Mahabharata Characters 12 – Drona 02 – The Teacher’s Tests
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 going to discuss on Drona. In the first session on Drona we discussed from poverty to power – how he despite being born in poor circumstances and despite being rejected by Drupada, by his skills he attracted the attention of the Pandavas, and then by the assistance and benevolence of Bhisma he set up his own gurukul which became famous among all the warriors in Bharat varsha. In this way he trained many of the greatest princes who later became rulers of the different kingdoms in the world. As he was training the students over a period of time all different students start excelling in different fields. He focused on all of them according to their capacities and gave them knowledge. He was an excellent teacher and he surpassed all the other teachers of warfare during his times and that is why all the kings send their sons who were the future kings and princes to him for training; from various parts of the world. Even Karna came to him who had been born to Kunti before her marriage. But Drona told him that fighting is normally the activity of a ksatriya and I will train those who are born in a ksatriya family. Karna at that time had not exactly exhibited his ksatriya qualities, and in general it was that ksatriyas would be the people who would be trained in warfare. Drona followed that protocol. This was not necessarily narrow mindedness because Drona was so broadminded that he was ready to train Dristadumnya who was destined to kill him.
After this as he started training he decided to test his students in various ways. One day he had taken all his students to a river side and as he was swimming inside the river suddenly an alligator came over there and the alligator caught Drona at this leg and started dragging him and devouring him, and Drona though powerful and resourceful enough to free himself from the alligator’s jaws cried out, “Oh students! Please save me.” Seeing their teacher in the clutches of the deadly alligator the students froze and were petrified not knowing what to do and how to do it. Arjuna however had lightning sharp reflexes. He immediately took out his bow and arrow and started shooting series of arrows at the alligator, and the alligator was cut apart to pieces and Drona was released. In that way Drona tested and demonstrated not just the skills but also the training in reflexes and sharpness of responses, and seeing Arjuna’s alertness and quickness of reflex actions and presence of mind he was very pleased and he told him, “I will give you some special knowledge.” And he gave him the knowledge of brahmastra at that time.
A teacher wants to teach everyone and the teacher wants to teach everything that is known to the teacher, but teacher teach according to what the students can accept, what the students can digest. When the teacher sees that the students are eager to learn more and more, then they teach more and more. This was one incident but there
are many other incidents which demonstrated the diligence of Arjuna and that diligence endeared him to Dronacharya.
Dronacharya had his own son Aswathama who also he was training in his gurukula, and Aswathama also was very good at warfare, but still he was not as good as Arjuna. Naturally there was some special affection that the father had for his son. So, he wanted to give some special knowledge to his son. He told all the students, “You go to the river side and you get water and you have to fill a particular container. It required several trips.” He gave a bigger container to Aswathama so that he could come back quickly, and then when he would come back quickly, Drona would give him some special knowledge. Seeing this Arjuna realized what was happening, and Arjuna was so eager to learn more and more from his teacher that he immediately used celestial weapons, he used Varuna astra given from Varun Deva that produces water, and there itself –Aswathama would have gone and come back much earlier than others, but still he had to go to the river side and get water – by using mystical weapons Arjuna produced water over there itself, and therefore he did not have to go anywhere and thereby he could fulfill the task much earlier than even Aswathama, what to speak of the others? And this was not just a demonstration of Arjuna’s expert usage of mystical weapons, it was not just a demonstration of his presence of mind, but it was his eagerness to learn. This also pleased Dronacharya. So, Dronacharya was a very perceptive teacher and he had trained his students to his best of his capacity but some students had greater intelligence, dedication and eagerness to learn and actually they learned more.
