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Chapter 8

Ghaṭotkaca Born and Baka Slain

Soon after Bhīma had killed Hiḍimba, the sun rose and the brothers could see paths through the forest. They decided to continue south. They were bound to come to a town at some point.

As they walked off with Kuntī between them, Hiḍimbī followed behind. Bhīma became concerned and said, “The Rākṣasas are known to avenge themselves on their enemies. They use deceptions and illusions. Therefore, O Hiḍimbī, you shall go the way your brother has gone.”

Bhīma turned menacingly toward Hiḍimbī. He did not fear her in the least, but wished only to scare her away before she tried any trickery. But Yudhiṣṭhira stopped his younger brother. “O Bhīma, you should never kill a woman even in anger. The attainment of virtue is always a higher duty than the protection of one’s body. Besides this, what harm can this woman do to us? You have already slain her more powerful brother.”

Hiḍimbī folded her palms to Yudhiṣṭhira and thanked him. She approached Kuntī and said with tears in her eyes, “Noble lady, you know well the suffering of a woman afflicted by desire. The god of love has pierced me with his shafts and I am consumed by desire for your son Bhīma. If he does not accept me as his wife, I will not be able to live. Do not doubt this.”

Hiḍimbī begged Kuntī to be merciful and allow her to marry Bhīma. She would carry all of them to a celestial region where they could rest for some time. There she could sport alone with Bhīma. Hiḍimbī promised Kuntī that she would always be available to serve the Pāṇḍavas. They had only to think of her and she would appear before them at once. Kneeling before Kuntī, Hiḍimbī said, “Please do not kill me by saying no. My request is in accord with virtue and indeed saving one’s life by any means is always considered virtuous by the wise. Virtue itself protects and sustains life; therefore grant me my desire, for it is not sinful.”

Yudhiṣṭhira smiled. He was impressed by Hiḍimbī’s knowledge of religion. She would be a good wife for Bhīma, whom he had noted was not above her sidelong glances. Yudhiṣṭhira said, “You have spoken well. O highly attractive lady, it must be as you say. You shall become Bhīma’s wife. Remaining with him by day, you may sport with him as you please. At night, however, he should always be returned to our presence.”

Hiḍimbī’s face blossomed with happiness. She looked at Bhīma with eyes full of love. The prince smiled at her and said, “I agree to this union, but I shall make one condition. As soon as you obtain a son I shall depart and leave you alone. My brothers and I have much to achieve in order to win back our father’s kingdom.”

Hiḍimbī agreed. Then, assuming a large form, she carried them all to a high mountain lake called Salivahana. In that beautiful woodland region the brothers constructed a wooden hut on the lake shore. There they lived peacefully. Hiḍimbī took Bhīma with her during the daytime. She soared through the sky to celestial places and showed Bhīma the numerous exquisite gardens frequented by Siddhas and Gandharvas. There they lay together on the sandy banks of crystal streams covered with blue and red lotuses. Hiḍimbī also took him to the land of the Guhakas, which was situated on the shore of the divine Mānasa lake. Bhīma saw beautiful towns full of shining mansions and palaces and groves of blossoming trees and heavenly flowers, whose fragrance completely enchanted the mind.

Hiḍimbī was as dazzling as a goddess. She adorned herself with fine gems and gold ornaments and she constantly poured forth sweet song. Bhīma was captivated by her and the seven months they enjoyed together seemed to pass as quickly as if it were seven days. At the end of the seven months she gave birth to a son named Ghaṭotkaca. Within days of his birth the boy grew to youthhood and he took on the terrible form of a Rākṣasa. His huge body was fearsome, with knotted muscles, a head as bald as a pot, terrible red eyes, a long pointed nose and ears like sharp arrows. His chest was broad and he stood as tall as a palm tree.

Although a Rākṣasa by nature, Ghaṭotkaca was inclined to virtue and he became a great favorite of the Pāṇḍavas. He was devoted to their service and they looked on him as a younger brother. Taught by the Pāṇḍavas, the boy quickly became proficient at weaponry and fighting. After a couple of months he asked permission from his parents to leave for the northern regions where Yakṣas and Rākṣasas dwell. He promised the Pāṇḍavas that they need only think of him and he would return to render them any service they required. After touching the feet of his mother and of all the Pāṇḍavas, he rose up to the sky and departed.

