Drona and Ekalvaya

Karna: The Pupil of Drona

Drona A character study in detail – Part 1

Drona A character study in detail – Part 2

Drona the Casteist Brahman – Caste bias of the translators and the effect on Epic

That Caste was an issue in Mahabharata is correct. Yudhishthara spends 40000 verses decrying caste at birth and devotes the conversations again and again at primacy of caste by conduct, by karma than by dharma or janma.

In Bheeshma Parva, It is the teacher Drona who spends a major part of two chapters describing his caste as that of Vritti-sevaka aka salaried government servant and not a Brahmin to his progeny.

Drona describes his duties as bound by the salt he has eaten and the salary he has taken and thus bound by the master (Duryodhana), his caste is determined not by birth, by his choice of selecting his master. He is NOT a member of august Brahmin caste, free to meditate, free to question vedas in wilderness, free to teach whoever they wish to teach.

He and his progeny are bound by the terms of their employment and wishes of their employer or rather master.

Drona was a vriti seeking salaried class aka a Vaishya by conduct, Ayudhajvii by profession, one who practices the profession of arms, he calls himself a mercenary, an Ayudhajivi.

Ayudhajivis are termed Ksatriyas but as any caste can seek employment of valor, of arms,, they were termed lower Kshatriyas, by karma kashatriya. Not everyone agreed with Yudhishthara hence the term lower Kshatriyas (Vratya Kshatriyas)!!

Thus, the caste of Drona should be “degraded Kshatriya” or rather Vratya Kshatriya, meaning of Vrtaya to be degraded can be a later development. The meaning given in 5th century Amarkosha is man of the mendicant or vagrant class. See the term class and not jati aka caste in the hindi translation.

That also explains why Drona can fight in a conflict without calling brahmahatya down as a curse on those who oppose him in battlefield. Brahmahatya which even harried Indra was of no concern or threat to Pandava warriors as they were fighting a Kshatriya.

So that brings us to the story of Ekalavya.

The Puranas are equivocal about one point. It was Bheeshma who asked Drona to refuse to teach Ekalavaya, Not Drona. Drona was a vritti-sevaka, a salaried servant to use not a fine point to it.

Ekalavya, the name itself is wrong.

Eklavya means son of Ekalaya. The name of the student who came to Drona was Ekalaya. It was his sons who later fought for Pandavas in the Great War who would be called Ekalavyas.

So again, One of the most interesting stories that arise is that of Ekalavya. How a poor Nishada was duped of his thumb by evil Brahmin Drona.

Who are Nishadas and Nishada ruling caste?

The Nishada Caste

A Nishada is son of Brahmana and Sudraa aka is also Half Brahmana. Nishhada lost status by 2nd century AD when Manusmrti was written. But Mahabharata is older by thousands of years. Guha the King of Nishadas brings 50000 warriors to fight for Rama thinking Bharata is attacking him.

Later sitting down with Bharata and Rama, Guha confesses his error. Nishada sitting and partaking of victuals with Kshatriya princes of Ayodhaya!! Where are these advocates claiming casteism in Epics hiding now?

Nishadas were originally sons of Brahmin and Sudraa. The caste is determined by mother. Not father. Because otherwise, Nishadas would be Brahmins!!

Drona is son of a Brahmana and a test tube pot. His mother determines caste. Well, it is obviously the apsara Ghritachi, because we have a sister and brother of Drona also present. Drona is thus a child of Apsara, he is not true Brahmin. That makes casteist accusers of Drona hypocrites. He never claimed Brahmin status, when he did, he called himself Ayudhaviji.

Let us let that slide.

And We have been talking about Nishada the caste, not its ruling family. Ekalavya Yadava was adopted by Hiranyadhanusha, the King of Nishadas.

The ruling family of Nisadas is descendent from King Vena himself and is older brother to King Prithu. The Ruling kings of Nishadas are thus Kshatriyas.

Several Nishada kings ruled in that era. Nishada kings lineages were part of ruling families of Nishadha, Kalinga and Vatsa. Vatsa was a kuru kingdom ruled by Bharga Nishada family trained by Drona who were ansavatars of Kalakeya and Krodhahanta. They were cousins of Panchalas descended through Pratardana, son of Divodasa and thus Panchala allies in Main War.

Nishadha King Nala and Damyanti story is most famous.

Amarkosa is unequivocal. Meaning of Nishadha is Sovereign of Nishadas.

Remember The Kalinga royal family from the list of sons of Dirghtamas, I asked you to keep in mind. Kalinga royal family was Nishadas and intermarried with other royal families.

