Drona was an important figure in the Mahabharata epic. First was his role in teaching the warring cousins, the Pandavas and Kauravas, in the arts of war, and then fighting in a battle with them on opposite sides. His death is also very important and has an entire section of the epic devoted to it; he is a central figure because of his influence over the two main characters of the story. Drona was a Brahmin by birth, but was also a master in the arts of war and he was the best archer in his time. He took up a position to teach these arts to the “grandsons” of Bhisma who were the Pandavas and Kauravas. The Pandavas and Kauravas were cousins who were always trying to best each other in anything they did, and both groups were taught by Drona. Drona’s main part in the Mahabharata occurs when the Pandavas wage war on the Kauravas for banishing them into the forest, after the Kauravas cheated the Pandavas in a game of dice (Menon volume 1:2-4). Drona fights alongside the Kauravas in a bloody battle against his former students, and he is eventually killed (Ly 134-137). Drona’s story actually begins well before he was a great master warrior and had no wealth to his name.
After the birth of his son Asvatthama, Drona set off in the hopes to gain wealth for his family, by becoming the finest archer of his time. He first travelled to Mahendra Mountain, where he had heard that Parasurama Bhargava was giving away all of his possessions. Unfortunately, when Drona reached the top, he was informed by Parasurama that he had already given away everything (Menon volume 1:110-111). He then travelled to the Pancala kingdom where Drupada, an old friend and former student of his father, was king. When Drona was young and Drupada was still a prince, the two became close friends and Drupada had once told Drona, “when I am King, you must come and live with me in my palace. My kingdom will be yours as much as it is mine. Only, we must be friends forever” (Menon volume 1:110). To Drona’s surprise when he met with Drupada, the king would not help him and cast him aside. After being humiliated by the king, Drona, Asvatthama, and his wife Kripa went and lived with Bhisma – Drona’s brother in-law. After a few weeks, Bhisma told Drona that he wanted him to be the martial arts master of his grandchildren and have the wealth that he wanted. He also told him that one-day would stand with Bhisma against the Pancala kingdom even if it meant war. (Menon volume 1:113).
After coming into this newfound position, Drona would start to teach the grandsons of Bhisma, although he is not the biological grandfather since he is celibate; he is more like the granduncle to the Pandavas and Kauravas. Although, before he started to train them, he asked them to promise him that they would help him accomplish a mission that was close to his heart and that if they did, he would make them great Ksatriyas (warriors); without hesitation they agreed. (Menon volume 1:114). One of the Pandava princes, Arjuna, became Drona’s star pupil and the greatest archer that he had ever known. This is for a few reasons, one, Arjuna was the only prince that was allowed to shoot a wooden bird out of a tree since he saw only the bird and nothing else (Menon volume 1:117-119). Secondly, because he also saved Drona’s life, he was bathing in the river Ganga and a crocodile tried to attack him, but before it could, Arjuna shot it through the eye and heart. This was the moment Drona said Arjuna would be the greatest archer in the world (Menon volume 1:120-121). This caused the Kauravas princes to feel upset although they did not say anything.
After many years of training, Drona and his students went to fight Drupada, as this was the mission that Drona’s students had promised to help him accomplish. After a long battle they all defeated Drupada, and with Arjuna’s sword at Drupada’s throat and the ability to kill him, Drona recognized Drupada’s loyalty and forgave him (Menon volume 1:157). Drona only did so because of their long and old friendship. As a sign of good faith, he gave Drupada half of his lands back and the two became friends again. Drupada had his own ulterior motives behind becoming friends with Drona. He had noticed that Arjuna was the greatest warrior he had ever seen and that he wanted him to wed one of his daughters. He hoped that they might have a son who would one day kill Drona for what he had done that day (Menon volume 1:157). For the time being the two remained at peace. Drona ruled the northern Pancala lands and Drupada ruled the remainder of his lands from Kampilya (Menon volume 1:157). Peace, however, did not last forever; due to events at the palace, the Pandavas were exiled to the forest by the Kauravas.
