Friday, September 6, 2013

An Archer par excellence - Ekalavya - Part 1 of 2

Hiranyadhanus, the King of the Nishadas, looked at his son and cautioned him. 'Ekalavya! We are not in the deep forests anymore!  In fact we are very close to enemy territory.Take  care and do not wander'. 
Ekalavya looked at his father curiously. 'Where are we father?'
Hiranyadhanus lovingly ruffled the tall boy's hair. Though Ekalavya was very  young, Hiranyadhanus had brought his son along for hunting. Hiranyadhanus knew that his son was great with the bow and arrow. . Hiranyadhanus wanted to give every opportunity to his son to hone this skill.
'We are near the kingdom of Hastinapur.. They ...'
Ekalavya looked surprised. 'Hastinapur! They are enemies of Magadha, father! They fight against King Jarasandha! What are we doing here?'

Hiranyadhanus said nothing but clasped his son's hand  and smiled. Ekalavya knew that his father would not tell him anything more and fell silent...

[Jarasandha was an exceptionally powerful king and wanted to conquer all the kingdoms around. Only the powerful kingdoms like Hastinapur, Dwaraka etc stood up against him.]

Ekalavya watched as his father walked away inside the forest with a few of his friends. Ekalavya was bored as he watched around the forest.  That was when he heard it....A faint clinking of swords...he could even hear the twang of a bow. Ekalavya was thrilled when he heard it. The rhythmic flow suggested someone with good talent in archery.. . Ekalavya's curiosity got the better of him. Ignoring  his promise to his father, he  walked towards the sound.

As Ekalavya reached the outskirts of the forests he saw the source of the sound. Standing before him were many, many boys. All of them were practising the use of various weapons.  Looking at them Ekalavya immediately realized that these people were from the kingdom of Hastinapur.  Ekalavya hid himself behind a tree and watched them.

Ekalavya was immediately drawn towards a lone dark boy with a bow in his hands. He realised that the twang he heard in the forest was created by this boy firing the arrows. The more Ekalavya saw, the more he was impressed. The boy was good, really good. Ekalavya stared at rapt attention mesmerized by the boy.

As the boy was practising, Ekalavya saw a man beside the boy. The man was keeping an eye on all the boys there. But the man looked at the boy practising the bow and arrow with special care. Suddenly everything about the scene clicked in Ekalavya's mind....Hastinapur! The Kurus, Kauravas, Pandavas, and their teacher Dronacharya...The Kuru princes were learning warfare from their teacher! Ekalavya stared at Dronacharya with reverence. Dronacharya's name had already spread all over the country. The man was well versed in  weaponry and was a brilliant teacher. Kings and princes flocked to learn the art of  warfare  fromDronacharya.

Ekalavya studied the way Dronacharya taught archery  to the young prince and was thrilled. The skills of the man....He had to learn them....He just had to....WIthout these skills he would be incomplete....Even without realizing it, Ekalavya found himself being drawn forward...

Ekalavya gulped as he suddenly found himself face to face with the stern faced teacher.

'Who are you? What do you want?' Dronacharya asked as he saw the tall boy stand and stare at him  reverently. He looked at the boy and saw that the boy's attention had diverted. He was now looking at Arjuna, the Pandava. Arjuna was pulling back the arrow aiming at the target.

'I want to do that!' The boy whispered still staring at Arjuna.

'What?' Dronacharya asked harshly. He tolerated nothing when anybody even looked at Arjuna.

Ekalavya cleared his throat still  staring  at Arjuna. Not caring about anything, Ekalavya blurted out, 'Sir! My father is Hiranyadhanus, the King of the Nishadas! I am Ekalavya! I wish to learn archery from you!' At that  moment, Ekalavya did not realise  that he was in enemy territory and that telling that he was the prince of the enemy was not a very smart thing.  All he wanted was to learn to shoot arrows like the boy before him....

Dronacharya blinked...Nishada! Dronacharya looking at the markings around the boy's fingers realised that the boy had the potential to learn fast and learn well....Probably even better than Arjuna! Drona suddenly went on full scale panic mode. What if he taught the boy and he became better than Arjuna...A Nishada!

Dronacharya hastily shook his head. 'I cannot teach you! I am the teacher of the royal princes of Hastinapur! I cannot teach a Nishada! LEAVE NOW!' Drona said curtly.

Ekalavya looked blankly at Drona. He did not hear anything after I cannot teach you!

He looked at Drona with pleading eyes. 'Sir...!' Ekalavya opened his mouth but one look at Drona and he realised that no matter what, Drona would not change his mind. He looked at Arjuna again and turned to look at Drona.

Ekalavya bowed to Drona and looked at him straight in the eye. For a brief second Drona shivered and it was not from the cold or fear from the boy. The boy had something in him....Something which Drona felt but was unable to pin point....

The Pandavas and the Kauravas were camped outside their kingdom and were now in deep sleep. They found themselves rudely awakened by a dog barking incessantly. Feeling groggily all of them got up and stared ahead into the night.

It was dark and they were very sleepy. Soon they spotted the reason for the disturbance. Before any of them could even do anything about it, they heard  a swift twang of the bow. And another....and another....Before any of the Pandavas or the Kauravas were fully awake, they realised that the dog had fallen silent.

Surprised, they all stared at the dog and were stumped. The dog was alive and completely unharmed but the only difference was that it had its mouth wide open....Inside the mouth were seven arrows. The arrows were preventing the dog from closing its mouth. All the princes looked at each other stunned.

All of them turned to Arjuna. Arjuna was however entirely unarmed and was staring at the entire scene like he could not believe his eyes. Being a brilliant archer himself, he knew that what he was seeing right now was not something which could be done by any ordinary  mortal.
Heart beating fast, he traced the path of the arrows back to the wielder. All the other princes followed him.

There they found a dishevelled boy firing arrows towards a target at the dead of the night with unfailing accuracy. The focus with which he aimed the arrows made the other princes think that he was slightly crazy. But Arjuna knew better. He recognised the look in the eyes of the boy. Besides he had to know....

Arjuna went forward. 'Who are you?'

The boy barely turned towards Arjuna. 'Ekalavya! I am the prince of the Nishadas.'

All the other princes bristled when they heard this, but Arjuna did not even hear it. He looked at the relaxed posture of the boy and the repeated firing the arrows. Arjuna knew that the arrows were hitting the right spot.

'Who taught you archery? Who is your teacher?' Arjuna whispered.
Ekalavya stopped firing and turned to look at Arjuna. 'My teacher is Dronacharya! He taught me all that I know about archery!'

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