Hundred of years ago, the Kuru dynasty ruled over the kingdom of Hastinapur in north India. Dhritarashtra and Pandu were princes of this dynasty. They were brothers. Pandu had five sons known as the Pandavas. Yudhishthir being the eldest. Dhritarashtra had as many as a hundred sons known as the Kauravas. Duryodhana was the eldest of the Kauravas.
As children, both the Kauravas and Pandavas stayed together in the palace of Hastinapur. They lived under the care of their grandsire Bhishma and renowned gurus like Kripacharya and Dronacharya. The story of Dronacharya comes to us from the famous epic Mahabharata.
Drona was the son of a Brahmin named Bhardwaj. Those days it was customary for the sons of Brahmins to make a detailed study of the Vedas. Living in his father`s ashRama, Drona completed his study not only of the Vedas but of several other holy books as well. When this was done, he turned his attention to the practice of archery. So hard did he work at it that in time he became a legendary archer.
There were several other students living at the ashrama of Bhardwaj. They had come from far and near to study the different branches of learning. One of these students was Drupad, son of the king of Panchal. Drupad and Drona became the best of friends. They spent all their waking hours together, cleaning the hermitage, fetching wood and water, attending to the needs of their guru and studying the Vedas. At night they slept side by side and talked of the future that lay before them.
Drona was the son of a poor Brahmin. He did not expect to inherit any wealth from his father, But Drupad was the son of a king and in time the throne would come to him. Drupad was impulsive by nature. In a burst of generosity he would often make tall promises to Drona to the extent of giving away half his kingdom to his friend. The years at the ashrama were soon over and the two boys drifted apart. Drona grew to manhood and married a sister of another learned Brahmin, Kripa. A son was born to them and they named him Ashwatthama.
After he had married and got a child, a change came over Drona. All these years he had never cared for wealth. He was content with the simplest clothes and the simplest living. But he loved his wife and son so dearly that he wished to provide them with the best of everything. Naturally, the best could not be had without money, so Drona began to crave for wealth. All his efforts came to be bent towards acquiring wealth. But it was not so easy. A few years rolled by, with Drona still leading the life of a very learned but poor man. But he employed his time usefully by learning the art of warfare from experts. In time Drona became an acknowledged master of the military arts.
Meanwhile Drupad had ascended the throne of Panchal, following the death of his father. Drona thought of the wonderful times he and his friend Drupad had as boys in the ashrama of Bharadwaj. He thought of shared lessons and laughter, their rambles through the forest and the stories they had told one another. Most of all Drona remembered Drupad`s promise of sharing his good fortune, even to the extent of giving away half his kingdom to Drona.
Drona went to the court of Drupad. He was sure of receiving a warm welcome from his old friend. But he realized with a shock that Drupad the king was very different from Drupad the student. When Drona introduced himself as an old friend, Drupad`s eyes blazed with anger. He accused Drona for he had dared to consider a king as his friend. Thus Drona was turned out of the palace and the humiliation was more than he could bear. Anger raged in his heart like a fire that would not be put out. Then and there Drona vowed to punish the king for his arrogance and for treating so casually a sacred thing like friendship.
There was nothing to do but look for employment elsewhere. And Drona did just that. He made his way to Hastinapur, the capital of the Kuru dynasty. But by then he was weary of wandering from one place to another. At Hastinapur he spent a few quiet days in the house of his brother-in-law Kripa, who had become the teacher of the Kauravas and Pandavas and was known as Kripacharya, the teacher.
One day Drona went to the outskirts of the city on some business. There he saw some of the Kaurava and Pandava princes playing with a ball. Drona stopped to watch the fun. In the course of the game the ball rolled towards a well. As Yudhishthir leapt forward to grab the ball, a ring slipped from his finger and followed the ball into the well. The princes crowded around the well. They could see the ring clearly, shining at the bottom, but had no means of taking it out. Neither could they retrieve the ball. Their faces fell as they looked around them, not knowing what to do.
Drona noticed the disappointment on the faces of the princes and walked up to them with a smile and offered help to retrieve the ball. Drona plucked a blade of grass. Holding it before him he uttered a certain mantra and sent it flying into the well. The blade of grass sped forward with all the force of an arrow and lodged itself in the ball. Drona sent many more blades of grass in quick succession. They clung together to form a chain. Drona had only to pull at the chain to take out the ball.
The princes were amazed. With a few blades of grass the ball was retrieved. They begged of him to take out the ring as well. Drona borrowed a bow, fixed an arrow to the string and sent it straight into the ring. The arrow curved back in its flight and brought the ring with it. With a smile Drona handed the ring back to Yudhishthir. By now the princes were speechless. They bowed to Drona respectfully and enquyired about his identity.
The princes lost no time running to Bhishma. When they gave a detailed description of the remarkable feats performed by the brahmin, Bhishma knew that it could be none other than the master Drona. Bhishma had been on the lookout for a teacher to instruct the Kaurava and Pandava princes in the use of arms. His choice now fell on Drona. Bhishma sent for Drona, received him with great honour and employed him as instructor to the princes. Drona`s hard days were over. He began to live in comfort. He moved in the company of royalty and was honoured for his skill with weapons. Most important of all, he was able to provide his wife and son with luxuries and this gave him great satisfaction. But he had not forgotten the insult heaped upon him by Drupad. Drona was only biding his time and waiting for an opportunity to take revenge.
The opportunity came when the Kaurava and Pandava princes had acquired master)` in the use of arms. It was time for them to render some service to the master in return for the instruction they had received. This was the custom and was known as guru dakshina. As a service to him, Drona sent Duryodhan and Kama to Panchal to capture Drupad and bring him a prisoner to Hastinapur. Kama and Duryodhan went willingly enough. They were brave men and they tried their best. But Drupad proved more than a match for them and they came back disappointed.
Drona next chose Arjun, the Pandava prince, for the difficult task. Arjun defeated Drupad in battle and brought him before Drona, bound in chains.
Drona greeted his royal prisoner with a smile. In order to take his revenge he kept one half of the land to himself and gave away the other half of the captured land to back to Drupad. He added that both of them were at par then and could be friends.
With these words Drona set Drupad at liberty, returned his entire kingdom and treated him as an honoured guest. But, sad to say, their friendship could not be revived. Two things had destroyed it-first Drupad`s arrogance and later, Drona`s desire for revenge. Drona and Drupad had both been humbled and neither could forget the blow to his pride. In this way two close friends were turned into sworn enemies and remained that way till the end. So much so, that in the battle of Mahabharata, it was the son of Drupad who killed Dronacharya.