Ekalavya was the ideal student in the Mahabharata. He was dedicated to his art such that even after being rejected by his teacher, he mastered archery and eventually became the greatest in the world. He was also willing to do anything for his guru. Even though his “guru” Drona hadn’t actually taught him, Ekalavya cut off his own right thumb to fulfill Drona’s wishes.
In reality, he was the son of Devashrava, Vasudeva’s brother. Hence, he was Krishna’s cousin. But at a young age, a forest tribe adopted him. Eventually, Krishna killed him during an attack on Dwarka.
- Father: Devashrava
- Mother: Kamsavati
- Foster Father: Hiranyadhanus
- Brother: Shatrughna
Birth: Abandoned by His Parents
This story is in the Harivamsa, Harivamsa Parva, Chapter 34
Ekalavya was the younger son of Devashrava, brother of Vasudeva, and Kamsavati. This made him Krishna’s cousin. For an unknown reason, his parents abandoned him at a young age. Eventually, King Hiranyadhanus of the Nishadhas (a forest tribe) adopted and raised him.
“Greatest Archer of his Time”
This story is in the Mahabharata, Adi Parva, Chapter 123
When Ekalavya grew up, he decided to master archery. He approached Drona, the teacher of the Pandavas and Kauravas, and asked that he be accepted as a pupil.
However, Drona replied, “You are a low-caste Nishadha. Therefore, I unfortunately cannot accept you.”
But Ekalavya wasn’t deterred by Drona’s refusal. He was determined to learn archery, no matter what it took. Ekalavya entered the forest and constructed a clay statue of Drona. He worshiped the statue as if it was his real teacher. Soon, with regular practice, he mastered archery. He became the greatest archer of his time.
This story is in the Mahabharata, Adi Parva, Chapter 123
One day, the Pandavas and Kauravas went on a hunting excursion with Drona’s permission. A servant with a dog followed the princes. The dog got separated from its owner and wandered in to the woods. The dog then encountered Ekalavya and began loudly barking.
Ekalavya quickly shot seven arrows into the open mouth of the dog and silenced it. The dog then went back to the Pandavas. The Pandavas were amazed at the sight of the dog. Which impeccable archer had accomplished such a feat!
The Pandavas started searching the woods. In time, the Pandavas came across Ekalavya dexterously discharging arrows from his hunting bow. When the Pandavas asked him who he was, he replied, “I am Ekalavya, son of King Hiranyadhanus of the Nishadhas. I am a pupil of Guru Drona.”
The Pandavas conversed with Ekalavya and then returned to Drona’s hermitage. The Pandavas told him about Ekalavya. But while the other Pandavas were excitedly discussing his feats, Arjuna was in deep thought…
Ekalavya Cuts off his Right Thumb
After the other Pandavas left, Arjuna went up to Drona and expressed his thoughts: “Earlier, you had promised me that I would be your greatest pupil. Why then is Ekalavya superior to me?”
Drona painfully reflected for a moment. Realizing what had to be done, Drona, accompanied by Arjuna, went to meet Ekalavya. Drona said, “Ekalavya, if you are truly my pupil, then you must give me gurudakshina (repaying one’s teacher after education).”
Ekalavya responded, “Guruji, I am grateful to have the opportunity to give you something. Ask for anything, and I shall give it.”
“Well then, give me your right thumb,” Drona demanded. Drona knew that without his right thumb, Ekalavya would never be as good as before. Arjuna would be able to surpass him in archery skills. Without hesitation, Ekalavya cut off his right thumb. Drona and Arjuna then left.
Ekalavya continued practicing archery after the incident, but he was never as good as before.
Ekalavya Joins Jarasandha
This story is in the Harivamsa, Vishnu Parva, Chapters 35 and 42
After learning archery, Ekalavya joined Jarasandha. At that time, Emperor Jarasandha of Magadha was the strongest king in Bharatvarsha. Dozens of kings were under his control. When Lord Krishna killed Kansa, Jarasandha attacked Mathura with many kings, including Ekalavya. He also participated in Jarasandha’s attack on Mount Gomanta.
Krishna kills Ekalavya
This story is in the Harivamsa, Bhavishya Parva
After Bhima killed Jarasandha, Paundraka Vasudeva (an ally of Jarasandha) attacked Dwarka. Ekalavya brought a large army to help Paundraka. To ensure victory, they attacked while Krishna was gone. Satyaki and other Yadavas fought Paundraka and Ekalavya. Meanwhile, Krishna returned and killed Paundraka Vasudeva. Upon seeing his friend’s death, Ekalavya was terrified and ran away. But Krishna wasn’t going to let him go. He chased Ekalavya and eventually caught up. Krishna smashed him against a rock and killed him. Thus, the greatest archer of his time died…
Ekalavya had made the largest sacrifice in history. He was the ideal student and the embodiment of hard work. Then why would Krishna mercilessly kill him? The answer to that question can be found in the Chapter 156 of the Drona Parva of the Mahabharata. In that chapter, Krishna tells Arjuna:
Vasudeva replied, “If Jarasandha, the king of Chedi and the immensely strong Nishadha (Ekalavya) had not been killed earlier, they would have become terrible now. There is no doubt that Suyodhana (Duryodhana) would have chosen those supreme among rathas. They would have always harboured wicked intentions towards us and would have gone to the side of the Kauravas…
It is also for your sake that Drona adopted the disguise of a preceptor and severed Nishadha’s thumb. With his finger guards, the son of Nishadha was firm in his valour. He was as resplendent as a second Rama in the forest. O Partha! Had Ekalavya possessed his thumb, the gods and the danavas, with the rakshasas and the serpents, would never have been able to defeat him in a battle. His fist was firm and he could continuously shoot, throughout the day and night. How could a mere human have looked at him? It is for your sake that I killed him in the field of battle.-Krishna’s Words to Arjuna, Drona Parva
Thus, Ekalavya was one of the most invincible warriors of his time. Krishna also compares him to Lord Rama himself. But due to his unfortunate destiny and Arjuna’s jealousy, he could never be successful.
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