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I read that Ekalavya was a great archer similar to Arjuna and Karan (Karna). He made himself believe that Dronacharya is his Guru (Teacher) by keeping a statue of Dronacharya.

One day Dronacharya saw Ekalavya and understood the situation that Ekalavya is his disciple.

So why did Dronacharya ask for Eklavya's thumb as his "Guru dakshina" (Teacher's fee) despite knowing that without his thumb, Ekalavya won't be able to shoot arrows anymore?

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Drona believes that only Kshatriyas deserve to learn fighting arts that's why he never taught this skills to non-Kshatriyas. Even he abandoned Karna and Ekalavya. But when he learns that Ekalavya learned better archery then Arjuna because Ekalavya made dog stop barking by using arrows and doesn't even harmed him and Arjun got so amazed then how can be this achieved. Drona asked for thumb so that Ekalavya will lose his skills, making Arjuna the only better archer.

When questioned by Arjuna later, Drona replies "What would happen to society if the lower castes start learning the martial arts reserved for Kshatrias? I had to do this to preserve stability and social order. My goal is to make you the best archer in the world and remove all barriers towards that goal." (Source: Wikipedia).

This is also necessary for Drona to have Kshatriya student to take his revenge. Because Drupada broke his childhood promise of giving Drona his half wealth as a friend. Drona even got succeed in his revenge with the help of Pandavas. Here is a complete story.

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    You mentioned about Drona's revenge without any context. IMO should detail about that too. – Vineet Menon Jun 29 '14 at 12:22
  • @VineetMenon it looked unnecessary to me. I will add it later. – Ankit Sharma Jun 29 '14 at 17:02
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    Wikipedia is not a reliable source; please find a more authoritative one. (E.g. if Wikipedia cites a source, perhaps that can be used?) – ShreevatsaR Jul 1 '14 at 1:39
  • @VineetMenon is it ok now. – Ankit Sharma Jul 1 '14 at 17:27
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    Wikipedia is not reliable here. – Pradip Gangopadhyay Jul 2 '14 at 11:19
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This answer is not my own but one I heard from a guru on the topic of 'samskaaramu' (manners) in this YouTube video (the language spoken is Telugu). His reasoning is something like the following. I found a similar explanation on wiki as well.

Dronacharya is a learned person. A guru. Back then, not everyone was entitled to become a guru/teacher. Today anyone and everyone can become a teacher. You only need to pass an exam to prove your technical skills. There are no exams on ethics, even if there were, people would learn how to crack them. Also, back then, gurus picked their sishyas/disciples/students based not just on their eagerness to learn but also their character/eligibility/qualification.

A dog's dharma is to bark. It may bark when it faces strangers and even when it faces the owner himself with a mask covering his face not recognizing that he is the owner. When Dronacharya saw that Ekalavya used excessive force on a dog in the way that he did using 12 arrows, 6 from the top of the mouth and 6 from the bottom to seal the dog's mouth so it cannot bark again, he thought that someone who is not qualified to possess a skill has somehow acquired that skill and may pose danger to the community. He foresees that Ekalavya if left unchecked, may pose a threat to everyone, hence asks for his thumb as gurudakshina for the general good of the public.

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    Welcome to Hinduism.SE! It's absolutely fine to post a link to a non-English YouTube video. – Keshav Srinivasan Aug 18 '15 at 18:56
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    Your answer proves that true Varna depends alone on Guna not alone on birth or something else. – The Destroyer Jan 28 '16 at 6:03
  • @sv. he carried hatred, vengeance and enemity for drupada inside his heart always. he even insulted the sacred guru dakshina for fulfilling his selfish motives. . he was suitably punished by Drishtadyumna. – Rakesh Joshi Mar 12 '17 at 19:13
  • @RakeshJoshi You mean Drona? Yes, I agree, Drona is also one of the reasons for the Kurukshetra war. Drupada claimed Draupadi and Dhrishtadyumna as incarnations of Gods and that the only purpose of their birth was to destroy the Kuru kings. This motivated all the Panchalas. Mahabharata is a good example of how petty fights like Drona-Drupada can trigger wars on a bigger scale. This is what makes Mahabharata still interesting even today. I think Drona was still alive when Dhrishtadyumna beheaded him until the MB interpolators came along and changed the original story forever! – sv. Mar 15 '17 at 1:20
  • @sv. Yes. That was how Dwapara Yuga. In Dwapara Yuga, even kins fought for throne. But in kali yuga, a person will fight with himself/herself (with good and bad), as kali (filth) enters into मन (mind) of every being. You can see how system is degrading through these yugas. – The Destroyer Mar 15 '17 at 7:16
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I am posting here the Ganguli translation of Mahabharata Adi Parva, Section CXXXIV that deals with the Ekalavya episode which gives the answer to this question:

Vaisampayana continued, “ … 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 smeared 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 concerned 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 would be equal to me. Why then is there a pupil of thine, the mighty son of the Nishada king, superior to me?

