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, grasping ability, retention (of wisdom), courage, steadfastness, endeavour, activity and strength respectively.
In the current post, let us look at an incident in the mahabharata that brings forth the excellent prajna — ability to grasp things — that bhima possessed.
About five years of the vanavasa was nearing completion. The pandavas, along with draupadi, were residing near badarikashrama after dharmaraja’s attempt at going northwards of gandhamadana (mountain) was thwarted by an ashareeravani warning him against such a move. Arjuna of course had been away to swarga loka in his quest for divine astras so he could challenge bhishma and drona in the upcoming war.
One day, a rakshasa named jatasura came into the ashrama of the pandavas dressed as a brahmana. Being a rakshasa, he had the ability to take any form he wished. He requested dharmaraja for a place in the ashrama, which the elder pandava immediately granted. Jatasura convinced all of them that he was a learned brahmana who had been a student of lord parashurama!
ब्राह्मणो मन्त्रकुशलः सर्वशास्त्रविदुत्तमः
इति ब्रुवन् पाण्डवेयान् पर्युपास्ते स्म नित्यदा
जामदग्न्यस्य शिष्योsहं रामस्याक्लिष्टकर्मणः ||
Sri madhvacharya, in his mahabharata tatparya nirnaya, has clarified that jatasura was an especially powerful rakshasa who could not be killed by anyone easily due to a boon by devi parvati.
यथा जटासुरः पापः शर्वाणीवरसंश्रयात् |
अवध्यो विप्ररूपेण वञ्चयन्नेव पाण्डवान् || (MBTN — chapter 24 — shloka 6)
Apaharana of the pandavas
He spent several days in the ashrama constantly scheming about when and how to kidnap the pandavas and their impressive collection of weapons. There existed only one big hurdle between jatasura and success — Bhimasena. On every possible occasion, he would sneak in and inspect the weapons of the Pandavas, which he hoped he could take away and use for himself.
After several days had passed in this way, jatasura found a very suitable occasion to execute his plan. Bhimasena had gone away on a hunt. Ghatotkacha and his assistants had all returned home (ghatotkacha was summoned by dharmaraja during their journey in the himalayas to help carry draupadi). Lomasha and other rishis, who always stayed with the pandavas, had gone to fetch flowers for their worship. It was the perfect moment, and jatasura wasted no time. He turned into his true form, carried all the weapons and along with it dharmaraja, nakula, sahadeva and draupadi, and started running at great speed.
The pandavas started to struggle with the rakshasa to liberate themselves. Sahadeva finally managed to pierce him with his sword and got out of his clutches. He instantly ran towards that area of the forest where bhima had gone for his hunt. Standing in the middle of the road, he let out a loud shout calling bhimasena for help.
Dharmaraja, meanwhile, realized that the only way they could all survive was if bhimasena arrived there. And so he had to something to slow down the rakshasa till the son of vayu arrived. He started to engage the rakshasa by lecturing him on matters of dharma.
He started telling jatasura that even rakshasas are supposed to follow (their own path of) dharma, and that rakshasa dharma did not allow for harming those rulers who had caused no trouble to them.
न च राजाsवमन्तव्यो रक्षसा जात्वनागसि |
अणुरप्यपचारश्च नास्त्यस्माकं नराशन ||
He reminded jatasura about how friends, dependents and those whose food one has consumed must never be cheated. “O rakshasa! you stayed comfortably under our care. You were served by us. You ate our food. How then can you kidnap us?” asked dharmaraja. He challenged the rakshasa to an open fight and said if he wins he could carry away draupadi.
These words had little effect on the rakshasa. Dharmaraja realized that it had become important to take any measure to slow him down. It was time for making use of the divine siddhis he had since it was an extreme situation — आपत्काल!
Yoga siddhi of dharmaraja
All the pandavas were avataras of devatas. They knew all the yoga-siddhis and could use them at will. Dharmaraja therefore invoked the garima-siddhi — the siddhi of becoming heavier. He started becoming more and more heavy and the rakshasa felt the burden on him increasing. Soon, dharmaraja became so heavy jatasura could no longer run fast.
