For most part, the story of Mahabharata is one that leads up to the inevitable Kurukshetra war.
While that forms the primary plot of the epic, there are hundreds of other subplots that branch away from the main storyline. One such plot is that of Drupada and Drona.
Long before he became the king of Panchala he was a student at the ashrama of Drona’s father, the sage Bharadwaja. During their time there, the two boys bonded and became very good friends. They’re so close that Drupada, a prince, promises Drona half his kingdom on the completion of his education.
Years pass and the two boys go their own separate paths. While Drupada goes on to become a king, Drona goes on to learn the art of war from various gurus in the land, including the dreaded Parshurama. Despite his vast knowledge, however, Drona continues to remain impoverished mostly because he chooses to not pursue material benefits.
However, on an occasion, he witnesses a group of young boys feeding his son Ashwatthama a mixture of flour and water instead of milk. Ashwatthama, never having had milk before, doesn’t know any better. Seeing this, makes something snap within Drona who decides to go to his old friend and take him up on the offer he’d made all those years ago.
Drupada, instead of living up to his promise, humiliates the impoverished Drona and drives him out of his court. An infuriated Drona walks away promising revenge. As he wanders about plotting his next move, he comes across a group of young boys who’ve lost their ball in a well. Using blades of grass, Drona pulls out the ball and hands it to the jubilant group.
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As it happens, the boys turn out to be Kuru princes and they report about this man to their granduncle Bhishma, who deduces that it could be Drona, for who else was capable of such a feat? The brahmin is sent for and hired as a teacher for all Kuru princes.
Years pass and Drona continues to live in the comfort of Hastinapur enjoying the perks that come with being the teacher of the princes. However, through it all, he doesn’t forget his humiliation and waits for a chance to strike a blow. That moment comes at the end of the princes’ education.
As was the tradition, the princes ask Drona what his gurudakshina or fees would be. As a teacher of the princes of the greatest kingdom in the land, Drona could have asked for rubies, diamonds, gold, land, cattle, anything his heart desired and it would have been given to him on a platter. Instead, he asks from Drupada to be bound and brought before him.
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And thus begins a battle between the Kuru princes and the singular Drupada.
Even though, very little is mentioned of Drupada in the epic, it is very clear that he isn’t someone to be messed with. This is the lesson that the Kaurava princes learn when they take him on in battle. The mighty king defeats the princes and drives them out of his kingdom.
After the Kaurava princes have had a go at him, the Pandavas attack him and overpower him in no time at all. He is, as their teacher had asked, bound and gagged and presented before Drona. Defeated and humiliated, Drupada hands over half his kingdom to Drona and returns with his tail between his legs.
Even though they attack the kingdom in two separate batches, the battle remains the only one mentioned in the epic where the Kauravas and the Pandavas are on the same side. And the only reason this happens is because of their teacher, the great Dronacharya.