When the Great War described in the Mahabharata ensued, Drona, Asvatthama, and Bhisma fought with the Kauravas in Duryodhana’s armies, while Arjuna and the Pandavas fought against them (Stewart 113). During the battle, Drona fought halfheartedly against his former students. He said that the only way he would be able to defeat the Pandava’s army was if Arjuna was removed from the battlefield (Pilikian 17). Knowing this, one of the king’s stepped forward, offering Arjuna a challenge he could not refuse, so that Drona could then defeat the army (Pilikian 17). Drona and Bhisma were chosen to lead the chariots to victory against the Pandava’s archers. Unfortunately, Bhisma was killed and Drona was appointed commander of Duryodhana’s armies (Pilikian 63). According to The Mahabharata, with Drona as leader of the army, and Arjuna off the battlefield, Drona ‘unleashed his divine arsenal and the Pandavas and Srinjayas were eclipsed beneath his attacks as he went reeving through them like Indra among demons’ (Pilikian 75). Drona “was like a tiger amongst men in the fight”, although he did have remorse and sympathy for the men he was killing, he felt that the fate they suffered was underserved (Pilikian 89). Throughout the battle there were Pandavas soldiers all around Drona yelling “kill Drona, kill Drona” or the war is lost (Menon Volume 2:228).
In order to win the battle, Drona tried to capture Yudhisthira [to try and trick him into a game of dice so they could banish them back to the forest] (Menon volume 2:219). However after Drona killed many Pandava soldiers in order to get close enough to him, Yudhisthira leapt nimbly from his chariot, mounted the swiftest horse he can find and fled (Menon volume 2: 227). In an attempt to capture Yudhisthira again, Duryodhana, (king of the Kauravas) devised another plan to distract Arjuna so Drona might capture Yudhisthira (Menon volume 2:224-224). Once again this plan failed, but this time it was due to Arjuna’s son. Yudhisthira used him to break the Kaurava’s defenses and this lead to Drona and five other warriors to face him (Menon volume 2:228-240). Arjuna’s son was much more powerful than Drona and his men had anticipated and Karna [another warrior of Drona’s] feared that if they didn’t kill him they would all die (Menon volume 2:244-245). Drona and his men had a long, grueling battle against Arjuna’s son, but in the end they sever his bow string, break his bow, kill his horses, his two guards, and then kill him with hundreds of arrows (Menon volume 2:243-246).
Then Drona, during a point in the battle when the fighting had stopped, sat alone at the edge of the field of death and a profound sense of doom came upon him. He thought about Drupada and tears rolled down his face (Menon volume 2:331-332). He remembered of how Drupada prayed for a son to kill him and now that he had killed Arjuna’s son, it was only a matter of time before Arjuna would come after him and try to kill him (Menon volume 2:332-333). This introduces us to the dramatic death of Drona, which occurs in the Drona Parva part of the Mahabharata epic. In order to kill Drona the Pandava’s king, Yudhisthira, lied to Drona saying that his son had been killed in a bloody battle (Ly 134). When Drona heard that his son had been killed, his spirit was broken and the will to fight left him and he laid down his bow (Menon volume 2:341). Before Drona could be killed, however, he picked up another bow and commenced to fight once again. Drona was fear embodied once again. His body was full of an uncanny light (Menon 2:342). Earlier in the epic, Drona had killed three of Bhīma’s sons while he was trying to reach Drupada to kill him. Now with Drona fighting for one last time to avenge his son’s death, Bhima, in disgust, yelled at him that although he was born a Brahmin he has now become a butcher (Menon volume 2:342-343). These words finally made Drona cast aside his bow. The war paused and Drona yelled, “I will not fight anymore, Drona’s war has ended, the rest is left to you”(Menon volume 2:343). Sitting down in his chariot with his legs crossed Drona then shut his eyes and “yokes his spirit”, surrendering his greater self. While this is happening Bhima jumped from his chariot and ran at Drona (Menon volume 2:343). Arjuna wanted to take Drona alive but, could not stop Bhima, who was grieving for the loss of his sons and bent on vengeance, with a swing of his sword Bhima severed Drona’s head from his body, leaving him a lifeless corpse (Menon volume 2: 341-343).
REFRENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING
Pilikian, Vaughan (2006) Mahabharata: Drona Volume 1. New York: New York University Press.
Ly, Boreth. (2003). “Narrating the Deaths of Drona and Bhurisravas at the Baphuon.” Arts Asiatiques 58. 134–37.
Menon, Ramesh (2006) The Mahabharata: A Modern Rendering (volume 1). New york, Lincoln, Shanghai: iUniverse, Inc.
Menon, Ramesh (2006) The Mahabharata: A Modern Rendering (volume 2). New york, Lincoln, Shanghai: iUniverse, Inc.
Stewart, Frank. (2010). “The Mahabharata and Andha Yug: A Brief Summary.” Manoa 22 (1). 111–14.
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Article written by: Adam Geib (February 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.