Drona: 12 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered

Drona Questions Answered - Featured Image - Picture of Drona's face.

Drona is the preceptor of the Kauravas and Pandavas in the Mahabharata. He is the son of Sage Bharadwaja, famously taking birth in an earthen vessel – a ‘Drona’.

Despite being a Brahmin by birth, Drona becomes tired of living a life of penury with his wife Kripa and son Ashwatthama. He comes to Hastinapur in the hope of making his fortune.

Here he is discovered by Bhishma, and given the role of royal teacher to the Kuru cousins.

Throughout his life, Drona considers himself indebted to Bhishma and to the Kuru throne. In the Kurukshetra war, notwithstanding his love for Arjuna and the Pandavas, he fights by Duryodhana’s side and plays an important role – among other things – in the killing of Abhimanyu.

In this post, we will answer all the questions you’ve ever had about Drona.

Contents

  1. How did Drona die?
  2. How was Drona born?
  3. Why did Drona not teach Ekalavya?
  4. Why did Drona like Arjuna the most?
  5. Why did Drona support Kauravas?
  6. Why did Drona go to Hastinapur?
  7. Why was Drona poor?
  8. Why was Drona killed?
  9. Was Drona evil?
  10. Was Drona a Brahmin?
  11. Did Drona teach Karna?
  12. Did Drona go to heaven?
  13. Further Reading

How did Drona die?

Drona dies on the fifteenth day of the Kurukshetra war. Bhima first kills an elephant named Ashwatthama, and then Krishna cajoles Yudhishthir into uttering his famous lie: ‘Ashwatthama hathah.’ Drona immediately renounces his weapons, and Dhrishtadyumna seizes the opportunity to cut off the preceptor’s head.

Between the fall of Bhishma at the end of the tenth day and the afternoon of the fifteenth, Kurukshetra sees a tremendous escalation of violence and ruthlessness under Drona’s watch.

Not only is Abhimanyu killed in gruesome fashion, but the manner in which Arjuna, Satyaki and Bhimasena rout the Kaurava forces on the fourteenth day is unprecedented. The battle carries on into the night, during which Ghatotkacha meets his death.

On the fifteenth day, therefore, both the Pandavas and the Kauravas are slightly on edge, after having to fight for almost two days without proper rest. Into this melee, Krishna announces that until Drona is defeated, the Pandavas cannot hope to win.

Everyone admits that Drona cannot be killed except by unfair means. Krishna says, ‘If Drona realizes that Ashwatthama is dead, he will no longer fight.’ But that raises another predicament: how does one kill the powerful Ashwatthama?

Under Krishna’s careful guidance, therefore, Bhima first kills an elephant named Ashwatthama. He then accosts Drona and insults him for having the chutzpah to keep fighting despite his son’s death.

Drona does not believe Bhima, for he knows his son is much too strong to be killed. He seeks out Yudhishthir and asks him if it’s true. And Yudhishthir, regrettably, says, ‘Ashwatthama is dead.’ Then, after a pause, he clarifies: ‘Ashwatthama the elephant.’

But the pause is long enough. Drona has already thrown away his bow and quiver. He does not hear Yudhishthir’s next words. He sits down to meditate on the terrace of his chariot.

Then, Dhrishtadyumna picks up a sword, leaps into the preceptor’s vehicle, and cuts off his head.

Detailed Answer: How did Drona die?

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How was Drona born?

Drona is the son of Bharadwaja, and he is so named because he takes birth from a vessel. (The Sanskrit word for ‘vessel’ is ‘Drona’.) It is said that Bharadwaja was once consumed by desire for a maiden called Ghritachi, and so overwhelming was this want that he releases his sperm into a vessel.

Drona’s birth is very similar to that of Kripa and Kripi, who are the children of a sage called Saradwata, who is himself the son of Gotama.

Legend has it that Saradwata, when young, is obsessed with the desire to acquire the knowledge of arms and warfare at any cost. He performs severe penances to this end.

Indra, forever cautious about any man practicing self-denial, sends a maiden named Janapadi to distract Saradwata. He is overcome by desire when he meets her, but he does control himself with supreme focus of the will.

However, despite his best efforts, he releases some of his vital fluid onto a clump of heath.

Saradwata abandons the fallen fluid and goes about his business. Meanwhile, the fluid divides into two, and two children – one boy and one girl – are born on the heath. They are fostered in the court of Shantanu, and grow up to become Kripa and Kripi.

