In the meantime, the other Pāṇḍavas returned home after their daily round of seeking alms. Looking at Bhīma’s face, Yudhiṣṭhira guessed that there must be something amiss and asked his mother, Kuntī, “What is it Mother? What does Bhīma want to do? Has he told you about it and got your approval?” She narrated the day’s events and said, “Bhīma has embarked upon this task only on my advice. He is going to help the brāhmaṇa’s family and also liberate the town from the clutches of the evil rākṣasa. He has undertaken a tremendous task!” Yudhiṣṭhira was not satisfied with her answer. “What have you done, Mother! Would any learned person approve the sacrifice of one’s own son? How did you make up your mind to give away your son in the place of another’s? This is against the order of the world. Moreover, we’re able to sleep in peace only because of the strength Bhīma possesses in his arms. Thanks to him, we also harbour the hope of securing our kingdom which has fallen into the clutches of the wicked. Duryodhana and Śakuni cannot fall asleep at night, as they fear Bhīma’s strength. It is only because of him that we were able to bring an end to Purocana and escape from the lac house. How could you even think of giving away such a son? Have you lost your wisdom listening to the wails of the brāhmaṇa?” he asked.
Kuntī consoled Yudhiṣṭhira by saying, “You don’t have to worry about Bhīma, my dear son! Please don’t think that I’ve done this without foresight. Are we not leading a comfortable life in this brāhmaṇa’s house? I thought of this deed as a sign of gratitude, to return the favours we’ve received from them! I’ve gained confidence in Bhīma after witnessing his display of valour in the lac house and in the killing of Hiḍimba. With this act, we will be helping the brāhmaṇa family and also earn puṇya!” Dharmarāja was convinced. He said, “Mother! You have chosen to do this out of your sympathy for the brāhmaṇa and it is only befitting. Bhīma will kill that man-eating rākṣasa; I’m sure of it; however, the inhabitants of this town should not come to know this; please communicate this to the brāhmaṇa and get his word.”
The night passed; the following morning, Bhīma drove the cartload of food to the rākṣasa’s abode. As soon as he reached the place, he called out the rākṣasa’s name and started eating all the food himself. Upon hearing Bhīma’s call, the enraged rākṣasa came with his heavy footsteps that could shatter the earth. He had his eyebrows knit in anger, was grinding his jaws, and had his eyes wide open in rage. He looked at Bhīmasena who was eating the food brought for him and roared, “Who is this wicked person who dares to eat food meant for me, and in my presence? I shall send him to yamaloka!” Bhīmasena heard his words and laughed. He continued eating, turning his back to the rākṣasa, paying no heed his words. The rākṣasa came rushing towards him with both his hands raised, with a view to kill him. Bhīma did not even turn back to look at him and continued to eat. Unable to control his fury, the rākṣasa punched Bhīma’s back with both his hands. Bhīma still did not turn back and did not stop eating. This fueled the rākṣasa’s anger further and he uprooted a tree to hit Bhīma. In the meanwhile, Bhīma had finished his elaborate meal, washed his hands, and smiled with contentment. He caught the tree thrown at him with his right hand. The rākṣasa pulled up another tree and threw it at Bhīma; in response Bhīma hit the rākṣasa with the tree in his hand. The fight between Baka and Bhīma went on for a long time. Baka called his own name out loud and hugged Bhīma with rage. Bhīma escaped from his clutches and pushed him away with force. The earth shook because of their fight; trees were destroyed. Bhīma noticed that the rākṣasa was growing weak and threw him to the ground on his stomach. He pressed his knee on the rākṣasa’s back. He held his neck with his right hand and the waist belt with his left. He pulled with force and broke the rākṣasa’s body into two parts. The rākṣasa yelled with pain and died. The other rākṣasas who were his aides came running to the spot as they heard his cry; they were all terrified seeing that Baka had died. Bhīma instilled some courage in them with the warning, “Don’t ever try to harm humans in the future! If you do so, the consequences will be bad.” He brought Baka’s dead body to the main gate of the village and went away silently to the house he lived in.
The next morning thousands of people were astonished looking at the dead body of the rākṣasa that was covered with blood. Thinking that this was not a human act, they paid their gratitude to the deities. They then recalled whose turn it was and came to brāhmaṇa asking him “What do you say of this?” As they pestered him a lot, he said, “A strong brāhmaṇa, well-versed in the mantras, heard our family crying. He learnt about the calamity that had befallen our family and the trouble our village was facing. He consoled me and said, ‘I shall take food for the rākṣasa; don’t worry about my safety.’ Saying so, he took a cartload of food to Baka’s abode. It seems like he has done this for the well-being of the society.” Thereafter, people belonging to all the four varṇas got together and performed brahmotsava.
