MBK: 1.28: Kuvera Offended

At Badarīkā, Yudhiṣṭhira suddenly noticed the appearance of fearful omens. A violent wind blew up, lashing sand and pebbles into the Pāṇḍavas’ faces. Meteors fell from the sky and the sun became obscured by darkness. The earth trembled, dust fell in showers, and explosions were heard in the sky. All around them the brothers could hear the shrieks of birds and beasts.

Yudhiṣṭhira looked around. Where was Bhīma? Had his brother gone off on some adventure? These omens obviously indicated that something powerful was occurring somewhere. Not seeing Bhīma anywhere, Yudhiṣṭhira feared that he might be the cause of the portents. He spoke anxiously to his brothers, “O invincible ones, arm yourselves. It seems that the time for us to display our prowess has arrived.”

Yudhiṣṭhira turned to Draupadī, “Do you know where Bhīma is? Is he intent on performing some terrible act? Or has he already achieved a tremendous feat? These omens clearly indicate battle.”

“O hero, this morning I presented to you a golden lotus. I requested Bhīma to fetch more of those flowers, and he left at once for the higher reaches of this mountain.”

Yudhiṣṭhira could immediately understand that Bhīma had disturbed the celestials by attempting to take the lotuses from them. He went quickly to Ghaṭotkaca and said, “O sky-ranger, you are like a celestial in prowess and ability. We need your help. It seems my younger brother has gone upward to the regions of the gods. By his own power Vāyu’s son can leap into the sky and come down at will. He moves with the speed of the wind and has left to find the celestial lotuses. Please carry us to the place where they grow so that I may see what Bhīma has done.”

Replying, “So be it,” Ghaṭotkaca and his followers carried the Pāṇḍavas, Draupadī and the Brahmins to Saugandhika. Ghaṭotkaca had already been there a number of times, and he knew the way well. As they descended to the ground near the lake, they saw Bhīma standing on the shore holding his mace. At a distance they saw the large-eyed Krodhavaśās watching him. A number of them lay on the ground and in the water with their heads and limbs smashed.

Yudhiṣṭhira was shocked. He went over to Bhīma, embraced him and said, “O son of Kuntī, what have you done? Be blessed. But if you wish to do good to me, then you should never again be so rash as to offend the celestials.”

Seeing Yudhiṣṭhira there, the Yakṣa guards folded their palms and bowed their heads in humility. The Pāṇḍava apologized for his brother’s acts and consoled them with gentle words. Looking around at the beauty of the region, Yudhiṣṭhira desired to remain there for some time with his brothers. He asked the guards to request Kuvera’s permission for them to stay. Hearing that Pāṇḍu’s sons had come there, Kuvera was pleased and he gave his assent. Thus Yudhiṣṭhira and his party remained for some time on the high slopes of Gandhamādana, enjoying the heavenly atmosphere.

After a few days, Yudhiṣṭhira desired to see Kuvera. Sitting by the lakeside one morning, he told Bhīma. “O brother, we have seen all the holy places with Lomaśa and the other Brahmins. Let us now see that most holy of places, Kuvera’s abode, always frequented by Siddhas and ṛṣis. Can you think of some way by which we can enter the heavenly region?”

But as Yudhiṣṭhira finished speaking, a celestial voice resounded in the sky: “O King, you will not be able to go to the inaccessible abode of Vaishravana by this way. Go back to Badarīkā Ashram. From that place you will go to the hermitage of Vṛṣaparvā, and then to the hermitage of Arstishena. From there you will see Kuvera’s abode.”

As the divine voice spoke, a cool, fragrant breeze blew down a shower of flowers. Dhaumya said, “This order of the gods cannot be ignored. We should leave immediately.”

* * *

During the last few weeks before Arjuna’s return, the Pāṇḍavas spent their time in the company of ṛṣis, but Bhīma often roved about the mountain with Ghaṭotkaca. One day, while the two heroes were absent, a powerful Rākṣasa appeared at Badarīkā Ashram. He had actually been there all along, having assumed the form of a Brahmin and living unrecognized by the brothers. He wanted to steal Draupadī. Seeing his chance, he manifested his monstrous form, grabbed Yudhiṣṭhira and the twins in one arm and Draupadī in the other. He also seized the Pāṇḍavas’ weapons. Then he rushed into the forest. Sahadeva managed to extricate himself and snatch his sword known as Kauśika. Then he chased the demon while calling loudly for Bhīma.