Similarly, in Drona’s story, the culprit (so to speak) is Bharadwaja, one of the great sages, and the celestial damsel in question is Ghritachi.

It is said that once the sage was performing ablutions at the source of the Ganga and saw Ghritachi, with her upper garment strategically displaced by the breeze.

Overcome by desire and yet ashamed of it, Bharadwaja releases his fluid into a vessel (a ‘drona’). And after a few months of care, an infant boy develops inside it.

A few years prior, the sage Bharadwaja had presented to Sage Agnivesha the Agneyastra. On the occasion of Drona’s birth, Agnivesha gives the boy the knowledge and science of the divine weapon.

Detailed Answer: How was Drona born?

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Why did Drona not teach Ekalavya?

Drona refuses to teach Ekalavya because of three reasons: (1) He is employed by Bhishma as preceptor to the princes of the Kuru house; (2) He promises Arjuna that he will make him the best archer in the world, and Ekalavya is clearly a competitor; (3) Ekalavaya is a Nishada, and as such, is considered unfit to train under a Brahmin.

At the time of Ekalavya’s approaching Drona and requesting him to accept him as a student, Drona has already been employed by Bhishma as preceptor to the Kuru princes. He is properly compensated for these services in wealth and in kind.

In this capacity, Drona is probably disallowed from teaching the art of war and weapons to students outside of the royal house. While we cannot believe that a contract had been drawn up between Drona and Bhishma to this effect, some agreement of this sort must have taken place.

Also, the keen-eyed Drona will have spotted Ekalavya’s remarkable talent with the bow, and even at this early stage, he would have thought this Nishada prince would later compete with Arjuna with his skill.

Since Drona has already given his promise that he will make Arjuna the best archer in the world, coaching another prodigious talent would have been foolhardy.

Finally, the varna system observed by society as described in the Mahabharata place Brahmins and Nishadas on opposite ends of the spectrum. While Brahmins belong to the highest order, Nishadas count themselves among the lowest.

It hardly ever happened, therefore, that a Brahmin teacher would take on a Nishada student for instruction in any art form – let alone that which is considered the sole domain of Kshatriyas.

Due to the above three reasons, Drona does not accept Ekalavya as his student.

Detailed Answer: Why did Drona not teach Ekalavya?

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Why did Drona like Arjuna the most?

Drona’s love for Arjuna can be said to have four reasons: (1) Arjuna is the most naturally talented of all the Kuru princes; (2) He is most committed to the craft of archery, often practicing at night with blindfolds on; (3) He saves Drona’s life once from crocodiles; (4) He wins the war against Panchala and presents Drupada as dakshina.

During his initial days as the preceptor of the Kuru princes, Drona displays understandable partiality toward Ashwatthama, his son.

But Arjuna wins Drona over by his sheet grit and commitment. One day, while in the middle of dinner, a gust of wind blows out the candle, and to Arjuna’s surprise, his hand continues to feed his mouth in the dark.

‘If my hand could be trained this way to function in the absence of light,’ he asks himself, ‘why can I not train my arms to shoot arrows in similar fashion?’

He sets out then and there, and begins to practice in the palace grounds. Hearing the twang of his bow, Drona comes to watch, and overcome by joy, gives the prince a promise: ‘I shall make you the foremost bowman in the world!’

On another occasion, Drona is attacked by an alligator in the Ganga, and Arjuna saves him from the animal with five well-timed arrows. As reward for this, Drona gives him the Brahmastra, and teaches him the methods of recalling and hurling it.

Finally, Arjuna distinguishes himself further in Drona’s eyes by giving his preceptor the dakshina he demands. He leads a military campaign against the king of Panchala and defeats him in battle. The Pandavas bring him back as prisoner and present him to Drona.

All of these factors combine to make Arjuna Drona’s favourite pupil.

Detailed Answer: Why was Arjuna Drona’s favourite pupil?

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Why did Drona support Kauravas?

Drona supports the Kauravas in the war of Kurukshetra because of a contractual agreement with Bhishma: that he will serve as the royal preceptor of the Kuru court, and will take up arms if necessary to defend the Kuru throne. Drona is also shackled by gratitude toward the Kuru house for pulling him and his family out of poverty.

