Wednesday, November 23, 2016

In Drona's defence - the case of Ekalavya

            With the passage of time and changing values, we have always interpreted historical events in different light. When there are very motivated forces and no resistance from the original thinkers and with sepoys ploughing their way into the minds of the masses, fundamental shifts occur. This is exactly what has been happening in India. Throughout many millennia, certain characters have shaped the civilization. Bhagwan Rama is a great example. From the ideal Maryada Purushottama, HE has been under assault by atheists, missionary zealots and crass politicians, not to forget highly motivated western indologists who want to twist everything through their perverted prism either to achieve some social engineering on their terms or exhibiting a weird sense of prevarication. To thwart these forces, the only defense, Sanatana Dharmists have is to get connected to the itihasas and puranas. In Subtle Dharma behind Vaali vadam, we saw in detail with the evidence from within Valmiki Ramayana, how these false stories fall flat.

The Background of the case:
            Ekalavya has been a similar story. He is one of the side characters that appear in the Mahabharata. Traditionally given as an example of obedience to a Guru, today he has been projected as an unfortunate lower caste being taken advantage of and worse still a plethora of organizations use his name and story to peddle their deception. In this article, we will attempt to demolish these fabricated, bigoted, twisted interpretations and shine light using the original text and context. It is noteworthy to see the contrast in Ekal Foundation.

            Rajiv Malhotra, a keen intellectual scholar, has always been at the forefront in challenging both the motivated western indologists and their motives and also the tamasic Indians who either are busy getting converted into Sepoys or indifferent to all these forces at best. Through his though provoking books – Breaking India, Being Different and Indra’s Net  he has alerted the masses of these forces. Only when one reads and understands The Battle for Sanskrit and reflects upon these forces, its’ vice grip and long reach, it becomes obvious.

            To make the case very evident, let us begin with some deliberate transformations of Ekalavya. I came across this article written by a westernized Indian with very poor to non-existent understanding of Itihasas – Ekalavya : A progressive Reading – by Sunita Viswanath. The worst part of the article was the author claimed to use her Brahmin birth to condemn the way in which texts are interpreted. She goes on to claim 

“Hindu scriptures, like all religious texts, can be interpreted to support whatever worldview one chooses. The fact that they are constantly retold shows that Hindus have a time-honored tradition of scriptural debate and reinterpretation. All religions are constantly evolving, and it is up to us to reimagine texts and traditions so they are relevant to our time.”

            The irony is she and others need not reimagine. All they need to do is correctly understand. No Hindu scripture talks of discrimination and especially due to their birth. In Varnas – a journey to its roots, we studied about Varnas in detail. The ancient Indian society always had given more credibility to the present actions, attitude over the past. Even in karma theory, as outlined in detail in our deliberation on free will vs fate, we saw how Sanchita karma or present action triumphs the prarabhda.

            In her book, Srimad Bhagavatam, Geeta Kasturi narrates her misunderstood version of Mahabharata with her strong prejudiced opinion. What makes this irritating is, the author uses her pedigree to peddle her opinion. We are concerned only about the Ekalavya episode as given in the hyperlink. In many cases, these self styled experts either use their misinterpretations or ignorance to shove wrong ideas about their own roots.

            To top this, we have popular mass appeal holders who make a living by distorting these hoary scriptures with such aesthetics like Devadutt Pattanaik, that the negative is barely noticed by the masses as none of them have read it in the first instance. The account of Ekalavya as narrated in Indian Mythology – Tales, Symbols and Rituals from the Heart of the Subcontinent may appear very appealing. Yet it is the author’s myth that is diffused right through, be it gently masking the facts or reinterpreting it with the author’s strong prejudice and training from his teacher Wendy Doninger.  To get an insight of this highly prejudiced scholar, read these links – History of Ekalavya and Response by Wendy.

            Hence Rajiv Malhotra’s definition of Sepoys can be replaced with the pictures of such people. The sepoys operate under various monikers – activists, progressive people, liberals, Dalit leaders, Christian missionaries, atheists, minority appeasing politicians and the like. This army usually doesn’t generate the seed thoughts. It is usually left to the motivated western indologists. The irony and pain gets exaggerated when many donors financing such missions under the charade of aiding correct interpretation of Indian scriptures are many wealthy Indian donors.