One time he decided to test among them. He took all them out to the forest and he had kept a dummy bird on the top of a tree and he told students one by one to come and see. He asked Yudhisthir to come forward and he asked Yudhisthir, “What do you see over there?” He said, “I see the tree. I see the branches. Then I see the sky and from the corner of my eyes I can see all of you, you and the other students.” Drona got annoyed and he said him to step aside. Then Bhima, Duryodhana and all the other students came and they gave similar answers and Drona told them all to step aside. Then Arjuna finally came; he picked up his bow and arrow. Then Drona said, “What do you see? Do you see the tree and the sky behind it.” Arjuna replied, “No, I see only the bird.” Dronacharya was pleased. His hairs stood on end. Then he said, “Describe the bird to me.” He said, “I cannot even see the bird, my eyes are fixed only on the head of the bird.” Then he said, “Describe the head of the bird.” He said, “I can only describe the head of the bird in outline because my eyes are focused only on the eye of the bird because you me to hit the eye of the bird?” Drona said, “Shoot.” And as Arjuna shot it went and directly pierced the target and Drona was very pleased. Then Drona told all his students that fixedness in hitting can only come when there is fixedness in seeing. When you want to hit some goal, when you want to hit some target, when you want to
achieve some goal, you have to focus on that. If you think of hundreds of other things at the same time, then we will not be able to focus on that. Now does this mean that if a ksatriya is fighting, the ksatiya should focus only on the target and not be aware of anything else? What about somebody attacking from the side or behind? Should a ksatriya not be aware about the other things also? Yes, the ksatriya definitely has to be alert. There is no doubt about that, but there are several other factors involved also. Normally when there was ksatriya warfare in those times, the ksatiya would not ambush others, they would challenge and then fight. In that sense the ksatriyas would not feel threat because of ambush attacks, but still if somebody goes to a forest or somebody faces some dacoits they may by ambush. So, normally a ksatriya has to be alert, but there is alert awareness with a focus. We are generally aware of the things around us and we are focused on one particular thing. But there is distraction where our consciousness is going here and there but actually we are not focusing on anything, we are not doing anything at all. When it is required, at that particular point Arjuna did not need to focus on too many things and that is what was needed for his was to focus on that particular thing – the head of the bird and specifically the eye of the bird. Now when it required for a ksatriya, that same alert awareness in which one is focused one thing in one’s environment can also be focused on all directions in one’s environment. So, concentration is a capacity which can be used to focus on one object or which can be used to focus on our entire surroundings, whatever is required. That virtue is what Dronacharya is extolling in Arjuna, and we also to the extent we stay fixed in our understanding of the purpose of our life, then we will be able to march ahead. Otherwise if we think that there are hundreds of goals and we want to do all of them, then we cannot make any steady progress either in our material life or in our spiritual life. Even if material life one needs to have some steady focused goals. This is all the more true in spiritual life. This is what is demonstrated by Arjuna and this is what was actually demonstrated by Drona through Arjuna.
As the training progressed and all the students excelled it emerged over a period of time that Aswathama became excellent in discharging mystical weapons, Yudhisthir became matchless as a spear fighter and as a chariot fighter, Nakula and Sahadeva became matchless as sword fighters, Bhima and Duryodhana were strong rivals, they both became peerless in mace fighting. Arjuna however excelled in all weapons and he became what was called as a Atiratha. Atiratha means a formidable warrior; a warrior of the highest rank who can fight with sixty thousand warriors at the same time. We may find this inconceivable. How can somebody fight like that? But that is the level of competence that somebody has. Somebody can have by systematic and steady training and that’s what he had acquired. Moving forward, as all of the were trained slowly, then when their training was nearing conclusion, Dronacharya came to the royal assembly
