Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

The Pandavas Escape

Mahabharata


Then tunnel from their palace led the Pandavas to a dense forest on the banks of the river Ganga. Vidura had stationed a trusted servant, who ferried them across the river in a mechanized boat. He told them that Vidura wanted them to stay hidden for a little while longer. When it was time for them to come out in the open, word would be sent to them. In the meantime, they were to travel to the nearby town of Ekachakrapura, disguised as Brahmanas.

According to the advise sent by Vidura, the Pandavas changed into simple clothes, befitting poor Brahmanas and set forth for Ekachakrapura. When they were too tired to walk, Bheema carried all of them on his shoulders. When even his immense strength began to tire, they decided to rest. Bheema was to keep watch, while the rest of them slept.

While Kunti and his brothers slept, Bheema wondered at their fate. Born to rule a kingdom, they had to flee from their persecuting relatives, slinking away like rats from fire. When he saw his mother, the beloved wife of King Pandu, sleep like an orphan, with the root of a tree as the pillow, when he saw the peerless warrior Arjuna clad in coarse cotton like a mendicant, his hatred for Duryodhana grew tenfold. He made a silent vow to make his evil cousin pay for the plight to which he had reduced his brothers.

While Bheema was indulging in these reflections, a Rakshasa (demon) named Hidimba sensed the presence of humans in his forest. This monster was in the habit of devouring any humans who had dared to set foot in his domain. He sent his sister Hidimbi to go and kill the people who had so foolishly ventured into the forest.

Hidimbi found Bheema watching over his mother and his sleeping brothers. When she saw the handsome second Pandava, she was filled with a longing for him. Using her magic, she transformed herself into a beautiful woman and approached him. When Bheema saw this woman appear suddenly, he was very much surprised.

Hidimbi approached him and said, "O Handsome Youth. Have you and your brothers despaired of life? For what foolishness could have let you set foot in the domain of the fearsome Hidimba? He is my brother, and has a unseemly fondness for human flesh. Flee from here while there is still time!"

Bheema said, "O Maiden, Thanks for taking the trouble to warn us, but we are very much capable of looking after ourselves. We are the Pandavas. I am the strongest man in the world and my brother Arjuna has no equal as an archer. My other brothers are also great warriors. We can take care of not just one Rakshasa, but of a whole army of them."

While these interchanges were going on, Hidimba was wondering what was taking his sister so long. When he could stand it no longer, he came to find the humans himself. When he saw that his sister was actually counselling them to fly, his rage knew no bounds. He said to her, "How dare you betray me? Shameless woman, I will deal with you once I have made mincemeat of these intruders. Stand aside while I pulverize them."

Bheema said, "We shall soon see who is going to get pulverized. But don't shout so loud, my family is sleeping, they will wake up if you keep up this racket. If a fight is what you want, let us fight a bit away from here."

Unheeding, Hidimba rushed towards Bheema intending to crush him with his massive arms. However, Bheema, who was a skilled wrestler, easily side-stepped this bull-rush. The fight then began in right earnest. The two combatants were evenly matched in strength, but Bheema had the better technique. The ruckus created by their fight, woke up Kunti and her sons. They were stunned to see Bheema fighting a Rakshasa and a beautiful maiden watching the fight anxiously.

The fight ended rather soon, for Bheema caught the monster in a vice like grip and strangled him to death. This released the Pandavas from the spell that had kept them silent and they all started talking at once. Hidimbi explained to them who she was, and told them that she had fallen in love with Bheema. This posed a dilemma to the princes. For Yudhishtra, the eldest was as yet unmarried, and they also did not think it prudent for Bheema to marry, that too to a Rakshasa maiden! However, Hidimbi pleaded her case eloquently, particularly to Kunti.

At last it was agreed that Bheema and Hidimbi would be married, but they will be together only till such a time as a son is born to them. They were married, and lived together till a their son Ghatotkacha was born. When he was born, his first cry was like the roar of a mountain lion and even as an infant, it was apparent that he had inherited his father's strength. As per the agreement, Hidimbi and Ghatotkacha went away, leaving Bheema to rejoin his brothers and his mother.

At last they came to the small town of Ekachakrapura, where they found refuge in a Brahmana's house. The Pandavas would go for a round of begging in the morning. The alms that they collected would be cooked by Kunti for them. She made sure that Bheema was fed half of the food and the rest divided equally among the rest. Bheema was also known as Vrikodhara (wolf-bellied) for his immense hunger. Many days passed with the same unwavering routine.

One day, when the brothers had gone out on their morning begging rounds, Kunti heard the wife of the Brahmana crying. She wondered what grief could be the cause, so she listened at the door of their room.

The Brahmana was saying to his wife, "This worldly life is full of sorrows. There is an illusion of independence, but our actions are predetermined. I told you long ago, that we should leave this ungodly city and find living elsewhere. But, you were attached to this city, for your parents, relatives and other friends live here. There is a saying that `where there is means for livelihood, where there are no relatives of the wife, one should choose to live in such a place`. I ignored this wisdom, and stayed here to keep you happy. Now look what has happened. Because of your stubbornness, one of our family must die today. If I were to die, I fear that you will not survive me for long. If both of us are dead, I shudder to think what the fate of our two orphaned children would be. I feel that the only recourse is for all of us to commit suicide!"

