This is the story of a long-gone era. In the country of India, nearly five
thousand years back, lived a boy named Eklavya,
the son of a tribal chief in the forests of the kingdom- Hastinapura.
Eklavya was a brave, handsome boy. He was loved by all.
But he was not happy.
His father saw that something troubled Eklavya. More than once he found his
son lost deep in thought when other boys enjoyed
the pleasures of hunting and playing. One day the father asked his son, “Why
are you so unhappy, Eklavya? Why don’t you join
your friends? Why are you not interested in hunting?”.
“Father, I want to be an archer” replied Eklavya, “I want to become a
disciple of the great Dronacharya, the great tutor of
Archery in Hastinapura. His Gurukul is a magical place where ordinary boys
are turned into mighty warriors.”
Eklavya saw his father was silent. He continued, “ Father, I know that we
belong to the hunting tribe, but I want to be a
warrior, father, not a mere hunter. So please allow me to leave home and
become the disciple of Dronacharya.”
Eklavya's father was troubled, for he knew that his son’s ambition was not
an easy one. But the chief was a loving father and
he did not want to refuse his only son’s wish. So the kind man gave his
blessings and sent his son on his way to Drona’s
Eklavya set on his way. Soon he reached the part of the forest where Drona
taught the princes of Hastinapur.
In those days, there was no such system as a school, college, university or
hostel. The only place where one could get some
education was a “ Gurukul”. A Gurukul (Guru refers to "teacher" or "master";
Kul refers to his domain, from the Sanskrit word
kula, meaning extended family.) is a type of ancient Hindu school in India
that is residential in nature with the shishyas or
students and the guru or teacher living in proximity, many a time within the
same house. The Gurukul is the place where the
students resided together as equals, irrespective of their social standing.
The students learned from the guru and also
helped the guru in his day-to-day life, including the carrying out of
mundane chores such as washing clothes, cooking,
etc. The education imparted thus, was a wholesome one.
Having said this much, let us now return to Eklavya. When the boy reached
Dronacharya’s Gurukul, he saw that it consisted of
a group of huts, surrounded by trees and an archery yard. The disciples were
practicing to shoot arrows with their bows and
arrows in the yard. It was an engaging sight. But Eklavya’s eyes searched
Drona. Where was he? Will he be able to see the man?
Without Drona, all his purpose of coming here would be meaningless. But all
his worries soon subsided. He didn’t have to wait
for long. There was the man standing near a tree busy instructing a boy, who
was none else than the third Pandava prince
Arjuna, as Eklavya came to know later. Though Eklavya had never seen Drona
before, he put his guess at work. He went near
Drona and bowed.
The sage was surprised to see a strange boy addressing him. “Who are you?”
"Dronacharya, I am Eklavya, son of the Tribal Chief in the western part of
the forests of Hastinapura."
Eklavya replied. "Please accept me as your disciple and teach me the
wonderful art of Archery."
Drona sighed. "Eklavya..." said he,"... if you are a tribal hunter, you must
be a Shudra, the lowest social community
according to the Vedic Caste System. I am a Brahmin, the highest caste in
the kingdom. I cannot teach a Shudra boy."
"And he's also a Royal teacher," interrupted Prince Arjuna. "Our Guru has
been appointed by the King to train us, the princes
and the highborn. How dare you come inside the Gurukul and seek him? Leave!
NOW!" he spat out, looking enraged that Eklavya
had disturbed his practice.
Eklavya was stunned at Arjuna's behaviour. He himself was the son of the
chief of his clan, but he never insulted anyone
below him in such a way. He looked at Drona for some kind of support, but
the sage remained silent. The message was loud and
clear. Dronacharya also wanted him to leave. He refused to teach him.
The innocent tribal boy was deeply hurt by Drona's refusal to teach him.
"It's not fair!" he thought miserably. "God has
given knowledge to all, but man alone differentiates his kind."
He left the place with a broken heart and a bitter taste in his mouth. But
it could not shatter his ambition to learn
Archery. He was still as determined to learn Archery.
"I may be a Shudra but does it make any difference?" thought he. " I am as
strong and zealous as Drona's princes and
disciples. If I practice the art everyday, I can surely become an archer."
Eklavya reached his own forests and took some mud from a nearby river. He
made a statue of Dronacharya and selected a
secluded clearing in the forests to place it. Eklavya did this because he
faithfully believed that if he practiced before his
Guru, he would become an able archer. Thus, though his Guru shunned him, he
still held him in high esteem and thought of him
as his Guru.
Day after day, he took his bow and arrow, worshipped the statue of Drona and
started practice. In time faith, courage and
perseverance transformed Eklavya the mere tribal hunter into Eklavya the
extraordinary archer. Eklavya became an archer of
exceptional prowess, superior even to Drona's best pupil, Arjuna.
One day while Eklavya is practicing, he hears a dog barking. At first the
boy ignored the dog, but continuous disturbance in
his practice angered him. He stopped his practice and went towards the place
where the dog was barking. Before the dog could
shut up or get out of the way, Eklavya fired seven arrows in rapid
succession to fill the dog's mouth without injuring it.
