In this series of posts, I am reconstructing the Mahabharata as a sequence of episodes. This will provide a quick and easy way for someone new to the story to become acquainted with it.
(For the previous post in this series, see Episode 21: Nahusha the Serpent. To access the full repository of Mahabharata episodes, see: 60 Mahabharata Episodes that Tell You the Whole Story.)
Here’s what we will cover in this episode:
- Ghatotkacha Comes to Help
- Bhima Goes Flower Hunting
- An Old Ape
- Bhima Meets Hanuman
- Humbling of Heroes
- Defeating the Krodhavasas
- Nature Protests against Bhima
- The Killing of Jatasura
- The Curse on Kubera
- Further Reading
Ghatotkacha Comes to Help
After Arjuna leaves the Pandavas and go to find his weapons, Yudhishthir takes the rest of his brothers (and Draupadi) on a long pilgrimage to the northern parts of the country.
The idea is to visit all the important hermitages and places over the next five years, and welcome Arjuna when he returns from his adventures.
During the course of this journey, they meet a number of sages and hear a number of stories. At the end of it all, they arrive at Gandhamadana, the place of their birth, and plan to proceed northward.
When they arrive at the Gandhamadana, a lot of natural barriers appear in the Pandavas’ path. Chilly winds blow from the north. The terrain becomes almost impossibly mountainous.
Rain and hail occur every now and then. But Yudhishthir and his brothers march on along with Lomasa, strengthened by the hope that they would meet Arjuna at the end of the trail.
But Draupadi, not being used to travails of this magnitude, faints, and Bhimasena carries her for part of the way. But when Nakula and Sahadeva begin to slow down too, Yudhishthir wonders if there is any wisdom to continuing on that treacherous way.
It is Bhima who replies. ‘O King, during the days I spent with Hidimbi, she would bring me here often. And she told me that Rakshasas have no trouble moving in these parts. Their skin is made of a tough hide, and they are stronger than us.
‘So if you permit me, I shall call upon Ghatotkacha, and he will help us get to the top of Gandhamadana.’
Bhima Goes Flower Hunting
Yudhishthir agrees to this proposal, and in no time at all Ghatotkacha appears in their midst, accompanied by a number of Rakshasa aides. He takes Draupadi onto his shoulders, and directs the rest of them onto the backs of his companions.
‘I shall take you to the top of the mountain with no trouble at all, Father. You should have called for me earlier.’
The Rakshasas take the Pandavas up the mountain, to the same hermitage where Nara and Narayana are supposed to have lived many years ago. The sages over there extend a warm welcome, and Draupadi is revived with mountain dew and fruits. They live there for six nights, joining the hermits in meditation and exploring the pristine surroundings.
During this time, Draupadi comes across a beautiful lotus, solitary among a sea of roses. She plucks it and tells Bhima:
‘Look, O Lord, how lustrous this flower looks, like it has grown in the garden of Kubera. I intend to give this as a present to Yudhishthir, but I wish I could have more of them for myself. Can you find a few for me?’
Like any dutiful husband, Bhima says yes, and sets out in search of the rare flower. It is during this quest that he has a rather interesting meeting with a certain someone.
An Old Ape
The search for Draupadi’s flower leads Bhima to the topmost peak of the mountain, where at the mouth of a cave, he finds a large ape sprawled on the earth, coated with mud, and shivering in the cold. Seeing that the cave is the entry to heaven, Bhima lets out a yell that shakes the monkey awake.
‘Why do you disturb me, good sir?’ he says, rolling over on his side so that his tail falls across the opening of the cave. ‘I am old and ill and cold. I was sleeping well until you arrived. I am an animal, so I do not know enough about what is good and what is bad.
‘But you are a man, and by appearances you seem to be a man of privilege. You certainly ought to know that walking to a person’s home and waking him up like this is bad form?’
Bhima’s eyes are set on the hills in the distance. ‘I need to go there,’ he says. ‘Out of my way.’
‘Go where?’ asks the monkey, and smiles at the horizon. ‘There? Those hills are inaccessible to human beings and to animals, O Hero. Only celestials are allowed there. If you continue on this path, you will fall to your death – if the cold does not kill you, the wild beasts will.’
Bhima smirks at this, and looks at the monkey’s tail. ‘Beasts like you, I presume?’
‘Oh, there are much more fearsome beasts than me out there,’ the ape replies. ‘Why do you not turn back on your path? It is out of concern that I advise you thus.’
