Dr Mahendra K Mishra
The Ramayana and the Mahabharata composed by Valmiki and Vyasa respectively, have given due importance to each and every part of the subcontinent encompassing lands, forests, mountains, rivers and peoples of different castes and races. The assimilation of these two epics with the regional and subregional cultures have evolved from a spiritual desire of the people to identify their folklores with the incarnations of Gods. Many regional cultures have deeply been attracted towards the mainstream of the greater Indian tradition through these epics. So these two epics forming the nucleus of Indian culture, have had great influence on the network of regional and subregional cultures irrespective of castes and tribes.
In the study of regional folkore we see that the native cultures have intermingled with the greater Indian tradition multi-dimensionally. The folk associate the similar and suitable aspects of the classical tradition of India reinterpreting it in their socio-cultural settings. Likewise the popular elements prevalent in the folk societies are assimilated in written form and thus the stream of reciprocity in the cycle of oral-written-oral form is significant in the folklore of India (Ramanujan : 1985 : S)
In this context an attempt has been made to show how the Mahabharata tradition has influenced the folk tradition of central India in general and western Orissa in particular. The principal character of this study is Bhima, the second Pandava in its centre around which all the cultural aspects are interwoven multidimensionally. Bhima is a folk hero in Indian regional traditions. He is reinterpreted in the folk society as a folk hero and as a raingod with many supernatural deeds to his credit. Here an attempt will be made to see how Bhima has influenced the folk society in respect of its oral narratives and folk rituals.
The capital of south Kosala was known as ‘Kushavatinagra’ after Kusa—the son of Rama. Kusavati- nagra has been identified with some archeological sites of western Orissa and Chhatishgarh which signifies the heritage of this region associated with the tradition of the Ramayana. (Singh Deo : 1987 : 31).
The Risabha Tirtha, the Kala Tirtha and the Badarika Tirtha are some of the sacred centres described in the Vanaparva of Mahabharata (Ibid. p. 23). Bhima
conquered North Kosala and Sahadeva the Kantaraka (present Koraput, Kalahandi districts of Orissa adjoining Bastar region of Madhya Pradesh) is described in Vanaparva (Ibid. 23).
In an unpublished manuscript named “Kosal Khanda” it is mentioned that Nagnajit, the king of South Kosala had fought on behalf of the Pandavas in the war of Mahabharata. He had a beautiful daughter named Satya. The king Proclaimed to give his daughter in marriage to the prince who would defeat his seven furious bulls. None but Srikrishna tamed the bulls through his flute and took Satya’s hand (Singh Deo. 1987. 64). Brihdavala, the last Ikshavaku king of South Kosala, was killed in the battle of Kurukshetra. It signifies the puranic accounts associated with this land. (Sahu. 1971. 9).
In 4th century A. D. Samudragupta invaded South Kosala’s Mahakantara and Kurala region and defeated the local rulers. It resulted in the onset of the Brahminical influence in this region. (Roy Chaudhuri : 1950 : 538). The Nalas, the Sarabhapuriyas, the Kalachur is and the soma (Pandu) dynasties ruled over South Kosala from 5th century A. D. to 12th century A. D. chronologically.
In 13th century A. D. Western Orissa was ruled by the Ganga kings of Orissa; Chhatigarh was ruled by the Kalachuris of Ratanpur. Then the Chauhans came and subdued the tribal chieftains of Gonds, Konds and Binjhals. At this time the Naga kings ruled over Kalahandi region after over throwing the Gangas. During this period the local tribal rulers and chieftains were influenced by the sanskritic traditions established by the Rajput rulers and the Brahmin royal priests. From 15th century A. D. the culture of Western Orissa was influenced by the great epic of Mahabharata written in Oriya by poet Adikavi Sarala Das. He glorified all the regions of Orissa identifying the sacred centres in his epic, associating the characters and events of Mahabharata. In Sarala Mahabharata it is stated that Yudhishthira sent Nakula fought with Kalingasena, the king of South Kosala and defeated him. God Nrusimhanatha was worshipped in that tract (Das Sarala Sabha Parva : 515).
