Drona

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This article is about Droṇācārya. For other uses, see Drona (disambiguation).
Droṇācārya as commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army.

In the epic Mahābhārata, Drona (Sanskrit: द्रोण, droṇa) or Dronacharya (Sanskrit: द्रोणाचार्य, droṇācārya) or Gurudrona (Sanskrit-गुरुद्रोण) was the royal preceptor to Kauravas and Pandavas. He was a master of advanced military arts, including the divine weapons or Divya Astras. Arjuna was his favorite student. Ashwatthama, another major combatant in the Kurukshetra war, is the son of Drona. Drona is the avatar of Bṛihaspati.[1]

Etymology[edit]

Since, Droṇāchārya was not born from a womb, but from a vessel made of leaf, he was named 'Droṇa' which means 'vessel made of leaf'.

Birth and early life[edit]

The story of Droṇa's birth is related dramatically in Mahābhārata.[2] Bharadvāja went with his companions to the Gaṅgā River to perform his ablutions. There he beheld a beautiful apsara named Ghritachi 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.[3]

Droṇācārya spent his youth in poverty, but studied Dharma 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 Kripi, the sister of Kṛipa, the royal teacher of the princes of Hastinapura. Like Droṇa himself, Kṛipī and her brother had not been gestated in a womb, but outside the human body. Kṛipi and Droṇa had a son, Aśvatthāma.[4]

Guru Paraśurāma[edit]

Learning that Paraśurāma was giving away his possessions to brāhmaṇas, Drona approached him. Unfortunately, Parasurama only had his weapons left. He offered to give Drona the weapons as well as the knowledge of how to use them. Thus, Drona obtained all of his weapons, including the very powerful Brahmastra, Brahmashirsha astra, and Brahmanda astra. With Parasurama's knowledge, Drona became an acharya.[5]

Droṇa and Drupada[edit]

For the sake of his wife and son, Drona desired freedom from poverty. Remembering a childhood promise given by Drupada, he decided to approach him to ask for help. However, King Drupada refused to even recognize their friendship. 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. Droṇa went away silently, but in his heart he vowed revenge.[2][6]

As a teacher[edit]

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[edit]

Droṇācārya went to Hastinapura. 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. 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[edit]

The test of Dronacharya

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.[7]

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 illusioned 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 invincible weapon against any ordinary warrior.

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, even Ashwatthama, gave similar replies, and Droṇācārya was disappointed with all. But when Arjuna stepped forth, he could only see the eye of the bird and nothing else. Droṇa asked him to shoot, and Arjuna did strike the bird down in the eye.

Drona asked the cook never to serve food to Arjuna in the dark and also tells the cook that he should not tell Arjuna about this order from Drona.[citation needed] One day Arjuna was eating food and the light was put off by the wind. Arjuna noted that even in complete darkness, by practice, hands would reach one's mouth. 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 divine Astra's.

Drona was partial especially to Arjuna and Ashwatthama. Drona dearly loved his son Ashwatthama and as a guru, he loved Arjuna more than anyone.

Treatment of Ekalavya and Karṇa[edit]

Ekalavya[edit]

A strong criticism[citation needed] of Droṇācārya springs from his behavior towards Ekalavya and his strong bias in favor of Arjuna.[8]

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 kṣatriya prince. Many sources report that in addition, Eklavya's father was a commander of the Kingdom of Magadha, which was ruled by Emperor Jarasandha. At that time, Jarasandha, having never been conquered by Pandu, had been building an empire in East-India; relations between Hastinapur and Magadha were rough. Drona feared that Eklavya would have become an unconquerable warrior for a rival army and felt an obligation to defend the land that gave him asylum, even at the cost of teacher-student ethics. Hence, Drona rejected the request of Eklavya to be his teacher. Ekalavya began study and practice by himself, having fashioned a clay image of Droṇācārya. Solely by his determination, Ekalavya became a warrior of exceptional prowess, with abilities to be better than the young Arjuna.

One day, a dog's barking disturbed a focused Ekalavya. Without looking, Ekalavya fired arrows that sealed up the dog's mouth. The Kuru 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 reported this to Drona. Droṇa visited Ekalavya with the princes. Ekalavya promptly greeted Drona as his guru. Heavily, Droṇācārya asked Ekalavya for a Dakṣiṇa. When Ekalavya promised anything, Droṇācārya asked for Ekalavya's right thumb. Though his expression faltering, after confirming the request, Ekalavya unhesitatingly cut it off and handed it to Droṇācārya, despite knowing that this would irreparably hamper his archery skills. Cleverly, Drona both defends his promise to Arjuna as well as his obligation to protect Hastinapur by disarming a potential threat.

