever Parsuram had been doing because he is such a famous person.
When Parsuram decimated the Ksatiya’s twenty one times, then he decided that now his mission was over, and then he decided after sometime to give away everything that he had in charity. So, he gave in charity to the Brahmins all his possessions, and when Drona heard that Parsuram is giving charity he decided to go the Parsuram, but unfortunately by the time he reached Parsuram he found that Parsuram had given away
everything. When he approached him for charity Parsuram said, “I cannot refuse the Brahmins.” But he said, “I have only two things left with me. One is my weapons and the other is my body.” Ask what do you want? Dronacharya seeing the extraordinary charitable spirit that he is ready to give up his body also said, “Oh honorable one, I will be honored to have your weapons along with the knowledge of how to use them.” This is how Dronacharya acquired celestial weapons. The weapons that Parasuram had were among the most powerful weapons in all of creation. Of course Parsuram himself was powerful and he also had powerful weapons. So, Dronacharya got these weapons.
In one sense because they have the same teachers, that is Parsuram, Bhisma already knew Drona and he heard about him, and he heard that Drona has come to the kingdom, and he was delighted because he was already looking for somebody to teach the prince’s. He himself was offering some training, but Bhisma also had the administration of the kingdom to take care of and he already had Kripa. Kripa had been staying in the Kuru kingdom and he had been acting as a martial teacher as well as a minister in some ways, but Kripachary did not know about celestial weapons. Because he did not know about celestial weapons he could not train the disciples in that. So, Bhisma wanted somebody who had knowledge of celestial weapons and to train the Pandava’s and the Kaurava’s in that. So, he invited and honored Drona and he offered him a comfortable house and royal facilities and told, “Whatever the Kaurvas have is yours. Please train them and make them into the maharathas that the Kuru dynasty deserves to have.” Dronacharya started training the one hundred and five princes; the five Pandavas and the hundred Kauravas, and he was such an expert teacher that soon his name and fame spread far and wide. In fact the city of Hastinapur is more or less equivalent to the city of Delhi and in the outskirts of Hastinapur.
Drona had his own gurukul and that became so famous that princes from various parts came there. They all stayed with him and took training from him and that is why his place became known as Guru gaon. Some people say that the place called Gurgaon in Delhi is where Dronacharya had his gurukuk, and there where Dronacharya was training the various students – here we see some extraordinary features of Dronacharya’s life. Some people say that Dronacharya as very narrow minded. When Karna came to him for teaching he refused to teach him. The reason he gave was: he could not teach someone who was not born in a ksatriya family. So, you may say that this is narrow minded. But if we are just going to stereotype and label Drona as label minded, then we have to consider the other fact that Drona trained someone who was ordained to cause his death. What had happened was Drupada had actually worked very hard to gain a big kingdom, and when he gained this very powerful kingdom he did not want to share it with Drona or anyone else, and when he couldn’t share it with anyone else, that’s why he rebuffed and sent Drona and Dronacharya trained the
Pandava’s and the Kauravas expertly.
Here we are focusing right now on the extraordinary attitude of Dronacharya towards his students which is often misunderstood and misportrayed. After the Pandava’s and the Kaurava’s had completed their education, then they asked, “What dakshina can we give?” and he said, “Please defeat Drupada and bring him as a prisoner in front of me.” So, all the disciples started going and the Kauravas, they always wanted to prove that they are better; the Pandava’s had repeated excelled throughout their education and Duryodhana thought, “This is the time when I will prove how good I am and started charging towards Drupada’s kingdom.” As he was charging towards Drupada’s kingdom, at that time the Pandava’s were also going. So, Arjuna told his brothers, “Wait, let him go first and then let his arrogance be smashed. Then we will do a special service to our teacher.” Duryodhana went proudly and attacked the kingdom of Drupada; Drupada had a powerful army and he himself was a maharatha and with his army he made a stiff resistance. Although Duryodhana fought ferociously he was overwhelmed and he was defeated, and with a sorry face he had to return mortified to Dronacharya, unable to provide the guru dakshina. And then the Pandava’s charged; and Arjuna and Bhima themselves were so powerful.
Drupada’s forces had already prepared whatever barricades they needed because they had got the news why the Kauravas are attacking and they knew that the Pandava’s would come after this; but Bhima just broke through all the barricades. Nobody could stand in front of Bhima and Arjuna and both of them just charged towards the army; Drupada himself put a heroic fight but Drupada was quickly imprisoned and arrested and brought in front of Drona, and when he was brought in front of Drona, Drona told Drupada, “O Drupada! Do you remember that we were friends long ago? I will like to renew our friendship but friendship can only be among equals. Now that you have been defeated your kingdom has become mine and you have no kingdom. So, how can we be friends?” Drupada was humiliated and Drona was having his way back at him. Then Drona said, “Yes, I want my friendship and I will be gracious to you. I will give you half of your kingdom back.” And Drupada was burning with envy but he knew that he was not in a position where he could do anything. He said, “O brahmana, you are very gracious to me. Thank you for giving me half of my kingdom.” He accepted it and then in a very cold and informal way they sort of befriended each other but the flames of enmity had grown further.
