Friday, December 12, 2014

The Gurus of Hastinapur - Part 10

After the exhibition was over, Drona realized that the time had come to fulfill the reason why he had come to Hastinapur.... 
Dronacharya went to his students the next morning. ‘All of you are well-versed in the use of arms! I have kept up my promise! Now I ask you for my Guru dakshina!’
What do you wish for, Acharya?’ Duryodhana asked, above the hub-hub of the class.
Capture Drupada, the king of Panchala, and bring him to me!’ Drona said simply.
For a second, there was complete silence in the class. The Panchala kingdom was almost as powerful as the kingdom of Hastinapur and since the ferocious Drupada had taken over the reins of the kingdom, no one had even dared to wage a war against it. But then these were the tough princes of Hastinapur, who had recently mastered the use of arms. They obviously felt that they were infallible in battle.
Duryodhana looked at the Pandavas smugly and then turned to look at Dronacharya. ‘We can do it alone!’ he said turning away from there.
Dronacharya was about to say something when Arjuna nodded his head. ‘Fine Duryodhana! You can go in with your brothers! Me and my brothers would not join this battle!’
And so Duryodhana with Karna, Yuyutsu, Duhshasana, Vikarna, Jalasandha and the other Kuru princes laid siege over the Panchala kingdom, while Arjuna and the other Pandavas watched the battle without participating.
A fierce battle ensued between the young Hastinapur princes and wizened king of Panchala. Though Drupada was old, the man was swift, strong and a dangerous adversary.
For a very small time it looked like the Kuru princes would win the war. But then Drupada fought back and he fought back so ferociously that for a few seconds the entire Hastinapur army was in confusion. No matter which side the Hastinapur warriors turned, they saw Drupada fighting the soldiers of the Hastinapur. Drupada seemed to be everywhere and fighting ruthlessly. All the Hastinapur soldiers heard was the twang of Drupada's bow and then….a group of the Hastinapur soldiers would fall dead.
Angrily Duryodhana rallied his people together and attacked Drupada. But Drupada was still the better warrior. He effortlessly defeated Duryodhana and Vikarna in battle. Even the great Karna was no match for Drupada.
Veda Vyasa’s Mahabharatha makes a very unique observation during this battle. Usually the battles in the Mahabharatha were fought such that it was only the warriors who fought the battles. Almost no one else was hurt or injured during these battles. But in this one case, Veda Vyasa states that watching Drupada fight, even the citizens of Panchala, both young and old, joined the fight and rained missiles on the Kuru princes. It is said that this is what completely routed the Hastinapur army. 
The Kauravas ran from the battlefield completely defeated….
Watching the retreating flags of Hastinapur, Arjuna turned to his teacher and nodded. Arjuna obtained the blessings of his teacher and then turned to Yudishtara. ‘Do not join the fight! The four of us are sufficient for this battle!’
Yudhishtara looked surprised but then he almost never argued with his brother in these matters. 
And so it was just Arjuna with his three brothers who now charged into the kingdom of Panchala. Nakula and Sahadeva were given the job of protecting Arjuna’s chariot wheels. Bheema, of course was given a separate chariot and went ahead of Arjuna, his deadly mace in his hand.
Bheema, almost singlehandedly killed the entire elephant section of the Panchala army. With his mace, Bheema almost seemed like the God of Death killing any person or animal who had the misfortune to come before him. And as if the damage done by Bheema was not enough, Arjuna followed….He finished what Bheema had left and in no time the tables had turned and this time it was the Panchala army which was running in fear….

After routing the Hastinapur army and watching them run away, Drupada was almost returning to his palace with his general Satyajit, when the terrified cries of his soldiers reached the king.
Wondering who was leading the fresh assault, Drupada and Satyajit turned their chariots and charged towards the two chariots plodding through the kingdom.
Satyajit realizing that the attacker was a younger and fresh looking man decided to give his king some resting time. Satyajit attacked Arjuna first. The battle between Arjuna and Satyajit was fierce….It was a battle of experience against brilliance.
Almost immediately after the fight started, Satyajit realized that the archer before him was a league of his own. Satyajit had to use all his battle experiences just to contain Arjuna.

