Dronacharya was one of the greatest Brahmin warriors of his time. He had learnt the secret of powerful weapons from the great Parasurama himself. When he arrived at Hastinapur to meet his brother–in-law, Kripacharya, Bhishma entrusted the Pandavas and the Kauravas to his care, and asked him to teach them the skill of wielding weapons.
The Pandavas and the Kauravas were quick to learn, and soon picked up various skills. While all the princes learnt the use of all the weapons, each of them had their own favorites. While Duryodhana and Bhima favored the mace, Yudhishtra’s choice of weapon was the spear. Arjuna was fascinated by bows and arrows, and the twins Nakula and Sahadeva were most comfortable with swords.
While Dronacharya was a fair teacher and treated all the students equally, he couldn’t help admiring Arjuna the most. Arjuna was not only the best archer of all, he was the most focused, he most enthusiastic and the most driven. However, this admiration was misconstrued as favoritism by the Kauravas, and they continually complained against it.
Deciding that it was time these misunderstandings were set at rest, Dronacharya decided that it was time to prove Arjuna’s uniqueness to the rest of the students. He called all the students to the grove outside the ashram. He had placed on one of the trees a wooden bird with a prominently painted eye.
He addressed all the students and said, “Young princes, you have learnt most of the skills necessary for a warrior, and it is time you take a test and show me your abilities. Right now, I want you to show me your skill in archery. There, on that tree is a wooden bird with a painted eye. You have to aim for, and hit that eye.”
The first one to be called was Yudhishtra. Dronacharya asked him to aim at the bird, but wait for him to say the word before letting the arrow loose. When Yudhishtra was ready, Dronacharya asked, “Yudhishtra, please tell me what you can see.”
Yudhishtra replied, “I can see the bird, the tree, the fruits on the tree and more birds.” Dronacharya replied, “All right. Leave your bow and arrow and go.” Yudhishtra was surprised, but obeyed his guru and did as he was told.
Next was the turn of Duryodhana. Asked the same question, he replied, “Gurudev, I can see the bird, the tree, the leaves, the fruits, another bird…” But before he could complete, Dronacharya said, “You can go!” Duryodhana was wild, and he flung the bow and arrow to the ground before he stood aside.
Next was the turn of Bhima. Again, he was asked the same question by Dronacharya, and he replied, “Gurudev, I too can see the bird, the tree, the fruits……” he too was interrupted and made to stand aside.
Next was the turn of the twins, one by one. When posed the same question, Nakula said, “I can see the people, the trees and the bird” and Sahadeva said, “I can see the bird, the fruits and the tree.” They too were turned away.
Finally, it was the turn of Arjuna. As soon as Arjuna was ready, Dronacharya asked, “Arjuna, what can you see?” Arjuna replied, “Gurudev, I can see only the eye of the bird, and nothing else.” With a smile on his face, Dronacharya said, “Fire!” and Arjuna let loose the arrow which found its mark.
Dronacharya turned to the other princes and said, “Did you all understand the point of this test? When you aim for something, you must look at nothing else but the target. Only intense concentration can help you strike the target. All of you could see the other things like the trees, the fruits, the leaves and the people because you were not concentrating on the task given to you. It was only Arjuna who was really concentrating. So now all of you know why Arjuna is the best student!”
Dronacharya’s test silenced the Kauravas, and all understood that Arjuna was indeed the best student.
There is another story which also illustrates the perseverance of Arjuna. Bhima was a voracious eater, and ate all through the day. Sometimes, he woke up hungry at night and continued to eat. One day, Arjuna woke up in the middle of the night and saw Bhima busy eating, even though it was pitch dark, and practically nothing could be seen.
At first he was surprised that his brother could eat in such darkness, but then he realized that if one tried, one could practice and adapt ones eyes to the darkness. This also made him realize that he could learn to practice archery in the darkness too, and immediately began practicing.
To use a bow and arrow in the darkness is no easy task, and it is even more difficult to hit the target under such conditions. However, with his diligence and perseverance, Arjuna soon mastered this skill too. He was one of the few archers who were as good with a bow and arrow at night as they were in the daytime.
Perseverance and concentration help us not just with archery, as in the case of Arjuna, but in all the tasks we perform everyday. Whether it is a project or just homework, working diligently and with concentration, we can complete our work faster, and in a much better way!