The Mahabharata Research
In the ancient Epic
Dronacharya; the great teacher of Pandavas and Kauravas stands tall alongside the big names in the epic. The son of Bharadwaja was indeed a master of advanced weaponery and warfare skills including but not limited to the different military formations, use of almost all known weapons of the era and knowledge of some super-sophisticated weapons/techniques of his time which were not known to ordinary soldiers. His mastery is not just limited to military skills, but it extended beyond that to science, maths, literature, philosophy and politics. He was chosen by Bhishma as the teacher for the Kuru princes only because of the depth and breadth of his knowledge and skills. Gaining most of his skills from his father Bharadwaja, Drona also approached Parasurama to gain some special weapons and the know-how of how to handle them. He was just a poor but skilled brahmin when he reached the kingdom on Hastinapur. But there he was fortunate to have been found by Bhishma and been given the responsibility of grooming the young princes in the kingdom. It's from here that the real legend of Drona begins. With a platform to demonstrate his mastery, he moulded the kuru princes into some of the greatest warriors, generals, wrestlers and statesmen depending on their natural orientation. He is hailed for his ability to identify the skills and passion of his students and groom them in the right subject in the best way.
Apart from being the teacher of the kuru princes, he was a skilled archer with the knowledge of some rare and special techniques. The epic talks about superdestructive divine weapons such as Brahmastra, Brahmandastra etc the knowledge of which are attributed to a handful of warriors, and Drona is one of those who is described to have possessed mastery over most of the referred divine weapons.
Behind the Hero
Drona as well like some of the other prominent characters in the epic goes through some serious dilemmas, and proves to be an emotionally weak person. His determination to make Arjuna the greatest archer of the period, leads him to be partial to his students, and ignore some of their skills. It is of course debatable whether he really ignored their skills, or he made them focus on their strengths. For example, he chose to mentor Bhima on mace fight rather than archery because he found Bhima's strength and passion in that direction. It's also arguable that Arjuna deserved the greater attention due to the hardword he put in. Every teacher is bound to have a favourite student, and Arjuna by his determination and dedication deserved to be the favourite student of any impartial teachear. So it's natural that Drona's orientation was to build his hope on Arjuna. But still the shadow cast on Drona's personality extend beyond the accusation of partiality. His treatment of Eklavya, as well as his rebuking of Karna, is criticized as being biased against lower castes. The Story of Eklavya is frequently cited by modern critics. Though it's argued that he chose to do it for the welfare of the Kingdon that gave him refuge (which is supported by the fact that Eklavya later joined Jarasandha and was eventually killed by Krishna), there were indeed more mature ways to handle such a concern. And this became the first mark of dirt on Drona's image. His revenge on Drupada gives us another glimpse at the motives of Drona that drove him to Hastinapur, and the negativity he carried on for years for the humiliation he faced in front of his family. But then on the silence of Drona on many occasions to the deeds of Kauravas and the indirect support he gave them due to the love for his Son completes Drona's downfall as an ordinary selfish father.
Once the schooling of the princess came to an end, Drona slowly started losing the control and respect of his students. Though he was regarded high by both the Kauravas and Pandavas till the end, primarily because of his skills and his stature as Guru, he became a tool in the hands of Duryodhana simply because of his son's friendship with the Kaurava prince. His silence during the humiliatin of Draupadi adds one of the biggest scars on the personality of Drona. High criticism is justifiably leveled at Drona for remaining a mute spectator and not having protested against the humiliation of Draupadī by Dushasana and Duryodhana following the fateful game of dice. Krishna had criticized Drona for citing his obligation to Hastinapur as the reason for ignoring his sense of righeeousness.
Later during the war, it was during Drona's tenure as the commander of the Kaurava forces, that the war moves from an unbelievable principle based battle to complete madness where no abidance to the rules were visible. When he became commander-in-chief, divine weapons were used against ordinary soldiers, war continued throughout the night, warriors no longer engaged each other one-on-one, etc. Drona believed, that as the commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army, his goal was to ensure the protection of his soldiers through any means necessary. He considered the life of his soldiers more precious than the will to uphold the rules of war and the concept of honorable acts. His command to a group of Kaurava warriors to attack together the young Abhimanyu is regarded even today as the gravest mistakes of Drona, and the incident washes away Drona's stature as a great warrior and commander.
