Mahābhārata – Episode 34 – Bhīma gets the Saugandhika Flowers; Yudhiṣṭhira-Ajagara Conversation

This article is part 34 of 45 in the series Mahābhārata

One day, the northeast winds brought along with a divine Saugandhika flower.[1] Deeming this to be an auspicious omen, Draupadī picked up the flower, went to Bhīma, and said, “Bhīmasena! Did you see how beautiful this flower is! I shall go and give this to Dharmarāja. Bring me many more of such flowers; let us take it to the Kāmyaka forest!” According to her wishes, Bhīma set out, armed with his weapons, following the fragrance in the wind, and identifying the direction of the origin of the flower. The wind from Gandhamādana mountain was blowing as a gentle breeze and Bhīma felt as if his father gently patted his back; he roamed about all along the foothills in search of the flower. Waterfalls on the mountains gushing down looked like a necklace of pearls. Peacocks were shouting with a sound that resembled the anklets of apsarā damsels and were dancing in joy. Rivers were flowing in the creeks like clothes that are removed and strewn about. Deer that knew not fear were standing still, watching the scene with curiosity. Bhīma walked in the middle of all this, effortlessly, like an intoxicated elephant. His only wish was that Draupadī, who was suffering due to the forest exile, would derive a modicum of happiness by possessing these flowers. Thinking about how he could bring those flowers quickly, Bhīma increased the speed of his walking. He walked on the path, climbing higher and higher, driving away elephant herds that he encountered by merely shouting at them; beating up lions and tigers; and uprooting the plants, trees, and creepers that obstructed his way. Just upon listening to his roar, animals ran helter-skelter in fear.

Walking along thus, he came across a huge banana plantation on the way. He entered it, just like an elephant. Due to the commotion he created, all the birds flew away in fear. He saw a huge lake in the middle of that grove; he entered it of his own accord, played in the water, and bathed; after that he blew his conch once. All the mountains and caves resonated with the sound of his conch. Upon hearing the sound, a large monkey named Hanumanta[2] who was dozing there yawned and then slapped his tail once on the ground. Listening to that great sound, Bhīma’s hairs stood on end and he came in search of the sound only to find a monkey sleeping on a huge rock. His body was of a golden hue and was shining like lighting; Bhīma went up to that great monkey looking at him fearlessly with his reddish eyes and roared like a lion. Hanumanta opened his eyes and said in a negligent tone, “Sir, why did you wake me up from my sleep? I was lazily lying down here. Since you are a learned man, you should show compassion towards animals. We are animals after all and we don’t know dharma; the humans who are learned should show compassion. Instead, with your limited intellect, you are troubling all the animals of the forest! Who are you? Why have you come to this forest uninhabited by humans? From here, to proceed further, one must break this rock and those who don’t have special powers cannot achieve that; therefore, have some fruits, get some rest, and return home! I’m saying these words out of compassion and affection for you!”

Bhīmasena said, “I am a kṣatriya born in the lunar dynasty; I’m the Pāṇḍava born in the womb of Kuntī by the grace of Vāyu. Who are you? Why are you in this monkey form?”

Hanumanta said, “I am a monkey; I won’t give way; listen to my kind words of counsel and get back; don’t get into trouble!”

Bhīma said, “Trouble or comfort, never mind; get up! Give me way.”

“I don’t have the strength to rise; the body is tired all over; if you have to go, then just cross over and proceed!”

“I will not cross you and offend the divine presence inside you; but for that, I would jump over you and that mountain just like Hanumanta jumped over the ocean.”

Hanumanta asked, “Who is this Hanumanta fellow?”

Bhīma said, “Hanumanta is my elder brother in a sense; he is one possessed with great qualities, a brilliant mind, and matchless might. He is a great monkey who attained fame in the Rāmāyaṇa. On a mission to find Rāma’s wife Sītā, he jumped over the ocean with a single lunge. I too am capable like him; I can bring you under control. Get up, give me way! If not, I shall witness your valour.”

Seeing Bhīma’s intoxication due to strength and his pride in his arms, Hanumanta laughed in his mind. He said, “Sir, be happy! I am old and I can’t get up. Therefore show some mercy on me, move my tail a bit to the side, and proceed!”

Bhīma tried to lift it up but was unable to move it even a little. He tried to lift it with both his hands; he couldn’t; biting his teeth, widening his eyes, lifting his eyebrows, he tried to move it; his entire body was drenched in sweat; even then the tail would not move an inch. Ashamed, Bhīma stood near the monkey with his head bowed down and with folded hands said, “O great monkey! Be happy! Forgive the harsh words that I uttered. Who are you in this monkey form – a siddha, a yakṣa, a gandharva, or a devatā?”

