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In the epic Mahābhārata, Drona (Sanskrit: द्रोण, droṇa) or Dronacharya (Sanskrit: द्रोणाचार्य, droṇācārya) was the royal guru to Kauravas and Pandavas. He was a master of advanced military arts, including the Devāstras. Arjuna was his favorite student. Droṇa's love for Arjuna was second only to his love for his son Aśvatthāma. He was considered to be a partial incarnation of Bṛhaspati.
Birth and early life 
Droṇācārya was born as a Bhāradvāja Brahmin, in Dehradun 9000 BC. Droṇa implies that he was not gestated in a womb, but outside the human body in a droṇa (vessel or a basket).
The story of Droṇa's birth is related dramatically in Mahābhārata, Book I: Ādi Parva, Sambhava Parva, Section CXXXI. Bharadvāja went with his companions to the Gaṅgā River to perform his ablutions. There he beheld a beautiful apsara named Ghṛtācī who had come to bathe. The sage was overcome by desire, causing him to produce a reproductive fluid. Bharadvāja Muni captured the fluid in a vessel called a Droṇa, and Droṇācārya himself sprang from the fluid thus preserved. Droṇa would later boast that he had sprung from Bharadvāja without ever having been in a womb.
Droṇācārya spent his youth in poverty, but studied religion and military arts such as archery, in which he gained expertise, together with the then prince of Pañcāla, Drupada. Drupada and Droṇācārya became close friends.
Droṇācārya married Kṛpī, the sister of Kṛpa, the royal teacher of the princes of Hastinapura. Like Droṇa himself, Kṛpī and her brother had not been gestated in a womb, but outside the human body (see Kṛpī page). Kṛpi and Droṇa had a son, Aśvatthāma.
Guru Paraśurāma 
Learning that Paraśurāma was giving away his fruits of penance to brāhmaṇas, Droṇa approached him. Unfortunately, by the time Droṇācārya arrived, Paraśurāma had given away all his belongings to other brāhmaṇas. Parasurama offers a choice to Drona - either his body or his weapons. Drona decides to take the weapons, their use and withdrawal techniques. Parasurama agrees to it and thus Drona obtains all of his weapons, including the very powerful Brahmastra.
Droṇa and Drupada 
For the sake of his wife and son, Droṇa desired freedom from poverty. Remembering the promise given by Drupada, he decided to approach him to ask for help. However, drunk with power, King Drupada refused to even recognize Droṇa and humiliated him by calling him "an inferior person".
Drupada gave Droṇa a long and haughty explanation of why he was rejecting him. Friendship, said Drupada, is possible only between persons of equal stature in life. As a child, he said, it was possible for him to be friends with Droṇa, because at that time they were equals. But now Drupada had become a King, while Droṇācārya remained a luckless indigent. Under these circumstances, friendship was impossible. However, he said he would satisfy Droṇācārya if he begged for alms befitting a Brahmin, rather than claiming his right as a friend. Drupada advised Droṇācārya to think no more of the matter, and be on his way. Droṇa went away silently, but in his heart he vowed revenge.
As a teacher 
Droṇācārya's legend as a great teacher and warrior is marred by notoriety from his strong moral and social views, which inspire great debates about morality and dharma in the Mahābhārata epic.
The ball and the ring 
Droṇācārya went to Hastinapura, hope to open a school of military arts for young princes, with the help of King Dhṛtarāṣṭra. One day, he saw a number of young boys, the Kauravas and Pandavas, gathered around a well. He asked them what the matter was, and Yudiṣṭhira, the eldest, replied that their ball had fallen into the well and they did not know how to retrieve it.
Droṇācārya laughed, and mildly rebuked the princes for being helpless over such a plain problem. Yudiṣṭhira replied that if he, a Brahmin, could retrieve their ball, the king of Hastināpura would provide all the basic necessities to him for life. Droṇa first threw in a ring of his, collected some blades of grass, and uttered mystical Vedic chants. He then threw the blades into the well one after another, like spears. The first blade stuck to the ball, and the second stuck to the first, and so on, forming a chain. Droṇa gently pulled the ball out with this rope of grass.
In a feat that was even more amazing to the boys, Droṇa then chanted Vedic mantras again and fired a grass blade into the well. It struck within the center of his floating ring and rose out of the well in a matter of moments, retrieving Droṇa's ring. Excited, the boys took Droṇācārya to the city and reported this incident to Bhīṣma, their grandfather.