Karna[edit]

Droṇācārya similarly rejected Karna, as he was a son of a charioteer and not a Kshatriya by which he did not have the right to learn military training. The school established by Droṇācārya belonged only to princes of Hastinapur and its allies. Humiliated, Karna vowed to learn nonetheless, and obtained the knowledge of weapons and military arts from Drona's own teacher Paraśurāma. Parasurama trained Karna and gifted entire knowledge of divine weapons and Astra's including Vijaya (bow) and declared Karna equal to himself in the art of warfare. Thus Droṇa inadvertently laid the foundation for the great rivalry between Arjuna and Karna. In some versions of the story, it is Drona, impressed with his audacity, who gives Karna(Radheya) his name.

Revenge upon Drupada[edit]

On completing their training, Droṇācārya asked the Kauravas to bring him Drupada bound in chains. Duryodhana, Duḥśāsana, Yuyutsu, Vikarna, and the remaining Kauravas attacked Pañcāla with the Hastinapur army. They failed to defeat the Pañcāla army, whereupon Droṇācārya sent Arjuna and his brothers for the task. The five Pāṇḍavas attacked Pañcāla. Arjuna defeated Drupada, as ordered.

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 Pandavas.

Skill as a warrior[edit]

In Udyoga Parva of Mahabarath, Bhishma declared Drona as a mighty Maharathi, or a warrior capable of fighting 60,000 warriors simultaneously; circumspect in his mastery of all forms of weapons and combat skills.[9]

Droṇācārya in the war[edit]

Droṇācārya became the Chief Commander of the Kuru Army for 5 days of the war.

Droṇācārya had been the preceptor of most kings involved in the Kurukṣetra, on both sides. Droṇācārya strongly condemned Duryodhana exiling the Pandavas, as well as the Kauravas' general abuse towards the Pandavas. But being a servant of Hastinapura, Droṇācārya was duty-bound to fight for the Kauravas, and thus against his favorite Pāṇḍavas.

Dronacharya was one of the most powerful and destructive warriors in the Kurukshetra War. He single-handedly slayed hundreds of thousands of Pandava 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.

Duryodhana manages to convince Drona to try and end the war by capturing Yudhiṣṭhira. Though he killed hundreds and thousands of Pandava soldiers, Drona failed to do capture Yudhishthira on days eleven and twelve of the war, as Arjuna was always there to repel his advances. [10]

Abhimanyu's killing[edit]

The Pāṇḍavas' nephew Abhimanyu battles the Kauravas and their allies

On the 13th day of battle, the Kauravas challenged the Pāṇḍavas to break a spiral shaped battle formation known as the Chakravyuha. Droṇācārya as commander formed this strategy, knowing that only Arjuna and Śrī Kṛiṣṇa would know how to penetrate it. The Trigartas were distracting Arjuna and Krishna 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 Yudhishthira, 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. Drona is impressed with Abhimanyu and praises him endlessly, earning the ire of Duryodhana.

With his army facing decimation, Droṇa asked Kaurava maharathis 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 eventually was killed by the simultaneous attack by Kaurava warriors.

All this was the 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. Drona constructed Padma Vyuha for the protection of Jayadratha, and on the fourteenth day, stood at the head of the formation. Arjuna and him duel, and Arjuna is unable to bypass his preceptor. With Krishna's prodding, Arjuna circumvents Drona. When Drona asks him why he won't fight, Arjuna tells Drona that he sees Drona not as an enemy, but as his teacher. Smiling, Drona gives Arjuna permission to leave, and blesses him with victory. Arjuna managed to kill Jayadratha.

Droṇācārya's death[edit]

Death of Droṇācārya

On the 15th day of the Mahābhārata war, Droṇa got instigated by Duryodhana's remarks of being a traitor. He used the Brahmastra against the Pāṇḍava soldiers. Later he invoked the Brahmanda astra; Drona never imparted this knowledge to anyone, even Arjuna and Aśvatthāma. At that moment, all the Sapta Ṛṣis appeared on the sky and requested Drona to retract this ultimate weapon otherwise because of the rampant destruction it would cause. Droṇācārya obeyed, retracting the weapon.