A few days later, a brāhmaṇa visited the house in which the Pāṇḍavas lived. He was a scholar who had traveled around the country extensively; he narrated several interesting stories related to different towns and tīrthakṣetras. The Pāṇḍavas sat before him and heard his tales. He told them that the kingdom of Pāñcāla had arranged a svayaṃvara for their princess Draupadī; he also told them how Draupadī and her brother, Dṛṣṭadyumna were born out of the yajña-kuṇḍa in a strange manner. When they asked him to narrate the events in detail, he continued as follows:
“There lived a sage called Bharadvāja at Gaṅgādvāra and he had a son named Droṇa. Bharadvāja had a friend called Pṛṣat, whose son, Drupada, learned the Vedas from the sage along with Droṇa. Once, Droṇa heard that Paraśurāma was giving away all his possessions and went to him. Paraśurāma told him that he had already given away everything that belonged to him and was only left with his body and the astras (the art of using different weapons and arrows). Droṇa sought the knowledge of astras from him and came to see Drupada who had then become the king of Pāñcāla. Upon seeing Droṇa, Drupada said with contempt, “You are a poor brāhmaṇa and I am a king. How can there be friendship between you and me? Go away!” Dejected, Droṇa went to the land of the Kurus and as the ācārya of the Kauravas and the Pāṇḍavas, made them experts in archery. As guru-dakṣiṇa, he asked them to defeat Drupada and bring him in chains. The Pāṇḍavas successfully fulfilled his wish. Droṇa offered the southern portion of the Gaṅgā basin to Drupada and said, “Look! I have now become your equal. Be my friend hereafter.” Drupada was humiliated and he never forgot the insult he faced. Thinking that his children and relatives were useless, he wanted to have a son who could kill Droṇa. He started looking for brāhmaṇas who could fulfil his desire; after searching a great deal, he met two brothers named Yāja and Upayāja. The younger brother, Upayāja, did not agree to help Drupada, but the older one, Yāja, performed a havana with the help of his unwilling brother. At the end of the homa, he called for Drupada’s wife and said, “Please consume this! You will give birth to two children!” She said, “Revered Yaja! Please wait for a moment; both my body and mouth are dirty.” Yāja said, “Come if you want! If not, let us see how the havya that has been sanctified with the mantras of Yāja and Upayāja can go waste!” Saying so, he put it back into the fire. Immediately, a boy with terrible looks came out of the agni-kuṇḍa, amidst the flames. He wore a crown and armour and carried a sword, a bow, and arrows. He sat on a chariot and sped away. Looking at him, the Pāñcālas were thrilled. A celestial voice said, “He is going to kill Droṇa!” Next, a girl with divine charm came out of the fire. Her beauty was matchless. Even as she was born, an incorporeal voice said, “This Kṛṣṇā will cause the destruction of the kṣatriya clan!” The boy is Dṛṣṭadyumna, the valorous one and the girl is Draupadī, who is kṛṣṇā, one of dark hue. Dṛṣṭadyumna came to Droṇa to learn the art of archery. Although Droṇa knew his background, he thought, ‘Let the divine plan prevail! Who can go against it!” He accepted Dṛṣṭadyumna as his student.”
The Pāṇḍavas who heard these words of the brāhmaṇa felt as though their insides were pierced with a spear. Looking at the displeasure on her children’s faces, Kuntī called Yudhiṣṭhira and said, “Son, we’ve stayed for a long time in this brāhmaṇa’s house. We have largely explored the surroundings; it does not give much pleasure to keep seeing the same neighbourhood every day. We aren’t able procure alms like before. If you feel like, let us go to the kingdom of Pāñcāla; it is a beautiful kingdom abundant in resources. Yajñasena, the Pāñcāla king, is said to have a lot of reverence for brāhmaṇas. How long should we stay in one place?” Yudhiṣṭhira said in reply “Mother! Your choice is ours too, but I don’t know what the others are going to say!” Kuntī asked her other sons. Having received their consent too, they all headed towards Pāñcāla.
They reached Pāñcāla and went around the city. They also saw the makeshift houses in its outskirts and took residence in the workshop of a potter. As before, they continued to live on alms in the disguise of brāhmaṇas. No one learnt of their coming to Pāñcāla.
[During the early days of their stay in disguise in Pāñcāla, their grand-father, Vyāsa visited them. The Pandavas welcomed him with great respect. Vyāsa enquired about their well being and told them interesting stories. He also narrated the follow incident - ‘There lived a great ṛṣi in a tapovana and he had a beautiful daughter. Though she had a pleasing appearance, she had not found a suitable husband, because of the results of her previous deeds [acquired karma]. She performed intense penance to Shankara to secure a man for herself. A pleased Shankara came to her and asked “Ask for anything you wish, oh beautiful maiden!” She said “I would like to have a loving husband”. She repeated her request several times. Shankara blessed her by saying “You will have five husbands. As you asked me five times to grant you a loving husband, in your next life, you will have five of them.”
“It has been divinely ordained that Kṛṣṇā, who is born to Drupada will be marry the five of you. Thus, all of you should head to Pāñcāla.” Saying thus, the great sage blessed Kunti and her children and left the place.]
To be continued…
This is an English translation of Prof. A R Krishna Shastri’s Kannada classic Vacanabhārata by Arjun Bharadwaj and Hari Ravikumar published in a serialized form. Thanks to Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh for his thorough review and astute feedback.
Additional segments from the epic and notes by the translators have been added in the footnotes after going through the Critical Text of the Mahābhārata.