Having escaped one calamity, the Pandavas and their mother now face the dangers of the jungle.
The sage Vaisampayana is telling the history of the Pandavas to their great-grandson, King Janamejaya. As the Mahabharata continues, the Pandavas and their mother have escaped the burning house of lac, and Bhima is leading and sometimes carrying his mother and brothers through the jungle.
Bhima quickly moved through the jungle, O king, his powerful thighs sending the trees and thickets whirling about, stirring up winds that blew like the summer blasts in the months of Suci and Sukra. Mighty Bhima made his own road by shattering branches, flattening creepers and lordly trees, tearing out bushes that entered his path, and demolishing the forest giants that grew from the earth and gave their fruits in the sky. Immeasurable was Bhima's prowess, and as he went crashing through the forest, his speed and force left the Pandavas dizzy and dazed.
More than once the Pandavas swam across wide rivers. On land they assumed disguises, fearing Duryodhana, the son of Dhrtarastra. When the going was rough on treacherous land and up the banks and mountain slopes Bhima carried his glorious mother, whose body was most delicate.
As evening settled in, those bulls of the Bharata race came to a corner of the vast forest where the fare of roots, fruits, and even water was scarce and where the birds and beasts were cruel and ghastly. Grim was that twilight. Horrible birds and beasts roamed all about, all directions fell blind with darkness, and unseasonable winds howled.
Afflicted with fatigue, thirst, and irresistible sleep, the Kauravyas could go no farther. Then, carrying the others, Bhima, best of the Bharatas, entered a vast and frightening forest where no man lived. He moved quickly to the shelter of a wide and charming banyan tree, where he placed down all the family.
Bhima said, "I shall search for water here. My lord Yudhisthira, all of you should now rest. Water-going cranes are crying out their sweet songs, so I think there must be a large reservoir of water in this area."
"Go ahead!" said the eldest brother.
Bhima went to the place where the water birds were crying out. There, O king, he drank good, clean water and bathed. Then with his upper cloth he gathered up drinking water for his family. He quickly returned the distance of several miles, eager to bring water to his mother. Seeing his mother and brothers sleeping on the bare ground, Vrkodara [Bhima] was filled with unhappiness, and he grieved for them:
"How ironic that in Varanavata my mother and brothers could not fall asleep on the most costly beds and now they sleep so soundly on the bare ground. Behold this lady, Kunti. Her brother Vasudeva crushed the hosts of wicked enemies. Kunti, the daughter of King Kuntibhoja, is glorified by all the marks of divine and noble birth. She is the daughter-in-law of Vicitravirya and the wife of the great soul Pandu. She has always slept in palaces, and she shines like the bright whorl of the lotus. She is the most delicate of women, and by all rights she deserves the costliest bedding. Just see her now so unfairly lying on the dirt of the earth! She bore her sons from the god of justice, from the king of heaven, and from the Wind, and now that same innocent woman lies exhausted on this bare land.
"What could be more heartbreaking for me than this that I must now watch my own brothers, tigers among men, sleeping here on the empty ground? Whatever kingdom may be in the three worlds, this king, Yudhisthira, deserves to rule it, for it is he who knows the Law. How can that very king lie here exhausted on bare ground like a most wretched and vulgar man? And Arjuna, who has no equal among men in this world, whose divine hue is dark like a bluish rain cloud he too lies here on the empty land like a wretched person. What is sadder than this? And the twins, endowed with beauty like that of the celestial Asvins they too rest on the hard surface of the earth as if the poorest of men.
"A man who has no biased and scheming relatives to disgrace his family lives very happily in this world, like a tree that stands alone in a village. That single tree, full of leaves and fruits, becomes sacred to the village, and because it stands alone, without a jungle of relatives, the people honor and revere it.
"Of course, those who have many courageous relatives and who are devoted to religious principles also live happily in this world, free of distress. Powerful, prosperous people who love and take care of their friends and family live by helping and depending on one another, like trees in a noble forest.
"But Dhrtarastra and his wicked son have driven us out of our home. Somehow, by the instruction of Vidura, we were not burned to death. And here we are under the shelter of a tree. What direction shall we take, now that we have come to the worst trouble of our lives?
"I seem to make out a city not too far from this forest. Someone had better keep guard while the others sleep, so I myself shall stay awake. My mother and brothers will drink water later, when they awaken and are rested and relaxed."
Thus making up his mind, Bhima guarded his family throughout the night.
