Mahabharat Episode 23: When an Aghori Almost Killed Bhima
The alliance with Drupada through their marriage with Draupadi made them stronger than ever. And the greatest humiliation was that Arjuna had won the contest, which none of the Kauravas had been capable of and Karna had been denied participation in because he was deemed ignoble.
Yudhishthira came back to the palace with a wife and a priest, and laid claim to the throne. Dhritarashtra could not help but nominate him as the Yuvaraj, the future king. From then on, the rivalry between the Kauravas and the Pandavas flared up like never before, now inside the palace. They did not physically assault each other, but both sides worked towards the other one’s detriment.
Due to this power struggle, the administration of the kingdom was affected, and the nation suffered. Bhishma realized that he as the regent needed to put an end to this and lay down the law. He said, “Let’s crown Yudhishthira king. There is no point keeping him as the Yuvaraj – let’s make him the Maharaj. That will settle the matter, one way or the other. And let’s give Duryodhana and others important positions.”
When this was announced, Duryodhana was outraged. He went to his father and said, “You brought me up as the future king. But now you are asking me to be a slave and take orders from these people who came from the jungle. And worst of all, you want me to take instructions from Bhima. He will taunt and shame me on a daily basis. I will kill myself.”
Duryodhana threatened suicide, but Bhishma insisted, “Yudhishthira will be the king. This must be established for the wellbeing of the nation.” Though Dhritarashtra did not like this, he had no choice because he was king in name only. Since he was blind, he depended on others to get things done.
Bhishma was the elder, the regent, the wise man, and the warrior whom everyone respected. He was the one who really had the authority and power of decision. And he accepted that Yudhishthira would be the king.
But Duryodhana kept tormenting his father, saying, “No way! I am going to kill myself.” His brothers said, “We will go back to Gandhara, into the mountains.” That was the place where their mother came from. Dhritarashtra did not know what to do. He wanted his sons to lead the kingdom, but he did not know how to make it happen. Under traditional law, the eldest in this generation, who was Yudhishthira, was to be the king. So Bhishma declared him king.
Yudhishthira’s Devotion to Dharma
The day of coronation approached. In the meantime, Yudhishthira had spent so much time with sages and acquired so much knowledge from studying the scriptures that his whole thinking was ruled by concepts of dharma and karma, right and wrong. He wanted to be truthful, straight and just.
When Bhishma proclaimed Yudhishthira king at court and everyone celebrated, Yudhishthira stood up and said, “Yes, I will take the responsibility of doing everything that I need to do. But as long as Dhritarashtra is alive, let him be the king. I will take orders from him and let Duryodhana have equal kingship. After all, he is my brother.”
Duryodhana’s and his brothers’ eyeballs popped out. They said, “What!? Did we hear this right?” They could not believe that they had to go through all this struggle for him to say now that he will share the kingship equally, because he thought that this was dharma and justice.
Bhishma threw up his hands in despair and said, “I have borne this nation for so long.” For three generations, he had led the country, without being a king. As a brahmachari, he had all the pains of leading the clan, but not the pleasures of having a family. He sacrificed more than anyone else. And now when he tried to establish the first king of the Kuru Dynasty since Shantanu who was actually able to govern the nation, again the situation got unnecessarily convoluted.
The four brothers were inflamed with rage within themselves, but they had taken a vow at their father’s deathbed that, from that moment onwards, whatever Yudhishthira as their eldest brother said would be the law for them.
This used to be the rule in this country, that as long as the father is alive, the sons will follow whatever he says. Generally, the older generation exerts their power over the younger ones, right from Puru and Shantanu, though this power dynamics is somewhat reversed in the case of Duryodhana. The younger four brothers looked at Yudhishthira as a father figure. They always obeyed his word.
But this was too much now for Bhima, that after all this struggle, when his elder brother finally got the chance to be the king and they could have all the power, Yudhishthira voluntarily offered to share it with Dhritarashtra and his clan. But Bhima could not say anything against his brother, nor could he fight him. Appalled, he walked out of the court.
Bhima’s Dangerous Fling
In the meantime, Bhima as usual ate well and picked up a fight with someone or the other. That was what he needed – a lot of food and a lot of fight. He had seemingly unending energy, appetite and everything else. He fell in love with a woman who is known as Jalandhara in Haryana, Valandhara in Uttar Pradesh, and Balandhara in Bengal.
This is the situation in India – there are so many languages and dialects that if you travel from New Delhi to Kolkata and further on to Tamil Nadu, and let us say your name is Vasudev, by the time you reach Kolkata, it will be Basudev. Once you reach Tamil Nadu, it will be Vasudevan. Similarly, her name is Jalandhara, Valandhara, or Balandhara, depending on which part of the country you are in.
Jalandhara was the sister of Bhanumati, Duryodhana’s wife. This connection was bound to cause trouble. The story goes into much detail about the love affair between Bhima and Jalandhara. There was one particular incident where he wanted to see her, which was not possible in the palace. So he sent her a note, saying he wanted to meet her in the gymnasium. This was where he used to spend most of his time. Every day, he was working out, building his muscles, and practicing to fight with his mace.
Secretly, in the middle of the night, she came and met him in Bhalia’s gymnasium. Bhalia was a great wrestler of over hundred years of age and the father of Someshwar, who was in charge of the training of the whole royal clan.
Bhima later escorted her back. Then he noticed a spy was following him. He caught hold of him and wanted to smash his head. The spy begged him for mercy and said, “Please spare my life. I will tell you something that you will be interested in.” Bhima picked up the guy, held him by the neck, and asked him, “What is it that you have to tell me?” The spy said, “Right now, they are doing something so that within a month’s time, you will be dead, for sure.” Bhima asked, “What are you talking about? Why would I be dead within a month? It is you who is going to be dead within a minute.” The spy replied, “Across the river, there is an aghori. Dusshasana and Shakuni are there with him. They are performing a yagna for you to die. I can take you to this place.”
The Strange Aghori
Bhima and the spy quietly took a boat and crossed the river. There was an aghori’s hut. Aghoris are a certain clan of mystics, who still exist in this country – the fiercest and weirdest yogis you can find. Even today, aghoris live odd lives, compared to the rest of society – no one understands who they are and what they do.
This aghori did very strange things. Dusshasana and Shakuni were sitting at the fire; the aghori was chanting wild mantras. Bhima and the spy hid behind the hut and watched. After various incantations, a very fierce form of Devi appeared. The aghori, who was in a trance, asked Dusshasana and Shakuni to tell her what they want.
Dusshasana said, “We want Bhishma dead.” Devi said, “Not possible. He has the boon that he can choose his time of death. Who else?” They said, “Then we want Krishna dead.” Devi said, “Not possible. He is an avatar; he will only die according to his own will.” These two were the key figures – if they died, everything would have fallen into their hands. “Who else,” Devi asked again. They looked at each other. Then they said, “Bhima. We want him dead.”
But before the aghori could do the needed work, Bhima broke the roof of the hut in such a way that it fell into the fire and burst aflame. The whole yagna fell apart, and the aghori himself accidently got pushed into the fire.
When he caught fire, he sat down in cross-legged posture, eyes open, and without uttering a sound, his body burned into ashes. He was a very strange being – even Bhima was terrified, and so were Dusshasana and Shakuni, who ran away from there.
Back in the boat, Bhima took the spy by the neck and drowned him in the river. He did not want him to go and tell anyone what had happened. After this incident, the situation in Hastinapur got more unstable than ever. Technically, Yudhishthira was the king, but he took instructions from Dhritarashtra, and shared his power with Duryodhana, which created a standoff where nothing could move ahead.
To be continued…