Drupada knew that he had to take revenge against Drona; at the same time he felt that by military prowess it was impossible because he had already seen the prowess of the Pandavas and he knew that Drona had trained them; Drona’s prowess was also formidable. So, he decided that if a ksatriya cannot win by ksatriya means, then the way
to win is by brahminical means, and brahminical means he will have to take shelter of some Brahmins. He went into the forest and he found that there were two Brahmins: Yaja and Upayaja. The older was Yaja and he told him, “Please help me to perform a yajna by which I will get someone who will be able to kill Dronacharya.” Actually both Yaja and Upayaja were not ready. So, first he went to Upayaja and Upayaja said, “I will not do any sacrifice for material gain but I have seen my brother; at one time he had eaten some food that was not pure.” He said, “He is not very discriminating. One who is not discriminating in food will also not be discriminating too much in the ways of earning; so, he may do the sacrifice for you.” And now the younger brother was more powerful; that’s why he had gone to him, but he said, “If he tells me to do it, then I will not refuse.” So, Drupada went and served the brahmanas for a long time with his brothers and finally he begged them, “Please do the sacrifice.” He agreed. When they agreed they performed a magnificent sacrifice and through that sacrifice – as the sacrifice was getting completed, then suddenly a magnificent warrior appeared. Through the flame a magnificent warrior appeared on a chariot dressed in armor with weapons, and as soon as he appeared he gave a fearsome roar and he started moving around, moving his sword, moving his mace, shooting arrows and exhibiting extraordinary skills, and this was Dhritadumnya; and at that time Drupada had also prayed that, “I want a daughter who will become the wife of Arjuna.” In one sense we see that the human mind can work in peculiar ways. Although Arjuna had defeated Drupada he never felt anger towards Arjuna because he knew that Arjuna was simply an instrument. He was just following out the instruction, and at one level he admired Arjuna for his devotion to his guru as well for his military skills, and although Drupada was defeated he admired Arjuna and he felt that Arjuna could become his son-in-law he would be very blessed, and so he desired a daughter also. From the same sacrifice a strikingly beautiful, dark complexioned lady emerged, and when she emerged, at that time a voice came, “Over her a war will be fought which would cause the destruction of ksatriyas.” And when these two great persons emerged both of them were great in their own ways; and then Dhristadumnya, he was already very powerful as a warrior or a ksatriya, but the same Dhristadumnya knew that whatever skills one has, by practice, by training and by guidance those skills will become better. He wanted a teacher who would improve his skills and for that purpose he decided to go to the best teachers at those times, and that best teacher was Dronacharya. Now Dronacharya knew about Drupada’s sacrifice and he knew that Dhristadumnya was ordained to kill him, but still what was Dronacharya’s attitude? He said, “I am a brahmana and I have to teach. If a person is qualified to receive knowledge then it is my duty to give knowledge.” So, he gave that knowledge to him because he felt that that was his duty as a Brahmin teacher, and he taught Dhristadumnya liberally giving him training in all the skills of warfare that he taught his other students also.
Coming to Karna; why did Drona not give Karna the knowledge? We have to understand two factors over here. The caste system that was there was not necessarily by birth or entirely by birth, but it didn’t consider birth entirely unimportant also. This was a privilege school. It was a school where the princes from all over the world were coming and naturally there has to be some selection over criteria over there. Even in today’s education system there are top schools, like in India we have I.I.T’s and in America there are Ivy League universities. It is not that anybody and everyone can come in over there and join those universities, but there are some criteria. So, he had a broad criterion that he would not have anyone as a student who would be not a ksatriya or not born as a ksatriya. Why? Because those who are born in Ksatriya wombs are quite likely to have ksatriya qualities. It is not necessary that that will be the only thing which determines the ksatriya qualities, but those who are born in Suta lineage’s are more likely to have qualities to become charioteers, not warriors.