In the beginning Arjuna did not want to waste too much time with Satyajit, as he was here only for Drupada. Wanting to end the battle quickly, Arjuna broke Satyajit’s bow. But the veteran was prepared for it. Without wasting a breath, Satyajit picked up another bow and started fighting. 
Realizing that the man before him would not give up easily, Arjuna continued the battle right earnest. Arjuna and Satyajit were furiously exchanging arrows and many of Satyajit’s arrows pierced Arjuna but then this was Arjuna.....
Satyajit was bleeding profusely by the time Arjuna was through with him. Adding on top of it, Arjuna kept breaking Satyajit’s bows repeatedly. After some time Satyajit was unable to keep up with Arjuna and fell back…

Drupada watched, almost marveling at the flawless archery skill of the young man before him. But then it was his friend who was facing the archery of the young man and Drupada knew that if he did not interfere soon….Satyajit’s chances of survival were minimum…..Drupada came forward and Arjuna finally got down to the real battle.....
If the battle between Arjuna and Satyajit could be described as fierce, there was no word to describe the battle between Drupada and Arjuna. What Arjuna lacked in experience, he more than made up for it with his brilliant archery. As Drupada fought with the young man, he realized why his general had appeared to fumble so many times with this young man….No matter what Drupada did, Arjuna had an answer for it and had nimble and swift hands to execute exactly what he had planned.....
Losing steadily to the young man, Drupada realized that the man before him was an archer par excellence and that there was nothing that could be done against him....
And then the inevitable happened. Arjuna cut off Drupada’s bow. Before Drupada could react to it, in successive arrows, Arjuna broke Drupada's flagstaff, killed Drupada’s horses and finally also killed Drupada's charioteer.
The king of Panchala stood unprotected before the young Arjuna....
The entire Panchala army watched with horrid fascination as Arjuna pulled out his sword as he jumped out of the chariot. In one fluid moment Arjuna was before the king of Panchala and took the king captive.
A cheer ran up the Hastinapur army and the soldiers were now looking angrily at the Panchala soldiers wanting their revenge for the humiliating defeat they had suffered some time back. That was when Arjuna shouted. ‘We are here for Drupada! We have him! Drupada is a relative of ours! Do not destroy his kingdom! Let us go back now!’
Bheema and the other soldiers reluctantly agreed to Arjuna’s logic and they were out of the kingdom with their captive.
*****
Drona heard the horses long before anyone else could. He came out of the tent slowly realizing that he was going to finally achieve what he had wanted for a very long time. When Drona had sent Arjuna against Drupada, Drona had not really doubted that there would be any other outcome for the battle....
Drona came out of the tent and sure enough saw Arjuna near a bound Drupada on the chariot. The chariot stopped as Arjuna brought forth the captive.

Drupada looked furiously at the man who had been his childhood friend….a friend with whom he had studied and spent a lot of time, generally enjoying all the joys of childhood. A friend, to whom in a childish moment, he had once promised to give half his kingdom….A friend whom he had not seen since the day Drona had come to him asking him to keep up his promise. A friend who was now looking at him with utter hatred 
Your kingdom is mine!’ Drona said arrogantly. ‘I am the ruler of a kingdom and you are my captive! And we are still not equals!’ Drona spat out. ‘But then there was a time when we were friends and there was a time I came asking you for something…..believing in that friendship! At that time you told me that we could not be friends!’ Drona smiled haughtily as Drupada said nothing.
Drona continued. ‘I will give you half of my kingdom! The kingdom of Panchala to the south of the river Bhagirathi is yours!’ Drupada watched with horrid fascination as Drona continued. ‘The kingdom on the north is mine! Now that we are equals, will you accept to be my friend, Drupada?’
Drupada was burning with shame and humiliation, but he wisely hid his anger and nodded his head. ‘I accept your friendship!’ Drupada mumbled.

And so it was done. Drona retained half the kingdom of Panchala. Drupada ruled the southern half of the kingdom. 
His burning hatred for Drona set him on an irrevocable path…one that ended up changing the destiny of the Pandavas and ultimately in the death of Drona….

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Gurus of Hastinapur - Part 9

Ashwattaman returned to Hastinapur. But his father could see a change in him. There were times when Ashwattaman used to sit quietly in the corner and sulk…glazing into nothingness. His son was a changed man.
But Dronacharya was a busy man and could not devote too much time to his son. As the royal teacher of the princes, Drona had other responsibilities.
The princes were now ready to exhibit their talents before all the people of Hastinapur.
And so on the appointed day, the other princes started with their talents first.

