Dec 09, 2023
Dec 09, 2023
What Bharata-India must learn from Bhima the warrior-sage
Mahabharata (Mbh) has given us role-models and archetypes that people of different inclinations and nature (svabhava) can identify with. All characters of the Mbh may be understood as different phases of Indian civilization and situations, and some characters are the suggested antidotes to those situations.
The individual is the unit of samaja (society) and rashtra; thus, the great personalities of Mbh, their lives - thoughts and actions - may also be taken as ‘policy-statements’ (upaya) of not only individual lives but also of collective lives, that is, the policies a rashtra might undertake to live and survive in the existential reality of things and beings.
The purpose of this article is to understand better the fascinating character of Bhima and Mbh through him, and to realize how relevant the Bhima-model is for the new Bharata-India particularly in the present global scenario.
Bhima is remembered for selfless service to his brothers, wives and mother, but mostly for his violent and terrible acts. He is remembered as a passionate person, mighty warrior, uncompromising, mace fighter, and primary avenger of Draupadi's insult and humiliation. Other images associated with Bhima are his ghastly killings of Hidimba, Baka Rakshasa, Jarasandha, Kicaka, Jatasura, and his violent promise of ripping apart Duhshasana’s chest and drinking his blood and smashing of Duryodhana’s thighs, and keeping such terrible vows in Kurukshetra War.
Bhima is the one who never forgets and forgives.
With such images associated with Bhima, no doubt he has been deified and worshipped as God in Folk Mahabharata in many places, particularly in Gadvali Folk Mahabharata of Uttarakhanda, among the Gond tribes of Central India, and in Nepal. Significantly, in Bhima cults, he is not only a terrible warrior but also a sagacious person. In fact, among the Gonds, Bhima is rain-God akin to Indra. And in many parts of Nepal, Bhima is identified with Bhairava and worshipped as Bhima-Bhairava.
The Folk Mahabharata understood Bhima better than he is understood in the so-called mainstream where he is much a ‘taken-for-granted’ character – one who would naturally sacrifice the self for the other, one who could be a killing machine at times.
Bhima’s deification is however, in rhythm with Vedic tradition and the Mbh., because in RgVeda, Bhima is one frequent epithet of Indra and Agni (and also of Vishnu and Rudra), two of the most-hailed Gods in RgVeda; and in the Mbh, Bhima is not only Vayu’s son but also an ex-Indra named Rtadhama’s incarnation. Besides, Vayu is also identified with Indra in the Shatapatha Brahmana (184.108.40.206). The Gond Bhima-cult of worshiping him as rain-God has thus its root in Vedic tradition.
Bhima’s contribution must be understood and realized at various layers. We must remember that Vasudeva-Krishna could fulfill his Avatarik mission with Yudhishthira, Bhima and Arjuna’s aid.
Krishna’s Avatarik mission of dharmasamsthapana in the broader context of Karmabhumi Bharatavarsha began with his aid to Yudhishthira’s Dharma Vijaya, and for that killing Jarasandha was necessary – which Bhima did. Again, it is Bhima who killed Duryodhana in the Kurukshetra War thereby conclusively ending the war. Thus, in a way, Bhima envelops the Mbh.-Itihasa.
These are his Kshatriya-feats. However, Krishnadvaipayana Vyasa has narrated more on Bhima. How can we forget those? – Bhima, the philosopher, the thinking person, the spiritual person, the pragmatic person?
If these sound strange, then that is precisely the reason why we should re-read Mbh.
Bhima’s enormous physical and mental strength manifested since his childhood. Those were childhood immature days, and Bhima used his strength to protect his four brothers against Dhritarashtra’s hundred sons. He survived Duryodhana et al.’s attempt to murder him and even digested poison.
Bhima learnt to control his strength during his Gurukula days under Krpa and later in Drona’s tutelage. Though he learnt all warfare, his specialization was Gada yuddha and wrestling. He further honed his mace skills under Balarama.
The second phase of his life began in the Forest Exile with his brothers and mother post-Varanavata episode. Kunti and Pandavas survived Duryodhana-Karna’s attempt to burn them in the palace of lac.
Bhima carried his brothers and mother in arduous wanderings in the forest and protected them from all dangers – beasts, human beings or cannibals.