The wife of the Brahmana, who was still crying, said, "I cannot think of a life without you. It is well known that the life of a woman whose husband is dead is very tough. Besides, without you, how will I be able to bring up our children? It is best that I die, for then you will be able to remarry. My only hope is that the woman you marry will be kind to our children. Let me drive the food-cart today!".

The daughter of this couple, seeing both her parents struck with grief, interrupted her mother and said, "If either of you die, we will be orphans. My young brother is your guarantee for your after-life. In any case, a daughter does not belong to her parents, but to her husband's family. Since you would have parted from me anyway at my marriage, I am the best person to die. Let me go and face my fate at the hands of the Asura."

At this moment, their son, a mere boy shouted, "No need for anybody to die. I will go and kill this Asura with the help of this blade of grass!", and started brandishing a dried glass blade like a sword.

Even in this moment of grief, this childish gesture brought a weak smile on the faces of rest of his family. Kunti judged that it was time to interrupt this family conference and entered the room. She asked the Brahmana what was the matter, why all this talk of death and grief? And where does the Asura fit in into this story?

The Brahmana said, "We have been unfortunate to live in a country whose King is inept and uncaring. There is an Asura by the name of Bakasura, who lives near our city. He had made a habit of venturing into the city, indiscriminately killing and eating people, whenever he happened to be hungry. We used to live in constant terror of his forages. Our town elders, driven to desperation, entered into a pact with the Asura. According to this, we are spared of his attacks on our town, but this truce came at a high price. Everyday, we have to provide him with a cart-load of food, driven by someone from the city. The Asura eats all the food, the bullocks drawing the cart and the driver. It was established that each family will provide that unfortunate victim, in turn. Tomorrow it is the turn of our family. That is why you heard us lamenting our fate and resolving to commit suicide."

Kunti thought for a while and said, "Let me propose a way out of this. Since you have been kind enough to offer your hospitality to us, let me repay the favor, I shall send one of my five sons to drive the cart, there is no need for any of you to do this job."

The Brahmana was aghast. He said, "I cannot possibly allow you to do such a thing. It has been said that guests are like the Gods. Any one who knowingly subjects his guests to danger, is sure to rot in hell for all eternity. No, the only way out is for all four of my family to go to our death at the hands of the Rakshasa."

Kunti then started to convince them that she was not really doing a sacrifice, she said, "I shall send my second son, who has the strength of a thousand elephants. He has already killed the fierce Rakshasa Hidimba, and I have no doubt that he would slay Bakasura. He is a matchless wrestler and would really find this task well within his abilities. This is the best opportunity for you me to repay you, at least in part, for your kind hospitality to us. Besides, you would be doing your town a good turn, by ridding it of this menace"

The Brahmana would not be convinced so easily, but the persuasive arguments from Kunti at last won grudging acceptance from him. He consented to let Bheema drive the cart to Bakasura. The five brothers returned from their morning rounds. Kunti told them about her promise to their host. Bheema was glad at the prospect of adventure, but Yudhishtra was aghast.

He said, "Mother! How could you venture to do such a thing? How can you send one of your children so calmly to a certain death? Are you not aware that we depend upon Bheema's immense strength for our protection? Our belief in his abilities is what makes us sleep soundly at night. Are we not placing our hopes on his prowess, to win back the kingdom that has been taken away from us by treachery? How can you even think about losing him?"

Kunti did not accept the arguments advanced by her eldest son. She said, "This Brahmana has provided us with asylum when we had to flee the persecution of our relations. Besides, it the duty of a Kshatriya to guard the weak. A Kshatriya who saves a Brahmana would be performing one of his primary duties and would ascend to heaven on death. I have full faith in the ability of Bheema. I am confident that he shall kill Bakasura and would emerge victorious."

The next day, before dawn, Bheema drove the cart laden with food to the forest where Bakasura lived. When he got there, there was no sign of the Asura. Bheema thought, "Once we start fighting, all this food will be destroyed. Why waste it? Till such a time that Asura gets here, I shall eat this food." He washed his hands in a nearby stream and sat down to make a leisurely meal. As he was finishing up, he heard the ground rumble under him and knew that the Asura was approaching.

Bakasura was particularly ravenous that day. When he saw a mortal coolly sitting in the forest, empty containers of food meant for him strewn all over the place, he was naturally enraged. He plucked a nearby tree and brought it with great force upon Bheema's head. Without breaking a sweat, Bheema coolly parried this blow, pushing away the tree as it had been merely a twig. Bheema got up and faced the Asura.

A vicious battle was begun. Now, Bakasura was Bheema's equal in strength. (Indeed it was said that there were five persons of equal strength in the world, Bheema, Bakasura, Duryodhana, Keechaka and Jarasandha. Further it was foretold that one of the five would end up killing the other four in combat.) The battle raged for a long time, but finally Bheema killed the Rakshasa. He dragged his corpse to the city gates, and unseen by anybody, returned to the Brahmana's house. Now Kunti had made the Brahmana promise not to reveal the identity of the slayer of Bakasura, so all the towns-folk knew about the death of Baka, was that a great Gandharva warrior had taken pity on the Brahmana and killed Bakasura. Great was the celebrations that followed their deliverance from the evil monster. Even the Pandavas took part in them, enjoying themselves in the festivities.

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Last Modified At: Sun Nov 7 16:20:04 2004