Bhima and Hidimva

Vaisampayana said,”Meanwhile the Pandavas endued with great strength with their mother forming a company of six going out of the town of Varanavata arrived at the banks of the Ganga. They then speedily reached the opposite bank aided by the strength of the boatmen’s arms, the rapidity of the river’s current, and a favourable wind. Leaving the boat, they proceeded in the southern direction finding their way in the dark by the light of the stars. After much suffering they at last reached, O king, a dense forest. They were then tired and thirsty; sleep was closing their eyes every moment. Then Yudhishthira, addressing Bhima endued with great energy, said, ‘What can be more painful than this? We are now in the deep woods. We know not which side is which, nor can we proceed much further. We do not know whether that wretch Purochana hath or hath not been burnt to death. How shall we escape from these dangers unseen by others? O Bharata, taking us on thyself, proceed thou as before. Thou alone amongst us art strong and swift as the wind. Thus addressed by Yudhishthira the just, the mighty Bhimasena, taking up on his body Kunti and his brothers, began to proceed with great celerity. As the mighty Bhima proceeded, the whole forest with its trees and their branches seemed to tremble. Even so passeth through the woods breaking down mighty trees, the leader of a herd of elephants, of the age of sixty years, angry and endued with excess of energy, during the season of rut when the liquid juice trickle down the three parts of his body. Indeed, so great was the force with which Bhima endued with the speed of Garuda or of Marut (the god of wind), proceeded that the Pandavas seemed to faint in consequence. Towards the evening, Bhima (bearing his brothers and mother on his back) reached a terrible forest where fruits and roots and water were scarce and which resounded with the terrible cries of birds and beasts. The twilight deepened the cries of birds and beasts became fiercer, darkness shrouded everything from the view and untimely winds began to blow that broke and laid low many a tree large and small and many creepers with dry leaves and fruits. The Kaurava princes, afflicted with fatigue and thirst, and heavy with sleep, were unable to proceed further. They then all sat down in that forest without food and drink. Then Kunti, smitten with thirst, said unto her sons, ‘I am the mother of the five Pandavas and am now in their midst. Yet I am burning with thirst!’ Hearing these words, Bhima’s heart, from affection for his mother, was warmed by compassion and he resolved to go (along as before). Then Bhima, proceeding through that terrible and extensive forest without a living soul, saw a beautiful banian tree with widespreading branches. Setting down there his brothers and mother, he said unto them, ‘Rest you here, while I go in quest of water. I hear the sweet cries of aquatic fowls. I think there must be a large pool here.’ Bhima proceeded in the direction whence the cries of those aquatic fowls were coming. And he soon came upon a lake and bathed and slaked his thirst. And affectionate unto his brothers, he brought for them, O Bharata, water by soaking his upper garments.”

“Distressed with grief at seeing his mother and brothers asleep on the bare ground, Vrikodara began to weep, ‘Oh, wretch that I am, who behold my brothers asleep on the bare ground, what can befall me more painful than this? Alas, they who formerly at Varanavata could not sleep on the softest and costliest beds are now asleep on the bare ground! He who hath no jealous evil-minded relatives, liveth in happiness in this world like a single tree in a village. The tree that standeth single in a village with its leaves and fruits, from absence of other of the same species, becometh sacred and is worshipped and venerated by all. They again that have many relatives who, however, are all heroic and virtuous, live happily in the world without sorrow of any kind. Themselves powerful and growing in prosperity and always gladdening their friends and relatives, they live, depending on each other, like tall trees growing in the same forest. We, however, have been forced in exile by the wicked Dhritarashtra and his sons having escaped with difficulty, from sheer good fortune, a fiery death. Having escaped from that fire, we are now resting in the shade of this tree. Having already suffered so much, where now are we to go? Ye sons of Dhritarashtra of little foresight, ye wicked fellows, enjoy your temporary success. The gods are certainly auspicious to you. But ye wicked wretches, ye are alive yet, only because Yudhishthira doth not command me to take your lives. Else this very day, filled with wrath, I would send thee, (O Duryodhana), to the regions of Yama with thy children and friends and brothers, and Karna, and (Sakuni) the son of Suvala! But what can I do, for, ye sinful wretches, the virtuous king Yudhishthira, the eldest of the Pandavas, is not yet angry with you?'” Having said this, Bhima of mighty arms, fired with wrath, began to squeeze his palms, sighing deeply in affliction. And sat there awake, keeping watch over his sleeping mother and brothers. Not far from the place where the Pandavas were asleep, a Rakshasa by name Hidimva dwelt on the Sala tree. Possessed of great energy and prowess, he was a cruel cannibal of visage that was grim in consequence of his sharp and long teeth. He was now hungry and longing for human flesh. Of long shanks and a large belly, his locks and beard were both red in hue. His shoulders were broad like the neck of a tree; his ears were like unto arrows, and his features were frightful. Shaking his dry and grizzly locks and scratching them with his fingers pointed upwards, the large-mouthed cannibal repeatedly looked at the sleeping sons of Pandu. And scenting the odour of man, he addressed his sister, saying, ‘O sister, it is after a long time that such agreeable food hath approached me! My mouth waters at the anticipated relish of such food. My eight teeth, so sharp-pointed and incapable of being resisted by any substance, I shall, today, after a long time, put into the most delicious flesh. Attacking the human throat and even opening the veins, I shall (today) drink a plentiful quantity of human blood, hot and fresh and frothy. Go and ascertain who these are, lying asleep in these woods. The strong scent of man pleaseth my nostrils. Slaughtering all these men, bring them unto me. They sleep within my territory. Thou needest have no fear from them. Do my bidding soon, for we shall then together eat their flesh, tearing off their bodies at pleasure. And after feasting to our fill on human flesh we shall then dance together to various measures!'”