and he told Dhritarastra that, “Now your sons and nephews have completed their military training and if you permit we can have martial exhibition where they can exhibit for the pleasure of the royal family and the citizens; they can exhibit their skills.” Dhritarastra said, “Yes, we will all go. Let all the citizens come and see the great skills of our successors and Vidura will be my eyes. Take his help and make whatever arrangements are required.” They selected an auspicious place in the outskirts of the city and they started constructing a magnificent stadium over there. On all sides there were seats which were rising upwards. Wealthy businessmen sponsored the making of this whole stadium, and then when it was set up the news spread far and wide, and hundreds and hundreds of citizens from not only Hastinapur but from all over the kingdom came to see this martial exhibition. The whole royal family came; Gandhari came with Kunti. Kunti was the eyes of Gandhari and Vidura was the eyes of Dhritarastra. Other kings like Bahalika and others who were also the well-wishers of the Kuru family also came because it was an occasion of celebration. This is something like we have a graduation ceremony when the students have studied and have graduated; then the family and the relatives come there to the graduation ceremony to celebrate. That’s what they had come here for, and as they came forward the students came one by one and all of them started exhibiting their skills. They mounted on horses and chariots and started shooting arrows in all direction hitting stationary as well as moving targets, and some of the citizens became paralyzed by fear, some others became so panicky that they started fleeing away, some others just remained fearlessly seated with their eyes wide open in wonder and amazed to see the skills. And Dhritarastra was eagerly asking Vidura, “What is happening?” And every one of them described their skills. At that time Drona was presiding over. He would invite each warrior to come forward and exhibit their skills. Drona was dressed in white robes, he had white garlands on his body, he had white sandalwood paste sprinkled on his face and the visible limbs of the body. Then he also had white beard and white hair and he was accompanied right by his side by Aswathama. He looked like a shining white moon with Mars next to him. This was a moment of glory for both the teacher and the students as they exhibited to the world the magnificent training.
Now he invited Bhima and Duryodhana to come and both of them were expert at mace fighting and they started fighting, and they looked at each other with animosity and started pounding each other, and as soon it became heated the audience also became exited, and some of the audience started favoring Bhima. They said, “Just see how gigantic and powerful he is. He is a far better mace fighting.” Others said, “Just see how expert Duryodhana is. How he is swinging around his mace, how fast he is moving, how fleet footed he is, he is better.” And as the fight went on and on, though it was meant to be an exhibition fight but it became in dead earnest with both of them trying their best to
hit each other. When Drona saw that the fight had become too earnest he signaled to Aswathama and Aswathama ran in between both the fighters and pulled them aside using his hands and got them separated; he told them, “This is just an exhibition. Stop, Stop.” And both of them glanced balefully at each other and went away, and then after all the warriors had exhibited their skills, at that time Arjuna came and when Arjuna came everybody started cheering and as they started cheering Dhritarastra’s heart started burning with envy. He asked, “What has happened?” Vidura said, “Arjuna has come and he is exhibiting skills that no one has been able to exhibit till now.” Then externally he spoke, “O how fortunate is our Kuru dynasty to have such a glorious warrior like Arjuna in it.” But internally his heart was burning. “Was Duryodhana not equal to Arjuna? Why had the citizens not cheered in this way when Duryodhana had come?” If only he had eyes to see he would be seen for himself whether Arjuna was so good that he deserved such cheers; and Arjuna’s skills were incomparable. He exhibited singlehandedly all the skills that the previous students had exhibited and he exhibited more skills. He was able to shoot arrows in such a way that with one arrow –normally arrows go by a straight path but when invested with mantric power they can go in curved path – with one single arrow he could shoot and pluck all the leaves of a tree; and like that he was able to do stunning feats with his arrows, and everybody was stunned. This was Arjuna’s glory. And actually Arjuna on several occasions had pleased Drona. Drona had told him especially on that day when he had shot the bird’s eye so carefully and so consciously that, “You will become the greatest archer. In fact you are the greatest archer. By you diligence there is no one who is left to be as good as you.” He had already promised him and Arjuna by his own skills as well as by his diligence lived up to the potential which Drona had seen in him, and he helped Drona to fulfill that promise which he had given. There was no doubt that Arjuna was the greatest warrior amongst all of the warriors assembled there, and as this moment of glory was coming to its climax, suddenly some noise was heard near the entrance of the martial exhibition and there was a sound of footsteps and there was a sound of beating of thighs and beating of shoulders to indicate that