Vaisamapyana continued, “On hearing these words, Drona reflected for a moment, and resolving upon the course of action he would 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 touching 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 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 him of his thumb as tution-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.

It was Arjuna's jealousy and his pressure on Drona to keep his promise that led to the tragic incident. There is no caste angle here.

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    This should be accepted answer as it correctly answers OP's question. All other responses are opinions – ukhardy May 15 '15 at 18:55
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    The reason Drona had Ekalavya's thumb cut off may not be related to caste, but the reason why he didn't want Ekalavya as a student in the first place is another matter; the same Adi Parva chapter says "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." He was cognizant of the rules of morality and thus didn't want a low-born Shishya to excel his high-born Shishyas. – Keshav Srinivasan Oct 8 '15 at 22:53
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    @Pradip, quite convenient of you to keep out the excerpt that didn't suit your taste. From the same chapter, "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." – NSF Mar 15 '17 at 10:08
  • @NSFeaster, that quote shows Drona as a snob who knew which side of his bread was buttered. One doesn't ask for a thumb simply because one is a snob. That quote is really irrelevant to this question. – Pradip Gangopadhyay Mar 15 '17 at 13:24
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Though Drona asking Ekalavya's thumb was a consequential "reaction" of Arjuna's jealousy, it was not the reason of asking Ekalavya for his thumb. The art of warfare was reserved among [certain] Kshatriya-s due to their high moral grounds. PAndava-s lead by justful Yudhisthira were such warriors with highest morality.

Drona a Brahman preceptor, was aware that the wars don't happen all the times, but a kingdom made up of society has to be run all the times. So it's better to be in hands of followers of Dharma. For protection of that kingdom, these Dharma people also should be highest among warriors. This was the reason, Drona blessed Arjuna to be the top notch warrior.

When Ekalavya wanted to learn this art, Drona rejected because though Ekalavya was from lower intellectual section, he had the ability to surpass Drona's higher division pupils.

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. [Adi Parva]

Even then, Ekalavya managed to excel Arjuna. So finally he was asked to cut his thumb as Guru dakshina as destined in this answer. However this thumb just reduced the swiftness, but Ekalavya was still indefensible even without thumb.

Drona was right in judgement as Ekalavya later accompanied evil people like Shishupala. Both of them were killed by Lord Krishna.

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I feel that these ancient tales had numerous metaphors. And so asking for thumb is not about literal thumb. Symbolically the thumb represents the ego and also agni tattva which Ekalavya was exhibiting in excess. This is why Drona, a very high calibre guru metaphorically 'cut' it. In those days there was varnashram which is very different from caste system of our kali yug times. Just because we have been taught to say that everyone related to Kauravas is 'villain' does not mean we have to take this literally. Their calibre was to high for us to even imagine today as our lifestyles are not remotely similar. In those days, everyone lived in vanas, which cannot be translated as wild jungle all the time. We live in cities which too have certain safe and certain danger areas. They preferred to wisely preserve their ecology and oshadhi vanas. These obviously required constant protection and care. Those selected to do so were known as Nishad (among others like Shabar). Kshatriyas meant being leaders of warriors(given in dictionary). Arjuna etc. were leaders, Ekalavya etc. were junior warriors so not authorised to do certain tasks. This are intricacies of their law, that we cannot possibly understand today. It was not about Arjun's jealously or caste discrimination. Even today there are rules everywhere that juniors cannot do certain things in their organisation even if they are talented. We cannot get access to senior managers' passwords, files etc. even if we are also educated. That is not discrimination.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    Please consider adding appropriate references to this answer. – DirghaChintayanti Nov 15 '17 at 17:29
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    I urge you to read this post detailing guidelines for answering – DirghaChintayanti Nov 15 '17 at 17:35
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    What is being asked is to mention source(s), if any, and link the source/material if possible that you used to arrive at your answer. For example, "...This are intricacies of their law, that we cannot possibly understand today..." which particular law are you referring to? If it is scriptural, say from Dharma Shaastras, you can improve your answer by providing the link to the same. Another instance, "...Even today there are rules everywhere that juniors cannot do certain things in their organisation even if they are talented...", this can be construed as opinion based without proper reference. – DirghaChintayanti Nov 17 '17 at 13:21
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    Juniors not being allowed to do certain things above their pay grade is not an opinion. It is a fact. Can you name an organisation where juniors are allowed access to any information above their pay grade. Vedic law was complicated just like today. What can't you understand about some facts like that. Please don't waste my time just because you cannot accept my answers. Why don't you provide references yourself for every word you write here. – Sona Parivraj Nov 17 '17 at 13:25
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    Ekalavya was a junior warrior?! and office password stuff XD. You made my day. Where have you read that? 1.Sources are mandatory on this site. It's site policy. SE is not just a random blog. Answers without citation might be removed. 2. When you say you have done a google search, why don't you share that here? 3. Blogs like speaking tree, quora etc., are not authentic sources. 4. None has asked you to tutor us. When you gave an answer, it's your job to write a complete answer. So, you should add sources. – Sarvabhouma Nov 17 '17 at 18:34
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Having better skills than Arjuna, Ekalavya didn't have the ability to use his skills for a good cause.

