Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Dronacharya, the Failed Teacher of the Mahabharata

Abstract- Indian epic, the Mahabharata looks at the life from different perspectives. Grown over a long period of time through the process of interpolation and extrapolation (roughly from 400 B.C. to 400 A.D.) the epic has become a timeless text. Human nature is too complex to be compartmentalized as good and bad.  The canvas of life cannot be painted as entirely black and white. There are many grey sheds in the human personality which the epic tries to portray very effectively through personification. Dronacharya, the Guru of the Kuru princes is such a complex character. Disciple of Parshurama, he was an expert in handling the weapon. Though born as a Brahmin, he carries an attributes of the Kshatriyas. He could not forget that he was insulted by Draupada. Using his students as a tool he settles his personal score and humiliates Draupada. Thus perpetuates the violence. By showing undue favoritism to the Pandavas, he intensifies the jealousy between the cousins Kauravas and the Pandavas. To fulfill his promise made to Arjuna of making him to be the greatest archer, he demands the right thumb of Eklavya. Through the character of Dronacharaya, probably the epic tries to give a message that ‘What teacher should not be?’ Kaurava princess growing up to be haughty and uncompromising also indicative that he had failed to inculcate good human values in them and remove the negativity from their mind.  This paper is an analysis of Dronacharya’s personality in the epic.

Key words- Anger, Forgiveness, Pride, Revenge. 

