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THE MAHABHARATA ADI PARVA
“And it so happened that one day the child Aswatthaman observing some rich men’s sons drink milk, began to cry. At this I was so beside myself that I lost all knowledge of the point of the compass. Instead of asking him who had only a few kine (so that if he gave me one, he would no longer be able to perform his sacrifices and thus sustain a loss of virtue), I was desirous of obtaining a cow from one who had many, and for that I wandered from country to country. But my wanderings proved unsuccessful, for I failed to obtain a milch cow. After I had come back unsuccessful, some of my son’s playmates gave him water mixed with powdered rice. Drinking this, the poor boy, was deceived into the belief that he had taken milk, and began to dance in joy, saying, ‘O, I have taken milk. I have taken milk!’ Beholding him dance with joy amid these playmates smiling at his simplicity, I was exceedingly touched. Hearing also the derisive speeches of busy-bodies who said, ‘Fie upon the indigent Drona, who strives not to earn wealth, whose son drinking water mixed with powdered rice mistaketh it for milk and danceth with joy, saying, ‘I have taken milk,–I have taken milk!’–I was quite beside myself. Reproaching myself much, I at last resolved that even if I should have to live cast off and censured by Brahmanas, I would not yet, from desire of wealth, be anybody’s servant, which is ever hateful. Thus resolved, O Bhishma, I went, for former friendship, unto the king of the Somakas, taking with me my dear child and wife.
Hearing that he had been installed in the sovereignty (of the Somakas), I regarded myself as blessed beyond compare. Joyfully I went unto that dear friend of mine seated on the throne, remembering my former friendship with him and also his own words to me. And, O illustrious one, approaching Drupada, I said, ‘O tiger among men, know me for thy friend!’–Saying this, I approached him confidently as a friend should. But Drupada, laughing in derision cast me off as if I were a vulgar fellow. Addressing me he said, ‘Thy intelligence scarcely seemeth to be of a high order inasmuch as approaching me suddenly, thou sayest thou art my friend! Time that impaireth everything, impaireth friendship also. My former friendship with thee was for a particular purpose. One of impure birth can never be a friend of one who is of pure birth. One who is not a car-warrior can never be a friend of one who is such. Friendship can only subsist between persons that are of equal rank, but not between those that are unequally situated. Friendship never subsisteth for ever in my heart. Time impaireth friendships, as also anger destroyeth them. Do thou not stick, therefore, to that worn-off friendship between us. Think not of it any longer. The friendship I had with thee, O best of Brahmanas, was for a special purpose. There cannot be friendship between a poor man and a rich man, between an unlettered hind and a man of letters, between a coward and a hero. Why dost thou, therefore, desire, the revival of our former friendship? O thou of simple understanding, great kings can never have friendship with such indigent and luckless wight as thou? One who is not a king can never have a king for his friend. I do not remember ever having promised thee my kingdom. But, O Brahmana, I can now give thee food and shelter for one night.’–Thus addressed by him, I left his presence quickly with my wife, vowing to do that which I will certainly do soon enough. Thus insulted by Drupada, O Bhishma, I have been filled with wrath, I have come to the Kurus, desirous of obtaining intelligent and docile pupils. I come to Hastinapura to gratify thy wishes. O, tell me what I am to do.’
“Vaisampayana continued, ‘Thus addressed by the son of Bharadwaja, Bhishma said unto him, ‘String thy bow, O Brahmana, and make the Kuru princes accomplished in arms. Worshipped by the Kurus, enjoy with a glad heart to thy fill every comfort in their abode. Thou art the absolute lord, O Brahmana, of what ever wealth the Kurus have and of their sovereignty and kingdom! The Kurus are thine (from this day). Think that as already accomplished which may be in thy heart. Thou art, O Brahmana, obtained by us as the fruit of our great good luck. Indeed, the favour thou hast conferred upon me by thy arrival is great.’
“Vaisampayana said, ‘Thus worshipped by Bhishma, Drona, that first of men, endued with great energy, took up his quarters in the abode of the Kurus and continued to live there, receiving their adorations. After he had rested a while, Bhishma, taking with him his grandsons, the Kaurava princes, gave them unto him as pupils, making at the same time many valuable presents. And the mighty one (Bhishma) also joyfully gave unto the son of Bharadwaja a house that was tidy and neat and well-filled with paddy and every kind of wealth. And that first of archers, Drona, thereupon joyfully, accepted the Kauravas, viz., the sons of Pandu and Dhritarashtra, as his pupils. And having accepted them all as his pupils, one day Drona called them apart and making them touch his feet, said to them with a swelling heart, ‘I have in my heart a particular purpose. Promise me truly, ye sinless ones, that when ye have become skilled in arms, ye will accomplish it.’