Yudhiṣṭhira reprimanded the Rākṣasa. “O fool, virtue decreases in you and yet you care nothing. What good result do you hope to attain by your vile behavior? In this material world the celestials, Pitṛs, Siddhas, animals, and even worms and ants depend upon men for life. Even your race depends upon men.”

Yudhiṣṭhira instructed the Rākṣasa about the interdependence of all beings. By sacrifice and religious performances, mankind satisfied the gods and the Supreme Lord, who in turn supplied them and all creatures their necessities. If men suffered and were unable to practice religion, then everyone was affected.

Yudhiṣṭhira warned, “O wretch, as you have shown ingratitude for our having maintained you for so long, and as you are now trying to steal our wife, you will surely meet with destruction.”

The Rākṣasa felt Yudhiṣṭhira becoming unbearably heavy. He was forced to slow his pace. Sahadeva was then able to catch up to him. Yudhiṣṭhira called out, “Do not be afraid of this Rākṣasa, brother. I have checked his speed and I sense that Bhīma is not far away.”

Sahadeva stood before the Rākṣasa and said, “Stay and fight! Only after killing me can you carry this lady away into the forest. Otherwise, you will die. I am Pāṇḍu’s son Sahadeva, and I am here to punish you.”

As Sahadeva brandished his sword, Bhīma arrived wielding his mace. Seeing his brothers and Draupadī in the Rākṣasa’s grip, he blazed with fury and roared, “O sinful wretch, I found you out long ago when I saw you scrutinizing our weapons, but as I apprehended no fear from you and as you were disguised as a Brahmin, I took no action against you. He who kills such a person living as a guest, even if he knows him to be an enemy, goes to hell. Nor could you be killed before your time had arrived. Today, you have touched the sinless Draupadī and thus destroyed your life duration. You have swallowed the hook fastened to the line of fate and, like the fish, will meet your destruction. Go now to where Hiḍimba and Baka have already gone.”

The Rākṣasa became alarmed and let Draupadī and her husbands go. His lips trembled in anger as he rebuked Bhīma. “It is you who are sinful. I know of your having slain those Rākṣasas. Today I will offer them oblations of your blood. Come and fight. I am waiting.”

Without saying more, Bhīma rushed at the demon. Seeing him unarmed, he put down his mace and took hold of the Rākṣasa with his bare hands. The demon met him like the Asura Vṛtra met Indra. As they fought in fury the earth vibrated with their heavy steps.

The twins came forward to help, but Bhīma checked them. “I am more than a match for this demon. By my religious merit, my sacrifices, and by my brothers, I swear that I shall kill this one today.”

The battle between man and Rākṣasa raged. They tossed each other about and aimed terrific blows at one another. Their colliding fists sounded like thunderclaps. As they rolled about, locked in combat, they broke down gigantic trees. They then lifted those trees and fought with them. The air was filled with fragments of wood as the trees were smashed to pieces. When the entire area was denuded of trees, they fought with rocks and boulders.

Without a moment’s pause the two fought intensely, each seeking the other’s death. They appeared like a mountain and a mass of clouds coming together. As they hurled boulders at one another, it seemed as if meteors were falling from the heavens. Even though repeatedly struck on the head and body by the rocks, neither fighter flinched. They wrestled like a pair of infuriated elephants, gnashed their teeth and roared.

The dreadful fight lasted for almost thirty minutes. Finally Bhīma raised his fist, which resembled a five-hooded serpent, and dealt the Rākṣasa a terrible blow on the neck. He fainted and Bhīma caught hold of him as he fell. He raised the Rākṣasa up with his two mighty arms and dashed him to the ground. Bhīma pounded his fallen foe into a lifeless lump of flesh. With his bare hands he tore off the demon’s head and threw it aside. That blood-smeared head, with wide-open eyes and bitten lips, rolled away like a huge jackfruit.

Spattered with the demon’s blood, Bhīma came to Yudhiṣṭhira and bowed before him with folded hands. Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers praised Bhīma, even as the Maruts praise Indra in heaven.

The brothers then returned to the ashram.

* * *

It was almost five years since Arjuna had departed. Lomaśa told the Pāṇḍavas that they could expect him to return shortly. He thus instructed them to go to a higher part of the mountain to meet him. Taking up their few possessions, and with Dhaumya, Lomaśa and a handful of other Brahmins accompanying them, the Pāṇḍavas climbed to a high plateau on Gandhamādana. As the celestial voice had predicted, they came to the ashrams of the royal sage Vṛṣaparvā and the great Ṛṣi, Ārṣṭiṣeṇa. Remaining with them for some time, the Pāṇḍavas received spiritual instructions from them.

