Bhima is the second of the Pandavas (in order of birth) in the Mahabharata. He is the third biological son of Kunti – her first being Karna, and second being Yudhishthir. His biological father is Vayu, the wind god. Pandu, the king of Hastinapur, is his adoptive father.
He is considered physically the strongest of the Pandavas. He is also described by Bhishma as the ‘best all-round warrior’ among all the heroes that assemble at Kurukshetra.
Bhima is a mace-fighter, a wrestler, a Rakshasa-killer – and not a bad chariot-archer.
In this post, we will answer the question: Bhima and Arjuna – who is more powerful?
Arjuna and Bhima are easily the two most powerful warriors fighting on the side of the Panchala army. When asked to estimate their skill, Bhishma tells Duryodhana that Arjuna is great enough to be above all classification, whereas Bhima is the most versatile of all the assembled warriors.
Read on to discover more about who is more powerful between Bhima and Arjuna.
(For answers to all Bhima-related questions, see: Bhima: 10 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
The Case for Arjuna
Arjuna – at least the version of Arjuna that turns up disguised as Brihannala at the end of the Virata Parva – is universally considered to be the most powerful man on earth atop a chariot.
His power and invincibility come from many different sources. Here is a list:
- His own innate talent and love for archery – which he nurtures over a long career.
- Two inexhaustible quivers of arrows given him by Agni, and a powerful bow called Gandiva.
- A chariot – also gifted to him by Agni – that has been built by Vishwakarma and is indestructible.
- Many divine missiles given him by the gods during the exile years. The Pashupatastra of Shiva and the Agnesyastra of Agni are the more prominent ones.
- His friendship with Krishna, which he uses to procure the services of the Dwaraka prince as charioteer for the war.
Much of Arjuna’s power, though, comes from external sources. If you strip him of all the gifts he has received in his life, and if you put him on a normal chariot with a normal charioteer, with a normal bow and a quiver full of normal arrows, he is no longer the most powerful man in the world.
His power is then matched by the likes of Karna, Ashwatthama, Bhishma, Drona and Bhagadatta.
The Case for Bhima
Bhima is physically among the strongest men of his generation. As the son of Vayu, his extreme physical strength is a gift that he receives at birth – a bit like Karna receives his kavacha kundalas from Surya.
Bhima is also known as Vrikodara (he who has the stomach of a wolf’s), which suggests that he has the build of a lithe, agile beast. The popular depiction of him as an overweight man is a misnomer.
Throughout the course of his life, Bhima takes on the role of chief protector and fighter on behalf of the Pandavas. He kills many Rakshasas with his bare hands. Among his talents are the following:
- He is a first-rate wrestler, as evidenced by his victories over Jarasandha and Jimuta. Note that these fights take place under strict rules, under ‘official’ supervision.
- He is a wonderful freestyle fighter, as evidenced by his victories over Bakasura, Hidimba, Jatasura, Kirmira and the like. These fights happen in forests with no rules except one: kill or be killed.
- He is a great mace-fighter, as evidenced by his victories over Shalya – during Draupadi’s swayamvara – and Duryodhana at the end of the war.
- He is a great archer, as evidenced by his many victories from atop a chariot during the Kurukshetra war.
Bhima develops all of these skills without the benefit of any divine gifts. If Arjuna is the master of the archery trade, Bhima is the jack of all fighting trades.
At the beginning of the war, Duryodhana asks Bhishma to classify the various heroes that have assembled at Kurukshetra into one of two groups: a ratha (a great chariot warrior) or an atiratha (a warrior as great as eight rathas).
When it comes to Arjuna, Bhishma refuses to classify him. ‘Arjuna is greater than even the greatest atirathas that ever lived. From what I have seen of him at Matsya, he is in a league of his own, above that of an atiratha.’
About Bhima, Bhishma concedes that the second Pandava could well be called an atiratha. ‘But,’ he warns, ‘Bhima is the most versatile of all the heroes gathered here. He can fight from a chariot, on two feet, with a sword or a mace or a lance or a bow and arrow – or even without a weapon.’
This, according to Bhishma, increases Bhima’s danger manifold, and makes him slightly more effective than your average atiratha.
Incidentally, Bhima makes full use his versatility during the war. He is always seen jumping off his chariot to ambush his enemies with stealth attacks.
On one fateful day, Bhima takes a mace and wades into an army of elephants to rout it completely all by himself – before jumping back into his chariot and fighting with his bow and arrow against chariot archers.
Therefore, while answering the question of whether Bhima or Arjuna is more powerful, we have to ask some qualifying questions. Such as:
- Is the fight going to involve divine weapons?
- Is the fight going to involve weapons at all, or is it going to be bare-handed?
- Is the fight going to happen in an official setting with rules, or in a jungle or mountainous terrain where the stakes are life and death?
- Is the fight going to be one-on-one, or a challenge within the context of a larger war? In other words, are the participants on their own or can they count on support if things do not go well?
- Is the fight going to be chariot-mounted or on two feet?
The definitive answer to the ‘Bhima versus Arjuna’ question will depend on answers to all the above questions.
If we are going into a battle where we do not know the format, duration and nature of the challenge, Bhima may represent the more prudent choice because of the sheer doggedness he brings to the table.
On the other hand, if you know that the challenge is going to be archery-focused, Arjuna is the better choice because of his utter mastery of the craft.
Power versus Value
Finally, we must also ask the question of who the more valuable Pandava is. While Arjuna is often considered the blue-eyed-boy, it is Bhima who performs the quiet, loyal deeds without ever complaining.
- While Arjuna travels around the world building alliances and procuring wives and gifts, Bhima remains home and guards the safety of his brother and wife.
- During the exile years, it is Bhima who performs the day-to-day duties of keeping his family safe. He kills many Rakshasas, and protects Draupadi on multiple occasions.
- During the Kurukshetra war, Bhima kills as many Kaurava forces as does Arjuna. He administers the final blow of the war by thwarting Duryodhana.
- At the end of the war, it is Bhima who chases Ashwatthama and ensures that the Upapandavas are avenged.
Bhima is therefore dependable and consistent throughout his life. He never leaves Yudhishthir’s side for any significant length of time. He is the quiet, workhorse-like enforcer – in contrast with Arjuna’s glamour and skill.
While this is debatable, I would rate Bhima’s value to be higher than Arjuna’s. Arjuna is certainly more powerful, overall. But Bhima is more valuable.
If you liked this post, you may find these interesting also:
- Bhima: 10 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Karna: 41 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered