The Mahabharata is a collection of hundred Parvas (or ‘sections’) that tell the story of a long-standing family feud between two sets of cousins – the Kauravas and the Pandavas – for control of the Kuru throne in Hastinapur.
The climactic event of the story is an eighteen-day war that happens between the two factions on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
It is commonly understood that the Pandavas are the protagonists of this tale and the Kauravas the antagonists – though many retellings have appeared over the years that flip this structure.
In this post, we will summarize the Baka Vadha Parva.
(For a full summary of the Mahabharata with all hundred Parvas, see Mahabharata Summary: All 100 Parvas Explained.)
A Brahmin’s Dilemma
In Ekachakra, Vyasa leaves the Pandavas at the house of a Brahmin, and addressing Yudhishthir, says, ‘Wait here for me. I shall come back for you. By adapting yourself to life in this town, you shall gain much happiness.’
After they had been living in the Brahmin’s house for a while, one day, Kunti notices that the family of their host is plunged in sorrow. The Brahmin has a wife, an older daughter and a young son, all four of whom are discussing in a group a rather serious matter.
First the wife says that she ought to give up her life; then the Brahmin says that he would, followed by the daughter who offers herself as the protector of the family.
At the end, the son, the youngest born, still no more than five years old, takes a blade of grass and brandishes it in the air. ‘I shall kill the rakshasa with this, Father!’ he says, and brings a smile on the faces of his family members.
Kunti grabs this moment as an opportunity to step into the room and ask the father what the matter is. The Brahmin tells her the details of their predicament.
It so happens that Ekachakra is a town that relies on protection from outside forces on the strength of an Asura named Baka. But in return for that service, Baka demands a cartload of rice, two buffaloes and a human being to eat every week.
One after the other, the householders of Ekachakra have to give them this food, and the turn comes to a particular family after many years.
‘It is today our turn, my lady,’ says the Brahmin, ‘to feed the brute. I shall have to go and become the rakshasa’s food today, so that my family might be spared. But I worry for their well being in my absence.’
‘It does not have to be this way,’ says Kunti, after some thought. ‘You have but one son of tender years, and one daughter, O Brahmin. I have five sons, and I can easily spare one.
‘Why do you not send one of my sons along with the asura’s food? That way your whole family will survive, and I will have received my opportunity to express my gratitude toward you for taking us in.’
Kunti Pledges Bhima
‘Ah, but the gods will not forgive me if I ask my guest to make this sacrifice, my lady. How can I, in my right mind, ask you to give up one of your sons so that I can protect my own?’
Kunti smiles upon the Brahmin. ‘Do not fear for the safety of my son, sir. He is a Brahmin, but he is skilled in the art of combat. And his strength is unequalled.
‘I have seen him fight and win with many Rakshasas in the past. This asura, I am certain, will not be able to slay him. But do not tell anyone of the powers of my son; I am letting you know so that you allow him to take your place on that cart of rice.’
The Brahmin reluctantly agrees with this proposal, though he is mildly encouraged by the look of Bhima’s arms and shoulders.
Yudhishthir does not particularly like the idea of sending Bhima to Bakasura, but Kunti gives him two reasons why she took that step.
One, it is a token of gratitude for the Brahmin family who took them in without questions and helped them conceal their identity. And two, a Kshatriya gathers a lot of religious merit when he renders service to a Brahmin.
By performing this act, Bhima and the Pandavas, Kunti says, will be blessed by the gods. Besides, there is also the matter of freeing the town of Ekachakra from the grip of a cruel rakshasa.
Bhima goes with the cartload of rice and other food items, steering the buffaloes in the direction of Baka’s abode.
When he nears the place, he gets hungry and begins to eat the food himself while calling out to the rakshasa.
Bhima Kills Bakasura
When Baka appears, after a long duel of words and a shorter duel of arms, Bhima kills Bakasura by breaking the asura’s back over his knee.
And as he falls to the ground, vomiting blood, his brothers and other kinsmen rush out of the caves, stricken with horror.
Bhima warns them that if they ever venture to eat human meat again, he would return to kill them all. They promise him that they will be peaceful from then on.
Loading Bakasura’s body on the cart, Bhima rides to the front gate of Ekachakra. He leaves the corpse of the rakshasa on the earth under the main arch, and leaves in the darkness, unseen.
The Next Morning
The next morning, the town is abuzz with news of the rakshasa’s death, and curious men come from far and wide bearing wives and children to take a look at the bloodied body of Baka.
Soon, some of the enterprising men of Ekachakra work out whose turn it had been to send the rakshasa food, and come to the house where the Pandavas are staying.
‘Tell us whom you sent to Baka last evening, O Brahmin,’ they ask, burning with curiosity. ‘Tell us all!’
But having promised Kunti that he will keep their identities hidden, the Brahmin just says that a strange hero had come to their house the night before and offered to fight the asura with the intention of killing him.
He does not know who he is, where he came from, or even his name. ‘All I know,’ he says, ‘is that he was a Brahmin.’
From then on, the town of Ekachakra began to celebrate a festival on the anniversary of Baka’s death during which the principal ceremony is the worship of Brahmins.
Thus ends the Baka Vadha Parva.