… continued from A Promise Made Under Duress
Several years passed since Drupada graduated and left sage Bharadwaja’s school. He was now the king, after Prishata’s passing. With the Himalayas in the north, the Yamuna in the west and south, and the holy Ganga running through its heart, Panchala was a big, fertile and much sought after kingdom. A close alliance with Hastinapura to its west always kept it safe from invaders. A strong economy, potent military and the popular, powerful and just namesake dynasty ensured its place in history. A distinguished position in the court of the Panchala king would ensure prosperity and financial assurance for life.
Sage Bharadwaja had also passed into the sands of time, making Dronacharya default guru of the hermitage. But his focus on military training instead of core education and statecraft caused a general decline in the disciple count at the school. A few years of severe drought only aggravated the situation, forcing him to sell or abandon parts of the vast estate. His marriage to Kripi during this time and the subsequent birth of Ashwatthama made circumstances even more difficult for Drona. Living in poverty and quickly descending into penury, he decided to travel to the capital Chatravati and meet his friend Drupada and seek a job.
He knew he was the best at teaching military arts. He wanted to set up the best military academy in the empire, training royals from all the surrounding kingdoms, including the famous Hastinapura princes, right here on Panchala land. He would identify a vast area of land with naturally daunting landscapes that would challenge prospective warriors. He would employ the most stringent methods for them to graduate. The fame of this institute would spread far and wide, luring students from foreign and distant lands. A graduate from his military academy would be the pride of any army. Surely his friend Drupada would not refuse to provide the financial, infrastructural and logistical backing for such a grand and noble undertaking. After all, it would be the crown jewel in Panchala’s kingdom.
It took Drona and his family fourteen days to reach the capital. He did so by hitching rides, begging for food and sometimes having to perform menial jobs to feed his family. His young son, a toddler with super human strength for his age, needed to be fed frequently. Drona was losing heart, cursing his situation, unhappy at being unable to provide for his family and on edge in general. He didn’t like adversity. It made him angry and irritable. Having to work to make ends meet made him cynical. It also made him entitled. He thought as a Brahmin and the son of a celebrated sage, he should be provided basic necessities, without having to ask.
When he finally reached the capital he realized it wasn’t a cakewalk to go meet the king. There was a process in place. He had to follow procedures and document his needs. His requisition for a job in the court only got him to meet the lower officers who were in charge of employment. The bureaucracy only exasperated him. But the officials wouldn’t budge. They were following their orders that only matters of utmost importance be carried to the king. The new king had put capable and qualified people in specific posts to delegate work, so that issues would not have to wait for the king to resolve and can be settled quickly and efficiently. But all these measures did nothing to ease Drona’s ire.
Finally one day he decided to accost the king himself. He turned up at the palace with his family and attempted to walk in, saying he was the friend and teacher for king Drupada. The guards stopped him and prevented him from going in. An argument ensued. Drona’s bitterness got the better of him and he began cursing the guards.
The commotion caught the attention of a few royals in the palace. One of them, who had been a student of Bharadwaja, recognized Drona and asked the guards to let him in. The royal learned about Drona’s plight and promised to take him to the king later that afternoon, as Drupada was busy in a meeting with his cabinet. Drona, already livid at the discourtesy, would not have any of it. He demanded that he see the king now, as the king had a promise to fulfill. The royal knew that Drupada did not like to be disturbed during his cabinet meetings. But he also knew not to invite a Brahmin’s wrath. With some trepidation, he ordered a palace guard take Drona alone to the court, but leave the family outside. Drona, incensed that a palace guard was escorting him to the king and not the royal himself, and that his family was not allowed to accompany him, decided that he would extract his pound of flesh from this kingdom.
Drupada recognized Drona instantly, as he walked into an ongoing cabinet session. He realized this could be an urgent matter. Looking at his disheveled look, the king thought maybe Drona’s family was in danger. Maybe the ashram was attacked by savages. Maybe he has news about an impending attack from a neighboring kingdom. But the first words out of his friend’s mouth surprised and angered him.
“I am here to take my half of the kingdom, Drupada”
The council of ministers looked at Drona, stunned. Who was this man? How did he get in here during the private assembly? What was he talking about? Two of the ministers recognized him as the son of sage Bharadwaja. A low murmur broke out among them.
“Quiet please”, said Drupada, suppressing his anger. He wanted to go and embrace his old friend but royal protocol stopped him. He said instead, “Welcome to my court, o learned one! You seem to be distressed. Why not allow me and my court the privilege to host you. We can talk when you have rested. It must have been a long journey for you”
“O learned one? Is that how you address and receive me? It seems that don’t recognize me. I am Drona, your best friend and roommate from your time at the hermitage”
“Of course I recognize you, my dear sir! I was merely suggesting…”
Drona cut him off, “I am not here to listen to your suggestions, king of Panchala. I came here to remind you of your promise to me. You owe me half your kingdom. I will take this capital and the northern half. You can build your own city south of Ganga.”
Drupada was now getting irritated. He was being respectful to his old friend and Drona was being silly. His entire cabinet was watching him. He needed to quickly take control of the situation. But before he could answer, Drona stung back.
“Your silence only tells me you do not intend to honor your vow, young king. I should have known this day would come. You are a Kshatriya and a politician after all. You only crave power and wealth. Promises, oaths and words of honor mean nothing to you. I will warn you. If you do not give me half your kingdom off your own will, I will take it by force. I can single-handedly defeat you and your army. Have you the courage to stand up to your master?”
Drupada was beside himself with anger now. He drew his sword and stood up. “How dare an ascetic like you threaten me with war. I would be well within my rights to cut you down at this moment for this affront. But I do not want the blood of a Brahmin on my hands. You come here unannounced, barge into my assembly, and talk of a friendly declaration I made as a child? You should be ashamed of yourself. Your job is to teach and yet you covet the riches and power of a crown. Be gone before I order you to be imprisoned. You are right. I do not recognize you anymore”
Saying this, he ordered two of his bodyguards to evict Drona and banish him from the capital.
As he and his family was being forced out, Drona placed his hand on Ashwatthama’s head and said, “Son! I vow today that one day you will sit in that assembly, on that throne, and rule this half of Panchala. Drupada will pay for this offense”
A rivalry for the ages just began!