Bheema and Duryodhana fought with their maces. The two of them fought so angrily and brilliantly, that for a second an uneasy feeling entered the minds of the people watching the battle…All the people realized that the princes were not merely to exhibit their powers…They were actually fighting to the end…Drona sensed this immediately and with his son Ashwattaman, pulled the two warriors apart and called in the other warriors to display their skills.
Realizing that the only way to make the people forget about the mace fighting was to distract them, Drona called in Arjuna. Arjuna dazzled the crowd with his Agneya astra (the weapon to create fire), Varuna astra (water), Vayavya astra (air), Parjanya astra (clouds), Bhauma astra (the weapon to create land) and Parvatya astra (mountains) and the crowd all but forgot about the bout between Bheema and Duryodhana. Finally Arjuna pulled out the Antardhana astra and he made all the things that he had created disappear from there. Before the crowd could realize what was happening, Arjuna fired an astra and…Arjuna suddenly disappeared from the spot he had been standing…only to appear on the top of the chariot nearby. Before a gasp went up from the crowd, Arjuna was back to the spot he had originally been.
Arjuna continued to marvel the crowd by showing his dexterity with the bow (Arjuna could fire arrows from both left and right hand) and his capacity to shoot the target no matter where it was. The audience was now watching spell bound the entire spectacle unfolding before them.
It almost looked like no one would remember anything from the exhibition except Arjuna….when someone entered the arena. The man entered the arena with a cool confidence looking handsome and shining like Surya Deva himself. Indifferently he bowed to Drona and Kripacharya and then turned to Arjuna. ‘What you have done is nothing special! I can do that and more…Watch!’
And the man did it. He did everything that Arjuna had done and he did it effortlessly.
After finishing he stood quietly before the speechless arena.
Duryodhana was elated. He knew that the warrior before him was sent by the heavens as an answer to Arjuna. With this man near him, Duryodhana knew that nothing…nothing could stand in his way. Joyously he ran towards the man. ‘My friend! You are my friend! Come and join us! Come….’
The man smiled. ‘Thank you prince! I am Karna and there are only two things I have ever wanted – your friendship and…’ the man turned looking at Arjuna almost burning hatred. ‘…a fight to the finish with Arjuna!’
The words were music to Duryodhana’s ears. He smiled nodding his head and turned to Arjuna. ‘You shall have both, my friend!’
Arjuna realized that the man before him was out to insult him hastily embraced his brothers and obtained the blessings of his teachers so that he could give the man what he wanted. Arjuna and the man turned to each other, their weapons drawn….The sun reflected off the armour of the man as the royalty saw the stranger’s features clearly for the first time.
Vidura was sitting in the arena with his blind brother – King Dhirdarashtra and his blindfolded sister-in-law – Gandhari. Beside them sat Kunti who had been watching Arjuna with great joy in her heart.
The sudden turn of events troubled her.
But then she was a warrior queen and she accepted the fact that the exhibition was turning into a battle. But there was something else which was bothering Kunti…a lot.
The stranger….there was something familiar about him. The manner he walked, he spoke, was something that Kunti had seen before. As the sunlight reflected off the stranger’s armour, which seemed strangely attached to him. Kunti had a sudden vision…The man’s features…Kunti gasped as she saw the earrings and the armour as she realized that she was seeing her first born son – Karna, the son born to her and the Sun God before she married Pandu, the King of Hastinapur. The son who looked radiantly beautiful when he was born, the son who was born with a natural coat of armour and earrings even at the time of his birth, the son whom she had abandoned soon after birth because she thought he would bring her shame….
That was when, the sudden implication of what she was seeing hit Kunti…Her son – Karna was fighting with her son – Arjuna.
The strong-willed Kunti could take it no more as the two brothers looked angrily at each other and she fainted. Vidura saw this and was shocked. Kunti was a very strong woman, both physically and mentally. Her fainting was not something that was normal under any circumstances.
Vidura saw the two men in the arena and wondered what was wrong. He caught the eyes of Kripacharya and shook his head. Kripa understood and nodded his head. Vidura then turned back to Kunti and tried to revive her….
Kripacharya looked at the two contestants. ‘This Arjuna is the son of Pandu from the Kuru line! Stranger! Before he fights you, we demand to know who you are!’
Duryodhana was shocked when he saw Karna’s face almost wilt at Kripacharya’s words. The confidence that Karna had displayed a few seconds back suddenly withered away as the man looked downcast unable to talk. Duryodhana however did not want to let this beautiful opportunity go. He wanted to make sure that this fight happened. Without even knowing who Karna was, he turned to the priests and whispered something in their ears. He then looked at Kripacharya. ‘I think Arjuna can definitely fight someone who is a king!’ he said sneeringly, as all the people in the arena looked shocked at Duryodhana.
Duryodhana nodded his head and clasped Karna and embraced him. ‘This friend of mine…Karna, from now will be the King of Anga! All the preparations are being made by the priests for this!’
Karna was spellbound. Because he just could not believe what Duryodhana was doing. Right there in front of all the people, Duryodhana conducted the coronation ceremony. Karna was now King Karna, the ruler of Anga…..
There is nothing I can do for you, for what you have done for me!’ Karna said looking at Duryodhana, numb with a strange emotion, he could barely identify.
Duryodhana smiled. ‘You can my friend! Just give me your friendship! That is all I….’
You will have it! Always!’ Karna said fiercely nodding his head.
However Duryodhana’s wish of a battle between Arjuna and Karna was not granted that day.
Adhiratha (Karna’s adopted father, who was a fisherman from a charioteer caste) was as shocked, as his son at the turn of events. He came forward to embrace his son. As Karna bowed to his father, Bheema, the second Pandava cruelly belittled Karna. ‘You do not deserve to die in Arjuna’s hands! You are a charioteer’s son…Just take a whip…that will suit you!’
Before Karna could open his mouth, Duryodhana came to Karna’s rescue. ‘Look at the man, Bheema!’ Duryodhana thundered. ‘Does it look to you that this man is not capable of being a warrior! There is nothing else he can be, except a warrior!’ Realizing that the elders would not let the fight be today, Duryodhana took the hand of his friend and angrily led him away from there.
Confused the Pandavas went back to their home.
Excited the people went back from the arena….
There is one more thing which happened. After this event, Ashwattaman made his loyalties also clear. Ashwattaman sided with the Kauravas....  

