The Pandavas, with their mother, walked for several days, passing through the countries of the Matsyas, the Trigartas, the Panchalas and the Kichakas. With their hair matted in locks and attired in barks and animal skins, they had the appearance of ascetics.
Realizing the need for caution, they sometimes used disguises. They were reciting and discussing the Vedas and other works on morals and politics that they had learnt.
After travelling some distance, they met their grandfather Vyasa. (‘Vyasa’ is more like a designation than a name. There were many Vyasa. The name of the grandfather of Pandavas, the sage who wrote the Mahabharata was Krishna Dwaipayana. For convenience, he will be referred to as Vyasa in this blog.)
Kunti and the Pandavas paid their obeisance to the sage.
Vyasa said, “I knew about the sufferings you would undergo. I have come here for doing some good to you. Though in my eyes, the sons of Pandava and the sons of Dhritarashtra are equal, I have greater affection for you because you are facing an adversity. There is a town nearby. Live there in disguise till you hear from me and you will be safe.”
Vyasa led them to a place called Ekachakra. He told Kunti, “Don’t feel grieved over your present plight. Your son Yudhishtira will rule the world helped by mighty Bhima and Arjuna and also the sons of Madri who are great car warriors. Yudhishtira will perform sacrifices like the Rajasuya and will attain fame and glory.”
Vyasa led them to the house of a Brahmin and took leave of them promising to come back after some time.
Kunti and the Pandavas lived in the house of that Brahmin. The Pandavas would go out during the day, seek alms and return home in the evening with the alms received, which they would offer to Kunti. Kunti would divide the food into two parts giving one to Bhima. The other part would be shared by the other four sons and Kunti.
One day, when Kunti was in the house with Bhima, with the others having gone out, she heard some wailings from the members of the family. Kunti told Bhima, “Living in the house of this Brahmin, we should render him whatever help we can. Let us find out what their problem is.”
When Kunti entered the quarters of the Brahmin, she heard him saying, “The pursuit of wealth invites misery. Earlier, I had suggested that we migrate to some other place. But you wanted to live here because you grew up here.Your parents and many of your relatives have passed away. But you still wanted to live here. Now you have to witness the death of one of us. I cannot sacrifice you, our daughter or our little son.I think the time has come for me to leave this world.”
His wife replied “You are a man of learning. You know that one should not grieve over the inevitable. If you die, I won’t be able to support our children. But you are capable of taking care of our children, even when I am not here. So I will choose to die.”
Hearing this, the Brahmin embraced her and both began to weep.
Their daughter who was witnessing this, said, “You have to abandon me sometime (when I will get married). You can as well abandon me now itself. If father dies, mother won’t live without him and my little brother cannot survive if he loses both his parents at this tender age. Then I will be plunged into deeper grief and will die eventually. Instead, if I am allowed to die now, all of you can be alive and our race will also continue.”
The daughter’s words only aggravated the grief of the parents and all the three cried. The youngest son, a boy of tender age, seeing his parents and sister crying, took a blade of grass in his hands and said, “I will kill the Rakshasa (demon) with this.”
This made the three of them laugh even in the midst of their grief.
Using this opportunity to intervene, Kunti asked them what their problem was, offering to extend whatever help she and her sons could.
The Brahmin said, “Your offering to help is worthy of your ascetic state. But you won’t be able to save us. There is a Rakshasa called Bakasura who lives in a place near our town. He is a cannibal and he rules this region. He has ordered that every day, one household send him a cartload of rice, two buffaloes and a human being for his food. Today is our turn. One of my family members has to go to Baka along with the food cart. This is what is causing us to grieve.”
Kunti told the Brahmin, “Do not grieve. I can rescue all the members of your family from the Rakshasa. I have five sons. One of them will go to the Rakshasa with the food cart.”
The Brahmin said, “Oh lady, for the sake of saving my life, I cannot sacrifice your family. Abandoning a person who has come to your house or has sought protection from you is a great sin.”
Kunti said, “Don’t worry. The Rakshasa will not be able to kill my son. I have seen my son killing many demons of huge bodies. But don’t tell this to anyone. If people come to know of my son’s power, they will come to him for getting this power from him. But my son cannot impart any knowledge to anyone without the permission of his Guru.”
The Brahmin then accepted her help. Kunti told Bhima about her commitment to the Brahmin’s family and Bhima gladly accepted the task.
Presently, the other Pandavas returned home with the alms. Kunti told them about what transpired when they were away.
Yudhishtita was concerned about the formidability of the task and asked Kunti in private whether Bhima had accepted the task on his own or at her command. Kunti said that Bhima had accepted the task at her command with the objective of helping the family.
Yudhishtira said “Oh mother! What have you done? You have put your son at risk. We are able to sleep peacefully only because we are under the protection of Bhima. We also need his prowess to get back our kingdom from Duryodhana. Duryodhana and Sakuni spend sleepless nights fearing Bhima. You have decided to risk the life of such a valuable person!”
Kunti replied, “You don’t have to worry about Bhima. He has the strength of thousand elephants. When he was a child, he fell on the mountain from my lap and the mountain broke to pieces. We owe a debt to this family which has given us protection during the time of distress. I am doing this for two purposes – one for requiting our debt to the Brahmin and two for acquiring religious merit (punya).”
Yudhishtira was convinced by his mother’s words. He told her, “Mother! You have done the right thing. Bhima will slay the cannibal and come back. However, please request the Brahmin to ensure that no one in this town knows about this.”
Bhima set out to the forest with the cart of food. On reaching the place where Bakasura lived, Bhima began to eat the food and called the demon by name.
Enraged by Bhima’s yelling, Bakasura, who had red eyes and hair and a terrifying appearance, came towards Bhima. His mouth was opening from ear to ear and his forehead furrowed into three lines.
Bakasura asked Bhima “Who is this fool eating my food with a desire to go the abode of Yama (the God of death)?
Bhima smiled at him derisively and continued to eat the food.
Bakasura raised both his hands high and struck Bhima. But Bhima was unaffected by this and continued to eat. Baka then plucked out a tree and ran towards Bhima.
By this time, Bhima had finished eating. He washed himself and stood ready to fight Baka. He caught the tree thrown at him by Baka with his left hand. Baka plucked out more trees and threw at Bhima. Bhima also plucked out trees and threw at Baka.. Soon the region was devoid of all trees.
After a while, both began to fight with their fists and arms. Eventually, Bakasura was killed by Bhima. Baka died giving out a big cry. Hearing his cry, his relatives came out. Bhima consoled them and asked them to give up cannibalism. He told them, Hereafter, don’t kill human beings. If you do, you will meet the same fate as Bakasura.” They promised to give up cannibalism.
Bhima dragged the body of Bakasura to one of the gates of the town and went away unobserved by anyone. Baka’s relatives were terrified and they fled in different directions.
Bhima returned to his house and told the Brahmin what had happened.
The residents of the town, after a while, discovered the body of Bakasura. They went to the Brahmin and asked him what had happened since he was the last person to have delivered food to Bakasura. The Brahmin replied “Seeing our family in tears, a Brahmin skilled in Mantras asked me why we were crying. When I told him about Bakasura, he said that he would carry the food cart to Bakasura on our behalf. He should have killed Bakasura through the power of his Mantras.”
The people of the town accepted this explanation and went away.