            As observed at one end of the spectrum are folks who write with no proper understanding like above and the other end, there are so many websites, story sites in the name of propagating fables and mythologies of the world, give their cooked up versions of Ekalavya. But the best part is when the forces vie for spotlight by using Ekalavya as a dalit hero to spearhead a movement.  The website quotes Dalit writer Shashikant Hingonekar,

“If you had kept your thumb, history would have happened somewhat differently. But you gave your thumb and history also became theirs. Ekalavya, since that day they have not even given you a glance. Forgive me, Ekalavya, I won’t be fooled now by their sweet words. My thumb will never be broken.” 
In order to study these current exploitations through deliberate misinterpretations, we must study the truth. One must go to the original Mahabharata and acquaint oneself with the correct version. For the real scholarly oriented, I encourage them to study the Sanskrit version of Mahabharata. A better representation of this text, after reconciling the differences found across the subcontinent is available thanks to the Critical Edition from Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI). For a respectable English translation let us dive into the chapter at AncientVoice, though I would highly encourage not sticking with the English translations. 

Let us also set some ground rules. Always stick to Vyasa Mahabharata. There are numerous versions ranging from Devadutt Pattanaik’s flavor to Sarala Mahabharata in Oriya and many more. Subjective interpretation, regional affinities, temporal distortions and for more recent authors, personal bias, all play a vital a huge part in the twists in the narration. For Mahabharata, portions of the stories are correlated with both Bhagavatam of Vyasa and Harivamsa, depending on the focus of the text. These are the accepted as authentic traditional sources to augment the upakathas’ validity. We will for instance glean more about the genealogy of Ekalavya in Harivamsa than in Mahabharata where he features.

The following is a composite of what we know about Ekalavya from Mahabharata(Udyog Parva, Chapter 48) and Harivamsa. Vyatraj Hiranyadhanus had a son Ekalavya and as nishadas, who were primarily hunters lived in the forests, away from the then civilization. As Drona instructed the Kuru princes, per Bhishma’s request, his fame attracted many other princes who wanted to tap into his inexhaustible source of dhanurvidya. Ekalavya approached him as well. Upon understanding his genealogy, attitude and aptitude, Drona declined to take Ekalavya as his pupil, NOT BASED ON HIS CASTE. Not giving up Ekalavya then proceeds to make a clay statue of Drona and treats him as his guru. Due to his definiteness of his purpose and his extreme devotion to his mental guru, all the skills of archery came naturally to him which he honed it with lots of practice.

One day, the Kauravas and Pandavas were on a hunting expedition, along with their royal servants and dogs. A dog found the matted hair, filthy looking Ekalavya and started barking at him. Ekalavya sent seven arrows at the dog’s mouth in rapid succession before it could close it. This feat attracted the Pandavas who were eager to know about this skilled archer. Upon learning from Ekalavya’s mouth that Drona was his guru, they hurried to inform and parry more questions to Drona. 

Arjuna (one who is wrongly misinterpreted as a jealous character) approached Drona in privacy to clarify a doubt. Drona upto this point never shied from his pride in having created Arjuna as a supreme warrior. He had announced on numerous occasions that Arjuna was his best disciple. Arjuna saw a challenge to this statement. Drona pondered about this anomaly. They went to Ekalavya, who treated Drona with utmost respect. An eager Ekalavya was informed by Drona that if he were his preceptor, then his fee was overdue. Drona responded that if Ekalavya was really intent on a preceptor fee, then his due will be his right thumb.

These cruel words were met with cheer and unafflicted heart and Ekalavya cut his right thumb as an offering to Drona. Ekalavya found that despite this massive loss, he had not lost his ability to shoot arrows, but had most certainly lost his agility. Arjuna’s fever now left him. Usually this is wrongly mentioned as his fever of jealousy, but it was his fever that a Guru’s words must not go false, which was at the root of his fever. 

Ekalavya went on to become an ardent follower of the Magadha King, Jarasandha. Jarasandha was allied to Kamsa as his daughters were married to Kamsa. Jarasandha had a blinding enmity with Krishna and attacked Mathura repeatedly. Krishna eliminated him with a clever scheme by deploying Bhima against him. Following this, Ekalavya is supposed to have participated in numerous wars against Krishna. A few even wrongly portray him to be reincarnated as Drishtadhyumna, the nemesis of Drona. This is highly wrong if one were to merely study Mahabharata. But his death is confirmed by Krishna on the eve of Ghatotkacha’s death. Krishna informed Arjuna that Jarasandha, Shishupala and Ekalavya were all eliminated by HIM so that their hands will not strengthen the already numerically superior adharmic Kaurava forces. Krishna mentions that a rock hurled by him ended Ekalavya’s life.

