Who was Eklavya?

Who was Eklavya?

Who was Eklavya?

Everyone remembers the story of a poor tribal boy who wanted to study archery under Guru Dronacharya. When the renowned Guru declined to accept him as his student, that boy built a statue of the Guru and started learning by observing the great teacher in action and then practicing under the statue he had built. 

One day when Eklavya was practicing a wild dog kept barking, making it difficult for him to focus. Irritated by this the boy shot multiple arrows inside the dog's mouth and blocked it without fatally wounding the dog. 

When everyone at Drona's academy saw that dog, they were amazed at the skill used in blocking his mouth and wanted to find out who this skilled archer was. They found Eklavya practicing nearby. 

The great teacher asked Eklavya where he had learned archery from and the boy said that Drona was his teacher. Drona's beloved student Arjuna looked at him with disappointment. The boy Arjuna was disappointed because Drona had promised to make him the best archer in the world, while he seemed to have been clearly teaching someone else in secret. 

Drona proved his loyalty towards the Hastinapur throne by asking the boy for his thumb in Guru-dakshina thus limiting his potential as an archer. 

Now this story is often pointed out as how education was denied to a poor tribal boy because of his caste or lineage. How our society during those times was discriminatory? 

But before associating the poor tribal kid image to Eklavya, have we tried to even find out who exactly was Eklavya? Without this knowledge we might be misinterpreting the story.

Eklavya is mentioned only in passing in the epic Mahabharat. As per Mahabharat text Eklavya was the son of Nishad King Hiranyadhanu. His name is later mentioned once again during Yudhishthira's Rajasuya Yajna, where Eklavya is mentioned as one of the guests.

So even if we do not look at any other sources except Mahabharat, Eklavya was not some poor tribal kid. Tribal probably yes, considering Nishads were usually ruling the wilds but poor kid he was certainly not. Hiranyadhanu was an ally of Jarasandha, who was an enemy of Hastinapur. The reason for Drona not accepting Eklavya as his student as per Mahabharat is his allegiance with the enemy kingdom. 

Now if we probe further and look into Harivamsha Purana, we would know that Eklavya was the biological son of Devashrava, a brother of Vasudev. This makes Eklavya Shrikrishna's first cousin. For some reason he was adopted and raised by the Nishad King Hiranyadhanu. Eklavya attacked Mathura multiple times as part of Jarasandha's army and later he even attacked Dwarka. During one such attack on Dwarka, he was killed at the hands of Shrikrishna. 

In Harivamsha there is also mention of Eklavya's son, who was present during the Swayamvar of Rukmini and he fought against Shrikrishna in the battle that followed immediately after. So if Eklavya's son was old enough to attend Rukmini's swayamvar and fought against Shrikrishna, Eklavya must have been much older. This clearly challenges the popular depiction of Eklavya as a young kid in the Drona-Eklavya story.