Drona in Mahabharata

Bharat Gupt abhinav at DEL3.VSNL.NET.IN
Sun Jun 27 20:26:03 UTC 1999

B. Reusch wrote:
> Here is a philological query I received, hoping it would elicit
> enlightening comments from you. Thanks.
> >       I would appreciate any help with my attempt to understand an
> >apparent incoherence in the Mahabharata's account of Drona's feud with
> >Drupada. For those familiar with the unique text-critical issues of the
> >MBh, I wish to issue a disclaimer: I am not attempting to discern the
> >"original" text for this episode. The episode is basically as follows:
> >       In the Mahabharata, child Drona, son of the sage Bharadvaja,
> >befriends Drupada, the son of his father's friend, King Prsata. When they
> >grow up, Drupada becomes king, and his childhood brahmana friend, Drona,
> >apparently in need of money to support his young family, approaches
> >Drupada to cash in on their old friendship. Drupada, however, haughtily
> >rejects Drona, insisting that a rich, powerful king can hardly be friends
> >with a poor, powerless figure like Drona, the refrain of this conceited
> >sermon being sakhi-purvam kim isyate, roughly "what is the use of old
> >friends?"
> >       Here are the some of my observations, explicitly stated or
> >seemingly entailed by the extant MBh texts:
> >1. The Adi-parva, Ch 121-122 clearly states that Drona first married Krpi,
> >and had a child, the future serial-killer Asvatthaman, BEFORE approaching
> >Drupada.
> >2. Krpi, and her twin-brother Krpa, were adopted children of the great
> >king Santanu, the highly revered grandfather of Dhrtarastra and Pandu.
> >3. Krpa enjoyed an unquestioned status as a well-maintained acarya of the
> >royal Kuru household, and his saintly sister Krpi, Drona's wife, enjoyed a
> >similar, highly respected status.
> >4. This means that Drona must have been a most respectable figure in the
> >Kurus' eyes, since they gave Krpi to him as his wife. Indeed Drona's
> >father is the saintly Bharadvaja.
> >5. This makes Drona a virtual son-in-law of Santanu, a brother-in-law of
> >Krpa, and a type of uncle to the de-facto king, Dhrtarastra.
> >6. That Drona was well-known to the Kurus is seen in the incident where he
> >deftly rescues the ball (or whatever they were playing with) that the Kuru
> >princes had lost in a well. When the princes ask Drona who he is, he says,
> >"Just tell Bhisma about me, and he'll know," and Bhisma does know.
> >       Therefore, here are the problems:
> >1. With such superlative connections to the richest family in the world,
> >how can Drona be a destitute brahmana, who explicitly tells Parasurama,
> >for example, "I come seeking money," and then goes to Drupada?
> >2. Why would Drupada reject Drona as a poor beggar, since Drona had
> >already married into the most aristocratic Kuru dynasty? Drupada mentions
> >later that he was a close friend of Pandu, the departed Kuru king, and
> >that Drupada had always dreamed of marrying his daughter Draupadi to one
> >of Pandu's sons. The texts mention no troubles between the Kurus and the
> >neighboring Pancalas after Pandu's death, and Drona is a member of the
> >Kuru royal household.
> >       In the dialogue between Drona and Drupada, Drupada is a monstrous
> >caricature of a haughty, successful man rejecting his old friend. The
> >whole episode seems problematic.
> >       Have any scholars written on this, to anyone's knowledge? All help
> >will be cheerfully appreciated.
> Beatrice Reusch
> University of California, Berkeley

Juane 28,99
Dear Beatrice Reuch,
It seems to me that Drona's destitution is nothing unusual or inexplicable if one remem-
bers the ancient Indian caste restrictions. Till a generation ago in India, it was
noticeble  in this form of destitution  was often forced upon persons who could find
the job as allowed  to them in their caste.
Drona was a Brahmin, he could earn a reasonable standard of living ONLY by being a
good teacher.  No matter what his family connections he could not have had a share in
the revenues or land holdings or incomes allowed to kshatryiyas. The request made by him
to Drupad should not be seen as demand for money or wealth but for status and patronage.
Even if Drupad had given him half his kingdom, social norms could have permitted Drona
the Brahmin to live the life of a ruling class kshatriya. It would have been compulsory
for Drona to have returned or distributed that wealth among the needy or learned.
Drupad failed in his obligation as a "friend". It is permitted to seek help from  a
friend,  but not from a father-in-law. Even to this day in India , those who proudly
observe the traditional rules of inheritance would not accept a status conferred on
them by the in laws. In ancient society kings often married their daughters to rishis.
But the rishis were not allowed to share kingly wealth. It was a "ritual" to confer a
kingdom on a saint or arishi or a sanyasin, who would return it to the donor to be kept
as "his" property.  Drupad failed not only as a friend but as kshatriya also. These
ways of demonstrating magnanimity and mutual bonds.
I cannot quote any smritis to support my argument. But this was a customary law that
can be seen in many puranic myths.

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