Mahabharata

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IN the city of Ekachakra, the Pandavas stayed in the guise of brahmanas, begging their food in the brahmana streets and bringing what they got to their mother, who would wait anxiously till their return. If they did not come back in time, she would be worried, fearing that some evil might have befallen them.

Kunti would divide the food they brought in two equal portions. One half would go to Bhima. The other half would be shared by the other brothers and the mother. Bhima, being born of the Wind god had great strength and a mighty appetite.

Vrikodara, one of the names of Bhima, means wolf-bellied, and a wolf, you know, looks always famished. And however much it might eat, its hunger is never quite satisfied.

Bhima's insatiable hunger and the scanty food he used to get at Ekachakra went ill together. And he daily grew thin, which caused much distress to his mother and brothers. Sometime later, Bhima became acquainted with a potter for whom he helped and fetched clay. The potter, in return, presented him with a big earthen pot that became an object of merriment to the street urchins.

One day, when the other brothers had gone to beg for alms, Bhimasena stayed behind with his mother, and they heard loud lamentations from the house of their brahmana landlord. Some great calamity surely had befallen the poor family and Kunti went inside to learn what it was.

The brahmana and his wife could hardly speak for weeping, but, at last the brahmana said to his wife: "O unfortunate and foolish woman, though time and again I wished we should leave this city for good, you would not agree. You persisted in saying that you were born and bred here and here you would stay where your parents and relations had lived and died. How can I think of losing you who have been to me at once my life's mate, loving mother, the wife who bore my children, nay, my all in all? I cannot send you to death while I keep myself alive. This little girl has been given to us by God as a trust to be handed over in time to a worthy man. It is unrighteous to sacrifice her who is a gift of God to perpetuate the race. It is equally impossible to allow this other, our son, to be killed. How can we live after consigning to death our only solace in life and our hope for the here after? If he is lost, who would pour libations for us and our ancestors? Alas! You did not pay heed to my words, and this is the deadly fruit of your perversity. If I give up my life, this girl and boy will surely die soon for want of a protector. What shall I do? It is best that all of us perish together" and the brahmana burst forth sobbing.

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The wife replied: "I have been a good wife to you, and done my duty by bearing you a daughter and a son. You are able, and I am not, to bring up and protect your children. Just as cast out offal is pounced upon and seized by rapacious birds, a poor widowed woman is an easy prey to wicked and dishonest people. Dogs fight for a cloth wet with ghee, and in pulling it hither and thither in unclean greed, tear it into foul rags. It would be best if I am handed over to the Rakshasa. Blessed indeed is the woman who passes to the other world, while her husband is alive. This, as you know, is what the scriptures say. Bid me farewell. Take care of my children. I have been happy with you. I have performed many meritorious actions. By my faithful devotion to you, I am sure of heaven. Death has no terror for one who has been a good wife. After I am gone, take another wife. Gladden me with a brave smile, give me your blessing, and send me to the Rakshasa."

Hearing these words of his wife, the brahmana tenderly embraced her and, utterly overcome by her love and courage, he wept like a child. When he could find his voice, he replied: "O beloved and noble one, what words are these? Can I bear to live without you? The first duty of a married man is to protect his wife. I should indeed be a pitiful sinner if I lived after giving you up to the Rakshasa, sacrificing both love and duty."

The daughter who was hearing this piteous conversation, now interposed with sobs: "Listen to me, child though I be, and then do what is proper. It is me alone that you can spare to the Rakshasa. By sacrificing one soul, that is, myself, you can save the others. Let me be the little boat to take you across this river of calamity. In like manner, a woman without a guardian becomes the sport of wicked people who drag her hither and thither. It is impossible for me to protect two fatherless orphans and they will perish miserably like fish in a waterless pond. If both of you pass away, both I and this little baby brother of mine will soon perish unprotected in this hard world. If this family of ours can be saved from destruction by my single death, what a good death mine would be! Even if you consider my welfare alone, you should send me to the Rakshasa."

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At these brave words of the poor child, the parents tenderly embraced her and wept. Seeing them all in tears the boy, hardly more than a baby, started up with glowing eyes, lisping: "Father, do not weep. Mother, do not weep. Sister, do not weep," and he went to each and sat on their lap by turns.

