The Dedication of Ekalavya
Eklavya’s Loyalty – A story about dedication and respect

The Dedication Of Ekalavya – A Story About Loyalty And Respect

There's an Indian mythological tale about a boy who has mastered the art of archery through his exceptional dedication, loyalty to his Guru, and sacrifice. Even though the story is believed to be thousands of years old (it’s a part of the Indian oral tradition), it’s still relevant up to this day. Let’s review the legend of Ekalavya and the lessons we can take from it.

About The Legend of Ekalavya

The legend of Ekalavya has been passed down through the generations as an oral tradition in India. It is believed to have originated in the ancient Indian epic Mahabharata, which was composed between the 8th and 9th centuries BCE.

The Mahabharata is one of the two major ancient Indian epics, and it is considered to be the longest epic poem in the world, with over 100,000 verses. The epic tells the story of a great war between two families, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, and contains numerous subplots, fables, and legends, including the story of Ekalavya.

The story of Ekalavya is told in the Adi Parva, the first book of the Mahabharata. It is narrated by the character Vaishampayana to King Janamejaya, who was a descendant of the Pandavas.

The legend of Ekalavya has also been adapted into various forms of media, including literature, theater, and film. These adaptations have helped to popularize the story and bring it to a wider audience.

The Legend of Ekalavya

The Legend of Ekalavya

Ekalavya was a young prince of the Nishada hunters’ tribe from a small village in the forests of Hastinapur in ancient India around 5000 years ago. Even though Ekalavya belonged to the lowest caste by birth, since his childhood he always had a great passion for archery and dreamt of learning the art from the famous Guru, Dronacharya. 

One day, Ekalavya told his father about his dream. He asked his blessing to go to Dronacharya’s Gurukul to become the famous Guru’s disciple and learn the art of archery from him. (*Gurukul is an ancient traditional Indian education system where students (shishya) live with their teacher (Guru) and receive academic, physical, and spiritual education for many years until the learning is complete). 

Ekalavya’s father knew that Dronacharya only accepted royal students and would likely refuse to teach Ekalavya, who was not of royal lineage. Yet, he couldn’t refuse his son and after hesitating for some minutes gave him his blessings and sent Ekalavya away. 

Ekalavya himself was also aware of his Shudra (lowest cast) origin which could prevent him from becoming a Dronacharya’s student. But he still hoped that the Guru would express some kindness and compassion towards him and would allow the boy to join the archery school.

When Ekalavya reached the Dronacharya’s Gurukul, he was very excited to meet the Master. However, when the Guru heard the Ekalavya’s story, he rejected him:

Ekalavya, you are a Shudra, a member of the lowest caste of the kingdom, and belong to the hunter's Nishada tribe. I am a Brahmin, the highest of castes, and a royal teacher of the Pandavas and the Kauravas. All of my students are of royal origin and belong to the warrior caste (Kshatriyas). So, I cannot accept a Shudra boy as my student.

Moreover, one of Dronacharya’s best students, Arjuna (a warrior prince and one of the five Pandava brothers) also spoke up:

Guru Dranacharya is a royal teacher who was appointed by the King to train the princes of the warrior caste. How dare you ask him to become his disciple!? Leave the Gurukul now!

Ekalavya was hurt by these harsh words and left the Gurukul empty-handed. However, his desire to learn archery and dedication to Dronacharya were still unshaken. Determined to learn the art by himself, Ekalavya decided to build a statue of Dronacharya from mud and practice in front of it, considering the statue as his Guru. He believed that training close to his Master (even if he is in the form of a mud statue) would make him progress in archery.

Ekalavya would practice day and night, aiming his arrows at the statue with utmost devotion and dedication. After years of training, he became an excellent archer and surpassed even the royal students of Dronacharya, including Arjuna, in his skills.

One day, a dog entered the forest where Ekalavya was practicing and started barking. Annoyed by the sound, Ekalavya shot 7 arrows in quick succession to fill the dog’s mouth without hurting it. So, the dog was not able to bark any longer and went on roaming around the forest.

The dog then reached the Pandavas and was noticed by Dronacharya and his students. The Guru realized that only a highly skilled archer could have pulled off this kind of trick. So, Dronacharya decided to look for the archer along with his students.

