How did Dhritarashtra try to kill Bhima?

How did Dhritarashtra try to kill Bhima - Featured Image - Picture of a burning fist

Dhritarashtra is the father of the Kauravas in the Mahabharata. He is the elder brother of Pandu, the father of the Pandavas.

Though he is the rightful heir to the throne as the firstborn son of Vichitraveerya, owing to his blindness, he is sidelined in favour of his younger brother.

However, circumstances conspire to place Dhritarashtra on the throne for many years. During this time, he rules the kingdom well, but ultimately is unable to stop the Pandavas and Kauravas from fighting one another.

The war of Kurukshetra, the climactic event that settles the Pandava-Kaurava conflict in deadly fashion, happens on Dhritarashtra’s watch.

In this post, we will answer the question: How did Dhritarashtra try to kill Bhima?

After the Kurukshetra war ends, the Pandavas come to pay their respects to Dhritarashtra and Gandhari. Here, Dhritarashtra calls for Bhima specifically, saying he wants to embrace him. But Krishna interferes, and silently arranges for an iron statue to be placed in front of Dhritarashtra. The blind king crushes the statue in his arms.

Read on to discover more about how Dhritarashtra tried to kill Bhima.

(For answers to more Dhritarashtra-related questions, see Dhritarashtra: 12 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)

Bhima versus Duryodhana

Right from the time they’re children, the Pandavas and Kauravas have a strained relationship. This is less to do with their personalities and more to do with the circumstances surrounding them.

The Pandavas are fatherless, being shepherded by their mother. Though the environment at the Hastinapur royal palace is not openly hostile, there are undercurrents of hate rippling under the surface.

From the point of view of Duryodhana, the Pandavas are usurpers who have arrived to challenge his right to the throne.

From the point of view of Kunti, it is Dhritarashtra who is clinging to the throne without giving it up to the firstborn son of the true king, Pandu. (Dhritarashtra’s counterpoint, of course, is that he is the true king. It is Pandu who took the throne from him.)

In all of this, the remarkable fact to note is that Bhishma does nothing to diffuse tensions between the two parties. If he wished, he could have easily settled the debate when the princes were children.

All it might have taken was a round of discussions with all the adults in one room.

But because this does not happen, the Kauravas and Pandavas are always at loggerheads. And it is Bhima who takes on the mantle of chief Kaurava-tormentor right from the beginning.

Bhima versus the Kauravas

Yudhishthir does not openly enter any argument or quarrel. Arjuna’s skills with bow and arrow make themselves known only after the boys enter the classroom of Drona.

As children, therefore, it is Bhima that the Kauravas consider their main threat. Bhima’s superhuman strength makes itself known right from the time he is a baby. So Duryodhana realizes that unless Bhima is vanquished, the Pandavas cannot be defeated.

Much of the childhood-rivalry between the two sets of cousins features Bhima, therefore.

Duryodhana poisons Bhima, ties him up, and throws him into a river. Bhima is always playing pranks on his cousins and needling them – sometimes without provocation.

While Yudhishthir’s stance is placatory and diplomatic (yes, even as a child), Bhima uses his superior strength to intimidate his opponents.

What this means, of course, is that Dhritarashtra and Gandhari also probably view Bhima as the main obstacle standing between their son – Duryodhana – and the throne.

At the Dice Game

This enmity between Bhima and Duryodhana in particular – and Bhima and the Kauravas in general – comes to a head at the dice game. Here, Bhima takes three separate vows:

  • That he will crush Duryodhana’s thighs – the very thigh he slaps while gesturing luridly at Draupadi;
  • That he will tear open Duhsasana’s chest and drink his blood, for the part he plays in undressing Draupadi;
  • And that he will kill every single one of Dhritarashtra’s sons as revenge for the injustices heaped upon the Pandavas.

At the Kurukshetra war, Bhima fulfils all of his vows. The only time he expresses regret is when he comes face to face with Vikarna. He recalls mournfully that Vikarna was the only one to have opposed Draupadi’s disrobing.

‘But a vow is a vow,’ he proclaims, and kills his cousin.

The only son of Dhritarashtra that escapes Bhima’s wrath is Yuyutsu, who switches sides on the first day of war and fights by Yudhishthir’s side.

After the War

After the war, after the Pandavas have taken their revenge on Ashwatthama and after Draupadi is gifted the gem, they hear that Dhritarashtra is on his way to meet them.

Yudhishthir summons his brothers together, and along with Krishna, they set out in their chariots to meet the visitors half-way. Satyaki and Draupadi also go with him.

On the banks of the Ganga the Pandavas spot a large crowd of Bharata women, afflicted by woe.

As Yudhishthir descends from his chariot, he is surrounded by those thousands of ladies, their voices raised in grief, some crying for his support, others blaming him for their plight.

‘Where is the righteousness of the king, indeed?’ they say. ‘Where is truth and compassion in this son of Dharma who has slain fathers and sons and brothers and friends?

‘How has your heart become tranquil, O mighty-armed one, after causing Drona and Bhishma and Jayadratha to be killed? What need have you of sovereignty after witnessing the deaths of Abhimanyu and the sons of Draupadi?’

Passing over these women, Yudhishthir salutes the feet of his eldest uncle. The five brothers surround Dhritarashtra and announce themselves by name.

The king first reluctantly embraces the eldest son of Kunti, and then, as his feelings run away with him, asks for Bhima to be presented.

Dhritarashtra Hugs Bhima

Bhima is about to step up and take his uncle’s fumbling hands, but Krishna silently intervenes and points to an iron statue built in the likeness of Vrikodara that he has brought along for this very purpose.

(This little anecdote is probably a later interpolation designed to embellish further the heroism of Krishna, so we need not look for logic here.)

Armed with the strength of ten thousand elephants, Dhritarashtra hugs the iron statue, and with the sheer strength of his muscles, breaks it into pieces. But immediately after he does it, he is consumed by guilt, and falls to the ground with moans of ‘Bhima, Bhima’.

Understanding that the king’s wrath has been quelled, Krishna consoles him. ‘Do not grieve, O King,’ he says, ‘for you have not killed Bhimasena. Knowing that you were filled with rage, I dragged the son of Kunti away and replaced him with an iron statue.

‘It is the same statue that your son Duryodhana had used to practice mace-fighting with, and now it has been shattered by your immense strength. Do not sanction yourself, Dhritarashtra, for it is grief for your son’s death that compelled you to attempt to kill Vrikodara.’

Momentary Anger

Dhritarashtra’s attempt to take Bhima’s life, then, is not a premeditated one. He embraces Yudhishthir and the other Pandavas with love. But when he holds on to Bhima, something visceral inside him takes over.

He knows that in that moment, he is hugging the man who has killed every one of his sons. And he has done so in the cold fury of revenge, after years of plotting and planning. Bhima’s was no mad, spur-of-the-moment rage. It was bitter, curdled hate.

Dhritarashtra also knows that Bhima shows no remorse for his actions. And that in all probability he will be compelled to live under the protection of the Pandavas for the remainder of his life.

All of this would have brought on a deep craving for revenge of his own. Why could he not just crush Bhima in his arms with now? Why could he not avenge the deaths of his sons in that one moment?

The same reaction, interestingly, occurs in Gandhari. While she acknowledges that the Pandavas were fair victors in the war, she also cannot help but burn Yudhishthir’s toenail.

Dhritarashtra thus tries to kill Bhima, but is thwarted by Krishna’s foresight.

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