Drona A character study in detail
Drona the Casteist Brahmin – Caste bias of the translators and the effect on Epic
Mahabharata was written atleast three thousand years ago. It was edited and copied and recopied and interpolated for many centuries. The major period of rebuilding the current text was from 400 BC to 400 AD.
But, we have more than 235 complete recessions and 1350 plus versions because it was copied and recopied again and again since that time. Many of the later versions hail from the 18th century onwards because of the way the texts are written and preserved and more recent ones would survive in more numbers. The population and sectarian changes are also reflected in greater detail in these.
As we have stated, we have Critical edition now which has cleaned a lot of the interpolations and also there is Dakshintya edition called Kumbhakonam edition which used 21 recessions and is one of early attempts to make a Southern critical edition also. We also have two very good commentaries of Mahabharata, Neelakantha which predates most of interpolations of 18th century and Madhavacharya which is 400 years older than Neelakantha also.
Furthermore, Madhavacharya was the one of earliest examples to use data compression in preserving data. That is another article and explanation in itself. In many ways, Madhavacharya pre-determined the modern data compression streams and encryption engineering that dominates modern software construction. He was not unique, it is used in Aramaic texts on basic level going back thousands of years. It has always been there in human experience. By 7th century, Sanskrit texts were using triple to five times the compression while Madhavacharya is supposed to have taken that to 20 times. This article is not about that.
The Mahabharata text over time has gone through many hands who have used personal experiences, biases and personal agenda to color the stories of the text as well. That is human nature. It cannot be stopped, only tried to be understood.
Two of the biggest stories prevalent on web are the refusal of Drona to teach Karna and second to not teach Ekalavya.
These stories are given the casteist tinge stating sootas (a high caste descended from Brahamans, still extant and called Charanas if not part of modern Brahmin groups) and Nishadas were denied teaching by a Brahman.
Drona suddenly became a Brahmin while throughout epic he was a Guru and a ayudhajivi (living by profession of arms) and not a Vipra (Brahmin). Karna suddenly becomes a son of charioteer (Rathi) in translation and Ekalavya the royal prince of Nishadas is imagined as poor tribal boy.
Let us look at these legends from point of view of Translators and the biases they create using their own inclinations.
Of course, the most translations used by people on this group are in English.
One of the most interesting observations is how the English and Dutch translated the same Epic with regard to the term Sootaputra and how Indians who are taught the same English translate them.
Sootas are a high caste responsible for religious records. Magadhas are responsible for vanshavalis. They were the eastern castes while same tasks were done b Vandis in the west. Vandis were also great horsemen and horse trainers, that inflexion passes on to sootas as charioteers. Vandis and Sootas are different castes but mixed by later authors and copyists.
The early English translations by English in Europe, French and Dutch all translate the term Sootaputra as “Son of Royal Herald”.
The Indians who learn English somehow always translated it as Son of Charioteer. That is the Bengali translators into English after 1878. Before that also, the other English knowing Indians and French (1865) and Dutch (1894) knowing locals and Indians always translated it “Son of Royal Herald”.
Actually, other than Indians, other non Europeans who speak English example Phalgunadi of Indonesia all translate the term as “Son of royal Herald”.
One of the first points Washburn an American who had studied Sanskrit as well as English editions of Mahabharata in 1890s raises against the later exalted minor character Radheya (of 29 points he raises against Karna the character) is that
“This so-called “son of charioteer” offered to give many cows and gold to a Brahmin when he, Radheya, had slaughtered the baby calf and the mother cow in his archery practice. The “Son of Royal Herald” offering to pay gold and cows makes sense. This “Son of Charioteer” had access to so many cows and gold while the top Brahmin character of the Epic, Drona, at the same time had no cow to feed his own child Ashwathhama and went begging to his friend for cows and milk. “
There is the caste bias of the translator at work. For that bias flips the caste structure completely in Epic age.
For this bias seems to describe an epic Age where a mere low caste “Son of charioteer” can wantonly slaughter cattle and little calves for archery practice and offer gold and cows as compensation while the Brahmins are too poor to feed their own children.
That shows a reverse caste structure, doesn’t it? Brahmins are too poor. The Son of charioteer throw around gold like spoilt rich kid of modern day India after crushing common people like a calf and a cow under the wheels of his BMW.