The case on Drona
  •          Rejected Ekalavya due to his caste.
  •       Was cruel in asking his thumb.
  •          Was over protective of Arjuna, also favored him too much.
  •          Was unfair and mean to Ekalavya.

Collapse of the false case

Caste based rejection: Drona was famed for not only his mastery of weapons but also for his roots as a vedic scholar. He was well aware of the polity of Bharat at that time. This was a time when powerful kings like Jarasandha were still ruling. We can be certain that Kamsa was already eliminated. The Kurus, who ruled around Hastinapur were confronting strong challenges both frontally and through alliances against them. Hiranyadhanus was a vassal of Jarasandha. We see the evidence of this by Ekalavya’s future role before and after the passing away of Jarasandha. Ekalavya inherits a strong anti Krishna position, due to his asuric background.

            Though it will be a stretch to expect Drona be aware of these future incidents, one can definitely conclude that Drona weighed in Ekalavya’s political leanings, which was very inimical to the Kurus, and by being a natural hunter, his grasp over archery was much superior. Being loyal to the Kurus, Drona definitely did not want to create a super powerful enemy. Drona’s weakness has been his loyalty to his masters, we see this by his role in the Mahabharata war. Here we see the same instincts at display when he rejected Ekalavya as a student. 

            The clear evidence of this is in the sloka
          न तं प्रतिजग्राह नैषादिरिति चिन्तयन् | शिष्यं धनुषि धर्मज्ञस्तेषामेवान्ववेक्षया
     As one who is clearly aware of dharma, he declined to accept Ekalavya. 

So where is the idiotic, motivated and disillusioned allegation of Caste-based rejection?

            The Breaking India forces coupled by supremely ignorant interpreters who choose to neither read the original or ignore it, go on this campaign rampage, taking full advantage of the declining awareness of the original scriptural understanding by the masses.

            निषाद Nishad argument – The first fallacy in the Breaking India forces is to keep parroting that poor Ekalavya was a different caste and hence discriminated. A mere internal cross reference to the most celebrated upakatha in the vana parva reveals Nala, a great Nishada king who marries Damayanti, a kshatriya princess from Vidarba. This caste non sense situation, exacerbated by today’s politicians for votebanks and ignorant people are anachronistically applied to a society many millennia away which displayed maturity far beyond our understanding. These mischievous efforts for misinterpreting these scriptures fall flat if we choose to read our scriptures in Sanskrit or listen to traditional sources of interpretation. 

            Nishada identity goes back even further with the very beginning of Ramayana where a Nishada analogy is given of entire Rama avatar and by the fact Rama made the Nishada Guha his fifth brother. These clearly reveal the flaws in the mischief makers motivated arguments.

            It may be noted even Drona, Parasurama, Vidura and many others never went by their birth labels. It was solely their thought process and actions that defined them. So we can safely conclude the modern caste arguments are highly out of place.

Unfair and mean to Ekalavya argument:

            This one is more subtle to understand and hence requires a clearer understanding. Let us approach by simple logic. All great gurus have pushed the limits of their disciples by putting them to task. In Qualities of a good student, we learnt about Aruni’s display of character even when such a literal interpretation of Guru’s words was not intended. Though Sandhipani did not request Krishna any Gurudakshina, Krishna took his Guru pathni’s words seriously to revive a lost child. Drona himself sought Drupada’s defeat by Kauravas and later by Pandavas. Did he not risk their lives? Was it fair? Yes it was. Only when pushed to the limits a student’s character gets truly revealed. So in that sense, Ekalavya’s thumb showcased his splendid character though Drona did not hesitate to don that role. We will see later why he took such a role.