We will disucuss about one more thing today about Ekalabya. Ekalabya was a Nishada. This Nishada was a tribe which is an outcaste and this tribe was actually very much a part of the Kaurava’s opposition. This Nishada tribe was actually a part of those who were disrupting the law and order situation, and they were disrupting the law and order situation and creating trouble for the Kaurava’s, and later on this Nishada’s joined ranks with Jarasansda who was also a demoniac person, a sworn enemy of Krishna; Krishna had many rebuttals with him and he was also an enemy of the Kuru’s. The Yadu’s and the Kuru’s had very friendly relationships because they were related by marriage. Kunti had been married to the Yadu’s. She was Sukhadev’s sister, she was a part of the Yadu vamsa and she had been married to the Kuru’s. Because of this alliance he was also inimical to the Kuru’s. He was not born in Ksatriya lineage and he was also inimical to the Kuru’s, and that’s why when Ekalavya approached Drona for education Drona said no because Drona was also perceptive teacher. He also observed something more. He saw that although Ekalavya had the skills to become an archer he did not have the expertise in terms of character, he did not have the chivalry that is required for a person to become a good Ksatriya. Ksatriya is one who has power, but Ksatiya also means: Ksata trayate iti ksatriya; one who uses the power to protect others, not to hurt others.
Ekalavya was disappointed by the refusal but he lived near the gurukul of Dronacharya and he also made an effigy of Dronacharya and he would sit in front of the effigy and he would practice. When Dronachary would be teaching his students he would hide behind the trees or on the trees and learn things, and then he would go in front of the effigy of Dronacharya and practice whatever he had heard over there. In this way he became a great archer and nobody came to know about his great archery skills. One day he was practicing archery and at that time he heard a dog barking and he just turned around and he shot arrows and sealed up the mouth of the dog and the dog could bark or do
anything and the dog was piteously moving here and there. At that time Arjuna and Dronacharya were walking in the forest and they saw this dog whose mouth was so piteously bound with arrows. They were amazed as well as alarmed. They were amazed because they saw that this was an extraordinary skill in terms of archery to be able to seal the mouth like this without killing the animal. It was extraordinary in terms of positive skill but at the same time it was negative. An animal like a dog should not be harmed in such a way by which it is rendered helpless like this. They went deeper inside and they saw Ekalavya practicing archery and when they talked he said, “My guru is Drona.” When the new reached Dronacharya he came and he looked at Ekalavya. As soon as he saw Ekalvya he recognized and asked, “You are my student?” Ekalvya said, “Yes.” Then Dronacharya was thinking very seriously at that time. He had seen the skill of Ekalvya. Now some people say that Drona had promised Arjuna that you will be the greatest archer in the world and Ekalavya had already become a greater archer than Arjuna; and that’s why he did something like this. But that is only a partial reason; that is an incomplete understanding. Actually Arjuna had been promised by Dronacharya that he will become the greatest archer but that was based on Arjuna’s skill, dedication and his expertise, whereas Ekalavy was an entirely different case. Ekalavya had the inclination to abuse the Ksatriya power and skill that he had for nefarious purposes. So, Dronacharya thought about all these and told, “If I am you teacher, if I am your guru, then you have to give me my gurudakshina.” He said, “Whatever you want I will give you.” Then Dronacarya became very grave and said, “Give me your right thumb.” Ekalvya without hesitation cut off his thumb and gave. At one level it is said that Ekalavya was unjustly deprived of the glory that could have come to him as an archer, but that is not the truth. Dronacharya was thinking about Ekalavya’s good and the world’s good. Ekalavya belonged to a group of people who were having antisocial tendencies, he was in alliance with a king who was anti-spiritual; and if he had skills he would have himself harmed people and he would have harmed himself, because he would have done some bad karma because of which he would have to suffer the karmic reactions. When his finger was cut off Ekalavya himself was saved from bad karma and its reactions. So, Drona actually protected Ekalavya from doing wrong things and he protected Arjuna also secondarily. Now somebody may say, “Wasn’t Ekalavya greatly devoted student that he gave up his own thumb for the sake of a guru who had actually not even taught him?” Yes, we may say that that is a sign of guru bhakti. Yes, it is, but actually we can’t think of guru bhakti only in one term.
Selective obedience is deceptive obedience. Selective obedience means, “I will do this, I won’t do this” that can be deceptive. If Ekalavya had been truly such a devoted disciple, then when first time itself his guru had told him, “Don’t learn archery. You are not qualified. I will not teach you.” At that time he should have accepted that and could
have found some other vocation; and the result of that was that Dronacharya had to curve in some other way. Dronacharya could have very easily washed off responsibility and he could have taken credit, “Oh I have another student who is also a great student.” He didn’t want credit for what Ekalavya had done; he wanted the good of the world. That’s why he asked Ekalavya for his thumb, and we will see more about Dronacharya’s expert training of the Pandava’s and the Kaurva’s also which reveals his character as a teacher.
Was Drona narrow minded in rejecting Ekalavya or depriving of his thumb? If we think like that, then we have to also consider how he was so broad minded that he was ready to train someone who would take away his own life.
We can’t impose our values on the people of another age and just judge from that way. We have to think from a broader perspective; and the characters in the Mahabharat are not just black and white. There are various shades in it and that’s what makes them so interesting, and that is why learning about them is also instructive.