In Sarala Mahabharata, Kunti and Yudhisthira thought of Bhima as dusta. It would be grossly unfair to translate “dusta” as wicked, in the given context. Wicked, he was certainly not. When he was a child, he was naughty and sometimes for fun, he would tease and torment his Kaurava cousins. He was totally devoted to his mother and his brothers and no one had done for them more than him to make their life a bit easier when they spent years in the forest. With him around, they were safe. After his wedding, whenever Draupadi needed his help, he did not disappoint her.

He was totally committed to Yudhisthira and obeyed him but did not hesitate to denounce him, when he found his action insufferable. He was deeply devoted to Krishna. Unlike Yudhisthira and Arjuna, he obeyed him unquestioningly. In Sarala Mahabharata, Krishna was the only one who feared but it was not out of fear that he obeyed him. He did not understand Krishna, neither did he ever try, but readily did what he asked him to do. His relation with the Avataa was not based on jnana (knowledge) but on bhakti (devotion) of a kind. He had surrendered to him but it was not a conscious act of his; neither was he conscious of it. Through his characters, the bhakta (devotee) poet Sarala explores the many forms of relationship between nara and Narayana.

Krishna thought of him as dusta as well, as someone who was thoughtless and was inclined by nature to be violent. No one thought he was vicious and sinful. That he certainly was not. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that he was virtuous. It was merely that full of energy, he was impatient and impetuous and could be excited easily. When provoked, he could be really wild and very destructive.

Now, despite all their suffering caused by the Kauravas and despite the oaths that he had taken during Draupadi’s humiliation in the Kaurava court, when the time came to decide on a conclusive war with the Kauravas, he was unenthusiastic.  He did not want a fratricidal war. He felt it was wrong. He told Krishna that he would be content if Duryodhana gave him one village for his subsistence. Krishna had to provoke him to give up that attitude and think in terms of war. Inciting him wasn’t difficult. Yudhisthira, Arjuna and Nakula also did not want war if Duryodhana gave them what they wanted: Yudhisthira wanted one village for himself and his brothers, Arjun, one village for himself and Nakula, two, one for himself and one for his brother, Sahadeva. Krishna did not try to incite any of them, the way he did to Bhima. He knew who to incite. This episode shows why it would be justified to call Bhima essentially virtuous and at the same time, why Krishna thought he was dusta in the above sense of the word.

In the war, he redeemed his oaths: he killed all the Kaurava brothers who were fighting against the Pandavas and tore off Dussasana’s arm and washed Draupadi’ hair with his blood. Still wild with rage and going beyond his oath, he tore open his chest and drank his blood. Later he must have felt guilty or at least embarrassed about it. After the war, when Gandhari asked him how he could drink the blood of the warrior he had defeated, Bhima said that fearing condemnation, he did not drink the blood; he just touched it with his lip.

Incidentally, when Bhima hit Duryodhana’s thighs and felled him, he didn’t redeem any oath. In Sarala Mahabharata, Duryodhana hadn’t suggested to Draupadi to sit on his lap and Bhima hadn’t taken an oath to break his thighs. Clueless about how to tame Duryodhana when they were fighting, Bhima looked at Krishna for help, the way he had done during his fight with Jarasandha. Like then, Krishna had come to his help. He had indicated to him that he had to hit Duryodhana on his thigh.

In the “Mahabharata” world, be it the world of Vyasa Mahabharata or of Sarala Mahabharata, taking revenge was considered to be the moral duty of a kshatriya at least. Bhima had fulfilled his oath. He had done his sacred duty. Of course, in Sarala Mahabharata, he went beyond his oath, as mentioned above, when he tore apart Dussasana’s breast and drank his blood. Arguably, this event satisfied the requirement of the narrative at that stage. We will return to this part of the episode in a future note.

Nobody in Sarala Mahabharata ever said that the oath itself was terribly, terribly wrong. It was an oath that dreadfully dehumanized the utterer and his target both. None said that the utterance itself was a degrading act – a papa (sin).


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