Hidimbaki (Hidimba, in the classical version) was Bhima’s first wife, who was an asuri (“demoness”). She fell in love with Bhima, and wanted to marry him. At that time the Pandavas and Kunti were roaming in the deep forests, having escaped Duryodhana’s murderous design in the form of the wax palace. She knew that her brother who was the king of that forest would never allow her to marry a human; in fact, he wanted to eat up those six humans who had strayed into his territory. She gave Bhima the special weapon to kill her brother, and told him the secret to kill him. Thus it was with her help that Bhima killed the demon. And as Bhima was fighting her brother, she was keeping watch over the sleeping Kunti and her other four sons lest some harm befell them. She pleased Kunti with her grace and manners, and an already grateful Kunti blessed her marriage with Bhima. They had a son, who the grandmother named Ghatotkacha. Soon the Pandavas left and Hidimbika stayed behind with her son.
Then the Pandavas married Draupadi. Surely no one cared to inform Hidimbika. They returned to Hastinapura with their newly married wife. Soon they were given half of the kingdom, and Yudhisthira became the king of Indraprastha. He decided to perform the raajaswiya jajna. Here begins the story of the disgraceful quarrel.
The great sage Vyasa pronounced the mantras to light the homa fire, but the fire didn’t appear, which surprised Durvasa and other sages. The sage Narada said that this happened because Yuhisthira was issueless, and the gods would not bless such a religious effort by such a patron. Then they thought of Ghatotkacha. Vyasa maintained that since the Pandavas were the five manifestations of the same essence – an argument that was used on several occasions in Saaralaa Mahaabhaarata (rather conveniently, in our view), the many details of which must not detain us here – Ghatotkacha was Yudhisthira’s son too. Krishna asked Bhima to invoke his son.
As Ghatotkacha prepared to leave for Indraprastha, he asked his mother what gifts he should take with him. His mother told him what all to take. She then told him that he should first pay obeisance to his father, then to Krishna, then to Vyasa, and then to Yudhisthira, and that he must not bow to any one else. Ghatotkacha told her that out of jealousy and hatred, she was asking him to do something clearly wrong. Draupadi was born of homa fire, was the daughter of a brahmin king, and at the jajna, she would have a special status as Yudhisthira’s wife. Hundreds of kings would be paying their respects to her. She would feel insulted if he did not pay obeisance to her, and her anger would destroy him.
His mother told her that he had been ritualistically anointed king of that forest, and as such was like a god to the humans. Besides with her five husbands, Draupadi was nothing but an immoral woman, and paying respects to such a degraded person would only affect one’s longevity. But she noticed that Ghatotkacha was afraid; so she decided to accompany him.
Ghatotkacha did as his mother had told him. Draupadi felt humiliated, and she got very angry. She shouted at him that she was an exceptional person, she was the queen of Yudhisthira, she was the daughter of a brahmin king, and her status was far higher than that of the Pandavas. And at his wicked asuri mother behest he had dared to insult her in the august assembly of elders, sages and kings! Then she uttered a horrible curse that his life would be short, and that he would be killed without a fight – a terrible eventuality for a kshatriya (“member of the warrior class”) – when a devastating divine weapon would pierce his chest. Poor Ghatotkacha, still a boy, withdrew in fright.
Hidimbika was waiting at the door, since it was improper for a woman to be in an assembly of males, almost all of whom were strangers to her. But she couldn’t control herself when she heard Draupadi’s curse. She rushed to her, and called her a wretched, sinful woman. How could a virtuous woman have five husbands, she asked. She shouted that her son was a king, and as such was not obliged to bow to her. She said she was aware that her curse would certainly materialize, but her son would still die a hero’s death since only a fighter would be hit on the chest. Then she asked her how being his stepmother, nevertheless a mother, she could utter such a terrible curse on her son who was still a boy. She said she couldn’t even curse her because she was a barren woman. But one day she would have children, and she cursed that all her five children would be decapitated at the age of seven. Thus these two women killed much of the future of the Pandava lineage. What the enemy did later was a mere formality.
As the two women quarreled, Krishna asked Vyasa to consult his text and tell him how the curses were going to materialize. As the entire assembly listened, Vyasa told Krishna that there would be a terrible war between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. In the night of the second day of Drona’s commandership, Karna would invoke a divine weapon that could not be countered. Seeing this, Krishna would ask Ghatotkacha to hide behind Arjuna’s chariot, which he would do. As Karna would hurl it at Arjuna, Hanumana, manifest on the top of Arjuna’s chariot, would in a flash push the chariot into the nether world. The weapon would thus hit Ghatotkacha on his chest and kill him.