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Gurus of Hastinapur - Part 8

You will not use this weapon, ever!’ Drona told Ashwattaman fiercely. Ashwattaman looked shocked as his father looking almost desperately at him. ‘Even when there is danger to your life, you are not to use this weapon!’ Ashwattaman almost took a step back afraid of the look on his father’s face.
You are not meant to have a virtuous life! The words that his father had just uttered a few minutes back kept coming back. Ashwattaman was unable to hear anything that his father said after that. Pushing his father away, Ashwattaman ran away from the hermitage. He wanted to be as far away from the house as possible. He did not want to come back….At all..
Ashwattaman roamed around in despair. His travels brought him to an unexpected place – Dwaraka, home of Krishna, the Dark Lord. He stayed there for a few days trying to forget all that his father had told him. But he could’nt…
So one day Ashwattaman went to Krishna, when Krishna was all alone.
Greetings, Ashwa…’ Krishna started as Ashwattaman interrupted him.
I have the Brahmashira weapon with me!’ Ashwattaman announced it in a manner which he might have announced the end of the world.
Krishna for his part was shocked. He blinked as he looked at Ashwattaman. ‘Your father taught you how to use that weapon?’ Krishna asked incredulously.
Ashwattaman nodded his head haughtily. ‘Yes! The weapon which my father obtained from Sage Agastya after performing the strongest penance, now also belongs to me!’ Krishna looked at Ashwattaman as he continued. ‘I will trade it with you….I want your Sudarshana chakra, instead of it!’
Krishna looked at Ashwattaman for a long second not saying anything. He finally nodded his head. ‘If you can wield it, it is yours!’ Ashwattaman looked surprised as Krishna continued. ‘And I do not wish anything in return for it!’
Krishna pointed behind him and there in the centre of the hall, Ashwattaman saw the magnificent chakra – the discus having a 1000 spokes and made of iron.
Ashwattaman went forward and almost carelessly tried to lift the chakra with his left hand. The weapon would not budge. Surprised Ashwattaman caught the chakra with both his hands and tried to pull it….The weapon did not move an inch. Ashwattaman tried and tried and in the end gasping and panting, he gave up in defeat. The weapon remained where it was.
Gasping and sweating, Ashwattaman turned to Krishna who was looking at him with a very strange expression. ‘Arjuna – the Pandava, who is dear to me than my life, he has never asked me for my chakra! Pradhyumna – mine and Rukmini’s son – the son whom I had after 12 years of penance, he has never asked me for my discus! None of my sons have ever asked me for this weapon!’ Krishna shook his head looking at Ashwattaman. ‘Why did you want the chakra?’
Ashwattaman looked at Krishna with anger. ‘You are an unrivalled warrior! After I got the Sudarshana Chakra from you, I would have fought you with it! I would have defeated you in battle! With the chakra I would become invincible!’ Ashwattaman said in cold anger as Krishna realized that Ashwattaman was nursing a wound far too deep to be understood….There was no level to which the man would stoop to and Krishna realized that Ashwattaman with his new found knowledge was unstable and dangerous....

