Mahabharata is filled with numerous episodes of the great might of Bhimasena, the fearlessness of his actions, his adherence to Dharma and intense devotion towards Lord Krishna. Given the pollution of the Mahabharata text that has occurred over the ages, it is not strange to find many “versions” of Mahabharata today which have completely diluted the character of the Pandavas and made them look very ordinary. Today’s Mahabharata has almost become a story of ordinary people like us.
None has been a bigger target of mis-portrayal than Bhimasena. Whenever I tell people about how perfect the character of Bhima was, there is a great urge to point out the “fallacies” of Bhima. Without the help of commentaries like Srimadacharya’s Tatparya Nirnaya, one couldn’t be falted if he/she believed in the popular tales!
There is one episode, though, in the Mahabharata, which unequivocally extolls the greatness of Bhimasena. That single episode brilliantly brings out the numerous facets of Bhimasena’s personality. The episode occurs during the Drona Parva. On the 15th day of the war, Drona is made to give up arms and is beheaded by Dhrishtadyumna. This greatly hurts and angers Ashwathama and he begins a terrible fight against the Pandavas.
Greatly enraged, he draws out the “Narayana Astra”. The Narayana astra has no rival in the Universe. It was perhaps the Hydrogen bomb of those times! Most of them think that the war is going to end because of Ashwathama releasing that weapon. Lord Krishna at that time indicates to all Pandava warriors to drop their weapons and not fight the same. He reveals that the weapon would not hurt anyone who “surrendered” to it. Immediately, almost all the warriors drop their weapons. All but Bhimasena. Bhimasena declares that he would never drop his weapon, come what may. He says that it is against Kshatriya Dharma to “surrender”, albeit to the greatest weapon in the world. He says that it would be shame to drop weapons. He also asks Arjuna not to drop the weapon. But Arjuna says that he will not fight against the Narayana weapon and therefore does not raise the Gandiva.
Bhima proceeds towards the Narayana Astra and gets engulfed in the fire of the weapon. Arjuna and Krishna rush towards Bhima. Arjuna, in order to protect Bhima, fires the Varuna weapon. Krishna then reaches Bhima and asks him not to fight the weapon. Krishna holds Bhima and brings him down from his chariot. Bhima comes down immediately and stops the resistance in order to “obey” Krishna’s words. The weapon pacifies and does not hurt Bhima anymore.
This episode highlights several aspects of Bhima’s character. He truly displays fearlessness. Even against the most deadly weapon, he shows no sign of fear. Secondly, his sense of duty and adherence to Dharma is unmatched. Not only does he NOT give up his weapon, he proceeds to fight the same. This episode should be a eye-opener to those who have falsely made up stories of Bhima fleeing the battlefield on a certain other ocassion, presumably due to fear ! That is the worst kind of distortion of the Mahabharata one could think of!
The same episode also highlights the supreme devotion that Bhima has towards Krishna. He doesn’t blink an eye-lid in coming down from his chariot when Krishna asks him to do so. After all, following Krishna’s words is the first Dharma of Mukhya Prana (Vayu).