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In the Hindu epic Mahābhārata, Eklavya (Sanskrit: एकलव्य, éklavya) is a young prince of the Nishadha, a confederation of jungle tribes in Ancient India, who aspires to study archery in the gurukul of Dronacharya. He is son of Vyatraj Harinyadhanu. His father was a soldier in the army of King of Magadha. The kingdom of Magadha was ruled by Jarasandha at that time. The relations between Magadha and the Kingdom of Hastinapura were not friendly. After being rejected by Drona on account of his not being of Kshatriya lineage, Eklavya embarked upon a program of self-study in the presence of a clay image of Drona. He achieves a level of skill superior to that of Arjuna, Drona's favorite and most accomplished pupil. Drona eventually comes to know this and asks Eklavya for his introduction. Eklavya tells him about himself and his family. Drona feels this mighty warrior will become a force with the enemy kingdom of Magadha. Drona gets worried and demands that Eklavya turn over his right thumb as gurudakshina. The loyal Ekalavya cripples himself, thereby reducing his abilities as an archer.
In the Mahabharata, Eklavya, was born a Nishada. But he wanted to become an archer, and he started learning archery on his own. He knew perfectly well – his elders told him – “No teacher is going to accept you.”
Drona was the Brahmin teacher appointed by the Royal Family of Hasthinapura to teach the young Kaurav and Pandav princes the military skills that the princes needed to learn. One of these skills includes archery.
Ekalavya is the son of a Nishada king 'Hiranya Dhanyu".
Upon reaching Hasthinapura, Eklavya managed to meet Drona and requested him to accept him as his student. Drona was quite impressed by young Eklavya’s sincere interest and keen desire to learn, and more so, to master the art. Consequently, Drona started inquiring about Eklavya’s background and family and learned that Eklavya was born into a Nishada family. Drona being a Brahmin teacher, and more than that, being the teacher of princes, could not accept him. Drona was an employee of the Kingdom of Hastinapura and was not free to accept students on his will.
Eklavya was deeply hurt by Drona’s refusal. Disappointed but still firm on his ambition to learn archery, Eklavya left the palace. Eklavya returned to his home in the jungle and made a statue of Drona. He accepted the statue of Drona as his guru and practiced in front of the statue every single day. His belief that the statue would teach him kept Ekalavya going. One day the young Kaurava and Pandava princes from Hastinapur came hunting with their teacher Drona in the jungle where Eklavya lived. While the princes were hunting around in the jungle, they camped for the night. That happened to be "amavasya" (no moon day) and dark was the night. A wild dog started barking and was disturbing everyone's sleep, but no one gathered the courage to go in the dark and shut the dog up. Everyone was getting frustrated not getting any sleep, then suddenly the sound of a shooting arrow was heard and then the sound of the wild dog dying. The next morning the princes woke up and saw the wild dog dead. Arjuna one the princes, who was supposed to be the best student of archery was so amazed at this and approached Drona to fine out how someone was able to shoot in the pitch darkness but so accurately. Drona told him it is called "shabda bhedi" (aiming based on sound) skill in archery and that Arjuna is still not at the stage to learn that skill (one has to learn how to shoot accurately by seeing first and then learn how to shoot based on sound direction). Everyone wanted to find who was the great archer who could shoot in total darkness so accurately. Drona mapped the direction of the arrow and lead his students to the place from where the arrow came. There they found Ekalavya practicing archery. Drona recognized him and asked him if it was he who shot the wild dog the night before. Ekalavya confessed that it was him and that he shot it because like everyone else he was not able to sleep because the wild dog was constantly barking. Ekalavya was of the same age as the princes and Arjuna was very disappointed at seeing someone of his age being better and more advanced than him in archery. Arjuna happens to be Drona's favorite student. Upon seeing Arjuna's sadness, Drona told him that he would still make Arjuna the best in archery, though Arjuna lost all hope that he was so behind in his studies and that Ekalavya was already much advanced in the archery.
