There is one similarity between Bhima and Krishna in Sarala Mahabharata (doesn’t it come as a surprise?): neither can be satisfied. Insatiable, says Sarala, was Bhima’s hunger for a fight, for food, for sleep and for sex. Wild, full of superhuman energy, and lacking in patience, this son of god Pavana (Wind) would, unlike his elder brother Hanuman of another aeon, often thoughtlessly, jump into a fight. But then Hanuman was a god, a god among gods; Bhima was only the son of a god. When he fought he fought with hatred; he wanted to feel the warmth of his adversary’s blood in his hands. Recall his killing of Kichaka. His dead body was just a huge lump of flesh, so much contempt, rage and hatred had gone into his kiling. Killing the enemy from a distance with an arrow was not for him. He was still a small child when he disappointed his mother; she felt certain that he would never be adept at archery because he lacked intelligence and concentration. He proved her eminently right. Drona once set up an archery test for his pupils. If the archer lacked in concentration and focussed vision, he would not be able to hit his target at his very first attempt. On a branch of a tree, on a hill, the guru placed a bird, almost invisible amidst the cluster of leaves and asked each of his pupils to tell him what he saw. The winning answer was Arjuna’s: he said he saw only an eye. The worst came from Bhima: he said all he could see was the hill! He could be easily provoked and once provoked he became violent. He would become abusive and could even attack his adversary. Violence was in his very nature. On this account both his mother and his elder brother, Yudhisthira, considered him dusta (wicked). His craving for food was well known. When his mother sent him to the asura, Baka, with a huge amount of food the villagers had collected for the asura, he was secretly happy. In the forest he had eaten roots and fruit for too long. He was already gulping the food when the asura came. As he kept eating, the angry demon showered blows on him, but he was unmoved. He dealt with him only after he had devoured the food. On the matter of sleep, a reader of Sarala Mahabharata would hardly associate long sleep or longing for sleep with him, but then there is Sarala telling him in so many words that Bhima could never have enough sleep. As for his sexual conduct, it was above reproach in the sense that not even once in the narrative did he cast a lustful look at a woman who was not his wedded wife. His hunger for ever more and more sex would therefore make sense only with respect to Draupadi. He had wild sex with his first wife, the asuri woman (demoness), Hidimbaki, but he lived with her only for a short time.
Warning Duryodhana about Krishna’s nature, said Sakuni to him: danena atriputi je manena atriputi / bhagate atriputi je jnanena atriputi (not content with (ritual) giving, not content with honour / not content with devotion, not content with knowledge) – one cannot satisfy him with gifts, honour, devotion or knowledge. However much one may give him, it would always be inadequate, always fall short.
Krishna had gone to the Kaurava court as Yudhisthira’s emissary. There he told king Duryodhana that in order to avoid war, all the Pandavas wanted were just five villages. Duryodhana flatly refused. He wouldn’t give anything to the Pandavas, he said. Later, outside the court, in private, when Bhishma and Drona met him and the wise grandfather told him that it would not be right to send Krishna empty handed, Duryodhana told him that he was thinking in terms of giving him two villages.
This was where Sakuni said what is mentioned above. Duryodhana must not give Krishna anything in order to please him. Because he simply wouldn’t be. Then he told him about the asura king Bali. Appearing as a dwarf in the venue of the sacred jajna (fire sacrifice) that king Bali was performing, Narayana told the great asura king that he came from a very poor family and needed a little piece of land where he would perform his religious rituals; all the land He required was whatever he would cover by just three steps of His. Bali thought that the dwarf didn’t know how ridiculously little he was asking for. He told him that he must ask for much more from him as dana (ritual gift), but the Dwarf avatara insisted that he wanted nothing more than three steps of land. Bali’s preceptor Sukracharya warned Bali that the dwarf was Narayana Himself and He had arrived to deprive him of all his possessions and power. Bali wouldn’t listen; a dwarf is a dwarf, his steps are small, so how would it matter if the guru was right that that he was Narayana Himself? But when the time to give danacame, the Dwarf’s foot were not a dwarf’s foot. Bali was the lord of the bhuloka (earth) and the higher lokas as well. In His two feet the Dwarf covered all that Bali had. When the third foot emerged from his navel, Bali offered his head to Him and Narayana despatched him to the netherworld. The great Bali perished, said Sakuni to Duryodhana, because he wanted to fulfil Narayana’s demand. Krishna was none other than the same Vamana, he told him and had now come to dispossess him of all he had. He advised him to give Krishna nothing at all. If no amount of gift could ever satisfy him, then nothing at all should be given to him – this was the essence of his logic. If he gave him just one village instead of two, he told Duryodhana, he would absorb the entire universe of space in that one village, like what Vamana had done and he would be left with nothing to even stand on. So he must abandon all thought of pleasing Narayana with a gift of two villages.
Later when Sakuni repeated the same argument to Duryodhana in the Kaurava court, Bhishma intervened and told him that what his narrative was incomplete, so his conclusion, wrong. After sending him to the patala loka, Narayana made Bali the Indra there, where he was like Indra of swarga loka in every respect. He told him that in due course he would be Indra in swarga loka. Not just that. He Himself left His abode and stayed with him for His love for him. But this made no impression on Duryodhana; who would sacrifice his today for his tomorrow? We, the readers of Sarala Mahabharata, understand Duryodhana, for who knew how to read Narayana’s mind?
Incidentally, could one say that there was some uncertainty in the mind of Sarala’s Bhishma, as he completed Bali’s story? He said it much later, but surely he could not have been oblivious of it even then. Could one – sura, asura or nara (god, demon and human) really predict the doings of Narayana? On the battlefield of Kurukshetra he indirectly told Arjuna that things wouldn’t have been different had Duryodhana given Krishna five villages. Whatever happened to Bali and Ravana, didn’t Bali die giving (dei mala) and Ravana, not giving (nadei mala)?
Sakuni’s argument was incomplete. He did not tell Duryodhana how one could not hope to please Narayana with honour, devotion or knowledge. He must have felt that saying more about Narayana’s doings was not necessary for him or Duryodhana or for the narrative; he had achieved his objective – Duryodhana was not going to yield to the desire of pleasing Narayana. What remained was the Kaurava king’s fear of Narayana’s displeasure; Sakuni knew how to deal with that. When that issue came up, he handled it with great success.
Bhima and Krishna were similar in one respect, but unpack that similarity and you find a great difference. Bhima’s discontent was with respect to his cravings, of self. He couldn’t get certain pleasures to the level of satisfaction. In Sarala Mahabharata, it is unclear whether Narayana really wanted anything. It is just that you can’t give Him anything or do anything to the level of his satisfaction. In the spirit of our ancient knowledge, all we can say is the following: He is not pleased if you worship Him, He is not displeased if you do not worship Him. Then what remains for us? In the context of Sarala Mahabharata, one can only hope He makes one His Jara!