About Prince EKALAVYA aka NISHĀDA of Nishada Kingdom Harinyadhanu
One the most perplexing pastimes in Mahabharata is related to Ekalavya. Why should a seemingly noble and brave prince be penalized by a noble and self-realized teacher? As in other pastimes in the Mahabharata, there is much more here than the superficial interactions of the personalities, and ultimately there is a very valuable lesson for all of us to learn in this pastime. Ekalavya the Nishada prince: Ekalavya was the son Hiranyadhanus, the king of Nishadas. The Nishadas were jungle tribes that lived in the fringe of cities and were generally considered to be outcastes. The Srimad Bhagavatam explains how in ancient times there was a cruel king named Venu who had forbidden any form of worship other than to himself. Much aggrieved by this, the powerful Brahmans had then killed him by the powers of their Vedic chants. Then by churning the lower part of his body they created a man described as short, dark, fierce and submissive. On the orders of the Brahmans this man began to live in the forests and from him descended the race of the Nishadas.
Ekalavya was very ambitious to become a famous warrior and in order to fulfill this ambition he approached the most qualified teacher of his time, Dronacarya. When Dronacarya had become the teacher of the princes of the Kuru dynasty, his fame spread far and wide with that of his pupils. Kings from all over the country send their young princes to get training from the famous Drona and Drona would graciously accept them as his students.
However Drona refused to accept Ekalavya as a student explaining that he only accepted Ksatriya princes as his students. A much disappointed Ekalavya returned but undaunted, he made an idol of Drona and began to practice very rigorously. He would also observe Drona instructing his disciples and would later practice the same moves. So fixed was he in his practice that soon he became extremely skillful in the use of bow and arrow.
Ekalavya encounters the Pandavas:
Once the Pandavas went into the jungle to practice their skills in hunting. They were accompanied by some dogs for the purpose of flushing out their quarry. One of the dogs happened to stumble upon Ekalavya practicing his archery. Alarmed at the unusual sight of the short, dark person, the dog began to bark furiously. Ekalavya was very much disturbed by the barking and expertly shot several arrows into the mouth of the dog.
When the whimpering dog ran back to the Pandavas, they were amazed to see the skill with which the arrows had been shot into the mouth of the dog without hurting it. Curious to see the archer, they traced the path of the dog and finally came upon Ekalavya. When Arjuna inquired about his identity, Ekalavya introduced himself as a Nishada prince and a disciple of Guru Dronacarya.
Drona had once promised Arjuna that he would make him the foremost archer in the entire world. However, Arjuna considering the skills of Ekalavya to be superior to his own inquired from Drona how could he have given him the promise when in fact he was training Ekalavya to be an even better archer.
Drona confronts Ekalavya:
A mystified Drona visited Ekalavya and was greeted with great respect by the young Nishada. Drona then inquired that despite the fact he had refused to accept Ekalavya as his student, why did he claim to be his student. Ekalavya then showed Drona the idol he made and explained how in his heart he had accepted Drona as his teacher and how he would observe him teaching his students and then practice before Drona in the form of an idol.
At this Drona demanded his guru-dakshina or the traditional payment given by the student to his teacher as a token of gratitude. In dakshina, Drona asked for the right thumb of Ekalavya. Well knowing that without his right thumb his prowess as an archer would be greatly diminished, Ekalavya without hesitation sliced off his right thumb and presented it to Drona.
Lessons from this pastime:
There are many vital lessons to be learned from this pastime. Superficially it seems that Drona, in order to preserve the supremacy of his favorite disciple Arjuna acted out of selfish interest. However that is only the partial truth. The beauty of Mahabharata is that its characters are not entirely black or white, but very much like its readers, they are shades of gray. While Drona did to some extend have his self interest in mind, as later revealed by him there was much more to it.
Qualifications to learn:
In Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna says that it is much better for one to perform his own duties, even imperfectly than to try and perform the duties of another person. A bona-fide teacher instructs a pupil according to the capability of the pupil to handle the knowledge. Drona did not consider Ekalavya, a Nishada, qualified to handle the immense power he was imparting to his other students, and therefore he had refused to instruct him. In fact Drona did not reveal all the secrets of warfare to even his own son Ashvattama.
During the course of Mahabharata when ashvatthama witnessed the extraordinary powers of Arjuna he inquired from his father as to why Drona had not given him the knowledge of all these mystic weapons, despite the fact that he was his favorite son. Drona replied that he did not consider Ashvatthama to have sufficient control over his senses to judiciously use these powerful weapons. However Ekalavya forcibly stole this knowledge from Drona and thus he was punished by Drona.
Approaching a spiritual master:
All scriptures enjoin that the only way to learn is by approaching a spiritual master, inquiring submissively from him and rendering service to him. When Drona refused to accept Ekalavya as a disciple at the time this potential relationship ceased to exist. However Ekalavya persisted unilaterally. Disciple means subjecting oneself to the discipline of the Guru. However Ekalavya did not do this, he actually used Drona solely for the purpose of enhancing his own reputation as a warrior. Drona thus considered Ekalavya’s behavior to be improper. Ekalavya was later killed by Lord Krishna in a battle (the details of this battle are not given).
Instructions by Lord Krishna:
In the Drona-prava, on the fourteenth day of the war of Mahabharata, Karna kills Ghatotkacha, the fearsome rakshasa son of Bhima. While the Pandavas are filled with lamentation, every one is surprised to see Lord Krishna smiling in great happiness. A much aggrieved Arjuna inquires the cause of Lord Krishna’s jubilation, the Lord replies, “O son of Kunti, if Jarasandha, Shishupala and Ekalavya, the Nishada prince, were not killed by Me, they would have become unbearably powerful and aligned themselves with Duryodhana in order to fight with you. Therefore I empowered Bhima to kill Jarasandha and also revealed to him the secret of killing the Magdha king by bifurcating him.
From within his heart I inspired Drona to ask for the thumb of Ekalavya and I later killed Ekalavya in battle. Thereafter I arranged for the death of Shishupala by encouraging him to commit more and more offenses against Me. Similarly I arranged for the death of Ghatotkacha to utlizie the infallible dart of ! Karna and also because many times in the past I have known Ghatotkacha to have disrupted Vedic sacrifices. It is my eternal duty to destroy anyone who disrupts the path of virtue.”
From these instruction we can ascertain that Drona had acted justly, in the interest of religiosity and virtue to punish Ekalavya. The pastime reveals the proper basis of relationship between a guru and his disciple, and the importance of executing one’s own duty according to one’s propensity and capability.