Ārṣṭiṣeṇa told them that it would not be possible for them to go further up the mountain. “Above here lies the path to the higher planets. No man can go there unless he is entirely pure and sinless. Along that path you will find the gods’ sporting ground. Even from here we can hear the sound of their kettledrums, tabors and vīṇās.”

Ārṣṭiṣeṇa told the brothers that he had been to the mountain’s summit and seen the gods for himself. He’d also seen the Gandharvas, Vidhyadaras, Kimpuruṣas and other heavenly beings consorting with the Apsarās. The great lord of wealth Kuvera could often be seen there being worshipped by the best of the Yakṣas. “At that time, this entire region resounds with the melodic chanting of the Sāmaveda. Daityas, Dānavas and Siddhas alike join in the worship of that illustrious Lokapāla, Kuvera.”

The ṛṣi suggested that the brothers should reside peacefully at his ashram until Arjuna returned. Looking especially at Bhīma he said, “Do not be restless here. Rather, live at ease. Be peaceful. The time will come soon enough for you to display your strength. Without doubt you will crush your enemies and govern the earth.”

Surveying the region, the Pāṇḍavas felt as if they had already gone to the heavenly planets. Every kind of tree was present, all of them blossoming and bending with the weight of ambrosial fruits. Sweetly singing birds played in the lush foliage while peacocks, with their tails outspread, appeared like the trees’ crowns. The lakes teemed with waterfowl and were adorned with lotuses, and the air rang with the hum of maddened bees who drank the nectar falling from the lotus cups. The brothers were fanned by a balmy breeze that carried celestial fragrances and fine drops of cooling spray. There were countless varieties of animals, all of them peaceful and harmless.

One day, as the Pāṇḍavas and Draupadī were seated on the shore of a lake, they saw the great eagle Garuḍa descending toward its waters. The bird blazed with a golden effulgence. His huge wing-beats created a wind that tossed the forest and sent showers of blossoms to the ground. Trees closest to the lake were crushed by the force of his descent and the mountain trembled. He flew with the speed of the wind and before the Pāṇḍavas’ eyes carried away a mighty Nāga serpent who lived in the lake. Having taken hold of the Nāga in his talons, Garuḍa rose high into the sky above the mountain and disappeared into the distance.

As the eagle went north, the wind from his wings blew many flowers from the mountaintop down to where the Pāṇḍavas sat. Seeing the celestial flowers of five colors, Draupadī said to Bhīma, “O best of the Bharatas, see here the exquisite blossoms which have fallen from the mountain peaks. Surely they have come from Kuvera’s abode. O hero, how I wish to see that heavenly place! But it is heavily guarded by Rākṣasas, Yakṣas and other powerful beings. If only Arjuna were here! When Agni burned the Khāṇḍava, your invincible brother held at bay the entire host of gods with their celestial army.”

In this way, Draupadī playfully taunted Bhīma. Bhīma frowned as Draupadī went on, “Surely you too are capable of standing against any foe, human or celestial. O Bhīmasena, send all the Rākṣasas fleeing to the ten directions by the mere force of your arms. Let all of us approach this mountain peak without fear. I have cherished this thought in my mind for some time. Protected by your prowess, I long to see this mountaintop.”

Bhīma looked like a wounded bull. He could not stand Draupadī’s words. Without delay, he rose up, took his weapons, and made his way up the mountainside. Moving with the gait of a lion, that mighty man--as tall as a young sal tree, having a complexion of burnished gold, with broad shoulders and a neck like a conch shell--rushed with full force toward the sheer rock face which led to the mountain summit.

Quickly, Bhīma found a narrow passage by which he could scale the mountain, which was inaccessible to ordinary men. Grasping hold of creepers and crevices in the rocks, he climbed swiftly. As he reached the summit he came to a vast plateau where he beheld Kuvera’s abode. It was adorned with glowing golden and crystal buildings of celestial design. The heavenly mansions were surrounded by high golden walls encrusted with gems of every color.

Bhīma leaned on the end of his bow and gazed in wonder at the city. Ramparts and towers stood all around it and it was graced by huge gates and rows of tall flagstaffs, their colorful pennants fluttering in the wind. In the gardens outside the city lay heaps of gems, and along its walls garlands were hung. The trees were beyond human imagination, and around them Bhīma saw many beautiful Apsarās dancing to the strains of heavenly music.

The sight of Kuvera’s opulence sorrowed Bhīma as he remembered the wealth Yudhiṣṭhira had once possessed. Then he again became angry as he remembered Duryodhana’s crimes. He took out his conch shell and blew it with the full force of his lungs. The sound echoed around the mountain summit and struck terror into the hearts of all creatures.