Then he rose up took a stick of firewood and brandishing it about, said in his sweet childish treble: "I shall kill the Rakshasa with this stick." The child's action and speech made them smile in the midst of their tears, but only added to their great sorrow.

Feeling this was the moment for intervention, Kuntidevi entered and inquired for the cause of their sorrow and whether there was anything she could do to help them.

The brahmana said: "Mother, this is a sorrow far beyond your aid. There is a cave near the city, where lives a cruel and terribly strong Rakshasa named Bakasura. He forcibly seized this city and kingdom thirteen years ago. Since then he has held us in cruel thraldom. The kshatriya ruler of this country has fled to the city of Vetrakiya and is unable to protect us. This Rakshasa formerly used to issue from his cave whenever he liked and, mad with hunger, indiscriminately kill and eat men, women and children in this city. The citizens prayed to the Rakshasa to come to some sort of stipulation in place of this promiscuous slaughter. They prayed: 'Do not kill us wantonly at your whim and pleasure. Once a week we shall bring you sufficient meat, rice, curds and intoxicating liquors and many other delicacies. We will deliver these to you in a carriage drawn by two bullocks driven by a human being taken from each house in turn. You can make a repast of the rice, along with the bullocks and the man, but refrain from this mad orgy of slaughter.' The Rakshasa agreed to the proposal. From that day, this strong Rakshasa has been protecting this kingdom from foreign raids and wild beasts. This arrangement has been in force for many years. No hero has been found to free this country from this pest, for the Rakshasa has invariably defeated and killed all the brave men who tried. Mother, our legitimate sovereign is unable to protect us. The citizens of a country, whose king is weak, should not marry and beget children. A worthy family life, with culture and domestic happiness, is possible only under the rule of a good, strong king. Wife, wealth and other things are not safe, if there be no proper king ruling over us. And having long suffered with the sight of others' sorrow, our own turn has come now to send a person as prey to the Rakshasa. I have not the means to purchase a substitute. None of us can bear to live after sending one of us to a cruel death, and so I shall go with my whole family to him. Let the wicked glutton gorge himself with all of us. I have pained you with these things, but you wished to know. Only God can help us, but we have lost all hope even of that."

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The political truths contained in this story of Ekachakra are noteworthy and suggestive. Kunti talked the matter over with Bhimasena and returned to the brahmana. She said: "Good man, do not despair. God is great. I have five sons. One of them will take the food to the Rakshasa."

The brahmana jumped up in amazed surprise, but then shook his head sadly and would not hear of the substituted sacrifice. Kunti said: "O brahmana, do not be afraid. My son is endowed with superhuman powers derived from mantras and will certainly kill this Rakshasa, as I have myself seen him kill many other such Rakshasas. But keep this a secret, for, if you reveal it, his power will come to naught."

Kunti's fear was that, if the story got noised abroad, Duryodhana's men would see the hand of the Pandavas, and find out their where abouts. Bhima was filled with unbounded joy and enthusiasm at the arrangement made by Kunti.

The other brothers returned to the house with alms. Dharmaputra saw the face of Bhimasena radiant with joy to which it had long been a stranger and inferred that he was resolved on some hazardous adventure and questioned Kunti who told him everything.

Yudhishthira said: "What is this? Is not this rash and thoughtless? Relying on Bhima's strength we sleep without care or fear. It is not through Bhima's strength and daring that we hope to regain the kingdom that has been seized by our deceitful enemies? Was it not through the prowess of Bhima that we escaped from the wax palace? And you are risking the life of Bhima who is our present protection and future hope. I fear your many trials have clouded your judgment!"

Kuntidevi replied: "Dear sons, we have lived happily for many years in the house of this brahmana. Duty, nay, man's highest virtue, is to repay the benefit he has enjoyed by doing good in his turn. I know the heroism of Bhima and have no fears. Remember who carried us from Varanavata and who killed the demon Hidimba. It is our duty to be of service to this brahmana family."

After a fierce battle, the Rakshasa Bakasura was slain by Bhima who pretended to bring him a cartload of food.