Bhimasena The Parama Bhakta

We continue 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 power, retention, courage, steadfastness, endeavour, activity and strength respectively.

In this post, let us look at one incident where bhimasena displays his immense bhakti to Lord Krishna. However, prior to that, a brief background into the instruments of bhakti is warranted.

Bhakti and its instruments

In the mahabharata tatparya nirnaya, Sri Madhwacharya, in his inimicable style, gives a concise definition of what constitutes bhakti.

ज्ञानपूर्वः परः स्नेहो नित्यो भक्तिरितीर्यते |

इत्यादि वेदवचनं साधनप्रविधायकम् || MBTN.१. १०४ ||

“Friendship, that is rooted in knowledge, which is in abundance and which is firm — is known as bhakti”. These, and other shruti vakyas, teach us the modes of sadhana.

Sri Madhwa further elucidates, by quoting a few smriti vakyas, that when a devotee unintentionally performs even adharma, the same will be considered as dharma by the Lord. And vice versa. Bhakti has the power, therefore, for the Lord to make exceptions to his rules!

धर्मो भवत्यधर्मोsपि कृतो भक्तैस्तवाच्युत |

पापं भवति धर्मोsपि यो न भक्तैः कृतो हरे || MBTN.१. १०६ ||

“O Achyuta! Even adharma that is performed by your devotees becomes dharma; O Hari! (on the other hand) even the dharma of those who are not your devotees will end up becoming adharma”

In the srimadbhagavata, sage vyasa, who is verily the avatara of narayana himself, gives out the nine instruments of bhakti. This is also popularly known as “nava vidha bhakti”

श्रवणं कीर्तनं विष्णोः स्मरणं पादसेवनम् |

अर्चनं वन्दनं दास्यं सख्यमात्मनिवेदनम् || Bhagavata ७.५.२३ ||

Listening to his tales, singing his praise, remembering him always, serving his feet, worshipping him, prostrating before him, becoming his servant, befriending him and offering ones own self — these are the nine ways of bhakti towards Vishnu”

One of the nine modes, as listed above, is ‘daasya’ — becoming paramatma’s servant or slave. There are many attributes to a slave. However, one of the main attributes is that the slave or servant always adheres to the words of the master — blindly! The daasa is under the supreme control of the master.

A daasa is therefore

  • a devoted and helpful follower or supporter
  • a person in the employ and subject to the direction or control of an individual

The daasatva of bhimasena

There are many incidents in the mahabharata where bhimasena displays this guNa of ‘daasatva’ towards Lord Krishna in abundance. One such incident occurs during the final war — just as guru dronacharya is about to be killed.

On the 15th day of the great war, guru drona was raging an intense battle — killing thousands of soldiers from the pandava camp. Many maharathis on the side of the pandavas were annihilated by drona. His prowess had peaked, and he looked unstoppable.

Yudhisthira and the other leaders of the pandava camp start to panic. They realise that if drona was allowed continue in this fashion, the end of the war — with the destruction of the pandavas — would arrive soon. Drona therefore had to be killed — and soon. The pandavas, once again, take the refuge of Lord Krishna for a way out.

Krishna reminds all of them about the words of drona himself on the first day of the way. Yudhisthira had gone, along with his brothers, to bhishma and drona to seek their blessings in the middle of the battlefield. There, he had asked both the aged warriors the secret to killing them! Bhishma had indicated that he would not return arrows if a non-male stood in front of him. On the 10th day, that same trick was used by Krishna and arjuna to end bhishma’s heroics. Shikhandi was forefronted and arjuna immersed the pitamaha in a maze of arrows.

Drona too, at the same time, had let out a secret. He had said that his son was most dear to him, and any unfortunate news about him would make him give up his weapons.

Krishna reminded the pandavas that the time had come to deliver such a news to drona to make him give up.

अश्वथाम्नि हते नैष युध्येदिति मतिर्मम |

तं हतं सम्युगे कश्चिदस्मै शंसतु मानवः || MBH ७. १६४.६९ ||

It is my opinion that he (drona) will not fight if he hears the news of ashwathama’s death. Let any person tell him that his son died in battle.

