Mahabharata Parva 36: The Tirtha Yatra Parva

Mahabharata Parvas - Tirtha Yatra - Featured Image - Picture of Hanuman

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 Tirtha Yatra Parva.

(For a full summary of the Mahabharata with all hundred Parvas, see Mahabharata Summary: All 100 Parvas Explained.)

At Gandhamadana

After Arjuna leaves, Draupadi and the other Pandavas make their way to Gandhamadana.

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.

‘Indeed,’ he says, ‘we do not know for sure if the ambidextrous one awaits us on top of the mountain. Must we subject Panchali and the twins to this suffering, O Sage?’

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.’

Ghatotkacha Arrives

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 meets Hanuman.

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.’

Hanuman Reveals Himself

‘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.’

The Four Yugas

After Bhima pays his respect to his elder brother and pleasantries have been exchanged, he expresses a wish to see Hanuman’s true form, the form he assumed when he crossed the ocean to fetch Sita.

‘I do not have the strength to do so, Brother,’ replies Hanuman. ‘Even I have to surrender to the ravages of time, after all. Things were different back in the Treta Yuga.

‘Now we are nearing the end of the Dwapara. Many, many years have passed from the reign of Rama to this day.’

‘Then tell me about the four ages,’ says Bhimasena. ‘What are the manners and customs of people, gods and sages in the four different yugas?’

The Krita Yuga

‘The first of the yugas is the Krita,’ says Hanuman, ‘named so because it is known as the perfect age. Even I have not lived in that time, but they say there were no gods back then.

‘Neither were there Asuras, Gandharvas, Yakshas or Rakshasas or Nagas. All the races of men lived as one, united. There was no rich and poor, high and low. No manual labour.

‘There was no religion, even, because ascetic merit was available to all human beings. In this yuga, virtue is said to have been walking on all four legs.

‘Moksha was attained by everyone who took birth, as a matter of course. Narayana, the master of us all, wore white during this period.’

The Treta and Dwapara

‘Then came the Treta Yuga,’ continues Hanuman, ‘the epoch of Rama. Virtue had one of her legs cut off during this period, and she became three-legged.

‘Sacrifices came into being, because as men sinned more, they needed to perform elaborate rites to wash themselves of their actions. This age saw a rise in ascetics and sages, because they were needed to guide men along the right path.

‘Narayana appears in this time clad in red.

‘In the Dwapara, the end of which we are approaching, O Bhima, virtue crawls on just two legs. The Veda, which has been one all this while, was divided by Dwaipayana into four components.

‘The intellect of people dwindles, so they need more and more instruction and elaborate explanation in the tenets of philosophy and spirituality. Society is divided into four parts too, and Narayana oversees this all, wearing yellow.’

The Kali Yuga

Hanuman continues: ‘After this, people say, the Kali Yuga will come upon us. Virtue will limp along on one leg.

‘This is the age in which selfishness, anger and fear will consume even the spiritual leaders, and they will guide their followers in paths that are laden with sin.

‘The nature of men degenerates – mentally, physically, emotionally and psychologically – so much so that all religious acts produce contrary effects, and hasten the end of the universe.

‘Narayana, in this age, wears black, and waits for a suitable time to descend.’

Bhima’s Question

Bhima asks Hanuman a question at this point. ‘You were powerful enough to cross the ocean on your own, Brother, and reach the place where Sita was being held. Why did you not use your powers to destroy Ravana and his kingdom on your own?’

Hanuman smiles. ‘Because it was the destiny of Rama that he should defeat Ravana. Indeed, I had enough strength in me to take on the might of the evil king, but had I done so and rescued Sita, would the world have come to know the greatness of Rama?

‘My role in the tale is to ensure that the Ikshvaku prince gains renown in the universe. Besides, certain acts ought to be performed only by certain people, not just anyone.’