Sacred centres of Western Orissa Associated with the legend of Mahabharata traditions :
Parimalagiri, also known as Gandhamadan mountain situated in the Bargarh district of Orissa bears the heritage of puranic and historical accounts of the epics of India.
A legend runs that the mountain Gandhamadana was situated adjacent to mountain Vindhyachala. Hanuman carried Gandhamadan to Lanka to save Lakshmans life and while returning he left it here (Mishra : 1983 : 113). At the bottom of the mountain is situated the temple of Lord Nrusimhanatha. It is a sacred centre with scenic beauty. Several water falls associated with the puranic sages and epic heroes and found here. The Kapildhar, the Bhimdhar and the Gadadhar bear the sacred memory of sage Kapila and Bhima, the second Pandava, respectively.
The legend runs that the Pandavas with Draupadi, while wandering in the forest, arrived at the Gandhamadan mountain. They built a hut and lived there on roots and fruits collected by Bhima.
Once Bhima went to have his bath. The water was insufficient for him to take a pleasant bath. So he struck his club on the earth and suddenly mother Ganga emerged up with great force. Bhima broke the stone with the club and club and another fall emerged. Mother Ganga named the two falls as Bhimdhar and Gadadhar after Bhima.
The place is identified with the heroic and supernatural deeds of Bhima such as killing a demon, falling in love with wild girls, building up a stone house (Bhim modua) playing with huge stone balls (bati and stone oven and spoon). A cave in this mountain is called Panchu Pandavas Khol where Nakula, the fourth Pandava, carved the figures of five brothers on the wall with his weapon (kunta).
A mango tree which is believed to bear the fruits throughout the year is associated with a legend that the five Pandavas including Draupadi disclosed their secret truth and the ripened mango sprouted up through which they all appeased a guest sent by the wicked Duryodhana, to demolish the virtue of Yudhishthira. Also many legends of the Ramayana are associated with this sacred centre to validate the faith of the folk with the epic traditions of India.
The Sunabeda plateau of Katapar Puruvadi mountain range bears the mythical legend of Mahadeo Parvati, Bhima as their servant. This legend is similar to the creation myth of the Gonds.
Bhimkhoj (a place in Kalahandi where the foot print of Bhima is woshipped), the Pancha Pandav temple at the top of Mahendragiri, Godhas, a fall in Maraguda valley in Kalahandi, are also specimens associated with Bhima. Some images in a cave in the Mahadeo-Manda hill in Chandwa village in Lohardaga block in Ranchi district of Bihar bear the memory of epic hero Bhima. Also a tunnel named “Bhim chulha” in Kotong village of Chhatarpur Block in Bihar is associated with Bhima of Mahabharata. It is said that Bhima used the stone tunnel as an oven. (Sahay : 1975 : 18)
Retention of religious tradition chiefly depends upon folklore and mythology. In the folk tradition of central India distribution of Bhima cult is equally found in myth, rituals, folk dramas. In the oral narratives he is picturized as a culture hero. Some specimens are as follows :
Gond Creation Myth
Mahadeo created earth after the deluge. Next he created nature, birds, animals and finally, man. The Gonds are the first son of Mahadeo and Parvati. They all were living on roots, fruits and hunting of forest animals. But they were always hungry and Mahadeo could not provide them with sufficient food. So Parvati advised him to start cultivation of paddy. They both arranged bulls, made a plough, plough-shere and sent Bhima to Kuvera—the god of wealth, for paddy seeds.
Bhima borrowed sixty ‘putis’ (one ‘puti’ is equal to eighty Kgs.) of seeds from Kuvera assuring to repay him after the harvest. Bhima ploughed the lands of Sunabeda, Rupabeda, Changurbeda, Mangurbeda and Mahadeo sowed the paddy. The harvest was bountiful. Bhima reaped the crop, gathered on the threshing floor of Sunabeda lifting the whole of it by two and a half ungas.1 Mahadeo asked “How much paddy did you reap ? Bhima replied, “Two and a half ungas”. Mahadeo felt that the paddy was too little even to repay Kuvera. So out of anger he ordered him to set fire to paddy. Bhima unwittingly burnt the paddy. The flame and smoke covered nether region and heaven.