The story of milk and flour paste is not about Ashwatthhama alone, but is present in the Epic about Upamanyu son of Vyaghrapada as well (how he could not differentiate milk from the paste his mother used to give him) and ekata dwita and trita and many other Brahmins as well.
Brahmins lived a very hard life where they were dependent on the charity and dakshina of their disciples. Some would get lucky and get princes as disciples. Some would get cows in donation for yagnas. The Life in Epic India was no milk and honey for all Brahmins.
But, looks like it was milk and honey for sons of charioteers.
Radheya after callously murdering the cow and baby calf throws money like water at the Brahmin as compensation. Sanjaya the son of charioteer is personal assistant to Dhritrashtra. Keechaka the Soota putra is the Commander of Virata army. His sister the sootaputri is Queen of Virata, she is grand mother to Parikshita. The five kakaya princes are all soota putras as is Chekitana the mighty Dasaraha. So is Satyavana, the commander of Kaurava forces a Soota putra and thus, son of charioteer. Very low caste indeed!! We do not find a poor Sootaputra in the Epic!!
This deliberate mischief is compounded by later translating the Sootaputra as Karna. Dhritrashtra, Duryodhana, Sanjaya et all call Karna as Sootaputra throughout. I counted 147 times for Sanjaya. Dhritrashtra rarely refrerred to karna as anyone else than sootaputra, in one 33 sloka sequence calls him that 17 times. Duryodhana many times calls Karna sootaputra. Thus, what the modern writers try to convey as epithet was the nom de plume of the character.
Similarly, Drona the guru is somehow translated as the Brahmin! As if non –brahmins cannot be Gurus. That sort of translation mischief adds to the misconceptions in the story.
Karna was 12 to 16 years older than Yudhishthara. Yudhishthara was 16 years and few months when he first came to Hastinapur. Then Bhima had several murder attempts done on him. That forced Bheeshma to call Kripa where he was hiding in Raivataka Parvata to Hastinapur. He had been teaching Vrishnis there. Some time later, his brother in law followed him to Hastinapur. Yudhishthara was almost 20 then, Karna was definitely on the wrong side of 35 when Drona even came to Hastinapur.
In Mahabharata, the tale of Karna and his discipleship with Parasurama and his curses had already been told before Drona met Yudhishthara and Pandavas.
So, the story that Drona refused Karna and then he went to Parasurama does not compute. Even if Karna went to Parasurama later, what was he doing till mid 30s before he decided to seek education with Drona. By that age, Jesus was already administering his ministry.
That is clear that Karna also received education at hands of Drona, age is no bar to learning. One is forever learning, forever seeking education. The education of Dharamaraja is a case in point.
Going to forest after dyuta, Vidura was not worried about dangers facing Yudhishthara but excited by opportunities of Yudhishthara to seek education from various sources. Knowledge is a nasha which only few can feel and is indescribable in its ecstasy. Those who get the opportunity are looked upon with envy and celebrated at the opportunity they get as we see almost rapturous Vidura describe it to Yudhishthara.
Coming back to Karna. He was also from the Anga royal lineage. It was founded by a Brahmin Dirghatamas who gave sons to Queen Sudheshna to rule the kingdoms of Anga, Vanga, Kalinga, Pundra, Sumha. Down the ages, the King of Anga married a brahmani and thus the children were Sootas but royalty nonetheless.
Adhiratha was also a candidate for Anga king like his cousins and was the puppet or nominee of the Hastinapur empire to rule Anga while there were other candidates too backed by among others, Magadha, whose king Jarasandh was cousin to Adiratha and uncle to Karna, the poor son of charioteer who could afford to throw gold and cows for his archery mistakes.
The other royal dynasty of importance in Epic which were of Soota origin were Kekayas. Look at the list Pundra, Sumha, Anga, Vanga, Kalinga. They will feature again in the article.
Drona did not teach Karna the Brahmastra, not because he was a soota. He did not teach Karna because Karna was wont to test his skills on mute silent animals and kine of other people.
Drona’s other students included the Kekayas, who are also sootaputras.
Final rejoinder, you will see in next part that Krishna had many enemies when he grew up. They all had to be educated by someone, it was not Drona. The Magadha and pro-Magadha warriors were in many cases students of certain someone called Parasurama.
The so called exclusive teacher of Brahmins, taught Bheeshma, Radheya, Pandaya King Malayadhwaja, Yudhishthara, Hansa, Dimbhaka, Dantavakra and several other Kshatriyas as well.