            Drona merely asked his right thumb, as he was fully aware of Ekalavya’s potential to use the left arm, a skill which Arjuna also mastered. As a great master, he was also aware of the ability to use a bow without the thumb, which Ekalavya mastered later. Drona did not take away his entire hand, as it would have deprived his livelihood. That would have been a stroke of meanness.
            Now let us look at from another angle. Drona had denied this powerful skillset, not mere archery which even hunters are cognizant of, but the subtleties associated with it to Ekalavya. Mahabharata merely mentions that by his devotion and practice Ekalavya raised his standards. Let us discard the argument that Ekalavya, being a hunter shadowed and learnt these skills. But Ekalavya wholeheartedly accepts Drona as his sole guru and attributes everything to him. If I set up a secret nuclear lab in the country, without any permission, will I be liable to be prosecuted? Can I claim persecution when caught?
            Another aspect is the vindication of Drona’s fears. Drona had assessed that Ekalavya was not good in following Dharma, leave alone upholding it. Ekalavya uses excessive force on a poor barking dog by shooting seven arrows in rapid succession. This becomes a platform to display his prowess and skill. We see in several later episodes how Arjuna rushes to the aid of the helpless, a critical role to be played by a person with such a skill set. Ekalavya, being a hunter, never had such an aptitude or thirst for dharma. He was merely hankering after a skill set. Possessing such a skill set without character was a grave danger to the society. (For more on Kshatriyata, the character needed). So Drona used the perceived Guru position to protect the society. Drona did not hide behind an ego, feeling hubristic that even his statue could teach and create an archer on par with Arjuna or higher. He was always aware of the responsibilities given to him as a guru, as a warrior, as a dharmic person.

            Fairness evaluation must be done within the bounds of the society and rules back then, not by twisting it and even more horribly applying today’s standards or our ignorance. Hence we can safely dismiss the unfair or mean charge.

Favoritism for Arjuna:

            This is perhaps the most ridiculous of all charges. It is well known fact that Drona was proud of creating Arjuna, but he will be the first to admit that Arjuna earned every single stripe. Arjuna was devoted to his Guru, a fact that stumps this intelligent warrior till Krishna fixes this malady through Bhagavad Gita. Krishna had to use strategy to remove Bhishma and Drona, rather than relying on Arjuna’s power alone. Arjuna’s wrath on Drishtadhyumna for killing Drona had to be shielded by Krishna.

            Ashwattama, the son of Drona, was dearer to Drona than his own life. That is evident when he is shocked amidst the carnage he was wrecking on Day 15 of Mahabharata war. Even to his own son, Drona did not teach all the weapons. He taught how to handle, recall and reuse the BrahmaSiras weapon to Arjuna and to the pestering Aswattama he merely dispensed how to use it once. Drona was fully aware of his responsibilities and he did not let petty things like favoritism to cloud his actions. We see another example when he asks Kripi, his wife, never to feed Arjuna in the darkness, for he was afraid of Arjuna’s intellect would discover the ability to shoot in the dark. Though he did not create impediments to the student’s progress, he did not aid them either.

We can safely dismiss the favoritism charge as it is baseless.

Verdict – Drona is NOT Guilty in this case:

            After having demolished and pulverized all the allegations against Drona, in the case of Ekalavya, we are still left with the mystery of the agent behind Drona’s move. Thankfully we have Krishna’s admission. On day fourteen of the war, after Ghatotkacha’s death, when the entire Pandava side was mourning, Arjuna is confronted by a gleeful Krishna. Krishna revealed the reason for his joy was the sole weapon that could have killed Arjuna, the Vasava Shakti weapon of Indra in possession of Karna was directed against Ghatotkacha instead of Arjuna. Arjuna is even in greater shock when Krishna revealed that HE would have been forced to kill Ghatotkacha had he survived the war, because of his asuric nature. Krishna said one of the key reasons behind his avatar was to reduce the overpopulation by adharmic masses, protect dharma and eliminate asuras. 

            Krishna’s explanation continues when HE revealed that for the protection of Arjuna and Pandavas, HE had eliminated Jarasandha, Shishupala and Ekalavya prior to the Mahabharata war. Krishna said these evil warriors were so powerful that when combined with the might of the Kauravas, it would have meant an impossible hurdle for Arjuna, which was already studded with formidable warriors in Bhishma, Drona and Karna. Krishna explained that he used Bhima’s strength to counter Jarasandha, but it was successful only due to his revealing the secret of Jarasandha’s birth. Krishna accelerated Shishupala’s death by appealing to the bloated ego to commit more sins. It must be noted that Shishupala was Krishna’s first cousin.

