Bhima Bala: The Slaughter of Keechaka

This post is a part of the series of posts highlighting the ten guNas that bhimasena displays in the mahabharata. The ten gunas have been explained by Sri Madhwacharya in his mahabharata tatparya nirnaya as follows

भक्तिर्ज्ञानं सवैराग्यं प्रज्ञा मेधा धृतिः स्थिथिः |

योगः प्राणो बलं चैव वृकोदरो इति स्मृतः || २-१४१ ||

Vrikodara is the personification of bhakti, jnana, vairagya, prajna, medha, dhruti, sthithi, yoga, prana and bala — devotion, knowledge, detachment, retention (of wisdom), retention, courage, steadfastness, endeavour, activity and strength respectively.

In the present article, let us look at one incident during the virata parva of the mahabharata which illustrates the great strength — bala — that bhimasena possessed.

It was close to midnight. Darkness had engulfed the entire natyagara — the dancing school of the palace. During the day, the place would be teeming with princesses and their assistants — eager to learn a lesson from that teacher extraordinaire Bruhannala. However, at this time of the day — it was completely deserted.

On a cot in the middle of the big hall — Bhimasena, the second Pandava was lying down — waiting patiently. Like a lion waiting for its prey — the son of mukhyaprana lay in ambush for his bali. After all, the time for clearing his debt was close-by. Even as lay down quietly, his eyes were red with anger. Fire was raging in his face. All the muscles in his body had hardened like iron.

Bhima looked at this two hands — they were like two clubs — waiting to strike. He remembered how his hands had been deprived of such an opportunity the previous day.

Draupadi’s demand for justice

It was just another day at the court of King Virata. The King was seated along with his dear friend Kanka. Kanka — was none other than the chakravarti Yudhisthira — in the guise of a sanyasi. After all, he could not cause the downfall of one who gave him shelter. He had to protect Virata from accumulating paapa — which would happen if he ended up bowing to the King. After all, he had performed the Rajasuya Yajna. There was only one way out — to take up the guise of a sanyasi — which would force Virata to bow to him everyday.

Bhima happened to be present at the sabha at the same time. He had become quite famous in the Kingdom during the course of the 11 months. Most recently, he had saved the King from embarassment by killing Jeemoota, that famed wrestler in an open competition, after it looked like no one would survive the daitya. “If not for the powerful cook Vallala, we would have been immersed in shame” — the citizens had said. Vallala had also become well known as the cook who remained fit by exercising with tigers and lions that the King kept as pets. That fame and prestige gave him unrestricted access to the sabha.

Just as the King and Kanka were engaged in banter, the wail of a crying woman was heard in the hall. Bhima and Yudhisthira immediately recognised the voice of Sairandhri — their beloved Draupadi — who had taken the guise of a helper to Queen Sudeshna. She was running towards the centre of the hall. It became apparent she was being chased — by none other than the senapati of the Kingdom — and brother of the Queen — the mighty Keechaka.

The entire crowd was stunned to see what was happening right in front of their eyes. Keechaka caught Draupadi and tried to pull her. She pushed him aside with all her might and instantly lent out a cry — a prayer — to Surya. At the very next moment — a Bhuta — sent by Surya — appeared there and attacked Keechaka. A strong blow from the Bhuta sent Keechaka crashing. He recovered and in turn hit the Bhuta. Realizing that Keechaka was the very incarnation of that powerful rakshasa Banasura, the Bhuta retreated — leaving Draupadi to her fate. Seeing the disapproving reaction of the crowd, Keechaka also left the place.

Draupadi ran to where the King was seated and demanded protection from him. She wanted to know if there is any semblance of justice still left in the Kingdom of Virata. There was no reply from anyone there. Draupadi glaced at Yudhisthira. He seemed helpless, although angry. Draupadi knew he wouldn’t take any action.

Yudhisthira quickly realised he had seen Bhima in the hall a while ago. He turned around and found him standing like a mountain in a corner. His eyes had swollen with anger — his eyebrows had become so stiff — he was profusely sweating around them. His fists were blood-red. One could almost hear the sounds of his clenched teeth.

Bhima was repeatedly looking at Yudhisthira and then turning away to look at the entrance of the hall. Yudhisthira realised what was about to happen. Bhima had picked a massive tree that was there — right at the door. He was going uproot the same and smash Keechaka. That would be the end of Keechaka. However, that would also be the end of the Ajnatavasa. The 13 year penance would go waste. After all, the entire world knew there was only one human who could uproot any tree he chose — Bhima.

