Ashwatthama, Karna, Dhritarashtra, Kunti, Ekalavya
In the epic Mahabharata, Droņa (Sanskrit: द्रोण, Droņa) or Droņacharya or Guru Droņa was the royal preceptor to the Kauravas and Pandavas and incarnation of Brahma; an avatar of Brihaspati. He was the son of rishi Bharadwaja and a descendant of the sage Angirasa. He was a master of advanced military arts, including the divine weapons or Astras.
Since Drona was not born from a womb, but from a vessel made of leaf, he was named 'Drona' which means 'vessel made of leaf'.
Birth and Early Life
The story of Drona's birth is related dramatically in Mahabharata. Bharadwaja went with his companions to the Ganga 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. Bharadwaja Muni captured the fluid in a vessel called a Drona, and Dronacharya himself sprang from the fluid thus preserved. Dronacharya 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 Panchala, Drupada. Drupada and Dronacharya became close friends.
Dronacharya married Kripi, the sister of Kripa, the royal teacher of the princes of Hastinapura. Like Drona himself, Kripi and her brother had not been gestated in a womb, but outside the human body. Kripi and Drona had a son, Ashwatthama; Drona did penance so that his son would be as valiant as Shiva.
Learning that Parasurama was giving away his possessions to brahmanas, 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, and his title of 'acharya'.
Drona and Drupada
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, saying friendship was possible only between persons of equal stature in life. As a child, he said, it was possible for him to be friends with Drona, because at that time they were equals. But now Drupada had become a king, while Dronacharya remained a luckless indigent. However, he said he would satisfy Dronacharya if he asked for alms befitting a Brahmin, rather than claiming his right as a friend. Drona went away silently, but in his heart he vowed revenge.
The ball and the ring
Bhishma instantly realized that this was Drona, and asked him to become the Guru of the Kuru princes, training them in advanced military arts.
Arjuna, the favourite pupil
Of all the Kaurava and Pandava brothers training under Drona, Arjuna emerged as the most dedicated, hard-working and most naturally talented of them all, exceeding even Drona's own son Ashwatthama. Arjuna assiduously served his teacher, who was greatly impressed by his devoted pupil. Arjuna surpassed Drona's expectations in numerous challenges. As a reward, Drona 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.
When Arjuna, inspired by his brother Bhima's nocturnal eating, mastered archery in absolute darkness, Drona was moved. Drona was greatly impressed by Arjuna's concentration, determination, and drive, and promised him that he would become the greatest archer on earth. Drona gave Arjuna special knowledge of the divine Astras.
Drona was partial especially to Arjuna and Ashwatthama. Drona dearly loved his son Ashwatthama and as a guru, he loved Arjuna more than anyone.
A strong criticism of Dronacharya springs from his behavior towards Ekalavya and his strong bias in favor of Arjuna.
Ekalavya was the son of a Nishadha chief (tribal), who came to Dronacharya for instruction. Dronacharya refused to train him along with the kṣatriya princes because Ekalavya was not a kṣatriya prince. In addition, Eklavya's father was a commander of the Kingdom of Magadha, which was ruled by Emperor Jarasandha. At that time, Jarasandha 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 Dronacharya. 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 Drona.
Arjuna reported this to Drona. Drona visited Ekalavya with the princes. Ekalavya promptly greeted Drona as his guru. Heavily, Dronacharya asked Ekalavya for a Daksina. When Ekalavya promised anything, Dronacharya asked for Ekalavya's right thumb. Though his expression faltering, after confirming the request, Ekalavya unhesitatingly cut it off and handed it to Dronacharya, 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.
Dronacharya similarly rejected Karna, as he was a son of a charioteer and not a Kshatriya. The school established by Dronacharya belonged only to princes of Hastinapura and its allies. Humiliated, Karna vowed to learn nonetheless, and obtained the knowledge of weapons and military arts from Drona's own teacher Parasurama. 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.
Revenge upon Drupada
On completing their training, Dronacharya asked the Kauravas to bring him Drupada bound in chains. Duryodhana, Duḥśāsana, Yuyutsu, Vikarna, and the remaining Kauravas attacked Panchal with the Hastinapur army. They failed to defeat the Panchal army, whereupon Dronacharya sent Arjuna and his brothers for the task. Arjuna defeated Drupada, as ordered.
Dronacharya 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 Dronacharya and a daughter who would marry Arjuna. His wish was eventually fulfilled and thus were born Dhṛṣṭādyumna, the slayer of Dronacharya, and Draupadī, the consort of the Pandavas.
Sword of Drona
Drona held the invincible sword of Lord Brahma. Bhishma once told the story of this sword to Pandava prince Nakula. This sword was the primordial weapon created by the gods for the destruction of evil. The name of the sword was Asi, the personification and the primary energy behind all the weapons ever created. As per Bhishma, the constellation under which the sword was born is called Krittika, Agni is its deity, Rohini is its Gotra, Rudra is its high preceptor and whoever holds this weapon obtains sure victory.
Dronacharya in the war
Dronacharya had been the preceptor of most kings involved in the Kurukshetra War, on both sides. Dronacharya strongly condemned Duryodhana exiling the Pandavas, as well as the Kauravas' general abuse towards the Pandavas. But being a servant of Hastinapura, Dronacharya was duty-bound to fight for the Kauravas, and thus against his favorite Pandavas. After the fall of Bhishma on the tenth day, he became the Chief Commander of the Kuru Army.