Introduction- The Mahabharata tries to capture the eternal drama of human life very effectively. ‘Bhagavad Gita’ Ch. IX tries to explain this complicities and intricacies of human nature as an interplay of three ‘Gunas’ (qualities) i.e. ‘Sattavik’ (Good), ‘Rajasik’ (Passion) and ‘Tamasik’ (Dullness). All these ‘Gunas’ are present in everybody in different combinations. At a particular time one of the ‘Guna’ predominates and under its influence we think and behave.  
    ‘Sattavik’, said to bring happiness and knowledge. ‘Rajas’ brings craving and attachment and the ‘Tamasik’ creates dullness and inertia. As these ‘Gunas’ are present in us in different combinations, we find that the characters in the Mahabharata behaves differently at different times under their influence. An extremely good person like Yudhishthira comes under the influence of ‘Rajasik’ and ‘Tamasik’ and indulges in gambling in spite of the warning and looses everything including his wife.   
   This paper is an attempt to study this play of ‘Sattava’, ‘Raja’ and ‘Tama’ in the character of Dronacharya in the ‘Mahabharata’ and how the influence of the different ‘Gunas’ leads to the transgressions of the ‘Dharma’ i.e. righteous duty.                                      
Early Life-   Dronacharya was born ‘ayonisambhava’ i.e. without mother to sage Bharadwaja. Sage Bharadwaja saw Apsara Ghrtaci when her skirt was blown away by a sudden breeze. His seed i.e. semen burst forth which he held in the Drona (trough) and through which the child was born and named as ‘Drona’. (Buitenen 1973: 267)
Probably he was born from the union of the sage and some forest dwelling woman, who was extrapolated from the pages of the epic to protect the honor of the sage Bharadwaja and also to bring respectability to Dronacharaya.
Very soon Drona learned the scriptures and art of warfare. Draupada, the son of king of Panchala was always used to come to the hermitage of sage Bharadwaja to study Vedas with Drona. As children they were very fond of each other and Draupada promised that once he becomes the king, the kingdom will be of Drona’s to enjoy. ((Buitenen 1973: 269)
Later after his father’s death Draupada became the king. Drona also got married to Kripi, who was also born without mother like him. They had son Asvatthaman.
It was probably after the birth of his son that Drona felt the need of wealth and when he heard that Rama Jamadagnya i.e. Parshurama is giving away all his wealth to Brahmins, he went to him. But before he could reach, Parshurama had given away all his wealth and he gives all his arrows and swords to Drona with all the secrets concerning their use. (Buitenen 1973: 268) 
Though Drona acquired divine weapons, his need of wealth was not satisfied. With hope he goes to his old friend Draupada, who is a king now and asks him if he recognizes him. Intoxicated with power and wealth the king insults him. Making mockery of his poverty, he rudely says,
“I was friends with you, ……because it served my purpose” (ibid)
Insulted, Drona goes to Hastinpur. Impressed by his skill, Bhishma appoints him as a teacher to the Kauravas and the Pandavas. (Buitenen 1973: 269)
 The Downfall- Drona’s downfall started, when he allowed the desire of material comfort for his son to spring in his heart. He himself lived a life of poverty for a long time without compromising his self respect and dignity. But he could not digest that his son Ashwatthama is not getting basic comfort.  It is a weakness of a man who loves his family that he may put up with a life of suffering and deprivation but it is difficult to see your loved ones suffering. May be because of this that many religious philosophies advocates the life of celibacy and renunciation? Wife, husband and children strengthen our bond with the world and make the spiritual progress difficult. Out of this bounds which is called ‘Maya’ i.e. illusion, man commits many sins. It is difficult to break free from this. Janeshwara, the 13th century Maharashtrian saint says,
                         “Je Vajrapasoni kathin, durdhar ati darun,
                           tayahuni asadharan he snehnaval”  (‘Jnaneshwari’ 1.99)      
 [Arjuna says, “My heart is as strong and hard as the ‘Vajra’( the weapon of Indra), but these bounds of attachments are stronger than that]
     Out of these bounds of attachments, Drona desired comfort for his son even at the cost of compromising his self respect and dignity. He went to the Panchala king Drupada with the hope of material gains. His hope was not fulfilled and he was badly insulted. His attachment to his son generated the desire for prosperity in his mind. But when this desire was not fulfilled and he was insulted, he became angry and revengeful. Bhagavad Gita says,
                         “Kamat Krodho bhijayate
                           Krodhad bhavati sammoh
                           Sammohat smritivibhramah
                         Smritibhramasad buddhinaso” (2. 62-63)
        (Anger is inherent in the desire. From anger arises bewilderment, from bewilderment loss of memory; and from loss of memory, the destruction of intelligence)  
    Due to the anger, Drona lost the memory of the true nature of a ‘Brahmin’. He was burning with the desire of revenge. The desire of revenge is unsuitable for a ‘Brahmin’ . ‘Bhagavad Gita’ says,
                          “Samo damas tapas saucam
                            Ksantir arjavam eva ca
                            Jnanam vijnanam astikyam
                           Brahmakarma svabhavajam” (18.42)
(Serenity, self-control, austerity, purity, forbearance and uprightness, wisdom, knowledge and faith in religion, these are the duties of the Brahmin, born of his nature)
Drona did not display these qualities expected from a Brahmin.
However, the most repulsive act of Dronacharya was the demand of the thumb of Eklavya. (Buitenen 1973: 282). The episode is indicative of the dislike and contempt that the Aryans had for the native aborigines. The Kshatriya Arjuna and his Brahmin master could not tolerate that one aborigine should be able to challenge the position of superiority of Arjuna in archery.
