Mahabharat Episode 29: When Bhima Wrestled Jarasandha
King Jarasandha planned to conduct a yagna in which he wanted to sacrifice one hundred Kshatriya kings in order to sabotage the Rajasuya Yagna of the Pandavas and prevent them from achieving the status of emperors. The only way to stop Jarasandha was to kill him. Krishna came up with a ploy. In the guise of Brahmins, Bhima, Arjuna, and Krishna set out for Magadha, Jarasandha’s kingdom.
Jarasandha looked at them and sized them up. When he saw Arjuna’s hands, which were calloused in a way that is characteristic for an archer, he said, “Well, looks like you are an archer. You are not a Brahmin, are you?” He also noticed that Arjuna bore these calluses on both hands.
Arjuna could fight or shoot an arrow with either hand with the same accuracy. He was ambidextrous – that is why one of his names is Savyasachi. Being able to use the left and right hand with the same dexterity is a huge advantage in battle. Jarasandha said, “You are ambidextrous. Who are you? The only other archer I have heard of who is ambidextrous is Arjuna. I have not met him, but for sure he would not come dressed as a Brahmin. Anyway, you have come as guests.” And he offered them the customary welcome and a place in the palace. He asked them, “Are you sure you can wrestle with me,” because as a wrestler, he was considered matchless.
A Match to the Finish
There were two kinds of wrestling matches in those days. One was as a sport where, once you floor the opponent, the match is over. Another was a life and death match where you had to kill the opponent in the ring. It would be the worst disgrace for the opponent to leave him injured and not kill him. You had to kill him. They asked for the second kind of wrestling – Bhima wanted to wrestle with Jarasandha in a life and death match. Still, Jarasandha treated them as his guests, with great honor and fabulous hospitality. The wrestling match started after a few days.
Every day, in the late afternoon, they wrestled for two and a half to three hours, till both of them were exhausted. Then they returned to the palace, dined, drank, and partied together, and the next afternoon, they entered the ring again. Krishna told Bhima, “The hospitality is so good here. Why don’t you stretch it out a little longer. We are really enjoying this place.” The wrestling went on for many, many days. Then at some point, Krishna said, “It’s time to go back,” and he told Bhima to go all the way. But going all the way with Jarasandha was not easy, because he was going all the way too. They fought bitterly. Whatever Bhima did, he was not able to kill Jarasandha.
Bhima was much younger and stronger, but he was not able to take Jarasandha’s life. For twenty-six days, they fought for three hours daily. Then Krishna said, “It is enough. We must end it.” They realized that in wrestling, they could not kill Jarasandha. So they suggested fighting with maces. But however Bhima hit him, Jarasandha did not die. He just sat up again and again. Because he was older, he was a little more exhausted than Bhima, but he was able to take any kind of blow.
Then Krishna told Bhima, “Tomorrow is Amavasya. On Amavasya night, Jarasandha is going to acquire superhuman powers. He will kill you. Do not think he is treating us so well for nothing. He wants us to enjoy the hospitality so that we stay until Amavasya. When Amavasya comes, he is unbeatable. And on that day, which is tomorrow, he will kill you. Unless you kill him today, tomorrow, you will be dead.”
Torn in Two
Bhima went all out. But whatever he did, he could not kill Jarasandha. Then he looked at Krishna and asked, “What to do?” Time was running out. Krishna took a leaf and tore it into two. Bhima knew of Jarasandha’s birth, how the two pieces of an infant were joined together. He immediately understood what he had to do.
He put one leg on Jarasandha’s left leg, tore him into two pieces and threw the halves down. But to his and everyone else’s amazement, the two pieces rolled together, joined, and Jarasandha sat up again. That was when Bhima felt his death was imminent. With fearful eyes, he looked at Krishna again. Krishna took another leaf, tore it, and threw the two pieces into opposite directions.
The next fight began. Again, no matter what Bhima did, Jarasandha did not die. Jarasandha was just waiting for tomorrow. Then Bhima again tore him apart, and this time, he threw the two halves in opposite directions. People anxiously waited to see if the two parts of the body would again come together and sit up. Nothing happened. Jarasandha was finally dead.
Krishna crowned Jarasandha’s son as king and invited him to join the Rajasuya Yagna. They released the ninety-nine kings who had been imprisoned in Jarasandha’s dungeons. Then they all traveled back to Indraprastha. They took half of Jarasandha’s huge elephant army and loaded up half of the gold and wealth that he had.
With these ninety-nine kings and these immense riches, they came back to Indraprastha. There was not enough space in the treasury of Indraprastha to store all this wealth – they heaped it up everywhere.
Now the Rajasuya Yagna could begin.
To be continued
Editor’s Note: A version of this article was originally published in Forest Flower, June 2017.