Display Of ‘Prana’ Guna by Bhimasena

In earlier posts, we have looked at a few of the ten gunas that bhimasena personifies throughout the mahabharata. To recall, the ten gunas have been explained by Sri Madhwa in his mahabharata tatparya nirnaya as follows

भक्तिर्ज्ञानं सवैराग्यं प्रज्ञा मेधा धृतिः स्थिथिः |

योगः प्राणो बलं चैव वृकोदरो इति स्मृतः || २-१४१ ||

Vrikodara is the personification of bhakti, jnana, vairagya, prajna, medha, dhruti, sthithi, yoga, prana and bala — devotion, knowledge, detachment, grasping power, retention, courage, steadfastness, endeavour, activity and strength respectively.

Out of the ten, “prana” represents activity, vitality, energy and vigour. There are numerous episodes in the bharata which act as proof of bhimasena’s immense prana-guna. Let us look at one such incident, that of the jAta-gruha-dahana, which highlights multiple facets of bhimasena’s prana-guna.

The arrival of pandavas to varanavata

After the arrival of the pandavas from badari ashrama, and subsequent coronation of yudhishthira as yuvaraja, the jealousy of duryodhana and his brothers increased immensely. Duryodhana started to fear that power will slip out of his hands, and that he will have to remain subservient to his elder brother dharmaraja. He was constantly looking at ways to finish off the pandavas.

At the same time, shakuni, realising that the wickedness of duryodhana and his brothers needs further sharpening, invited a teacher called as “kaninka”. Kaninka was a student of asura-guru shukracharya. He was also the teacher of shakuni himself. Over many days, and in a secret place, kaninka taught all evil knowledge to the kaurava brothers. Dhritharashtra and the other kuru elders did not have any inkling of this training being given.

At the end of the training, kaninka suggested an evil design to permanently get rid of the pandavas. After listening to the same, and feeling very confident about its success, duryodhana approached his father and pleaded with him to send the five pandavas, and their mother kunti, to a place called varanavata. The pretext to be used was the festival of shiva that was to take place in that city. Dhritharashtra initially hestitated — wondering what the reaction of the citizens would be, if he sent away the fatherless sons of his brother. However, duryodhana convinced him saying that he had bought off many influential citizens to his side, and had also spread lots of positive news about varanavata.

Dhritharashtra thereafter agreed and advised yudhisthira to go and stay at varanavata for a while.

“Go to varanavata and participate in the festival there. You can stay there till your heart’s content and return whenever you feel satisfied” said the blind king.

Sri madhwacharya has further explained in the tatparya nirnaya that there existed a famous temple of shiva at varanavata, which had the special sannidhana of a form of vishnu known as ‘jayanta’. Knowing this, and thinking of it as an opportunity to worship him, the pandavas agreed to the suggestion.

विष्णुर्जयन्त इति शम्भुसहाय आस्ते

देवोत्सवश्च सुमहान् भवितात्र सुष्ठु |

भक्ताश्चते हि नितरामरिशङ्खपाणौ

त्वच्चोदिताः समुपयान्ति तमुत्सवं द्राक् || MBTN — अध्याय १९ — श्लोक २३ ||

There exists vishnu, by the name of jayanta, along with shiva (at varanavata). A very big festival happens there. Pandavas are great devotees of vishnu. Therefore, if you tell them the same, they will go there immediately

(duryodhana to dhritharashtra, while convincing him)

Thereafter, pandavas, after taking blessings of all the elders in the palace, and engaging with the citizens of hastinapura, left for varanavata. Just before they left, the wise vidura advised them in a cryptic way on the dangers they would encounter at the new place. He cautioned them to stay careful of poison and fire. He also suggested that they take a different route to escape (and not return to hastinapura immediately).

Developments at varanavata

Even as the pandavas agreed to go and stay at varanavata, duryodhana invited a minister of his by name purochana for discussions. He told purochana of his plans to ensure the pandavas’ death at the new place. He instructed purochana to build a new palace for them that is easily inflammable. Thereafter, on a suitable occasion, purochana was to burn the palace when the pandavas are inside and ensure their death.

Purochana was a daitya by nature. During the time of the ramayana, he was in ravana’s side and was known as prahasta. He started the construction of a big palace that would easily catch fire and burn instantly. He made use of many combustible materials like dry grass, bamboo, clothes, wax, ghee and other oils for the construction.

बल्वजेन च संमिश्रं मधूच्छिष्टेन चैव हि |

सर्पिषा च सतैलेन लाक्षया चाप्यनल्पया |

मृत्तिकां मिश्रयित्वा च लेपं कुड्येषु दापय ||

शाणवंशकटं दारु वस्त्राणि विविधानि च |

The pandavas reached varanavata and purochana introduced himself as their benefactor. After 10 days, he informed them that the new palace was ready and then the pandavas moved into it. As soon as they entered, yudhisthira and bhima realized that the palace was actually a trap to burn them. The smell of the combustibles was ominous. Bhima, in keeping with the dharma to undertake during any danger, suggested that they move out, and in fact, get back to hastinapura. However, yudhisthira found it appropriate to stay back in order to keep his word to dhritarashtra.

Vidura’s counter strategy

Vidura, meanwhile, got to know of duryodhana’s evil designs through his own spies. He immediately dispatched a trusted khanaka (digger) to varanavata with specific instructions. The loyal khanaka arrived at varanavata and met the pandavas. He narrated the cryptic message that vidura had earlier told yudhisthira, due to which the pandavas instantly developed trust in him.