Bhīṣma instantly realized that this was Droṇa, and - his prowess having been exemplified - asked him to become the Guru of the Kuru princes, training them in advanced military arts. Droṇa then established his Gurukula near the city, where princes from numerous kingdoms around the country came to study under him. This village came to be known as Guru-Gram ("guru" - teacher, "gram" - village), and has now developed into the city of Gurgaon.
Arjuna, the favorite pupil 
Of all the Kaurava and Pāṇḍava brothers training under Droṇa, Arjuna emerged as the most dedicated, hard-working and most naturally talented of them all, exceeding even Droṇa's own son Aśvatthāma. Arjuna assiduously served his teacher, who was greatly impressed by this devoted pupil.
Arjuna surpassed Droṇa's expectations in numerous challenges. When Droṇācārya tested the princes' alertness and ability by creating an illusion of a crocodile attacking him and dragging him away, most of the princes were left dumbfounded. Arjuna, however, swiftly fired arrows to slay the illusionary animal, and Droṇācārya congratulated Arjuna for passing this test.
As a reward, Droṇa gave Arjuna mantras to invoke the super-powerful divine weapon of Brahma known as Brahmāstra, but told Arjuna not to use this irresistible weapon against any ordinary warrior. The weapon had a sharp edge surrounded below by three heads of Lord Brahma.
In another challenge, Droṇa gave each prince a pot to fill with water and swiftly return. Whoever would return fastest would receive instruction in some extra special knowledge. He gave his son Aśvatthāma a wide-necked pot unlike the others' narrow-necked ones, hoping he would be the first to return. But Arjuna used his knowledge of a mystical water weapon, Varunastra to fill his pot swiftly and returned first.
In a great challenge, Droṇa set up a wooden bird upon a tree, and from across the adjacent river, asked the princes to shoot it down by striking its eye. When prince Yudiṣṭhira tried first, Droṇa asked him what he saw. Yudiṣṭhira replied that he saw Droṇa, his brothers, the river, the forest, the tree and the bird. Droṇa replied that Yudiṣṭhira would fail and asks another prince to step forward. The others gave the same reply, and Droṇācārya was disappointed with all. But when Arjuna stepped forth, he told Droṇācārya that he saw only the eye of the bird and nothing else. Droṇa asked him to shoot, and Arjuna did strike the bird down in the eye.
One day Arjuna observed that his brother Bhīma was eating food in the night in complete darkness. By practice, hands would reach one's mouth even in darkness. This struck Arjuna, and he started to practice archery in darkness. He began training by night to use his weapons in absolute darkness, and steadily achieved a great level of skill.
Droṇa was greatly impressed by Arjuna's concentration, determination and drive, and promised him that he would become the greatest archer on earth. Droṇa gave Arjuna special knowledge of the Devāstras that no other prince possessed.
Unfairness to Ekalavya and Karṇa 
Ekalavya was the son of a Niṣāda chief (tribal), who came to Droṇācārya for instruction. Droṇācārya refused to train him along with the Kṣatriya Princes because Ekalavya was not a prince.
Ekalavya began study and practice by himself, having fashioned a clay image of Droṇācārya and worshiping him. Solely by his determination, Ekalavya became a warrior of exceptional prowess, excelling the young Arjuna.
One day, a dog barked while he was focused upon practice, and without looking, the prince fired arrows that sealed up the dog's mouth while not causing any harm. The Pāṇḍava princes saw this dog running, and wondered who could have done such a feat. They saw Ekalavya, who announced himself as a pupil of Droṇa.
Arjuna was worried that his position as the best warrior in the world might be usurped. Also, Ekalavya was a threat to the kingdom of Hastināpura. He belonged to a tribe that was antagonistic to the kingdom of Hastināpura and could have become an unconquerable rival. Droṇācārya was a loyal servant to the kingdom of Hastināpura. Droṇa saw his worry, and visited Ekalavya with the princes. Ekalavya promptly worshiped Droṇa. Droṇācārya asked Ekalavya for a Dakṣiṇa, or a deed of thanks a student must give to his teacher upon the completion of his training. Droṇācārya asks for Ekalavya's right thumb, which Ekalavya unhesitatingly cut off and handed to Droṇācārya, despite knowing that this would irreparably hamper his archery skills. However at one point, Droṇācārya tells his son, Aśvatthāma, that education is for everyone and that they cannot close the doors of education on anyone. He claims he took Ekalavya's right thumb as he did not get his education in the right way but stole his education by watching Droṇa teach others.