“Thus addressed, Hidimva, the female cannibal, at the command of her brother, went, to the spot where the Pandavas were. And on going there, she beheld the Pandavas asleep with their mother and the invincible Bhimasena sitting awake. And beholding Bhimasena unrivalled on earth for beauty and like unto a vigorous Sala tree, the Rakshasa woman immediately fell in love with him, and she said to herself, ‘This person of hue like heated gold and of mighty arms, of broad shoulders as the lion, and so resplendent, of neck marked with three lines like a conch-shell and eyes like lotus-petals, is worthy of being my husband. I shall not obey the cruel mandate of my brother. A woman’s love for her husband is stronger than her affection for her brother. If I slay him, my brother’s gratification as well as mine will only be momentary. But if I slay him not, I can enjoy, with him for ever and ever.’ Thus saying, the Rakshasa woman, capable of assuming form at will, assumed an excellent human form and began to advance with slow steps towards Bhima of mighty arms. Decked with celestial ornaments she advanced with smiles on her lips and a modest gait, and addressing Bhima said, ‘O bull among men, whence hast thou come here and who art thou? Who, besides, are these persons of celestial beauty sleeping here? Who also, O sinless one, is this lady of transcendent beauty sleeping so trustfully in these woods as if she were lying in her own chamber? Dost thou not know that this forest is the abode of a Rakshasa. Truly do I say, here liveth the wicked Rakshasa called Hidimva. Ye beings of celestial beauty, I have been sent hither even by that Rakshasa–my brother–with the cruel intent of killing you for his food. But I tell thee truly that beholding thee resplendent as a celestial, I would have none else for my husband save thee! Thou who art acquainted with all duties, knowing this, do unto me what is proper. My heart as well as my body hath been pierced by (the shafts of) Kama. O, as I am desirous of obtaining thee, make me thine. O thou of mighty arms, I will rescue thee from the Rakshasa who eateth human flesh. O sinless one, be thou my husband. We shall then live on the breasts of mountains inaccessible to ordinary mortals.'”