He asks one of them to deliver the ‘news’ to drona that ‘ashwathama had died’. Arjuna rejected this suggestion outright. Yudhisthira hesitatingly seemed to accept the inevitability of having to do so. But neither he nor any one else moved towards complying with Krishna’s words.

एतन्नारोचयद्राजन् कुन्तीपुत्रो धनञ्जयः |

अन्ये त्वरोचयन् सर्वे कृच्छ्रेण तु युधिष्ठिरः || MBH ७. १६४.७० ||

O king! Dhananjaya, the son of kunti, did not like this one bit. But the others listened to it while yudhisthira agreed with great difficulty!

Remember — all of them knew that Lord Krishna was the paramatma — the supreme being in this universe. Yet they hesitated to follow his instructions. This clearly showed that their bhakti — specifically their daasya bhaava — was lacking in intensity.

Bhimasena was the follower of the parama-bhagavata-dharma. As part of this — it was his duty to blindly obey the words of Krishna — at any cost. Any lower dharma that had to be accommodated could be done so — but not at the cost of ignoring his master’s words. Bhima, therefore, found an ingenious way to obey the words of krishna.

He picked an elephant — named ashwathama — that belonged to his own side and killed it. He then went near drona and told him loudly that ashwatthama had died.

ततो भीमो महाबाहुरनीके स्वे महागजम् |

जघान गदया राजन्नश्वत्थामानमित्युत || MBH ७. १६४.७१ ||

O king! Bhimasena then chose an elephant from his own side — one that was named ashwatthama — and killed it with his gada.

भीमसेनस्तु सव्रीडमुपेत्य द्रोणमाहवे |

अश्वत्थामा हत इति शब्दमुच्चैश्चकार ह || MBH ७. १६४.७२ ||

Bhimasena went near drona in that field, albeit with a feeling of lajja, and shouted loudly that ashwatthama had been killed.

Drona’s suspicion and eventual sacrifice

When bhima delivered such a news, drona’s first reaction was that of disbelief. While he knew ashwatthama was a great warrior who could not be killed easily, he was more certain that bhima was a blind follower of krishna — and therefore he suspected some play by the Lord!

Drona refused to give up his weapons and continued to engage in a terrible battle. He continued killing scores of pandavas, especially the matsyas. He was about to pick up a brahmastra and discharge the same when the great sages — including vishwamitra, vashishta, kashyapa, atri and others — arrived there. They, along with bhimasena, chided drona for participating in the war in spite of being a brahmana. They repeatedly advised him that his time had come and that he should give up his weapons.

Drona finally came to terms with the situation. He turned to yudhisthira and asked him about his son. With great difficulty yudhisthira said reiterated that ashwatthama had died. At the end, in a low whisper, he added the word “kunjarah” — “thus named elephant”.

Hearing these words, drona gave up all his weapons, and sat down for dhyana in his chariot itself. Soon, his soul left the body and went upwards towards the urdhwa lokas. At the same time, dhrishtadyumna arrived there and, in spite of protests by the elders there, cut off the head of drona’s lifeless body.

The life of drona, who was an avatara of devaguru brihaspati, thus came to an end on the 15th day of the great war.

This incident highlights yet another guNa of bhimasena — that of his immense and unflinchng bhakti — devotion — towards Lord Krishna. Bhimasena truly was a parama bhagavata!

Note: The mahabharata notes that the chariot of yudhisthira which was always flying four inches above the ground came back to touch the earth after this incident. The popular interpretation is that the same happened as yudhisthira had spoken a lie. However Sri Madhwa clarifies in the tatparya nirnaya that the real reason for the chariot to climb down was his reluctance to obey the words of Krishna. This becomes further clear when we realise that yudhisthira had added the word “kunjara” in the end. So he had not spoken any lie at all. The question of his chariot coming down due to his speaking a “mithya” therefore doesn’t arise at all!

|| sri krishnarpanamastu ||

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