(Kadamba Kanana Swami, 06 September 2016, Cape Town, South Africa, Srimad Bhagavatam 1.9.26)
Vedic culture is all about dharma. The kshatriya is not to become non-violent but they should use their violence only to protect the principles of religion thus they are protectors and not aggressors – not just big guys with big muscles; big bullies where you cross the road when you see one coming down the street. No, this is a sudra with muscles and there are plenty of them. It is not that everyone with big muscles is a kshatriya. The proof of that is Ekalavya who was practicing shooting targets with arrows and wanted to be a disciple of Dronacharya. The story goes as…
Once when the Pandavas and Dronacharya were on a forest excursion hunting, they had a dog with them. At one point, the dog targeted Ekalavya who was dressed in animal skin. The dog was barking at Ekalavya and Ekalavya shot an arrow and wove through the lips of the dog and sealed its mouth! This was quite an extraordinary feat so when Arjuna saw this, he said to Dronacharya, “You told me that you were going to make me the greatest archer in the world but look at this!?”
Then Dronacharya asked Ekalavya, “So, how have to learnt this art of archery… who is your teacher?” Then Ekalavya bowed down and said, “It is you who is my teacher!” Long before, Ekalavya had gone to Dronacharya to be accepted as a student and Dronacharya would not accept him, subsequently Ekalavya had made a statue of Dronacharya, worshipped that statue and continued his training in archery and had become very expert at it.
So when Ekalavya said, “You are my teacher, Guru Maharaj!”
Then Dronacharya said, “You didn’t give me any dakshin!”
Ekalavya, “Whatever you desire…”
Dronacharya, “Give me the thumb of your right hand!” and Ekalavya cut his right thumb and gave it!
So this is a bit gruesome, how could Dronacharya act in such a way? Is this Vedic, is this brahminical… Was there no love… Couldn’t he just accept Ekalavya as his disciple after all his effort and happily say, “You did well my boy…” For all his dedication what did Ekalavya get!? Losing the thumb of his right hand! Was Dronacharya a ruthless brahmana?
This is a bewildering pastime in the Mahabharata but if we look a little deeper, then we understand that kshatriya is not about muscle or arrows or archery… being a kshatriya is about dharma and dedication to dharma then the power, muscles, weapons and violence are meaningful! Violence without adhering to dharma is dangerous. Therefore Dronacharya was not cruel, he understood, “If I let this man out in the world without appropriate dharma, today he closed the mouth of a dog, tomorrow God knows what he will do this ability…”
So Ekalavya gave his thumb and was no longer a great archer but he became a true disciple of Dronacharya but at a price. He was not an archer but he got something else – he got the mercy of Dronacharya. By this sacrifice, he became elevated. In this way, we can see that ultimately Ekalavya got the benediction of what he desired.