Friday, November 6, 2015

Tales from the Mahabharata - 15 - When Bhima Was At a Loss of Words

Bhima throws an elephant at Karna
(credit: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
That Bhima was a man of action is not in dispute. One could write an epic in itself on Bhima's love for letting his actions do the talking. But do not think his words lacked a punch either! Far from it. Bhima was never short of strong words either. Let us examine a few instances.

Yudhishthira's weakness for gambling combined with his ineptness at the game to hand over his kingdom, liberty, his brothers and wife to the Kauravas. Bhima had watched quietly as Yudhishthira had gambled away - losing round after round - everything, but Droupadi's insult in the assembly hall was too much for him to bear. He turned to his elder brother and spoke - "O Yudhishthira! Gamblers have many courtesans in their country. But they are kind even towards those, and do not stake them in gambling. ... I think you committed a most improper act in staking Droupadi. She did not deserve this. ... It is because of her that my anger descends on you. I will burn your hands. O Sahadeva! Bring the fire." [Dyuta Parva]
There are of course the famous oaths Bhima took during that game of dice. The first was directed at Duryodhana - "If he fails to break that thigh with a club in a great battle, let Vrikodara not go to the worlds where his ancestors have gone." [Dyuta Parva]
The second oath was hurled at Duhshasana - "If he does not rip apart your breast and drink your blood in battle, Partha Vrikodara will not go to the worlds attained by those with good deeds. In front of all the archers, I will kill the sons of Dhritarashtra in battle." [Anudyuta Parva - note that there are actually three pledges that Bhima took, the third one being to kill all the sons of Dhritarashtra, not just Duryodhana and Duhshasana.]

While in anonymous exile at the kingdom of King Virata, Bhima came to Droupadi's rescue after she had come under the lustful gaze of Kichaka, the commander of the Matsya army. When a drunk Kichaka approached a disguised Bhima, this is how Vrikodara addressed him - "It is my good fortune that you are so handsome and it is good fortune that you are praising yourself. I do not think that you have ever been caressed the way you are going to be caressed now." Yes, Vrikodara was capable of subtle humour also, but not for long, for this was right before he pummeled Kichaka, and how - "He forced his feet, his hands, his neck and all his limbs into his trunk."
The next day when Kichaka's lifeless body was discovered, this is what the people wondered - "Where is the neck? Where are the feet? Where are the hands? Where is the head?" [Kichaka-vadha Parva]

Even fifteen years after the great battle at Kurukshetra, Bhima's hatred for the Kauravas remained fresh as ever. So much so that despite Yudhishthira's insistence that all treat the elder Kuru with respect, Bhima could not help but pass this remark within earshot of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari - "The aged king's sons were skilled in the use of weapons. However, my arms are like clubs and I used these to kill them and convey them to the world hereafter." [Ashramavasika Parva] An anguished Dhritarashtra decided to leave Hastinapura and retire to the forest.

But let's come back to the fourteenth day of the battle, which was a particularly fierce day, coming as it did immediately after Abhimanyu's death, and which saw Drona as the Kaurava army's commander do his best to stop Arjuna from reaching Jayadratha. During the course of the day's battle, as the day approached its end, Bhima came face-to-face with Drona. Drona challenged as well as taunted Bhima thus - "O Bhimasena! In the midst of the enemy, without vanquishing me in battle, you are incapable of penetrating into the hostile forces. With my permission, your younger brother and Krishna penetrated earlier."

Bhima fights Drona
(credit: Gita Press, Gorakhpur)
Bhima would admit inferiority in battle to none. His eyes "coppery red with anger", he roared back - "O blind brahmana! In this field of battle, it cannot be that Arjuna has penetrated with your permission. ... If he showed you supreme worship, that was only for the sake of honouring you. But I am not Arjuna! O Drona! I am the angry Bhimasena, your enemy." And Bhima then swung his club, destroying not only Drona's horses, charioteer, standard, and chariot, but also "many other warriors with its energy." Drona escaped by leaping off his chariot in the nick of time. [Jayadratha-vadha Parva, part of Drona Parva]

Some time later, on the say day, Karna and Bhimasen faced each other, and Karna got the better of Bhima. Karna, however, remembered his promise to Kunti and spared his life. But not before touching Bhima with the tip of his bow (probably as a sign of insult), and “repeatedly” uttering these words:
“Eunuch! Idiot! Glutton! You have no skill in weapons but wish to fight me. O Pandava! You should be where there are many kinds of food and things to eat and drink… You should become a hermit and live on fruit. … Go to the forest. You have no skills in fighting. … In a household, you can only urge cooks, servants, men and slaves to hasten in their tasks and are capable of reproaching them for the sake of food.” [Jayadratha-vadha Parva, part of Drona Parva]
These words were the harshest that Karna spoke to any of the four Pandavas whose life he spared (I'll cover this in a future post). Bhima could do nothing but listen to these insults in submissive silence. He would look to Arjuna to avenge this insult, but that would happen only three days later.

For once, both words and action failed Vrikodara!

Note: I have used volumes 2, 4, 6, and 10 of Dr. Bibek Debroy’s “Mahabharata”, an unabridged English translation of the Critical Edition of the Mahabharata, published by Penguin India, as my reference.

"When Words Failed Bhima" - my article on Bhima and when the man of action found himself at a loss of both words and action(!) was published in Swarajya on July 2nd, 2015.

© 2015, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.