How would Hidimbaki’s curse materialize, Krishna then asked Vyasa. The sage told him that as mentioned in the text, after the fall of Duryodhana, he, Krishna would go to Dwarika with the victorious Pandavas, leaving behind Draupadi’s children and Dristadyumna in the battlefield to rest there, thinking that with the enemy routed, the place was entirely safe for them. That night Duryodhana would appoint Aswasthama as his commander and Aswasthama would go to the Pandava tents that same night and kill the sleeping Sikhandi, Dristadyumna, and Draupadi’s children, thinking that they were the Pandavas. He would bring the severed heads to Duryodhana. In the morning when Duryodhana would recognize the severed heads, he would be terribly upset. Looking at those faces, the grieving Duryodhana would breathe his last.
Krishna was happy. He then went to the fighting women, and comforted them.
On the surface, the main (in fact, the only) issue of the fight between the women was whether Ghatotkacha transgressed the code of conduct by not bowing to Draupadi. And one must note that the code in question was, in all probability, what one might tentatively call a Brahminical (as against aaasuric) code. When they first met her, Bhima, and his mother Kunti were impressed with Hidimbaki for her “cultured” manners, another name for non-asuric, Brahminical manners, as far as they were concerned. When Hitimbaki remained outside the jajna premises, she was following the Brahminical code. When she advised her son who all he must pay obeisance to she was following surely the same code: Bhima, because he was his father, Krishna, because he was Narayana himself, Vyasa, because being a great sage, he was eminently worthy of the king’s veneration, and finally Yudhisthira, because he was the greatest of the kings assembled there. Ghatotkacha was a king; he was anointed king with the proper ritualistic procedure. As king, he was not supposed to bow to anyone else. That was what his mother’s understanding of the code. In one way however Hidimbaki arguably set aside the code; when she charged Draupadi that she too was a mother to her son and as such should not have pronounce that dreadful curse on him – as a mother, then, was Draupadi not qualified to receive Ghatotkacha’s bow?
Draupadi’s condemnation of Ghatotkacha derived from the same value system. She was born of the sacred homa fire, she was Yudhisthira’s queen, and as such a hundred times more venerable than the Pandavas, and she was the brahmin king Drupad’s daughter. One wonders whether she wasn’t trying to suggest that she was still a brahmin, notwithstanding the fact that she had married kshatriyas. But in terms of the code under reference, “once a brahmin always a brahmin” did not apply to women.
No one in the assembly considered the issue of the alleged violation of the code by Ghatotkacha. Perhaps things happened too fast for such a thing. And after those terrible curses were uttered, a discussion of the code must have appeared meaningless. In any case, in this episode, Sarala seems to have been more interested in portraying the ugly face of jealousy and hatred than in resolving such uninteresting issues
Besides, why blame anyone. Didn’t the script already exist, and all Ghatotkacha, Draupadi and Hidimbaki were doing was playing out their parts? When their turn would come, Krishna, Karna, Aswasthama, etc. would also play out their respective parts. Ephemeral events do not get immortalized when translated into tales. Their tales pre-exist. But where do the tales come from?
Which text did Vyasa consult? Krishna asked him to consult “tohara shaastra (“your text”)”. The phrase is ambiguous, as many possessive phrases are. It could mean “the text you have written” or “the text you have with you”. It is really futile to look for the specifics of the text. It obviously couldn’t be Mahabharata, since it depicted the events already taken place – in any version of the origin of this work. Let us take it here as a metaphor; as a mental text. It was in Vyasa’s mind – Vyasa, who, as Sarala puts it, was the knower of the past, the present and the future.
When Vyasa told him about the future events, Krishna was delighted: parama saananda hoile chakrapaani (roughly, “Krishna was very happy”). Why was he delighted? Was it intellectual delight arising out of having the knowledge he was seeking? Or was he feeling happy that the existing order would be comprehensively destroyed which would lead to the emergence of a new order? Or was it something else?
Sarala doesn’t say anything by way of clarification in this regard. His Krishna is Narayana himself. Krishna’s doings for the poet were an enigma – inscrutable are the ways of God, as the saying goes. The enigma was one manifestation of his maayaa (“(divine) illusion”). In deference to the poet, let us not try to probe into Krishna’s happiness.