Ekalavya: Even Vyasa was Unfair to Him
All of us know the episode of Ekalavya of the Mahabharat. We feel
pity for the young and talented forest-dweller whose devotion to Drona, his
master-in-absentia went unrequited, hate the way the great teacher of
archery rendered the young man totally unfit for archery, doubt the talent of
Arjuna the insecure hero of the epic etc, etc. I agree with all these observations. Plus, I’ve my own little observation
Look: Drona, after finding Ekalavya a greater archer than the one
he had groomed in the shape of Arjuna, asked the fellow to tell him who his
master was. Credulous simpleton as he was, Ekalavya said that he had achieved
excellence in archery by the blessings of the idol of Drona whom he used to worship
as his master ever since he was refused to be taught by him. Now Drona, standing before him in bone and flesh, demanded his fee (Guru dakshina, mentor's fee) and stated that the appropriate fee would
be the right thumb of Ekalavya. Upon hearing this, Ekalavya chopped his right
thumb off with his arrow and presented the same to Drona.
So, as the story goes, Ekalavya chopped his right thumb off, not with any knife but with his arrow. The probability is that he did not use the arrow in any other way
than the way an expert archer would have thought appropriate. That was his
dignity; an archer would not like to use his arrow as a sickle. A writer would
not use his pen as a pair of tweezers for extracting a thorn from his foot!
This means that Ekalavya had used bow and arrow with the help of his left hand
and some other limb, say his leg (toe), to chop off his own right thumb. Having
done that, he proved himself an expert archer not as a right-handed person alone
but as an ambidextrous performer, one who had the ability to perform the archery
with either of his hands and with the help of his legs (toes). This is my
explanation. Don’t we find these days expert but differently-abled painters who
paint with their legs?
If the above explanation sounds plausible, then ambidextrous Ekalavya
remained the same expert archer even after the trickery of his notional teacher
Drona deprived him of his right thumb. It is a fact that the epic does not say
if Ekalavya died of bleeding. So he was very much alive even after this
heart-rending episode. Vyasa abruptly left the character thereafter: he was
left to fade out and die. Having been made a victim of exploitation, (and at
least for the sake of compensation) he could have been given some celebrated role in the
war of Mahabharat to prove himself, how he could outlive the trickery and
jealousy. This can be treated as an unintentional omission. Maybe Vyasa had
only this much to show how mean a fellow was Drona and how insecure was Arjun.
Thereafter even Vyasa forgot Ekalavya. In a way, not only Drona and Arjuna were
guilty of dealing with Ekalavya unfairly but also Vyasa, the creator of the
character did not bother to highlight the talent of that forest-dweller when
the fellow had all the qualification for it!
A. N. Nanda