ततो युधिष्ठिरस्तस्य भारिकः समपद्यत |
स तु भाराभिभूतात्मा न तथा शीघ्रगोsभवत् ||
Yudhisthira then spoke to draupadi and the twins and told them how he had slowed the rakshasa down. He said they should just wait for bhima to arrive. Sahadeva, however, had different thoughts. He started reminding them of the duties of a kshatriya, and how not fighting an enemy was not an option. Not realizing jatasura was far superior to him in strength, sahadeva challenged him to a duel. Luckily for him, just as he was about to launch himself on the rakshasa, the mighty bhimasena arrived.
Right in the middle of the road where jatasura was struggling to carry away the pandavas, bhima stood — like a volcano that had just gone active. He addressed the rakshasa in a fiery tone. Bhimasena knew since the very beginning that this person was not a brahmana. Everytime jatasura would inspect the weapons, bhima would notice him doing so and thought to himself that a true brahmana would not pay so much attention on weapons.
His extraordinary prajna — grasping ability — meant bhimasena knew in a flash that this was a rakshasa in the garb of a brahmana!
However, kshatriya dharma stipulated that no brahmana must be harmed, unless he spoke ill or did some unpleasant deed. Since jatasura had not done either, bhima let him survive so far — till the time was ripe.
अतिथिं ब्रह्मरूपं च कथं हन्यामनागसम् |
राक्षसं जानमानोsपि यो हन्यान्नरकं व्रजेत् |
अपक्वस्य च कालेन वधस्तव न विद्यते ||
Bhima declared that jatasura had become like the proverbial fish caught in the wire whose only fate was death. “You will not go where you desire to. On the other hand, your path today is the same that baka and hidimba have taken earlier” — roared bhima.
Bhima and jatasura both got ready for a fight. A fight where clearly only one would survive. Both decided that the best way to engage would be in a hand-to-hand combat. As they were about to start the duel, nakula and sahadeva approached bhima desiring to help him. Bhima brushed them aside and made an oath to kill the rakshasa all by himself.
“O king! I take an oath today — on myself, on you, on dharma, on the punya I have earned and on the daana I have made — I shall truly slay this rakshasa today”
आत्मना भ्रात्रुभिश्चैव धर्मेण सुकृतेन च |
इष्टेन च शपे राजन् सूदयिष्यामि राक्षसम् ||
A mighty encounter then began. Although bhima, being mukhyaprana himself, was way superior to the rakshasa in strength and valor, he followed the rules of avatara — when on earth, do as humans do — and engaged jatasura for a while allowing him the impression that he was equal.
The two of them moved around each other like beasts, like two dark clouds colliding against each other. They plucked many huge trees in the vicinity and hurled them at each other. Soon the entire area became desert-like as all the trees were uprooted by them. Once there were no more trees nearby, the two of them picked boulders and started fighting with the same. Finally, the two of them entered into a fist-fight and started hitting each others’ shoulders.
Bhimasena allowed this contest to go on for a muhurtha (around 24 minutes). He then decided that the time to end this fake duel had come. Lifting his palm, which was like a five-headed cobra, he curled his fingers into a mighty fist and hit the rakshasa’s neck with breathtaking speed. Jatasura started choking. Seeing this, bhima garnered more strength. He picked up the struggling rakshasa and rubbed him repeatedly on the ground causing severe lacerations. Another shot with his fist and jatasura started gasping for breath. His eyes had started to gorge out and he was biting his teeth in great pain.
Finally, bhimasena ended his struggle by plucking out his head from the neck— as if he was collecting a fruit from a tree!
Even as the rakshasa’s head rolled on the ground, his teeth were still clenched. There was blood all over.
Having thus fulfilled his vow, bhimasena approached his brother dharmaraja and the other brahmanas who had meanwhile gathered there. He took the blessings of all the elders and was in turn worshipped by his younger brothers, and by draupadi.
Thus jatasura joined the long list of evil rakshasas who were killed by the mighty bhimasena during the vanavasa of the pandavas. Ridding the earth of evil — thereby aiding Sri Krishna in his work of भूभारहरण — was one of the prime reasons for bhima to undertake the vanavasa. One more important milestone had been achieved in this mission.