Hidimba, The Man-Eater
Not far from the forest where the Pandavas slept lived Hidimba, a Raksasa, a monstrous creature who preyed on human flesh. He made his home in a huge Sala tree and possessed great power and might. His deformed features were hideous. He had bright yellow eyes, a gaping mouth with saber-like teeth, and an insatiable lust for human flesh. Afflicted by hunger, he was roaming the night when he happened to spy from a distance the sleeping Pandavas and their mother. Shaking his head, its hairs harsh and grizzly, and scratching it with his fingers pointed upward, the Raksasa opened wide his great mouth and yawned, looking again and again toward the sleeping princes.
The wicked giant, who preyed with terrible strength on human flesh, smelled the aroma of human meat and said to his sister, "After a long time, some food has come that I really like. My mouth is watering with relish, and my tongue is licking my lips. Finally I can sink my eight deadly razor-sharp teeth into juicy, fleshy bodies. I shall step over these human necks and rip open the jugular veins, and then I shall drink lots of hot, foaming blood. Go and find out who they are, sleeping so confidently in the forest.
"The aroma of human meat is very strong, and it gives me great pleasure. Go kill all those humans and bring me their bodies. You have nothing to fear from them, for they sleep in my domain. We shall very nicely prepare the meat of those humans, and then we shall feast together. Quickly, do what I say!"
Obeying her brother's order, the Raksasi monster, jumping from one tree to another, went swiftly to where the Pandavas slept, O best of the Bharatas. Arriving there, she saw the Pandavas and their mother, Prtha, sleeping on the ground, and she saw the invincible Bhimasena standing guard over them. But when she saw Bhimasena standing as tall and sturdy as the trunk of a Sala tree and incomparably handsome, the Raksasi desired him.
"That dark, handsome man has powerful arms, shoulders like a lion, and a body that seems to glow. His neck is thick and precious like a conch shell, and his eyes are like the petals of a lotus. He is fit to be my husband! I shall never execute the cruel order of my brother. The love a woman feels for her husband is much stronger than her friendship with a brother. If I kill these people, my brother and I will be satisfied for an hour or so, but if I don't kill them I shall enjoy forever."
Able to change her body at will, the Raksasi then took the form of a gorgeous human female, adorned herself with celestial ornaments, and very slowly, like a bashful creeper, approached the mighty-armed Bhimasena.
Hidimba smiled at Bhima and said, "Where have you come from, noble man, and who are you? Who are the men who sleep here as handsome as gods? And who is this very delicate woman, tan and luminous, who has come here to the forest with you and lies sleeping as securely as if she were in her own house? She doesn't know that the wild jungle is inhabited by Raksasas and that a most wicked Raksasa named Hidimba dwells in this very place. That evil Raksasa is my brother, and he sent me here because he wants to eat the flesh of all of you, O divine one. But when I look upon you, as handsome as a child of the gods, I desire no one else for my husband. I tell you the truth.
"Now that you know this, please treat me properly. My mind and body desire you, so accept me as I have accepted you. O innocent one, be my husband, and I shall save you from that man-eating Raksasa. Then, O mighty-armed, we shall live together, with the mountains as our citadel. I can fly through space and wander where I will. Come with me, and discover pleasure you have never known before!"
Bhimasena said, "My dear Raksasi, what man would abandon his mother, an older brother, and younger brothers like these when he has the power to protect them? How can a man like me hand over his sleeping brothers and mother as food for the Raksasas and go off pining for romance?"
The Raksasi said, "Whatever you like I shall do. Wake them all up, and I shall gladly save all of you from the man-eating Raksasa."
Bhimasena said, "O Raksasi, my brothers and mother are peacefully sleeping in these woods, and I will not wake them all up out of fear of your wicked brother. O timid one, O lady of lovely eyes, neither Raksasas, humans, Gandharvas, nor Yaksas can withstand my prowess. Either go or stay, good woman. Do as you like, or send at once your man-eating brother, my thin beauty."
The Man-Eater's Challenge
Noticing that his sister had been gone for a long time, Hidimba, lord of the Raksasas, descended from his tree and went to hunt the Pandavas. His arrogant bulging eyes were red with rage. His hairs standing on end, the mighty demon stood so tall that his body bruised the clouds. Repeatedly throwing around his mighty arms, he smashed his palm with his fist, and he ground together the sharp fangs that lit his hideous face.
Seeing that awful monster coming to attack them, his sister Hidimba was terror-struck and said to Bhimasena, "He's going to attack! He's a wicked man-eater, terribly cruel. You and your brothers must do exactly as I say. I have all the strength of the Raksasas, and I can go anywhere at will. Climb onto my hip, my hero, and I will take you away through the skyways. Please, mighty one! Wake up your sleeping brothers and your mother, and I will take all of you and flee through the celestial sky."