Talking about his warfare skills, it cannot be ignored that he was one of the best strategist and one of the 5 best warriors who participated in the war. He was regarded second to jush Bhishma on the Kaurava side. And it's for the very same reason that he took over as the general after Bhishma's fall. A skilled warrior, great teacher and a powerful strategist, but a weak father who gives up his values and reputation is all what Drona is best desribed with.
Drona and Arjun:
Of all the Kaurava and Pandava brothers training under Drona, Arjuna emerged as the most dedicated, hard-working and most naturally talented of them all, exceeding even Drona's own son Ashwatthama. In Arjuna, Drona saw the opportunity to create an unbelievably skilled archer and gave special attention to make that a reality. Arjuna assiduously served his teacher, who was greatly impressed by his devoted pupil. Arjuna surpassed Drona's expectations in numerous challenges and as a reward, Drona taught Arjuna ways to invoke the super-powerful divine weapon, Brahmastra.
When Arjuna, mastered archery in absolute darkness, Drona was moved. Drona was greatly impressed by Arjuna's concentration, determination, and drive, and promised him that he would become the greatest archer on earth. Drona gave Arjuna special knowledge of the divine Astras.
Drona was definitely partial to Arjuna and Ashwatthama. As a father, Drona loved his son Ashwatthama the most and as a teacher, he loved Arjuna more than anyone (barring Ashwatthama).
A Selfish Father:
Drona's journey through the path of injustice was not done in the love for his favourite student, but for his beloved son. Despite knowing that his son was on the wrong side, he chose to stand by his Son and give up his values and turn his back on his favourite students whom he believed were righteous, humble and skilled. When he distributed his attention to the education of the kuru princes, he paid equal (or may a slighlty more) attention to his son in the same educational setup. That was in fact, the best possible option to strike a balance between the roles of a father and a teacher. But his dearness to Arjuna, brought his son close to the Kaurava prince and it finally made Drona stand by Duryodhana, discarding his own conscience. During the game of dice, when Draupadi was humiliated, Drona was one of the most respected persons present in the court, and had the authority to command his erstwhile students to stop the madness. And he of course did protest strongly when Duryodhana ordered to disrobe Draupadi, but his mild protest against Duryodhana was cut short by his Son who jumped in to face his father and add to the drama. He bacame a witness to the events then on, simply because his Son was part of the group that carried out the humiliation of the Empress, and .
Later during the Mahabharata war as well Drona's only weakness was the safety of his son. Though he was very confident on the skills of his Son, he was always wary of Arjuna facing Aswatthama. And finally Drona's end as well was brought by his paternal love. The news of his Son's death was sufficient for Drona to give up his deisre to live, for he suddenly felt the entire purpose of his fight against his own conscience is gone. The story of Drona and Ashwatthama gives a great lesson to generations, but it's a hard one to learn from, for this weakness would stay with all caring parents despite knowing the story of Drona; it's just that the degree of weakness and cosequential madness would vary across people.
In Modern versions:
Drona's image and depiction is probably one of the most unbiased across centuries and generations.
Drona was somewhat parallel to Bhishma both in martial prowess, and, compelled by the refuge they had given him, in his unwavering commitment to fighting for Hastinapur irrespective of who the ruler was and whether or not the cause was just. Like Bhishma, Drona is also criticized for siding with injustice despite knowing of and acknowledging the righteousness of the Pandava cause. And very much like Bhishma, Drona is also praised for his warfare skills. In most of the modern version of Mahabharata, Drona enjoys the majesty and respect second only to Bhishma. He still remains a revered figure in Hindu history. Drona-Arjuna relationship stands today as an example of the Indian tradition of respecting and being dedicated to one's teacher. And Drona is still seen as the greatest example of a Teacher's commitment and passion. The fact that the Government of India annually awards the Dronacharya Award for excellence in sports tutelage to the best sports teachers and coaches in India is simply sufficient to show Drona's stature in modern India.