Bhima’s killing of his foes like beast killing beasts is the natural Bhairava dimension in him. In this aspect, he has a cosmopolitan appeal cutting across religious boundaries. Bhairava is a Hindu Tantric deity. In Shaivism, he is a fierce manifestation of Shiva associated with annihilation. In Trika system Bhairava represents Supreme Reality, synonymous to Para Brahman. Generally in Hinduism, Bhairava is also called Dandapani (as he holds a rod or Danda to punish sinners) and Swaswa meaning "whose horse is a dog". In Vajrayana Buddhism, he is considered a fierce emanation of boddhisatva Manjushri and also called Heruka, Vajrabhairava and Yamantaka. He is worshiped throughout India, Sri Lanka and Nepal as well as in Tibetan Buddhism
Bhima killed Hidimba Rakshasa like a beast (1.142.28). In Virata Parvan, Bhima confined Kicaka in his arms like one ropes an animal (4.21.58d@24_2), and finally killed him inflicting pain like an animal (4.21.58d@24_9). Bhima killed Kirmira Rakshasa in Kamyaka forest similarly like a beast (3.12.63c). Bhima killed Kicaka by thrusting his arms and legs and neck and head into his body like a sacrificial Pashu (animals) killed by Shiva and reduced his body into a Meat-Ball (4.21.59c-60a).
And how he killed Duhshasana who had dared to touch Draupadi and attempt to disrobe her!
Drawing then his whetted sword of keen edge, and trembling with rage, he placed his foot upon the throat of Duhshasana, and ripping open the breast of his enemy stretched on the ground, quaffed his warm life-blood. Then throwing him down and cutting off, O king, with that sword the head of thy son, Bhima of great intelligence, desirous of accomplishing his vow, again quaffed his enemy's blood little by little, as if for enjoying its taste” (8.61.5-6).
Bhima later denied having actually drunk Duhshasana’s blood. He told Gandhari: “It is improper to quaff the blood of even a stranger, what then need be said about quaffing the blood of ones own self? Ones brother, again, is like ones own self. There is no difference between them. The blood, however, (that I am regarded to have quaffed) did not, O mother, pass down my lips and teeth. Karna knew this well. My hands only were smeared with (Duhshasana’) blood. Seeing Nakula deprived of his steeds by VRshasena in battle, I caused the rejoicing (Kaurava) brothers to be filled with dread” (11.14.14-16).
Whatever we believe of Bhima – whether he had drunk Duhshasana’s blood or not – one thing stands constant: the mighty Bhima terrorized the terrorist and molester of woman!
Bhima’s ripping apart Duhshasana’s chest evokes the image of Nrsimha-Vishnu tearing apart Hiranyakashipu. Bhairava-Bhima of Nepal thus fuses Shiva and Vishnu in him. Significantly, Bhima is Vishnu’s epithet in RgVeda 1.154.2, and Rudra’s epithet at 2.33.11. Here Rudra is “fierce, slaying like a dread beast of the forest” – reminding how Bhima slayed Hidimba, Kirmira, Baka Rakshasa, Jatasura and Kicaka.
While ‘sage’-Bhima or philosopher Bhima might appear surprisingly off the track, particularly if one remembers Peter Brook’s puerile portrayal of Bhima as dumb and childish, and stereotype portrayal of Bhima in T.V serials, the mainstream culture has precedence of Dharma-Bhima in Madhavacarya’s (1199-1278) Mahabharata-Tatparya-Nirnaya, in which Vayu-putra Bhima is celebrated as central in Mahabharata and Vishnu’s foremost devotee.
Contrary to popular notion, there is no contradiction if a great sage and wise man has also the terrible aspect. In RgVedic Rshi’s wisdom, even Brhaspati, the foremost of wise men, is Bhima (RV. 1.190.3). [Also Brahmanaspati is Bhima (RV. 2.23.3)]
Bhima’s selflessness is unmatched. Think how he carried Kunti and Nakula-Sahadeva on his shoulders while the Pandavas were escaping from the burning palace of lac in Varanavata. Think how Kunti and his brothers could sleep peacefully in the dense beast-and cannibal-infested forest while Bhima kept guard awake. If half of Pandava-Kunti’s gathered food was his share, physical exertion had never been his share.