Bhimasena said, "Do not fear, shapely one. He is nothing in my presence. O thin-waisted lady, I shall kill him before your attentive eyes. This degraded Raksasa is no match for me, my timid one. Why, not even all the Raksasas combined can withstand my pressure in battle. Just look at my bulging arms, as wide as elephant trunks, my thighs, as tough as iron beams, and my hard, massive chest. Lovely lady, do not insult me by thinking I am an ordinary human being, for you will see now, shapely one, that I am equal in prowess to Indra."
Hidimba said, "I am not insulting you, O tiger of men, for I see that you are as handsome as a god. But I have also seen the havoc wrought by this Raksasa upon human beings."
O Bharata, as Bhimasena and Hidimba were thus speaking, the man-eating Raksasa heard Bhimasena's words and flew into a rage. Hidimba then saw that his sister had assumed a human form, with a garland atop her head and a face as lustrous as the full moon. Her nose, hair, and eyebrows were all exquisite, her skin and nails most delicate. She was dressed in very thin garments and adorned with all sorts of jewelry. Seeing her in such a charming human form, the man-eater suspected her of lusting after a man, and this only fanned the fire of his wrath.
In full fury the Raksasa bulged out his huge eyes at his sister, O noble Kuru, and rebuked her, "Who is this fool who obstructs me when I'm hungry? Hidimba! Are you so bewildered and deceived that you do not fear my rage? Damn you, shameless woman! Lusting after men! You disgust me, for you bring infamy to all the Raksasa lords who have come before us. Taking the side of these humans, you have unkindly offended me. I shall at once kill all of them, and I shall kill you too!"
Having spoken thus, Hidimba, his eyes red with rage and furiously gnashing his teeth, rushed upon Hidimba to kill her. Seeing this, mighty Bhima, best of fighters, shouted in a menacing voice, "Halt! Stand right there!"
Seeing the Raksasa raging at his sister, Bhimasena laughed and said to him, "Why should you wake up these people sleeping so peacefully? Come and attack me, you stupid man-eater. Hurry up! I've done you no wrong. You are the offender, but at least try your blows on me and don't strike a woman.
"You stupid Raksasa, it is you who are the infamy of your family. This girl is an innocent child, and she could not help desiring me, for she was moved by the god of love who dwells within her body. By your command she came here, and upon seeing my God-given beauty she desired me. This shy woman does not defile your family. The fault was committed by Cupid, and when I am standing here, you wicked Raksasa, you are not going to strike a woman. Let's come together, man-eater, one on one, and I shall send you now to the abode of Yama, lord of death.
"Now, Raksasa, I'm going to pound your head into the ground till it shatters as if smashed by the foot of a mighty elephant. Let the vultures and jackals be happy to drag your body on the earth, for this very day I shall slay you in battle. For too long you have defiled this forest, devouring innocent men, but now in one moment I shall free the forest of its painful pest.
"Even though an elephant is as big as a hill, a powerful lions kills it and drags it over the land. So today your sister will see you killed and dragged by me across this earth. When I slay you, O disgrace of the Raksasas, the men who live in this forest will wander here free of harassment."
Hidimba said, "What is all your useless roaring and boasting, son of man? First do all that you say and speak with action! Don't go on forever bragging in vain. You think you are strong and invincible, but you will now learn in battle that I am stronger than you. You offend me with your words, you fool, but I promise that I will not slaughter these people sleeping here so happily until I have first slaughtered you. But when I have drunk the blood of your limbs, then I shall slay these others, and I shall murder this woman who dares disgust me."
The Deadly Fight
Having thus spoken, the man-eater grasped his own arms and with terrible fury rushed upon Bhimasena, the slayer of enemies. As the demon rushed, swinging his deadly fist, Bhima, of frightening prowess, swiftly caught and held the Raksasa's arm and laughed at him. As the Raksasa struggled in Bhima's mighty grasp, Bhima dragged him eight bow-lengths from that spot as easily as a lion drags a petty animal.
Held in the mighty grip of Pandu's son, the furious Raksasa wrapped his arms around Bhimasena and screamed out in a terrifying voice. Again powerful Bhima dragged him on the ground and said, "I don't want this noise to wake up my sleeping brothers."
Bhima wanted to fight, and the two of them attacked and dragged one another with sheer power. Both the Raksasa and Bhima demonstrated extraordinary prowess, breaking giant trees and tearing apart the toughest jungle vines as furiously as two maddened bull elephants that have grown mighty for sixty years.