The time had come for Bhīma to leave Hiḍimbī. She embraced the Pāṇḍava tearfully and asked if she would ever again see him. Bhīma assured her that in the future, after he and his brothers had overcome their obstacles and were free from danger, they could be reunited.

Leaving Hiḍimbī in their mountain dwelling, the Pāṇḍavas and Kuntī resumed their travels. They disguised themselves as ascetics by matting their hair and wearing tree-bark garments. Bhīma carried his mother as they traveled through the many different lands. Going from forest to forest they passed through the countries of the Matsyas, the Trigartas and the Pañchālas. No one recognised them. They proceeded slowly, unsure of what to expect and awaiting the Lord’s indication as to what they should do next. While travelling they studied the Vedic scriptures together and all five brothers imbibed the science of morality and many other subjects described in the Vedas.

One day as they sat in the forest by their sacred fire, Vyāsadeva came to see them. After being received with due worship, the ṛṣi sat down and said, “I have been aware of the Kauravas’ unjust behavior toward you. Although I see both the Kauravas and yourselves equally, I feel a greater affection for you brothers due to your misfortune. I have therefore come here wishing to do you some good.”

Vyāsadeva informed them of a nearby village called Ekacakra. He instructed them to live there for some time, saying that he would come again to give them further directions. The ṛṣi then reassured the sorrowing Kuntī. Her sons would in time rule the world. The virtuous Yudhiṣṭhira, protected by his powerful brothers, would certainly become king. Soon he would perform the great Rājasūya sacrifice, establishing himself as the emperor of the entire globe.

The sage personally led them to Ekacakra. He brought them to a Brahmin’s house where they were received as guests. Vyāsadeva then took his leave, telling them again that he would return to them before long.

The Pāṇḍavas surveyed their new abode. The little village of Ekacakra was situated amid beautiful woodlands. The Brahmin had kindly given the brothers two rooms in his house for their residence. He had taken a vow that he would always receive any travelers who came to his door. By day they went about the village begging for food and, due to their gentleness and humility, they soon became dear to the people there. Everyone accepted them as wandering ascetics staying briefly in the village and they gladly gave them alms.

Every night the brothers offered their mother whatever alms had been collected. She would then prepare their meal. Half of the food was given to Bhīma, and the rest was divided among the other four brothers and Kuntī.

When the brothers went out begging, a different one of them would remain behind each day to protect Kuntī. One particular day it was Bhīma’s turn to stay back. He was sitting with his mother when they heard loud crying in the house. Hearing the piteous lamentations, Kuntī’s heart was moved and she spoke to Bhīma. “O son, due to this Brahmin’s kindness we are living here peacefully with no fear of Duryodhana and his brothers. I am always thinking how we might repay this gentle Brahmin. A virtuous man should always return the good done to him with an even greater good. Perhaps now our chance has come.”

Kuntī could understand that the Brahmin had fallen into some great distress. Bhīma told her to try to ascertain the cause. He would then try to remove it, no matter how difficult a task it may prove to be.

Kuntī slipped quietly into the inner apartments where the Brahmin lived with his family. She stood unnoticed by the door while the Brahmin and his wife and children sat with downcast faces. As Kuntī watched, the Brahmin said to his wife, “Fie upon this wretched life which affords one only misery. To live is to experience nothing but disease and pain. Pursuing in turn religion, wealth and pleasure, one endeavors much but receives little happiness. While everything leads to salvation, that is an impossible goal to achieve. Those who desire riches suffer, while those who have riches suffer even more. Alas, why do I live?”

Kuntī listened in silence as the Brahmin continued to condemn himself and his misfortune. He spoke of a terrible danger that had befallen them. His wife wept as he censured her, blaming their present predicament upon her wish to remain in the village due to affection for her now dead relatives. The Brahmin held his head in anguish. “How can I abandon you to save my own life? You were given to me by your parents. It is my duty to protect you. You have always served me and borne my children. I can in no way let you go. Nor can I abandon my only son or daughter. I shall go. Or maybe we should all die together.”

The Brahmin fell to the ground sobbing. His wife lifted him gently and said, “This lamentation does not befit a learned man like yourself. No one should lament inevitable death. Nor shall you or our children die. I shall go. Indeed, a woman’s highest duty lies in sacrificing her life to serve her husband. Undoubtedly such an act will confer upon me regions of eternal bliss.”

