Kunti and the Pandavas had just settled down at Indraprastha. Every morning Yudhisthira would pay respects to Kunti and then proceed to Hastinapura to pay respects to bada baapaa (father’s elder brother) Dhritarashtra and bada maa (father’s elder brother’s wife). His brothers would join him, although Bhima did not like it at all. He didn’t like his elder brother treating the evil-minded Dhritarashtra as though he was the Lord of Kashi! Not just that. Yudhisthira would partake of food only after paying respects to that blind scoundrel.
And what did the wicked man do after receiving their respects? Would ask them to attend the Kuru court, where in front of Bhishma, Bhrishrava, Vidura, Kripacharya Karna and Shalya, his eldest son, the wicked Duryodhana, would taunt them, saying, “Please have your seat, the son of Dharma”, “Sit down, you, the son of Pavana”, “Sit down, you, the son of Indra”, etc. Duryodhana’s taunt did not affect Yudhisthira. Dark forces like anger and ill-will did not rule his heart. Even Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva did not mind Duryodhana’s words. But Bhima was not like them. He felt hurt, humiliated and extremely angry, but he knew that he had no option but to control himself.
This happened day after day. That was getting too much to swallow for the son of the wind-god, Pavana, who had in him some of the wild energy of the god. One day after they returned to Indraprastha, Bhima prostrated himself before mother Kunti and asked her what was it all about. He told her that the Kaurava brothers were mocking at him and his brothers and it was becoming very difficult to tolerate the insult.
“You are wicked”, said Kunti, “all the time you look for a cause to fight your brothers”. It was a good thing for the father’s name being taken in front of his son, she told him. Listening to one’s father’s name was nothing short of receiving a blessing, she told him. “Duryodhana takes the name of five different fathers for us, brothers,” said Bhima, “now, isn’t that a humiliation for us?”, Bhima asked her in anger. Those five different gods were the five different forms of the same one, said Kunti and told him not to be dull-witted and understand that truth. Bhima was unmoved. But why wasn’t Pandu’s name ever mentioned in the court? How did she give birth to them? he persisted with her. Kunti told him that Pandu was a mortal, and those five were gods whose “kalaas (attributes)” got embodied in him – kointaae boile pandu atanti manushya / deba kalaae hin se sabu sharire prabesha (Kunti said that Pandu was a human being / it was the attributes of the (that is, those specific) gods that had entered his body). “My son”, said Kunti,” what Duryodhana is saying is good. Do not twist his words and extract a dark meaning.” Bhima was pacified.
Duryodhana continued to address the Pandavas in that offending manner. His brothers would jeer at them. Their mother had violated the code and her sons were the carriers of her failing. One day Bhima found it unbearable. It would be better to die than put up with such insult, he thought. That day, he returned quietly from the court with his brothers, entered his room and closed the door from inside. He did not have his bath and did not take his food. Kunti was worried. Her food-crazy, hungry child had not eaten. It would not be long before the sun would set. She pleaded with him to come out and eat. But Bhima would not respond. He didn’t respond to the requests of his younger brothers. Then came Yudhisthira. “Who are you so angry with? You love to eat. Why are you starving yourself and punishing your body so much?”, he asked him. The sun would soon set and taking food after sunset would harm the body, he told him. Bhima said nothing. The sun set.
No one in the family had eaten anything. No one knew what had troubled Bhima so much. Yudhisthira looked at Arjuna. Arjuna invoked Krishna. And Krishna arrived and paid due respects to Yudhisthira.
Yudhisthira was troubled in the extreme and he narrated to him the story of their sufferings from their birth. Now Bhima’s inexplicable doing had added to the family’s misery, he told Krishna. Krishna asked Bhima to open the door and tell him what had pained him. Bhima didn’t open the door but responded to his call. He poured out to him all the agony he had gone through. He told him how, day after day, he had been humiliated in the Hastinapura court. For his elder brother, that blind man was like the Lord of Kashi and he would not take food before paying his respects to him. In response, the vicious old man would ask them to go to the Kuru court where his eldest son would insult them and his brothers would join him in that wicked act. And the shameless Yudhisthira would tolerate that. Had he asked him – just once – to punish the Kaurava brothers, he would have killed them all. Yudhisthira was not just a disgrace to the Kshatriya community, he was a sinner, he told Krishna. He had decided to end his life, Bhima told him. “Let me not be deprived of your mercy, O Merciful Lord”, he said to him.
“Open the door and I will tell you what to do”, said the avatara to him. Bhima opened the door and Krishna and he met. There was no one else with them. Krishna told him that he must expose Duryodhana in the court. But he didn’t know any secret about Duryodhana, Bhima told him. Next time, said Krishna, when the eldest Kaurava would ask him to take his seat, calling him Pavana’s son, he should just say, “aaho golakaputra mu basuachi (O the son of Golaka, I am sitting”). Duryodhana would feel terribly humiliated, the Supreme Destroyer of conceit and arrogance assured Bhima and disappeared.
Very excited and buoyant, Bhima had his bath. It was already night but that did not deter him from having his food. In fact, that night he ate more than usual. And ever since Krishna left, he had kept muttering “golakaputra, golakaputra”. Everyone in the family was asleep, but he was awake, fighting sleep for fear of forgetting that magic word. However, his best efforts were not enough; at pre-dawn, he fell asleep.
When he woke up, he realized that he had lost that word. He went almost crazy, groping for the word here and there in the room as though it was some tiny material object. It suddenly occurred to him to ask Sahadeva. He was believed to be the knower of the past and the future. Sahadeva told him that Krishna had said ‘golakaputra”. Bhima was ecstatic.
He soon got ready to go to the court. That morning he hurried Yudhisthira. “Let us go and pay our respects to our venerable Lord of Kashi”, he taunted Yudhisthira. As they were going to Hastinapura, Bhima was muttering the magic word. Yudhisthira heard him muttering something he didn’t understand. Feeling uneasy, he asked Bhima what he was repeating with such concentration. It appeared sinister to him, he said. He, for whom the Kaurava brothers were as dear to him as his own brothers, feared that his wicked brother was devising yet another means for creating hostility among them.
That morning Bhima was in real hurry. He was walking way ahead of his brothers, unlike on other days. At times, he would stop and look back. Earlier, Yudhisthira would walk first, then Arjuna, then Nakula, then Sahadeva and Bhima would be the last. Yudhisthira asked him why he was walking ahead and walking so fast. “If it displeases you”, said Bhima, “I will be the last as usual.” That indeed was what he had wanted.
What happened in the Kaurava court that morning has been narrated in the foregoing post.
Let us turn our thoughts to the mothers: Gandhari and Kunti. There will not be a better time than now to reflect on them with pride and joy. They both wanted their children to live together in harmony and sharply upbraided their sons whose ways threatened their children’s togetherness and cordiality. Many sufferings after, came a day when Kunti brayed for the blood of the Kaurava brothers and later, Gandhari became thirsty for Yudhisthira’s. From one point of view, this painful journey of the two mothers captures the terrible tragedy of Mahabharata, be it Vyasa’s version, be it Sarala’s.