somebody was coming along, some very powerful warrior was coming and that warrior was exhibiting his strength. Everyone turned to see and they saw a towering figure marching inside with a scowl on his face; he came in and he bowed indifferently to Drona and said, “Can I also exhibit my skills over here? I have as much skills as does Arjuna. I would like to exhibit these skills myself.” Now in one sense this was a great crashing into something which was not the right forum for Karna. This was an exhibition arranged by Drona to exhibit the skills of his students, but Drona graciously allowed the intruder Karna. Drona nodding his head. This intruder was Karna, the oldest among the Pandavas who did not know nor the Pandavas knew who he was. He now started exhibiting all his skills and he equaled every single thing that Arjuna had done and the crowd cheered seeing this extraordinary exhibition. Now it was
not just a general sporting event; it was an event specifically for Drona’s students and especially the Kuru princes. It was Drona’s graciousness that he allowed Karna to come in, and as Karna came in he not only took undue advantage but he wanted to monopolize and steal the show himself. Now we may say that if he has skills what is wrong with that? Yes, he has skills but there are forums. If there is a graduation ceremony for a student from one particular university, it is not that students from anywhere else can come and start bragging about themselves and start displaying their knowledge or skills. They have a forum elsewhere for that. Unfortunately that was not what Karna did, and as Karna started displaying his powers Duryodhana’s eyes opened wide. He saw the opportunity over there; he had always been burning in envy to see the success of the Pandava’s and he felt that he could take down Bhima if there was ever an occasion for a fight, but who would deal with Arjuna? And at last he found a counter to Arjuna in this person. And this person had introduced himself as Karna and had not told anything further.
Duryodhana ran up to Karna and he embraced him, and he said, “O Karna! You are most welcome over here. I would be honored to have you as my friend.” Karna was unknown over here and to be received so warmly by someone melted his heart; actually Duryodhana had his own ulterior motives to manipulate Karna on to his side, and he said, “What can I do for you?” Karna said, “Your friendship is itself a great honor for me. I don’t need anything else. But still I have one specific request. Can I have a direct combat with Arjuna?” Arjuna stiffened and he immediately picked up his bow and he could obviously see the Karna was very arrogant, and maybe he could right away curve the arrogance of this vein Karna. And as he picked up his bow Duryodhana laughed trying to inflame the animosity between Karna and Arjuna further. He said, “Why do you bother Karna? Enjoy the good things of life with me. Just be with me, and there is no need for a direct confrontation.” Arjuna had heard enough. He looked at Drona and Drona nodded. Then he said, “O Karna. Now the path for the unwelcome visitor or the unwanted intruder in the event are open for you. You have not been invited here.” Duryodhana sprang to the defense of Karna and he said, “He is a warrior. Can’t you see his skills? Why can he not be present over here?” And Karna replied, “This is not just meant for you alone. Any warrior can come and exhibit his skills.” Actually it was his own assumption and it was not true. It was Drona who had arranged the martial exhibition and no other warrior had come there. Only Drona’s students were meant to be there, but still Drona tolerated this.
Then Karna said, “If you are not afraid then fight with me.” And Arjuna immediately picked up his bow. He looked up at Drona and he nodded and both of them started getting ready to fight with each other. As they got ready to fight with each other Kripa came over there and he said, “Wars are fought among equals. We know that Arjuna
belongs to the illustrious Kuru dynasty. We would like to know which dynasty you belong to? After that Arjuna will decide whether he will fight with you or not?” Karna shrank in shame, his head hung low down. It was obvious to everyone that he was not from any royal dynasty. Duryodhana saw the opportunity to endear Karna to himself and he gave apparently gave an anti-casteist speech over here. Actually selfish people can exhibit virtues if those virtues suit their selfish purposes. Actually those who were virtuous – the Pandavas, he was envious of them. And for serving his own purpose he was ready to do anything. So, he started speaking heroically in a virtuous seeming words. He said, “How can you think he is not royalty? Qualities of a person are not determined by birth alone. Birth is just one factor. If you see his skills he is obviously royalty.” Now Duryodhana was also learned in Vedas. He was not learned in the conclusion of the Vedas which is that one should develop virtues and one should devote oneself to the Lord; that he had not learned but still when he wanted he could quote the Vedas also.
