(Translated from the Malayalam original ‘Orammayude Sangadangal’)
Hidimbi was intrigued to see her son sitting, deep in thought, with his head facing down. What happened? Wasn’t he getting prepared to go to the battlefield? It’s very unlike him. Isn’t he hearing the screams and shrieks of laughter from the Kurukshetra, afar off? He who should lead the warrior group of nishadas1 to the battlefield; he who is the son of the mightiest among the mighty, Bhima, daydreaming with his head down?! Mother, with her heart pounding, quietly called, “Son, Ghatotkacha!” He slowly turned his head, got up and asked, “Mother?”
“Why are you sitting like this?”
“I was reminded of certain things, Mother.”
“Now? Like some coward? Aren’t you joining the battle led by your Father and his brothers against those who stole their kingdom? A terrible war! No one has even heard of anything similar in any previous yugas2.”
“Mother, I’ll definitely join them. But, before I take arms against the enemy, shall I ask you a question that has been nagging at my mind?”
“How did Bhimasena, who is a Kshatriya, become the father of a nishada like me?”
Hidimbi seemed embarrassed by that question. Nonetheless, without holding anything back, she said, “If Hidimba, the King of the Forest, had any such desire, he could have fulfilled that. Hidimba was way better than anyone else. He was never fickle nor was he someone who lusted after women.”
“But, Bhima, the second eldest among the Pancha Pandavas3 who had lost their kingdom, was a King, wasn’t he?”
“No. But the Kshatriyas have the right to sleep with any woman anywhere.”
“Didn’t he win you after killing Hidimba?”
“Yes, that’s right. Bhima killed him so that he could have me. Hidimba, alas, shouldn’t have sent me there!”
“The Pandavas and their mother Kunti Devi reached this forest after escaping from the burning arakkillam4 by a secret route. Bhima, leaving behind his mother and his brothers, who were tired after the journey, at the foot of a banyan tree, was roaming, looking for water. He might have made that noise on and off to let them know that everything was safe. Hidimba wanted to know who was making that noise and he asked me to go and find out.”
“Weren’t there any men folk?”
“Yes. And there were brave women also. But who could know what one’s fate would be until one experienced it? It was because I was getting late to return that Hidimba himself came searching for me. He didn’t fancy sending anyone else.”
“Are you suggesting that, had he done so, then Bhimasena wouldn’t have killed him?”
“Yes,” said Hidimbi, “That’s why I said it was fate.”
“Who are you? Why did you come here?” But, Hidimba’s questions were haughtily dismissed by Bhima.
“This forest is not your property! Who are you to question us, the Kshatriyas? So beat it, if you don’t want to lose your life!” To this Hidimba laughed contemptuously. What followed was a terrible duel. Bhima vented all his anger against his foes on Hidimba. That was why Hidimba didn’t feel like either listening to Bhima or respecting him.
“King Hidimba would have understood had Bhima told him how they ended up in the forest. They would have even formed a friendship also! But Bhima had an arrogant belief in his superiority and physical strength,” said Hidimbi.
“But what happened to you?” asked Ghatotkacha.
“I was so terrified that I couldn’t even run away from there. I yielded to Bhima.”
“But, according to hearsay, Hidimbi, incited by her lust, went with Bhima.”
“Son, the truth need not be what you hear from others. Let people say whatever they want!”
Ghatotkacha considered again: This is an age when truth and justice are not respected. Often lies are accepted as truth. In such a situation, what’s my worth? I’m just a nishada. No one will acknowledge me as anything more than that.
Noticing that her son has become silent again, the mother asked, “Don’t you’ve to go and lead the army to the battlefield?”
“Mother, even if I died fighting or not, I know who’d win this war. The Pandavas would win it, wouldn’t they? War is deceit, Mother. Those who can be more deceitful will win. Moreover, why should the Pandavas win?!”
“Are you suggesting that we cannot win back the kingdom that the Kauravas usurped through deception?”
“How could Hasthinapuri become the kingdom of the Pandavas? The five of them aren’t the children of King Pandu. The Kshatriyas follow the Brahmins’ theory that if a husband can’t impregnate his wife, it’s not wrong if another man does it. Isn’t this the case with the Pandavas also? And perhaps it’s also fair, according to the Kshatriyas, to deny the disabled their rights and kingship! Anyway, Pandu became the King not for his elder brother.”
“I’ll admit that whatever you’ve said is true,” interrupted Hidimbi, “But, that should not result in helping the enemies in the battle.”