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Gurus of Hastinapur - Part 7

After the incident with Ekalavya, Arjuna became more serious. He was found in the training ground all the time honing his almost perfect archery skills.
Duryodhana and Ashwattama both saw this and neither of them were happy. Duryodhana, who had till now believed that the five Pandavas could easily be defeated by him in cases of need, saw that Arjuna was a seriously formidable warrior. Duryodhana realized deep down that Arjuna had the capacity to beat all of them if necessary.
The actual realization that Arjuna could defeat them came when Duryodhana saw two incidents involving Arjuna and Dronacharya.....
One day when all of them had come to the training ground, their teacher had told them that on the top branch of the tree there was a wooden bird. True enough Duryodhana had seen it. He was sure all of them could see it. The test was simple...or atleast it seemed simple...All they had to do was hit the eye of the bird.
Their teacher called Yudhishtara and asked him to aim at the bird and that they had to fire only when he said so. Before firing, Dronacharya had asked Yudhishtara, what they saw. Duryodhana realized with sadness that all of them, including the Pandavas made the same mistake...All except Arjuna. When the teacher asked them what they could see, they claimed to have seen everything...the trees, the leaves, the branches...At that time Duryodhana never understood why Dronacharya was so angry with them for that...
And then in the end Arjuna came forward.
'What do you see?'
'The bird!' Arjuna replied.
'Surely you see me, or your brothers!'
Arjuna shook his head. 'I do not even see the tree or the branches...Just the bird!' he replied, his arrow poised on the string of the bow.
'Describe the bird to me!' Droncharya further insisted.
'I...I can see only its head! Not even its body!' Arjuna said.
Dronacharya smiled. 'Shoot!' he said softly.
No sooner had he spoken the words, the wooden bird fell from the tree...an arrow in its eye....
Duryodhana looked at Arjuna with almost open hatred. He knew that the dark Arjuna with his skills was going to haunt him in the years to come...
Ashwattama looked at Arjuna with anger. He realized that to his father, Arjuna would always be more special than him....no matter what...
Dronacharya smiled because he knew that Drupada did not have a chance now...The king of Panchala was as good as defeated....
The second incident was something that worried Duryodhana, even more.
That day when they had all gone for swimming for some relief from the hot afternoon sun. Happily playing in the water, they failed to see the danger lurking near them.
Their teacher had also joined them. 
That was when a huge crocodile had grabbed Dronacharya and threatened to pull him away.
'HELP!' Dronacharya shouted. He was about to shout again, when Dronacharya himself free from the clutches of the monster. Shocked and surprised, Dronacharya turned and saw five arrows in the mouth of the crocodile.....Dronacharya turned to the bank and saw Arjuna there with the bow in his hand.
Dronacharya came forward with a smile, hobbling over to the bank, ignoring the pain in his thigh. 'You have saved my life! For this I will give you the knowledge of one of the most powerful weapons ever in existence....' Dronacharya said pulling the young boy towards him.
Dronacharya pulled out a dangerous weapon as it gleamed in the sunlight. Duryodhana gasped as he saw that the weapon in Dronacharya's hands was the Bramhasira. The weapon had the power to destroy the entire world.....
'This is the Brahmasira!' Droancharya said as he watched utmost wonder and respect in Arjuna's face. 'You have shown yourself worthy for using this weapon! So I grant this to you! Remember use this only against powerful enemies like the Devas or Asuras. If you use it against any humans, it would destroy the very world!' Dronacharya looked at the young boy. 'Use it well!'
Both Duryodhana and Ashwattama burned with jealously as Arjuna learnt the mantra for the weapon....
********
The classes were over and the boys had gone back to the palace of Hastinapur. Dronacharya was in the home when he saw Ashwattaman sulkily sitting in the corner.
'What...' Droancharya started when Ashwattaman interrupted him. 'I want to learn how to use the Brahmasira!'
Dronacharya shook his head. 'No! That knowledge is not meant for everyone! Only people who have shown to be completely in control of.....'
'YOU TAUGHT IT TO ARJUNA!' Ashwattaman yelled. 'I am your son! Teach it to me too!'
Dronacharya shook his head. 'No...'
'FATHER!' Ashwattaman said his eyes burning with anger. 'I will not be inferior to that Pandava! You have taught that boy everything that you have taught me! And now he knows more than me....This...This...'
Ashwattaman sulked and ranted for sometime. His father tried to convince him that the weapon was not meant for all. But then Dronacharya loved his son too much.
Dronacharya gave in to his parental love and taught his son the mantra to invoke the Brahmasira...
No sooner had Drona taught the mantra to Ashwattaman, Dronacharya had a sudden flash....probably a premonition from the future or probably just a gut feeling. Dronacharya saw Ashwattaman walking all alone...friendless, without the stone in his forehead (Ashwattaman was born with a stone in his forehead. The stone was meant to keep Ashwattaman free from disease or old age)...in great pain...just walking....without any goal....
Dronacharya looked around and saw himself in his own place. The vision that he had had disturbed him real bad. He looked at Ashwattaman. '..You are not meant to follow the path of virtue!' he said before he could stop himself.

Dronacharya realized at that time, that he had committed an unforgivable folly by teaching Ashwattaman the mantra. Droancharya realized that someone was going to pay a terrible price for his mistake....