Bhima appears unconvinced by this explanation. Hanuman notices this and says, ‘For example, Brother, at your command, I could at this very moment kill all of the Kaurava brothers and their allies, so that the kingdom of Hastinapur becomes yours overnight.

‘Would you like it?’

Bhima shakes his head. ‘For all the wrongs they heaped upon us, and to fulfil all the vows we took on that day, only we must complete the task, O son of Kesari.

‘I shall never dream of anyone else but me drinking the blood of Duhsasana.’

Hanuman’s Boon

‘Then you understand,’ says Hanuman. ‘It is not just a matter of ability. There are always other things to consider, too.’

Hanuman then points Bhima to the Saugandhika wood. ‘There, in the garden of Kubera, guarded by Yakshas and Rakshasas, you will find a number of flowers that will please the heart of your wife.

‘But be careful, Brother. Do not pluck them personally of your own strength. Find some other way of procuring them.’

As Bhima prepares to leave, Hanuman gives him a parting gift. ‘I will fight on your side in the great battle, 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.’

At the Saugandhika

Bhima takes Hanuman’s leave and reaches the Saugandhika forest, in the vicinity of Mount Kailasa. Here, a hundred thousand Rakshasas named Krodhavasas guard the lake of lotuses under Kubera’s command.

Seeing Bhima approach, they command him to stop.

‘Who are you, O Human?’ they ask. ‘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. ‘No man subject to death is allowed in here by the order of Kubera,’ they tell him. ‘We have been stationed here to guard the lake for that very purpose.

‘Even Gandharvas and Apsaras are not allowed here, O Hero, so do not entertain any hopes that you will be granted entry. If you must drink this water and touch those flowers, you must first take the permission of Kubera, lord of the Yakshas.’

Fighting the Krodhavasas

‘A Kshatriya does not beseech anyone!’ thunders Bhima, forgetting Hanuman’s advice. ‘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.’

Saying so, he advances toward the lake. The Krodhavasas are perplexed: their duty impels them to attack the intruder, and yet they can tell by instinct that they – even in their large numbers – are no match to this man.

A hundred of the foremost in their ranks 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 Defeats 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.’

Praying to Kubera

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 Krodhavasas return to the garden at this point, and spotting Sage Lomasa and other ascetics gathered around the lake, they bow their heads in worship.

A few chants from the Brahmins, and the ill omens subside. The Pandavas then ask Kubera if they could spend a few days in the garden while they wait for the arrival of Arjuna.

Kubera says yes.

Return to Vadari

After living in Kubera’s garden for a while, Yudhishthir expresses to Bhima a wish to enter the abode of the god of wealth. But just as the words leave his lips, a celestial voice forbids him from taking this course of action.

 ‘The mansion of Vaishravana is not to be seen by mortal eyes, O King,’ this voice says. ‘Now that you have spent enough time here by the Saugandhika lake, return to the hermitage of Nara-Narayana at Vadari. Your future course will be determined from thereon.’

The sages second this suggestion, and the Pandavas therefore return to Vadari. After a while of staying there, Ghatotkacha and his Rakshasa henchmen 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’s Courage

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.’

Bhima Kills Jatasura

And stepping in front of Jatasura, he challenges him to single combat. ‘You are like a fish in water which has already bitten into the hook of a fisherman, O miserable one.

‘How dare you masquerade as a virtuous Brahmin while concealing your true intentions all these months? It makes my skin crawl to think of all the thoughts you have had of harming Draupadi while eating food prepared by her.

‘Today is the day I send you to where Baka and Hidimba have gone.’

Jatasura is up for the battle. ‘I have waited for long to fight you, O Pandava, and to avenge the deaths of all my kinsmen. Come and show me your prowess.’

That is exactly what Bhima does. Before long, Jatasura’s limbs are shattered, his neck broken, and his head severed from his body.

And Bhima further strengthens his reputation as a Rakshasa-killer. Thus ends the Tirtha Yatra Parva, with the Pandavas staying at Vadari at the hermitage of Nara-Narayana.