At the time of Drona’s arrival at Hastinapur, he is essentially a failure at life. He does not have the skills and psychological strength of the great sages, so his chances of attaining name as a Brahmin are slim.

Besides, he does not wish to live the life of penury that a Brahmin is supposed to accept as his lot. He wishes to give material comforts and wealth to his son Ashwatthama and his wife Kripi.

But all he has at his disposal are the weapons and knowledge that he has gained from Parashurama. He arrives in Hastinapur not knowing what direction his life is going to take, and without anything of a plan.

To his good fortune, though, Bhishma happens to be looking for a preceptor to train the Kuru princes at around the same time. So he employs Drona and gives him a permanent seat in the Kuru court.

In exchange, Drona is given living quarters within the palace, not to mention the high status of ‘royal preceptor’.

Bhishma – and by extension the treasury of Hastinapur – plays a big role in pulling Drona out of poverty, and in making him one of the prominent Kuru elders. In return for this, Drona is expected to take up arms and march out into the battlefield if and when the throne of Kuru is under attack.

In the Kurukshetra war, therefore, Drona fights on the side of the Kauravas.

Detailed Answer: Why did Drona support the Kauravas?

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Why did Drona go to Hastinapur?

Drona’s primary aim after the birth of Ashwatthama is to give his son the best possible material comforts in life. He first tries to call a favour with his old friend Drupada of Panchala. But after being snubbed there, Drona decides to go to Hastinapur, where his brother-in-law Kripa lives, and look for prospects.

Once, while living with his wife and son in grinding poverty, Drona notices that Ashwatthama is being ridiculed by his more privileged friends for being a pauper’s son. Kripi sheds a few tears at witnessing this, and Drona assures her that Ashwatthama will eat food that is fit for the gods.

A little while before that, Drona has gone to Sage Parashurama and received from him all the older man’s weapons and knowledge. Armed with this, feeling confident of calling in a long-forgotten promise of King Drupada, they set out to Panchala.

Drupada recognizes his old friend, but gently reminds him that times have changed. ‘I will give you all that you ask for, O Brahmin,’ he says. ‘But can two men like you and me ever be friends?’

This enrages Drona, and instead of accepting Drupada’s alms, he storms out of the palace with a silent promise to himself. He would make sure that he will avenge Drupada’s slight come what may.

On their way out of Panchala, Drona tells Kripi that they should go to Kripa in Hastinapur. Kripa receives his sister, brother-in-law and nephew with open arms, and looks after them well.

It is during Drona’s stay at Kripa’s house that he meets the Kuru princes one day and helps them pull out a ball from a well. From there, he becomes Dronacharya, and ultimately oversees the humiliation of Drupada at the hands of his wards.

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Why was Drona poor?

Drona was the son of Sage Bharadwaja, who was considered one of the great sages of the world but with little wealth to his name. Drona grew up under his father’s tutelage and got married to Kripi, who – as the daughter of another sage Saradwata – also came from humble beginnings. Drona’s life, therefore, was mired in poverty.

This is not, of course, uncommon for Brahmins. Members of this sect were considered to be the spiritual masters of the world, and were expected not to be swayed by normal human emotions such as greed and lust.

The life path for a Brahmin was to study the Vedas, pursue philosophical truths, and assist the kings in governing their kingdoms well. With any luck, you will gather enough merit to bend the elements to your will, and to pass on boons and curses to other mortals.

If, like the seven great sages, you attain the summit of your order, you may even be waited upon by the gods.

However, for the vast number of Brahmins, this level of achievement is a mirage. A regular Brahmin cannot hope to gain the powers of an Agastya or a Vishwamitra. He lives a normal life, with a wife and kids, and with his only marketable skill being his knowledge of scripture.

Drona’s commitment to the Brahmanic life is weak to begin with, and his early association with Drupada gives him a glimpse of how luxurious a king’s life can be. During his years of poverty with Kripi and Ashwatthama, therefore, a part of him always pulls away to imagine himself at a royal court.

Drona was poor because he had poor parents and his skills did not translate into a financially rich life in the society he lived. But like any enterprising man, he learned the art of arms and weapons from Parashurama, and achieved much material success.

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Why was Drona killed?

By the fifteenth day of the Mahabharata war, Drona has been pushed to fight at the peak of his powers, and Krishna fears that unless he is killed, the Pandavas will lose the war. Since Arjuna is the only person who can match Drona, and since he is reluctant to do so, Krishna formulates an underhanded plan which will force Drona to relinquish his weapons.

