Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

Eklavya and the Power of Online Learning

Mahabharata. Published by Geeta Press in Gorakhpur. Public domain, Library of Congress.


During the pandemic, there has been an increase in educational offerings that can enhance our clinical skills. This expansion of virtual learning opportunities, (like open-access Zoom lectures and grand rounds, and #MedTwitter #tweetorials on countless topics), can be a boon for all.

Eklavya, a mythological character in the ancient Indian epic of the Mahabharata exemplifies discipline and discipleship, both necessary qualities in the rigorous field of medicine. The son of a humble forest-hunter, Eklavya yearned to master the skills of archery to protect the deer from ferocious leopards. Adamant to learn from the best, he went to Guru Dronacharya and asked to be taken under his tutelage. Guru Dronacharya, a mighty warrior and guru to the royal family was honor-bound not to give away the secrets of excellent archery to common folk, ensuring that the royal princes remained the most skilled warriors. Thus, he turned Eklavya away.



Not discouraged, Eklavya collected the earth beneath Guru Dronacharya’s feet and returned home. In his heart, he had already accepted Guru Dronacharya as his guru. He made a statue of his guru from the earth he had collected. When possible, he would hide in the bushes and observe Guru Dronacharya’s discourses to the princes. He would then meticulously and fervently practice every day. Soon the rumors of his prowess with a bow and arrow spread throughout the kingdom.



Guru Dronacharya confronted Eklavya about the source of his skills, to which Eklavya replied that it came from the Guru. Taken aback, Guru Dronacharya then asked that for his teacher’s fee, or “guru-dakshina,” Eklavya must present him with his right thumb. Without the right thumb, an archer cannot string an arrow to his bow. Without hesitation, Eklavya cleanly incised his right thumb with his pocket-knife and presented it to his Guru, head bowed low in obeisance.



Though the story has a lugubrious end, there are parallels to present times. With physical distancing guidelines bringing an end to in-person lectures, much didactic activity has shifted online. In these challenging times, this has been a huge boon to residents and fellows, already apprehensive about the repercussions of the pandemic on our training. The #MedTwitter community has been a great resource in disseminating information on upcoming virtual grand rounds, hosting journal clubs, and even sharing “tweetorials” on concept-intense topics. Zoom sessions often have an audience of hundreds from all over the world.



This has given us trainees unparalleled access to learn from the best minds in the field and an opportunity to interact with the “gurus.” There has been cross-pollination of knowledge and ideas between institutions. Above all, there has also been a growing sense of community. (Shout out to CLOSLER!)



Yes, the times are tough, but amid the uncertainty has arisen the best of human benevolence. Though our “Gurus” may never know our names or the benefits we reap, unlike Eklavya, we will forever owe them a profound unsettled “guru-dakshina.”