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Dronacharya as commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army.

In the epic Mahābhārata, Drona (Sanskrit: द्रोण, droṇa) or Dronacharya (Sanskrit: द्रोणाचार्य, droṇāchārya) was the royal guru to Kauravas and Pandavas. He was a master of advanced military arts, including the Devastras. Arjuna was his favorite student. Drona's love for Arjuna was second only to his love for his son Ashwatthama. He was considered to be a partial incarnation of Brihaspati.[1]


Birth and early life

Drona was born a Bharadwaja brahmin, in 9000BC Dehradun. Drona implies that he was not gestated in a womb, but outside the human body in a droon (vessel or a basket).

The story of Drona's birth is recounted dramatically in Mahābhārata, Book I: Adi Parva, Sambhava Parva, Section CXXXI.[2] Bharadwaja went with his companions to the Ganges to perform his ablutions. There he beheld a beautiful apsara named Ghritachi who had come to bathe. The sage was overcome by desire, causing him to produce a reproductive fluid. Bharadwaja captured the fluid in a vessel called a drona, and Drona/Dronacharya himself sprang from the fluid thus preserved. Drona would later boast that he had sprung from Bharadwaja without ever having been in a womb.

Drona spent his youth in poverty, but studied religion and military arts such as archery, in which he gained expertise, together with the then prince of Panchala, Drupada. Drupada and Drona became close friends and Drupada, in his childish playfulness, promised to give Drona half his kingdom upon ascending the throne of Panchala.

Drona married Kripi, the sister of Kripa, the royal teacher of the princes and other children of the kings born out of maidservants in Hastinapura. Like Drona himself, Kripi and her brother had not been gestated in a womb, but outside the human body (see Kripa page). Kripi and Drona had a son, Ashwathama.[3]

Guru Parasurama

Learning that Parasurama was giving away his fruits of penance to brahmanas, Drona approached him. Unfortunately, by the time Drona arrived, Parasurama had given away all his belongings to other brahmanas. Taking pity upon the plight of Drona, Parasurama decided to impart to Drona his knowledge of combat and gave all his weapons to him.[2][2]

Drona and Drupada

For the sake of his wife and son, Drona desired freedom from poverty. Remembering the promise given by Drupada, he decided to approach him to ask for help. However, drunk with power, King Drupada refused to even recognize Drona and humiliated him by calling him "an inferior person".

Drupada gave Drona a long and haughty explanation of why he was rejecting him. Friendship, said Drupada, is possible only between persons of equal stature in life. As a child, he said, it was possible for him to be friends with Drona, because at that time they were equals. But now Drupada had become a King, while Drona remained a luckless indigent. Under these circumstances, friendship was impossible. However, he said he would satisfy Drona if he begged for alms befitting a Brahmin, rather than claiming his right as a friend. Drupada advised Drona to think no more of the matter, and be on his way. Drona went away silently, but in his heart he vowed revenge.[2][4]

As a Teacher

The Trail of Princes

Dronacharya's legend as a great teacher and warrior is marred by notoreity from his strong moral and social views, which inspire great debates about morality and dharma in the Mahābhārata epic.

The ball and the ring

Drona went to Hastinapura, hope to open a school of military arts for young princes, with the help of King Dhritarashtra.[5][5] One day, he saw a number of young boys, the Kauravas and Pandavas, gathered around a well. He asked them what the matter was, and Yudhisthira, the eldest, replied that their ball had fallen into the well and they did not know how to retrieve it.

Drona laughed, and mildly rebuked the princes for being helpless over such a plain problem. Yudhisthira replied that if he, a Brahmin, could retrieve their ball, the king of Hastinapura would provide all the basic necessities to him for life. Drona first threw in a ring of his, collected some blades of grass, and uttered mystical Vedic chants. He then threw the blades into the well one after another, like spears. The first blade stuck to the ball, and the second stuck to the first, and so on, forming a chain. Drona gently pulled the ball out with this rope of grass.

In a feat that was even more amazing to the boys, Drona then chanted Vedic mantras again and fired a grass blade into the well. It struck within the center of his floating ring and rose out of the well in a matter of moments, retrieving Drona's ring. Excited, the boys took Drona to the city and reported this incident to Bhishma, their grandfather.