            In case of Ekalavya, as we observed, he enters the service of Jarasandha after the episode of losing his thumb. He remains steadfast on Jarasandha’s side. After Jarasandha’s death, he is again featured in the Rukmini escape episode with Krishna. He joins Shishupala, Bhishmaka (Rukimni’s father) and Rukmi (Rukmini’s brother) in attempting to stop Krishna. He meets his death when Krishna hurled a rock at his head. Krishna revealed that he was not only the actual cause of his death, but it was his guidance that motivated Drona to have clarity to seek Ekalavya’s thumb to give him a set back from committing more adharma. In that sense, not only was Krishna protecting the society, but also Ekalavya, as he curbed his potential to do more harm. If at all, we have to blame someone for the loss of Ekalavya’s thumb, it will be Krishna. But understanding Krishna and his ways needs a more subtle mind and a different article.

VERDICT: DRONA is EXONERATED from all these malicious, fictitious allegations in the case of Ekalavya.

            It is a fact that most of the warriors of either side were trained directly by Drona or indirectly. This goes on to highlight the primacy of Drona’s role in the Mahabharata. It would be a fallacy to assume that Dronacharya is without flaws. Being a human, he has his own share. But at least we have a choice not to wrongly foist these false allegations upon him and trying to mar the sheen of such a stellar character. 

Lessons from Ekalavya episode:

  • Partial obedience to a Guru is as bad as no obedience. Ekalavya did not get the intended message of Drona.
  • Acquiring any skillset must be preceded by acquiring the right mindset, a clear understanding of Dharma.
  • Be wary of your company (even internal) as it is a gauge to show your samskaric outlook. Ekalavya’s future companions were the strong clues behind his motives. Introspect more often.
  • Reading the original scriptures and understanding with traditional scholars is paramount to counter the false propaganda of mischievous forces.

Om Tat Sat

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  1. Each character in our scriptures still alive among us. Interesting views.

  2. The idea that Ekalavya was a very colorful character whose many sides deserve a lot of attention and analysis is well obvious but the fact that there is such a deep significance to that is something I learnt from your verbose article. Many thanks.

  3. Satchitananda's article has identified the crux of the problem, namely:

    1.) Distortions - willful and otherwise... such as over a passage of time, personal biases etc.

    2.) Breaking India forces and their well oiled machinery of sepoys.

    3.) "Educated" masses who lack the rigour to deep dive. I must admit that I too did not know. However the point is that many are not willing to see why Krishna and Geeta can never stand for A-Dharma (non righteousness). With their confrontational biases they mould the event to their liking.
    In a nut shell, hear say does not constitute to be facts but *only* fiction.

    Vedas, Buddha's utterings specifically Sutanipata 9.57.58, 7.21.22/27 specifically point to no caste based prerogatives and priviliedges but solely on mental makeup -temperament. Astrimrit - 141 does precisely the same.

    So it is obvious that these distortions will be deliberate and it is left to the reader to pursue the right way in view of Satchitananda's detailed article.

  4. Brilliant article academic in nature provided clarity to misinterpreted notion I had been narrated earlier. Thank you.

  5. Thanks to all for your continued readership. Appreciate Vrishchakji's attempts to expand this platform as a discussion. This is the very purpose of my writing. I envision as the person who gives these tools and would love more and more to use them. Open discussions, rekindle stale ideas that are thrust on us. Challenge the motivated paradigms we are confined into. Engage. Not just in familiar forums, but more openly with live people.

  6. The textbook of my son describes this story and declares caste factor for the faith of Ekalavya. Students from class five have been brainwashed. Thanks to your enlightened article.

    1. It becomes parents and elders duty to learn and provide the correct information if we want our scriptures to be preserved for posterity. Appreciate you taking time to share with your son and others.

  7. Perfectly analysed! Archery is Dhanurveda. As you have rightly said "Acquiring any skill set requires the right mindset and understanding Dharma"! If not it is like Pakistan or any country following the path of Adharma possessing Nuclear weapons which is a threat for all. Thankyou Satchit, Very well written !

  8. According to Harivamsha, Ekalavya was actually the cousin of Lord KrishNa. He was the son of Devashrava,the 3rd brother of Vasudeva. Think he was discarded in his infant stage as he was destined to be a curse to the society. So if such a person gets to wield power the destruction to the society can be immeasurable. One can remember Vidura gave a similar advise to Dhritharaashtra when DuryOdhana was born.(As heard by learned people).