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Gurus of Hastinapur - Part 6

Let’s go for a hunting trip!’ Vikarna, Duryodhana’s brother, called on to all his brothers. The princes all agreed happily. They had all just finished their basic weapons class and all of them were fairly good with the use of the weapons. The princes were all itching to try out their skills in the real jungle….
And so the Pandavas and the Kauravas together went to the forest with great pomp and show. They set up their tents in the forests and in the morning, started with their hunting. The princes came back to the camp with their kills when one of their dogs also went deep inside the forest.
Almost all the princes were back to the tent when, they heard one of their dogs barking furiously. The princes had no sooner then heard the bark when they all ran towards the sound. The princes found the dog barking furiously at an uncouth looking jungle boy. The princes were about to pull the dog away when suddenly within a matter of seconds, seven arrows flew into the dog’s mouth, before the dog could close it!
All the princes looked at Arjuna, but then Arjuna had not even drawn his bow. They all looked stupefied as they saw the jungle boy standing before him who was looking at the dog with slight irritation. It took a minute for it to sink in, but the princes realized that it was the jungle boy who had effectively stopped the dog from barking…..
Did you see….?’
How….?’
That was so fast! How….’
The dog is not even hurt……
There was a general hubhub of conversation as all the Kaurava princes were looking stupefied at each other. Agreed they all saw Arjuna practice daily and he was brilliant….But what they had seen right now was not ‘brilliant’, it was incredible….
Yudhishtara spotted Arjuna looking around shocked and saw that the jungle boy was now nowhere to be seen. Arjuna pushed past the princes and walked in a daze towards the direction where the boy had walked. Yudhishtara pushed passed the other princes and walked with his brother as the other Pandavas followed Yudhishtara one by one.
Arjuna walked long and hard before he could see the other boy. But Arjuna was so such in shock that he did not remember most of the journey towards the boy.
Who are you?’ Arjuna blurted out as soon as he saw the boy.
The boy looked at Arjuna his bow and arrow poised. ‘..I am Ekalavya.’ He said shrugging.
Who are your parents, Ekalavya? What are you doing here?’ Yudhishtara interposed.
My father is Hiranyadhanus, the king of the Nishadas! I was hunting here, when you dog came up and annoyed me!’ Ekalavya said frowning. Ekalavya wondered where he had seen the boy who was looking at him like he had been possessed.
Who taught you archery?’ Arjuna asked Ekalavya with almost reverence in his eyes.
I am the student of Dronacharya!’ Ekalavya said shrugging turning away.
Arjuna felt like someone had hit him with sledgehammer. He wanted to call the boy a liar and demand the truth from him. But deep down, beneath the shock, Arjuna realized that the boy had spoken the truth. That meant that his teacher had taught the boy and made Ekalavya, a better archer than him….Arjuna blinked as everything was appearing too bright and too hazy to him. His brothers were telling him something but the voices were coming from a far end of a tunnel and it was not making sense to him. He stumbled as he walked on blindly. Arjuna had no recollection of his journey back to Hastinapur.
*******
Drona waited patiently for the boys to come home. He had planned on another test to teach the boys real concentration. Drona smiled as he heard the voice of the boys coming through. Drona went to the front of his house and his eyes searched for his favourite pupil….when Dronacharya suddenly faltered. For the first time in memory, he saw Arjuna look ashen….almost defeated. Pushing through the other princes, barely acknowledging the words of the Kauravas, Drona almost ran toward Arjuna.
You said that no student of yours would be as good as me!’ Arjuna mumbled without any preamble.
Drona looked at the other Pandavas who were also looking somber. ‘What happened?’
Slowly, haltingly, Drona got the entire story out of the Pandavas.
He told you, he was my student?’ Drona asked incredulously.
When Arjuna nodded angrily, Drona blinked. He took a deep breath trying to steady himself. ‘Take me to the boy!’ Drona said to Arjuna. ‘NOW!’
********
Drona walked behind Arjuna who stumbled as he walked through the jungle. As they neared a clearing, Drona was surprised as he heard the twang of the bow. It was exactly like the sound that Arjuna made when he was practicing archery….rhythmic and an absolute melody to any teacher of arms….Drona followed Arjuna and the first thing he saw was not a boy practicing bow and arrow but a clay statue right in the middle of the clearing. A clay statute which resembled Dronacharya to an uncanny extent. Shocked Drona walked forward as he went towards the boy who was shooting the arrows almost effortlessly into the target.
The boy heard footsteps and turned as he saw. Drona saw genuine joy and love in the boy’s eyes as he turned. ‘Acharya! You have come! You have come to see me!’ Ekalavya said falling at Drona’s feet.
As Drona saw the boy he realized the boy whom he had seen some time back asking to be taught archery. Dronacharya remembered turning away the boy. ‘Why do you call yourself my student?’ Drona asked coldly.
The boy frowned. ‘You….you gave me your blessings! I practiced archery, assuming you to be my teacher!’ the boy said by way of explanation.
Drona was shocked as he realized that the boy had learnt everything….all the nuances of archery, all by himself…
Do you really consider me your teacher?’ Dronacharya squeaked, finally.
Yes!’ the boy said firmly. ‘I would be proud to call myself your student!’
I demand Gurudakshina!’ Drona said, a cold light in his eyes.
The boy did not even blink. ‘Anything you want, acharya!’
Your right thumb!’ Drona said as Arjuna almost gasped. Being an archer…he knew…he knew exactly what Drona was asking from Ekalavya.
Arjuna was more than shocked as he realized that Ekalavya was reaching out for his dagger. It almost seemed like Ekalavya did not realize what it was that Drona was asking from him. Ekalavya looked at Drona once more, smiled and without a second glance cut off his right thumb.
Drona looked at Arjuna who was looking like he was unable to move from there to Ekalavya who was standing there with a bleeding hand.
With a heavy heart, Dronacharya painfully swallowed as he pulled Arjuna away from the place and walked away without a second glance. Drona knew that Ekalavya would still practice with his remaining four fingers. But then, now, Ekalavya could not challenge Arjuna's fighting prowess....