Bhishma instantly realized that this was Drona, and - his prowess having been exemplified - asked him to become the Guru of the Kuru princes, training them in advanced military arts. Drona then established his gurukul near the city, where princes from numerous kingdoms around the country came to study under him. This village came to be known as Guru-Gram ("guru" - teacher, "gram" - village), and has now developed into the city of Gurgaon.

Arjuna, the favorite pupil

Of all the Kaurava and Pandava brothers training under Drona, Arjuna emerged as the most dedicated, hard-working and most naturally talented of them all, exceeding even Drona's own son Ashwathama. Arjuna assiduously served his teacher, who was greatly impressed by this devoted pupil.[6][6]

Arjuna surpassed Drona's expectations in numerous challenges. When Drona tested the princes' alertness and ability by creating an illusion of a crocodile attacking him and dragging him away, most of the princes were left dumbfounded. Arjuna, however, swiftly fired arrows to slay the illusionary animal, and Drona congratulated Arjuna for passing this test.

As a reward, Drona gave Arjuna mantras to invoke the super-powerful divine weapon of Brahma known as Brahmastra, but told Arjuna not to use this irresistible weapon against any ordinary warrior. The weapon had a sharp edge surrounded below by three heads of Lord Brahma.

In another challenge, Drona gave each prince a pot to fill with water and swiftly return. Whoever would return fastest would receive instruction in some extra special knowledge. He gave his son Ashwathama a wide-necked pot unlike the others' narrow-necked ones, hoping he would be the first to return. But Arjuna used his knowledge of a mystical water weapon to fill his pot swiftly and returned first.[6][7][7][8]

In a great challenge, Drona set up a wooden bird upon a tree, and from across the adjacent river, asked the princes to shoot it down by striking its eye. When prince Yudhisthira tried first, Drona asked him what he saw. Yudhisthira replied that he saw Drona, his brothers, the river, the forest, the tree and the bird. Drona replied that Yudhisthira would fail and asks another prince to step forward. The others gave the same reply, and Drona was disappointed with all. But when Arjuna stepped forth, he told Drona that he saw only the eye of the bird and nothing else. Drona asked him to shoot, and Arjuna did strike the bird down in the eye.

One day Arjuna observed that his brother Bhima was eating food in the night in complete darkness. By practice, hands would reach one's mouth even in darkness. This struck Arjuna, and he started to practice archery in darkness. He began training by night to use his weapons in absolute darkness, and steadily achieved a great level of skill.

Drona was greatly impressed by Arjuna's concentration, determination and drive, and promised him that he would become the most powerful warrior on earth. Drona gave Arjuna special knowledge of the devastras that no other prince possessed.

Unfairness to Ekalavya and Karna

The strongest criticism of Drona springs from his behavior towards Ekalavya and his strong bias in favor of Arjuna.[9]

Ekalavya was the son of a Nishadha chief (tribal), who came to Drona for instruction. Drona refused to train him along with the Kshtriya Princes because Ekalavya was not a Prince.

Ekalavya began study and practice by himself, having fashioned a clay image of Drona and worshiping him. Solely by his determination, Ekalavya became a warrior of exceptional prowess, excelling the young Arjuna.

One day, a dog barked while he was focused upon practice, and without looking, the prince fired arrows that sealed up the dog's mouth while not causing any harm. The Pandava princes saw this dog running, and wondered who could have done such a feat. They saw Ekalavya, who announced himself as a pupil of Drona.

Arjuna was worried that his position as the best warrior in the world might be usurped. Also, Eklavya was a threat to the kingdom of Hastinapura. He belonged to a tribe that was antagonistic to the kingdom of Hastinapura and could have become an unconquerable rival. Drona was a loyal servant to the kingdom of Hastinapura. Drona saw his worry, and visited Ekalavya with the princes. Ekalavya promptly worshiped Drona. Drona asked Ekalavya for a dakshina, or a deed of thanks a student must give to his teacher upon the completion of his training. Drona asks for Ekalavya's right thumb, which Ekalavya unhesitatingly cut off and handed to Drona, despite knowing that this would irreparably hamper his archery skills. However at one point, Drona tells his son, Ashwathama, that education is for everyone and that they cannot close the doors of education on anyone. He claims he took Eklavya's right thumb as he did not get his education in the right way but stole his education by watching Drona teach others.