“Hearing these words of hers, Bhima replied, ‘O Rakshasa woman, who can, like a Muni having all his passions under control, abandon his sleeping mother and elder and younger brothers? What man like me would go to gratify his lust, leaving his sleeping mother and brothers as food for a Rakshasa?’ The Rakshasa woman replied, ‘O, awaken all these, I shall do unto you all that is agreeable to thee! I shall certainly rescue you all from my cannibal brother?’ Bhima then said, ‘O Rakshasa woman, I will not, from fear of thy wicked brother, awaken my brothers and mother sleeping comfortably in the woods. O timid one, Rakshasas are never able to bear the prowess of my arms. And, O thou of handsome eyes, neither men, nor Gandharvas, nor Yakshas are able to bear my might. O amiable one, thou mayst stay or go as thou likest, or mayst even send thy cannibal brother. I care not.’ Hidimva, the chief of the Rakshasas, seeing that his sister returned not soon enough, alighted from the tree, proceeded quickly to the spot where the Pandavas were. And Hidimva, beholding her brother of frightful visage alight from the tree, became very much alarmed, and addressing Bhima said, ‘The wicked cannibal is coming hither in wrath. I entreat thee, do with thy brothers, as I bid thee. O thou of great courage, as I am endued with the powers of a Rakshasa, I am capable of going whithersoever I like. I will carry you all through the skies.’ Bhima then said, ‘O thou of fair hips, fear not anything. I am sure that as long as I am here, there is no Rakshasa capable of injuring any of these. I will slay this (cannibal) before thy very eyes. This worst of Rakshasas, O timid one, is no worthy antagonist of mine, nor can all the Rakshasas together bear the strength of my arms.’ Hidimva replied saying, ‘O tiger among men, O thou of the beauty of a celestial, I do not certainly hold thee in contempt. But I have seen the prowess that Rakshasas exert upon men.’ Then the wrathful Rakshasa eating human flesh heard these words of Bhima who had been talking in that way. And Hidimva beheld his sister disguised in human form, her head decked with garlands of flowers and her face like the full moon and her eyebrows and nose and eyes and ringlets all of the handsomest description, and her nails and complexion of the most delicate hue, and herself wearing every kind of ornament and attired in fine transparent robes. The cannibal, beholding her in that charming human form, suspected that she was desirous of carnal intercourse and became indignant. And becoming angry with his sister, the Rakshasa dilated his eyes and addressing her said, ‘What senseless creature wishes to throw obstacles in my path now that I am so hungry? Hast thou become so senseless, O Hidimva, that thou fearest not my wrath? Fie on thee, thou unchaste woman! Thou art even now desirous of carnal intercourse and solicitous of doing me an injury. Thou art ready to sacrifice the good name and honour of all the Rakshasas, thy ancestors! Those with whose aid thou wouldst do me this great injury, I will, even now, slay along with thee.’ Addressing his sister thus, Hidimva, with eyes red with anger and teeth pressing against teeth, ran at her to kill her then and there. But beholding him rush at his sister, Bhima rebuked him.” 

“Bhima, beholding the Rakshasa angry with his sister, smiled (in derision), and said, addressing him, ‘O Hidimva, what need is there for thee to awaken these persons sleeping so comfortably? O wicked cannibal, approach me first without loss of time. Smite me first,–it behoveth thee not to kill a woman, especially when she hath been sinned against instead of sinning. This girl is scarcely responsible for her act in desiring intercourse with me. She hath, in this, been moved by the deity of desire that pervadeth every living form. Thou wicked wretch and the most infamous of Rakshasas, thy sister came here at thy command. Beholding my person, she desireth me. In that the timid girl doth no injury to thee. It behoveth thee not to injure her for this offence. Come with me, O cannibal, and fight with myself singly. Singly shall I send thee today to the abode of Yama. O Rakshasa, let thy head today, pressed by my might, be pounded to pieces, as though pressed by the tread of a mighty elephant. When thou art slain by me on the field of battle, let herons and hawks and jackals tear in glee thy limbs today on the ground. In a moment I shall today make this forest destitute of Rakshasas,–this forest that had so long been ruled by thee, devourer of human beings!’ Hearing these words, Hidimva said, ‘What need is there, O man, for this thy vaunt and this thy boast? Accomplish all this first, and then mayst thou vaunt indeed. Therefore, delay thou not. Thou knowest thyself to be strong and endued with prowess, so thou shalt rightly estimate thy strength today in thy encounter with me. Until that, I will not slay these (thy brothers). Let them sleep comfortably. But I will, as thou art a fool and the utterer of evil speeches, slay thee first. After drinking thy blood, I will slay these also, and then last of all, this (sister of mine) that hath done me an injury.’ Saying this, the cannibal, extending his arms, ran in wrath towards Bhimasena. Then Bhima of terrible prowess quickly seized, as though in sport, with great force, the extended arms of the Rakshasa who had rushed at him. Then dragged him from that spot full thirty-two cubits like a lion dragging a little animal. The Rakshasa, thus made to feel Bhima’s strength, became very angry and clasping the Pandava, sent forth a terrible yell. Clasping and dragging each other with great force, both Hidimva and Bhimasena put forth their prowess. Fighting like two full-grown elephants mad with rage, they then began to break down the trees and tear the creepers that grew around. And at those sounds, those tigers among men (the sleeping Pandavas) woke up with their mother, and saw Hidimva sitting before them.'”

