E is for Eklavya from the Mahabharata

Its ironic that we should talk about Eklavya immediately after Drona. Drona as we saw in D was the royal Guru to the one hundred and five princes of Hastinapur. What  I did not tell you was that, he had promised to make Arjuna (the third Pandava brother), the best archer in the world.

Eklavya was a poor tribal boy, a forest dweller who also aspired to be a great archer. He approached Dronacharya to be accepted as the latter’s student, but was refused because he was a forest dweller, a Nishada one of the lowest in the social hierarchy of their times.

Did Eklavya go home crying? Did he curse his fate and give up? No, he was made of sterner stuff. He found a secluded spot in the forest, made a statue of his teacher and practised archery regularly in front of the clay likeness of the man he considered his guru.

One day, while he was practising his archery, he kept getting distracted by a barking dog. He let out a string of arrows from his bow, such that the dog’s jaws were forced to stay open. The dog was not hurt in any way, but was stopped from barking.

Arjuna, was practising in another part of the forest, when he chanced upon the hapless dog. He had to admire the handiwork of the archer who had managed this  impossible feat, but he was also distraught, for this meant there was an archer greater than him. Arjuna, took the dog to his Guru and said, “You promised to make me the best archer in the land but whoever has done this is a better archer than I am. What do you intend to do about this?”

Dronacharya searched through the forest and came upon this young Nishaad boy practising archery in front of a clay statue. Dronacharya demanded to know the name of the boy’s teacher. The boy on seeing Dronacharya in person, was overwhelmed and immediately fell at the teacher’s feet saying, “who else can be my teacher, but you great Acharya (teacher). Drona now saw that the clay statue did bear an uncanny resemblance to himself!

What happened next? Steel your hearts dear readers. The Guru, tells Eklavya, “If I am your Guru, you owe me a Guru Dakshina (a traditional offering of gratitude from the student to the teacher).
“tell me what is it that you wish to be offered my Guru and it will be yours” says the elated Eklavya.

And the teacher says, “Give me your right thumb as my Guru Dakshina“

Before even Drona can finish his demand, the young student cuts off his thumb and presents it to the teacher.

Eklavya’s blood and tears quietly wet the earth as Drona walks away, prize in hand, his promise to his favourite student intact!

This story gets me at so many levels. But this is the one, I would like to share. Even today, forest dwellers are manipulated and crushed by the powerful. Their homes, livelihood and ways of being always secondary to the needs of the so called civilized world.

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5 Responses to E is for Eklavya from the Mahabharata

  1. Zalka Csenge says:

    I actually included this story in my book on superpowers in traditional stories (archery is not a superpower, but every superhero team has an archer anyway…). It is one of my favorites. It was also interesting to read how many sources on the Internet added a “happy ending” to the end, saying he learned to shoot without his thumb. I tried my best to find that in an actual source…

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary – Epics from A to Z
    MopDog – 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary

  2. josna says:

    You have told this story beautifully and powerfully too–and yes, as the previous commenter said, you didn’t soften it, and you made sure to link it to the present day. I love your choice of theme for the Challenge.

  3. modhukori says:

    josna, do you have a seperate blog for the A to Z challenge?

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