Why did Drona support the Kauravas?

Why did Drona support Kauravas - Featured Image - Picture of a man's hands breaking shackles

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: Why did Drona support the 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.

Read on to discover more about why Drona supported the Kauravas.

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

Loyalty toward Kuru

At the time of Drona’s arrival in Hastinapur with wife Kripi and child Ashwatthama, he is essentially a failure at life by all material measures.

He has not succeeded at providing well enough for his family. He has not made a name for himself as a sought-after Brahmin. His command of the Vedas and other scriptures is not at a level that would allow him to become a priest or a preceptor.

His one saving grace is that he has received all of Parashurama’s weapons. He has also been trained by the sage, so Drona is in the curious position of being a Brahmin who is very well-versed in the art of warfare and weaponry.

At the time of his arrival in Hastinapur, Drona has also sought and failed to receive help and kindness from Drupada, his old friend. Drupada, for his part, must have judged Drona’s ‘value’ as near-zero.

From this rock-bottom state, Bhishma gives Drona an offer to train the Kuru princes. In return for his services, Drona receives more than adequate compensation in the form of wealth and status.

After this exchange, Drona remains forever indebted to the house of Kuru.

(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 7: Drona Becomes Acharya.)

Loyalty toward Bhishma

In addition to the debt of gratitude that Drona feels for the Kuru throne (regardless of who sits on it), he also builds a close friendship with Bhishma over the years.

The two of them have plenty of things in common: they have both been once disciples of Parashurama. While Drona is interested in fighting and strategy, Bhishma has always had a bit of a sage within him. Each man, therefore, must have found in the other a lot of attributes worthy of respect.

Another thread that binds Bhishma and Drona are their fates: both of them are wedded to the Kuru throne, the former compelled by duty and the latter by loyalty. Regardless of who the ruler is, the two men have vowed to protect and defend the royal house.

While no explicit information is given about this relationship, it is not unreasonable to suppose that Drona must have seen Bhishma as a bit of a mentor figure.

When it comes time to pick a side during the war, therefore, once Bhishma has made it clear that he will fight on the side of the Kauravas, then it would have been unthinkable for Drona to defect and fight on the Pandavas’ side.

The Ashwatthama Factor

Ashwatthama is the light of Drona’s life. Only after Ashwatthama is born does Drona begin to see dreams of material comfort and riches. As long as it is just him and Kripi, he appears more or less content with a common Brahmin’s lot.

But after they have Ashwatthama, Drona’s ambitions grow manifold. In his wish to better his lot, he hurries to Parashurama when he hears that the old sage is giving away his wealth.

(As luck would have it, he only reaches Parashurama’s hermitage after all the wealth has been distributed, and Parashurama tells him: ‘I only have two things now to give, O Brahmin. My weapons and my body. Choose one!’)

It is only after witnessing Ashwatthama being ridiculed for being a pauper’s son by his friends on the street that Drona resolves to take his wife and son away to Drupada’s palace. And after Drupada snubs him, Drona makes an impulsive decision to move to Hastinapur.

Throughout the childhoods and early youths of the Kuru princes, Ashwatthama finds more in common with Duryodhana and the Kauravas than with the Pandavas. As an adult, Ashwatthama’s sympathies lie more with the sons of Gandhari.

In fact, Duryodhana boasts on one occasion: ‘We need not fear about Acharya Drona’s support. Wherever Ashwatthama is, the preceptor will follow.’

Enmity against Drupada

One other factor that plays an important role in determining Drona’s support during the war is his personal relationship with Drupada.

Drupada and Drona are good friends growing up. But ever since the king of Panchala snubs Drona when the latter comes to him for help, their relationship takes a rocky turn.

Drona nurses this grudge for many years, until he has finished training the Kuru princes. Then, as his dakshina, he orders his wards to invade Panchala, plunder it, and bring back Drupada as prisoner of war to his feet.

(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 9: Invasion of Panchala.)

Drupada nurses this grudge for many years too, and he performs a sacrifice whose sole intention it is to birth the person who will kill Drona. Dhrishtadyumna and Draupadi are both created in this fire, and a divine voice proclaims the former as the death of Drona and the latter as the death of the Kuru empire.

So it is fair to say that the destinies of Drona and the Kuru empire are entwined early on in the story.

Also, given that the forces fighting against the Kuru army for the final battle are primarily comprised of Panchalas and Somakas, with Drupada himself fighting alongside his sons, it is impossible for Drona to even imagine supporting them.


In addition to all the above factors, Drona will also have been swayed by practical matters such as the following:

  • The Kuru kingdom assembles an army that is significantly larger than the army that the Pandavas bring to the battlefield.
  • The Kuru army is being led by Bhishma himself, who has never lost a war, battle or skirmish in his long career. While Arjuna has the same distinction, his life has been much shorter than the grandsire’s.
  • Even if he concedes that Arjuna is the talisman on the other side, it is reasonable to assume that he and Bhishma together can account for Arjuna – leaving the rest of the Kuru army to hold its own.
  • Drona has remained absolutely neutral during the entire Kaurava-Pandava fight, taking care never to make a public statement supporting either side. It is unwise to take a moral stand at the very end after having ignored the debate for years.
  • If he switches sides and fights on the side of the Panchalas, he will invite plenty of ridicule and contempt from all corners. It is a better bet to fight on the side of his masters – who are likely to win anyway.

Due to all of these reasons, Drona fights on the side of the Kauravas in the Kurukshetra war.

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