Bhima and Vaka

Vaisampayana said, “Those mighty car-warriors, the heroic Pandavas, then went from forest to forest killing deer and many animals (for their food). And in the course of their wanderings they saw the countries of the Matsyas, the Trigartas, the Panchalas and then of the Kichakas, and also many beautiful woods and lakes therein. And they all had matted locks on their heads and were attired in barks of trees and the skins of animals. Indeed, with Kunti in their company those illustrious heroes were attired in the garbs of ascetics. And those mighty car-warriors sometimes proceeded in haste, carrying their mother on their backs; and sometimes they proceeded in disguise, and sometimes again with great celerity. And they used to study the Rik and the other Vedas and also all the Vedangas as well as the sciences of morals and politics. And the Pandavas, conversant with the science of morals, met, in course of their wanderings their grandfather (Vyasa). And saluting the illustrious Krishna-Dwaipayana, those chastisers of enemies, with their mother, stood before him with joined hands.’ Vyasa then said, ‘Do not grieve for what hath befallen you. Undoubtedly, the sons of Dhritarashtra and you are all equal in my eye. But men are always partial to those who are in misfortune or of tender years. It is therefore, that my affection for you is greater now. And in consequence of that affection, I desire to do you good. Listen to me! Not far off before you is a delightful town where no danger can overtake you. Live ye there in disguise, waiting for my return.’ Vyasa, thus comforting the Pandavas, led them into the town of Ekachakra. Vyasa introduced them into the dwelling of a Brahmana. And the island-born Rishi, addressing the eldest of the Pandavas, said, ‘Wait here for me! I will come back to you! By adapting yourselves to the country and the occasion you will succeed in becoming very happy.'”

“Then the Pandavas with joined hands said unto the Rishi, ‘So be it.’ And the illustrious master, the Rishi Vyasa, then went away to the region whence he had come. The sons of Kunti, on arriving at Ekachakra, lived for a short time in the abode of a Brahmana. One day, while those bulls of the Bharata race were out on their tour of mendicancy, it so happened that Bhima was (at home) with (his mother) Pritha. That day Kunti heard a loud and heart-rending wail of sorrow coming from within the apartments of the Brahmana. Hearing the inmates of the Brahmana’s house wailing and indulging in piteous lamentations, Kunti from compassion and the goodness of her heart, could not bear it with indifference. Afflicted with sorrow, the amiable Pritha, addressing Bhima, said these words full of compassion. ‘Our woes assuaged, we are, O son, living happily in the house of this Brahmana, respected by him and unknown to Dhritarashtra’s son. O son, I always think of the good I should do to this Brahmana, like what they do that live happily in others’ abodes! O child, he is a true man upon whom favours are never lost. He payeth back to others more than what he receiveth at their hands. There is no doubt, some affliction hath overtaken this Brahmana. If we could be of any help to him, we should then be requiting his services.’ Hearing these words of his mother, Bhima said, ‘Ascertain, O mother the nature of the Brahmana’s distress and whence also it hath arisen. Learning all about it, relieve it I will however difficult may the task prove.’ While mother and son were thus talking with each other, they heard again, O king, another wail of sorrow proceeding from the Brahmana and his wife. Then Kunti quickly entered the inner apartments of that illustrious Brahmana, like unto a cow running towards her tethered calf. She beheld the Brahmana with his wife, son and daughter, sitting with a woeful face, and she heard the Brahmana say, ‘Oh, fie on this earthly life which is hollow as the reed and so fruitless after all which is based on sorrow and hath no freedom, and which hath misery for its lot! Life is sorrow and disease; life is truly a record of misery! The soul is one: but it hath to pursue virtue, wealth and pleasure. And because these are pursued at one and the same time, there frequently occurs a disagreement that is the source of much misery. Some say that salvation is the highest object of our desire. But I believe it can never be attained. The acquisition of wealth is hell; the pursuit of wealth is attended with misery; there is more misery after one has acquired it, for one loves one’s possessions, and if any mishap befalls them, the possessor becomes afflicted with woe. I do not see by what means I can escape from this danger, nor how I can fly hence, with my wife to some region free from danger. Remember, O wife, that I endeavoured to migrate to some other place where we would be happy, but thou didst not then listen to me. Led by affection for thy relatives thou didst not then hear what I said. But the time is now come when thou art to witness the death of a relative. Oh, how sad is that spectacle for me! Or perhaps the time is come for my own death, for I shall never be able to abandon cruelly one of my own as long as I myself am alive. I cannot abandon thee, my wife, so constant in thy vows, to save my life. How shall I myself be able to sacrifice my son a child of tender years? How shall I sacrifice my daughter whom I have begotten myself, who hath been placed, as a pledge, in my hands by the Creator himself for bestowal on a husband and through whom I hope to enjoy, along with my ancestors, the regions attainable by those only that have daughters’ sons? If, again, I sacrifice myself and go to the other world, I should scarcely know any peace, for, indeed, it is evident that, left by me these would not be able to support life. The sacrifice of any of these would be cruel and censurable. On the other hand, if I sacrifice myself, these, without me, will certainly perish. The distress into which I have fallen is great; nor do I know the means of escape. Alas, what course shall I take today with my near ones. It is well that I should die with all these, for I can live no longer.'”