“Mother, even the war is outright deceit,” Ghatotkacha reiterated, “And it’s complicated as well. Wasn’t it through deceit that the six ‘great’ men killed a mere child that Abhimanyu was when he broke into the Padmavyuha5 – which itself was deception from beginning to end – and faced the fatal trap of the Chakravyuha6? Didn’t Karna, my Father’s eldest brother, break Abhimanyu’s bow by approaching him from behind? Blood oozes out of my hair pores, Mother! Krishna, who was his uncle, didn’t even feel like helping his trapped nephew. And who else, but Krishna, took Savyasachi7 away so that the he couldn’t come to his son’s rescue either. Why? As you say, is it ‘fate’? If it is, then whose fate?”
“Even Mother doesn’t know whose tricks these all are, Son,” Hidimbi said.
“There is no room for doubt. These are the tricks of Krishna who, in future, will be worshipped by people as God. The Kshatriyas and the nishadas should come only behind. If I died fighting, whom would you complain to? Who would you curse? You’ll accept it as ‘fate.’ Would Bhima remember you if his side won the war? Gandhari, the ‘Mother of the Hundred’8, will curse Krishna,” Ghatotkacha continued, “Anything can be sacrificed for its sake – that’s the rule of war. Be it life, money, pride, shame or the land. Now, I’ll have to fight for myself too. I’m leaving. Please bless me, Mother.”
Hidimbi, distressed by her son’s words, grew edgy. She felt something sinister was going to happen.
Why is he taking so much time to take leave of his mother? The sinewy and sturdy warriors were losing patience. They came up to where Hidimbi and Ghatotkacha were standing and whispered among themselves. Eventually, they saw the mother kissing her son’s forehead. Ghatotkacha, after touching his mother’s feet, took his mace.
Hidimbi listened to the buzz of the rakshasa9 army, roaring and laughing loudly and sending tremors through the ground, as they marched on to the Kurukshetra. She got goosebumps as she stood there watching her son, who, with his head held high and carrying a mace on his shoulder, led those heroes who had no fear of death. As the rising dust blinded her vision, Hidimbi felt her ‘right eye twitching quite oddly’10 and her heart began to ache for no reason.
Oh! ... This pain! Is it because I’m afraid I’ll lose my son? No! But, didn’t the child Abhimanyu’s mother Subhadra’s heart too feel a similar ache when, as his father’s eldest brother Karna cut his bow from behind, he grabbed a mace from one of his enemies and rushed towards Dusshasana’s son Bharata? What a peculiar relationship it is between a mother and her son! Oh, it’s better to kill me by tearing my heart out of my breast!!
Messengers began to come from the battlefield, bringing exciting news: When on the one side, the Pandavas made progress, the Kaurava army fled to different directions. But the redoubtable warriors like Bhishma, Drona and Shalya were successfully going forward by crushing the opposition that spread before them like a sea. On the red-soaked ground, heads – and bodies – were falling scattered. Collapsed and abandoned chariots. Elephants and horses fell down dead. When the sharp arrows rubbed against each other, it was not sparks, but thunder and lightning that erupted! Drumming that could make you almost deaf; terrible peals of laughter…
When Hidimbi was sitting under a tree, all alone, with her heart brimming with mixed emotions and her breasts pounding, upon hearing, over and over again, the tales of the gallant warriors who, after killing many brave men who put up a strong resistance and smashed chariots and military arrangements, died heroic deaths in duels and fisticuffs11, a seemingly tired messenger appeared and stood silently, with his head facing down.
“What news have you brought? Isn’t the Pandava army winning the war?” Hidimbi asked anxiously.
“Yes, Mother,” he replied.
“Then why aren’t you cheerful? Aren’t you seeing it? Aren’t you hearing it? Don’t you’ve a voice also?!”
The messenger knew that the mother of the brave Ghatotkacha had a hundred things to say and to know. Why delay it any longer? His voice broke, and he felt his heart tore apart, when he finally said: “Mother, please forgive me!!”
“Tell me, whatever you’ve to say! If not to me, you’ll have to say it to someone else, anyway,” said Hidimbi.
“Mother, Karna killed your son Ghatotkacha by hurling his vel12 at him,” the messenger said.
“Ayyo13! My dear son!! Kashtam14! When you hesitated to fight for the Pandavas, it was me who insisted that you should go! And didn’t Karna now become a brute, killing his brothers’ sons by deceit? The future of the Pandavas also looks bleak now! Oh, Krishna, why didn’t you kill the sons of Bhima and Arjuna yourself?” Hidimbi wept uncontrollably, “It’s not us, whom you slightingly call ‘forest-dwellers’ and nishacharas15, who are crooks. Abhimanyu, in his mother’s womb, overheard his uncle teaching his father how to enter the Padmavyuha, and hmmed. But why was he not taught how to get out of it? So that he should die even before he became a grown-up man? Why did you make others do that dastardly act? Ghatotkacha was not just a nishada. He was the son of the Wind God’s son, Bhima. By creating opportunities for the enemy to kill the able, new generation, why do you make cracks in the team? For whose good are your tricks, Oh, Madhava16? And isn’t it more Krishna’s wish than the Pandavas’ that they should win the Kurukshetra war? Only for that reason, can I trust that you won’t cheat Arjuna?”