Krishna’s plan is to make Drona believe in some way or the other that Ashwatthama has been killed. Since Ashwatthama himself is a great warrior who will not easily be defeated, Krishna thinks of a roundabout way involving an elephant and a lie.

First, he asks Bhima to kill an elephant named Ashwatthama. Then he orders everyone to tell Drona that his son is dead. Bhima carries this news to Drona eagerly, taunting the old man with insults, calling him an uncouth Brahmin and such.

Though these barbs sting him, Drona continues to fight, not believing that Bhima is telling the truth. At the end, when he sees Yudhishthir, he asks, ‘Is it true, O son of Dharma? Has my son been killed?’

‘Yes,’ says Yudhishthir. ‘Ashwatthama is dead.’ Then he pauses for a moment before adding, in a lower voice: ‘Ashwatthama the elephant.’ In Sanskrit, the words are Ashwatthama hathah (Ashwatthama is dead) – kunjaraha (the elephant).

The pause is a decisive one, because during it, Drona throws his bow and weapons away. His body shuts down. He seats himself in a yogic pose on the terrace of his chariot.

Krishna’s plan is to take Drona alive and captive, a bit like what happened with Bhishma. But Dhrishtadyumna seizes on this moment, picks up a sword, swoops into Drona’s chariot, and slices off the man’s head – even as Arjuna is calling out to him to stop.

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Was Drona evil?

Drona is, by some standards, evil by association. Though he knows that the Pandavas are in the right and the Kauravas are in the wrong, he is compelled by his loyalty to the Kuru throne to fight against the forces of good. In this respect, he is similar to Bhishma – who is also unable to divorce himself from Duryodhana despite knowing of his wickedness.

Drona lives, on the whole, a blameless life. But for the one questionable deed concerning Ekalavya, he stays for the most part on the right side of morality.

He does not commit any wicked acts in his life. If anything, we can claim that he displays plenty of restraint in how he handles Drupada after the Pandavas have successfully conquered Panchala.

However, if Krishna were to judge him, he would say that Drona’s mistake is one of silence, and of blind loyalty to the throne of Hastinapur.

Despite knowing that the Pandavas are hard done by, he does not stand up to Duryodhana. Despite having the option of withdrawing from the war, he chooses to fight against people he knows are virtuous.

Having said this, we must also question how much authority Drona had in the Kuru hall. When the likes of Dhritarashtra and Bhishma failed with Duryodhana, did Drona have any chance? And if he had truly chosen not to fight in the climactic war, how would history have judged him? As a coward? Or as a wise man?

These are difficult questions. An objective reader will refrain from judging Drona as either good or evil. He is more of a follower of Bhishma’s footsteps, ready to lay down his body and arms for whatever cause the grandsire is willing to fight for.

While Bhishma’s guiding light is his duty to the Kuru throne, Drona is driven by his gratitude and loyalty to Bhishma, who saved him from a life of poverty.

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Was Drona a Brahmin?

Drona was a Brahmin by birth. He was the son of Sage Bharadwaja, who fathered him – in an earthen pot – through the act of spiritual union with a divine nymph named Ghritachi. However, during the course of his life, through close and constant contact with the Kurus of Hastinapur, Drona becomes more of a Kshatriya by behaviour.

Drona gets his name from the Sanskrit word – ‘Drona’ – that means an earthen pot. It is said that his father, Sage Bharadwaja, saw a celestial maiden named Ghritachi, and was so consumed by desire for her that he involuntarily released his seminal fluid.

Since the semen of great men is considered valuable – not least by themselves – Bharadwaja does the only natural thing: he collects his sperm and stores it inside an earthen vessel.

Over the course of time, a foetus begins to develop in this pot, and when the period of gestation is up, Drona is born.

It is therefore right to say that Drona is born a Brahmin, and his lineage is purer than other regular Brahmin children because his birth does not involve the contribution of a woman.

Now, over the course of his life, Drona happens to spend a lot of time with Kshatriya princes: his first contact is Drupada at the hermitage of Bharadwaja; the young prince fills the Brahmin boy’s mind with images of splendour and luxury.

Then, as an adult, Drona throws in his lot with the Kurus of Hastinapur, watching Bhishma closely, and training the five Pandavas and hundred Kauravas in the art of war.