“Vaisampayana said, ‘Roused from sleep, those tigers among men, with their mother, beholding the extraordinary beauty of Hidimva, were filled with wonder. And Kunti, gazing at her with wonder at her beauty, addressed her sweetly and gave her every assurance. She asked, ‘O thou of the splendour of a daughter of the celestials, whose art thou and who art thou? On what business hast thou come hither and whence hast thou come? If thou art the deity of these woods or an Apsara, tell me all regarding thyself and also why thou stayest here?’ Thereupon Hidimva replied, ‘This extensive forest that thou seest, of the hue of blue cloud, is the abode of a Rakshasa of the name of Hidimva. O handsome lady, know me as the sister of that chief of the Rakshasa. Revered dame, I had been sent by that brother of mine to kill thee with all thy children. But on arriving here at the command of that cruel brother of mine, I beheld thy mighty son. Then, O blessed lady, I was brought under the control of thy son by the deity of love who pervadeth the nature of every being, and I then (mentally) chose that mighty son of thine as my husband. I tried my best to convey you hence, but I could not (because of thy son’s opposition). Then the cannibal, seeing my delay, came hither to kill all these thy children. But he hath been dragged hence with force by that mighty and intelligent son of thine. Behold now that couple–man and Rakshasa–both endued with great strength and prowess, engaged in combat, grinding each other and filling the whole region with their shouts.’ Hearing those words of hers, Yudhishthira suddenly rose up and Arjuna also and Nakula and Sahadeva and they beheld Bhima and the Rakshasa already engaged in fight, eager to overcome each other and dragging each other with great force, like two lions endued with great might. The dust raised by their feet in consequence of that encounter looked like the smoke of a forest-conflagration. Covered with that dust their huge bodies resembled two tall cliffs enveloped in mist. Then Arjuna, beholding Bhima rather oppressed in the fight by the Rakshasa, said with smiles on his lips, ‘Fear not, O Bhima of mighty arms! We (had been asleep and therefore) knew not that thou wast engaged with a terrible Rakshasa and tired in fight. Here do I stand to help thee, let me slay the Rakshasa, and let Nakula and Sahadeva protect our mother.’ Hearing him, Bhima said, ‘Look on this encounter, O brother, like a stranger. Fear not for the result. Having come within the reach of my arms, he shall not escape with life.’ Then Arjuna said, ‘What need, O Bhima, for keeping the Rakshasa alive so long? O oppressor of enemies, we are to go hence, and cannot stay here longer. The east is reddening, the morning twilight is about to set in. O Bhima! Play not (with thy victim), but slay the terrible Rakshasa soon. During the two twilights Rakshasas always put forth their powers of deception. Use all the strength of thy arms.’ At this speech of Arjuna, Bhima blazing up with anger, summoned the might that Vayu (his father) puts forth at the time of the universal dissolution. And filled with rage, he quickly raised high in the air the Rakshasa’s body, blue as the clouds of heaven, and whirled it a hundred times. Then addressing the cannibal, Bhima said, ‘O Rakshasa, thy intelligence was given thee in vain, and in vain hast thou grown and thriven on unsanctified flesh. Thou deservest, therefore, an unholy death and I shall reduce thee today to nothing.’ Arjuna at this juncture, said, ‘O Bhima, if thou thinkest it a hard task for thee to overcome this Rakshasa in combat, let me render thee help, else, slay him thyself without loss of time. Or, O Vrikodara, let me alone slay the Rakshasa.’ Hearing these words of Arjuna, Bhima was fired with rage and dashing the Rakshasa on the ground with all his might slew him as if he were an animal. The Rakshasa, while dying, sent forth a terrible yell that filled the whole forest, and was deep as the sound of a wet drum. Then the mighty Bhima, holding the body with his hands, bent it double, and breaking it in the middle, greatly gratified his brothers. Beholding Hidimva slain, they became exceedingly glad and lost no time in offering their congratulations to Bhima, that chastiser of all foes. Then Arjuna worshipping the illustrious Bhima of terrible prowess, addressed him again and said, ‘Revered senior, I think there is a town not far off from this forest. Blest be thou, let us go hence soon, so that Duryodhana may not trace us.’ Then all those mighty car-warriors, those tigers among men, proceeded along with their mother, followed by Hidimva, the Rakshasa woman.'”