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Gurus of Hastinapur - Part 5

Seeing Arjuna's devotion, Dronacharya taught Arjuna to fight on ground, on horse back and when he was in a chariot. Word spread around about Arjuna's amazing fighting skills.
Princes from all over the country flocked to learn from the now famous teacher.
The news of the famous teacher also reached the kingdom of the Nishadas. The prince of the Nishadas, the son of Hiranyadhanus, heard about Droancharya. The more he heard about the teacher, the more the prince yearned for the knowledge that the teacher had.
Dronacharya had taught Arjuna everything because of the passion that Arjuna has in archery. If I present myself before the great teacher, I am sure he would also see the passion I have and teach me all the skills...The prince thought naively. And so not considering the fact that the Nishadas were generally looked down upon, the prince went to Hastinapur.
There the prince approached Dronacharya's hermitage and the first thing which struck him was the vast training arena and the princes of varying ages practicing arms of all kinds. The prince saw it but then the one thing which always drew his attention was invariably the twang of the bow. The prince saw a boy his own age firing arrows one after the other. The speed with which the boy fired the arrows caught the prince's imagination. He knew that he had to learn it. He came forward when he saw a dark, stern looking man watching the boys practicing. The prince's eyes widened as he realized that he was the very man whom he had traveled so long to see.
The prince found himself being dragged before the teacher. 'Acharya!' He said bowing before the great man.
Drona turned and saw a strange boy with matted hair standing and looking at him eagerly. Drona looked at the young boy almost with contempt. 'What do you want?'
The prince again looked at the young boy with the bow and arrow and turned to Drona. 'I wish to learn archery from you,sir!'
Drona looked at the young boy as if he had lost his senses. 'Who do you think you are? I am Dronacharya! I am the royal teacher of Hastinapur! I do not go about teaching urchins from the street...'
The prince was suddenly shocked on hearing the words of the teacher. He had come here with so much hope. 'No Acharya! You do not understand! I am...I am Ekalavya! I am the son of King Hiranyadhanus, the king of the Nishadas! Please accept me also as your pupil! Please!' The boy said almost pleading with Drona.
Drona studied the eyes of the boy before him. There was the same fire in those eyes that he had seen in Arjuna. And Drona studied the boy's physique and realized that there was every chance that the boy could outdo all his students....Drona looked at the boy and shook his head. 'I am afraid, I cannot teach you! You are a Nishada! I am a teacher of all the princes of Hastinapur! I cannot teach you!' Drona repeated.
Drona saw the face of Ekalavya wilt before him. Ekalavya opened and closed his mouth once or twice. But then he seemed to realize that no matter what he said Drona would not change his mind.
Sadly Ekalavya did the only thing he could do. He fell at the feet of Drona. 'If you would not give me your knowledge, atleast give me your blessings, sir!'

Drona looked at the boy as he blessed the prince. The prince looked at the teacher for one last time and walked away from there without a backward glance....