Bhima was not only mighty in bare-hand combat (wrestling) or Gada-yuddha, but also in sword-fight and archery. But he never wanted to acquire celestial weapons.
Even knowing that his enemies might be possessing superior weapons, Bhima never hesitated to venture against Ashvatthama’s Narayana-astra or later his Brahmastra.
Bhima was an able administrator. Yudhishthira made him Yuvaraja. In student-days, Yudhishthira was famous for his Purity (shaucena); Bhima for power to maintain and preserve (dhrtya); Arjuna for valour and prowess (vikramena); and Nakula-Sahadeva for Humility (vinayena) (1.1.80-81). When Yudhishthira had been ruling in Indraprashtha and contemplating Rajasuya sacrifice, “Bhima ruled over all justly. Arjuna, used to employing both his hands with equal skill, protected the people from (external) enemies. And the wise Sahadeva administered justice impartially. And Nakula behaved towards all with humility that was natural to him” (trans. KMG; 2.12.8d@4_1-5).
These roles remain almost same after Kurukshetra War when Yudhishthira appointed Bhima as Yuvaraja (12.41.8e), Arjuna, for resisting hostile forces and chastising the wicked (12a), Nakula, for keeping the register of the forces (11c), and Sahadeva to always remain by his side for protection (14).
At the time of Yudhishthira’s Ashvamedha, the role is almost constant. Taking Krishna’s advice (14.71.15-20), Yudhishthira ordered Arjuna to protect the horse (22), Bhima and Nakula to protect the city (25c) and Sahadeva to wait upon all the invited guests (26a).
In the Dharmarajya established by Pandavas, the Pandava-Purusha ruled akin to different functions of different organs in a Body. Yudhishthira was King, however, Bhima also ruled and protected (that is, administered as executive). Arjuna acted as instrument of Danda (police and military affairs etc), that is, Bhima and Arjuna performed more pronounced Kshatriya roles. However, Nakula-Sahadeva performed Brahmana-Shudra role; Brahmana, as advisor, or Yudhishthira’s ministers, and Shudra, as Sevaka, for Shushrusha – of elder brothers, others and public.
Bhima was a philosopher. Other than Krishna, Bhima pointed out to Yudhishthira that Kurukshetra War was also Internal War. Hearing Yudhishthira’s lamentations Bhima said:
“A fierce battle, O chastiser of foes, like that which thou hast fought with Bhishma and Drona is now before thee, to be fought (however) with thy mind alone. In deed, that battle is now before thee in which there is no need of arrows, of friends, of relatives and kinsmen, but which will have to be fought with thy mind alone. If thou givest up thy life-breath before conquering in this battle, then, assuming another body, thou shalt have to fight these very foes again. Therefore, fight that battle this very day, O bull of Bharata’s race, disregarding the concerns of thy body, and aided by thy own acts, conquer and identify with thy mind’s foe. If thou canst not win that battle, what wilt be thy condition? On the other hand, by winning it, O monarch, thou shalt have attained the great end of life. Applying thy intellect to this, and ascertaining the right and the wrong paths of creatures, follow thou the course adopted by thy sire before thee and govern properly thy kingdom.” (12.16.20-26)
In Shalya Parva, after breaking Duryodhana’s thighs in mace fight, Bhima referred to Draupadi being brought into the assembly hall clad in a single cloth (draupadim ekavasasam) and mocked at being called ‘cow’ (9.58.4). Soon after, he kicked Duryodhana’s head - shirash ca rajasimhasya padena samalodayat (9.58.5) and said, ‘Those who brought the menstruating Draupadi and who tried to make her naked in the assembly—see those Dhartarashtras slain in battle by the Pandavas because of the torture on Yajnaseni’ (9.58.10).
We are not living in Satya-Yuga that if Bharata-India extends hand of friendship to neighbouring and other countries, the same would be reciprocated; we are not living in Satya-Yuga that if Bharata-India follows the superior principle of Ahimsa Paramo Dharma, the same would be reciprocated; we are not living in Satya-Yuga that if Bharata-India does not strike first, the enemies would refrain from striking first.