“On hearing these words of the Brahmana, his wife said, ‘Thou shouldst not, O Brahmana, grieve like an ordinary man. Nor is this the time for mourning. Thou hast learning; thou knowest that all men are sure to die; none should grieve for that which is inevitable. Wife, son, and daughter, all these are sought for one’s own self. As thou art possessed of a good understanding, kill thou thy sorrows. I will myself go there. This indeed, is the highest and the eternal duty of a woman, viz., that by sacrificing her life she should seek the good of her husband. Such an act done by me will make thee happy, and bring me fame in this world and eternal bliss hereafter. This, indeed, is the highest virtue that I tell thee, and thou mayest, by this, acquire both virtue and happiness. The object for which one desireth a wife hath already been achieved by thee through me. I have borne thee a daughter and a son and thus been freed from the debt I had owed thee. Thou art well able to support and cherish the children, but I however, can never support and cherish them like thee. Thou art my life, wealth, and lord; bereft of thee, how shall these children of tender years–how also shall I myself, exist? Indeed, as birds seek with avidity for meat that hath been thrown away on the ground, so do men solicit a woman that hath lost her husband. How shall I be able to place this sole daughter of thy house–this innocent girl–in the way along which her ancestors have always walked? Overpowering myself who shall be masterless, unworthy persons will demand (the hand of) this daughter of thine, like Sudras desiring to hear the Vedas. There is no doubt that bereft of thee the three will perish: therefore it behoveth thee to sacrifice me. O Brahmana, persons conversant with morals have said that for women that have borne children, to predecease their lords is an act of the highest merit. Therefore, revered sir, protect thy own self by abandoning me. O, give me leave to sacrifice myself, and cherish thou my children. Those that are conversant with the morals have, in their treatises, said, that women should never be slaughtered and that Rakshasas are not ignorant of the rules of morality. Therefore, while it is certain that the Rakshasa will kill a man, it is doubtful whether he will kill a woman. It behoveth thee, therefore, being conversant with the rules of morality, to place me before the Rakshasa. Therefore, it grieveth not me to die. I have borne thee children and have also grown old; I am ever desirous of doing good to thee; remembering all these I have come to this resolution. O revered sir, abandoning me thou mayest obtain another wife. By her thou mayest again acquire religious merit. There is no sin in this. For a man polygamy is an act of merit, but for a woman it is very sinful to betake herself to a second husband after the first. Considering all this, liberate today without loss of time thy own self, thy race, and these thy children (by abandoning me).’ Thus addressed by her, the Brahmana embraced her, and they both began to weep in silence, afflicted with grief.”