Fearing that their efforts would go in vain, Yudhisthira quickly stopped Bhima.

“O Vallala! Is this the time to fetch firewood? Moreover that tree is not dry. This won’t help your cooking. Go outside the city and pick a better tree. For a powerful one like you, collecting firewood is a trivial task”

Yudhisthira pressed his thumbs against each other — signaling to his younger brother not to disclose his identity.

Bhima, although still raging with anger, controlled himself. His dharma demanded that he destroy Keechaka immediately. However he reminded himself of his duty towards his brothers as well — not to reveal himself. It was true that they would never get discovered during the period of the ajnatavasa — after all Durga Devi had blessed them thus. However, he recalled the words of shastra — which said purusha prayatna was a must for daiva anugraha to take effect. Gods wouldn’t bless those who didn’t try. So it was his duty to make every effort to hide himself — in spite of the boons.

He also recalled Krishna’s grace on him — after all it was a big relief he was born as the second son of Kunti — and had Yudhisthira as the elder brother. Otherwise, at the first instance of a misdeed from Duryodhana, the 100 brothers would have been killed by him. But that would not be according to Krishnas’ plan. Along with 21 akshouhinis of Jarasandha, paramatma had wished to destroy 18 akshouhinis in the great war. And therefore the Kauravas had to live — so Bhima could perform his yajna of personally destroying 6 akshouhinis and also killing the 100 brothers there. “Yudhisthira over-ruling me only made my decision simpler” — thought Bhima, and retreated back to his house.

Assurance to Draupadi

Recalling the developments of the previous morning, Bhima once again agitated — while still on the bed in the natyagara. There was a gentle breeze blowing in the hall which made him feel the soft clothes he had worn that night. The silky nature of the clothes reminded him of Draupadi — his dearest wife. His mind wandered towards the conversation he had had with her the previous evening.

He was sleeping in the palace kitchen — like a huge sala tree fallen on the banks of a river — when he was woken up by Draupadi. Although he knew what was to be done, Draupadi had to be consoled. So Bhima decided to engage her in a conversation so he could offer her the comfort of his words and his assurance.

“What brings you here Panchali? Why are you so dejected?” — asked Bhima.

“How can anyone who has to live with Yudhisthira ever be anything but sad?” — replied the wailing Draupadi.

Bhima comforted her by reminding her that he was always there for her and that she should let him know everything. Draupadi agreed.

“After all it was you who saved me from Jatasura in the forest. I know only you will do dharma. I shall extract my revenge through you”

She then narrated how the leader of the Virata army had returned back 10 months into their ajnatavasa and how she unfortunately met him in the palace corridor one day. The shameless daitya had tried to lure her — promising to give up every other wife of his — and make her his consort-in-chief. He promised all the riches and comforts in the world to her. Needless to say, Draupadi had rejected his advances and warned him to keep off.

She immediately reported the incident to Sudeshna, the elder sister of the rogue Keechaka — and warned her that the 5 Gandharvas — her husbands — would not keep quiet for long. Sudeshna promised to try and make Keechaka come to his senses.

Another 15 days had passed by thus. But Keechaka’s lust only grew stronger. He came into the palace of his sister one day and demanded that he convince the servant Sairandhri to accept his advances. Sudeshna’s repeated advise failed to have any impact on him. He insisted that Sairandhri be sent to his palace under some pretext. Sudeshna had no option but to relent to the sinful demands of her brother.

The next day, she called Sairandhri and ordered her to go to Keechaka’s palace and fetch madya for her. Draupadi realised what was being setup. But her pleas to send someone else made no impact. She was reminded that she was a servant and she had to obey the orders of her queen. Disappointed, Draupadi agreed to adhere.

Keechaka did not bely her expectations. As soon as she reached his palace, he tried to hold her hands and pull her. She pushed him aside and ran towards the sabha where the King and others had gathered.

“You know what happened after that” — said Panchali — “Tell me if I shall get my revenge or if I should end my life?”

These words of Draupadi caused immense anger in Bhima. It was as if a Cobra had been agitated with a stick. He erupted.

“Tomorrow shall be the end of Keechaka. There is no power in the Universe which can prevent his killing. This I promise you” — Bhima declared, burning with anger.

