Who killed Dronacharya (Drona)?

Who killed Drona - Featured Image - Picture of a wolf representing deception of Yudhishthir

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.

In the Kurukshetra war, 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 the question: Who killed Dronacharya?

Dronacharya is technically killed by Dhrishtadyumna, who performs the act when the preceptor is meditating. But the Mahabharata says that by this moment, Drona’s soul had already left the body. If we accept that as true, it is the lie of Yudhishthir that killed Drona. The true killer of Dronacharya is therefore Yudhishthir.

Read on to discover more about who killed Dronacharya.

(For answers to all Drona-related questions, see Drona: 12 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)

The Fifteenth Day

Drona’s existence becomes a matter of grave concern for the Pandavas on the fifteenth day of the Mahabharata war. By this time, the acharya has been pushed to the limits of his patience.

Not only has he failed repeatedly in his promise to Duryodhana that he will capture Yudhishthir, his temporary victory on the thirteenth day with the killing of Abhimanyu turns into a serious setback on Day 14, with the way in which Arjuna retaliates.

Despite building an impregnable array on the fourteenth day, despite arranging the entire army in such a way as to protect Jayadratha, Drona fails.

All of this simmering anger and resentment finds expression on the fifteenth day.

Goaded by Duryodhana, and also by his own pride, Drona begins to throw caution to the wind – much like Bhishma before him – and fights against the Pandava forces like a man possessed.

He does not pay attention anymore to rules or guidelines of fair fighting. He uses celestial weapons with abandon, aiming them at prince and pauper alike.

This brings Krishna to the conclusion that unless Drona is removed from the picture, the Pandavas will soon have no army with which to fight.

Krishna’s Role

Krishna knows that Arjuna is the only warrior on the Pandava side capable of defeating Dronacharya in a fair duel.

But Krishna also knows this: that Arjuna can never be persuaded to land the telling blows on Drona. His love for the preceptor, Krishna knows, is in some ways deeper than his love for Bhishma even.

Also, Bhishma was magnanimous enough to tell them exactly how to kill him, but Drona is not likely to be so kind. Drona will fight tooth and nail right down to the last smidgen of his strength.

Drona will, therefore, have to be prised out by hook or crook – probably crook.

So Krishna chooses to propose a solution to the Pandava brothers as a whole. And he says, ‘The only way you are going to win this war is by removing Drona. And the only way to remove Drona is to ensure he lays down his weapons.’

This is true, as far as it goes. Given Arjuna’s reluctance, the only way the Pandavas can defeat Drona is by creating a set of circumstances which will force the acharya to renounce his weapons.

Bhima’s Idea

The idea given by Krishna births a question: What would persuade Drona to lay down his weapons?

And the answer to that is: the death of his son, Ashwatthama. This is a bit of a discouragement for the Pandavas, because Ashwatthama is no slouch with his weapons either. Killing Ashwatthama is not going to be a simple matter.

It is at this moment that Bhima suggests lying to Drona. ‘Why do we have to actually kill Ashwatthama?’ he asks. ‘Why can be just not tell Drona that his son is no more?’

It is a pertinent – if amoral – question. The Kurukshetra battlefield is a large one. If the Pandavas lie competently enough, they can easily deceive Drona into thinking that Ashwatthama is dead.

But Yudhishthir has qualms about this. He rejects outright the notion of lying to their preceptor.

So, to placate Yudhishthir’s worry, Bhima and Krishna offer an alternative. ‘Bhimasena will kill an elephant named Ashwatthama,’ says Krishna, ‘and then you don’t have to lie to the acharya, Yudhishthir.’

Yudhishthir’s Half-lie

This elaborate step of constructing a half-lie turns out in hindsight to be important. Drona, after being besieged by Bhima’s taunts for a long time – about how dishonourable it is for a Brahmin to fight after his son is dead – seeks out Yudhishthir.

He knows that while Bhima might have no qualms about lying, Yudhishthir will never swerve from the truth.

Drona is torn here between two ideas: one is that if it is true that Ashwatthama has been killed, then he must relinquish his arms. No two ways about it. But the other thought is that Ashwatthama cannot have been killed – because he is such a powerful warrior.

In any case, he finds Yudhishthir and asks if the news that Bhima has brought him is true.

And Yudhishthir utters his famous half-lie. He says, ‘Ashwatthama hathah.’ Which means ‘Ashwatthama has been killed.’ After a pause, he says, ‘Kunjaraha.’ Which means ‘The elephant.’

But in the pause that Yudhishthir allows himself, Drona has already gone into shock. The second of the ideas that are playing in his mind has been quelled.

Now he knows – because Yudhishthir has confirmed it – that Ashwatthama is dead. Therefore he has to lay down his weapons.

So he throws his bow and quiver away. He calls farewell to all his fighting colleagues. And he sits down in the terrace of his chariot to meditate.

Dhrishtadyumna’s Destiny

By this moment, Krishna’s plan has worked almost to a fault. The only snag came when Yudhishthir dithered with his lie, but he had paused for long enough. Drona has given up his arms.

Krishna and Arjuna’s preference, at this point, is to capture Drona and take him prisoner, and keep him away from action until the war ends. In this way, like Bhishma, Drona will be ‘removed’ from battle but not killed.

But neither Krishna nor Arjuna takes into account Dhrishtadyumna’s inner thoughts.

Not too long ago in the war, Drona had killed Drupada. Dhrishtadyumna would have been seething for revenge. Also, Bhima and other Pandava warriors have repeatedly reminded Dhrishtadyumna that his destiny is to kill Drona.

Now, right in front of him, Dhrishtadyumna sees opportunity.

Opportunity to avenge his father’s death. Opportunity to win honour for himself. Opportunity to fulfil his destiny.

The only obstacle in his path is the irksome rule in the war manual that says one must not strike a meditating opponent. But hadn’t Satyaki killed Bhurishrava just the previous day in exactly the same circumstances?

If he could, thinks Dhrishtadyumna, why can’t I?

So he jumps onto Drona’s chariot, sword in hand. He holds the acharya’s head with one hand. He steadies himself. Then he severs Drona’s head from his body with one swipe of the sword.

When did Drona die?

The text in the Mahabharata then informs us that though Dhrishtadyumna exulted in his feat, what he did kill was only a mere shell, and that by the time his weapon sliced through Drona’s neck, the acharya’s soul had already left his body.

If this is true, then it is not Dhrishtadyumna who killed Drona.

It is Yudhishthir, who dealt the fatal blow by telling the lie that Drona needed to hear to believe that his son is no more.

It is Bhima and Krishna, who hatched the plan to formulate the half-lie that Yudhishthir felt comfortable enough to utter despite being a strict adherent to virtue and truth.

Further Reading

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