Eklavya (Sanskrit: एकलव्य, éklavya) is a character from the epic Mahābhārata. He was a young prince of the Nishadha, a confederation of jungle tribes in Ancient India. He was the adopted son of Vyatraj Hiranyadhanus, the king of the outcasts in the Kingdom of Magadha. Ekalavya was in fact a cousin of Krishna who was lost in the forest and then found and raised by the Nishadas. Eklavya 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.
Eklavya sincerely sought the mentorship of Drona in weaponry and martial art. However, since Eklavya belonged to the lower castes, he was denied access to Drona's mentorship. But because Eklavya was self-motivated and was determined to learn from Drona, what he did is a phenomenal feat of dedication and imagination strategized to extraordinary learning activity leading to mastery of the art. Eklavya created an image of Drona and took the image as his guru monitoring and inspiring him. He practiced the arts of Drona in front of Drona's image. When Drona and his more fortunate disciples came to practice in the forest, Eklavya used to secretly watch from behind the trees and build upon those tips by self-practicing and showing his work to the pseudo guru he created himself in the image of Drona.
Eklavya is called as one of the foremost of kings in the Rajasuya Yajna 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, Eklavya was the son of Hiranyadhanus who was King Jarasandha's chief equestrian and was the leader of the Nishadhas (tribal hunters who were part of Jarasandha's army). 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, Eklavya managed to gain an audience with Drona. Drona was quite impressed by young his sincere desire and he asked Eklavya 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 Eklavya, Eklavya 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, Eklavya 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, Eklavya became an archer of exceptional prowess, greater than Drona's best pupil, Arjuna. He accepted the statue as his guru and practiced in front of it every single day.
One day when Drona and his students were going out into the forest, Arjuna saw a dog that was unable to bark due to an amazing construction of arrows all around his mouth. This construction was harmless to the dog, but prevented the dog from barking. 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 Eklavya, practicing archery with a mud statue of Drona looking over him. Eklavya, upon seeing Drona, came and bowed to him.
Drona asked Eklavya where he had learnt archery. Eklavya 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". Eklavya replied "Guru, please ask - all I have is yours". Drona then said "Give me the thumb of your right hand". Eklavya took out his knife, and without hesitation sliced off his thumb and offered it to Drona.
This incident glorifies Eklavya's 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. My goal is to make you the best archer in the world and remove all barriers towards that goal." 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, Eklavya worked as an archduke of King Jarasandha. When Jarasandha planned to besiege Mathura, he was aided by Eklavya who was a skillful archer. Eklavya also helped Jarasandha and Shisupala by chasing Rukmini while she eloped with Krishna. He was later killed by Krishna when he was on his campaign to destroy every Yadava in Dwaraka and Kuntibhoj for avenging Jarasandha's demise.
In India, Eklavya is also used as a name, among several other Indian names derived from ancient scriptures, for instance, Eklavya Mahajan, Eklavya Bangera and Eklavya Srivastava.
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.
- "Eklavya Honouring Yudhisthira". Retrieved 19 November 2013.
- "Eklavya—Foremost of the Kings of Rajasuya Yagna". Retrieved 19 November 2013.
- "Eklavya—A Powerful Archer and Charioteer". Retrieved 19 November 2013.
- "Eklavya's Death". 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