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This is the story of a long-gone era.

In the country of India, nearly five thousand years back,


lived a boy named Eklavya, the son of a tribal chief in the forests of the kingdom- Hastinapura.
Eklavya was a brave, handsome boy. He was loved by all. But he was not happy.
His father saw that something troubled Eklavya. More than once he found his son lost deep in
thought when other boys enjoyed the pleasures of hunting and playing. One day the father
asked his son, Why are you so unhappy, Eklavya? Why dont you join your friends? Why are
you

not

interested

in

hunting?.

Father, I want to be an archer replied Eklavya, I want to become a disciple of the great
Dronacharya, the great tutor of Archery in Hastinapura. His Gurukul is a magical place where
ordinary

boys

are

turned

into

mighty

warriors.

Eklavya saw his father was silent. He continued, Father, I know that we belong to the hunting
tribe, but I want to be a warrior, father, not a mere hunter. So please allow me to leave home
and

become

the

disciple

of

Dronacharya.

Eklavya's father was troubled, for he knew that his sons ambition was not an easy one. But
the chief was a loving father and he did not want to refuse his only sons wish. So the kind man
gave

his

blessings

and

sent

his

son

on

his

way

to

Dronas

Gurukul.

Eklavya set on his way. Soon he reached the part of the forest where Drona taught the princes
of

Hastinapur.

In those days, there was no such system as a school, college, university or hostel. The only
place where one could get some education was a Gurukul. A Gurukul (Guru refers to
"teacher" or "master"; Kul refers to his domain, from the Sanskrit word kula, meaning extended
family.) is a type of ancient Hindu school in India that is residential in nature with the shishyas
or students and the guru or teacher living in proximity, many a time within the same house.
The Gurukul is the place where the students resided together as equals, irrespective of their
social standing. The students learned from the guru and also helped the guru in his day-to-day
life, including the carrying out of mundane chores such as washing clothes, cooking, etc. The
education

imparted

thus,

was

wholesome

one.

Having said this much, let us now return to Eklavya. When the boy reached Dronacharyas
Gurukul, he saw that it consisted of a group of huts, surrounded by trees and an archery yard.
The disciples were practicing to shoot arrows with their bows and arrows in the yard. It was an
engaging sight. But Eklavyas eyes searched Drona. Where was he? Will he be able to see the
man? Without Drona, all his purpose of coming here would be meaningless. But all his worries
soon subsided. He didnt have to wait for long. There was the man standing near a tree busy
instructing a boy, who was none else than the third Pandava prince Arjuna, as Eklavya came to
know later. Though Eklavya had never seen Drona before, he put his guess at work. He went

near

Drona

and

bowed.

The sage was surprised to see a strange boy addressing him. Who are you? he asked.
"Dronacharya, I am Eklavya, son of the Tribal Chief in the western part of the forests of
Hastinapura." Eklavya replied. "Please accept me as your disciple and teach me the wonderful
art

of

Archery."

Drona sighed. "Eklavya..." said he,"... if you are a tribal hunter, you must be a Shudra, the
lowest social community according to the Vedic Caste System. I am a Brahmin, the highest
caste

in

the

kingdom.

cannot

teach

Shudra

boy."

"And he's also a Royal teacher," interrupted Prince Arjuna. "Our Guru has been appointed by
the King to train us, the princes and the highborn. How dare you come inside the Gurukul and
seek him? Leave! NOW!" he spat out, looking enraged that Eklavya had disturbed his practice.
Eklavya was stunned at Arjuna's behaviour. He himself was the son of the chief of his clan, but
he never insulted anyone below him in such a way. He looked at Drona for some kind of
support, but the sage remained silent. The message was loud and clear. Dronacharya also
wanted

him

to

leave.

He

refused

to

teach

him.

The innocent tribal boy was deeply hurt by Drona's refusal to teach him. "It's not fair!" he
thought miserably. "God has given knowledge to all, but man alone differentiates his kind."
He left the place with a broken heart and a bitter taste in his mouth. But it could not shatter
his

ambition

to

learn

Archery.

He

was

still

as

determined

to

learn

Archery.

"I may be a Shudra but does it make any difference?" thought he. " I am as strong and zealous
as Drona's princes and disciples. If I practice the art everyday, I can surely become an archer."
Eklavya reached his own forests and took some mud from a nearby river. He made a statue of
Dronacharya and selected a secluded clearing in the forests to place it. Eklavya did this
because he faithfully believed that if he practiced before his Guru, he would become an able
archer. Thus, though his Guru shunned him, he still held him in high esteem and thought of
him

as

his

Guru.

Day after day, he took his bow and arrow, worshipped the statue of Drona and started practice.
In time faith, courage and perseverance transformed Eklavya the mere tribal hunter into
Eklavya the extraordinary archer. Eklavya became an archer of exceptional prowess, superior
even

to

Drona's

best

pupil,

Arjuna.

One day while Eklavya is practicing, he hears a dog barking. At first the boy ignored the dog,

but continuous disturbance in his practice angered him. He stopped his practice and went
towards the place where the dog was barking. Before the dog could shut up or get out of the
way, Eklavya fired seven arrows in rapid succession to fill the dog's mouth without injuring it.
As

result

it

roamed

the

forests

with

its

mouth

opened.

