Why was Ekalavya treated so unfairly?
Transcribed by: Raji Nachiappan
Question: Why was Ekalavya treated so unfairly?
Answer: Ekalavya’s case is difficult to understand. There are a few aspects that need to be considered to understand Drona’s treatment of Ekalavya.
Today, in various parts of the world, there are people, who are known as insurgents. If somebody belongs to a community of insurgents, it does not necessarily mean that they will also do antisocial activities. However, there will be suspicion and reservation towards such people. For example, consider a person from Kashmir who hails from an area which is a breeding ground for terrorist expresses interest to join an elite group, for example, anti-terrorist group of India’s foreign intelligence agency, RAW (Research and Analysis Wing). There will be questions on whether they really want to join the anti-terrorist group or want to infiltrate as a spy. Therefore, at times, if some people come from certain backgrounds, it may not be very easy for them to penetrate certain elite groups.
In the same way, Drona’s academy was like an elite group because it was meant for the kshatriyas who were from well-known and respectable families. Ekalavya belonged to the Niṣhadha dynasty and Niṣhadhas are like outcastes. Ekalavya’s tribe, in the past had acted in a way that was disruptive for the Kurus. Since Drona was the priest of the Kuru dynasty, he chose not to allow Ekalavya to join the academy.
Then, Ekalavya decided that he will make an effigy or an image of Drona. He would hide behind a tree when Drona would give lessons to his students and would learn those. He would practice after taking blessings from Drona’s effigy. He certainly had the archery expertise in terms of skill and became an extraordinary archer.
After having learnt something, he then naturally wanted to exhibit it. Once when he was practicing in the forest, Drona and Arjuna happened to be walking there and there was a dog barking. Ekalavya heard the dog barking and he did not want to be disturbed. Hence, he shot a set of arrows and sealed the mouth of dog completely. When Arjuna and Drona saw this, they marvelled. This act of sealing the mouth of the dog in such a manner required expertise in archery.
At the same time, the dog is neither a very harmful nor a dangerous creature. Also, the nature of dog is to bark. To seal a dog’s mouth like that just because it barked, is quite an excessive action. Suppose an expert boxer goes to a hotel and there he finds a person speaking loudly. The boxer does not like the loudness and showcases his boxing expertise on that person. The person is knocked out and falls unconscious. Someone can a question – was this the right place to use one’s boxing expertise? That is debateable.
When Drona was observing this event, Ekalavya came there and offered his respects to Drona. He said, “I am your student. I have learnt from you.” Drona then recognises that previously Ekalavya had asked to join his academy but was refused entry. Drona then said, “If you consider yourself to be my student, then you should give me guru-dakshina.” Then, he asks Ekalavya for his thumb which Ekalavya gives. Certainly, Ekalavya’s offering of his thumb is a remarkable act of devotion to his guru.
However, why did Drona ask for such a guru-dakshina? Why did Drona want to ruin the career of a person who was in a sense, a self-made man?
Here, we have to understand that Drona was also seeing from a long-term perspective. For a person to contribute constructively in life, both competence and character are required. For example, someone might be a very good surgeon in terms of precision and skills to incise and stitch the body tissues. However, if they do not have character, the end result may be a disaster. The surgeon, for example, may perform a partial surgery or leave some instrument behind in the body which may cause even bigger trouble to the patient.
Initially, because Ekalavya belonged to a particular community, Drona had questions about whether his character was sound or not. He also had questions on whether Ekalavya will use the archery skills to benefit or harm the society. Later, when he saw Ekalavya silencing a dog by using his archery skills, it was a confirmation to Drona that Ekalavya had archery skills but did not have the character to use it in a discerning way. Since he used it indiscriminately, he needed to be punished by curtailing his powers. Otherwise he will harm others. Eventually because of Ekalavya’s bad actions, the karmic reaction will come to Drona and harm Drona as well.
One way to curtail his power was by asking for his thumb. Drona’s primary consideration for asking Ekalavya’s thumb was to avoid abuse of his power of archery and not because he wanted Arjuna to be the best archer and that Ekalavya was a possible threat to him.
It is true that Ekalavya was devoted to his guru and gave his thumb. That is a very noble and glorious act. At the same time, if he was very deeply devoted to his guru, then he could have accepted it when the guru initially told him that he was unfit for archery. He could have followed that instruction and chosen another vocation. However, he did not do that.
Mahabharata describes that eventually Ekalavya joined the ranks of the demoniac king, Jarasandha, with whom Krishna fought. Krishna killed Ekalavya. Ekalavya choosing the side of a demoniac king like Jarasandha also confirm this idea that he did not have the character of a person who could use power to protect others.
End of transcription.