“On hearing these words of her afflicted parents, the daughter was filled with grief, and she addressed them, saying, ‘Why are you so afflicted and why do you so weep, as if you have none to look after you? O, listen to me and do what may be proper. There is little doubt that you are bound in duty to abandon me at a certain time. Sure to abandon me once, O, abandon me now and save every thing at the expense of me alone. Men desire to have children, thinking that children would save them (in this world as well as in the region hereafter). This my brother is of tender years, so there is little doubt that he will perish if thou diest now. If thou, my father, diest and my brother followeth thee, the funeral cake of the Pitris will be suspended and they will be greatly injured. Left behind by my father and brother, and by my mother also (for she will not survive her husband and son) I shall be plunged deeper and deeper in woe and ultimately perish in great distress. There can be little doubt that if thou escape from this danger as also my mother and infant brother, then thy race and the (ancestral) cake will be perpetuated. Therefore, O father, be kind to me. O thou best of men, for our sake, for that of virtue and also thy race, save thyself, abandoning me, whom at one time thou shall be constrained to part from. It hath been heard by us that if after bestowing thy daughter in this way, thou offerest oblations to the gods and the celestials, they will certainly be propitious.’ The Brahmana and his wife, hearing these various lamentations of their daughter, became sadder than before and the three began to weep together. Their son, then, of tender years, beholding them and their daughter thus weeping together, lisped these words in a sweet tone, his eyes having dilated with delight, ‘Weep not, O father, nor thou, O mother, nor thou O sister!’ And smilingly did the child approach each of them, and at last taking up a blade of grass said in glee, ‘With this will I slay the Rakshasa who eateth human beings!’ Although all of them had been plunged in woe, yet hearing what the child lisped so sweetly, joy appeared on their faces. Then Kunti thinking that to be the proper opportunity, approached the group and said these words. ‘I desire to learn from you the cause of this grief, for I will remove it, if possible.'”

“The Brahmana replied, ‘O thou of ascetic wealth, thy speech is, indeed worthy of thee. But this grief is incapable of being removed by any human being. Not far from this town, there liveth a Rakshasa of the name of Vaka, which cannibal is the lord of this country and town. Thriving on human flesh, that wretched Rakshasa endued with great strength ruleth this country. He being the chief of the Asuras, this town and the country in which it is situate are protected by his might. We have no fear from the machinations of any enemy, or indeed from any living soul. The fee, however, fixed for that cannibal is his food, which consists of a cart-load of rice, two buffaloes, and a human being who conveyeth them unto him. One after another, the house-holders have to send him this food. The turn, however, cometh to a particular family at intervals of many long years. If there are any that seek to avoid it, the Rakshasa slayeth them with their children and wives and devoureth them all. There is, in this country, a city called Vetrakiya, where liveth the king of these territories. He is ignorant of the science of government, and possessed of little intelligence, he adopts not with care any measure by which these territories may be rendered safe for all time to come. But we certainly deserve it all, inasmuch as we live within the dominion of that wretched and weak monarch in perpetual anxiety. Brahmanas can never be made to dwell permanently within the dominions of any one, for they are dependent on nobody, they live rather like birds ranging all countries in perfect freedom. It hath been said that one must secure a (good) king, then a wife, and then wealth. It is by the acquisition of these three that one can rescue his relatives and sons. But as regards the acquisition of these three, the course of my actions hath been the reverse. Hence, plunged into a sea of danger, am suffering sorely. That turn, destructive of one’s family, hath now devolved upon me. I shall have to give unto the Rakshasa as his fee the food of the aforesaid description and one human being to boot. I have no wealth to buy a man with. I cannot by any means consent to part with any one of my family, nor do I see any way of escape from (the clutches of) that Rakshasa. I am now sunk in an ocean of grief from which there is no escape. I shall go to that Rakshasa today, attended by all my family in order that that wretch might devour us all at once.'”

“Kunti said, ‘Grieve not at all, O Brahmana, on account of this danger. I see a way by which to rescue thee from that Rakshasa. Thou hast only one son, who, besides, is of very tender years, also only one daughter, young and helpless, so I do not like that any of these, or thy wife, or even thyself should go unto the Rakshasa. I have five sons, O Brahmana, let one of them go, carrying in thy behalf tribute of that Rakshasa.’ Hearing this, the Brahmana replied, ‘To save my own life I shall never suffer this to be done. I shall never sacrifice, to save myself, the life of a Brahmana or of a guest. Indeed, even those that are of low origin and of sinful practices refuse to do (what thou askest me to do). The killing of a Brahmana is the highest sin, and there is no expiation for it. The learned have said that the abandonment of one who hath come to thy house or sought thy protection, as also the killing of one who seeketh death at thy hands, is both cruel and sinful. The illustrious among those conversant with practices allowable in seasons of distress, have before now said that one should never perform an act that is cruel and censurable.’ Kunti said, ‘I too am firmly of opinion, O Brahmana, that Brahmanas should ever be protected. As regards myself, no son of mine would be less dear to me even if I had a hundred instead of the five I have. But this Rakshasa will not be able to kill my son, for that son of mine is endued with great prowess and energy, and skilled in mantras. He will faithfully deliver to the Rakshasa his food, but will, I know to a certainty, rescue himself. I have seen before many mighty Rakshasas of huge bodies engaged in combat with my heroic son and killed too by him. But, O Brahmana, do not disclose this fact to anybody, for if it be known, persons desirous of obtaining this power, will, from curiosity, always trouble my sons. The wise have said that if my son imparteth any knowledge, without the assent of his preceptor, unto any person, my son himself will no longer be able to profit by that knowledge.’ Thus addressed by Pritha, the Brahmana with his wife became exceedingly glad and assented to Kunti’s speech, which was unto them as nectar. Then Kunti, accompanied by the Brahmana, went unto the son of Vayu (Bhima) and asked him to accomplish (that difficult task). Bhima replied unto them, saying, ‘So be it.'”

