While in hiding disguised as a brahmana,
Bhima gets a chance to use his extraordinary strength.
The sage Vaisampayana is telling the history of the Pandavas to their great-grandson, King Janamejaya. As the Mahabharata continues, the Pandavas are now living disguised as brahmanas with a brahmana family. Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas, has overheard the family speaking about a great dilemma: one of them must deliver food to a Raksasa a man-eater and so give up his or her life. Kunti offers to solve the family's dilemma.
KUNTI DEVI SAID to the brahmana, "You should in no way be depressed over this danger, for there is clearly a means to get free from the Raksasa. You have a little son and a saintly virgin daughter. I don't think that you, the children, or your wife should go. I have five sons, brahmana, and one of them will take the offering on your behalf and go to the sinful Raksasa."
The brahmana said, "Though I wish to live, I shall absolutely not do what you suggest. When a brahmana is a guest in my home, I shall never take his life to serve my own interest. Even among the most low-born and irreligious women, there is no such rule that a woman is to sacrifice herself and her son for a brahmana. I should know what is best for me, so it seems, and between murdering a brahmana and killing myself, better that I take my own life.
"Killing a brahmana is the greatest sin. There is no atoning for such an act, even if committed unknowingly, so it is best that I take my own life. I do not desire to be killed, good woman, but if killed by others I would be guilty of no sin. Were I to intentionally cause a brahmana's death, I see no means of atonement for such a shameless act of cruelty. In just the same way, to sacrifice a person who has come to my home seeking shelter, to cause the death of one begging me for charity, I would consider the supreme cruelty. In ancient times the great souls who understood religious duties performed in times of trouble stated that one must never perform an abominable act or an act of cruelty. It is better that I myself perish with my wife, for I shall never allow the killing of a brahmana under any circumstances."
Kunti Devi said, "Learned brahmana, my mind will not move from my conviction that sages such as you must be protected. Nor is it that I don't love my own son. Even if I had a hundred sons, I would dearly love every one of them. The simple fact is that the Raksasa does not have the power to kill my son.
"My son has perfected the art of mantras. He is powerful and can burn like fire. My mind is convinced that he will deliver all the food to the Raksasa and then free himself. We have already seen many strong and giant Raksasas do battle with my heroic son, and every one of them was killed.
"But this is not to be spoken to anyone, no matter what, O brahmana, for surely people would desire to get this knowledge, and out of curiosity they would harass my sons. And without the permission of his guru, even if my son were to teach his knowledge to another the science would not perform its function. That is the opinion of the saintly sages."
At these words of Kunti the brahmana and his wife joyfully welcomed her proposal, which seemed to them like the life-giving nectar of the gods. Thereupon, Kunti and the brahmana went and spoke to Bhima, telling him that he must execute the task. He agreed and said, "So be it."
O Bharata, after Bhima had given his word, saying, "I shall do it!" the other Pandavas returned home, bringing the alms they had gathered.
Yudhisthira, son of Pandu, knew his brother well and could see from Bhima's appearance that something was happening. Sitting down with his mother in private, Yudhisthira asked her, "What is Bhima about to do, with all his awesome prowess? Has he received permission for something he desires to do here?"
Kunti Devi said, "Yes. Bhima, burner of the foe, will on my order perform a great task to help the brahmana and set the city free."
Yudhisthira Maharaja [understanding the task] said, "What is this rash enthusiasm that has led you to such a thoughtless act? The saintly do not recommend that a mother sacrifice her own son. Why do you want to give up your own son for the sake of someone else's son? By sacrificing your son, you have violated the moral codes of this world. By depending on his two arms, we all sleep peacefully at night and shall take back our kingdom, stolen from us by wicked cousins. Such is Bhima's immeasurable strength and courage that just by thinking about him, Duryodhana and Sakuni cannot lie down peacefully in their many mansions. By the strength of that mighty hero, we were saved from the house of lac and from other wicked men. He is the one who slew Purocana. Because we depend upon his strength, we are confident we shall cut down the sons of Dhrtarastra and regain our rightful rule over this most abundant earth. What were you thinking of that convinced you to abandon him? Could it not be that your intelligence was overcome by your many troubles and you lost your discrimination?"
Kunti Devi said, "Yudhisthira, you need not lament for Bhima. Nor did I reach my decision because of weak intelligence. Here in this brahmana's house we have been living very happily, my son, and I have correctly concluded that we must do something for him in return. After all, a man is measured by his gratitude; a great man remembers what another has done for him.
"Having seen Bhima's great prowess in the house of lac and the killing of Hidimba, I now have full confidence in him. The great power in Bhima's arms is equal to the strength of thousands of elephants, and by that strength all of you, who are yourselves like elephants, were carried out of Varanavata. There is no one with the strength of Bhima, nor will there be. Why, he could stand up in battle to thunder-wielding Indra, the best of the gods. Long ago, just a few days after his birth, he fell from my lap onto the hillside. So strong was his body that his limbs pulverized the mountain stone.
"With proper intelligence, I recalled the actual strength of Bhima, and I made up my mind, Pandava, to repay our debt to the learned brahmana. This decision is not a result of greed or ignorance, nor does it proceed from delusion. With careful thought I have determined our duty. Two purposes will be accomplished: we shall repay our stay in this house, and we shall perform an act of great piety. I have heard from authorities that a warrior who helps a brahmana in his hour of need attains to the planets where the pious dwell. A warrior who saves another warrior from death achieves widespread glory in this world and in the next. A warrior who helps a merchant in battle will certainly gain popularity among the citizens of every country. And a king who saves a laborer who has come to him begging for shelter will take birth in a wealthy family honored by the government.