Awakened by the great sound of the battle, the Pandavas and their mother opened their eyes and saw the lady Hidimba standing before them.
Seeing the superhuman beauty of Hidimba, the tiger-like Pandavas and their mother, Prtha, were astonished. Studying her carefully, and amazed by her gorgeous features, Kunti spoke to her in words that were gentle, sweet, and comforting.
"You are as bright as a child of the gods. Who is your guardian, and who are you, fair lady? Where do you come from, shapely woman, and what duty brought you here? Whether you are a venerable deity of this forest or an Apsara goddess, please explain everything to me. How is it that you are standing here before us?"
Hidimba said, "The forest you are seeing, as vast and luminous as the blue rain-bearing clouds, is the residence of the Raksasa Hidimba, and it is my abode as well. You may know me to be the sister of that Raksasa lord. Noble lady, my brother wanted to kill all of you, and therefore he sent me here. I came here on the order of that cruel and wicked demon, but then I saw your powerful son, whose skin is like gold. Cupid moves in the heart of all beings, good woman, and he has put me under the control of your son. I chose your mighty son as my husband, and I tried to take him away, but he would not be controlled by me. Then, knowing that I had been gone for a long time, that man-eater Hidimba came himself to kill all of your sons. But your intelligent son, who is my beloved, with his strength, stamina, and skill smashed my wicked brother and dragged him away [so the fight would not disturb you]. Look, you can see them there, roaring and tearing at each other, man against Raksasa, both of them full of power and courage."
Hearing her words [and suddenly realizing that their brother Bhima was engaged in mortal combat], Yudhisthira, Arjuna, Nakula, and mighty Sahadeva all jumped to their feet and saw the two fighters clasping and dragging each other like two furious lions in a savage fight for victory. Bhima and Hidimba raised a dust cloud like the smoke of a forest fire. Covered with earth and dust, they seemed like two mountains, and they shone like two great slopes covered with mountain dew.
As Arjuna watched his brother struggling with the Raksasa, he laughed and whispered to him, "Bhima, don't be afraid, mighty-armed one. We were exhausted and sleeping soundly, and we didn't know you were fighting with such a ferocious enemy. I'm here to help you, Partha. I shall fight with the Raksasa, and Nakula and Sahadeva will protect Mother."
Bhima said, "Just stay on the sideline and watch. And don't be confused by this exercise. There's no way he's going to live, now that he's come within the reach of my arms."
Arjuna said, "Bhima, why let this sinful Raksasa live so long? We have to leave soon. We can't stay here, O tamer of foes. End this fight before the western horizon turns red and the twilight begins, for in that eerie hour the Raksasas gain tremendous power. Hurry up, Bhima. Don't play with him! Kill this horrible Raksasa before he works up his magical powers."
Thus addressed by Arjuna, Bhima hoisted aloft the body of the ferocious Raksasa and whirled it around more than a hundred times.
Bhimasena said, "With useless meat you maintained your useless life and grew strong, but with a useless brain. You deserve a useless death! So now you will be useless no more!"
Arjuna said, "If you consider the Raksasa a burden for you in this fight, then I can help you, but he must be killed instantly. Or I alone shall kill him, Bhima. You have done a good job and you are tired, so it's the right time for you to rest."
Hearing these words from Arjuna, Bhimasena fumed with indignation and pulverized the demon against the hard ground, slaughtering him like a sacrificial animal. As Bhima dealt him death blows, the Raksasa blasted the air with horrible screams that filled the entire forest, echoing like a moist and booming kettledrum. The powerful and beloved son of Pandu then grasped the Raksasa's body firmly in his hands and broke it in half, delighting his anxious brothers.
Seeing Hidimba dead, the Pandavas became wildly enthusiastic, and they honored Bhimasena, tiger among men, who always tamed his foe. Having praised and honored the great soul Bhima, of awesome prowess, Arjuna again spoke to him.
"Bless you! I think, my lord, there's a city not far from this forest. Let us go there quickly so that Duryodhana does not discover us here."
Everyone agreed, saying, "So be it."
Those fierce warriors, tigers of men, took their mother and departed, and the Raksasa lady Hidimba went with them.
Hridayananda Dasa Goswami led the team of devotee-scholars who completed the translation and commentary of the Srimad-Bhagavatam begun by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Fluent in several languages, Hridayananda Dasa Goswami has extensively taught Krsna consciousness in India, Europe, the United States, and Latin America. He is now doing graduate work in Sanskrit and Indian Studies at Harvard University.