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Gurus of Hastinapur - Part 4

Drona looked around at his young class. ‘Children! I am Drona! I will be your teacher! After I finish teaching you advanced weapons….’ Drona looked at the entire class with smoldering eyes. ‘After your education is complete, there is something I want you to do! Will you do it for me?’
The entire class was silent. They did not know what to make out of the dark, tall, slightly scary looking man. That he knew how to wield weapons was not something they doubted. But his eyes had a fire in it. A fire which spoke of a madness hidden inside him. None of the princes were sure of what the man would ask and they did not want to commit.
I will!’ The entire class turned to see Arjuna, looking confidently at Drona. Ever since Arjuna had seen Drona, Arjuna looked like a boy who had been possessed. ‘I will give you whatever you ask for!’ Arjuna repeated. Drona studied the boy once again as a beautiful smile lit up his features.
Drona drew up the young boy close to him and studied his fingers. ‘You have learnt archery before?’ Drona asked.
Arjuna nodded.
From whom?’ Drona asked slightly puzzled. The marks on the boy’s hands were not recently made. And from what Dronacharya knew, Kripacharya had been teaching the boys weapons, only recently. And the bow in the boy’s hands were old…much older…
I was living in the forests, before I came here sir!’ Arjuna said looking at the man. There was probably some slight snickering from behind. But he did not care. ‘There I was taught by Suka, the son of Sage Sayyati! He gave me this bow sir!’ Arjuna said without a hint of pride.
Come my son!’ Drona said embracing Arjuna. He knew, he just knew that Arjuna was going to be the one who got him his sweet revenge. ‘I will teach you everything….everything there is to know about weapons!’ Drona said wiping a single tear from his eyes.
And so their classes started.
Drona taught all the princes everything. Once Drona started teaching the princes everything, the princes from the other lands like the Vrishnis and the Andhakas also came to learn from Drona. Strangely enough, the Veda Vyasa’s Mahabharatha states that Karna also became a pupil of Drona. It is also said that out of jealousy, Karna frequently fought with Arjuna and was supported by Duryodhana in these events. Veda Vyasa’s Mahabharatha also finally states that Dronacharya was convinced that none of his other pupils could equal Arjuna…..
Before the start of every class, the students were given a vessel to fill water from. Drona gave Ashwattaman, his son, a wider mouthed vessel. As Ashwattaman came back earlier, Drona would start teaching Ashwattamana alone, knowledge of the advanced weapons.
Then one day in class, Drona was telling his students to invoke the Varuna astra, the weapon to invoke water from anywhere….The other students saw no need of it. Arjuna obviously learnt it well.
The next day Arjuna came quickly to the hermitage with his pot full of water and found his teacher teaching Ashwattaman, about some astras that he had not even heard of. He saw Ashwattaman’s pot and realized that it was a wider mouth. Arjuna finally realized that when the other students had been collecting water, Drona had been teaching his own son, advanced weapons.
Arjuna yearned for the knowledge that Drona gave Ashwattaman alone. But looking at his own pot and Ashwattaman’s pot, Arjuna realized that he could not compete with Ashwattaman’s speed. Arjuna was slightly disheartened. But then his eyes brightened. He knew exactly what he had to do….
The next day, Dronacharya was shocked to see not just Ashwattama but also Arjuna with their pots full of water.
Drona then smiled. Because he had realized that Arjuna had invoked the Varuna astra for filling the water instead of going all the way to the river to fetch it….And so the special lessons for the two of them alone started….
A few months later, Drona went to the cook of the royal palace of Hastinapur. ‘You will never serve food to Arjuna in the dark! EVER!’ The teacher thundered to the bewildered cook. ‘And you will never tell him that I told you this!’ Drona said walking away from there.
The cook found the instructions from the teacher strange. But then who was he to even complain about the royal teacher of Hastinapur….
A few days after this incident when Arjuna was eating his food a sudden gust of wind blew away the lamp. Arjuna sighed, but then he did not stop eating…..Methodically Arjuna’s hands put the food in his mouth. This went on when suddenly…Arjuna blinked. That night, the cook was surprised when he saw the third Pandava rapidly washing his hands and walking out of the palace. The cook understood nothing as he saw a servant lighting up the lamp near the place where the boy had finished his hurried dinner and the cook definitely did not understand why Arjuna was carrying his weapons so late in the night….
Drona was about to retire for the night when he heard it. At first he was sure he had heard something wrong. Then it came again…and again. Ignoring the calls of Kripi and Ashwattaman, Drona rapidly went out of his house towards the clearing where the boys practiced daily. There Drona could not hide his smile as he saw Arjuna with his bow and arrow shooting at the targets, which was now completely invisible in the dark. Arjuna already knew where the targets were. He was just learning to shoot it from memory….Drona smiled as he realized that that was also going to help Arjuna fight using his other senses and not just his eyes…..
Acharya!’ Arjuna said as Drona realized that the twang of the bow had stopped and Arjuna was bowing before him.
There will be no one equal to you, Arjuna!’ Was all Drona said.