Bhima Meets Hanuman
‘I do not have time to speak with you,’ says Bhima, taking a step forward. ‘I am Bhimasena, the son of Vayu, the brother of King Yudhishthir, he who was born of the womb of Kunti. I am the second of the Pandavas, if you know the name.’
‘Ah, yes,’ the monkey says. ‘Yes. The name does ring a bell. But I cannot give you way, O Pandava, because I am too tired to move. Perhaps you could set aside my tail so that you can pass.’
‘I shall do that with much pleasure,’ Bhimasena mutters, and bends down to pick up the monkey’s tail with his left hand. It does not budge. He tries with his right hand, and then with both his hands.
He looks at the monkey, who appears to be half-asleep. He tries one last time with all his strength, but he is still not able to move the tail even an inch.
He understands, then, that this is no ordinary animal. He joins his hands and says, ‘Pray, who are you, sir? Are you a Siddha or a god or a Gandharva or a Guhyaka? You cannot be a beast of the mortal realm. No. I beg your forgiveness for the arrogance with which I spoke to you before. Please tell me who you are.’
And the monkey pushes himself to a sitting position with a groan of effort. He looks up at Bhima and motions him to sit down. Then, with a sparkle in his eye, he says, ‘I am Hanuman, and I was born of the wind-god too. That must make us brothers.’
Humbling of Heroes
In both the quests of Arjuna and Bhimasena, there is the theme of an arrogant hero being humbled by a more powerful foe. In the case of Arjuna it is Shiva who arrives disguised as a hunter. In the case of Bhima, the lesson in humility is delivered by Hanuman.
The intention, of course is to keep the powerful from being consumed by pride.
Hanuman gives Bhima some other gifts too. He tells him about the four yugas and how they follow one another. He reinforces the primacy of Time over everything, and assures Bhima that the Pandavas will return to their former glory.
He also narrates to his younger brother the story of the Ramayana in brief, in order to reinforce the point that the good and the virtuous always have to overcome mountainous struggles.
As they’re about to part, Hanuman promises that he will strengthen Arjuna and fight by his side.
‘I will fight on your side in the great battle, he says, ‘but in spirit.’ I will strengthen your roars, send shafts of fear flying into enemy hearts. I shall grace the flagstaff of Arjuna’s chariot, and as long as it stands unbroken, the Pandavas will remain undefeated.’
Oh yes, and he also points Bhima to the Saugandhika wood, where Draupadi’s flower blooms. This garden happens to be owned by Kubera, and is guarded by a tribe of Rakshasas called the Krodhavasas.
Defeating the Krodhavasas
‘Who are you, O Human?’ they ask Bhima as he approaches. ‘You look like an ascetic but you come armed with sword and mace. You wear golden armbands, and the deerskin covering your torso suggests that you are given to hunting as well. Why do you come to this lake?’
Bhimasena introduces himself as the second Pandava, the brother of Yudhishthir. ‘Our wife, Panchali, saw near the hermitage an excellent Saugandhika lotus, which was perhaps carried there by the wind. And she sent me here to fetch more of them.’
The Krodhavasas are taken aback by the audacity of the human. ‘Not even Gandharvas and Apsaras are allowed here, O Hero, so do not entertain any hopes that you will be granted entry. If you must touch those flowers, you must first take the permission of Kubera, lord of the Yakshas.’
‘A Kshatriya does not beseech anyone!’ thunders Bhima. ‘Further, this lake has sprung from within the bosom of the mountain, naturally. It has not been excavated inside Kubera’s mansion. So he cannot claim ownership of it.
‘These lotuses belong as much to me as they do to him, created as they were by Brahma for the enjoyment of all living beings.’
The battle is short and sweet. A hundred of the best Krodhavasas band together and attack the Pandava, but Bhima flattens them with mighty swishes of the mace. The rest of the Rakshasas flee to Kubera and tell him of what had happened.
Kubera receives this news with a smile. ‘I have been expecting Vrikodara’s arrival for a while,’ he says. ‘Let him take for Krishnaa as many lotuses as he wants, and let him drink as much of the lake’s water as his stomach can hold.’
Nature Protests against Bhima
Nature, though, does not share Kubera’s magnanimity. As Bhima enters the lake and begins to collect lotuses while rejuvenating himself with gulps of water every few moments, a cold wind blows down the Kailasa and freezes the branches of trees in the forest.