Their next door neighbours the Karushas had main second lineages who were termed Nishadas as well.

Ekalavya hailed from the Saraswata Nishadas. He like Srigala, Paundraka, Kalayavana et. all opposed Krishna later and was killed by Krishna (Chapter 48, Udyoga Parva, Sloka 77). Drona’s decision to take Ekalavya’s thumb saved Krishna’s life or made his task easier. 
Sons of Ekalavya came on Pandava side and fought (Chapter 4, Udyoga Parva). 

Later after war, one of sons of Ekalavya opposed Arjuna in Ashwamedhik Parva and died in battle (Chapter 83, Ashwamedhik Parva.)

Who was Ekalavya?

Let us go back a little and talk about a singular event that occurred in Mathura. The Vrishni scion Vasudeva was a popular man and had already married 7 Kaurava princesses as well 6 sisters of Kamsa, daughters of Devaka. His nine brothers (including nephews adopted by his mother tribal Nag kanya Marishi) were powerful leaders.

They were all sons of Shoora. Anakadundubhi was the real name of Vasudeva and he was head of a large family. His older brothers had married daughters of Ugrasena, sisters of Kamsa and thus, Kamsa was already MAMA to many nephews born in this extended Vrishni family.

They were also under education of Kripa and Drona at raivataka Parvata and included among others sons of Vasudeva:

Upasanga, Vasu, Deva, Rakshita, Tamba born of Sarangdevaa and Bhayasakha (son of sahdevaa) and his nephews, sons of Devasrava: Ekalavya, Suvira and Eshuman and two older sons of Devabhaga.

Vasudeva then decided to marry for 17th time (atleast). The lady was Devaki, youngest of Nine daughters of Devaka. Six of her sisters were married to Vasudeva, seventh to Vidura (brother to Pandu Husband of Kunti, sister of Vasudeva) and eighth would marry Akrura.

Then in the festivities, The akashvani came. Your death will be at hands of the eighth son of Devaki.

After the akashvani heralding his death was delivered, Kamsa arrested Vasudeva and Devaki. He also sent his rakshasas after the large family of Vasudeva.

Vasudeva was no ordinary Yadava, Anakadundabhi to note his real name was son of ex King Shoorasena and tribal naga kanya Marishi. He was already husband to Seven Kaurava princesses. His best friends counted as Hirnayavara, Somadatta et all, sons of Bahalika, leading lights of the powerful Kaurava court where his sister Kunti was married to prior to exile of Pandu.

Kamsa went in a methodical manner. He did not hurt any sons of Vasudeva or his wives who were connected to strong Kaurava family. That’s why he left Rohini, her 8 sons and her sisters Indira and Vaishakhi alone. He also left the Kekaya princess Bhadra wife of Vasudeva alone. He may have used them and their progeny sons and daughters as hostages to the good behavior of the royal houses from opposing him and Jarasandha, the power behind Kamsa.

But at the Raivataka hermitage where the Vrishni princes were taught by their gurus, the six older sons of Vasudeva and 6 eldest sons of Vasudea were targeted. Kripa and Drona managed to just save Tamba also called Tambu and Bhayasakha.

Upasanga, Vasu, Deva, Rakshita were slaughtered nonetheless. They were potential enemies to Kamsa. They would soon grow into youth. Added to the six sons of Devaki which were still to be born, Vasudeva lost ten sons.

These are also named, remembered, condoled in prayers by many sects including even Buddhist prayers. The Ten young princes are remembered in all these prayers.

Drona and Kripa did try their best. The Gurus at the hermitage did react and several sons of Vasudeva were hidden and others fled to and were adopted by other families, Bhayasakha is listed as son of Drona in Amarakosha.

But, many were captured and taken to Jarasandha and Kamsa. 
Kamsa’s cousin sister Devaki would bear the son who would kill him. He used his own five sisters Kamsa, Kansavati, Kankaa, Rashtrapali (twin with rashtrapala) and Surbhu to secure his power.

The powerful brothers of Vasudeva were suborned to kamsa’s side by their marriages to Kamsa’s sisters. This way Kamsa prevented anyone from raising any voices against his imprisoning Vasudeva. 
Kamsaa had already married Devabhaga, Kamsavati had married Devasrva and now Kankaa married Anaka, Rashtrapali married Srnjya, and Surbhu married Shyamaka.

Devasrva further got a kingdom from Jarasandha for betraying Vasudeva. He had three sons at the time of the incident, nephews of Kamsa, Aiklaya, Suvir and Eshuman. He had to give up his sons Aiklaya or Aiklavya and Sauvira in adoption to Magadha allies King of Sauvira and to Hirnaydhanush the Nishada King.

