Dronacharya and King Drupada: A Story of Revenge and Mercy

Most of us know that the Hindu epic Mahabharat is replete with many interesting anecdotes that teach us many rare life lessons. Let us recall one such anecdote involving the lives of Guru Dronacharya and King Drupada.

Dronacharya and Drupada were disciples in the same Gurukul. Over a period of time, both of them became good friends. Drupada was the only heir to his royal family, and that way, a future king. Dronacharya, on the other hand, was the son of a saint named Bharadwaja, a poor Brahmin by birth. He was therefore worried about his future even though he was skilled in all fronts – academic, warfare, sports, and others. He was an exceptional warrior of that era even though he was a Brahmin, not a Kshatriya who were known to be good at war skills. Drupada, however, was not so skilled; so, he used to seek Dronacharya’s help in all his tasks during their entire tenure in the Gurukul.

One day, it struck to Drupada’s mind that he must express his gratitude to Dronacharya for all his timely help in the tasks he was given at the Gurukul. So, he called on Dronacharya and pledged before him that he would love to help him unconditionally in the time of his need. He also asked Dronacharya to feel free to seek any kind of help whenever there is a need.

Many days passed, and when the time came for both of them to leave the Gurukul after completion of their formal studies, Drupada promised Dronacharya to offer him half of the kingdom, which he would rule over, to alleviate his poverty. Dronacharya was too self-respecting an individual to accept such an offer. He expressed sincere thanks to Drupada for that gesture. He also expressed that he would not hesitate to seek Drupada’s help when there is an absolute need. Thus, they departed.

Time and milieu changed with the changing cosmos. With them were forgotten many a promise and many a pledge. Drupada became the King of Panchala. His growing power and the ensuing prestige boosted his ego, thus converting him to a different person than the one who was Dronacharya’s friend at the Gurukul.

On the other hand, the lady luck did not smile at Dronacharya for quite long. He was still languishing in poverty. By that time, he had married Krupi, the twin sister of Krupacharya, and had become the proud father of Ashwatthama. However, he had to struggle hard to make both ends meet.

On one occasion, when Ashwatthama was being ridiculed by a bunch of his friends, Dronacharya overheard their conversation. The basis of the ridicule was that Dronacharya was not able to afford milk for Ashwatthama, and therefore, Ashwatthama was tricked to believe a beverage made with rice powder as milk. That incident saddened the poor father in Dronacharya and he was not at peace with himself. Over a deep thought, he was reminded of his last meeting with Drupada and his promise. Then, he decided to meet Drupada and beg a few cows to nurture them.

As Dronacharya reached King Drupada’s palace, the gatekeepers were stunned to see him. They did not allow him in, because of his poor attire and dejected look. He was ridiculed more when he called King Drupada as his childhood friend. Despite all that, Dronacharya was hell-bent on meeting the King. That compelled the gatekeepers to pass on his message to the King. King Drupada allowed him entry into his court but did not identify him as his childhood friend. He mocked Dronacharya by saying, “How a rich King and a poor Brahmin be friends?” He ordered the court to present him a few cows as a royal favour and send him back. Pissed off with such unexpected, irrational behaviour of a childhood friend, who once promised to offer him half of his kingdom, Dronacharya returned empty-handed. He cursed his fate and took a promise to take revenge on Drupada at a suitable time later.

The vengeful Drona, leaving aside his interest in the Brahminic studies, made up his mind to teach war skills to the Kshatriyas. His brother-in-law Krupacharya referred his name before Bhishma to train the Kuru Dynasty in war skills. Bhishma took a tough test before offering Dronacharya the new responsibility.

As time passed by, Dronacharya discovered the latent talent of Arjuna, among all others, and trained him meticulously. Thus, Arjuna came up as an undisputed warrior. At the end of the formal training, when the disciples asked Dronacharya about his Guru Dakshina (return gift to the Guru), he desired them to defeat King Drupada in direct war and bring the defeated King to him.

The Kouravas led by Duryodhana were highly ambitious and boastful. So, they jumped the gun and hurriedly raised a war against the Panchala kingdom and were defeated. Duryodhana was taken as a prisoner. Then, the Pandavas reiterated the war against Drupada, to honour their Guru’s wishes and to free Duryodhana as well.

As expected, Arjuna, after a fierce fight, won the war and brought the defeated King Drupada before Dronacharya. Dronacharya blessed Arjuna for his bravery. He then reminded Drupada about their Gurukul days of friendship and his false promise, allowing him to relish his shameful defeat. Drupada was ashamed of his ruthless behaviour. He repented and asked Dronacharya to forgive. Dronacharya was humane enough to listen to his appeal, and forgave Drupada, then and there. But as per Drupada’s promise made earlier, he took away half of the Panchala kingdom and made Ashwatthama the king of that. He returned the other half to Drupada.