“Yudhishthira suspected the nature of the task he had undertaken to accomplish. Sitting by the side of his mother, Yudhishthira asked her in private, ‘What is the task, O mother, that Bhima of terrible prowess seeketh to accomplish? Doth he do so at thy command or of his own accord?’ Kunti replied, ‘Bhima, that chastiser of foes, will at my command, do this great deed for the good of the Brahmana and the liberation of this town.’ Yudhishthira said, ‘What rash act hast thou done, O mother! It is difficult of being performed and almost amounteth to suicide! The learned never applaud the abandonment of one’s own child. Why dost thou, O mother, wish to sacrifice thy own child for the sake of another’s? Hast thou been deprived of thy reason? Hath thy understanding been clouded by the calamities thou hast undergone?’ On hearing these words of her son, Kunti said, ‘O Yudhishthira, thou needst not be at all anxious on account of Vrikodara. I have not come to this resolve owing to any weakness of understanding. Respected by him, and with our sorrows assuaged, we have, O son, been living in the house of this Brahmana, unknown to the sons of Dhritarashtra. For requiting, O son, that Brahmana, I have resolved to do this. He, indeed, is a man upon whom good offices are never lost. The measure of his requital becometh greater than the measure of the services he receiveth. Beholding the prowess of Bhima on the occasion of (our escape from) the house of lac, and from the destruction also of Hidimva, my confidence in Vrikodara is great. The might of Bhima’s arms is equal unto that of ten thousand elephants. There is no one on earth equal unto Bhima in might; he may even overcome that foremost of warriors, the holder of the thunderbolt himself. For this reason have I resolved to set him against the Brahmana’s foe. I have not acted in this from foolishness or ignorance or from motive of gain. I have deliberately resolved to do this virtuous deed. By this act, O Yudhishthira, two objects will be accomplished; one is a requital of the services rendered by the Brahmana and the other is the acquisition of high religious merit. It is my conviction that the Kshatriya who rendereth help unto a Brahmana in anything acquireth regions of bliss hereafter. So also a Kshatriya who saveth the life of a Kshatriya achieveth that great fame in this world as in the other. A Kshatriya rendering help unto a Vaisya also on this earth certainly acquires world-wide popularity. One of the kingly tribe should protect even the Sudra who cometh to him for protection. If he doeth so, in his next life he receiveth his birth in a royal line, commanding prosperity and the respect of other kings. O scion of Puru’s race, the illustrious Vyasa of wisdom acquired by hard ascetic toil told me so in bygone days. It is therefore, that I have resolved upon accomplishing this.'”