Brhma, Vishnu, Vasuki, Indra and other gods arrived at Sunabeda to see what the matter was. They all knew that the amount of paddy measured by Bhima as two and a half ungas was in fact too much for Mahadeo. Without understanding it, the latter had done so.
So all the gods extinguished the fire and the remainings saved from the heap of the half burnt paddy were named according to the colour as Kalia, Setka, Pora, Chinger, etc.
Madadeo, again started cultivation and from him only the Gonds learnt the technique of farming. Similar myths are found all over central India, with regional variations. In the origin myth of the Gonds of Mandala region of Madhya Pradesh the Supreme god of the Gonds along with the mother goddess Earth were brought to the earth by Bhima—the second Pandava. Kotma (Kunti) had helped Bhima in securing earth after deluge (Fuchs : 1960 : 1-16). Also in the myth of salvation of mankind from fire and hunger, and in the myth of the beginning of cultivation both Kotma (Kunti) and Bhima had assisted Bhagwan.
Bhimasidi—A Mythical Epic Of The Kondhs
A mythical epic named Bhimasidi is recited by ‘Boguas’—a distinct offshoot of Konds, also the bards. The epic is sung, assisted by a musical string instrument. A detailed description of Bhima, the culture hero of the Konds, is found in this epic.
The story runs as follows :
Bhima wanted to come often to the earth taking human form. His mother asked him not to go to the earth, for human beings are not clean inheart and body. But Bhima came down to the earth, took the form of a beggar, weak, emaciated and full of wounds and worms.
In disguise he reached the village of Beskapadar. The headman, Urmadi Jani belonged to Kond tribe. Both the Jani and his wife took pity on the beggar and gave him food and shelter. But the two daughters of Jani, Konden Rani and Dumerani did not like Bhima for his ugliness and festering wounds. So theydrove him out of their house. While the two sisters were taking their bath by putting off their clothes, Bhima invoked his father Pavanvir devta (god Vayu) to fly away their clothes and to put them in their ‘Jhapi’—a round shaped bamboo box in their house. Bhima played many tricks and jokes on them which may be compared to the episode of vastra harana of Sri Krishna Lila. He also took the form of a tiger, a bear and a monster and played with the girls.
While working in the field, Bhima met the Jani and requested him to keep him as his servant, to repay the food and shelter he had offered him. Bhima with
his miraculous power levelled the field by clearing the trees and bushes. He again invoked his father Pavanvir devta to allot rain from heaven to saturate the field for ploughing. Thus, he brought down rains overnight to make the field suitable for cultivation.
Next morning the Jani found the land fit for cultivation, praised Bhima for his work and kept him as his bridegroom in service (gharjuen). In course of his stay, he performed many superhuman deeds. He discovered ardent spirit of mahua (bassia latifolia), invented iron and gave a wind machine to the blacksmith, tamed the wild buffaloes, sowed paddy, etc. But due to the lack of rain the seedlings were likely to dry. So the son of Jani set fire by the paddy field. Bhima made rain and extinguished the fire and discovered different kinds of paddy grains. One day the two sisters discovered a handsome young man like a prince, instead of the beggar, who was none other than Bhima. They came to know of his real identity and fell in love with him. Both of them wanted to marry him.
Bhima wanted to marry both of them, one as a wedded wife and the other as a concubine according to the social custom of Kond society that permits the husband to marry his wife’s sister. After the marriage of Bhima, he put the two sisters under his ungas—arms and fled to heaven. In the mid sky, the younger sister fell down to the earth and turned into fig tree. Bhima said, “Let your fruits be full of worms. But as I was in love with you, you will be regarded as Dumer Rani and people will worship me in you.” Since those days people continue to worship Bhima under a fig tree.
Bhima As The Progenitor Of Koyas :—
The Koyas of Koraput regard Bhima as their first progenitor. While wandering in the jungle Bhima met a tribal maiden and fell in love with her. The girl gave birth to a child who was the first Koya on the earth.