“Vaisampayana continued, ‘Hearing these words, the Kuru princes remained silent. But Arjuna, O king, vowed to accomplish it whatever it was. Drona then cheerfully clasped Arjuna to his bosom and took the scent of his head repeatedly, shedding tears of joy all the while. Then Drona endued with great prowess taught the sons of Pandu (the use of) many weapons both celestial and human. And, O bull of the Bharata race, many other princes also flocked to that best of Brahmanas for instruction in arms. The Vrishnis and the Andhakas, and princes from various lands, and the (adopted) son of Radha of the Suta caste, (Karna), all became pupils of Drona. But of them all, the Suta child Karna, from jealousy, frequently defied Arjuna, and supported by Duryodhana, used to disregard the Pandavas. Arjuna, however, from devotion to the science of arms, always stayed by the side of his preceptor, and in skill, strength of arms, and perseverance, excelled all (his class-fellows). Indeed, although the instruction the preceptor gave, was the same in the case of all, yet in lightness and skill Arjuna became the foremost of all his fellow-pupils. And Drona was convinced that none of his pupils would (at any time) be able to be equal to that son of Indra.
“Thus Drona continued giving lessons to the princes in the science of weapons. And while he gave unto every one of his pupils a narrow-mouthed vessel (for fetching water) in order that much time may be spent in filling them, he gave unto his own son Aswatthaman a broad-mouthed vessel, so that, filling it quickly, he might return soon enough. And in the intervals so gained, Drona used to instruct his own son in several superior methods (of using weapons). Jishnu (Arjuna) came to know of this, and thereupon filling his narrow-mouthed vessel with water by means of the Varuna weapon he used to come unto his preceptor at the same time with his preceptor’s son. And accordingly the intelligent son of Pritha, that foremost of all men possessing a knowledge of weapons, had no inferiority to his preceptor’s son in respect of excellence. Arjuna’s devotion to the service of his preceptor as also to arms was very great and he soon became the favourite of his preceptor. And Drona, beholding his pupil’s devotion to arms, summoned the cook, and told him in secret, ‘Never give Arjuna his food in the dark, nor tell him that I have told thee this.’ A few days after, however, when Arjuna was taking his food, a wind arose, and thereupon the lamp that had been burning went out. But Arjuna, endued with energy, continued eating in the dark, his hand, from habit, going to his mouth. His attention being thus called to the force of habit, the strong-armed son of Pandu set his heart upon practising with his bow in the night. And, O Bharata, Drona, hearing the twang of his bowstring in the night, came to him, and clasping him, said, ‘Truly do I tell thee that I shall do that unto thee by which there shall not be an archer equal to thee in this world.’
“Vaisampayana continued, ‘Thereafter Drona began to teach Arjuna the art of fighting on horse-back, on the back of elephants, on car, and on the ground. And the mighty Drona also instructed Arjuna in fighting with the mace, the sword, the lance, the spear, and the dart. And he also instructed him in using many weapons and fighting with many men at the same time. And hearing reports of his skill, kings and princes, desirous of learning the science of arms, flocked to Drona by thousands. Amongst those that came there, O monarch, was a prince named Ekalavya, who was the son of Hiranyadhanus, king of the Nishadas (the lowest of the mixed orders). Drona, however, cognisant of all rules of morality, accepted not the prince as his pupil in archery, seeing that he was a Nishada who might (in time) excel all his high-born pupils. But, O oppressor of all enemies, the Nishada prince, touching Drona’s feet with bent head, wended his way into the forest, and there he made a clay-image of Drona, and began to worship it respectfully, as if it was his real preceptor, and practised weapons before it with the most rigid regularity. In consequence of his exceptional reverence for his preceptor and his devotion to his purpose, all the three processes of fixing arrows on the bowstring, aiming, and letting off became very easy for him.