Drona similarly rejected Karna, as he did not belong to the kshatriya caste. The school established by Drona belonged only to the princes of Kingdom of Hastinapura. It was established on request from Bhishma. Drona was not free to accept any other student of any other caste. Humiliated, Karna vowed to exact revenge. He obtained the knowledge of weapons and military arts from Parasurama, by appearing as a brahmin, and challenged Arjuna in the martial exhibition. Thus, Drona inadvertently laid the foundation for Karna's great rivalry with Arjuna.

People often criticize this act of Injustice against Eklavya. The argument is that the duty of the teacher is to teach skills and not become a politician and take decisions in matter of the state. More folklore stories exist that say that Drona was cursed to cry in the war of Kurukshetra in front of his enemies as a simple human being and not a warrior because of the Ekalavya incident. He was cursed by the goddess of the knowledge Devi Sharada. He was also cursed to die without his arms in battle field. Even though Drona had the intentions of protecting Hastinapura he went beyond his domain of being a teacher.

Similarly Drona was criticized for his entry into the Mahabharata War. As he was a teacher and should not have entered into the war. When Drona tried to use divine weapons in the Kurukshetra war there was a akashvani which told him not to use divine weapons in the war in his duty as a teacher to spread knowledge. He had no right to use the divine weapons being a teacher according to the divine announcement. This is one of the reason Drona refrained from the use of divine weapons in the war later.

Drona accepted the curse from Devi Sharda as a punishment as a means of escapting his sin of cheating a student and exponent of excellence by means of his powers and rights. The knowledge belongs to all and one cannot cheat students to achieve something for self or for a promise (Drona had promised Arjuna that Arjuna is going to be the best Archer in the World.). He was thus involved in the war as a teacher where he became part of the brutal and unlawful killing of Abhimanyu.

Drona was an excellent teacher. However he got involved into politics sometimes and left his duty of being an exponent of knowledge. These events subsequently led to his fall at the Kurukshetra War. He was involved in gaining some objectives unethically for the state of Hastinapura. A duty of the teacher is to spread true knowledge to all pupils according to Hinduism without any bias for state or caste. The Supereme Court of India also criticized the act of Dronacharya as unethical upholding everyones right to knowledge.

Revenge upon Drupada

On completing their training, Drona asked the Kauravas to bring him Drupada bound in chains.

Duryodhana appointed Vikarna, the best warrior among the Kauravas, as the army commander. Then he, Dushasana, Sudarshana, Vikarna and the remaining Kauravas attacked Panchala with the Hastinapur army.

They failed to defeat the Panchala army, whereupon Drona sent Arjuna and his brothers for the task. The five Pandavas attacked Panchala without an army. Arjuna captured Drupada, as ordered.

Drona took half of Drupada's kingdom, thus becoming his equal. He forgave Drupada for his misdeeds, but Drupada desired revenge. He performed a yagna to have a son who would slay Drona and a daughter who would marry Arjuna. His wish was eventually fulfilled and thus were born Dhristadyumna, the slayer of Drona, and Draupadi, the consort of the Pandavas.

Drona in the war

Drona became the Chief Commander of the Kuru Army for 5 days of the war.

Drona had been the preceptor of most kings involved in the Kurukshetra War, on both sides.

Drona strongly condemned the sending into exile of pandavas by the wicked prince Duryodhana and his brothers and for their abusive treatment of the Pandavas, beside usurping their kingdom. But being a servant of Hastinapura, Drona was duty bound to fight for the Kauravas, and thus against his favorite Pandavas.

Drona was one of the most powerful and destructive warriors in the Kurukshetra War. He was an invincible warrior, whom no person on earth could defeat. He single-handedly slayed hundreds of thousands of Pandava soldiers, with his powerful armory of weapons and incredible skill.

After the fall of Bhishma, he became the Chief Commander of the Kuru Army for 5 days of the war.