The other brothers and relations of Vasudeva, Vraka, Kanik, Vatsak, Shamik fled along with some sons of Vasudeva. Vatsaka probably also died in the destruction of Shoora’s family. He is not mentioned afterwards.

Vraka who was son of Vatsaka, ran to his father in law Somadatta. Kanka and Shamika took refuge with Pandu in exile. They are described as boys.

(Shamika is later termed as “son” or “dependent” of Yudhishthara and is one of performers of Rajasuya. Rationalizing the epic, one scholar has even suggested that Shamika or Kanika might have been adopted by their brother-in-law Pandu as sons and one of them or their sons is Yudhishthara. Kanika sounds similar to Kanka and has a son Jaya as well which is also name for Yudhishthara. Except Shamika outlives Yudhishthara and his daughter married Parikshit. And Kanika is not Kanka.)

Eldest son of Vasudeva Kaushika born of a gopi was adopted by Nishadas. He is different from Eklavya who was adopted by the urban Nishada King while Kaushika was hidden by the arboreal Nishadas in the forest.

Kapila yet another son of Vasudeva was also hidden in the forest. He is the famous atheist philosopher.

Other sons of Vasudeva were captured and adopted by Paundraka king, Srigala King and by Yavana King et all. One was adopted by Dantavakra’s uncle who was also a Nishada. Thus, three relatives of Krishna were adopted into Nishada royal families. These adopted princes will end becoming opponents of Krishna as well as Paundraka Vasudeva, Srigala Vasudeva and Kalayavana.

Ekalavya and Sauvira King were also opponents of Krishna as was Dantavakra and his brothers.

All were sons of Vasudeva and adopted out to the allies of Jarasandha.

The evil nature of Jarasandh is not very apparent in the Epic. Buddhist texts later compared him to veritable devil and a man eater without explaining his crimes.

Sending young kids to be raised as future opponents of their father and relations is very monstrous and devilish scheme, wouldn’t you agree?

Now whether these adoptions were voluntary or part of the old practice of exchanging hostages for good behavior is not clarified in the Epic or Puranas.

There is long tradition of exchanging hostages as part of peace or friendship negotiations, including sons and daughters. The hostages or exchange princes and princesses are brought up with full honors in the contending courts and end up absorbing the ethics and the politics of the court they were brought up in. There are too many historical and anecdotal descriptions for this to be not happening even in the Epic times. A glaring example is the scion of Anga royal family, Adhiratha, who is a ruling prince but is also friend, advisor and charioteer to the superpower Hastinapur ruler Dhritrashtra. Now we know how Karna had gold and cows available to afford live target practice of holy mother cow and the baby calf.

In the case of transplanted scions of Vrishni family, in many cases, they grew up to be big supporters of Jarasandha and deep hateful enemies of Krishna their own kin and brother.

Krishna in course of events had to kill his own blood and kin (unlike Karna who killed kine), Srigala Vasudeva, Paundrak Vasudeva, Kalayavana, Dantavakra, Sisupala, Ekalaya et all, all died at his hands.

All of these youths were adopted out by Jarasandha and seeded across the Bharatavarsha as future enemies of Krishna. Destiny can be cruel.

If Man Mohan Desai would be writing the destiny, he would have all the princes sing a song as children. One would be brought up Amar, another Akbar and third one Anthony!

And then in battle field as Krishna faced his transplanted kin, a soulful number would have united the bichhrey huye bhai. 
Honi Ko Anhoni kar de, Anohoni ko Honi, ek jagah jab jama ho teenoin! Paundraka, Srigala, Ekalavya!!

Reality or in this case mythology is not like Man Mohan Desai movies. Evil beget evil and Krishna did not hesitate in doing his duty in removing that evil from this world despite the blood connection. 
Geeta sloka 18, verse 17. enough said.

In such a situation, where the sons of Vasudeva were made Magadha puppets, then son of Hiranyadhanusha, strong ally of Jarasandha, Ekalavya Devasrava Yadava would come to seek training at hands of “lower Kshatriya” Drona, what do you think Drona’s decision would be?

Same Ekalavya, who was the collaborator with the murderer of four disciples of Kripa and Drona.

In Ancient India, the disciple was like the son. The relationship between Guru and Shishya was a special relationship. Drona and Kripa would have seen Ekalavya daily and be reminded of four youths, their own “sons”, whose responsibility was in their hands, and they were slaughtered by the minions of Kamsa just as Karna slaughtered that calf.