“And one day, O grinder of foes, the Kuru and the Pandava princes, with Drona’s leave, set out in their cars on a hunting excursion. A servant, O king, followed the party at leisure, with the usual implements and a dog. Having come to the woods, they wandered about, intent on the purpose they had in view. Meanwhile, the dog also, in wandering alone in the woods, came upon the Nishada prince (Ekalavya). And beholding the Nishada of dark hue, of body besmeared with filth, dressed in black and bearing matted locks on head, the dog began to bark aloud.
“Thereupon the Nishada prince, desirous of exhibiting his lightness of hand, sent seven arrows into its mouth (before it could shut it). The dog, thus pierced with seven arrows, came back to the Pandavas. Those heroes, who beheld that sight, were filled with wonder, and, ashamed of their own skill, began to praise the lightness of hand and precision of aim by auricular precision (exhibited by the unknown archer). And they thereupon began to seek in those woods for the unknown dweller therein that had shown such skill. And, O king, the Pandavas soon found out the object of their search ceaselessly discharging arrows from the bow. And beholding that man of grim visage, who was totally a stranger to them, they asked, ‘Who art thou and whose son?’ Thus questioned, the man replied, ‘Ye heroes, I am the son of Hiranyadhanus, king of the Nishadas. Know me also for a pupil of Drona, labouring for the mastery of the art of arms.’
“Vaisampayana continued, ‘The Pandavas then, having made themselves acquainted with everything connected with him, returned (to the city), and going unto Drona, told him of that wonderful feat of archery which they had witnessed in the woods. Arjuna, in particular, thinking all the while, O king, Ekalavya, saw Drona in private and relying upon his preceptor’s affection for him, said, ‘Thou hadst lovingly told me, clasping me, to thy bosom, that no pupil of thine should be equal to me. Why then is there a pupil of thine, the mighty son of the Nishada king, superior to me?”
‘Vaisampayana continued, ‘On hearing these words, Drona reflected for a moment, and resolving upon the course of action he should follow, took Arjuna with him and went unto the Nishada prince. And he beheld Ekalavya with body besmeared with filth, matted locks (on head), clad in rags, bearing a bow in hand and ceaselessly shooting arrows therefrom. And when Ekalavya saw Drona approaching towards him, he went a few steps forward, and touched his feet and prostrated himself on the ground. And the son of the Nishada king worshipping Drona, duly represented himself as his pupil, and clasping his hands in reverence stood before him (awaiting his commands). Then Drona, O king, addressed Ekalavya, saying, ‘If, O hero, thou art really my pupil, give me then my fees.’ On hearing these words, Ekalavya was very much gratified, and said in reply, ‘O illustrious preceptor, what shall I give? Command me; for there is nothing, O foremost of all persons conversant with the Vedas, that I may not give unto my preceptor.’ Drona answered, ‘O Ekalavya, if thou art really intent on making me a gift, I should like then to have the thumb of thy right hand.’
“Vaisampayana continued, ‘Hearing these cruel words of Drona, who had asked of him his thumb as tuition-fee, Ekalavya, ever devoted to truth and desirous also of keeping his promise, with a cheerful face and an unafflicted heart cut off without ado his thumb, and gave it unto Drona. After this, when the Nishada prince began once more to shoot with the help of his remaining fingers, he found, O king, that he had lost his former lightness of hand. And at this Arjuna became happy, the fever (of jealousy) having left him.
“Two of Drona’s pupils became very much accomplished in the use of mace. These were Druvodhana and Bhima, who were, however, always jealous of each other. Aswatthaman excelled everyone (in the mysteries of the science of arms). The twins (Nakula and Sahadeva) excelled everybody in handling the sword. Yudhishthira surpassed everybody as a car-warrior; but Arjuna, however, outdistanced everyone in every respect–in intelligence, resourcefulness, strength and perseverance. Accomplished in all weapons, Arjuna became the foremost of even the foremost of car-warriors; and his fame spread all over the earth to the verge of the sea. And although the instruction was the same, the mighty Arjuna excelled all (the princes in lightness of hand). Indeed, in weapons as in devotion to his preceptor, he became the foremost of them all. And amongst all the princes, Arjuna alone became an Atiratha (a car-warrior capable of fighting at one time with sixty thousand foes). And the wicked sons of Dhritarashtra, beholding Bhimasena endued with great strength and Arjuna accomplished in all arms, became very jealous of them.
