Ekalavya (Sanskrit: एकलव्य, éklavya) is a character from the Hindu epic, the Mahābhārata. He was a young prince of the Nishadha, a confederation of jungle tribes in Ancient India. Ekalavya aspired to study archery in the gurukul of Guru Dronacharya (Drona), the greatest known teacher in the use of weaponry and martial art knowledge at the time. He was son of Vyatraj Hiranyadhanus, a talented soldier in the army of King of Magadha. Magadha was ruled by Jarasandha, who was at odds with the Kingdom of Hastinapura.
Ekalavya sincerely sought the mentor of Drona in weaponry and martial art.
Ekalavya is called as one of the foremost of kings in the Rajasuya Yagna where he honours Yudhishthira with his shoes. Though he didn't have his right thumb, he was noted as a very powerful archer and charioteer.
In the Mahabharata, Ekalavya was the son of Hiranyadhanus who was a well known king of the tribes, king of the Nishadas (descendants of Bähuka / Niñäda the person born from King Vena's thighs). He approached Drona to tutor him in the arts of war, especially archery. Drona was a Brahmin teacher appointed by the Royal Family of Hasthinapura to teach the young Kaurava and Pandava princes martial arts. He himself was trained by Parashurama, the sixth incarnation of Vishnu.
Upon reaching Hasthinapur, Ekalavya managed to gain an audience with Drona. Drona was quite impressed by young his sincere desire and he asked Ekalavya about his background. Upon finding out that he was of a lower caste, and that Drona could not accept students of his own will (laws of the Kingdom of Hastinapura), Drona turned him away.  When Arjuna and other pupils of Drona saw Ekalavya, Ekalavya was besmeared with filth, had matted locks (on head), was clad in rags, was bearing a bow in hand and was ceaselessly shooting arrows therefrom.
Deeply hurt by Drona's rejection, Ekalavya returned home, but being resolute and with the will to master archery, he went into the forest and made a statue of Drona. He began a disciplined program of self-study over many years. Eventually, Ekalavya became an archer of exceptional prowess, greater than Drona's best pupil, Arjuna. He accepted the statue as his guru and practised in front of it every single day. His belief that the statue would teach him kept him determined.
One day the young Kaurava and Pandava princes from Hastinapur came hunting with their teacher, Drona in the jungle where Ekalavya lived. While the princes were hunting around in the jungle, they camped for the night. It was amavasya and the night was completely dark.
At the same time not far away, Ekalavya was practising archery. He heard a dog barking and fired seven arrows in rapid succession to fill the dog's mouth without injuring it.
Drona and his students stumble across the dog and see its mouth sewn shut by arrows. Amazed at this, Arjuna asked Drona how could this be possible in the dark night to which he replied it was shabda bhedi, aiming at objects by its sound, a skill that Arjuna had not yet learnt. Drona mapped the direction of the shooting arrows and lead his students to the place from they were being shot. There they found a dark young boy practising archery. Drona recognises Ekalavya and asked him if it was he who had shot the wild dog to which Ekalavya replied that it was indeed him. Impressed and curious, Drona asked Ekalavya who his teacher was. The boy bowed to Drona with respect and touched his feet, replied, "Acharya (Sir), it is you who taught me everything I learnt."
Drona was amazed and asked him how could he learn from him in the forest while Drona at the palace with the royal princes. Ekalavya showed them the statue of Drona that he made, explaining that he had accepted the form Drona in the statue as his guru, and with meditation and discipline had trained. Upon hearing this, Drona was impressed but also angered. Fulfilling his dharma to protect the fated superiority of Arjuna, Drona demands him his dakshina. Ekalavya tells Drona that he would pay anything he asked, to which Drona responded that he wanted Ekalavya's right thumb. Without any hesitation, Ekalavya cut off his right hand's thumb and gave it to his guru, thereby crippling himself and ruining his abilities as an archer.
Ekalavya has been lauded by many Indians, including Adivasis, as a paragon of achievement who achieved great heights of accomplishment through his own self-initiative, to which the nobles of the Kuru house could only aspire through formal tutelage. Ultimately, however, the Mahābhārata does not settle these moral ambiguities, and leaves the tale open to speculation and discussion. Ekalavya later learned to shoot again using only four fingers and left-handed and was a mighty warrior hailed in several places in the Mahabharata. On the other hand, Drona has been criticised by some scholars for fulfilling his dharma to protect the fated superiority of Arjuna, and for demanding something that was not his due.
Later life and death
Later, Ekalavya worked as a confidant of King Jarasandha. At the time of the Swayamvara of Rukmini, he acted as the messenger between Shishupala and Rukmini's father Bhishmaka, at the request of King Jarasandha. Ultimately, Bhishmaka decided that Rukmini would marry Shishupala, but instead she eloped with Krishna. Ekalavya is later killed during a conflict between Krishna and King Jarasandha's army.
In Indonesian legend, in a former life Eklavaya was king Phalgunadi, killed by Drona and reborn as Dhrishtadamyuna to avenge the killing. In this version, Arjuna gets his name Phalguna from Phalgunadi. His famous and chaste wife Dewi Anggraini was always faithful to Phalgunadi, even after his death and despite Arjuna 's proposals.
- "Ekalavya Honouring Yudhisthira". Retrieved 19 November 2013.
- "Mahabharata". Sacred Texts.
- A. D. Athawale. Vastav Darshan of Mahabharat. Continental Book Service, Pune, 1970
- Dowson, John (1820–1881). A classical dictionary of Hindu mythology and religion, geography, history, and literature. London: Trübner, 1879 [Reprint, London: Routledge, 1979] Encyclopedia for Epics of Ancient India