By Nirooshitha Sethuram
After the attempt on Bhima’s life, Bhishma had promised Kunti that he would make everything right. As the first step in keeping his word, he confronted Dhritarashtra. Dhritarashtra turned a blind eye to it as usual, trying to avoid the situation. But this time, Bhishma did not let Dhritarashtra off the hook so easily. With a very stern voice, Bhisma demanded that Dhritarashtra look into the matter and give the rightful punishment to Duryodhana and his brothers.
Dhritarashtra melted down. pleading with Bhishma that he cannot punish his children under any circumstances. Understanding that Dhritarashtra was not going to do anything on his own, Bhishma imposed that all the children would learn under Dronacharya at his Ashram. Bhishma thought that creating distance between Dhritarashtra and his children would give an opportunity for Duryodhana and his brothers to change, especially under the guidance of Dronacharya and without interference from their father. Unable to wiggle out the mess Duryodhana had created, Dhritarashtra had to agree to Bhishma’s mandate.
Bhishma’s plan was to make the Pandava and Kaurava cousins work together for the greater good of Hastinapura. After getting Dhritarashtra sorted out, Bhishma knew he also had to create distance between Duryodhana and his uncle Shakuni, if his plan had any chance of success. So he connected with Shakuni’s father, King Subala. He advised him to renounce his throne and make his eldest son, Shakuni, the king of Gandhara kingdom.
This would insure that Shakuni had his hands full on a daily basis., thus getting him away from the Kauravas. Shakuni was very upset with them about this plan, for his only aim was to punish the Kuru dynasty for what had been done to his sister Gandhari.
All the one hundred and five children prepared to go to Dronacharya’s Ashram. Word was sent to Dronacharya that his conditions were agreed upon by Dhritarashtra, and that the children will be arriving on the next auspicious day. Guru Drona was very happy that his dream of teaching the Kuru dynasty princes was coming true. He made all the arrangements for the arrival of his students.
Back in Hastinapura, Dhritarashtra was very upset that Duryodhana had put him in a position to make such a decision. At the same time, Duryodhana was very upset with his father because he hadn’t turned a blind eye as usual. By the time came for the children to leave, not only Dhritarashtra, but also Gandhari, Kunti and all of Hastinapura was in sorrow. Bhishma was firm about sending the children to the Ashram, far away from Hastinapura. Firm orders were issued that no one should contact the children and anyone who did would be severely punished.
The Pandavas and the Kauravas reached Guru Drona’s Ashram. They were welcomed by Guru Drona and his wife Kripi. The Ashram was located in a very thick jungle and had minimal luxuries. Used to luxuries of the palace for their whole life, Duryodhana and his brothers hated the place. But nothing could be done. On the other hand, the Pandavas had been brought up in a similar environment previously, therefore didn’t have any problem with it. All of them met Guru Drona’s son Ashwatthama, who was to study with them according to the agreement.
Ashwatthama was Guru Drona’s only son. He was a boon from Lord Shiva, after Guru Drona’s severe penance to please Lord Shiva. Ashwatthama was born with a gem on his forehead. It gave him power over all living beings other than humans and it protected him from hunger, thirst and fatigue. Hunger had been his childhood curse due to the poverty of his family. Duryodhana made sure that Ashwatthama became close to the Kauravas, rather than the Pandavas.
The gurukul studies and training started. The children were very busy and didn’t notice how the time was flying by. They were unable to think about home. All of the princes were good learners. After a few months of training. Guru Drona decided to test the ability of his pupils’ archery skills. He prepared a wooden bird and placed it on a branch of a tree. The Princes were asked to get ready with their bows and arrows. The target was the bird’s eye. Guru Drona asked them to come one by one, asking each the same question, “What do you see?”
Yudhishthira went first, being the eldest. He said, “I see the tree, branch and the entire body of the bird.” Guru Drona wasn’t satisfied with the answer. All followed after him and gave similar answers. The Guru was a bit disappointed. Then came Arjuna, who first touched the feet of his Guru, who blessed him to be successful. Arjuna set an arrow to his bow and took aim. Guru Drona repeated the same question. “What do you see?” Arjuna, with shining eyes, said, “I see nothing but the eye of the bird.” The Guru signaled him to shoot. Arjuna shot the arrow and in a flash the arrow pierced the bird’s eye. Guru Drona was very pleased, praising Arjuna’s one pointedness and hugging him endearingly, blessing him to be the invincible archer.