PANDWANI SONG :
“Pandavani” is the Chhatisgarhi version of Mahabharata with Bhima as its legndry hero whose deeds and adventures form a major part of the legend. (Dube : 1947 : 8). In these narratives the universal characters and events of the Mahabharata have been prochialized and reinterpreted in the cultural setting of Chhatisgarh. Arjun, Bhima, Nakula, Siva, Dropadi, Parvati and other heroes and heroines have been redesigned according to the local imagination of
Chhatisgarh. Pandavani song is an oral epic performed by a woman assisted by a group of musicians. The singer holds a stringed instrument while singing.
1.Bhima is associated with the etiological myths of central India. The Kamar tribes of central India consider Bhima as their culture hero. The content of the myth resembles the Gond creation myth (Elwin : 1954 : 163)
2.The Bhunjia tribe of Kalahandi regards Bhima as the inventor of the ardent spirit Bassia latifolia—Mahul. Another myth of Bhunjias related to Bhima’s fight with Bichhalwar kuar is appended in Elwin’s collections (Elwin : 1954 : 148 & 184).
BHIMA IN BINJHAL MYTH :
A creation myth as to how leech took its birth described by the Binjhals is as follows :
Kichak served Mahadeo and was given a boon of great strength. He became lusty and seduced the virtue of virgin girls. Bhima could know this and fought with him. He caught him and squeezed him to a jelly between his hands and then burnt him in a fire. From the ashes of Kichak emerged as leech getting rain water on it. (Elwin : 1954 : 215)
MAHABHARATA IN PERFORMING FOLK ARTS :
The Bharat Leela, Kichakabadha, Nilendri Harana, Sovavati Harana, Karna Vadha, Abhimanyu Vadha, Kapata Pasa, Rajasuya Jajna, Rukmini Vivaha, Draupadi Vastraharana, Agnat Vanavasa and Parijat Harana are some of the popular folk dramas adopted from the episodes of Mahabharata performed in Western Orissa adjoining Chhatishgarh..
The performance of Pandvani song by a woman with a stringed instrument in her hand with narrative style attaracts the audience. Dandanata—a ritualistic folk drama of Saiva cult performed in Western Orissa is endowed with the story of cultivator Siva assisted by Bhima. On the folk stage, Bhima calls up all the girls of the village to work in the field. On the stage Bhima sings a song invoking their names such as Basmati, Kalikhuni, Puagi, Sapuri, Lochei, Huna etc. These are the names of the paddy sowed in the field. The paddy have been imagined as women labourers by the local dramastists. The representation of paddy as women symbolises the common character of both seed and woman bearing the power of fertility and creativity.
In some Dandanata, cultivation by Siva is not staged but recited in the day time in a public gathering. This ritual is known as ‘dhulidanda’—The episode of cultivation by Siva is narrated with musical accompaniment. The ritual is associated with fertility cult.
Some castes and tribes of central India have associated their origin and ancestry with the Pandavas and Kauravas of Mahabharata. The Korwa tribes of Chhatisgarh claim their ancestry from the Kauravas. The Kumbars (potters) of this region claim that during the Swayamvara of Draupadi, the Pandavas with mother Kunti had taken shelter in their house. Since then the Kumbharas identify themselves as ‘pandey’—a derivative word of Pandava.
BHIMA—A SUB-TRIBE OF GONDS :
In Mandala region of Madhya Pradesh a small community is identified as Bhima—an offshoot of Gonds. They are musicians professionally performing dance, music in the ritualistic ceremony of their masters. They play on a musical instrument called ‘Tuma’—made of gourd and bamboo.
Besides, the Rautia tribes of Sundergarh in Orissa claim their ancestry from sage Raivata in Dwapara age. They recite a glorious epic of their ethnic origin associated with the tradition of Mahabharata.
BHIMA—AS RAIN GOD :
Bhima otherwise known as Bhimsen, Bimai. Bhimul is worshipped as a rain god in India (Elwin : 1950 : 41). In Western Orissa Bhima is imagined as twelve brothers, each representing an occupation signifying his name. Bhima is worshipped in a phallic stone symbol in the village ‘Gudi’—worship hut, beside the mother goddess—Earth. People irrespective of tribal and folk worship him. When the scarcity of rain is felt he is invoked by a shaman assisted by the village priest and rain is assured by propitiating him with black cock, liquor, incense etc. In some villages a symbolic marriage ritual is instituted between Bhima and ‘Konden’—a maiden from a Kond tribe to assure rain.