And Ekalavya was spared by Kamsa for whatever promises he made to the murderers of his own brothers.

No wonder the Puranas state that Bheeshma forbade Drona from accepting Ekalavya as a student.

That story has been given casteist tinge by vested interests.

They forget one sloka:
punaH kR^ipALU raivata parvate taM
droNaH prApyA.adAt astra varANi tasmai |
ekAnta evAsya bhaktyA sutushhTo
dhanvi shreshhThaM kR^itavAn arjunaM cha || 15\.66||

Further, that highly benignant Dronacharya, utterly satisfied with the monotypic devotion of Ekalavya, reached him at Mt. raivata, and gave him missiles, besides making Arjuna as an ace archer.

Note: This aspect of Drona’s teaching ekalavya on Mt. raivata before hastinapur and giving him missiles or astras puts the whole scenario in different picture.

Nobody bothers for this sloka because it will erase the image of Drona as a monstrous teacher who asked for the thumb of disciple. Everything will have a reason.

How else would you paint the Epic in casteist light? How else would one denigrate Indian scriptures for your own nefarious reasons? Who stands to gain? Who loses? Who has the motivation to denigrate great Indian teacher like Drona?

Agni Purana also spends three chapters describing the Archery skills and archery methods and foremost is the use of Bow using only fingers and palm. Basically, Agni Purana indicates that though having a thumb can be useful for an archer, it is not a necessity. A truly great archer can do without a thumb.

The Archery

There is long description of Archery and skills and art forms also. If the Agni Purana is written by Vyas then Ekalavya section is interpolation. By the way, Ekalavya section is in BORI so it is not a later interpolation.

In Agni Purana, the thumb is not that useful to the science of Archery, ring finger is. The prescribed way to use right fist to pick arrow and nock it and use the ring and middle finger to hold it, three inches, two inches or one inch away from ears using forefinger as measure while keeping head still and chin also prescribed distance from shoulder.

Thumb does not come into play.

So if Vyas wrote Ekalavya story and Agni Purana, Drona would have asked for ring finger. The use of thumb and forefinger to hold arrow is a later phenomena.

In Indonesian version, Drona asks as dakshina, for the ring of Ekalavaya (which gave him power) who could not release it easily from his hand and thus cuts off finger itself and gives the ring to Drona. The ring which gave Ekalvaya power is called ampala in the Wayang. The cutting of finger was incidental as Ekalavya could not take off the ring as Dakshina.

Drona and Eklavya is a powerful tale in the Mahabharata. Verily, an Upakhyana using Drona the Guru, one of major characters as one of the actors in the story. Personally, I do not believe it is an interpolation.

But in Neelkantha also and in section where Arjuna describes getting the archery skills from Rudra, the use of fingers as true guides of kshara (arrows) is described. The Drona asking for dakshina that robs Ekalavya of his edge in Archery would involve a finger rather than thumb. The Ask for Thumb is the probable interpolation in the story.

The lack of correct information is the bane. Drona did not refuse the Prince Radheya or Prince Ekalavya on basis of their caste.

But, it makes for a less salty story then. Nothing to attack the Brahmins with and initiate a caste rift.

Drona did not ask for a thumb, but the ring which gave Ekalavya his power. Ekalavya in devotion to Guru or the guilt of previous association with Kamsa, cut off his finger as well.

I have no axe to grind. I am not a Brahmin and I am ambivalent to dogs. I do not like people hurting mute silent creatures and the incident where we saved the life of a dog was all my niece’s doing, it was just a headache for me to find chow for the mutt!! 


Shree Hari…



4 thoughts on “Drona and Ekalvaya

  1. Suman Shiava

    Both the articles Karna-Drona and Ekalavya-Drona are best among the all.

    This is the information that I was looking from long times.
    Thanks a lot.


  2. lakshmiseshu

    I don’t understand the whole discussion about Drona refusing to teach Karna ( only refused brahmastra. He definitely taught Karna archery) or Ekalavya and its caste angle
    Drona is not a regular teacher teaching basic/advanced maths, science at an open school. He taught deadly warrior skills in Hastinapur military academy. It is like saying Indian army should teach all its deadly training skills including nuclear weapons to every one who approaches it. Say,a sincere kid from across the border comes and approaches a Indian army trainer and asks him to teach its secrets/trade marks/nuclear weapons. Kid is sincere, very talented and very loyal to his father whose loyalty lies in opposition to Indian interests. What should the teacher do?
    If the teacher declines to teach, does it mean that the teacher is bigoted or just defending his country/kingdom’s interests

    Nice article. Keep up the good work.


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