Drona was the greatest teacher of his time. He had no peer in his command of the martial arts and sciences. But, at the end of many years of studying and perfecting his skills, he found himself destitute, and with a wife and son to support. He decided to pay a visit to his best buddy from elementary school, who was now King of the minor country of Panchala. Perhaps his friend would arrange for a job.
Paanchala at first received his old friend cordially. But once he realized that Drona was in need of help, his attitude changed. ” A rich man and a poor man cannot be friends”, he said. “Whatever our situation as children, I cannot give you a job now. It is a matter of principle with me not to favor friends in appointments. I can’t give you a gift without insulting your pride. A loan is out of the question: I don’t do business with friends either. I am sorry Drona, you are on your own.”
Drona was furious. He swore that even if he had to eat grass he would get even with his former friend. He would devote his life to revenge.
Drona was not without other connections. His wife’s family was well-off. She was related to the much more powerful Royal House of the Kaurava, which, as it happens, was looking for a tutor for their princes. They were having trouble finding a good teacher because those Kaurava brothers were an unruly lot, a gang of bullies, despised by all even at a tender age. But Drona needed powerful connections if he was to get even with Panchala. His skills were so obvious that he had no trouble being appointed tutor to the Kaurava.
The one good point about the job was that Drona would be teacher also to their cousins, the Pandava brothers. The Pandava and Kaurava were bitter rivals; the Pandava were good in every way that the Kaurava were evil. The eldest, Yudhishtira was the wisest prince in Bharata (ancient India). Arjuna was the most talented archer ever and Bhima the best wrestler. Arjuna became Drona’s favorite. He taught him how to use all the powerful weapons of war; even the Brahmastra which, if unleashed, could annihilate the entire universe. Arjuna was the ideal student. He knew to use his power sparingly, and only in a good cause.
It is the tradition that at the end of their lessons, the students have to offer a gift to the teacher of his (the teacher’s) choosing. Drona’s choice was easy. He wanted them to defeat Panchala in battle, and bring him back as a prisoner. Panchala defeated everyone of the Kaurava brothers and even all the Pandava except for Arjuna. He became Arjuna’s prisoner, and as his Guru wished, was brought to Drona. Drona let him go after Panchala apologized for his disloyalty. He returned to be King of Paanchala again, only his pride injured.
If the story ended here, we would think of this as a morality tale about the need to be loyal to one’s friends. Teachers might be personally weak and underpaid, but they possess an infinite power that is not manifest. You insult them at your peril.
But that is not the real point of the story. For, the person who made the big mistake was not Panchala, but Drona. Yes, Panchala was arrogant and disloyal and was taught a lesson in humility. But his life went on without much disruption after his loss to Arjuna. Panchala’s daughter even ended up marrying Arjuna, and he became the lifelong friend of the Pandava.
But Drona, because of his need for revenge, took responsibility for teaching the evil Kaurava princes. In the climactic battle between Kaurava and Pandava, Drona had to side with the Kaurava because he could not be disloyal to his employers. Drona suffered the worst possible fate for a teacher: killed by his own favorite student Arjuna by the very powers he had taught him. Even Drona’s beloved son perished in the same war.
That is the price of revenge. If Drona could have forgiven his immature friend, he could have afforded to take an ordinary job somewhere. Good enough to support his family and to let him continue his own researches. The need to humiliate Panchala forced him to waste his immense talents on a group of bullies, destroying his own life and his son’s.