Hanumanta said, “O son of Pāṇḍu! If you are curious to know about me, listen: Vāyu is my father, Kesari is my mother, my name is Hanumanta. In earlier times, when Vāli and Sugrīva were the monkey-kings, I was particularly close to Sugrīva, who I was fond of. During the time he was (in exile) in Ṛṣyamūka, Daśaratha’s son Rāma lived in Daṇḍakāraṇya along with his wife and brother in order to please his father. Rāvaṇa forcibly abducted Rāma’s wife and while in search of her Rāma came upon Sugrīva. They became friends. Rāma killed Vāli and gave Sugrīva the kingdom. He sent monkeys in all directions to look for Sītā. Wherever we went we would receive news from our friends; finally I jumped over the ocean and found Sītā in the abode of Rāvaṇa. After I informed Rāma of this, he killed all the rākṣasas and took his wife back home. After Rāma established himself, I asked him for a boon: the story of Rāma should be alive until the world exists. In this place, aprasas and gandharvas constantly sing songs with Rāma’s story as the theme. Listening to that, I live peacefully. It is impossible for humans to proceed on this path. I stopped you because someone might hurl a curse on you or might trouble you. The lake that you have come searching for is right here, in the vicinity.”

At once, Bhīma bowed down to his brother and sought blessings. He said, “O noble one! I am so fortunate because of seeing you; it is a great blessing to have had a glimpse of you – it is your grace. I have a great desire to see you in the form that you took while crossing the ocean!”

Hanumanta said, “Kali yuga is just round the corner. Therefore it is difficult to see that form.” But Bhīma refused to listen to any excuses and pleaded with his brother repeatedly; so Hanumanta was forced to show that form of his. Looking at his radiant and astonishing form, Bhīma was terrified. Hanumanta returned to his earlier form and embraced Bhīma; this removed all his body-ache and refreshed him completely.

Bhīma proceeded on the path shown by Hanumanta and came upon the beautiful Saugandhika Lake, which was guarded by several rākṣasas. The lake was near Kubera’s palace and was formed by the waterfalls from the mountains. All around the lake, a variety of plants, creepers, and trees grew in abundance and this dense forest provided a canopy for the lake, thus keeping it cool at all times. The lake was full of yellow lotuses that gave it an appearance of a golden pond. The fragrance of those lotuses had engulfed the whole region. Bhīma walked fearlessly towards the lake; the rākṣasa guards saw him and asked, “Sir! Who are you? You are wearing clothes made of bark, dressed just like an ascetic; but you appear so radiant. Therefore, tell us why you have come here!” He told them about himself and his purpose.

The rākṣasas said, “Sir, this is the play-area of Kubera. Humans shouldn’t enter this place. And even if devatās, devarṣis, or yakṣas come here, it is only with Kubera’s permission that they drink the water, roam about, or relax. When such is the case, you want to ignore Kubera and say that you plan to take these flowers in a bold and shameless manner!”

Bhīma said, “I can’t see Kubera anywhere here; and even if I see him, I’m not going to beg him; to plead and beg is not the natural trait of kṣatriyas. Besides, the lake has been formed because of a waterfall from the mountain; it is not something that belongs to Kubera’s house. So just like this belongs to Kubera, it belongs to everyone else. In matters like these, who will beg of another?” Saying so, Bhīma entered the lake. The rākṣasas told him to desist and tried stopping him. Shouting “Catch! Bind! Kill!” they chased after him with their weapons in hand. Bhīma stopped them all and killed hundreds of them with his mace. The rest of them ran towards the Kailāsa mountain. Then, without any worries, Bhīma got into the water of the lake, plucked as many wonderful lotuses as he wanted, and drank the water. After drinking that water, which was like elixir, Bhīma felt like he was infused with new enthusiasm and strength. A few of the rākṣasas who had fled from the scene went and complained to Kubera. He laughed and casually said, “Let him pluck the flowers! He is taking them to give it to Draupadī; I know all that!”

When Bhīma was absent, disaster struck. A rākṣasa named Jaṭāsura took the form of a brāhmaṇa and began living with the Pāṇḍavas. At the opportune moment, he regained his rākṣasa form and carried them all away. Sahadeva escaped from his clutches and began fighting with him; at that very moment, Bhīma came on the scene and roared, “Go the same way as Hiḍimbā and Bakāsura!” Then he crushed the rākṣasa and killed him.

When the Pāṇḍavas were at the Gandhamādana mountain[3], Arjuna had completed his tapas, earned the weapons he desired, and reached there, travelling on Indra’s chariot. His brothers and wife welcomed him with great aplomb. He narrated to them in great detail about his tapas and the various boons he received; he told them how he—following the directions of Indra—fought and killed his enemies: the Nivātakavaca rākṣasas and Paulomakālakeyas, the great asuras.

