The Legend of Ekalavya
The story of Ekalavya is familiar to most, but remains an underrated sub plot from the Indian epic Mahabharata. Ekalavya is a tribal boy from the Magadha Clan with a natural talent for archery. He approaches Guru Dronacharya, the renowned archery Coach of the Kingdom of Hastinapur, for his tutelage. Hastinapur is the home of the royal dynasties of the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Guru Dronacharya, while impressed with the boy, rejects his application for a couple of reasons:
- Ekalavya belongs to a lower caste.
- The Magadha community has been historically hostile to the Hastinapur Kingdom and Dronacharya’s services have been exclusively retained by the Pandavas & Kauravas. In other words, Dronacharya can’t take students of his own.
Denied Dronacharya’s tutelage, and living in the forest without any facilities, Ekalavya nonetheless continues his training. He creates a clay statue of the Guru and practices in front of this idol, drawing strength from its presence. With the passage of time, he becomes incredibly adept with the bow and arrow.
One day, Guru Dronacharya and the Pandavas camp in the forest for a night. A barking dog disturbs their sleep. Suddenly, there is a swishing sound of arrows in the dark followed by an eerie silence. The Pandavas see the dog silently scamper towards them with its entire mouth sewed shut by a set of arrows. Incredibly, the dog’s mouth is closed in a way that it remains completely unscathed. Dronacharya is amazed by this feat of archery and seeks out the archer. He comes upon his own statue in a clearing. He meets Ekalavya and learns of his training.
While moved by the boy’s story, at the back of his mind, Dronacharya remembers an earlier promise he had made to Arjuna (one of the five Pandava brothers). He had promised Arjuna that he would make him the best archer in the region. Sensing a threat to this promise, he demands that Ekalavya chop off his thumb as ‘gurudakshina’, the mandatory offering (‘dakshina’) made by a pupil to his teacher (‘guru’). Ekalavya is well aware that archery is impossible without his right thumb. But without hesitating for a second, he chops it off and hands it over to the man he considers his Guru. In a matter of seconds, his dreams of becoming a world renowned archer had shattered.
The Dronacharya-Ekalavya episode poses certain thought provoking questions. How could Dronacharya be so heartless and abuse the unquestioning trust placed upon him? How could Ekalavya be so naïve or trusting in the first place?
This story has implications even today. Teachers in India play a very strong role in making or breaking their students. This responsibility is heightened in sports, where players have a limited timeframe to achieve mastery over their craft. When incorrect skills are taught, or bad habits allowed to linger, at best a player loses time, as he unlearns his mistakes and relearns the correct fundamentals. At worst, a player risks serious injuries and the chance to earn a livelihood i.e. get returns on his valuable investment of money and years of toil.
Contrary to what people may conclude, Ekalavya’s story is that of triumph. What many don’t know is that he went on to learn how to fire arrows with his feet. To us, Ekalavya stands for unwavering determination and pure love in the pursuit of one’s craft. He continued honing his skills despite knowing fully well that he would never be as good as those ‘Arjunas’ who used their hands. Ekalavya learned for the joy of learning, not for the fame, popularity or money that often makes us lose sight of why we started off in the first place. It is said that people only remember the guy who finished first. But what about all those who were denied an equal chance?
At Ekalavyas, we believe in free learning for all. Learning should happen at the right time, in the right way, to the right people and from the right instructors. In the larger sense, we firmly believe that those individuals who learn for the pure joy of learning not only become successful role models in their chosen field, but also grow as human beings— becoming kind, generous, happy and peaceful. They are not limited by petty constraints, contribute willingly to society and grow into wise old men and women. We want to create a society full of such Ekalavyas, where free thinking individuals rationally choose to live amongst one another for individual and community gain. At Ekalavyas, we not only believe in an ideal world, we actually make it happen.