Bharata-India as a nation with the most glorious past in the World, bearing the legacy of the ancient-most civilization of the World, must be pragmatic and practical. Mahabharata does not mince words. We should not forget Bhishma’s vision that Power is the driving force of the World (sarvam balavato vashe, 12.132.3-5),’
We must not forget the reality of the world pointed out by Vyasa: “For those that are powerful, everything is becoming. For those that are powerful, everything is pure. For those that are powerful, everything is Dharma. For those that are powerful, everything is their own, that is, everything is extension of their own Self.” (15.38.23)
Rashtra means not only a geographical nation but also people.
Bharata-India has her enemies – both within and without.
Bharata-India throughout her history has suffered much. Dharma and nobleness and liberality were not reciprocated. When Indian Kings showed generosity and let their captured enemies go after they had begged mercy, the same enemies came back and often treacherously destroyed the life-giver. Dharma has often been practiced vis-à-vis the inhuman and sub-human unworthy, and Dana has often been bestowed on the undeserving.
Like Bhima ever loyal to Dharmaraja Yudhishthira, let Bharata-India be loyal to Dharma, the liberal principles enumerated in the Indian Constitution. Like Bhima ever respectful to Rama, Hanuman and Krishna and living under their shadows, let Bharata-India ever live in the shadows of her greatest sons and daughters, ever bearing them in her heart. Like Bhima never forgetting and never forgiving of Draupadi's insult and attempted disrobing (which is same as disrobing), let Bharatiya-Indians never forget Bharatavarsha’s historic insults and humiliations by Duhshasanik forces. Like Bhima forgiving Jayadratha and Ashvatthama at Yudhishthira and Draupadi's behest, let Bharata-India forgive her enemies on principles of Dharma with self-sacrifice, but judiciously.
However, when the enemies bay for Bharatavarsha’s blood, let Bharata-India rise up to the occasion and grant the enemies a beastly death like Bhima killing Hidimba, Kirmira, and Baka Rakshasa. When the enemies are irredeemable like Kicaka with show of shallow masculinity, let Bharata-India mercilessly reduce them into mangled flesh. When the enemies insult the dignity of Bharatavarsha like Duryodhana making obscene gesture of his thighs to Draupadi, let Bharata-India smash the enemies’ thighs, their very foundation, and make them crumble to the ground to be feasted upon by beasts of prey. And when the enemies attempt humiliation of Bharata-Mata like Duhshasana attempting Draupadi's disrobing, let Bharata-India rip apart their chests and besmear her lips with their blood like Bhima tearing apart Duhshasana, like NRsimha-Vishnu tearing apart Hiranyakashipu.
True, no right thinking Bharatiya-Indian would like violence, no good Bharatiya-Indian would want that blood be shed, no conscientious Bharatiya-Indian would dream of violence and blood as matters of state policy. However, existential reality in an Artha-centric world is no paradise. Matsyanyaya being inevitable, let Bharatavarsha be the benign Fisherman.
Let Bharata-India be ever progressive and dynamic. However, if forces of orthodoxy and stasis and terror block her way, let Bharata-India tear up such forces like Bhima tearing apart the orthodox Jarasandha, like Indra shattering Vrtra with Vajra.
Let Bharata-India be ever established in Dharma – Rama-Dharma, Krishna-Dharma; and let Bharata-India never hesitate to adopt Bhima-Dharma when situation arises.
Bhima is the very symbol of passionate youth vibrating with might, energy, exuberance and courage and self-sacrifice, but firmly established in Dharma, firmly respectful and obedient to Rama-Dharma and Krishna-Dharma. Let the new Bharata-India live in Rama-Dharma and Krishna-Dharma, and imbibe Bhima’s spirit – the Bhima-Dharma in action.
 Pandavas are incarnations of Vishvabhug, Rtadhama, Shibi, Shanti and Tejasvi (1.189.28d*1916_1-2)
 “He who is Vayu, is Indra; and he who is Indra, is Vayu (yo vai vayuh sa indro ya indrah sa vayu).”
 Krishna’s feats began with his killing Kamsa; however, that is more an Yadava internal affair
 Dehsen, Christian von (1999). Philosophers and Religious Leaders. Routledge, p 118. ones, Constance; Ryan, James D. (2006), Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Infobase, p 266
nikamavarshahsphitash ca asanjanapadastatha (2.12.8d@4_1-5)
More by : Indrajit Bandyopadhyay