Drona asked Ekalavya who his teacher was. Ekalavya bowed to Drona with respect and replied, "Acharya (Sir), it is you who taught me everything I learnt". Arjuna got suspicious that Drona who promised to make him the best in the world, was secretly teaching another student. Drona was amazed at Ekalavya's answer and asked him how he could be teaching him while he was teaching the royal princes in the palace. Ekalavya pointed to the life size statue of Drona that he made. He said he accepted Drona in the statue form as his teacher and learnt everything from him. Drona by now remembered everything about eklavya. Eklavya belonged to a tribe which was antagonistic to the kingdom of Hastinapura. His father Vyatraj Harinyadhanu was a soldier in the army of Jarasandha. Jarasandha was the king of Magadha and was a enemy to kingdom of Hastinapura. Dronacharya owed his loyalty to the kingdom of Hastinapura. Drona asked Ekalavya to give "Guru Dakshina" (teaching fee). Ekalavya said that Drona can ask for anything he wants for Gurudakshina and he would give it. Drona observed that Ekalavya uses his right hand and thumb to shoot arrows and he asked Ekalavya to cut his right hand thumb and give it to him as "Guru Dakshina". Ekalavya without any hesitation, cut off his thumb and gave it to Drona. Thus, Drona made Arjuna the best archer in the world.
Ekalavya is called as one of the foremost of kings in the Rajasuya Yagna where he honors Yudhishtara with his shoes . He is noted as very powerful, though deprived of his thumb . Arjuna later defeated the mighty Ekalavya in battle  & killed him, where Ekalavya was hailed as resplendent & looking like Rama , matching Arjuna in battle for a long time.
Ekalavya is determined to master archery, and goes into the forest. He begins a disciplined program of self-study over many years. Eventually, Ekalavya becomes an archer of exceptional prowess, greater than Drona's best pupil, Arjuna.
One day while Ekalavya is practicing,he hears a dog barking. Before the dog can shut up or get out of the way, Ekalavya fires seven arrows in rapid succession to fill the dog's mouth without injuring it. The Pandavas come upon the dog, and wonder who could have accomplished such a feat. Searching the forest, they find a dark skinned young man, dressed in all black with long hair and strong muscles. He introduces himself as Ekalavya, a pupil of Drona..
Upon hearing of the incident, Drona is impressed but also angered. When the young man presents himself to Drona, the guru accepts him but demands his right thumb (which is essential to position an arrow on the bow-string) as gurudakshina. Ekalavya complies, but cripples himself and thereby ruins his abilities as an archer.
According to the Mahābhārata, Drona was fulfilling his dharma to protect the fated superiority of Arjuna. He has been criticized by some scholars for demanding something that was not his due. The deterministic suggestion also points out the contradiction that if Arjuna's superiority was truly fated, Ekalavya's mastery of archery would have no consequence on the destiny of the Pandavas. In Mahabharata, Drona tells his son 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.
Others have suggested that Dronacharya suspected Ekalavya learned his skill by secretly observing the training sessions of Arjuna and his brothers. In this scenario, although Drona could have demanded an even greater punishment for covert martial training under the law of the time, he asked only for Ekalavya's right thumb.
Ekalavya has been lauded by many Indians, including Adivasis, as a paragon of achievement who achieved great heights of accomplishment through his own self-initiative, to which the nobles of the Kuru house could only aspire through formal tutelage. Ultimately, however, the Mahābhārata does not settle these moral ambiguities, and leaves the tale open to speculation and discussion. Ekalavya later learned to shoot again using only four fingers and left-handed and was a mighty warrior hailed in several places in the Mahabharata.
Later, Ekalavya worked as a confidant of King Jarasandha. At the time of the Swayamvara of Rukmini, he acted as the messenger between Shishupala and Rukmini's father Bhishmaka, at the request of King Jarasandha. Ultimately, Bhishmaka decided that Rukmini would marry Shishupala, but instead she eloped with Krishna. Ekalavya is later killed during a conflict between Krishna and King Jarasandha's army.
In Indonesian legend, in a former life Eklavaya was king Phalgunadi, killed by Drona and reborn as Dhrishtadamyuna to avenge the killing. In the this version, Arjuna gets his name Phalguna from Phalgunadi. His famous and chaste wife Dewi Anggraini was always faithful to Phalgunadi, even after his death and despite Arjuna 's proposals.