From the ramparts the startled Yakṣa and Rākṣasa guards saw Bhīma standing with his bow, sword and mace. They swarmed out in the thousands and rushed him, shouting in anger. Their upraised clubs, maces, swords, javelins, spears and axes seemed to blaze up as they advanced. Bhīma shot numerous arrows at them, cutting off their weapons and striking down the Rākṣasas who were on the ground and in the sky.

The Yakṣas hemmed Bhīma in on all sides. He now appeared like the sun enveloped by clouds. Without fear, he took out his sword and severed the arms, legs and heads of his assailants. As he fought with the roaring Yakṣas, he was drenched in showers of blood. Although they attacked him from every side, the celestial fighters did not see Bhīma flinch or become discouraged. Mangled by his weapons they fell back in fear, uttering frightful cries of distress. They dropped their weapons and fled in all directions.

The commander of the Yakṣa army, Maṇimān, addressed his fleeing troops angrily. “How will you tell Vaishravana that a single man has routed vast numbers of Yakṣas?” The powerful Maṇimān, armed with darts, clubs, javelins and maces, stood as firm as a mountain. His voice boomed out like a drum. “O human, stay and fight! Having come to the lord of wealth’s abode, you shall now be able to also see Yamarāja’s abode.”

With a terrible yell Maṇimān rushed Bhīma, who instantly released three arrows, each of which pierced Maṇimān in the side. Maṇimān then hurled his mace at Bhīma and it flew toward him like a flash of lightning. Bhīma fired arrows which struck the mace with force but were unable to stop it. Quickly, Bhīma raised his own mace and smashed the Yakṣa’s mace, as it fell toward him with the force of a thunderbolt. Seeing his mace broken, Maṇimān threw an iron club. As the golden-handled club shot through the air, it roared and sent forth bright orange flames and showers of sparks. Bhīma moved aside, but the club caught him on the arm, wounding him severely.

Maṇimān shouted triumphantly as Bhīma fell back for a moment, but Bhīma soon recovered and again raised his mace, the Shaika. He rushed at Maṇimān with a tremendous cry. The Yakṣa hurled a huge dart and it screamed through the air, glowing like the sun. Bhīma whirled his mace and knocked the blazing dart away.

Bhīma then resolved to kill his adversary without further delay. He whirled the Shaika over his head and rushed toward the Yakṣa. With a shout that reverberated around the mountain, Bhīma hurled his mace at Maṇimān. It struck him full on the chest with a fearful crash and split his heart in two. The Yakṣa fell to the ground like a palm tree flattened by a hurricane.

Seeing their commander lying dead, the surviving Yakṣas and Rākṣasas fled. Bhīma stood alone on that mountain plateau, looking around for further attack.

The sound of the battle had reached Yudhiṣṭhira. Hearing the mountain caves resound with loud war cries and other sounds, the Pāṇḍava and his brothers became anxious. They learned from Draupadī that Bhīma had again gone up the mountain. Yudhiṣṭhira took the twins and quickly went after him. They ascended the mountain and came to the plateau where Bhīma was standing. The Pāṇḍava stood looking like Indra after he had slain all the Dānavas in battle. He was surrounded by the dead bodies of numerous Yakṣas and Rākṣasas. Many others lay on the ground still moving, their limbs smashed by Bhīma.

Yudhiṣṭhira and the twins ran over to their brother and embraced him. The four Pāṇḍavas then sat down on the mountaintop. Looking around at the celestial region, Yudhiṣṭhira said reprovingly, “O son of Kuntī, there is no excuse for your actions here. One should never offend the king or the gods. We are living in Kuvera’s domain and you have surely given him offense by your rashness. Such behavior is as unworthy of you as untruth is of the ascetics. If you have any regard for me, then do not commit such acts again.”

Bhīma looked down in shame. It pained him to see his brother so upset. Yudhiṣṭhira pondered what to do. Kuvera was the powerful lord of the Yakṣas and a universal guardian. If he had taken offense, then their position would be precarious indeed. They could not avoid the all-knowing god, and there was no question of facing him in battle. Better that they try to pacify him in some way. No doubt he would make his appearance to survey the damage. The four Pāṇḍavas sat in silence, looking themselves like gods descended to the mountain summit.

In the meantime, the defeated Yakṣa and Rākṣasa soldiers had run to Kuvera and informed him of what had occurred. Hearing that his commander and friend Maṇimān had been killed, along with numerous other fighters, the god became angry. He then ordered his attendants to yoke his chariot.