After a discussion, khanika got down to digging a long tunnel out of the palace and into the woods. The door of the tunnel was well covered by him and hidden from everyone. This way, the pandavas’ escape route became ready.

Purochana’s long wait

The pandavas started living at that place quite comfortably, enjoying themselves by hunting during the day time and relaxing at night. Purochana also was getting comfortable that the pandavas had fallen into his trap. His wait to kill them, however, was getting longer. Whenever he would inspect them, he would find bhimasena awake and could not ignite the palace.

The continuously awakened state of bhimasena is one of the indicators of his “prana” shakti. Prana is the force that brings activity to jeevas. The lord of prana — mukhyaprana himself — naturally needed no sleep. Bhimasena in fact would lie down with purochana himself to build false confidence in him.

अथ प्रवाते तुमुले निशि सुप्ते जने विभो |

तनूनपाद्भयाद् भीमः शेते यत्र पुरोचनः ||

In this way, many months passed by and purochana was still kept waiting. One day, the sister of purochana, along with her five sons arrived at varanavata. She entered into the palace with the excuse of helping kunti. After a while, she arranged a festivity in the palace. Using the pretext of the celebrations, she wanted to poison the pandavas and kunti.

Sri madhwa has explained that the sister or purochana was a rakshasi who had performed a penance for one year and obtained a special boon from Shiva.

“I want to attain the position of Aditi, the mother of the devatas” — she demanded from Shambhu.

“If you ensure you do not die along with your sons, you shall attain the position” — Shiva had granted her the boon with this unique rider.

During the celebrations, she added poison to the food that the pandavas were to consume. However, bhimasena knew of her entire plan. He once again invoked his prana shakti, the energy to even digest poison, and ate up the entire food himself, without leaving anything for his mother and brothers. In his youth, duryodhana had once poisoned him with kalakuta poison. Bhima had then survived the same easily. Yet again he survived an attempt at poisoning.

साप्यागता हि गरलेन निहन्तुमेतान् |

भीमस्य पूर्वभुजितो न शशाक चैतत् || MBTN — अध्याय १९ — श्लोक ३९ ||

The night progressed. The celebrations peaked. Purochana, her evil sister and her five sons drank a lot of alcohol. Due to their extreme intoxication, they fell into a deep sleep.

Yudhisthira then indicated to his brothers and mother that the time to escape had come. Bhima quickly opened the door of the tunnel and made sure his brothers and mother started their getaway. He then picked up a fire and ignited the palace. Within minutes, the entire palace was engulfed in a huge fire. Soon, purochana and his sister and her children were burnt to death.

Prana carries his family!

After ensuring that the evil rakshasas were all indeed dead, bhimasena entered the tunnel and, in no time, caught up with his family. Kunti and the remaining pandavas were all extremely scared by then. On one side, they had experienced the sheer evil of duryodhana and purochana and had just about managed to save their lives. On the other hand, they were now scared duryodhana would somehow learn of the fact that it was his minister and his family that had died, and not the pandavas, and therefore launch an attack — or even an outright war — on them. Due to this extreme fear, they were barely able to move. The need of the hour was, however, for them to quickly escape out of the tunnel and into the forest.

ते तु निद्रोपरोधेन साध्वसेन च पाण्डवाः |

न शेकुस्त्वरिता गन्तुं सह कुन्त्या नराधिप || महाभारत — आदि पर्व — जतुगृहदहापर्व — ६/२१ ||

O King! Due to their sleepiness, and fear, the pandavas, along with kunti, were unable to walk fast.

(the shloka also indicates bhimasena was unaffected by sleep)

It was bhimasena who once again came to the rescue. Being the personification of prana, he knew no fear. His senses were all under control and his sheer energy (yet another dimension of prana) meant that he was easily able to walk fast. He lifted his mother and placed her on his shoulder. He asked nakula and sahadeva to cling on to his thighs. He lifted yudhishthira and arjuna with his arms and started running with great speed.

स्कन्धमारोप्य जननीं यमावन्केन वीर्यवान् |

पार्थौ गृहीत्वा पाणिभ्यां भ्रातरौ सुमहाबलः ||

तरसा पादपान् भन्जन् महीं पद्भ्यां विदारयन् |

स जगामाशु तेजस्वी वातरंहा वृकोदरः || महाभारत — आदि पर्व — जतुगृहदहापर्व — ६/२२/२३ ||

Vrikodara, the one with great strength, carried his mother on his shoulders; He asked the twins to take refuge of his thighs; He held the other two pArthas in his arms; The valorous one split the earth with his force and cleared the trees quickly with his feet and started from there with wind like speed.

Soon he was out of the tunnel and into the forest. Bhima was so powerful that, in spite of carrying five persons on his body, he still had the tremendous strength to knock down huge trees on his path with just his legs!! In this way, he made his path out of the forests and reached the river ganga.

Vidura had arranged for a boat and a trusted boatman to wait at the banks of the river. The pandavas, and kunti, entered the boat and made it away from the forest, and indeed the city of varanavata.

This incident is a great mirror to the constant activity, digestive fire-power and sheer energy — indicators of prana-shakti — that bhimasena, the mukhyaprana, possessed!

| sri krishnarpanamastu |