But Eklavya was not alone in his practice. He was unaware of the fact that just some distance
away, the Pandava princes were also present in that area of the forest. As fate would have it,
that day, they had come with their teacher, Drona, who was instructing them about some finer
points of archery by making them learn in the real-life condition of the open jungle.
As they were busy practicing, they suddenly chanced upon the "stuffed" dog, and wonder who
could have pulled off such a feat of archery. Drona was amazed too." Such an excellent aim can
only come from a mighty archer." he exclaimed. He told the Pandavas that if somebody was
such a good archer then he surely needed to be met. The practice was stopped and together
they began searching the forest for the one behind such amazing feat. They found a darkskinned man dressed all in black, his body besmeared with filth and his hair in matted locks.
It

was

Eklavya.

Dronacharya

went

up

to

him.

"Your aim is truly remarkable!" Drona praised Eklavya, and asked "From whom did you learn
Archery?"
Eklavya was thrilled to hear Drona's praises. How surprised he will be if he told Drona that he,
in
"From

fact
you

my

was

Master.

You

are

his
my

Guru,"

Guru!

Eklavya

replied

humbly.

"Your Guru? How can I be your Guru? I have never seen you before!" Drona exclaimed in
surprise. But all of a sudden he remembered something. He remembered about an eager boy
who had visited his Gurukul several months ago. " Now I remember," said he. "Are you not the
same hunter boy whom I refused admission in my Gurukul some months back?"
"Yes, Dronacharya", replied the boy. "After I left your Gurukul, I came home and made a statue
like you and worshipped it every day. I practiced before your image. You refused to teach me,
but

your

statue

did

not.

Thanks

to

it,

have

become

good

archer."

Hearing this, Arjuna became angry. "But you promised me that you'd make me the best archer
in the world!" he accused Drona. "Now how can that be? Now a common hunter has become
better

than

me!"

The other princes remembered their master frequently praising Arjuna that he had immense
talent and will be the greatest archer in the kingdom. They waited with bated breath. What will
their

teacher

do

now?

Unable to answer Arjuna's question, Drona remained silent. The sage too was upset that his
promise to Prince Arjuna was not going to be fulfilled. He was also angry with Eklavya for
disobeying

him.

So

the

sage

planned

to

punish

Eklavya.

"Where is your guru dakhsina? You have to give me a gift for your training," the sage
demanded. He had finally found a way to make Eklavya suffer for his disobedience.
Eklavya was overjoyed. A guru dakshina was the voluntary fee or gift offered by a disciple to his
guru at the end of his training. The guru-shishya parampara, i.e. the teacher-student tradition,
was a hallowed tradition in Hinduism. At the end of a shishya's study, the guru asks for a
"guru dakshina," since a guru does not take fees. A guru dakshina is the final offering from a
student to the guru before leaving the ashram. The teacher may ask for something or nothing
at

all.

"Dronacharya, I'll be the happiest person on earth to serve you. Ask me anything and I will
offer

it

to

you

as

my

guru

dhakshina

"he

said.

"I might ask something you don't like to give me. What if you refuse the dhakshina I want?"
Drona

asked

cunningly.

Eklavya was shocked. It was considered a grave insult and a great sin if a guru's dakshina was
refused. "No! How can I, teacher? I am not that ungrateful. I'll never refuse anything you ask,
Dronacharya,"

promised

the

unsuspecting

boy.

Drona did not wait anymore. "Eklavya, I seek to have your right-hand thumb as my guru
dhakshina"

he

declared.

Silence befell on everyone. Everyone was shocked, even Arjuna. He looked at his teacher in
horror and disbelief. How could their teacher make such a cruel demand? That too, from a
mere

boy?

For a moment Eklavya stood silent. Without his thumb he could never shoot arrows again. But
the teacher must be satisfied. "Ok Gurudev, as you wish." said he. Then, without the slightest
hesitation,

Eklavya

drew

out

his

knife

and

cut

his

thumb!

The princes gasped at Eklavya's act of bravery. But the tribal boy betrayed no signs of pain,
and

held

out

his

severed

thumb

to

Dronacharya.

"Here is my guru dakshina, Drona", Ekalavya said. "I am happy that you have made me your
disciple,

even

if

I'm

mere

Shudra

hunter."

The sage was humbled. He blessed the young archer for his courage. "Eklavya, even with out
your thumb, you'll be known as a great archer. I bless you that you will be remembered forever
for your loyalty to your guru," Drona declared and left the forests. He was moved and grieved at
his own action. But he was content that his promise to Arjuna was not broken. The Gods
blessed

Eklavya

from

above.

But despite his handicap, Eklavya continued to practice archery. How could he do so? When
one is dedicated, one can make even mountains bow. With practice, Eklavya could shoot
arrows with his index and middle finger and he became a greater archer than he was ever
before. His renown spread far and wide. When Drona came to know this, he blessed the boy
silently

and

begged

for

divine

forgiveness.

And true to Drona's blessing, Eklavya is still praised as the most loyal and brave student in the
epic of Mahabharatha.