Kuvera’s servants immediately fetched his chariot drawn by a hundred horses the color of dark clouds, each adorned with golden garlands and gems. The horses neighed loudly and moved their heads upwards as the divine Kuvera ascended the chariot, eulogized by Gandharvas and Cāraṇas. A thousand principal Yakṣas, looking like so many mountains wearing gold armor and equipped with weapons, followed Kuvera as his chariot moved off through the skies.

The celestial chariot seemed to swallow up the atmosphere and draw down the sky as it ranged across the firmament. As he traveled, the lord of wealth pondered Bhīma’s second assault on the celestials. How dare this human act so insolently toward the gods! But Bhīma, of course, was no ordinary human. He was Yudhiṣṭhira’s brother, and Yudhiṣṭhira was Dharmarāja himself. He and his brothers had all taken birth only to fulfill the gods’ purpose. Kuvera then recalled a curse uttered long ago by the powerful Ṛṣi Agastya. Of course! How else could the mighty Maṇimān have been killed? Bhīma had become the instrument of Agastya’s imprecation. Kuvera’s frown changed to a smile as he approached the summit where the Pāṇḍavas were seated.

The Pāṇḍavas saw the celestial chariot approach. Their hair stood on end and they rose quickly with folded palms to greet Kuvera. The chariot stayed in the air near the Pāṇḍavas, who stood looking apprehensively upward. The Yakṣas who accompanied Kuvera alighted on the mountain summit like so many great birds. Seeing the brothers looking across at him with reverence, Kuvera was pleased. The Yakṣa warriors saw Kuvera’s mood and stood with indifference, their weapons lowered.

The four brothers approached Kuvera and bowed before him. Thousands of Rākṣasas, with huge bodily structures and ears like javelins, then approached and surrounded Kuvera. Kuvera appeared like a fresh youth. He wore a chaplet and garlands of celestial flowers. In his hands he held a noose and a sword. A large bow hung over his shoulder. Bhīma, still clutching his mace, gazed at him without fear. Kuvera smiled at him. Then he turned to Yudhiṣṭhira and said, “O Pārtha, we are well aware that you are always thinking of the welfare of all creatures. Therefore dwell on this mountain peak without fear. Nor should you be angry toward Bhīmasena. His killing of the Yakṣas and Rākṣasas has been ordained by destiny. Indeed, realizing this I have become pleased with Bhīma rather than angry.”

Kuvera looked at Bhīma and said with a smile, “O child, O best of the Kurus, I am not angry with you. Put down your weapons. For Draupadī’s pleasure you have acted rashly and disregarded the gods, relying only on the strength of your arms. Nevertheless, I am pleased with you. Today you have delivered me from Agastya’s terrible curse. That you should insult me in this way was foreordained. Therefore I attach no blame to you.”

Yudhiṣṭhira’s curiosity was aroused and he asked Kuvera to explain the curse. “I am surprised that having angered the glorious Agastya you were not immediately burned to ashes.”

Kuvera told Yudhiṣṭhira how he had once been traveling through the skies toward Kushavati where an assembly of the gods was to take place. Hundreds of thousands of Yakṣas accompanied him, headed by Maṇimān. As they crossed the Yamunā river, they saw the effulgent Agastya sitting on its banks practicing asceticism. Out of sheer arrogance and foolishness, Maṇimān spat on his head. Kuvera immediately went before the ṛṣi to apologize, but Agastya was burning with anger and uttered a curse: “Since this evil-minded one has insulted me in your presence, he will meet with his end along with his forces at the hands of a man. You shall be grieved by this, but you will be absolved of the sin when you see that man.”

Kuvera said that having seen Bhīma he was now free from Agastya’s curse. He invited Yudhiṣṭhira to remain for some days in his abode on the mountain summit, and he gave the Pāṇḍavas news of Arjuna in heaven, saying that he would soon be returning. Turning again to Bhīma he said, “O Yudhiṣṭhira, you should ensure that this brother of yours does not give way to rashness too often. If you do not check his impetuosity, it will sooner or later bring you trouble.”

Bhīma lowered his weapons and bowed before Kuvera, who then blessed him, “May you destroy the pride of your enemies and enhance the joy of your friends.”

Kuvera took his leave from the Pāṇḍavas as his chariot carried him high into the sky. His Yakṣa and Rākṣasa attendants followed him, some flying and others riding conveyances covered with finely embroidered cushions and adorned with gems. The bodies of the warriors Bhīma had slain were removed, and the five brothers stayed on the mountaintop, served and honored by the Yakṣas.