After some time of searching, the Guru and his students stumbled upon Ekalavya's makeshift archery range. They saw a man dressed in hunter’s clothes practicing archery. At first, Dronacharya didn’t recognize Ekalavya. He praised the boy for his talent and asked him who he had learnt from:

Your talent in the archery craft is remarkable! Please, tell me, who’s your Guru?

Ekalavya replied that he considered Dronacharya his Guru. The Master was stunned by the answer:

How can I be your Guru if I’ve never met you before?

The dedicated student then explained:

I’m Ekalavya, the prince of the Nashida tribe who came to your Gurukul and asked to become your disciple years ago. After you refused me, I came to this forest and built a mud idol of you. I prayed and practiced in front of the statue everyday. This way, I learnt everything from you and mastered the art of archery.

Dronacharya remembered Ekalavya and was taken aback. The Guru was deeply impressed by the boy’s accomplishments but couldn’t accept them. He had promised to make his favorite student Arjuna the best archer on the planet, and now he saw that Ekalavya had already surpassed the royal prince. To keep his promise to Arjuna, Dronacharya had to think of a punishment for Ekalavya. He then asked for Ekalavya's Dakshina as his Guru:

Now that I see that you’ve really learnt from me, I would like to ask you to give me a Guru Dakshina.

(*In Indian tradition, Dakshina is a voluntary offering made by a student to a teacher as a mark of respect and gratitude for their guidance and the completion of learning.) 

Ekalavya was overjoyed with the honor and said he would give anything his Guru asks.

Dronacharya then asked Ekalavya to give him his right thumb as his fee, as a way to prevent him from ever becoming a better archer than his own royal students. Ekalavya was shocked at first but then realized the reason behind the demand. He knew that he wouldn’t be able to shoot arrows anymore without his right thumb but still did not hesitate to offer his thumb to his Guru. For him, loyalty and respect to his Guru were more important than his own ambitions:

I would never disobey you, Sir. I am eternally grateful that you recognized me as your disciple even though I am a Shudra.

Ekalavya then took a knife, cut off his right thumb, and placed it at Dronacharya's feet. Everyone, including Dronacharya and Arjuna, was moved by the boy’s courage, loyalty, and dedication. 

Ekalavya was shocked but did not hesitate to offer his thumb to his Guru

Dronacharya blessed Ekalavya and promised to always help him whenever he needed it:

Ekalavya, you will always be known as a great archer, even without your thumb. Moreover, you’ll be remembered as the most dedicated student who demonstrated the utmost loyalty towards his Guru.

After these words, Dronacharya and the royal students left the forest.

Despite his loss, Ekalavya was left with his heart full of respect and love for his Guru, knowing that he had shown true devotion and loyalty. 

Deprived of his right thumb, Ekalavya still didn’t lose his skills as an archer as he later learnt to shoot arrows with his index and middle fingers. His sacrifice became an inspiration to many and a reminder of the importance of respecting and being loyal to one's Guru.

Key Conclusions

The story has been retold in various forms, depending on the source. However, all of the versions of the legend of Ekalavya teach us several important lessons and provide valuable insights into Indian culture and values. Here are some of the key conclusions that we can draw from the story:

  • Dedication and hard work lead to success: Ekalavya's dedication and hard work paid off, and he became an excellent archer despite facing numerous obstacles. His story teaches us that with determination and a willingness to put in the effort, we can achieve any of our goals.
  • The importance of respecting and being loyal to one's Guru: Ekalavya's story also highlights the importance of showing respect and loyalty to one's Guru or teacher. Ekalavya's devotion to Dronacharya, even when it meant sacrificing his own ambitions, is a powerful reminder of the importance of honoring those who have guided us and helped us to achieve success.
  • The power of adaptation and resilience: Despite losing his thumb, Ekalavya did not give up on his dream of becoming a great archer. He adapted and learned to shoot arrows with his index and middle fingers, demonstrating the power of resilience and adaptation in the face of adversity.
Ekalavya demonstrated unquestioning loyalty to his Guru

So, the overall moral of the story can be summarized as follows: you can achieve anything given that you have enough dedication and commitment towards your goals and beliefs.

The legend of Ekalavya is just one of the many Indian tales that are still talked about today. Mahabharata contains many other enlightening masterpieces such as Bhagavad Gita.