Abhimanyu's killing

See Also: Abhimanyu, Arjuna

The Pandavas' nephew Abhimanyu battles the Kauravas and their allies

On the 13th day of battle, the Kauravas challenged the Pandavas to break a wheel shaped battle formation known as the Chakra Vyuha (see Wars of Hindu Mythology). Drona as commander formed this strategy, knowing that only Arjuna and Krishna would know how to penetrate it. He asked the King of the Samshaptaka army to distract Arjuna and Krishna into another part of the battlefield, allowing the main Kuru army to surge through the Pandava ranks.

Arjuna's young son Abhimanyu was able to penetrate the formation. However, he was trapped when Jayadratha, the king of Sindhu, held the Pandava warriors that were following him, at bay. Abhimanyu did not know how to get out of the Chakra Vyuha, but embarked upon an all-out attack on the Kuru army, killing tens of thousands of warriors single-handedly. He even held Karna and Drona himself at bay. Amazed at his prowess and courage, he was considered by the Kurus to be his father's equal in greatness.

With his army facing decimation, Drona asked Karna, Dushasana and others to simultaneously attack Abhimanyu, to strike down his horses and his charioteer and to disable his chariot from different angles. Left without support, Abhimanyu began fighting from the ground, whereupon all the Kuru warriors simultaneously attacked him. Exhausted after his long, prodigious feats, Abhimanyu was weakened, and grabbing one of the wheels of his chariot, blocked all the attacks, but eventually was killed by the simultaneous attack by seven kaurava warriors.

All this was an extreme violation of the rules of war, whereby a lone warrior may not be attacked by more than one, and not at all if he is disabled or without chariot. This devious murder of his son enraged Arjuna, who swore to kill Jayadratha, whom he saw as responsible for his son's death. If he failed to do so the next day, he would step into fire and commit suicide.

Drona lined up the entire Kuru army, with an entire akshohini (approximately 218700 soldiers) in front of Arjuna, to thwart his mission. But Arjuna exhibited his great prowess, and before the end of the day slayed more than two hundred thousand warriors single-handedly. With the help of Krishna, he slew Jayadratha right before sunset.

On the whole, Arjuna devastated a large portion of the Kuru army dramatically in just one day of fighting.

Yudhisthira's capture and Drona's death

In the war, Yudhisthira was targeted by Drona to get captured. For this plan to be successful, Duryodhana invited King Bhagadatta, who was a son of the asura Narakasur, in order to fight against the Pandavas.

Bhagadatta was the King of Prajokiyatsa (in present-day Assam or Burma). As Krishna had killed his father Narakasur, Bhagadatta agreed to join the Kauravas opposing Krishna. But in spite of Bhagadatta's support, Drona failed to capture Yudhisthira alive. The Kuru commander and preceptor did, however, kill hundreds and thousands of Pandava warriors, thus advancing Duryodhana's cause.

On the 15th day of the Mahābhārata war, Drona got instigated by King Dhritarastra's remarks of being a traitor. He used the Brahmadanda against the Pandavas. Brahmadanda was a spiritual divine weapon that contained the powers of seven greatest sages of Hinduism (Saptarshis). But Drona did not impart this knowledge either to Arjuna or to Ashwatthama. Thus, he proved to be unconquerable on the 15th day of war.

Observing this, Krishna devised a plan to bring down the invincible Drona. Krishna knew that it was not possible to defeat Drona when he had bow and arrow in his hands. Krishna also knew that Drona loved his son Ashwatthama very dearly. So, Krishna suggested to Yudistra and other Pandava brothers that, if he were convinced that his son was killed on the battlefield, then Drona would get dejected to such an extent that he would lay down all his arms on the ground and it would be easier to kill him.

In order to find a way out, Krishna suggested Bhima to kill an elephant by name Ashwatthama and claim to Drona that he has killed Drona's son Ashwathama. Following this plan, Bhima located and killed an elephant named Ashwatthama, i.e. the same name as Drona's son. He then loudly proclaimed that he had slain Ashwatthama, so as to make Drona think that his son was dead.

Drona however, did not believe Bhima's words and approached Yudhisthira. Drona knew of Yudhisthira's firm adherence to Dharma and that he would never ever utter a lie. When Drona approached Yudhisthira and questions him as to whether his son was truly slain in the battle by Bhima, Yudhisthira responded with the cryptic Sanskrit phrase "Ashwatthama hathaha iti, narova kunjarova" (Sanskrit: "अश्वत्थामा हतः इति, नरोवा कुंजरोवा..." meaning 'Ashwatthama is dead. But, I am not certain whether it was a human or an elephant').

