“Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and innocent
...worships language and …
Pardons cowardice, conceit..”

Could the Chief Minister of Haryana have been thinking of Auden when he chose to announce that the Millennial city of Gurgaon would be henceforth known as Gurugram (the village of the Guru) after Guru Dronacharya, the legendary teacher of archery in Mahabharata?

It’s possible, of course, but that isn’t very likely.

Inevitably, the renaming of Gurgaon, hub of fast food, fast cars, instant millions and land deals, has set in motion a stream of facts about the history of Kurukshetra wars and Guru Drona, who trained one of the greatest archers Arjuna and his Pandava and Kaurava brothers. Although Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and his Bharatiya Janata Party are hailing this decision as a grand step to relink Haryana in general and Gurgaon in particular with the legendary land of Kurukshetra and the great Mahabharata war, something rankles in the mind about both.

Kurukshetra, the Yakshi Ulookal Mekhala tells pilgrims, is not a safe place to stay. Everything that happens here in daylight, she says, is turned upon its head in the dark of the night (divavrittamratrauvrittamatoanyatha). So leave as soon as the day begins to wane (Aranyak Parv 120-10). In legend and lore, Kurukshetra is the dreaded land of love, lust and revenge. The Arattkshetra here is said to be shunned even by the gods and ancestors (devpitrivarjya).

As for Guru Drona, his is a tale of a supremely gifted military strategist brought low by a hot temper coupled with a vast ambition and a predilection for seeking revenge against all who spurned him. Truth being the first casualty of war, his life and those of his opponents are full of arrogance, deceit and semantic quibbling – all qualities that, within limits, political parties and armies are ready and able to sustain. It is only when Ved Vyas turns the story into an epic and pursuit of truth (and nothing but the truth) becomes necessary, that you begin to see and mourn the loss of so much goodness and talent.

Hard times

Dronacharya was the son of the great and austere teacher Bhardwaj who, it is said, refused to store more than what was necessary for the next three days for sustenance. Ambitious sons of such fathers usually grow up with a grudge. Drona did too. At his Guru’s ashram as a student, he befriended Drupad, the prince of the great kingdom of Panchal. As a young lad, he and Drupad swore cupping Ganga water in their palms that after they became men, they would continue to share everything with each other. Time passed. Prince Drupad became King Drupad. His Brahmin friend Drona, learned and talented, was forced by family tradition to remain poor. But he by now had a family to support and a young son, who when he cried for milk was given chalk dissolved in water by his mother Kripi.

So Dronacharya went to meet Drupad and ask him for a job and a gift of a milch cow. Drupad arrogantly had him pushed out, saying one should befriend people of their own status. Stung by this, Dronacharya vowed to train students that would capture and kill this arrogant Kshatriya . He undertook to train the princes of the Puru dynasty (both the Kauravas and the five Pandava brothers) in the art of warfare at the behest of their family mentor Bhishma. He had figured that weapons like the pash and the ankush were obsolete. The bow and arrows were the weapons for Gen Next. Soon his disciples were adept in warfare and military strategy and Arjun, the Tendulkar of his team, grew into a brilliant archer.

Enter the young tribal Bhil lad Eklavya. The Guru spotted a great rival to his favourite prince Arjuna in this gifted boy, and turned down his request to be accepted as a student on grounds of his caste (Nishada). Eklavya watched the training sessions from the shrubs and practiced on his own. Soon he was shooting arrows as well as the Pandavas. Once, when he shut up a barking dog who was breaking his concentration by muzzling her mouth with arrows, he was caught out. A petulant Arjuna complained to his Guru. Dronacharya, unable to and unwilling to annoy his royal patrons, told the young Bhil that if he considered him, Dronacharya, his Guru, he should offer up some Guru Dakshina – a tribute to his teacher. The eager Eklavya politely agreed and was asked to slice off his thumb. Even Vyas could not hold back his disapprobation for this mean act calling it daruna or heart rending.

Seeking revenge

Drona now laid a trap for Drupad when he had gone to a temple and left his weapons outside the premises, as was mandatory. The princes overpowered the king Drupad, broke his crown and presented him as a prisoner to their Guru who smirked and had him set free. It was now the turn of a humiliated Drupad to vow revenge. He performed a yagna and from the fire were born twins: Draupadi and prince Drishtadyumna, who later killed Drona in battle while he led the armies after Bhishma was brought down. Eaten up with anger against Draupadi’s father, Guru Drona and his disciples broke the rules of warfare and together with family stalwarts like Kripacharya, Duryodhana, Karna and others, killed Draupadi and Arjuna’s teen age son Abhimanyu, after trapping him in the intricate Chakravyuh formation.

By now, the 18-day war had reached a pitch where laws and morals and family loyalties had all become tangled in everyone’s head. As the unstoppable Dronacharya killed one king after another in the Pandava army, the Pandava side started a whisper campaign saying Drona’s only son Ashwatthama had been killed. That great upholder of Dharma, Yudhishthir, confirmed the lie to his Guru, adding sotto voce, that it was an elephant with the same name, not a man (Nar ova kunjarova) . As the Guru lost heart and put down his bow, he was finished off by a shower of arrows. Dronacharya’s son Ashwatthama completely lost it and used the ultimate weapon of destruction, killing all Draupadi’s sons and even a grandson nestling in her daughter-in-law’s womb.

Go back, Ulookal Mekhala had said to pilgrims, in this land, do not spend time.

So the rechristening of Guru Gram will bring back memories of ancient wars and revenge-taking and shouting of Jai Jai, and senselessness of semantic sabre-rattling. Ah, the mysteries of history!