“Bhima, beholding Hidimva following them, addressed her, saying, ‘Rakshasas revenge themselves on their enemies by adopting deceptions that are incapable of being penetrated. Therefore, O Hidimva, go thou the way on which thy brother hath gone.’ Then Yudhishthira beholding Bhima in rage, said, ‘O Bhima, however enraged, do not slay a woman. The observance of virtue is a higher duty than the protection of life. Hidimva, who had come with the object of slaying us, thou hast already slain. This woman is the sister of that Rakshasa, what can she do to us even if she were angry?’ Then Hidimva reverentially saluting Kunti and her son Yudhishthira also, said, with joined palms, ‘O revered lady, thou knowest the pangs that women are made to feel at the hands of the deity of love. Blessed dame, these pangs, of which Bhimasena hath been the cause, are torturing me. I had hitherto borne these insufferable pangs, waiting for the time (when thy son could assuage them). That time is now come, when I expected I would be made happy. Casting off my friends and relations and the usage of my race, I have, O blessed lady, chosen this son of thine, this tiger among men, as my husband. I tell thee truly, O illustrious lady, that if I am cast off by that hero or by thee either, I will no longer bear this life of mine. Therefore, O thou of the fairest complexion, it behoveth thee to show me mercy, thinking me either as very silly or thy obedient slave. O illustrious dame, unite me with this thy son, my husband. Endued as he is with the form of a celestial, let me go taking him with me wherever I like. Trust me, O blessed lady, I will again bring him back unto you all. When you think of me I will come to you immediately and convey you whithersoever ye may command. Be gracious unto me and make Bhima accept me. It hath been said that in a season of distress one should protect one’s life by any means. He, that seeketh to discharge that duty should not scruple about the means. He, that in a season of distress keepeth his virtue, is the foremost of virtuous men. Indeed, distress is the greatest danger to virtue and virtuous men. It is virtue that protecteth life; therefore is virtue called the giver of life. Hence the means by which virtue or the observance of a duty is secured can never be censurable.’ Hearing these words of Hidimva, Yudhishthira said. ‘It is even so, O Hidimva, as thou sayest. But thou must act even as thou hast said. Bhima will, after he hath washed himself and said his prayers and performed the usual propitiatory rites, pay his attentions to thee till the sun sets. Sport thou with him as thou likest during the day, O thou that art endued with the speed of the mind! But thou must bring back Bhimasena hither every day at nightfall.’ Then Bhima, expressing his assent to all that Yudhishthira said, addressed Hidimva, saying, ‘Listen to me, O Rakshasa woman! Truly do I make this engagement with thee that I will stay with thee, O thou of slender waist, until thou obtainest a son.’ Then Hidimva took Bhima and on mountain peaks of picturesque scenery and regions sacred to the gods, abounding with dappled herds and echoing with the melodies of feathered tribes, sported with the Pandava and studied to make him happy. Till in time, she conceived and brought forth a mighty son begotten upon her by the Pandava. Of terrible eyes and large mouth and straight arrowy ears, the child was terrible to behold. Of lips brown as copper and sharp teeth and loud roar, of mighty arms and great strength and excessive prowess, this child became a mighty bowman. Of long nose, broad chest, frightfully swelling calves, celerity of motion and excessive strength, he had nothing human in his countenance, though born of man. And he excelled (in strength and prowess) all Pisachas and kindred tribes as well as all Rakshasas. And though a little child, he grew up a youth the very hour he was born. The mighty hero soon acquired high proficiency in the use of all weapons. And the bald-headed child, that mighty bowman, soon after his birth, bowing down to his mother, touched her feet and the feet also of his father. His parents then bestowed upon him a name. His mother having remarked that his head was (bald) like unto a Ghata (water-pot), both his parents thereupon called him Ghatotkacha (the pot-headed). And Ghatotkacha who was exceedingly devoted to the Pandavas, became a great favourite with them, indeed almost one of them. Then Hidimva, knowing that the period of her stay (with her husband) had come to an end, saluted the Pandavas and making a new appointment with them went away whithersoever she liked. And Ghatotkacha also–that foremost of Rakshasas–promising unto his father that he would come when wanted on business, saluted them and went away northward.”

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, is an early lithograph produced by the Ravi Varma Press. It shows Bhima and Hidimva (here, Hedemba) conversing. The Press was named after Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906), a Malayali artist specializing in lithographs depicting Hindu deities and legends.

Reference:

  • The Mahabharata (translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli, 1883-1896)