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Chapter 13: Drona

DRONA, the son of a brahmana named Bharadwaja, after completing his study of the Vedas and the Vedangas, devoted himself to the art of archery and became a great master.

Drupada, the son of the king of Panchala, who was a friend of Bharadwaja, was a fellow-student of Drona in the hermitage and there grew up between them the generous intimacy of youth.

Drupada, in his boyish enthusiasm, used often to tell Drona that he would give him half his kingdom when he ascended the throne. After completing his studies, Drona married the sister of Kripa, and a son Aswatthama was born to them.

Drona was passionately attached to his wife and son, and, for their sake, desired to acquire wealth, a thing that he had never cared for before. Learning that Parasurama was distributing his riches among the brahmanas, he first went to him. But he was too late as Parasurama had already given away all his wealth and was about to retire to the forest.

But, anxious to do something for Drona, Parasurama offered to teach him the use of weapons, of which he was supreme master.

Drona joyfully agreed, and great archer as he already was, he became unrivalled master of the military art, worthy of eager welcome as preceptor in any princely house in that warlike age.

Meanwhile, Drupada had ascended the throne of Panchala on the death of his father. Remembering their early intimacy and Drupada's expressions of readiness to serve him, even to the extent of sharing his kingdom, Drona went to him in the confident hope of being treated generously.

But he found the king very different from the student. When he introduced himself as an old friend, Drupada, far from being glad to see him, felt it an intolerable presumption.

Drunk with power and wealth, Drupada said: "O brahmana, how dare you address me familiarly as your friend? What friendship can there be between a throned king and a wandering beggar? What a fool must you be to presume on some long past acquaintance to claim friend ship with a king who rules a kingdom? How can a pauper be the friend of a wealthy man, or an ignorant boor of a learned scholar, or a coward of a hero? Friendship can exist only between equals. A vagrant beggar cannot be the friend of a sovereign."

Drona was turned out of the palace with scorn in his ears and a blazing wrath in his heart.

He made a mental vow to punish the arrogant king for this insult and his repudiation of the sacred claims of early friendship. His next move in search of employment was to go to Hastinapura, where he spent a few days, in retirement, in the house of his brother-in-law Kripacharya.

One day, the princes were playing with a ball outside the precincts of the city, and in the course of the game, the ball as well as Yudhishthira's ring fell into a well. The princes had gathered round the well and saw the ring shining from the bottom through the clear water. But could see no way of getting it out. They did not however, notice that a brahmana of dark complexion stood nearby watching them with a smile.

"Princes," he surprised them by saying,

"you are the descendants of the heroic Bharata race. Why cannot you take out the ball as anyone skilled in arms should know how to do? Shall I do it for you?"

Yudhishthira laughed and said in fun: "O brahmana, if you take out the ball, we will see that you have a good meal in the house of Kripacharya." Then Drona the brahmana stranger, took a blade of grass and sent it forth into the well after reciting certain words of power for propelling it as an arrow.

The blade of grass straightway sped and stuck into the ball. Afterwards he sent a number of similar blades in succession which clinging together formed a chain, wherewith Drona took out the ball.

The princes were lost in amazement and delight and begged of him to get the ring also. Drona borrowed a bow, fixed an arrow on the string and sent it right into the ring. The arrow rebounding brought up the ring and the brahmana handed it to the prince with a smile.

Seeing these feats, the princes were astonished and said: "We salute you, O brahmana. Who are you? Is there anything we can do for you?" and they bowed to him.

He said: "O princes, go to Bhishma and learn from him who I am."

From the description given by the princes, Bhishma knew that the brahmana was none other than the famous master Drona.

He decided that Drona was the fittest person to impart further instruction to the Pandavas and the Kauravas. So, Bhishma received him with special honor and employed him to instruct the princes in the use of arms.

As soon as the Kauravas and the Pandavas had acquired mastery in the science of arms, Drona sent Karna and Duryodhana to seize Drupada and bring him alive, in discharge of the duty they owed to him as their master.

They went as ordered by him, but could not accomplish their task. Then the master sent forth Arjuna on the same errand. He defeated Drupada in battle and brought him and his minister captives to Drona.

Then Drona smilingly addressed Drupada:

"Great king, do not fear for your life. In our boyhood we were companions but you were pleased to forget it and dishonor me.

You told me that a king alone could be friend to a king. Now I am a king, having conquered your kingdom. Still I seek to regain my friendship with you, and so I give you half of your kingdom that has become mine by conquest. Your creed is that friendship is possible only between equals. And we shall now be equals, each owning a half of your kingdom."

Drona thought this sufficient revenge for the insult he had suffered, set Drupada at liberty and treated him with honor.

Drupada's pride was thus humbled but, since hate is never extinguished by retaliation, and few things are harder to bear than the pangs of wounded vanity, hatred of Drona and a wish to be revenged on him became the ruling passion of Drupada's life.

The king performed tapas, underwent fasts and conducted sacrifices in order to win the gratified gods to bless him with a son who should slay Drona and a daughter who should wed Arjuna.

His efforts were crowned with success with the birth of Dhrishtadyumna who commanded the Pandava army at Kurukshetra and, helped by a strange combination of circumstances, slew the otherwise unconquerable Drona, and birth of Draupadi, the consort of the Pandavas.