A rigid and complex worship system of Bhima’s marriage is performed for three to seven days by ten to twelve villages i) assembled in Bhima’s village. It is a performance of men acting like gods. He is offered a virgin girl, the daughter of Kond priest (Jani). It is celebrated once in every twelve years. The girls, after institution of marriage with god Bhima, leads a life of chastity,
austerity and purity for th ewell-being of her community. After her death she is worshipped with Bhima as goddess Konden.
BHIMA IN REGIONAL WRITTEN TRADITIONS
In Sanskrit Mahabharata Bhima, the second Pandava is described as “a type of brute courage and strength, with a gigantic stature, impetuous, irascible with voracious appetite” (Wilkins : 1968 : 415-16). Imitating the Sanskritic tradition, the poets of regional literatures have portrayed the events and characters of the Mahabharata according to their regional socio-cultural settings. The motif found in the oral narratives in a sub-regional culture resemble the motifs of written traditions. They suggest the fact that the regional poets have adopted the powerful folk elements in reshaping their regional literatures. This could be evident from the study of written and oral Mahabharata of regional cultures.
The epic of ‘Bhima charita’ by poet Rama Saraswati in Assamese, Siva Paravati marriage by poet Vidyapati in Maithili, Oriya Mahabharata by poet Sarala Das are endowed with the similar folk elements as embodied in the original text of Mahabharata. In all the oral and written literature Bhima’s character resembles the tribal or folk heroes with similar elements.
The popular folk elements found both in oral and written forms in Orissa with regard to the episodes of Mahabharata may be dated back to the 15th-16th century A.D. The hero characters found in the oral epics, ballads and narratives have striking resemblance with the Pandavas of Mahabharata. It could be evident from the study of the second Pandava Bhima in oral and written texts.
Sarala Das, in his Oriya Mahabharata, described the birth of Bhima with the motifs of miraculous happenings when a hero is born.
The story runs as follows :
While Pandu with Kunti and Madri were living atop the Satasrunga mountain, Kunti gave birth to Bhima by invoking “Vayu” the wind god. Just then the ferocious roar of a tiger was heard and leaving the baby, Kunti ran away. It just happened that the crying infant’s foot struck the tiger’s temple and the animal died. Next moment a ‘Devapurusa’ emerged from the dead tiger’s body and went heavenward. The tiger was an accursed Gandharva preordained to get back his former self through such an incident.
Next, child Bhima hit the ‘Satatsringa mountain which broke into pieces. The mountain cursed Bhima that he would be defeated in the battle. When Kunti
learnt it she prayed to Satasrunga to revoke the curse. Pleased with Kunti’s pleading the mountain could only modify the curse in as much as that in the first of the engagements in a battle Bhima would be defeated, but by chanting the name of Satasrunga, his strength would dramatically increase and he would surely win any battle.
Kunti, out of gratitude blessed the mountain that though he had been broken into pieces struck by Bhima’s feet, all broken stones would be worshipped in all the villages. All the gods and goddesses would be animated in each stone. (Das, Sarala : Adiparva)
BHIMA AS A HERO DISGUISED :
In the Birata Parva of Sarala Mahabharata an episode runs that the Pandavas were in exile in Matsyadesa. They all were in disguise concealing their real identity and name. Bhima became Ballabha Panda, a cook in the royal kitchen of the king of Birata. Yudhisthira, as a counsel in the court known as Kuntabhaja was dearer to the king and gave the king company in the game of dice.
Once a tribal warrior named Pardesimalla came to the king with a tiger and challenged the king to have a combat between Kichaka (the great hero of Virata Rajya, also the king’s brother-in-law) and this tiger. The king did not agree to spare Kichaka for this Yudhisthira advised the king to invite Ballabha (Bhima) to have a fight with the tiger. Ballabha killed the tiger after a furious fight.
