All of us know and love Bhima, the Pandava.
Bhima, Kunti’s second son was born to her when she summoned the God of Wind to beget a son by him. Whenever Kunti had to cook for her sons, and that was often because she and her sons though royal were often banished from the palace and had to spend years in the forests in exile, she would divide whatever she had cooked into two equal halves. One half would be set aside for Bhima and the four sons and mother would share the other half of the food among themselves. Bhima needed more than the others as he was taller than all his brothers and had the strength of a thousand elephants. So, people of this land call anyone stronger than the average person in the neighbourhood Bhima, after the mythical prince. This is the story of one such strong man who lived in Kerala, centuries ago. The villagers had forgotten his real name and he was known simply as Kulapurathu Bhiman, Kulapurathu being the name of the family he belonged to.
Our Bhima was taller and stronger than the average person. Though built substantially Bhima was not ugly in any way. On the other hand he was quite good looking. From an early age Bhima realised that the food he could get from home would never be enough for him. He soon learnt to find his own food to supplement the quota allotted to him at his family table. Knowing that our Bhima required more food than the others in the family, the Patriarch had allotted three kilogrammes of rice for his morning breakfast of rice gruel and another six kilogrammes of rice for his evening meal. But this would not do at all and even after finishing his quota he remained hungry. The ever resourceful Bhima did not complain against the Patriarch though he wished to have more freedom in his own home. He would go into the forest and hunt down small animals like rabbits and monitor lizards and then roast them over an open fire. Thus he learnt to satisfy his hunger and was happy.
When Bhima was sixteen, the Patriarch passed away and as Bhima was the next in line he became the Patriarch of the family at that tender age. One of the first things he did was to increase the quota of rice allotted to himself. Bhima now allotted twenty five kilos of rice and vegetables in proportion for his morning meal and thirty kilos of rice and vegetables in proportion for his supper. But this too was not enough for our Bhima. But he never did increase the quota, ever. What would the people say? Wouldn’t they say that his family had been brought to poverty and ruin because he had a gigantic appetite? So, he continued his habit of hunting in the nearby forests to satisfy his hunger. Bhima was only sixteen when he had fixed the quota of rice for himself. As he grew, his hunger too grew, and he hunted larger and larger animals like deer and wild pigs. He would kill these animals skin them and roast them over a fire. Then he would hang the cooked meat above his hammock at a convenient height and whenever he felt like it he would bite in and relish the meat. It was very common for him to eat a deer and two pigs in a single day apart from the rice and curries that the people at home cooked for him. And so life went on.
Bhima was not only strong but also fun loving and helpful. On his hunting trips to the forest when he saw tiger cubs, he would bring them back home and keep them as pets and play with them as though they were kittens and teach them tricks to perform for the neighbourhood children. Salt was a rare commodity those days and it was only sold in the city. Bhima often bought sackfuls of salt for his family carrying them effortlessly in his head and walking all the way home. He started at the break of dawn and was home with the salt by lunchtime. He often carried salt for the people of his village too so they didn’t have to go every now and then to the distant city walking both ways.
The people of a nearby village had heard of Bhima’s strength. The village well had gone dry and so a new well was planned. The astrologer was consulted and he went around the village and chose the perfect spot and told them the perfect moment to start work. And the workmen dug and dug for weeks. But they didn’t come upon any water. Finally on the twenty second day after work began they struck hard rock. The workmen put their ear on the rock and they could hear the gurgle of water underneath. But they could not shift the piece of rock either way. It was much too heavy. So elephants were brought in and ropes as thick as pythons were tied around the rock and the elephants pulled and pulled but they couldn’t move the rock an inch.
That was when one of the villagers had a brilliant idea.
“Let’s call Bhima from the neighbouring village,” he said and all the others immediately agreed.
Since they did not know Bhima personally, they did not know how gentle and helpful he was, and so they hatched a plan to bring him to their village. They invited him for a feast. The men of the village hunted in the forests for the choicest animals and the women ground spices in large granite mortars. They caught the best fish from the Poonjaar and pickled them. They chose the softest and most flavourful rice for the feast and dehusked and stored it in large brass jars. On the day of the feast Bhima came and had his fill. He was happy that today he would not have to hunt to find his own food. The dishes were delicious and Bhima felt honoured by all the attention and respect he got. When he got up to wash his hands, he found no water.
“Oh, please draw some for yourself from the well,” said a woman and gave him a bucket with a rope tied to its handle.
“Sure,” said Bhima and being a good natured person, he did not suspect anything and proceeded to the well.
When he looked in he saw that a large rock was obstructing the water. He also saw that thick ropes had been tied to it. Since his right hand was unwashed, Bhima pulled at the rope tied to the rock with his left hand. He took the rock out and threw it some distance from the well. And then using only his left hand, he drew water with the bucket and washed his hands and rinsed his mouth.
When he looked up he saw the entire village lined up and gazing at him in open mouthed wonder. He smiled and was a little embarrassed.
“You could have just called me to help. There was no need to take all this trouble with the feast,” he said.
The delighted villagers cheered and thanked him and he went back home happy.
Bhima had a friend called Mannathu Panikkar. He too was a Bhima but on a smaller scale. He never went hunting into the forest and ate only twelve kilos of rice for breakfast. Both of them were good friends and when Panikkar complained that he often felt hungry because the food at home was never enough, Bhima taught him how to hunt.
“Our forests are rich and vast,” said Bhima to Panikkar, “and as long as they are there, we never need to stay hungry.”
They would often visit each other’s houses, cook the meat together out in the open, and eat and drink under the stars, talking late into the night and laughing over the silly jokes they had made up.
Once when Panikkar had come over, and the two friends had just sat down to have lunch, the King of Poonjaar sent an urgent message to Bhima.
What was the message? Read the next part of the story here.
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