The Earth begins to tremble, and unseen beasts cry out in shrill tones. The place becomes enveloped in darkness so thick that Bhima is unable to see the water in which he is half-submerged. Dust begins to rain from the sky. The four cardinal points of the firmament turn red.
From down at the hermitage, Yudhishthir watches all these ill omens gather, and finds out from Draupadi where Bhimasena had gone. He quickly summons Ghatotkacha to his side.
‘Gather your Rakshasa brethren, my son!’ he tells him. ‘And carry us to the forest of Saugandhika, where your father Bhimasena appears to be caught in trouble.’
Ghatotkacha and the Rakshasas carry a few sages along with the Pandavas and Draupadi to the lake of lotuses. They arrive just in time to stop Bhima from waging war with the elements. Yudhishthir embraces him and says:
‘Stop, Vrikodara. For the sake of fulfilling Panchali’s wish, you need not battle Brahma himself. Indeed, no man on Earth can fight nature herself and win, my brother. Come, let us pray to Kubera, the lord of this garden, and to the lake herself, whom you entered without asking permission.’
The Pandavas then pray and ask Kubera if they could spend a few days in the garden while they wait for the arrival of Arjuna.
Kubera says yes.
The Killing of Jatasura
The Pandavas, after living in Kubera’s garden for a while, descend the mountain a little bit to stay at Vadari, the hermitage of Nara and Narayana. A short while after their arrival here, Ghatotkacha and the Rakshasas take their leave.
One day, when Bhimasena is away, one of the Brahmins who have been accompanying the Pandavas all this time reveals himself as a Rakshasa by name Jatasura. His desire is to steal the bows, quivers and other material possessions of the Pandavas. He also desires to possess Draupadi.
Having gathered all the Pandavas’ weapons under one arm and Draupadi, Yudhishthir, Nakula and Sahadeva under the other, he flies away from the hermitage southward.
Sahadeva manages to wriggle away from his grasp and attack him with a sword called Kausika, but Yudhishthir stops him.
‘Do not fear this Rakshasa, Brother,’ he says. ‘The speed at which we travel is not great enough to outrun Bhima, the son of the wind god. Presently he will come upon us, and then this fiend will meet the consequences of his actions.’
Sahadeva replies, ‘Why must we wait for Bhimasena, my king? Is it not the virtue of a Kshatriya to fight when provoked? Let me challenge this beast by myself, and if I have to die while trying to slay it, I shall have performed my duty.’
But as Sahadeva readies to take on Jatasura, Bhima appears on the scene and smilingly wards off his brother. ‘Stand aside, Sahadeva,’ he says, ‘and rest at peace, Draupadi! I alone am more than a match for this Rakshasa.’
And in another short battle, Bhima kills Jatasura, further enhancing his reputation as a Rakshasa-killer.
The Curse on Kubera
After Jatasura is killed, Draupadi once again expresses a wish to Bhima that she wants to visit the palace of Kubera. Bhima goes on his own to Kubera’s kingdom and begins to kill Yakshas in their thousands.
One of the Yaksha warriors is called Manimana, whom Bhima slays after a long and well-matched battle.
When the surviving Yakshas take this news back to Kubera, the lord of wealth summons his army against this intruder – not knowing that it is Bhima.
By the time Kubera’s forces arrive at the gates, though, the rest of the Pandavas have also arrived, and Yudhishthir bows to Kubera and asks for forgiveness.
To everyone’s surprise, Kubera then smiles. He motions to the Pandavas to rise. ‘I am thankful to Vrikodara that he has chosen to invade my city today. The Yakshas and Rakshasas he killed were already slain by Time. This is true also of Manimana. Grieved as I am by his death, I also understand the necessity of it.
‘Vrikodara today freed me from a terrible curse. Years ago, in the city of Kusasthali, in a conclave of gods, my friend Manimana committed a sin born out of arrogance and stupidity. He discharged excrement on the person of Agastya, who was then performing austerities on the bank of the Yamuna.
‘The sage then, quivering with anger, said, “Because this friend of yours, this Rakshasa Manimana, has insulted me in your presence, I curse him that he shall meet his death at the hands of a mortal, and many of your forces will be annihilated by that powerful being.” Kubera then invites the Pandavas to live in his realm for as long as they wish.
It is here that they receive Arjuna when the latter returns from his exploits in Amaravati.
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