Hidimbi became silent for a while and then asked the messenger again, “How… how did that cheat kill my son?”
The messenger, after remaining quiet for a moment longer, said, “When the enemies were wreaking great havoc on the Pandava army, Arjuna said that Karna should be killed immediately. But Krishna replied that the time had not yet come for that. Then, Ghatotkacha said, ‘Why should we delay it? I’ll do the task right away. Please give me your permission.’ On hearing this, Krishna asked him to proceed.
Single-handedly, he fought simultaneously against Alayudha, the great warrior among the rakshasas, and Karna. During the course of that fight, Ghatotkacha beheaded Alayudha and placed the head before Duryodhana, as if it was an offering! Even Suryaputra17 was not able to resist Ghatotkacha’s gallant fight. As Ghatotkacha rushed to him, smashing his chariot, Karna feared that he would be killed and he hurled his vel, which he had got as a boon for his self-protection. It pierced Ghatotkacha’s chest and our kumaran18 died. Even then, Krishna said that, henceforward he need not strain much to protect Arjuna! An accomplice also to the deceit that resulted in the killing of Abhimanyu, what a sinner Karna is! That cheat is sure to meet his end at the hands of his own brother, Partha19,” he concluded.
To a brave son who died fighting heroically, his mother’s tears should become puja flowers and his body should be fittingly cremated. Eventually, that day, Hidimbi too had to go through that event!
I went there since King Hidimba had ordered me to find out who the trespasser was. And what I saw under the banyan tree was a mother and her five sons. Among them, my female eyes felt that Bhima was the strongest and handsomest. I kept standing there looking with curious eyes.
It was because I was getting late to return that Hidimba came searching for me. Bhima, who did not liking being quizzed, said: Forest is not your property. Who are you to question us, the Kshatriyas? What we say and do is the law!
The brave and proud Hidimba couldn’t let Bhima get away with his arrogance that forest-dwellers were despicable. In combat, Bhima slew the King of the Forest, Hidimba. As a girl whose ‘guardian’ was no more, I couldn’t even run away from there. I had no other way but to succumb to the strongest. Bhima, with his hands still wet with Hidimba’s blood, embraced me tightly.
People narrate an incident as they feel like. Let them say!
Realising that her son’s corpse had been brought, Hidimbi sighed deeply and a sob escaped her throat again. Then the mother, as if to herself, said: “My son also died. And Arjuna is saved!”
1 Nishada: A tribal or a forest-dweller positioned outside the Four Varnas of the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas and the Sudras.
2 Yuga: An epoch/aeon. According to Hindu philosophy, there are four yugas: Krita, Tretha, Dwapara and Kali. The incidents in the story are supposed to have taken place in Dwapara Yuga.
3 Pancha Pandavas: The Five Pandavas. ‘Pancha’ means ‘Five.’ They are Yudhisthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva.
4 Arakkillam: A Malayalam word meaning, a house of lac.
5 Padmavyuha: A military formation (Vyuha) arranged like a lotus (Padma).
6 Chakravyuha: A military formation like a disc, chakra.
7 Savyasachi: An epithet of Arjuna, meaning one who is ambidextrous in using the bow.
8 Mother of the Hundred: Gandhari through Dhritarashtra gave birth to one hundred sons and a lone daughter, Dussala. The one hundred sons are called Kauravas, namely descendents of Kuru, their primogenitor.
9 Rakshasa: Demon.
10 Right eye twitching quite oddly: According to Hindu beliefs, if a woman’s right eye twitches, it is a bad omen and indicates worries. In the case of men, it is the left eye.
11 Fisticuffs: A kind boxing called Mushti-yuddham in India.
12 Vel: Lance or spear. Here it is a very powerful spear named Sakti gifted by Indra to Karna on condition that he can use it only once.
13 Ayyo: An interjection of grief.
14 Kashtam: A common interjection of pity/sorrow.
15 Nishacharas: Literally ‘nocturnal beings’ it connotes the rakshasas, demons.
16 Madhava: Another name of Krishna. Literally meaning ‘Lakshmi’s Husband’ that is Vishnu one of whose incarnations is Krishna.
17 Suryaputra: Literally meaning, ‘The Sun God’s Son,’ it is an appellation of Karna.
18 Kumaran: Boy.
19 Partha: Another name of Arjuna. Literally, ‘Son of Pritha,’ and Pritha is another name of Kunti.