The Guru’s son Ashwatthama and Arjuna both loved archery, so they often practiced together. One night while they were eating together, a gush of wind blew their lamp out. They both continued eating in pitch darkness without spilling a single grain on the floor. Seeing this, Guru Drona taught them both how to hit a target blindfolded, guided by the sounds without visual help.
Another day, Guru Drona went for a swim in the river while the disciples stayed on the banks. Suddenly he screamed, “Help! Help! A crocodile has got my leg in its jaws!” The pupils were shocked by this and frozen to their feet not knowing what to do. Arjuna stayed calm, picked up his bow and shot an arrow, targeting the splashing sounds made by lashing tail of crocodile. The crocodile died, releasing Guru Drona from its hold. The Guru was saved.
He was delighted by the way Arjuna handled the situation. As a reward, he taught another exclusive teaching on Brahmashirsha astra. While Arjuna’s archery skills amazed everyone, the Kaurava princes felt jealous of him. They didn’t like the fact their Guru was partial to Arjuna, showing favoritism.
One day a tribal boy named Ekalavya came to see Dronacharya, asking him to be his Guru in the art of archery. The reaction from the princes, especially from the Kauravas was not good. They were against having Ekalavya as their classmate because of the difference in their status. As Guru Drona had already promised Bhishma that he would only teach the Kuru princes, he was helpless and had to refuse Ekalavya. But Ekalavya was a determined young boy. He respectfully bowed, picking up a handful of soil from the ground underneath the feet of Guru Drona, putting his hand to his forehead, then departed.
Without going back home, he went into the nearby forest. He collected a heap of clay and mixed in it the handful of soil he had brought from underneath the feet of Guru Drona. He created a clay model of Guru Drona. Every day he would touch the feet of the clay model of Guru Drona and practice archery on his own. One day Ekalavya was busy practicing shooting when a dog appeared and started barking at him. He tried to drive the dog away but it refused move. After it went on for some time, Ekalavya lost his patience and shot arrows at the dog. The arrows expertly stuffed the mouth of the dog shut without seriously wounding it.
Yelping, the dog yelping ran away. It belonged to one of the princes, so it returned to the Ashram. The princes were amazed to see its plight. Guru himself was stunned by the archery skill of the archer who had done that. They decided to follow the paw marks of the dog, searching for the skillful archer. They reached the place of Ekalavya who was still practicing. Guru Drona at once recognized the boy. Ekalavya was delighted to see his Guru visiting him. Guru Drona asked, “Are you the one who did this to the dog?” Ekalavya bent down on his knees and said he had to do that as the dog was disturbing him from his practices. Seeing Ekalavya with such talent, Guru Drona knew at once that he would outstrip his favorite pupil, Arjuna. His dream of making Arjuna the greatest archer of the world might not happen with such skills of Ekalavya.
So, Guru Drona asked Ekalavya, who was his Guru. Ekalavya humbly said, “You are my Guru.” Guru Drona was stunned by this answer and asked how that was possible, as he’d refused to take him as his student. Ekalavya immediately took him to the clay model. Pointing at it, he explained, “Even though you couldn’t accept me as your student, I had accepted you as my Guru in my heart. Whatever the skill I learned today is the gift of your blessing.”
Duryodhana was very happy to see Ekalavya. Duryodhana wanted to befriend Ekalavya so that Duryodhana would have a weapon to match Arjuna.
Even though Guru Drona was greatly pleased at Ekalavya’s devotion and persistence he was bewildered by this situation. As a Guru he couldn’t allow this situation to continue, as learning a skill without the Guru’s guidance must not be completed as it could be a danger to the world. He decided to put an end to it.
He asked for Guru-dakshina from Ekalavya. At the end of education, you give Guru whatever he asks as Gurudakshina. With delight, Ekalavya asked what Guru would want. Guru Drona asked for Ekalavya’s right thumb. Without a second thought, Ekalavya obeyed, cut off his thumb and placed it at the Guru’s feet. In this way, he set an example of devotion and obedience to the Guru. Ekalavya’s devotion to the Guru yet remains one of the greatest of all time. He also acquired the mastery of shooting with four fingers and later became the king of the Nishadhas.
All the princes were dumbstruck what had just taken place. Especially Duryodhana was heartbroken, that the plan he had in mind just got smashed by his Guru.