“O bull among men, one day Drona desirous of testing the comparative excellence of all his pupils in the use of arms, collected them all together after their education had been completed. And before assembling them together, he had caused an artificial bird, as the would be aim, to be placed on the top of a neighbouring tree. And when they were all together, Drona said unto them, ‘Take up your bows quickly and stand here aiming at that bird on the tree, with arrows fixed on your bowstrings; shoot and cut off the bird’s head, as soon as I give the order. I shall give each of you a turn, one by one, my children.’
“Vaisampayana continued, ‘Then Drona, that foremost of all Angira’s sons first addressed Yudhishthira saying, ‘O irrepressible one, aim with thy arrow and shoot as soon as I give the order. Yudhishthira took up the bow first, as desired, O king, by his preceptor, and stood aiming at the bird. But, O bull of Bharata’s race, Drona in an instant, addressing the Kuru prince standing with bow in hand, said, ‘Behold, O prince, that bird on top of the tree.’ Yudhishthira replied unto his preceptor, saying, ‘I do.’ But the next instant Drona again asked him, ‘What dost thou see now, O prince? Seest thou the tree, myself or thy brothers?’ Yudhishthira answered, ‘I see the tree, myself, my brothers, and the bird.’ Drona repeated his question, but was answered as often in the same words. Drona then, vexed with Yudhishthira, reproachingly said, ‘Stand thou apart. It is not for thee to strike the aim.’ Then Drona repeated the experiment with Duryodhana and the other sons of Dhritarashtra, one after another, as also with his other pupils, Bhima and the rest, including the princes that had come unto him from other lands. But the answer in every case was the same as Yudhishthira’s viz., ‘We behold the tree, thyself, our fellow-pupils, and the bird.’ And reproached by their preceptor, they were all ordered, one after another, to stand apart.’”
“Vaisampayana said, ‘When everyone had failed, Drona smilingly called Arjuna and said unto him, ‘By thee the aim must be shot; therefore, turn thy eyes to it. Thou must let fly the arrow as soon as I give the order. Therefore, O son, stand here with bow and arrow for an instant.’ Thus addressed, Arjuna stood aiming at the bird as desired by his preceptor, with his bow bent. An instant after Drona asked him as in the case of others, ‘Seest thou, O Arjuna, the bird there, the tree, and myself?’ Arjuna replied, ‘I see the bird only, but nor the tree, or thyself.’ Then the irrepressible Drona, well-pleased with Arjuna, the instant after, again said unto that mighty car-warrior amongst the Pandavas, ‘If thou seest the vulture, then describe it to me.’ Arjuna said, I see only the head of the vulture, not its body.’ At these words of Arjuna, the hair (on Drona’s body) stood on end from delight. He then said to Partha, ‘Shoot.’ And the latter instantly let fly (his arrow) and with his sharp shaft speedily struck off the head of the vulture on the tree and brought it down to the ground. No sooner was the deed done than Drona clasped Phalguna to his bosom and thought Drupada with his friends had already been vanquished in fight.
“Some time after, O bull of Bharata’s race, Drona, accompanied by all of his pupils, went to the bank of the Ganga to bathe in that sacred stream. And when Drona had plunged into the stream, a strong alligator, sent as it were, by Death himself seized him by the thigh. And though himself quite capable, Drona in a seeming hurry asked his pupil to rescue him. And he said, ‘O, kill this monster and rescue me.’ Contemporaneously with this speech, Vibhatsu (Arjuna) struck the monster within the water with five sharp arrows irresistible in their course, while the other pupils stood confounded, each at his place. Beholding Arjuna’s readiness, Drona considered him to be the foremost of all his pupils, and became highly pleased. The monster, in the meantime cut into pieces by the arrows of Arjuna, released the thigh of illustrious Drona and gave up the ghost. The son of Bharadwaja then addressed the illustrious and mighty car-warrior Arjuna and said, ‘Accept, O thou of mighty arms, this very superior and irresistible weapon called Brahmasira with the methods of hurling and recalling it. Thou must not, however, ever use it against any human foe, for if hurled at any foe endued with inferior energy, it might burn the whole universe. It is said, O child, that this weapon hath not a peer in the three worlds. Keep it, therefore, with great care, and listen to what I say. If ever, O hero, any foe, not human, contendeth against thee thou mayst then employ it against him for compassing his death in battle.’ Pledging himself to do what he was bid, Vibhatsu then, with joined hands, received that great weapon.