Droṇācārya similarly rejected Karna, as he did not belong to the Kṣatriya caste. The school established by Droṇācārya belonged only to the princes of Kingdom of Hastināpura. It was established on request from Bhīṣma. Droṇācārya was not free to accept any other student of any other caste. Humiliated, Karna vowed to exact revenge. He obtained the knowledge of weapons and military arts from Paraśurāma, by appearing as a brahmin, and challenged Arjuna in the martial exhibition. Thus, Droṇa inadvertently laid the foundation for Karna's great rivalry with Arjuna.
People often criticize this act of injustice against Ekalavya. The argument is that the duty of the teacher is to teach skills and not become a politician and take decisions in matter of the state. More folklore stories exist that say that Droṇācārya was cursed to cry in the war of Kurukṣetra in front of his enemies as a simple human being and not a warrior because of the Ekalavya incident. He was cursed by the goddess of the knowledge Devī Śāradā. He was also cursed to die without his arms in battle field. Even though Droṇācārya had the intentions of protecting Hastināpura he went beyond his domain of being a teacher.
Similarly Droṇācārya was criticized for his entry into the Mahabharata War. As he was a teacher and should not have entered into the war. When Droṇācārya tried to use divine weapons in the Kurukṣetra war there was a divine voice which told him not to use divine weapons in the war in his duty as a teacher to spread knowledge. He had no right to use the divine weapons being a teacher according to the divine announcement. This is one of the reason Droṇācārya refrained from the use of divine weapons in the war later.
Droṇācārya accepted the curse from Devi Sharda as a punishment as a means of escapting his sin of cheating a student and exponent of excellence by means of his powers and rights. The knowledge belongs to all and one cannot cheat students to achieve something for self or for a promise (Droṇācārya had promised Arjuna that Arjuna is going to be the best Archer in the world). He was thus involved in the war as a teacher where he became part of the brutal and unlawful killing of Abhimanyu.
Droṇācārya was an excellent teacher. However he got involved into politics sometimes and left his duty of being an exponent of knowledge. These events subsequently led to his fall at the Kurukṣetra War. He was involved in gaining some objectives unethically for the state of Hastināpura. A duty of the teacher is to spread true knowledge to all pupils according to the lores of Sanātana Dharma without any bias for state or caste. The Supreme Court of India also criticized the act of Droṇācārya as unethical upholding everyone's right to knowledge.
Revenge upon Drupada 
Dronacarya appointed Vikarna, the best warrior among the Kauravas, as the army commander. Then Duryodhana, Duḥśāsana, Sudarśana, Vikarṇa and the remaining Kauravas attacked Pañcāla with the Hastinapur army.
Droṇācārya took half of Drupada's kingdom, thus becoming his equal. He forgave Drupada for his misdeeds, but Drupada desired revenge. He performed a Yajña to have a son who would slay Droṇācārya and a daughter who would marry Arjuna. His wish was eventually fulfilled and thus were born Dhṛṣṭādyumna, the slayer of Droṇācārya, and Draupadī, the consort of the Pāṇḍavas.
Droṇācārya in the war 
Droṇācārya strongly condemned the sending into exile of Pāṇḍavas by the wicked prince Duryodhana and his brothers and for their abusive treatment of the Pāṇḍavas, beside usurping their kingdom. But being a servant of Hastināpura, Droṇācārya was duty-bound to fight for the Kauravas, and thus against his favorite Pāṇḍavas.
Droṇācārya was one of the most powerful and destructive warriors in the Kurukṣetra. He was an invincible warrior, whom no person on earth could defeat. He single-handedly slayed hundreds of thousands of Pāṇḍava soldiers, with his powerful armory of weapons and incredible skill.
After the fall of Bhīṣma, he became the Chief Commander of the Kuru Army for 5 days of the war.
Abhimanyu's killing 
On the 13th day of battle, the Kauravas challenged the Pāṇḍavas to break a spiral shaped battle formation known as the Chakravyuha (see Wars of Hindu Mythology). Droṇācārya as commander formed this strategy, knowing that only Arjuna and Śrī Kṛṣṇa would know how to penetrate it. He asked the King of the Saṁṣaptaka army to distract Arjuna and Śrī kṛṣṇa into another part of the battlefield, allowing the main Kuru army to surge through the Pāṇḍava ranks.