Kuntī was curious. The Brahmin’s wife continued to implore her husband to allow her to die. She said that neither she nor her children could possibly survive in his absence. If she were left a widow, she would become a prey to dishonorable men, who would seek her just as crows descend upon a piece of meat left on the ground. How then could she protect their two young children and keep them on the path of truth and virtue? She folded her hands and begged her husband for permission to leave. He could then accept another wife, while she would earn undying religious merits by her final service.

The Brahmin sat with his head in his hands and made no reply. Then his daughter began to speak. “O father, why are you sorrowful when you have me? Allow me to go and thus save yourself. It is a child’s duty to save the parent. This is why the wise have called one’s child putra, one who delivers the parents from hell. My duty to my forefathers is to bear a son to offer them the sacred śraddhā, but by the grace of Providence I may now serve my forefathers by saving my father. O Father, you will one day have to abandon me. Therefore do not hesitate to do so now.”

The girl wept along with her parents. The Brahmin’s small son then said in broken speech, “None of you should cry. Send me and I shall kill the cannibal Rākṣasa in a moment.” The boy smiled and brandished a piece of long grass as if it were a weapon.

Although they were grief-stricken, they all laughed at the young boy’s words. Kuntī took the sudden change of mood as an opportunity to inquire about the cause of their distress. Could she do anything to help? The Brahmin replied that their grief could not be removed by any human being. The country where they lived was protected from enemies by a powerful Rākṣasa named Baka. He had long terrorized the people, who found no protection from their weak king. The Rākṣasa used to come whenever he wanted and kill them for his food. Finally the people went to Baka and proposed that if he would stop attacking them at will, then each week one of them would go to him with a large cartload of food. In turn he should protect them from attackers. The cannibal agreed, but he demanded that he also eat the man who delivered his food.

The Brahmin told Kuntī that the turn of each man in their country came only after many years. Tomorrow it was his turn. He did not know what to do. He could not leave his young family alone, nor could he send them to their deaths. Therefore they would all go to meet the demon. Perhaps Baka would show compassion and spare them. Or they would all be devoured at once.

Kuntī said, “I see a means by which you may be delivered from this fear. Although you have but two children, I have five sons. Therefore let one of them go with the Rākṣasa’s tribute.”

The Brahmin was shocked. “I can never cause the death of a guest and a Brahmin to save my own life. Even the most sinful man would not do this. Rather, one should sacrifice himself and his children for the sake of a Brahmin.”

Kuntī was grave. “I am of the same opinion that Brahmins should always be protected, but you need not fear for my son. The Rākṣasa will not be able to kill him. He is powerful and knows the science of mantras.”

Kuntī told the Brahmin that she had already seen her son kill a powerful Rākṣasa. Baka would prove no problem to him. She asked the Brahmin not to disclose to anyone else what she had told him. If others learned of her son’s powers, they would harass him for his knowledge and the power of the mantras would be diminished if they were given to others.

The Brahmin looked carefully at Kuntī’s expression. She was obviously speaking the truth. Her son must surely possess some extraordinary powers. With tears in his eyes he assented to her suggestion.

Kuntī went to Bhīma and told him everything. She asked him to go to Baka. Bhīma agreed at once. His eyes lit up at the thought that he would be able to exercise his strength, while at the same time show their gratitude to the gentle Brahmin and his family.

Just as Kuntī and Bhīma finished speaking, the other Pāṇḍavas returned. Yudhiṣṭhira caught Bhīma’s eye and sensed at once that his younger brother was contemplating something wonderful. He sat by his mother and asked quietly, “What does Bhīma have on his mind? It seems he is about to do some extraordinary deed. Is it something you have ordered, or is it some plan of his own?”

Kuntī told her son what had transpired. When Yudhiṣṭhira learned that Bhīma was about to go out to meet Baka he became alarmed. “O Mother, you have made this Brahmin a rash promise. Surely it is never sanctioned to sacrifice one’s own son for that of another. All my hopes of overpowering Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s sons and regaining the kingdom are dependent on Bhīma’s power.”