Duryodhana manages to convince Drona to try and end the war by capturing Yudhishthira. Though he killed hundreds and thousands of Pandava soldiers, Drona failed to capture Yudhishthira on days eleven and twelve of the war, as Arjuna was always there to repel his advances.
On the 13th day of battle, Dronacharya formed the Chakravyuha strategy to capture Yudhishtira, knowing that only Arjuna and Krishna 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 Pandava ranks.
Unknown to many, 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 Pandava army and was able to penetrate the formation. However, he was trapped when Jayadratha, the king of Sindhu, held the Pandava 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, and spurred on by Duryodhana's criticisms, Drona asked the 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. Drona is heavily criticized for allowing this violation in his army.
The devious murder of his son enraged Arjuna, who swore to kill Jayadratha the next day or immolate himself. Drona constructed Padma Vyuha for the protection of Jayadratha, and stood at the head of the formation.
In the early part of the day, Arjuna and he 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. When Duryodhana rages at Drona, Drona replies that he isn't Jayadratha's bodyguard, and that he intends to capture Yudhishthira while Arjuna is away.
In a notable battle, Drona attempts to capture Yudhishthira, and is stopped by Dhristadyumna. Drona severely wounds his friend's son, disarming him and forcing him to retreat. When he attempts to chase after Dhristadyumna, he is checked by Satyaki, who insults his teacher's teacher and issues a challenge. Their combat is described as fierce and despite being able to hold off Drona for several hours, Satyaki eventually tires and has to be rescued by the Upapandavas.
Later in the day, Yudhishitra sends Satyaki to aid Arjuna. When Satyaki comes upon Drona, he circumvents him, saying he must follow in his teacher's footsteps. When Yudhishthira later sends Bhima, Drona recounts what happened with Arjuna and Satyaki, and tells Bhima he won't give him the same permission. Angrily rebuking him, Bhima shatters Drona's chariot with his mace. Drona takes up another chariot, only for Bhima to smash that one as well. In total, Bhima smashes seventeen of Drona's chariots.
On the 15th day of the Mahabharata war, Drona is instigated by Duryodhana's remarks of being a traitor. Sensing his end is near, he used the Brahmastra against the common Pandava soldiers. Later he invoked the Brahmanda astra; Drona never imparted this knowledge to anyone, even Arjuna and Ashwatthama. 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. Dronacharya obeyed, retracting the weapon. The rishis continue and berate Drona for violating the rules of war, criticizing him for using divine weapons so indiscriminately. Drona reiterates that he is sworn to do all his can to protect Hastinapur, and that, moreover, he wants to do so for all that Dhritarashtra has given him.
On that day, Drona kills many Pandava soldiers, including Virat in arrow-play and Drupada in a sword fight. Lamenting the deterioration of their friendship, Drona pays his respect to Drupada's corpse.
Knowing it would be impossible to defeat an armed Drona, Krishna suggested to the Pandavas a plan to disarm their teacher. Lord Krishna suggested that Bhima kill an elephant by name Ashwatthama and claim to Dronacharya that he has killed Dronacharya's son Ashwatthama. After killing the elephant, Bhima loudly proclaimed that he had killed Ashwatthama. Disbelieving him, Drona approached Yudhishthira, knowing of Yudhishthira's firm adherence to Dharma and honesty. When Dronacharya asked for the truth, Yudhishthira responded with the cryptic 'Ashwatthama is dead. But it is an elephant and not your son'. Krishna also knew that it was not possible for Yudhishthira to lie outright. On his instructions, the other warriors blew trumpets and conchs, raising a tumultuous noise in such a way that Dronacharya only heard that "Ashwatthama was dead", but could not hear the latter part of Yudhishthira's reply. In other versions of the story, Drona, in grief, simply doesn't process the final part of Yudhishthira's statement.
Since Ashwatthama was born to become a chiranjivi, Drona descended from his chariot, laid down his arms and sat in meditation. Closing his eyes, his soul went to heaven in search of Ashwatthama's soul. Dhrishtadyumna took this opportunity and beheaded the unarmed Drona, in a gross violation of the rules of war.
Analysis and Modern Assessment
Drona is a figure for analysis in many academic texts.
In particular, his partiality towards Arjuna is frequently examined. Drona's demand of guru dakshina from Ekalavya, in the form of his right thumb, is also scrutinized. This treatment of Eklavya, as well as his rebuking of Karna, is criticized as being biased against lower castes. In some folklore, Sarasvati cursed Dronacharya with an unarmed and humiliating death for Drona's actions. Sarasvati said that knowledge belonged to all, and that it was an acharya's duty to spread that knowledge everywhere. 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.
Drona was somewhat parallel to Bhishma both in martial prowess, and, compelled by the refuge they had given him, in his unwavering commitment to fighting for 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 adharma despite knowing of and acknowledging the righteousness of the Pandava cause. 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 Drona for remaining a mute spectator and not having protested the humiliation of Draupadī by Dushasana and Duryodhana following the fateful game of dice.
Similarly, Dronacharya was criticized for many of his actions during the war:
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.
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.
It is believed that the city of Gurgaon (literally - "Village of the Guru") was founded as "Guru Gram" by Dronacharya on land given to him by Dhritarashtra, the king of Hastinapura in recognition of his teachings of martial arts to the princes, and the 'Dronacharya Tank', still exists within the Gurgaon city, along with a village called Gurgaon. Indian Government (Haryana), on 12 April, decided to reinstate and change the name of Gurgaon to 'Gurugram'.