Arjuna's young son Abhimanyu had the knowledge to penetrate the formation but didn't know the way out. At the request of Yudhishtra, Abhimanyu agreed to lead the way for the Pāṇḍava army and was able to penetrate the formation. However, he was trapped when Jayadratha, the king of Sindhu, held the Pāṇḍava warriors who were following him, at bay. Abhimanyu did not know how to get out of the Chakra Vyuham, but embarked upon an all-out attack on the Kuru army, killing tens of thousands of warriors single-handedly. He even held Karna and Droṇācārya himself at bay. Amazed at his prowess and courage, he was considered by the Kurus to be his father's equal in greatness.
With his army facing decimation, Droṇa asked Karna, Duḥśāna and others to simultaneously attack Abhimanyu, to strike down his horses and his charioteer and to disable his chariot from different angles. Left without support, Abhimanyu began fighting from the ground, whereupon all the Kuru warriors simultaneously attacked him. Exhausted after his long, prodigious feats, Abhimanyu was weakened, and grabbing one of the wheels of his chariot, blocked all the attacks, but eventually was killed by the simultaneous attack by seven kaurava warriors.
All this was an extreme violation of the rules of war, whereby a lone warrior may not be attacked by more than one, and not at all if he is disabled or without chariot. This devious murder of his son enraged Arjuna, who swore to kill Jayadratha, whom he saw as responsible for his son's death. If he failed to do so the next day, he would step into fire and commit suicide.
Droṇācārya lined up the entire Kuru army, with an entire akṣauhiṇī (approximately 218700 soldiers) in front of Arjuna, to thwart his mission. But Arjuna exhibited his great prowess, and before the end of the day slayed more than two hundred thousand warriors single-handedly. With the help of Krishna, he slew Jayadratha right before sunset.
On the whole, Arjuna devastated a large portion of the Kuru army dramatically in just one day of fighting.
Yudhiṣṭhira's capture and Droṇācārya's death 
In the war, Yudhiṣṭhira was targeted by Droṇācārya to get captured. For this plan to be successful, Duryodhana invited King Bhagadatta, who was a son of the asura Narakāsura, in order to fight against the Pāṇḍavas.
Bhagadatta was the King of Prajokiyatsa (in present-day Assam or Burma). As Krishna had killed his father Narakasur, Bhagadatta agreed to join the Kauravas opposing Śrī Kṛṣṇa. But in spite of Bhagadatta's support, Droṇa failed to capture Yudhiṣṭhira alive. The Kuru commander and preceptor did, however, kill hundreds and thousands of Pāṇḍava warriors, thus advancing Duryodhana's cause.
On the 15th day of the Mahābhārata war, Droṇa got instigated by King Dhritarastra's remarks of being a traitor. He used the Brahmadanda against the Pāṇḍavas. Brahmadanda was a spiritual divine weapon that contained the powers of seven greatest sages of Sanātana Dharma (Sapta Ṛṣis). But Droṇācārya did not impart this knowledge either to Arjuna or to Aśvatthāma. Thus, he proved to be unconquerable on the 15th day of war.
Observing this, Krishna devised a plan to bring down the invincible Droṇa. Śrī kṛṣṇa knew that it was not possible to defeat Droṇācārya when he had bow and arrow in his hands. Śrī kṛṣṇa also knew that Droṇācārya loved his son Aśvatthāma very dearly. So, Śrī Kṛṣṇa suggested to Yudhiṣṭhira and other Pāṇḍava brothers that, if he were convinced that his son was killed on the battlefield, then Droṇācārya would get dejected to such an extent that he would lay down all his arms on the ground and it would be easier to kill him.
In order to find a way out, Śrī kṛṣṇa suggested Bhīma to kill an elephant by name Aśvatthāma and claim to Droṇācārya that he has killed Droṇa's son Aśvatthāma. Following this plan, Bhīma located and killed an elephant named Aśvatthāma, i.e. the same name as Droṇa's son. He then loudly proclaimed that he had slain Aśvatthāma, so as to make Droṇācārya think that his son was dead.
Droṇācārya however, did not believe Bhīma's words and approached Yudhisthira. Droṇa knew of Yudhiṣṭhira's firm adherence to Dharma and that he would never ever utter a lie. When Droṇācārya approached Yudhiṣṭhira and questioned him as to whether his son was truly slain in the battle by Bhīma, Yudhiṣṭhira responded with the cryptic Sanskrit phrase "Aśvatthāma hathaḥ iti, narova kuṃjarovā...." (Sanskrit: "अश्वत्थामा हतः इति, नरोवा कुंजरोवा..." meaning 'Aśvatthāma is dead. But, I am not certain whether it was a human or an elephant').