Lord Kṛiṣhṇa knew that it was not possible to defeat Droṇāchārya when he had bow and arrow in his hands. Kṛiṣhṇa also knew that Droṇācārya loved his son Ashwatthama very dearly. So, Kṛiṣhṇa suggested to Yudhiṣṭhira and other Pāṇḍava brothers that, if he were convinced that his son was killed on the battlefield, then Droṇācārya would be desolate and would disarm himself in grief.

Lord Kṛiṣhṇa suggested that Bhīma kill an elephant by name Ashwatthama and claim to Droṇācārya that he has killed Droṇacharya's son Aśvatthāma. After killing the elephant as suggested, Bhima loudly proclaimed that he had killed Aśvatthāma. 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 dead, Yudhiṣṭhira responded with the cryptic 'Aśvatthāma is dead. But it is an elephant and not your son'.Kṛiṣhṇa 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 was dead", but could not hear the latter part of Yudhiṣṭhira's reply.

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 by astral travel in search of Aśvatthāma's soul. Dhṛiṣhṭādyumna took this opportunity and beheaded the unarmed Droṇāchārya.

Modern assessment[edit]

Drona partiality towards Arjuna is examined in many academic texts. Any great teacher would feel enthralled if his protege so excels as Arjuna did, thus, so was Droṇa.[citation needed] Drona thus acted unfairly, when he demanded as guru dakshina, the right thumb of Ekalavya. This treatment of Eklavya, as well as his rebuking of Karna, is criticized as being biased against lower castes. In some folklore, Sarasvati cursed Droṇācārya with an unarmed, humiliating death for Drona's actions against Ekalavya and Karna. Sarasvati said that knowledge belonged to all, and that it was an acharya's duty to spread that knowledge everywhere.[11] Despite whatever reasons he gave, Drona cheated Ekalavya and Karna to achieve something for himself-to protect his promise to Arjuna that he would make Arjuna the world's greatest archer, as well as his oath to Hastinapur.

Droṇa was somewhat parallel to Bhīṣma both in martial prowess, and in his unwavering commitment to fighting for the kingdom of Hastinapur irrespective of who the ruler was and whether or not the cause was just. Like Bhishma, Drona is 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 occupation. Krishna criticized this reasoning as mere pride-Drona wanted to put his obligation to Hastinapur over dharma so that no one questioned his honor.

Criticism is leveled at Droṇācārya for remaining a mute spectator and not having protested the humiliation of Draupadī by Duḥśāsana and Duryodhana following the fateful game of dice.

Similarly, Droṇācārya was criticized for many of his actions during the war:

  • First, as a Brahmin, and secondly, as the princes' teacher, he should have removed himself from the battlefield.
  • Droṇācārya tried to use divine weapons against the Pandava's common foot-soldiers. As he does so, a voice from the heavens told him not to use divine weapons so carelessly. However, Drona argued that his first obligation was to defeating his enemy and defending his soldiers, by whatever means he possessed.
  • It may also be concluded that he was responsible for the devious and brutal murder of Abhimanyu, as he was the Kaurava army chief at the time.

Droncharya's overarching actions during the war are portrayed differently. When he became commander-in-chief, the rules of war were averted. Divine weapons were used against ordinary soldiers, war continued throughout the night, warriors no longer engaged each other one-on-one, etc. Specifically, he was willing to try to end the war by capturing Yudhishthira, while Karna was not, as he considered it lacking honor. In some versions of the Mahabharatha, this evidence is used to justify the caste system, as the point is subtly made that the reason why Drona was willing to break the rules of war and engage in less honorable acts was because he was a brahmin, not a kshatriya. He is compared directly to Karna, who, not even knowing that he was a kshatriya, still intuitively understood the kshatriya code/way-of-life. In other versions, Drona's differences in strategy are shown as a difference in philosophy-Drona believed, that as the commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army, his goal was to ensure the protection of his soldiers through any means necessary. By choosing to uphold the rules of war and the concept of honorable acts over his soldiers' lives, he would be doing them a disservice.

Ultimately, all of these actions do lead to Drona's death in the war. In that way, Drona paid the ultimate price for his crimes. 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.

The Government of India annually awards the Dronacharya Award for excellence in sports tutelage to the best sports teachers and coaches in India.[12]

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.[13]

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