Once again the tribal warrior came to the king and challenged him for a fight with Kichaka, but was ultimately killed by Ballabha. (in the Mahabharata : Birata Parva)
BHIMA AND KUVERA :
Once a terrible drought visited the kingdom of Yudhisthira. To save his subjects from this disaster, Yudhisthira sent Bhima to Kuvera, the god of wealth. Bhima reached Kuvera’s palace and saw an ugly man engaged in separating paddy grains from sand and pebbles. Bhima inquired of Kuvera and was surprised to learn that the man he was talking to was none other than Kuvera. He thought that a man who was so greedily saving a few grains, could not he be able to tackle the drought situation by providing him with one lakh carts of paddy bags. Bhima thought it was futile to deliver the message to Kuvera. However on
being asked he expressed his purpose of arrival and Kuvera gladly consented to send one lakh cart loads of paddy bags to his kingdom to face the drought. Coming with the carts Bhima ran into difficulty when he had to cross a tract of muddy road. The carts got stuck and he could do nothing to retrieve them. Undone, he came back to Kuvera for a solution. Kuvera only smiled and asked Bhima to throw ten thousand cart-loads of paddy bags into the mud to ensure a smooth passage of other carts and readily replenished the grains thus lost.
At this Bhima could not suppress his surprise. He requested Kuvera to solve the riddle of how he (Kuvera) could advise to throw away such a huge store although he spent so much time to save a few grains from the pebbles. Kuvera replied that property was saved to spend in this way. (Das N. : 1977 : 417-19) Distribution of Bhima god in the religio-cultural tradition in central India is a complex phenomenon. Worship of Bhima as a hero in myths. legends, folk epics and in other oral narratives is a subject of study in the subregional tradition of central India.
Description of South Kosala found in the Sanskrit Mahabharata and in Oriya Mahabharata reveals the rich heritage of this land in remote past, encompassing recent past. The tract of South Kosala has been the homeland of many tribes and castes from time immemorial. The Gonds, Konds, Baigas, Binjhals, Kamars, Bhunjias, and many other communities have a rich cultural tradition of their own, representing their antochthonous culture. Migration of Aryans into this tract has given rise to the influence of Brahmanic and Vedic culture on the local cultural substraction, which may be dated back to 5th century A. D.
Through the passage of time the Aryans absorbed the tribal culture into their own culture and the tribal communities in course of their interaction with the Aryan kings and their Brahaman priests, adopted the Aryan culture absorbing suitable and similar elements its into their own.
So, the continuous co-existence of local and universal cultures in this region has given rise to a distinct cultural pattern which is reflected in the rituals, myths and other genres of folklore. Even the sacred centres in the tribal regions have been reinterpreted with the episodes of Ramayan and The Mahabharata. The Chauhan kings of Western Orissa have incorporated the mythical characters and events in the course of the exploitation of the natural resources, archaeological sites and in the sacred centres of tribal importance in 15th to 18th century A. D. The creation myths of the tribal central India bear the imprint of both the
Sanskritic traditions and tribal tradition. While studying the tribal myths of central India, Blackburn is of the opinion that : “The 900-700 B. C. date for the Brahmanas in no way proves that oral visions did not exist contemporaneously on an earlier date among central India tribes.”
He further adds “because mythology and more particularly creation myths, is more abstract, less associated with local details, and therefore transcendent, it is consequently more susceptible to external influence (Blackburn : 1977 : 198). Giving instances of deluge on earth, earth diver motifs, creation of myths of human being he compared the Sanskritic-Vedic myths and tribal myths with that of the American myths and inferred that there must be a source of these myths from where both have accepted and though departed in course of time have reminiscences of it in the form of oral traditions”. So it may be inferred that the tract of central India is not an isolated land where the influence of greater Indian traditions have not been at work. Further the reign of the kings by the Brahmanic tradition reveals the truth.
Central Indian myths, sociologically, bear the impact of the techno-economic invention of agricultural equipments, use of bull and buffalo, borrowing of paddy, reaping and gathering of paddy. The transformation of food-gathering habit into food producing character with these inventions made the primitive tribal communities change into a peasant society. So to retain the memorable events of their techno-economic transformation they validated the myth through rituals in their society regarding Mahadeo, the supreme god, as the first cultivator of the creation and Bhima, his servant as rain maker and god of harvest.