During the Kurukshetra yudh, Ekalavya supported Kauravas.

Arjuna always followed Dharma when executing his powerful skills.

Guru Dhrona felt that Ekalavya might misuse his strength, so to keep him away from this powerful skills, Dhronacharya asked Ekalavya to donate his thumb as guru dakshina.

This is as per the Bharatam written by Vedya Vyasa.

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We may have to be careful not to inject too much cultural/societal specificity into what is arguably primarily meant to be a spiritual allegory. We know from many saints (contemporary and of the past) that caste is not an outward thing primarily, but of inward status.

Nityananda of Ganeshpuri stated in his gnostic utterances (Chidakash) that, "The one with envy and pride, not a dark skin or worn-out clothes, is an outcaste. The one wearing silken headgear, having wrist watch, crisp expensive clothes but having segregatory attitude (Bheda bhudi), is an outcaste."

It is hard to imagine that such great personages as Drona would be subject to narrow notions of outward caste. A consideration could be that Drona recognized a tendency inside Ekalavya of lacking discrimination such as someone with the inward status of Kshatriya would possess. Also, it was evident that Drona did not reject as disciple Ekalavya, even as he did not reject Kauravas as his disciples. So perhaps demanding Ekalavya's thumb was in fact a preemptive act of war. Although, there are caveats to this theory also, as Drona himself ended up on the Kauravas' side in battle.

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Excerpts from a talk by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:

In India, there is a famous story of Eklavya (a character from the Hindu epic, the Mahābhārata). Eklavya is considered the epitome of a disciple.

As the story goes, Eklavya wanted to learn archery to save the deer in the forest that were being hunted by the leopards. He was the son of a poor hunter. So he went to Dronacharya (a master of advanced military arts) and requested him to teach him archery, but Dronacharya rejected him because he was the teacher of the Royal family, he was a Raj Guru. He was teaching the royal princes of Bharat (India).

In those days, if you are a teacher of the royal princes then you cannot take someone else and teach them archery and make them equal to the prince. It was not considered ethical.

You are teaching archery to the prince so that you make him a great archer, to protect the nation. So you cannot teach someone from the street the same knowledge. It was forbidden to make anyone as powerful as the prince. His duty is to make the prince very powerful, so he cannot create a competitor. Otherwise the nation would not be safe and secure.

So, Eklavya wanted to take Dronacharya as his Guru, but Dronacharya could not accept him. This was the law of the land, that you have to exclusively train the princes.

Nevertheless Eklavya accepted Dronacharya as his Guru, and he went home and made a statue of his Guru. He learnt archery and became even better than the prince. He became an expert. He would just hear the sound of the animal and shoot an arrow at it.

One day, Arjuna, the prince found out about this. He saw that Eklavya was far better than him. So he went to Eklavya and asked him, ‘Who is your Guru?’

Eklavya said, ‘Dronacharya is my Guru’.

Arjuna then goes to Dronacharya and shouts at him. ‘What is this? This is cheating. You are supposed to teach only me, but you taught this man and made him more skilful than me’, he questions Dronacharya.

Dronacharya was baffled as to who was this student of his, whom he had not taught, and who has become a competitor of the prince. Then they both go and meet this boy. Eklavya leads them to the statue that he made of Dronacharya which he considered as his Guru.

Dronacharya then says, ‘You have to give me some Dakshina (a gift as fees for learning)’. He asks Eklavya to give him the thumb of his right hand as a gift (without the thumb there is no archery). Eklavya without a second thought gives the thumb of his right hand to the Guru.

This story is viewed as the Guru to have a very cruel attitude. The boy has learnt on his own, while Dronacharya goes and asks for his thumb taking away his skill. How bad this Guru was! This is one way to see: the Guru robbed the student of his skill. But from the other side, if you see, if it were not for this incident, nobody would have ever known Eklavya.

Though on the outer level it seemed as if Dronacharya had done injustice to Eklavya, but actually Dronacharya uplifted Eklavya because this one act made him immortal. So when people think of devotion, they think of Eklavya, and not Arjuna.

See the greatness of Dronacharya, he took the blame on him and uplifted his student. That is why, even if the Guru is wrong, if your devotion is there you can never go wrong. But the Guru is not wrong, it appears he was partial but he uplifted Eklavya and preserved his Dharma (duty) also. His duty was to maintain the law of the land: You cannot have anyone much better than the prince.

https://niranjani.wordpress.com/2014/07/12/presence-of-guru-brings-wisdom-in-life/

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