By Nirooshitha Sethuram
The Pandavas along with their mother Kunti hiked across several hurdles, at last reaching the thick of the forest. Kunti was feeling heavily tired so Bhima ended up carrying her on his shoulders along with the young Nakula and Sahadeva on his hips. Holding Yudhishthira and Arjuna by his hands, Bhima cleared the way like an elephant and marched onward.
As Kunti couldn’t travel any further due to hunger and thirst, they decided to rest under a banyan tree that stood close by. They sat together under the thick shade of the tree, exhausted after the long journey. From stories they had heard, they knew they had entered the magical forest, Maya Vana. Legend said that anyone who entered this forest never returned.
All of them laid down and fast fell asleep except for Bhima. Bhima watched over them while they slept. Aware that his brothers and mother were hungry and thirsty, he went in search of a waterfront. After covering a short distance, he heard the twitter of birds. Going that direction, he soon found himself at a waterfront. Bhima quenched his thirst. Then he made a big pitcher out of leaves, filled it with water and returned to the banyan tree where his family members were lost in deep sleep. Bhima did not want to disturb them. He stood aside keeping watch over them.
This demonized magical forest where the Pandavas were sleeping was the hunting preserve of a fearful demon name Hidimba. He lived there along with his sister Hidimbi and their clan of demons. While roaming around, in search of a victim, Hidimba sensed the presence of human beings nearby. He asked his sister to go find them and bring them to their settlement so he could kill them for dinner.
Following the human smell, Hidimbi reached the banyan tree and saw the sleeping Pandavas with Bhima on guard. As soon as she saw handsome Bhima and his muscular body, she was attracted to him. She immediately fell in love with him. An ardent desire to be with Bhima overwhelmed her and she decided not to go back to her brother. She thought the only way she could even have a chance to attract Bhima’s attention would be to transform herself into a human form. She indeed transformed herself into a maiden of incomparable charm, and adorned her body with valuable jewelry.
Hidimbi walked up to Bhima gracefully. Complimenting Bhima’s muscular body and handsome looks first, she asked who he was, and who were all those people sleeping at his watch. She then confessed her desire, wanting to marry him and be his wife. She warned him, “This forest is a hunting preserve of my brother Hidimba. If he comes here, all of you will be his meal, as he is a cannibal. It would be wise to wake all of them and leave this place right away.”
With a smile, Bhima replied, “Don’t worry. I shall deal with your brother if he happens to come here. I am not willing to disturb the sleep of my brothers and my revered mother in fear of your brother. We’ll just see how powerful he is.”
As Hidimbi was taking so long, Hidimba arrived right at that moment with his clan. He saw that Hidimbi had transformed herself into a beautiful maiden to indulge in romantic conversation with Bhima. Hidimba erupted with anger and thundered, “Hidimbi, you are a disgrace to our clan. You bring shame to our entire race. You have stooped so low as to enjoy being with a mere human being. Can’t you find a demon to satisfy your lust? I shall kill you right now, along with your human lover.”
Saying this, Hidimba advanced. Clenching his fists and grinding his teeth, he grabbed for his sister. In rage, when he was about to lay hands on Hidimbi, Bhima intervened, holding him by the wrist. Bhima shouted, “Oh, you can’t lay hands on a woman in my presence. Come on, face me if you dare. Don’t you know only cowards choose to attack women. Get away from her or I shall knock you down so strongly that you may never rise again.”
Hidimba couldn’t bear such insulting words coming from a mere human. He leapt at Bhima and gave a staggering blow on the back of his neck. Bhima was not frightened at all. A fearsome duel followed. Seeing this, even the animals of the forest ran. Hidimbi hid behind a rock nearby, unable to bear the fact that her brother and the one she had fallen in love with were fighting.
The commotion caused Bhima’s mother Kunti and four brothers to wake. Seeing Bhima challenged in a fight with a dreadful demon, his brothers rushed to help him. To their surprise, he had already overcome the demon and raised him well above his head. Bhima tossed him down to the ground violently. Hidimba fell with a heavy thud and died. The rest of them stood by silently, including Hidimbi in hiding.
Kunti, Yudhishthira and the brothers were delighted to see Hidimba was dead. But Arjuna warned Bhima that they need to leave the place as the news about Hidimba’s death might reach the Kauravas and give them away. The rest of them supported the suggestion so they decided to leave right away.
They tried to move on quickly, but the custom of the demon clan was that whoever killed their leader became the new leader. Therefore, the clan stopped them, wanting Bhima to become their leader. They begged Bhima, worried that there will be internal problems with choosing any other of the clan as a leader. Even after a lot of pleading by the clan, Bhima and his family didn’t accept their plea. With a lot of regret, they started to move on, to get out of the Maya Vana.
They weren’t aware of Hidimbi following them at their heels. After travelling quite a distance, Kunti turned around and saw this beautiful young lady following them. She stopped immediately, asked Hidimbi who she was and why she was following them. She demanded that Hidimbi say something about herself and her purpose in following them.
First touching Kunti’s feet, Hidimbi stated, “I’m Hidimbi, the sister of Hidimba, the demon whom your valiant son has put to death. I assisted my brother in all his endeavors, until I saw your son, with whom I have fallen in love.” By saying this, Hidimbi disclosed everything, admitting that she was in love with Bhima and wanted to be his wife. She was seeking the approval of Kunti to allow her carry out her desire. Kunti explained that a marriage between a human and demon was never heard of and that her son must get back to his duties.
Hidimbi was relentless. She wouldn’t accept Kunti’s answer. Kunti said that the Pandavas living with the demons forever was not going to be possible, and that they had a lot of other things they need to attend to. Hidimbi replied, “On the day I have a child with Bhima, an heir to lead the clan, I will let you go your way.” Kunti was so charmed by Hidimbi’s obedience and well-mannered behavior, she could not refuse her request for the company of Bhima.
Kunti went up to Hidimbi and showered blessings on her. Then Kunti turned to Bhima and asked him if he was ready to marry to Hidimbi. She was so delighted to see Bhima falling for Hidimbi too. She wanted the best for them. But she requested that Hidimbi leave Bhima free at nightfall so that he could come to protect them, especially at night.
Hidimbi wanted everyone to stay in the clan’s grounds. Kunti agreed and the wedding was done in a very fancy way according to the clan’s customs. The couple requested blessings from Kunti and Yudhishthira. Kunti and Yudhishthira blessed them both, saying Hidimbi is the first daughter to come into their family. Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva congratulated their brother and Hidimbi. Bhima enjoyed the company of Hidimbi and all of them got used to living with the demon clan. Days passed, followed by weeks, while things went on quite smoothly for them.
After some time, Hidimbi gave birth to a male child who was a true copy of his father Bhima. He was named Ghatotkacha. Being a child of a demon, he grew up to be a young man in a few days. He was a mighty warrior, just like his father, gifted with immense physical strength. He also inherited his mother’s magical powers. All the Pandavas were very happy to see him doing wonderful things.
After the birth of Ghatotkacha, Kunti and the Pandavas decided to take leave of the clan as they had to move on. Hidimbi remembered her word and let them go with a very heavy heart. Ghatotkacha was named the leader of the clan. When they were leaving the forest, Kunti called Ghatotkacha, telling him that even though he was Bhima’s son, he would always be regarded as the eldest son of the Pandavas. Ghatotkacha promised to come to their aid whenever they needed him. He asked his father merely to think of him when needing his assistance, and he would be there without any delay. Bhima embraced both Hidimbi and Ghatotkacha, before accompanying his mother and his brothers out of the Maya Vana.