He raises his son Ashwatthama to be a bit of a hybrid: a Brahmin by birth but a Kshatriya by association.

On the fifteenth day of the war, in an attempt to knock Drona off his pedestal, Bhimasena insults him for ruining the honour of the Brahmin order by living a life of luxury and by participating in the war with such bloodlust.

Drona’s life, though, ends in a manner befitting a Brahmin’s. He renounces his weapons and assumes the pose of a meditating yogi. He sends his soul on its upward journey before giving up his body to the sword of Dhrishtadyumna.

Detailed Answer: Was Drona a Brahmin?

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Did Drona teach Karna?

The Mahabharata mentions that Karna is a student of Drona, but only in passing. No significant mention is ever made of him, nor is there an explanation for: (a) why Karna trained under Parashurama, (b) why he appears as a stranger at the graduation ceremony, and (c) how Drona accepted a Sutaputra as a disciple.

At the outset, we must say this: Karna is mentioned in passing as a childhood friend of Duryodhana and as a fellow student of all the Kuru princes. For instance, he is said to have had a hand in the poisoning of Bhima, during which the third Pandava visits the kingdom of the Nagas.

However, these are only one-line mentions.

The presence of Karna as a young man among the Kuru princes training under Drona is utterly inconsistent with the rest of the story. Here are a few things that don’t make sense afterward:

  • If Drona is employed as the royal preceptor by Bhishma, how is it that Karna – a mere son of a charioteer – gains access to the training facilities and resources that are the sole preserve of the princes?
  • If Drona is so protective of Arjuna that he asks for Ekalavya’s thumb to be cut off just to ensure Arjuna’s superiority is confirmed, how is it that he does not sabotage Karna’s talents in similar ways?
  • If the Kuru princes already know Karna and have grown up with him, why does he appear at the graduation ceremony ‘out of the blue’, in the manner of a stranger? Why does Kripacharya have to ask him to reveal his identity?
  • If Karna is already training under Drona, why does he have to go to such great lengths – by disguising himself as a Brahmin, and by lying in other ways – to become Parashurama’s student?

While each of the above points is by itself not enough to conclude either way about the issue, all of them taken together paint a persuasive picture.

Of course, it is still possible that Karna may have trained under Drona – for a short while, perhaps, under special instructions from Bhishma as a favour to Adiratha – but the weight of probability rests on the idea that he did not.

Detailed Answer: Was Karna a student of Drona?

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Did Drona go to heaven?

Despite his many transgressions – the most important of which is his abdication of Brahmin duty – Drona eventually reaches heaven. In fact, his soul is said to have already left his body and to have been rising at the moment Dhrishtadyumna cuts off his neck. He probably spends a little bit of time in hell to atone for his sins, but he is then allowed into heaven.

If we have to make a list of all of Drona’s sins, it may look like this:

  • His general apathy toward the Brahmin way of life, despite the accepted fact in those times that being born a Brahmin is a gift, and is a result of great merit accrued in previous lives.
  • His rejection of Brahmin values like poverty and enthusiastic embrace of material comforts at the Kuru court. His son, Ashwatthama, also grows up with similar values.
  • His cruel handling of Ekalavya, whose thumb he seeks and whose prospects as archer he crushes – all to protect Arjuna’s sense of pride.
  • His long-nurtured grudge against Drupada, to satisfy which he commands his students to invade Panchala and to take the king prisoner. This incident leads directly to the birth of Dhrishtadyumna, his future killer.
  • His masterminding of the killing of Abhimanyu on the thirteenth day of the Kurukshetra war. This serves as the turning point of the war by removing all of Arjuna’s prior-held inhibitions.
  • The sheer number of people who have lost their lives because of Drona’s proclivity toward violence and Kshatriyahood.

While this may seem like a big list, Drona also has honour on his side. He lives his life deeply indebted to the Kuru house, and all his actions are just reflections of the deep loyalty he feels for his master, Bhishma.

In this sense, he is similar to Karna. Where Karna considers Duryodhana his benefactor and god, Drona nurtures similar sentiments toward Bhishma.

For this reason, after his death, Drona endures a short period of time in hell to atone for the afore-mentioned sins. But by the time Yudhishthir reaches heaven at the end his life, Drona is already present at Indra’s hall, partaking of all the luxuries.

Detailed Answer: Did Drona go to heaven?

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Further Reading

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