“Yudhisthira has hinted that he wanted me to execute Keechaka outside the city. Being my elder brother, I have to honour his words. So do me a favor. Go to Keechaka and tell him you are ready to meet him at night in the dancing school outside the city. Leave the rest to me”.

Draupadi hugged him lovingly. She was assured now. Bhima never went back on his words.

The slaughter of Keechaka

Just as Bhima was recollecting these incidents, the sound of heavy footsteps brought him back to the present. Yes — it was him — the evil Keechaka had indeed been convinced Draupadi would be waiting for him.

Bhima could smell the scent of fresh flowers and other gandha. Keechaka, being a fool, had decorated himself just like a young groom. With great anticipation the leader of the Kekaya kingdom came near him.

“O dear Sairandhri — although I am naturally handsome — I have decorated myself today in order to please you like never before. Come — be mine” — said Keechaka standing right next to the bed.

Even in the midst of the rage, Bhima felt a chuckle listening to those boastful words.

“You may have got beauty due to God’s grace. It is also God’s grace that is allowing you to praise yourself today. But you would have never seen a woman like me till date. For one complete muhurtha you will get to see me. After that, all your desires about women will end. I assure you”

Saying thus, Bhima jumped from that cot and fell upon Keechaka. Like a lion holding its hapless prey by the neck, Bhima held the hair of Keechaka and dragged him furiously.

The shocked Keechaka quickly realised what was happening. Managing to gain his composure he pulled himself out and prepared to engage Bhima in a duel. It was a sight to behold. A majestic lion fighting with a bull elephant. Two king cobras were going all out against each other. Two bulls tussling with each other.

The two of them locked their fists and kept circling. Bhima repeatedly kept swirling Keechaka as if he was bending the branch of a tree. Escaping again and again, Keechaka kept trying to pull Bhima down.

The battle was approaching one muhurtha. Keechaka — in a last gasp attempt — hit Bhima with this knees. Bhima went down for a second. But it was like beating a cobra with a stick — only to see it strike back with a hiss! Bhima decided that the time had come. He had granted a muhurtha just as a mark of respect to the strength and valor of Keechaka.

It was now time for the punishment.

Bhima saw Keechaka was breathing heavily and had become tired. He pulled both this hands, held him by the locks of his hair with one hand and landed a huge blow on his head with the other. He locked him in his arms from behind. Keechaka began to lose his breath due to the rope-like-grip of Bhima’s mighty arms.

Keechaka let out a loud wail — as if a damaged drum was being beaten. Bhima then lifted him in the air and kept swirling him repeatedly. Keechaka was the fourth most powerful person on earth. And he was being treated like an insect by Bhima.

The almost senseless Keechaka was then brought down and Bhima squeezed his neck with great force. Both his eyeballs popped out. Bhima then put him down on his stomach and pressed his knee against his waist. He then pulled the arms and legs of Keechaka like he has trying to string a bow. His back broke. His soul left the body.

The commander-in-chief of the Virata Kingdom died like an hapless animal.

“I had Draupadi’s debt till now. She was molested by you and I could not avenge it in the hall. But now I have it. My joy knows no bound” — roared Bhima.

The attempt on Draupadi had indeed been avenged. However, a lesson was still pending to be taught. Those who attacked women had to be warned. Their eventual fate had to be communicated. Bhima still had some work left.

Due to the fierce blows from Bhima, Keechaka had already lost all his clothes. Bhima held the head of the dead body and pulled it towards the waist. He then pushed the head, hands and legs of that dead body into the guda-dwara — the anus — and mashed the body into a lump of flesh.

Keechaka had been turned into a mamsa-pinda.

Bhima then calmly sorted his clothes and gave a loud shout to Draupadi from that hall telling her he had kept his word. He walked back into his kitchen and laid down on his bed, as if nothing had happened.

(A short while later — the 105 brothers — the upa-keechakas — attempted to kidnap Draupadi and burn her alive. She again called out Bhima — who saw it as an opportunity to practise his tree plucking skills. Like a massive fire consuming flies — he destroyed all the upa-keechakas in a flash and returned back to his kitchen. It was time to catch up on lost sleep – finally)

Bhima truly was the most powerful, the strongest — maha balavan — amongst all the warriors in the mahabharata.

Sri Krishnarpanamastu.

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