“Then, when the night passed away, Bhimasena, the son of Pandu, taking with him the Rakshasa’s food set out for the place where the cannibal lived. The mighty son of Pandu, approaching the forest where the Rakshasa dwelt, began to eat himself the food he carried, calling loudly to the Rakshasa by name. The Rakshasa, inflamed with anger at Bhima’s words, came out and approached the place where Bhima was. Of huge body and great strength, of red eyes, red beard, and red hair, he was terrible to behold, and he came, pressing deep the earth with his tread. The opening of his mouth, was from ear to ear and his ears themselves were straight as arrows. Of grim visage, he had a forehead furrowed into three lines. Beholding Bhima eating his food, the Rakshasa advanced, biting his nether lip and expanding his eyes in wrath. And addressing Bhima he said, ‘Who is this fool, who desiring to go to the abode of Yama, eateth in my very sight the food intended for me?’ Hearing these words, Bhima, O Bharata, smiled in derision and disregarding the Rakshasa, continued eating with averted face. Beholding this, the cannibal uttered a frightful yell and with both arms upraised ran at Bhima desiring to kill him, there and then. Even then disregarding the Rakshasa and casting only a single glance at him, Vrikodara, that slayer of hostile heroes continued to eat the Rakshasa’s food. Filled with wrath at this, the Rakshasa struck, from behind with both his arms a heavy blow on the back of Vrikodara, the son of Kunti. But Bhima, though struck heavily by the mighty Rakshasa, with both his hands, did not even look up at the Rakshasa but continued to eat as before. Then the mighty Rakshasa, inflamed with wrath, tore up a tree and ran at Bhima for striking him again. Meanwhile the mighty Bhima, that bull among men had leisurely eaten up the whole of that food and washing himself stood cheerfully for fight. Then, Bhima, smiling in derision, caught with his left hand the tree hurled at him by the Rakshasa in wrath. Then that mighty Rakshasa, tearing up many more trees, hurled them at Bhima, and the Pandava also hurled as many at the Rakshasa. Then the Rakshasa, saying that he was none else than Vaka, sprang upon the Pandava and seized the mighty Bhima with his arms. That mighty hero also clasping with his own strong arms the strong-armed Rakshasa, and exerting himself actively, began to drag him violently. Dragged by Bhima and dragging Bhima also, the cannibal was overcome with great fatigue. The earth began to tremble in consequence of the strength they both exerted, and large trees that stood there broke in pieces. Then Bhima, beholding the cannibal overcome with fatigue, pressed him down on the earth with his knees and began to strike him with great force. Then placing one knee on the middle of the Rakshasa’s back, Bhima seized his neck with his right hand and the cloth on his waist with his left, and bent him double with great force. The cannibal then roared frightfully. And he also began to vomit blood while he was being thus broken on Bhima’s knee.”

“Vaka, huge as a mountain, thus broken (on Bhima’s knee), died, uttering frightful yells. Terrified by these sounds, the relatives of that Rakshasa came out, O king, with their attendants. Bhima, that foremost of smiters, seeing them so terrified and deprived of reason, comforted them and made them promise (to give up cannibalism), saying, ‘Do not ever again kill human beings. If ye kill men, ye will have to die even as Vaka.’ Those Rakshasas hearing this speech of Bhima, said, ‘So be it,’ and gave the desired promise. From that day, O Bharata, the Rakshasas (of the region) were seen by the inhabitants of that town to be very peaceful towards mankind. Then Bhima, dragging the lifeless cannibal, placed him at one of the gates of the town and went away unobserved by any one. The kinsmen of Vaka, beholding him slain by the might of Bhima, became frightened and fled in different directions. Meanwhile Bhima, having slain the Rakshasa, returned to the Brahmana’s abode and related to Yudhishthira all that had happened, in detail. The next morning the inhabitants of the town in coming out saw the Rakshasa lying dead on the ground, his body covered with blood. Beholding that terrible cannibal, huge as a mountain cliff, thus mangled and lying on the ground, the hair of the spectators stood erect. Returning to Ekachakra, they soon gave the intelligence. Then the citizens by thousands accompanied by their wives, young and old, all began to come to the spot for beholding the Vaka and they were all amazed at seeing that superhuman feat. Instantly they began to pray to their gods. Then they began to calculate whose turn it had been the day before to carry food to the Rakshasa. And ascertaining this, they all came to that Brahmana and asked him (to satisfy their curiosity). Thus asked by them repeatedly, that bull among Brahmanas, desirous of concealing the Pandavas, said these words unto all the citizens, ‘A certain high-souled Brahmana, skilled in mantras, beheld me weeping with my relatives after I had been ordered to supply the Rakshasa’s food. Asking me the cause and ascertaining the distress of the town, that first of Brahmanas gave me every assurance and with smiles said, ‘I shall carry the food for that wretched Rakshasa today. Do not fear for me.’ Saying this he conveyed the food towards the forest of Vaka. This deed, so beneficial unto us all, hath very certainly been done by him.’ Then those Brahmanas and Kshatriyas (of the city), hearing this, wondered much. And the Vaisyas and the Sudras also became exceedingly glad, and they all established a festival in which the worship of Brahmanas was the principal ceremony (in remembrance of this Brahmana who had relieved them from their fears of Vaka).”

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, shows Bhima fighting Vaka (Bakasura). It is an illustration from a copy of the Mahabharata published by the Gorakhpur Geeta Press. It was digitized and is part of the University of Toronto’s collection.

Reference:

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