Drona was bent upon making use of Arjuna to take revenge on Draupada and in return he promised to make Arjuna the best archer. It was an alliance of convenience and Drona did not hesitate to sacrifice the innocent and devoted Nishada and make Arjuna’s future secure.
The revenge- The desire of burning revenge in the heart of Drona had brought many evils in future. He accepted service in the royal court of Kaurava and became indebted to them. Here he lost his independence. A teacher who is directly obliged to the guardians of the pupils allows his spirit and soul to be corrupted. The Rishis who stayed in their own ‘Ashramas’ had freedom to select their own pupils depending on their qualities. Out of the obligations to Bhishma, who appointed him as teacher, he was forced to give knowledge and training to the evil minded sons of Dritrashtra and also to fight the war on their side although he knew that, this is a side of ‘Adharma’.
      As a teacher he had failed on many occasions. He failed to put a check on the ‘Rajoguna’ and ‘Tamoguna’ of the children of Dritrashtra.  How can he put a check on them when he had no control over his own ‘Rajoguna’? Now, even though he was leaving in comfort under the patronage of the Kurus, he did not forgive king Draupada. He was only waiting for the right time. Here, we see that the desire of revenge arising out of the ‘Rajoguna’ overpowered the ‘Satvaguna’ of a learned Brahmin. At the end of the completion of the training, he asked his pupils to defeat Drupada. He also accompanies them when they attack Panchala. The king Drupada was defeated and brought before Drona. (Buitenen 1973: 282)
When Draupada was brought before Drona with his pride broken and treasure looted, Drona seems to paying him back with interest. His spirit of revenge is obvious as he says,
“I laid waste your kingdom with vehemence, and now I have laid waste your city. And now that you are alive but in your enemy’s power, an old friend, who needs him?” (ibid)
He laughs aloud and says mockingly that Brahmins are not vindictive. Patronizingly he gives back half of the kingdom of Panchala to him and asks him now if he recognizes his friend as he is also a king now. (ibid)
 Drona sending his pupils to take revenge on his behalf also indicates his cunningness. Probably he did not wanted to come forward and risk his reputation. Drona returned Drupada’s half kingdom but kept half to himself. This was one more transgression of the ‘Dharma’ of a Brahmin teacher. To rule a kingdom was a duty of a Kshatriya and as a Brahmin teacher, Drona should have remained engaged in the pursuit of knowledge. But here Drona was trying to do both the things at the same time. He continued to be the teacher of the Kaurava and the Pandava and at the same time did not leave his share of the Panchala kingdom. He gave southern part of Panchala to king Drupada and kept northern part to himself, thus creating the source of constant irritation to Drupada. The neighboring kingdoms ruled over by those who had insulted each other created further conflict. The text describes the mind set of Drupada,
“Drupada, brooding on his feud with Drona, did not find peace; nor did he see how to vanquish him with baronial power…………Waiting for the birth of a son, the king bore his grudge” (ibid 283) 
The counter revenge- It was out of this anger, insult and fear that Drupada acquired the son, Dhrishtadhumaya during the ‘Yagya’. (ibid 316-319). As the sacrifice was conducted with the intention of revenge, the fruit that came in the form of two children i.e. Dhrishtadhumaya and Draupadi brought lot of destruction. A divine voice foretells this.
  The story of birth of Dhrishtadhumaya in ‘Yagya’ might have been a mythologized version. Actually he might have been specially trained to match the might of Drona. As he was born to kill Drona, he killed him violating the code of war. This had created deep hatred in the mind of Ashwatthama, who did not hesitate to kill Dhrishtadhumaya and other members of the Pandava’s army in the night when they were asleep. It was Drona’s adaptation of the ‘Dharma’ of Kshatriya that Ashwatthama also got sucked up in this whirlwind of violence and counter violence. He feels sad about this and in ‘Saiptikparva’ of the ‘Mahabharata’ says,
“I have been born in the brahmana linage that is greatly revered. However, because of misfortune, I am engaged in the dharma of kshatriyas” (Debroy, Volume 8, 2013:12)      
Dronacharya’s continuation to stay at Hastinapur even after having kingdom of his own also seems to be a part of his strategic move, as he can count on the support of the house of Hastinapur in case of attack by Drupada and Dhrishtadhumaya. This had further trapped him in a situation from where it became difficult to escape and he was obliged to fight for the Kauravas.
Conclusion- Drona had discarded his austerity for the sake of the comfort of his son. He has not shown forbearance in his dealing with king Drupada nor had he shown uprightness in asking the thumb of Eklavya. He also forgot the ‘Dharma’ of a Brahmin teacher and assuming the role of a warrior killed many in the battle.
Though life is complex, probably the epic is trying to give us a message that forgiveness is better. The spirit of revenge causes lot of hurt to oneself and to others as well. It makes you almost insane.  Ashwatthama was bent upon killing the sleeping Pandavas and their armies. When Kripa tries to dissuade him from this unethical act, he replies,
“I wish to kill the Panchalas, while they sleep in the night. I do not care whether I am born as worm or an insect” (Debroy, Volume 8, 2013:17)
The sport coaches in India are given ‘Dronacharya’ award. I am not sure if we should continue to project him as an ideal coach or should we rethink about renaming the award?
Buitenen van J.A.B., ‘The Mahabharata, Volume 1. The Book of the Beginning’, the University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1973.
Debroy B., ‘The Mahabharata, Volume 8’, Penguin Books, New Delhi, 2013.                          
Radhakrishnan S. ‘The Bhagavadgita’, HarperCollins, New Delhi, 2004. 

Sakhre N. ‘Sarth Sri Janeshwari’, Sarthi Prakashan, Pune, 2001. 

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