It was now time for the princes to leave Drona’s school. To complete their training they had to pay their guru’s fees by offering him dakshina. Traditionally, the dakshina was determined by the guru himself. Drona assembled the princes and said, “There is only one thing I want. You should take King Drupada prisoner. Then bring him before me as your captive.”
The princes replied, “So be it.” They knew of their guru’s enmity with the king. Drupada and Drona had lived together as children under the Åñi Agniveçya. Drupada had promised that when he inherited his kingdom he would bestow half of it on his dear friend Drona. Later, when they had both grown to maturity, Drona went to Drupada and reminded him of their friendship and the promise. Seeing the poor Drona standing before him, Drupada had said, “O luckless Brahmin, how do you consider me as your friend now? Past friendships are meaningless. Only equals can be friends. I am a great king and you are an indigent Brahmin. Do not try to invoke a long-dead relationship.”
Drupada had then laughed at Drona and offered him a little charity. Deeply insulted, Drona had left Panchala, Drupada’s vast kingdom, his mind fixed on revenge. The time for that revenge had arrived. Drona looked about at his accomplished students and knew that Drupada would soon regret his arrogance.
The princes mounted their chariots and sped toward Panchala. Accompanied by a large force of horsemen, they soon arrived at Drupada’s capital, Kampilya. Duryodhana and his brothers vied with one another to lead the attack. They rushed toward the city gates with weapons raised. Sending up cries, they burst into Kampilya along its main highway while the terrified citizens hid in their houses.
Outside the city Drona waited with the Pandavas. Arjuna had suggested to his brothers that they not accompany the Kauravas. “They will not be able to overpower the mighty Drupada,” Arjuna had said. “We should make our attack after theirs has been repulsed.”
Drupada heard the attacking Kauravas crashing through his city and came straight out of his palace, mounted on his huge, white chariot. Roaring with joy at the chance for battle, he charged at the head of his army to defend the city. He showered his enemies with forceful arrows. His speed and lightness of motion were such that the Kauravas thought they were facing many Drupadas. He careered fearlessly in his chariot and entered into their midst, his bow constantly drawn to a circle and his searing shafts flying in all directions.
The Panchalas sounded thousands of conches, trumpets and drums, creating a noise that sounded like the roar of a tremendous lion. Drupada struck the Kuru princes with his arrows and sent them reeling. Seeing their king in the forefront of battle, the citizens came out of their houses to hurl clubs, maces and other missiles at the Kurus. The princes were surrounded by thousands of assailants and they felt oppressed and overwhelmed. They fled howling from the city with the Panchalas in pursuit.
The Pandavas laughed. Arjuna said scornfully to Yudhistira, “Here come the proud Kauravas, put to flight by Drupada. They are strong in words only. It is time for us to fight. You stay here. I shall go with the others.”
Yudhistira remained behind with Drona. His four brothers flew toward Kampilya. Bheema bounded along with mace held aloft, while Arjuna raced behind him on a chariot with Nakula and Sahadeva on either side. The Panchalas were waiting for them and had blocked the city gates with a row of elephants. Bheema struck at them with his club. With their heads smashed and covered in blood, the elephants fell to the ground like cliffs broken off by thunderbolts. Bheema spun like a furious tornado amid the Panchala warriors. Elephants, chariots and infantrymen fell in the thousands. The Pandavas drove the hostile force back as a herdsman drives cattle.
Arjuna, keen to please his preceptor, released volleys of arrows at the immense Panchala forces. His straight-flying shafts came in an endless stream and sped unerringly at the enemy warriors. Arjuna resembled the all-devouring fire that appears at the end of an aeon. Protected on either side by his two brothers, he felled thousands of fighters.
Drupada raced to the head of his troops and they rallied with lion-like roars. Led by their king, they mounted a powerful counterattack against the Pandavas. Arrows, darts, spears and clubs rained down on the four brothers. Arjuna repelled all their missiles with his arrows. The Panchalas enraged him with their furious attack and fought with redoubled energy. His foes could not mark any interval between his pulling an arrow from his quiver and bending his bow to fire it. All they saw was a constant stream of shafts speeding toward them. The mighty Panchala warriors shouted praises at Arjuna for his prowess.
Along with his commander-in-chief Satyajit, Drupada personally rushed toward Arjuna. Like the king, Satyajit was a warrior capable of contending with thousands of other warriors at once. He struck Arjuna with a hundred fierce arrows and sent up a great roar. Not tolerating the attack, Arjuna pierced Satyajit with ten arrows and simultaneously cut his bow to pieces with three more shafts. Seeing this wonderful feat, the other warriors cheered. Satyajit grasped another bow and immediately pierced Arjuna’s steeds as well as his charioteer. Arjuna again split Satyajit’s bow, then killed his horses and smashed his chariot to pieces.
Drupada came quickly to his commander’s assistance. A powerful exchange of arrows and other missiles followed between the king and Arjuna. Gradually Arjuna overpowered Drupada. He shattered the king’s bow, tore off his armor, felled his flagstaff and killed his horses. Seeing Drupada confounded, Arjuna threw down his own bow and took up a huge scimitar. He leapt down from his chariot and jumped onto Drupada’s, seizing him and holding the sword to his throat.
Bheema had meanwhile been wreaking havoc among Drupada’s troops. Arjuna shouted to him to withdraw. They had achieved their aim and captured Drupada. The troops saw their king’s plight and fled in fear. Arjuna then dragged Drupada onto his own chariot and rode back toward Drona.
When Drona saw the captive king, he smiled. “So, O mighty king, do you now desire to revive our old friendship? It seems that your kingdom and wealth have become mine.”
Drupada squirmed and blushed. He looked down as Drona continued, “You need not fear for your life for I am a Brahmin and it is my duty to be ever forgiving. Indeed, I have always cherished an affection for you since we were children.”
Drona then ordered Arjuna to release Drupada. The king listened in silence as Drona continued. “I still desire your friendship, Drupada, but how can one who is not a king be a king’s friend? Therefore I have decided to allow you to keep half your kingdom. I shall take the other half.”
Drupada was in no position to argue. He knew that Drona’s martial power far exceeded his own––especially as he now had the mighty Kurus as disciples. There would be no question of defeating him in battle. Drupada nodded in assent. “You are a truly noble soul to act in this way, Drona,” he replied, summoning all his patience. “Great personalities like yourself are always magnanimous. I, too, desire your friendship. Let us live peacefully, each ruling his own half of the Panchala kingdom.”
Drupada had Brahmins perform appropriate rituals and bestowed the northern half of his kingdom upon Drona, who then left with the Pandavas for Hastinäpura. Drupada burned with humiliation. Somehow he had to avenge his honor. Absorbed in thought, the king returned to his palace.
As they returned to Hastinäpura, Drona rode on Arjuna’s chariot and spoke to him affectionately. He loved this prince as dearly as his own son, and he knew there was nothing Arjuna would not do for him. Drona said, “O hero, you are now the best of all bowmen in this world. Although you have repaid me by defeating Drupada, I will ask one more thing from you as dakshina. You must fight with me when I come to fight with you.”
Arjuna was surprised. How could he ever fight with his teacher? Still, he replied without hesitating, “It shall be so. I am always your servant.”
[Adopted from Mahabharata by Krishna Dharma Prabhu]