Reading Guide. The story of Ekalavya, an aboriginal boy who wants to be Drona's pupil, is one of the most shocking incidents in the Mahabharata. The Bhils are an aboriginal people who live in India today; you can read more about them at Wikipedia. The Bhils were outside the caste system as you will see in this story (so Ekalavya could not be considered of the kshatriya warrior caste), but they had their own culture and community, and Ekalavya was the son of the king of a Bhil tribe.
Image. In the illustration below, you can see both the real Drona and also the statue of Drona which Ekalavya has made in the background.
Source. Indian Myth and Legend by Donald A. Mackenzie (1913). [400 words]
The fame of Drona as a preceptor was spread far and wide, and the sons of many rajahs and warriors hastened to Hastinapura to be instructed by him. All were welcomed save one, and he was Ekalavya, the son of the rajah of the robber Bhils. This young man pleaded that he might be trained as an archer, but without avail. Drona said, "Are not the Bhils highwaymen and cattle-lifters? It would be a sin, indeed, to impart unto one of them great knowledge in the use of weapons."
When he heard these words, the rajah's son was stricken with grief, and he turned homeward. But he resolved to become an accomplished warrior. So he fashioned a clay image of Drona and worshipped it, and wielded the bow before it until his fame as an archer was noised abroad.
One day Drona went forth with the princes to hunt in the Bhil kingdom. Their dog ran through the woods, and it beheld the dark son of the rajah of the Bhils and barked at him. Desiring to display his skill, the young man shot seven arrows into the dog's mouth before it could be closed, and, moaning and bleeding, the animal returned thus to the princes.
Wondering greatly, the princes searched for the greatly-skilled archer and found him busy with his bow. They spoke, saying, "Who art thou?"
And the Bhil made answer, "I am a pupil of Drona."
When Drona was brought to the place, the young man kissed his feet. Said the wise preceptor, "If thou art my pupil, I must receive my reward."
The young man made answer, "Command me, and I will give thee whatsoever thou dost desire."
Said Drona, "I should like to have the thumb of thy right hand."
The faithful prince of the Bhils did not hesitate to obey his preceptor; with a cheerful face he severed his thumb from his right hand and gave it to Drona.
After his wound had healed, the young man began to draw his bow with his middle fingers, but found that he had lost his surpassing skill, whereat Arjuna was made happy. All the other Bhil warriors who trained in archery followed the prince's example and drew the bow with their middle fingers, and this custom prevailed ever afterwards amongst the tribe.