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 Hidimba Vadha Parva.
(For a full summary of the Mahabharata with all hundred Parvas, see Mahabharata Summary: All 100 Parvas Explained.)
Hidimbi Falls in Love
Not far from where the Pandavas are sleeping, two cannibals, brother and sister, by names Hidimba and Hidimbi, live atop a sala tree.
The brother detects the scent of human flesh in his nostrils and sends his sister to investigate who had come.
‘If they are people you can kill yourself,’ he tells her, ‘do so and bring the corpses to me, Sister, and we shall feast on them. Otherwise, you may return and we shall hunt them together.’
Hidimbi comes to the foot of the banyan tree and spots Bhimasena. She falls in love with him at first sight and thinks to herself:
If this man is killed, my brother and I shall have but momentary enjoyment which would last only until the next time hunger strikes us. But if I could make this man mine, eternal pleasure of his company awaits.
So using her dark powers, she transforms into a beautiful human maiden, and steps into the clearing, her head lowered demurely. She addresses Bhima and says:
‘O handsome one, if you have chosen this place to rest among the many that are available in these woods, then you must not be from these parts, for here is where the fierce rakshasa Hidimba dwells.
‘And he is known for his love of human meat. Make haste, therefore, and come with me. I shall protect you against the wrath of my brother.’
‘I need no protection against any rakshasa, fair maiden,’ Bhima replies. ‘Indeed, I am awake to protect my mother and brothers who sleep in the shade of the tree.
‘And our words might also awaken them, so please leave us alone, and do not worry for our safety. As long as I draw breath, no rakshasa can touch even a hair on my mother’s head.’
While this conversation between Hidimbi and Bhima is going on, Hidimba, wondering why his sister is taking so long to return, alights from his home and comes to the Banyan, following the trail of his scent.
Upon arriving on the scene and seeing that Hidimbi is decked in the form of a human maiden, he guesses that she has taken a liking for the mountain-like man standing next to her.
‘How dare you allow your lust to dictate your behaviour towards your race, Hidimbi,’ he says, snarling in anger and advancing toward her. ‘Watch. I shall now kill all of these men, and then punish you for your unchaste behaviour.’
Bhima Kills Hidimba
Bhima steps between brother and sister and raises his hand. ‘You shall not harm a woman in my presence, O Rakshasa. If you indeed wish to engage in battle, get through me first. Come, let me see your strength.’
Thus begins the fight between Bhima and Hidimba. After a prolonged duel, during which the Pandavas and Kunti wake up and find the beautiful Hidimbi among them, Bhima kills the rakshasa.
Hidimbi then bows to Kunti. ‘Mother,’ she says, ‘who better than you knows a woman’s heart? I have fallen in love so deeply with your son that I was willing to forsake my brother for him.
‘Even now, I am prepared to renounce everything in my life for his sake. Let me unite with him while you stay in these woods; I promise that I shall bring him back to you whenever you wish.’
To this Yudhishthir says, ‘You can take him with you wherever you want during the day, O Hidimbi. But you shall bring him back every day at nightfall without fail.’
Hidimbi and Bhima both agree to this arrangement, and thus did Bhima gain for himself a wife.
Hidimbi takes Bhimasena with her flying along the skies to pristine lakes and valleys outside the reach of normal men. They visit faraway towns and sport together in hidden gardens.
They are said to have gone as far as Manasarovar. As per their condition, every day at nightfall, Bhima comes back to Kunti and the other Pandavas, and at dawn goes with Hidimbi wherever she wishes.
In time, Hidimbi gives birth to a son. We’re informed that rakshasa women deliver their children on the same day after conception. Their duration of pregnancy is but a few hours.
The boy, born with a long nose, broad chest, large calf-muscles, and bulging eyes, grows into a youth within an hour of being born.
He does not bear any similarity to the human form even though born of a man. He does not have any hair on his head, and owing to a remark made by Hidimbi that his head looks like a ghata (a pot), he comes to be named Ghatotkacha (the pot-headed).
The Pandavas Leave
Kunti blesses her first grandson with all the good fortune in the world, and Ghatotkacha, in a short time, becomes exceedingly devoted to the Pandavas.
Now that a son has been born to Hidimbi, she understands that the time for parting from Bhima has arrived. Ghatotkacha takes his mother and goes northward, having promised the Pandavas that he is forever on the ready to be summoned in times of need.
This time of need arrives during the battle of Kurukshetra.
By engaging Karna in a fierce battle on the night of the fourteenth day, and by encouraging him to use Indra’s divine dart on him, Ghatotkacha plays a pivotal role in defanging Karna and making sure that he would not kill Arjuna.
Indeed, the Mahabharata claims that Indra lends a portion of himself to Ghatotkacha so that he might be strong enough to match Karna in battle on that fateful day, and to impel the son of Surya to use his most favoured weapon on him.
The Hidimba Vadha Parva ends with the Pandavas leaving the forest, and on the advice of Vyasa, entering the town of Ekachakra in the guise of Brahmins.