apprentice ship


In the Hindu epic Mahābhārata, Ekalavya (Sanskrit: एकलव्य, ékalavya) is a young prince of the Nishadha tribes, and a member of a low caste, who nevertheless aspires to study archery in the gurukul of Dronacharya. After being rejected by Drona, Ekalavya embarks upon a program of self-study in the presence of a clay image of Drona. He achieves a level of skill equal to that of Arjuna, Drona's favorite and most accomplished pupil. Fearful that Ekalavya will excel him, Arjuna begs Drona to take action. Drona goes to Ekalavya and demands that Ekalavya turn over his right thumb as a teacher's fee. The loyal Ekalavya cripples himself, and thereby ruins his prospects as an archer, by severing his thumb and giving it to Drona.

Drona's rejection

In the Mahabharatha, Ekalavya is introduced as a young prince of the lowly Nishada tribes. Ekalavya was born to Devashrava (brother of Vasudeva, who was father of Krishna) and was raised by Hiranyadhanus, the leader (King) of the Nishadhas, who was a commander in the army of Jarasandha (the king of Magadha).

Desirous of learning advanced skills of archery, he seeks the tutelage of Drona, the legendary weaponsmaster of and instructor of Arjuna and his brothers. Drona, however, rejects Ekalavya on account of the prince's humble origins.

Self-training in the forest

Ekalavya is undeterred and goes off into the forest where he fashions a clay image of Drona. Worshipping the statue as his preceptor, he begins a disciplined program of self-study. As a result, Ekalavya becomes an archer of exceptional prowess, superior even to Drona's best pupil, Arjuna. One day while Ekalavya is practicing, he hears a dog barking. Before the dog can shut up or get out of the way, Ekalavya fires seven arrows in rapid succession to fill the dog's mouth without injuring it. The Pandava princes come upon the "stuffed" dog, and wonder who could have pulled off such a feat of archery. Searching the forest, they find a dark-skinned man dressed all in black, his body besmeared with filth and his hair in matted locks. It is Ekalavya, who introduces himself to them as a pupil of Drona.


Arjuna fears that Ekalavya may have eclipsed him in skill with the bow. As a result, Arjuna complains to his teacher Drona, reminding Drona of his promise that he would allow no other pupil to be the equal of Arjuna. Drona acknowledges Arjuna's claim, and goes with the princes to seek out Ekalavya. He finds Ekalavya, as always, diligently practicing archery. Seeing Drona, Ekalavya prostrates himself and clasps the teacher's hands, awaiting his order.

Drona asks Ekalavya for a dakshina or deed of gratitude that a student owes his teacher upon the completion of his training. Ekalavya replies that there is nothing he would not give his teacher. Drona cruelly asks for Ekalavya's right thumb, knowing that its loss will hamper Ekalavya's ability to pursue archery. Ekalavya, however, cheerfully and without hesitation severs his thumb and hands it to Drona. For his part, Arjuna is relieved to find that the crippled Ekalavya can no longer shoot with his former skill and facility.

The Mahābhārata is clear that Drona acted in order to protect Arjuna's status as the greatest archer. However, the Mahābhārata does not answer the question whether Drona was ultimately justified. The story thus leaves room for interpretation and moral speculation. As a result, a variety of answers have been proposed to these questions.

  • According to some, Drona wanted to hamper Ekalavya's archery skills because he feared that Ekalavya would use them against Drona's employer, the King of Hastinapur (Ekalavya's father worked for Jarasandh, who was an adversary of the Hastinapur kingdom).
  • Others have alleged that Ekalavya learned all the archery skills by secretly observing the training sessions of Dronacharya. When Dronacharaya found out, he visited Ekalavya to verify his suspicions. Although Drona could have demanded an even greater punishment under the laws in effect at that time, he asked only for Ekalavya's right thumb, thus making useless the archery skills which he had learned secretly.
  • Others still have said that Dronacharya demanded Ekalavya's thumb because the latter was not a Kshatriya, and in those days only Kshatriyas were supposed to get a military education.


Later, Ekalavya worked as a confidant of King Jarasandh. At the time of Rukmini's Swayamvar, he acted as the messenger between Shishupala and Rukmini's father Bhishmaka, at Jarasandh's behest. Bhishmaka decides that Rukmini should marry Shishupala, but instead Rukmini elopes with Krishna. Ekalavya is later killed by Krishna, who hurls a rock against him, in a conflict against Jarasandh's army

Relevance in Modern India

In Indian mythology, Eklavya occupies an important place as someone who exemplifies the nature of Guru-shishya tradition of teaching in India, showing extreme reverence for his guru. The Eklavya institute for Educational research and Innovative action, is an institution dedicated to educational research in India, headquartered at Bhopal. A 2007 Hindi movie, Eklavya: The Royal Guard, places the story of Eklavya in a modern context.

Ekalavya-ism, which is a bhava (ideal or sentiment) in the Mahabharata, is a philosophy of self learning with a meditative mind without physical presence of a Guru something which is technologically possible today. Ekalavya-ism also believes in learning for learnings sake, self perfectionism and the ability to give up power when demanded by a Guru. This closely ties in with the Indian Guru Daivo Bhava philosophy as a Guru was thought to be essential in ones self development. American higher education operates on philosophy of apprentice-ship but the question remains to asked whether with newer technology like tele presence, semantic web and neural augmentation the Guru is actually needed to guide the student.


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