Mahabharat Episode 38: Hanuman Teaches Bhima Some Humility

The twelve years of forest exile for the Pandavas and Draupadi are coming to a close. They go in search of Arjuna, who had gone out to do tapas and acquire divine weapons or astras. They reach the area of Badrinath in the Himalayas, where they hope to find him. In the nearby forest, Bhima has an encounter that will cure him from one of his greatest weaknesses – pride.
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What has happened so far: After the Pandava brothers are sentenced to exile, Draupadi tries futilely to persuade Yudhishthira to abandon his exile and wage war with Hastinapur. Meanwhile, Arjuna embarks on a quest to please Shiva with his austerities and succeeds in acquiring the legendary Pashupatastra. Then in a strange turn of events, Arjuna gets cursed and becomes a eunuch.

Sadhguru: The twelve-year period was coming to a close and Arjuna is yet to come back. The four brothers were a little distressed. They had heard no news of him for over five years now. The whole family went up to the Himalayas, in search of him. There, they stayed in a hermitage in Badrinath, waiting for Arjuna or at least to hear some news about him. Then, sage Lomasa came and said, “Arjuna will be coming back shortly. His purpose of going there has been fulfilled.” They waited in anticipation. One day, Draupadi and Bhima took a walk in this beautiful forest. There, Draupadi saw a Sougandhika flower, which is also known as Brahma Kamal. If you have gone on the Himalayan trek, you might have seen this. This flower can be dried and preserved for a long time. Draupadi had never seen a flower like this before. Excited about finding these flowers, she plucked a few. She saw there were more of them further away, but it was getting late and they had to go back. On the next day, Bhima went to get more of these flowers for her. In his enthusiasm, he went deep into the forest. There, an important incident happened.

In the Indian lore, “going to the forest” is a metaphor for going to a place of learning. What you cannot learn in a city or a university, you learn in a forest. Whether it is the Ramayan, the Mahabharat, or elsewhere, “going to the forest” is an enduring theme – to learn the ways of life. As Bhima was walking in the forest, he saw an old monkey sitting there, who had an extremely long tail, and it was in Bhima’s way. Now Bhima was a proud man. He expected everyone to make way for him. And in these twelve years of exile, after this shame that they went through, he also became an angry man. Earlier, he had been very bubbly and happy, but now he was angry. Being proud and angry makes you stupid – dangerous for others and dangerous for oneself.

When Bhima came and saw this monkey’s tail, he felt kind of insulted. Why was this monkey putting its tail in his way? He said, “Hey, monkey! Move your tail away.” In India, traditionally, people never cross somebody else’s limbs. It is not only considered inauspicious, there are actual reasons not to do that. So Bhima said, “Pull away your tail I want to go.” The monkey said, “I’m so old I don’t have the strength to lift my tail. Why don’t you do it for me?” Bhima said, “Okay.” He tried to lift it but was unable to do so. He could not believe it. This man was proud of his strength. He was always building his muscle. He thought he was the strongest man on the planet, empowered with the Naga elixir and everything. Now when he could not lift the tail of an old monkey, it was an insult he could not bear. He tried very hard with both hands but did not succeed. Then, he went down on his knees and asked, “If I can’t lift this tail, you’re not just a monkey. Who are you?” Then the monkey revealed that he was Hanuman.

Hanuman told him, “No matter how much strength you have, if you don’t have humility and devotion, you will fall.” This is what both Arjuna and Bhima lacked – everything else about them was good, but they were a little proud of who they were. They thought no one could beat them. Krishna was constantly reminding them that when it comes to the battlefield, it does not matter who you are – people who are standing on the other side are not idiots. They are also capable. He repeatedly told Arjuna, “It is not the enemy’s arrows which will kill you. If you don’t shed your pride, it will kill you one day – you will die an unfortunate death.” These two lessons – Arjuna’s humiliation by Shiva and Bhima’s humiliation by Hanuman were set up in such a way that the two got rid of this one flaw in them, so that they became perfect for the action that was being planned for them.

To be continued...

Editor’s Note: A version of this article was originally published in the Forest Flower magazine, March 2018.

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