As a result it roamed the forests with its mouth opened.
But Eklavya was not alone in his practice. He was unaware of the fact that
just some distance away, the Pandava princes were
also present in that area of the forest. As fate would have it, that day,
they had come with their teacher, Drona, who was
instructing them about some finer points of archery by making them learn in
the real-life condition of the open jungle.
As they were busy practicing, they suddenly chanced upon the "stuffed" dog,
and wonder who could have pulled off such a feat
of archery. Drona was amazed too." Such an excellent aim can only come from
a mighty archer." he exclaimed. He told the
Pandavas that if somebody was such a good archer then he surely needed to be
met. The practice was stopped and together they
began searching the forest for the one behind such amazing feat. They found
a dark-skinned man dressed all in black, his body
besmeared with filth and his hair in matted locks. It was Eklavya.
Dronacharya went up to him.
"Your aim is truly remarkable!" Drona praised Eklavya, and asked "From whom
did you learn Archery?"
Eklavya was thrilled to hear Drona's praises. How surprised he will be if he
told Drona that he, in fact was his Guru!
"From you my Master. You are my Guru," Eklavya replied humbly.
"Your Guru? How can I be your Guru? I have never seen you before!" Drona
exclaimed in surprise. But all of a sudden he
remembered something. He remembered about an eager boy who had visited his
Gurukul several months ago. " Now I remember,"
said he. "Are you not the same hunter boy whom I refused admission in my Gurukul some months back?"
"Yes, Dronacharya", replied the boy. "After I left your Gurukul, I came home
and made a statue like you and worshipped it
every day. I practiced before your image. You refused to teach me, but your
statue did not. Thanks to it, I have become a
Hearing this, Arjuna became angry. "But you promised me that you'd make me
the best archer in the world!" he accused Drona.
"Now how can that be? Now a common hunter has become better than me!"
The other princes remembered their master frequently praising Arjuna that he
had immense talent and will be the greatest
archer in the kingdom. They waited with bated breath. What will their
teacher do now?
Unable to answer Arjuna's question, Drona remained silent. The sage too was
upset that his promise to Prince Arjuna was not
going to be fulfilled. He was also angry with Eklavya for disobeying him.
So the sage planned to punish Eklavya.
"Where is your guru dakhsina? You have to give me a gift for your training,"
the sage demanded. He had finally found a way to
make Eklavya suffer for his disobedience.
Eklavya was overjoyed. A guru dakshina was the voluntary fee or gift
offered by a disciple to his guru at the end of his
training. The guru-shishya parampara, i.e. the teacher-student tradition, was
a hallowed tradition in Hinduism. At the end of
a shishya's study, the guru asks for a "guru dakshina," since a guru does
not take fees. A guru dakshina is the final
offering from a student to the guru before leaving the ashram. The teacher
may ask for something or nothing at all.
"Dronacharya, I'll be the happiest person on earth to serve you. Ask me
anything and I will offer it to you as my guru
dhakshina "he said.
"I might ask something you don't like to give me. What if you refuse the
dhakshina I want?" Drona asked cunningly.
Eklavya was shocked. It was considered a grave insult and a great sin if a
guru's dakshina was refused. "No! How can I,
teacher? I am not that ungrateful. I'll never refuse anything you ask,
Dronacharya," promised the unsuspecting boy.
Drona did not wait anymore. "Eklavya, I seek to have your right-hand thumb
as my guru dhakshina" he declared.
Silence befell on everyone. Everyone was shocked, even Arjuna. He looked at
his teacher in horror and disbelief. How could
their teacher make such a cruel demand? That too, from a mere boy?
For a moment Eklavya stood silent. Without his thumb he could never shoot
arrows again. But the teacher must be satisfied.
"Ok Gurudev, as you wish." said he. Then, without the slightest hesitation,
Eklavya drew out his knife and cut his thumb!
The princes gasped at Eklavya's act of bravery. But the tribal boy betrayed
no signs of pain, and held out his severed thumb
"Here is my guru dakshina, Drona", Ekalavya said. "I am happy that you have
made me your disciple, even if I'm a mere
The sage was humbled. He blessed the young archer for his courage. "Eklavya,
even with out your thumb, you'll be known as a
great archer. I bless you that you will be remembered forever for your
loyalty to your guru," Drona declared and left the
forests. He was moved and grieved at his own action. But he was content that
his promise to Arjuna was not broken. The Gods
blessed Eklavya from above.
But despite his handicap, Eklavya continued to practice archery. How could
he do so? When one is dedicated, one can
make even mountains bow. With practice, Eklavya could shoot arrows with his
index and middle finger and he became a greater
archer than he was ever before. His renown spread far and wide. When Drona
came to know this, he blessed the boy silently and
begged for divine forgiveness.
And true to Drona's blessing, Eklavya is still praised as the most loyal
and brave student in the epic of Mahabharatha.