Śrī kṛṣṇa also knew that it was not possible for Yudhiṣṭhira to lie outright. On his instructions, the other warriors blew trumpets and conches, raising a tumultuous noise in such a way that Droṇācārya only heard that "Aśvatthāma is dead", but could not hear the latter part of Yudhiṣṭhira's reply.
Droṇācārya knew that if Aśvatthāma was dead, then his soul must have gone to heaven. So, out of grief, and believing his son to be dead, Droṇācārya descended from his chariot, laid down his arms and sat in meditation. Closing his eyes, his soul went to Heaven in search of Aśvatthāma's soul.
In the meantime, Drupada's son Dhṛṣṭādyumna took this opportunity and beheaded the unarmed Droṇācārya who was not aware of the whole proceedings on Earth. This was considered an act of cowardice on Dhṛṣṭādyumna's part.
Droṇācārya's soul, which went to Heaven could not find Aśvatthāma's soul there and so returned to Earth in order to find the truth about Aśvatthāma's death. But it could not get back into its body as Droṇa's head was separated from his body.
In this way, Droṇa was killed in the Mahābhārata War. His death greatly aggrieved and enraged Arjuna, who had immense affection towards his teacher, and had hoped to capture him alive rather than killing him.
Modern assessment 
Droṇācārya was often without doubt, partial towards Arjuna. Any great teacher would feel enthralled if his protege so excels as Arjuna did, thus, so was Droṇa. Droṇa was somewhat parallel to Bhīṣma both in martial prowess, and in his unwavering commitment to fighting for the kingdom of Hastinapura irrespective of who the ruler was and whether or not the cause was just.
Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa was critical of Droṇācārya for remaining a mute spectator and not having protested the humiliation of Draupadī by Duḥśāsana and Duryodhana following the fateful game of dice. He is also criticized for his pride and conceit, siding with evil despite knowing of and acknowledging the righteousness of the Pandava cause. However, he was compelled to side with the Kauravas because he was indebted to their royal household, which had provided him and his family with shelter, wealth and an occupation.
It may also be concluded that he was responsible for the devious murder of Abhimanyu, as it was he who had suggested simultaneously attacking and disabling the tired, outnumbered and trapped warrior. He also acted unfairly, when he demands as Guru Dakshina, payment to the master, the right thumb of Ekalavya who taught himself with Droṇācārya as his "Mānasika Guru"(Guru in mind). This point is debated as Ekalavya learnt by secretly watching the instruction of the princes. This was tantamount to stealing, and Droṇācārya contends that his Guru Dakṣiṇā was not merely Ekalavya's thumb, but the knowledge that he had stolen. However, he remains a revered figure in Hindu history, and a pillar of the Indian tradition of respecting one's teacher as an equal not only of parents, but even of God.
It is believed that the city of Gurgaon (literally - "Village of the Guru") was founded as "Guru Gram" by Droṇācārya on land given to him by Dhṛtarāṣṭra, the king of Hastinapur in recognition of his teachings of martial arts to the princes, and the 'Droṇācārya Tank', still exists within the Gurgaon city, along with a village called Gurgaon.
See also 
- Wikisource: The Mahabharata, Book 1: Adi Parva/Sambhava Parva
- The Story of Droṇa - the Teacher of Kauravas and Pandavas
- Supereme Court of India on Droṇacharya: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-01-06/india/28378711_1_tribals-sc-bench-dronacharya
- Epic Mythology With Additions and Corrections by Edward Washburn Hopkins
- Mahābhārata, Book I: Adi Parva, Sambhava Parva, Section CXXXI.
- Epic Mythology With Additions and Corrections By Edward Washburn Hopkins
- The Mahabharata of Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa by Kisara Mohan Ganguly
- Mahābhārata, Book I: Ādi Parva, Sambhava Parva, Section CXXXII.
- Mahābhārata, Book I: Adi Parva, Sambhava Parva, Section CXXXIII
- Mahābhārata, Book I: Ādi Parva, Sambhava Parva, Section CXXXV
- Mahābhārata, Book I: Adi Parva, Sambhava Parva, Section CXXXIV
- Section CXXXV
- Mahābhārata, Book I: Ādi Parva, Sambhava Parva, Section XXXIV
- Droṇacharya Award
- Gurgaon History