Krishna also knew that it was not possible for Yudhisthira to lie outright. On his instructions, the other warriors blew trumpets and conches, raising a tumultuous noise in such a way that Drona only heard that "Ashwatthama is dead", but could not hear the latter part of Yudhishthira's reply.

Drona knew that if Ashwattamma was dead, then his soul must have gone to heaven. So, out of grief, and believing his son to be dead, Drona descended from his chariot, laid down his arms and sat in meditation. Closing his eyes, his soul went to Heaven in search of Ashwathamma's soul.

In the meantime, Drupada's son Dhristadyumna took this opportunity and beheaded the unarmed Drona who was not aware of the whole proceedings on Earth. This was considered an act of cowardice on Dhristadyumna's part.

Drona's soul, which went to Heaven could not find Ashwathama's soul there and so returned to Earth in order to find the truth about Ashwathama's death. But it could not get back into its body as Drona's head was separated from his body.

In this way, Drona was killed in the Mahabharata War. His death greatly aggrieved and enraged Arjuna, who had immense affection towards his teacher, and had hoped to capture him alive rather than killing him.

After Drona's death, Aswatthama, believed it to be his duty to seek revenge. Given that Drona was not killed in a justifiable way, Aswatthama believed his attack to justifiable. His father, Drona, was an invincible warrior as long as he wielded his weapons, and the Pandava army, as well as Krishna, knew this. Drona was the leader of the Kuru army at the time and seemed to be unstoppable. Krishna devised a plan to trick the Kauravas, in specific Drona, into believing that his son, Aswattahma, had died. Bhima had previously killed an elephant whose name ironically was Aswattahma, and Krishna was inspired by the idea of proclaiming that they had killed Aswattahma, not specifying that it was the elephant, not Drona’s son. Yudhisthra said, “ Aswatthama is slain, in an undertone ‘the elephant’”.[10] The plan went through as planned and Drona then dropped his weapons and in the midst of this trickery was beheaded by Drishtayumna. This form of trickery some believe to be adharmic, and even though Krishna devised this scheme, it is believed to be wrong.It is said that the chariot of Yudhisthra , which always stood one feet above ground due to his honesty, came down to the ground level, since, with this act, Yudhisthra become like other mortals.

Modern assessment

Drona was often without doubt, partial towards Arjuna. Any great teacher would feel enthralled if his protege so excels as Arjuna did, thus, so was Drona. Drona was somewhat parallel to Bhishma both in martial prowess, and in his unwavering commitment to fighting for the kingdom of Hastinapura irrespective of who the ruler was and whether or not the cause was just.

Lord Krishna was critical of Drona for remaining a mute spectator and not having protested the humiliation of Draupadi by Dushasana and Duryodhana following the fateful game of dice. He is also criticized for his pride and conceit, siding with evil despite knowing of and acknowledging the righteousness of the Pandava cause. However, he was compelled to side with the Kauravas because he was indebted to their royal household, which had provided him and his family with shelter, wealth and an occupation.

It may also be concluded that he was responsible for the devious murder of Abhimanyu, as it was he who had suggested simultaneously attacking and disabling the tired, outnumbered and trapped warrior. He also acted unfairly, when he demands as Guru Dakshina, payment to the master, the right thumb of Ekalavya who taught himself with Drona as his "Manasika Guru"(Guru in mind). This point is debated as Ekalavya learnt by secretly watching the instruction of the princes. This was tantamount to stealing, and Drona contends that his Guru dakshina was not merely Ekalavya's thumb, but the knowledge that he had stolen. However, he remains a revered figure in Hindu history, and a pillar of the Indian tradition of respecting one's teacher as an equal not only of parents, but even of God.

The Government of India annually awards the Dronacharya Award for excellence in sports tutelage to the best sports teachers and coaches in India.[11]

It is believed that the city of Gurgaon (literally - "Village of the Guru") was founded as "Guru Gram" by Drona on land given to him by Dhritarashtra, the king of Hastinapur in recognition of his teachings of martial arts to the princes, and the 'Dronacharya Tank', still exists within the Gurgaon city, along with a village called Gurgaon.[12]

See also