Arjuna is the most powerful warrior in the Mahabharata universe. He is the third of the Pandavas in order of seniority, born after Yudhishthir and Bhimasena.
He is the last of Kunti’s children. After his birth, Kunti decides that she will summon no more gods and bear no more sons. Nakula and Sahadeva, the fourth and fifth of the Pandavas respectively, are born to Madri, Pandu’s second wife.
In this post, we will answer the question: Was Arjuna stronger than Bhima?
Bhima is physically the strongest of the Pandavas. He is also the best all-round warrior among the five brothers, as judged by Bhishma. Arjuna far outranks him in skill with bow and arrow, but with Bhima’s abilities with the mace and his bare hands, in a general sense Bhima is more powerful than Arjuna.
Read on to discover more about whether or not Arjuna was stronger than Bhima.
(For answers to all Arjuna-related questions, see Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
Two Most Powerful Pandavas
Arjuna and Bhima are the two most powerful of the Pandavas. Yudhishthir is reputed to being the most righteous of them all, Nakula the handsomest, and Sahadeva the wisest, but when it comes to skill in warfare and sheer fear factor, Arjuna and Bhima far surpass their brothers.
That being said, Yudhishthir, Nakula and Sahadeva are no slouches on the battlefield; but compared to Arjuna and Bhima they are far behind.
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The two brothers get plenty of focus in the Mahabharata; whenever a quest needs to be completed or a monster needs to be fought, Yudhishthir calls upon either Arjuna or Bhima.
Unfortunately for the purposes of this piece, Arjuna and Bhima never fight each other – not even in a mock competition – so to answer the question of who is more powerful, we will have to speculate.
When it comes to physical strength, Bhima is the clear winner. He is the son of Vayu, the wind god, and brother to Hanuman, another ridiculously strong person from the Ramayana.
When Bhima is an infant, Kunti reportedly drops him by mistake onto a large rock, only to see the rock being crushed under her son’s weight.
As a growing child, Bhima is the chief tormentor of the Kauravas, often using his great strength as leverage to pull tricks on his cousins.
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He is known to have uprooted small trees and hurled them at Duryodhana and his brothers.
When Bhima is poisoned and thrown into the river, he reaches the kingdom of the Nagas where he drinks a magic potion that gives him the strength of ‘ten thousand elephants’.
Though that may be an exaggeration, suffice it to say that when it comes to brute strength of muscle, Bhima is stronger than Arjuna.
Skill with Bow and Arrow
The Mahabharata takes place in the Gangetic plains, where archery was the dominant form of combat. Archers, therefore, were valued much more than warriors that specialized in other disciplines – like mace-fighting, wrestling and the like.
Heroes were divided into two categories: rathas an atirathas. A ‘ratha’ means a great chariot archer. And an atiratha is as good as eight rathas.
A chariot archer typically had a designated man to drive his vehicle around; sometimes he even had a spare chariot which carried a supply of extra bows and arrows.
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Contrast this with mace fighters and spearmen, who fought on foot and carried their own weapons.
In such an environment where archery is the more marketable skill, Arjuna – who displays remarkable skill at it from an early age – becomes the more fashionable hero. He is the master at the more elegant art.
This does not mean that Bhima is awkward as an archer. In fact, Bhima is a good, solid fighter from atop a chariot. During the Mahabharata war, he secures victories against the likes of Drona and Karna.
But he is no Arjuna.
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Bhima is often depicted in popular media as a specialist mace fighter. This is understandable because of his famous fight against Duryodhana to bring the Mahabharata war to a close. Also, he carries his mace with him wherever he goes; it becomes part of his identity.
He is considered joint-best with three other warriors when it comes to wielding the mace. His contemporaries are Balarama the king of Anarta, Shalya the king of Madra, and Duryodhana.
It is not mentioned explicitly, but there are indications that Bhima’s style with the mace is a bit rustic compared to the others’.
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Duryodhana, especially, is skilled at the art of deflecting and feinting whereas Bhima does not mind copping a few body blows on account of his superior strength.
On the other hand, there is no recorded instance of Arjuna ever fighting anyone with a mace. This round, therefore, goes to Bhima.
During the course of the story, Bhima repeatedly clashes against a number of Rakshasas – Kirmira, Bakasura and Hidimba to name a few. With all of these, he spars with his bare hands, without a weapon.
In the Virata Parva, he kills Kichaka for the sin of misbehaving with Draupadi – by wrestling with him in the dance hall.
Before Yudhishthir’s Rajasuya, Bhima challenges the Magadha king Jarasandha to an official wrestling match – presumably overseen by referees – and kills him.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 15: The Rajasuya.)
Also in the Virata Parva, Bhima becomes Matsya’s official wrestler and gets into the ring with Jimuta, a champion wrestler from Hastinapur. Bhima wins this encounter easily as well.
Arjuna, once more, is never shown wrestling with anybody. But he and Krishna accompany Bhima on the secret quest to kill Jarasandha, and Krishna tells Jarasandha: ‘You can challenge any one of us to a wrestling match.’
Which suggests that Arjuna is not an amateur wrestler by any means. He can hold his own if required. But he is far behind Bhima.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 53: Bhima Defeats Duryodhana.)
Now, one must remember that displaying your skill in a controlled environment (like a tournament or a competition) is an entirely different beast to putting that skill to use in an actual battlefield.
There are more variables to mind when you’re in a fight for life or death. There are no rules, only guidelines. And these guidelines can be broken by either party at any time on any excuse.
One needs to be not only skilful but also mindful of strategy, tactics, the enemy’s state of mind, the physical environment that is hosting the fight, and the amount of support available to each participant from other players.
(Suggested: Bhima: 10 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
Karna is a ready example of a warrior who displays plenty of skill as an archer but repeatedly fails to live up to his potential when thrown into a battle with real stakes.
Bhima outshines even Arjuna in this respect because of his above average skill levels in different disciplines of fighting. He is a very good archer, an excellent mace fighter, and is also a dangerous prospect without a weapon in hand.
At the beginning of the war, when Duryodhana asks Bhishma to classify the Pandavas into either rathas or atirathas, the grandsire says that Bhishma is an atiratha.
But, Bhishma cautions, he is a special atiratha who is perhaps the best all-round warrior of all. Even if you shatter his chariot, break his bow and kill his horses, he can still hurt you with nothing but his bare hands.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 37: Rathas and Atirathas.)
Arjuna, on the other hand, is invincible – but chiefly because of the Gandiva, the inexhaustible quivers and indestructible chariot given to him by Agni, the divine gifts of Indra, and the strategic support of Krishna.
Remove these four elements and Arjuna is fallible – especially when fighting Bhishma and Drona.
The question of whether Arjuna is stronger than Bhima depends on a few contextual factors, such as the nature of the opponent, the format of the fight, the physical environment in which the battle is taking place, and so on.
But here are a few pointers:
- If Arjuna has the Gandiva and his chariot, and if we know that the battle is going to be archery-focused, then Arjuna is far more powerful.
- But if the prospect is to fight a Rakshasa or a wrestler with one’s bare hands, Bhima is the stronger one.
- If the challenge is to fight on foot with a mace or a spear or a lance, Bhima is more preferable because he is more nimble than Arjuna.
- If one does not know the composition of the battle beforehand, it is better to choose Bhima over Arjuna because he is the better all-round warrior, equally adept at a number of contrasting situations.
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