Mount Gandhamādana was beautiful, filled with mountainous waterfalls, kinnaras, birds, and other natural wonders. The Pāṇḍavas didn’t have the heart to leave that place and stayed on for a few days; then they visited sacred spots like Kailāsa and Vṛṣaparvāśrama before returning to the Dvaita forest and settling down comfortably on the banks of the river Sarasvatī.

A little before this, Bhīma had gone to hunt in the forest and was trapped by a python (ajagara). It wrapped itself around him tight and rendered him immobile. His über-human strength was of no use. At that time, Dharmarāja came in search of him and finally found him in that spot. The python introduced himself as Emperor Nahuṣa, who in a former birth was intoxicated with pride due to his great wealth and was born this way due to Sage Agastya’s curse; if Yudhiṣṭhira was to give correct answers to his questions, then he would release Bhīma. Dharmarāja agreed to his proposal.

Ajagara—Who is a brāhmaṇa? What are the things he must know?

Yudhiṣṭhira—A brāhmaṇa is one in whom we see qualities like integrity, charity, patience, good character, ahiṃsā, self restraint, and compassion. He should know the Supreme brahman that is beyond joy and sorrow.

Ajagara—Even in a śūdra we can see traits like integrity, charity, and other good qualities. And you said something about an entity beyond joy and sorrow – I don’t see the existence of such an entity at all.

Yudhiṣṭhira—If such qualities are there in a śūdra and absent in a brāhmaṇa, then such a śūdra is not a śūdra, such a brāhmaṇa is not a brāhmaṇa. And in between cold and hot, there exists a condition beyond cold and heat, beyond joy and sorrow – indeed it exists.

Ajagara—If there are no special karmas for brāhmaṇas and they are to be decided only on the basis of their conduct, then isn’t the entire system of varṇa futile?

Yudhiṣṭhira—Already there has been so much of mixture of varṇas; everywhere people have mingled with one another and produced children and so it is not possible to determine varṇa merely based on birth. Therefore, one’s character is alone important… the mother of a brāhmaṇa is Gāyatrī, his ācārya is his father; until he engages in the study of the Vedas, he is equal to a śūdra… I said earlier that a brāhmaṇa is one who has good character and has been refined by saṃskāras. You seem to be learned; tell me, by the undertaking of what karma will one reach the highest?

Ajagara—Charity to the appropriate persons, speaking words that are pleasant, integrity, ahiṃsā – these are traits that helps one attain the highest heavens, in my opinion.

Yudhiṣṭhira—What is greater in this? What is of less importance?

Ajagara—It depends on the particular activity undertaken and what is appropriate to that; in this manner, integrity can take precedence over charity or charity can take precedence over integrity; speaking pleasant words may be more important than ahiṃsā or ahiṃsā might be more important than pleasant words; …in this manner, integrity, self-restraint, tapas, yoga, ahiṃsā, charity, and such qualities are the various means to attain the highest, not birth in a certain family.

Saying so, Nahuṣa was freed of his curse and rose to heaven; Dharmarāja took Bhīma and returned home.

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 review and astute feedback.

Footnotes

[1] Prior to this episode we have the killing of demon Jaṭāsura by Bhīma. Then the four brothers along with Draupadī set out to the great mountain peak because they had set up a meeting there with Arjuna; four years earlier, he had promised to meet them there after a period of a five-year student-hood. Walking along the mountain path, they finally reached the hermitage of Vṛṣaparva.

[2] The critical text of the Mahābhārata doesn’t contain this episode of Bhīma meeting Hanumanta. It appears in the Citraśālā edition.

[3] The slopes of the Gandhamādana mountain had rich flora and fauna; the Pāṇḍavas really enjoyed themselves there. Yudhiṣṭhira, delighted with his surroundings, hails it as ‘the playground of the gods.’

Author(s)

About:

Prof. A R Krishna Sastri was a journalist, scholar, polyglot, and a pioneer of the modern Kannada renaissance, who founded the literary journal Prabuddha Karnāṭaka. His Vacana-bhārata and Kathāmṛta are classics of Kannada literature while his Saṃskṛta-nāṭaka and Bankimacandra are of unrivalled scholarship.

Translator(s)

About:

Arjun is a poet, translator, engineer, and musician. He is a polyglot, well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, Hindi, English, Greek, and German. He is currently serves as Assistant Professor at Amrita Darshanam - International Centre for Spiritual Studies at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Bangalore. He research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature.

About:

Hari is an author, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Hindu scriptures, Carnatic music, education pedagogy design, and literature. He has worked on books like The New Bhagavad-Gita, Your Dharma and Mine, Srishti, and Foggy Fool's Farrago.