There are many atheists also in Indian history and in India’s independence struggle who were atheistic and anti-spiritual and iconoclastic; but whenever needed they would quote from scriptures also just to support their points. Duryodhana was an utilitarian. So, he started quoting from scriptures saying that there are so many great people are born in so many different and mysterious ways. “Drona himself was born from a vessel – Drona; so was the God Kartike born from a set of reeds. Even you Pandavas have been born in mysterious ways. It is not that birth alone should be used as a characteristic for determining a person’s standing, and if it is that Partha will not fight with someone who is not a king, then I will coronate Karna as a King right now.” And he ordered the Brahmins over there to get sanctified water and after they got sanctified water and right in that assembly itself a throne was fetched and with Duryodhana’s supervision the Brahmins bathed him in sanctified water and he said, “I coronate you as the king of Angadesh.” And all the citizens cheered over there and Karna was deeply moved by this. He said, “How can I ever thank you for this. What a honor that you have bestowed upon me. I am forever grateful to you for this.” Duryodhana knew exactly which buttons to push so that he could get Karna to get bound more and more. So, he said, “I only want your friendship.” Then he said, “Now Partha! he is a king. Now fight with him.” As they were about to fight suddenly an elderly person came running down the stairs. That person was old and couldn’t walk properly and used a stick to come and he came right in the center of the assembly where Karna was sitting and went towards Karna. Karna immediately got up from his throne and bent down and touched his feet, and he said, “This is my father Adirath and I am his son Karna.” And as he spoke this he looked at his father and he looked at Duryodhana and he looked at everyone else with doubt and a little bit of fear in his eyes. Not in terms of ksatriya fear, but fear in terms of being dishonored; an apprehension was there. Then Bhima laughed and said, “O you
are a Suta. Your duty is to look after chariots, not to ride the chariot. O Karna you have no reason to be here. Get out of here.” Then Duryodhana again got angry and he sprang up and he said, “You have obviously seeing the skills of Karna. How can such a person with such prowess…” Now Karna when he entered, everybody had noticed that he had some extraordinary armor around his body which was not worn externally but which was intrinsic to his body. It was a part of his body only. That armor would always be there. Duyodhana said, “He has got a natural armor. What ordinary person can have that? And he also has extraordinary earrings in his ears. Can you not see the signs of nobility and glory in such a person? How can you deride such a person based only on birth?” When he spoke this some of the citizens cheered and said, “Duryodhana was right.” and as the citizens were debating, as the elders were debating whether there will be fight between Karna and Arjuna or not, at that time the sun started setting and this conflict could not be settled on that day.
By the end of Drona’s training the lines of conflicts had hardened. The Pandavas had become virtuous and Karna had become glorious, and the Kauravas had also developed skills, but the Kauravas had become envious, and not only had they become envious but they had also become united in their envy with Karna, and at that time as they were learning the skills to fight the seeds were also being sown for an eventual massive fight to take place.
Dronacharya’s moment of his greatest glory was when Arjuna exhibited his great skills and in this way the student’s success is the teacher success. So, the teacher student relationship between Drona and Arjuna is a prototype of the teacher-student relationship wherein that teacher is dedicated to the student and the student is dedicated to the teacher, and thinking about this all the warriors slowly started departing. All citizens departed and some felt that Arjuna had been the hero of the day. Others felt that Karna had been the hero. Others said that Drona had been the hero. Some said that Duryodhana had been the hero, and in this way everybody departed, and with this the training period in the lives of the Kauravas and the Pandavas ended and how Drona featured in the later parts of the Mahabharata; now after this his main feature role comes directly in the war and that too in the war primarily in the Drona Parva, that is from days eleven to fifteen.