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!'

Thursday, September 5, 2013

An Archer par Excellence - Ekalavya - Part 2 of 2

For the first time in his life, Arjuna felt a strange emotion gnawing at his stomach. He soon realized that he was jealous. I am jealous...he thought incredulously. I am jealous of a Nishada boy..  He walked back to the camp, his  mind enirely occupied by Ekalavya and his words..He  could not erase  Ekalavya from his mind even while sleeping.
The morning still found him confused and dazed.  Finally he got up and went in search of his Guru.
Dronacharya looked at Arjuna once and immediately knew that something was wrong with his star disciple. He had taught Arjuna for many years now and had rarely seen Arjuna in a bad mood. Even today Arjuna did not look like he was in a bad mood. He just looked different.
For the first time he saw Arjuna stumble as he came to see him. Arjuna looked at Dronacharya with a  hurt look. 'You told me that you would teach me every nuances of archery, if I concentrated well on it. I thought I was doing a good job!' Arjuna said listlessly.
Dronacharya listened to Arjuna's words and looked in confusion. 'I have been teaching you everything I know. You are the best in class as far as archery goes....No one else is as good...'
'THATS NOT TRUE!' Arjuna yelled as he was unable to control himself anymore. Dronacharya looked startled at the unexpected outburst. He could see the hurt in Arjuna's eyes. He wondered what it was that had made Arjuna like this.
'I met one of your students last night!' Arjuna said after a prolonged  silence.
'Which one?'
'Ekalavya, the prince of the Nishadas!' Arjuna said gritting his teeth.
Bewildered Dronacharya wondered for a few minutes who Ekalavya was. That was when he remembered the serious looking tall boy who had come to him a few years back and pleaded with him  to teach him archery... the boy he had turned away. Dronacharya wondered why Arjuna called Ekalavya his student and wondered what he had done to make Arjuna like this....

Ekalavya was shooting the arrows with practiced ease. He was hearing the rhythmic twang of the bow which to him was  the sweetest sound in the world. He did not need to look at the target to know that he had hit on the right spot. He just knew that he had hit it right....
As he was firing, he heard sudden sharp footsteps behind him. At first Ekalavya ignored it. But then he knew that the footsteps was not of someone used to the forests. Curious, Ekalavya turned looking through the shrubs.....

Dronacharya looked at the disheveled Nishada boy before him and was shocked. Though outwardly  Ekalavya looked casual, Dronacharya gasped as he saw the determination in Ekalavya's eyes. He briefly eyed at the targets placed at improbable places and knew with certainty that all the targets no matter where, had been hit correctly. What really shocked Drona was the mud statue near the boy. The mud statue had been made by hand and had an uncanny resemblance to  Drona.
'Guru!' Ekalavya came forward and fell at Dronacharya's feet, shocking him.'At last!. ... 'You have come. I knew you would come!'Ekalavya said looking at Drona with tears in his eyes.
'Why do you call me your Guru?' Drona wanted to ask the question harshly. But inspite of himself the words came out softly.
'You have taught me everything I know!' Ekalavya said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. 'I practiced everything before your mud statue and I was able to do everything!' Ekalavya said with shining eyes.
Drona looked at the Nishada boy whose eyes were shining with a true zeal of a disciple.
Drona's heart felt heavy as he realized what he was going to do. He would do it though it meant condemning himself to hell. He would do it for Arjuna and for Hastinapur.
'So.. you consider me your teacher, your guru?' Drona asked sternly.
Ekalavya nodded proudly.
'Then I demand guru dakshina!' Drona said harshly. [In those days after education had been imparted the teacher could ask for anything from his students and his students would be obliged to give it to him. This was called  Guru Dakshina]
Ekalavya nodded his head eagerly. 'I must be blessed today! Today I repay the dues to my teacher! There is absolutely nothing else  I consider more important.' He looked at Drona waiting for him to elaborate.
Drona looked at Ekalavya with the bow in his right hand. The bow looked like it was a part of him. Drona looked harshly at Ekalavya. 'I want the thumb of your right hand!'
Drona looked at Ekalavya fully expecting him to refuse. He atleast expected Ekalavya to look at him with disdain or atleast with hurt eyes.
What he did not expect and what did happen was that Ekalavya pulled out a knife  from his belt. Before Drona could even open his mouth to cry out, Ekalavya had cut out his right thumb. For a brief moment Drona wondered whether Ekalavya had even realized what he had done. For an archer, the thumb was the most important finger. Without it, firing arrows was next to impossible. Ekalavya who was an archer par excellence and who practiced it daily like a meditation had just cut off the thumb like it was a minor nuisance.
Drona was speechless when Ekalavya handed him the thumb reverently. It was at that minute Drona realised that he  had been responsible for destroying a brilliant archer, but his 'disciple' would never blame him for it. Drona also knew that though Ekalavya would never be able to use the arrow and bow with the reflexes he had had just a few seconds back, the absence of a thumb would never stop Ekalavya. Ekalavya would continue practicing....Drona knew it.
Drona bowed his head unable to speak or even meet the eyes of Ekalavya. It was a long walk back for the teacher, whose 'disciple' had not even spoken a single word. Drona knew that he would never be able to forgive himself for what he had done. He had to live with this for the rest of his life and beyond....

[Ekalavya never regained the speed with which he used to fire the arrow. But he never stopped practicing. He joined King Jarasandha's regular army and even without his thumb he was a formidable warrior. Ekalavya met his death in the hands of Lord Krishna during one of the attacks that Jarasandha led against Dwaraka....]