Kuntī smiled slightly and reassured Yudhiṣṭhira. She reminded him of Bhīma’s superhuman prowess--how even as an infant he had crushed a great rock to powder, how he had easily carried all of them through the forest while running at the speed of the wind, how he had slain the immensely strong Hiḍimba. “It was not out of foolishness that I made my offer to the Brahmin. It is always a ruler’s duty to protect the Brahmins. By this act we will achieve two things: we will reward the Brahmin’s kindness toward us, and we will earn much religious merit.” Kuntī told her son that she had been wondering how to repay the Brahmin for some time. This opportunity was obviously the Lord’s arrangement for them.

Yudhiṣṭhira pondered Kuntī’s words. Looking across at the smiling Bhīma, he replied, “You have spoken well. Your decision is well considered. Because of your compassion toward the Brahmin, Bhīma will surely kill the demon Baka, but you must ensure that no one comes to know that it was him.”

Yudhiṣṭhira was not sure if the Kauravas knew that he and his brothers were still alive. Their spies would soon inform them of Baka’s death. They may well suspect that it was Bhīma who had killed him. Few other men were capable of killing such a powerful Rākṣasa.

That night while the village slept Bhīma quietly left the Brahmin’s house. He drove the cart loaded with food toward the forest where Baka dwelt. The aroma of the food was overpowering. After living for so long on meager forest fare and whatever alms the brothers were able to collect, Bhīma was ravenous. He began to eat the food from the cart. On his way into the forest, he shouted Baka’s name.

The Rākṣasa heard Bhīma’s approach and became inflamed with anger. He ran toward the Pāṇḍava, yelling, “I am Baka!”

Bhīma saw him emerge from among the trees. The earth resounded with his footsteps and his shouts were deafening. He had a huge body, red eyes, red beard and red hair. His mouth opened from ear to ear, and his forehead was furrowed into three lines as he looked upon Bhīma eating his food. Baka stopped near the cart and thundered, “Who is this fool who desires to be dispatched at once to death’s abode by eating in my presence the food intended for me?”

Bhīma glanced derisively at the Rākṣasa and smiled. He ignored his challenge and continued eating.

Baka roared in fury. He rushed at Bhīma with his arms upraised. Still the Pāṇḍava continued to eat. Baka brought his two fists down upon Bhīma’s back with the force of a thunderbolt. Without flinching, Bhīma went on eating. He did not even look at the Rākṣasa. Baka roared again and tore up a huge tree. As he whirled it above his head, Bhīma stood up and washed his hands from the pitcher of water on the cart. Then he leapt down from the cart and faced the infuriated demon.

Baka hurled the tree at Bhīma with all his strength. Bhīma smilingly caught it in his left hand and threw it back. The Rākṣasa uprooted one tree after another and hurled them at Bhīma, who caught each of them and sent them back. Soon the whole area was cleared of trees. Screaming out his own name again and again, Baka threw himself upon Bhīma and seized him. Bhīma also gripped the demon with his own powerful arms. The two dragged each other violently, each trying to kick the other’s legs out from underneath him. Then they fell to the ground, still locked in one another’s arms. They rolled about, making the ground tremble. Bhīma tightened his grip. He repeatedly smashed the demon’s head with his own forehead.

Gradually, Baka tired. Bhīma pulled free of his grasp and pounded the demon with his fists. He pressed down on Baka’s chest with his knees and struck him crushing blows which made the earth shake. Baka fell unconscious and Bhīma rolled him onto his stomach. Placing one knee on his back, he seized his neck with one hand and his waist-cloth with the other. With great force Bhīma broke the demon’s back in two. As he died Baka vomited blood and let out a fearful yell which filled the forest.

Hearing him scream, Baka’s friends and relatives came out of their houses. They looked with horror at his mountainous form lying in a pool of blood. Bhīma reassured the terrified Rākṣasas that he was not going to attack them. “This one has been killed due to his excessive fondness for human flesh. Give up killing men. Otherwise this fate awaits you all.”

The Rākṣasas immediately assented saying, “It shall be so.” Then they ran from that place, leaving Bhīma with Baka’s body. From that time on the people of Ekacakra noticed the Rākṣasas became peaceable toward them.

Bhīma lifted Baka’s corpse and placed it on the cart. Unseen by anyone, he deposited it by the town gates and then returned to the Brahmin’s house. His mother and brothers were relieved to see him, and he described to them all that had happened.