The helpless King Drupada pretended to be friendly at that time. But in his heart of hearts, he pledged again to take revenge on Dronacharya for that offence. He came back and arranged to offer prayers to the Almighty seeking divine favor to punish Dronacharya. He performed yajnas, aspiring to father a child who could help him make friendship with Arjuna, be the cause of Dronacharya’s death, and wipe away the Kuru Dynasty forever, directly or indirectly.

King Drupada’s prayers were heard, and he was blessed with a son Dhrushtadyumna, who later killed Dronacharya in the Mahabharata war, and a daughter Draupadi who married Arjuna, thus helping his father make friendship with him, and was the sole indirect reason for the end of Kuru Dynasty.

Lessons learnt:

  • Strong determination can win you a battle even when you are ill-equipped – you may need to have a good stock of patience.
  • Hatred and vengeance may lead you to a certain destruction.

[Published earlier at StoryMirror]

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Lord Krishna and His Modest Friend Sudama

Lord Krishna brought an end to His maternal uncle Kamsa’s evil acts by scripting his death in a unique manner. Afterwards, Ugrasena, Kamsa’s father, was made the King of Mathura. But Lord Krishna and His elder brother Balarama were declared as the princes of Mathura. And as princes, they did have to complete their formal education for which both of them were sent to the ashram of Sage Sandipani. They completed their academics as well as war art in a year alone. There, in the ashram, Lord Krishna befriended a Brahmin boy, Sudama.

As part of the Gurukul system of education, the disciples in the ashram had to take exams to prove their learning progress. Sage Sandipani was known for his novel way of examining the all-round skills of his disciples. He used to expose his disciples to various tests in course of their daily activities rather than having formal tests.

On one occasion, Lord Krishna and Sudama were sent to deep forest to collect firewood required for holy fire (yajna). Anticipating any untoward challenges in their mission, the Sage’s wife tied a handful of rice fry (khuda bhaja) in one end of Sudama’s robes. As anticipated, there came a sudden heavy downpour while both of them were deep inside the forest. They had to take shelter atop a huge tree throughout the rainy night. Morning after, when rain subsided and they returned to the ashram, Sage’s wife wanted to know the experience of the dreadful dark night inside the dense forest. During the conversation, Sudama fell on her feet and confessed to have eaten the rice fry all alone without sharing a portion with Lord Krishna. Lord Krishna was surprised to know of that episode.

Sage Sandipani, after analyzing the incidents, showed his displeasure with Sudama and said, “Poor fellow, that was a test of your loyalty to your friend. That was ‘treated rice fry’. You owned up poverty for the rest of your life by gulping the rice fry all alone.” Lord Krishna was shocked at this and prayed the Sage to forgive Sudama’s mistake. But the Sage expressed his helplessness in that and suggested to accept the sorry fate and live on.

Few years later when Lord Krishna was ruling over Dwaraka as a prince, Sudama was struggling hard to make both ends meet. Many a time, Sudama’s wife suggested him to meet Lord Krishna and ask for his help, but he would not listen to the counsel due to his self-respect. But his respect and loyalty for his friend Lord Krishna was intact. When things became really tough, Sudama persuaded himself to meet Lord Krishna in Dwaraka. Coincidentally, Sudama had nothing other than a handful of rice fry to offer his old friend when they would meet.

A handful of rice fry for the King of Dwaraka! Sudama wasn’t at peace with himself after thinking about that. After reaching Dwaraka, he was astonished to see the riches there and was desperately trying to hide his gift that he brought for his friend. But the omniscient Lord Krishna came to the scene and warned Sudama not to repeat a past mistake. He snatched the handful of rice fry from Sudama and ate that all with happiness, sharing a portion with his queens.

Sudama’s self-respect did not allow him to reveal anything about his abject poverty before his childhood friend Lord Krishna. So what he treasured before he left for his village was Lord Krishna’s friendship and hospitality. But there happened a miracle in Sudama’s village in his absence: his modest hut was transformed into a palace with riches galore. When Sudama reached home and got to see all that, he could realize that those were the deeds of Lord Krishna. As he thanked him for getting him out of the abyss of poverty, Lord Krishna appeared in his mind’s eye and told, “There’s nothing to thank me for. You had eaten up my share of rice fry and had owned up my share of poverty too. And today when you returned my share of rice fry, I returned you your share of riches. That is the ruling of Providence. I was only waiting for an opportune moment when I could make you debt-free.

Lesson learnt: The ability to forget and forgive is a true measure of the depth of friendship. Unless you are ‘you’ with your friend, there are a few more tests to pass to approve your relation as friendship.