Ekalavya (Sanskrit: एकलव्य, éklavya) is a character from the Hindu epic, the Mahābhārata. He was a young prince of the Nishadha, a confederation of jungle tribes in Ancient India. Ekalavya aspired to study archery in the gurukul of Guru Dronacharya (Drona), the greatest known teacher in the use of weaponry and martial art knowledge at the time. He was son of Vyatraj Hiranyadhanus, a talented soldier in the army of King of Magadha.
Ekalavya sincerely sought the mentor of Drona in weaponry and martial art.
Ekalavya is called as one of the foremost of kings in the Rajasuya Yagna where he honours Yudhishthira with his shoes. Though he didn't have his right thumb, he was noted as a very powerful archer and charioteer.
In the Mahabharata, Ekalavya was the son of Hiranyadhanus who was a well known king of the tribes, king of the Nishadas (descendants of Bähuka / Niñäda the person born from King Vena's thighs). He approached Drona to tutor him in the arts of war, especially archery. Drona was a Brahmin teacher appointed by the Royal Family of Hasthinapura to teach the young Kaurava and Pandava princes martial arts. He himself was trained by Parashurama, the sixth incarnation of Vishnu.
Upon reaching Hasthinapur, Ekalavya managed to gain an audience with Drona. Drona was quite impressed by young his sincere desire and he asked Ekalavya about his background. Upon finding out that he was of a lower caste, and that Drona could not accept students of his own will (laws of the Kingdom of Hastinapura), Drona turned him away.  When Arjuna and other pupils of Drona saw Ekalavya, Ekalavya was besmeared with filth, had matted locks (on head), was clad in rags, was bearing a bow in hand and was ceaselessly shooting arrows therefrom.
Deeply hurt by Drona's rejection, Ekalavya returned home, but being resolute and with the will to master archery, he went into the forest and made a statue of Drona. He began a disciplined program of self-study over many years. Eventually, Ekalavya became an archer of exceptional prowess, greater than Drona's best pupil, Arjuna. He accepted the statue as his guru and practised in front of it every single day. His belief that the statue would teach him kept him determined.
One day when Drona and his students were going out into the forest, they saw, Arjuna saw that there was a dog who was unable to bark due to an amazing construction of arrows all around his mouth, that kept the dog from barking yet completely unharmed. Drona was amazed, but also distressed. His favorite student, Arjuna, was the greatest archer in the world. But even Arjuna could not fathom how such a feat could be achieved. Drona and his students investigated, and came upon Eaklavya, practicing archery with a mud statue of Drona looking over him. Eaklavya, upon seeing Drona, came and bowed to him.
Drona asked Eaklavya where he had learnt archery. Eaklavya replied "Under you, Guruji", and showed Drona his statue.
Drona then said "For a Guru to have a pupil, the pupil must be ready to offer his guru a Guru-dakshina". Eaklavya replied "Guru, please ask - all I have is yours". Drona then said "Give me the thumb of your right hand". Eaklavya took out his knife, and without hesitation sliced off his thumb and offered it to Drona.
This incident glorifies Eaklavyas sacrifice and dedication to his guru. However, it also demonstrates the cruel action that Drona takes to preserve the status-quo. 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." What is right? Are means justified by the ends (at least a good end as perceived by Drona)? These themes are constantly raised in the Mahabharatha.
Later life and death
Later, Ekalavya worked as a confidant of King Jarasandha. At the time of the Swayamvara of Rukmini, he acted as the messenger between Shishupala and Rukmini's father Bhishmaka, at the request of King Jarasandha. Ultimately, Bhishmaka decided that Rukmini would marry Shishupala, but instead she eloped with Krishna. Ekalavya is later killed during a conflict between Krishna and King Jarasandha's army.
In Indonesian legend, in a former life Eklavaya was king Phalgunadi, killed by Drona and reborn as Dhrishtadamyuna to avenge the killing. In this version, Arjuna gets his name Phalguna from Phalgunadi. His famous and chaste wife Dewi Anggraini was always faithful to Phalgunadi, even after his death and despite Arjuna's proposals.
- "Ekalavya Honouring Yudhisthira". Retrieved 19 November 2013.
- A. D. Athawale. Vastav Darshan of Mahabharat. Continental Book Service, Pune, 1970
- Dowson, John (1820–1881). A classical dictionary of Hindu mythology and religion, geography, history, and literature. London: Trübner, 1879 [Reprint, London: Routledge, 1979] Encyclopedia for Epics of Ancient India