"Vyasadeva, the incarnation of Godhead, has already declared these instructions, O Kaurava son, and he is extremely wise. Therefore, this is the desirable course of action."
Yudhisthira Maharaja said, "You acted, Mother, out of compassion for a suffering brahmana, and I see now that your plan is proper and well-conceived. Bhima will surely slay that man-eater and return to us. But we must seriously advise and restrain thebrahmana so that the residents of the city do not discover us."
Bhima Confronts Baka
When the night had passed, the Pandava Bhimasena gathered the food and went to where the man-eater was waiting. Approaching the Raksasa's forest, the powerful Pandava called out the Raksasa's name, Baka, inviting him to come and eat the food. Thereupon the Raksasa, hearing Bhimasena's words, came in a fit of rage to where Bhima was stationed. Baka's body was huge, and as he came at great speed he seemed to shatter the earth. He tightened his eyebrows, which stood up like tridents, and he chewed horribly on his lips.
[While waiting for the demon, Bhima had begun to eat the food.] Seeing that Bhimasena was eating food meant for him, the Raksasa opened his eyes wide and angrily said, "Who is this stupid man who before my very eyes eats food sent for me? He must be eager to visit the lord of death!"
Hearing this, O Bharata, Bhima simply laughed, rudely ignored the Raksasa, looked away, and continued to eat. Then with a heart-stopping scream, the man-eater raised his hands and rushed to kill Bhimasena. But the mighty Pandava warrior again showed his contempt for the Raksasa, for without even looking up he continued to eat the food.
Wild with indignation, the Raksasa stood behind Kunti's son and slammed him in the back with both fists. Thus severely struck by the powerful demon, Bhima did not even glance at the Raksasa but went on eating.
Bhima gradually finished his meal. After washing his hands and mouth with water, that best of men stood up with all his enormous power, overjoyed at the opportunity to fight.
Newly enraged, the mighty Raksasa uprooted a tree and again rushed upon Bhima, trying to smash him with this weapon. As the tree was furiously hurled at him, powerful Bhima simply grabbed it. He held it with his left hand and laughed loudly, O Bharata.
Thereupon the demon pulled many kinds of trees out of the earth and hurled them at Bhima, who hurled them back at the Raksasa. A terrifying fight with trees arose between Baka and the Pandava, O king, and all the forest trees were ruined.
Proudly shouting his own name, Baka then rushed up to mighty Bhima and seized him with his arms. Bhimasena then wrapped his own huge arms about the Raksasa. As the demon writhed mightily in Bhima's grip, powerful Bhima dragged him about, and the demon dragged him in turn. Thus the man-eater was afflicted by intense fatigue. By the great power of the two fighters, the very earth shook. Battling their way through the forest, they pulverized gigantic trees.
Seeing clearly that the Raksasa was coming to the end of his endurance, Vrkodara, Bhima, slammed him against the ground and pounded him with his fists. Then Bhima pushed hard with his knee on the demon's back, holding the demon's neck with his right hand and seizing the demon's waist cloth with his left. As the demon screamed and bellowed in horrible anguish, Bhima broke him in two. As the horrible monster was being cracked apart, blood flowed from his mouth.
Terrified by the sound, the Raksasa's loyal followers rushed out of their homes, O king, accompanied by their servants. The powerful Bhima calmed them down, for they were practically fainting with fright. That best of fighters then made them agree to a treaty: "You Raksasas are never again to commit violence against human beings. Those who commit violence will at once be killed in the same way as Baka."
O Bharata, when the Raksasas heard this command they replied, "So be it!" and accepted the terms of the treaty. From that time on, O Bharata, the Raksasas of that country became peaceful and could be seen moving about the city with the humans who dwelled there.
Bhima took the lifeless body of the man-eater, threw it down by the city gate, and departed unseen. Having killed the demon, Bhima returned to the house of the brahmana and told King Yudhisthira all that had happened.
At daybreak, when the people began to walk outside the city gates they beheld the Raksasa lying dead on the ground, ripped asunder, blood still oozing from his body, which resembled a mountain summit. Seeing the frightful scene, they went back into the city of Ekacakra and reported the news.
Then, O king, the men of the city came there by the thousands with their wives, elders, and young children to see the slain Baka. They were all astonished at this superhuman deed, and all the people offered prayers and worship to their deities. The citizens calculated whose turn it had been that day to feed the demon. Thus they approached the brahmana and inquired from him about the awesome event.
Although questioned repeatedly, the brahmana protected the Pandavas. That best of sages declared to all the townspeople, "When ordered to feed the demon, I was weeping with my family when a very mighty brahmana with perfect knowledge of mantras saw me in that pitiable state. He first inquired about the cause of my suffering and then about the misfortune of our city. Laughing as if to encourage me, that most noble brahmana bravely declared, 'I shall deliver this food to the evil Baka! Do not fear for my sake.' He took the food and went toward Baka's forest. Clearly it was that saint who accomplished this feat for the good of the world."
All the brahmanas and ksatriya princes were quite amazed. Together with the merchants and workers they joyfully celebrated a festival in honor of the brahmanas, [for a brahmana had saved them]. Soon after, all the countryfolk came to the city to see the great wonder. The sons of Prtha continued to dwell in the very same place.
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.