A curiosity arises as to how the second Pandava became the servant of Siva. In this region synchronization of Saiva faith and Vaishnava faith has taken place from 14th century A. D. to 18th century A. D. Bhimacharita by Rama Saraswati in Assemese, Siva—Paravati marriage in Maithili and Bhojpuri, Kalasha Chautisa in Oriya, Siva mangal in Bengali and Brahmanda Purana by poet Paramananda in Oriya have the motifs of cultivator Siva, Bhima being his servant. Bhima charita is sung as a ritual song in Assamese folk society for the wel-being of bride and bridegroom at the time of marriage. In Midnapur region of West Bengal Bhim Thakur is the counterpart of Vishnu, representing harvest god. So in middle eastern India association of Bhima with fertility cult is a popular religious rite.
Elwin, while analysing the popularity of worshipping Bhima in central India is of the opinion that, “the cult of Bhimsen is strange and interesting. Originally one
of the five Pandav brothers he had been selected out of the entire body of Hindu legend for special honour by the aboriginal tribes. To the Baigas he is the god of rains. To the Gonds he is the embodiment of manly strength. He is associated mainly with rocks, mountains and rivers.” (Elwin : 1954 ; 123)
BHIMA AS CULTURE HERO :
Hero worship is found in tribal India. The tribal communities regard those men as heroes who could solve this problem, preform some miracles or show some superhuman deeds, which is impossible for a common man. In tribal belief and worldview worship of man is very important phenomenon. The ancestors, the first progenitor, the legendary heroes, the chieftains, their life giver have been woshipped by them as their demigods—even as supreme god. The ancesters of recent past animated in a stone symbol are worshipped as gods. The physical stature and mental state of Bhima have striking resemblance with their culture heroes. So the tribal communities have adopted Bhima, the second Pandava, as their cultural hero.
Birth of Bhima, alongwith his numerous superhuman deeds, is nothing but the hero pattern of central Indian oral narratives. The description of heroes in the folk ballads, epics, legends and tales has striking resemblance to that of Bhima, the second Pandava.
Birth of a hero is symbolized with miraculous events. Bhima’s birth thus, was followed by two events such as the tiger’s death and cacking of Satasringa mountain by his footstroke. Similarly, the culture hero of the Gonds, Binjhals, Banjaras and Paharias have the same motifs, i.e. a miraculous event would take place when a hero is born.
Some episodes of Vanaparva and Birataparava are very much popular in the tribal and folk society of this region, especially while wandering they Pandava were in disguise concealing their actual identities, in fear of Duryodhana. It is so in the Vanaparva and Birataparva of Mahabharata composed by poet Sarala Das. Both Bhima and Arjuna had fallen in love with the tribal maidens. Kunit had interdictedthem in some cases.
Now, following this episode, if we compare the Kond epic (Bhima sidi) described in this text it would be evident how the forest dwellers have glorified their own region incorporating the characters of Mahabharata. In Kond epic Bhima’s mother had forbidden him not to come down to earth and to avoid relationship with human being. But Bhima came, fell in love with the girls,
married them, adopted the tribal customs of performing bride service in the house of Jani—the Kond headman. Disguises of Bhima as a beggar, in the house of Jani signifies the agnyatavasa of the Pandavas in Vanaparva and Virataparva. The Konds believe that Bhima had married their girls. Similarly killing of a tiger, taming wild buffaloes, doing agricultural work, discovering liquor, inventing iron, bringing rain water for the fields for irrigation, etc., are some of the motifs common in the oral narratives of this region. The myths and epics of Bhima available in this region are nothing but the puranic counterpart of the secular oral narratives prevalent in the larger society.
In Virataparva, disguise of Bhima, killing a tiger, killing a tribal chief (Pradeshi malla) killing of Kichaka and many other motifs resemble the exploits of Ramai Deo—the Founder of Chauhan dynasty in South Kosala in 14th century A. D. Gangadhar Mishra, a court poet of Chauhan king of Sambalpur, had written a Sanskrit epic named Kosalanada Kavya describing the Chauhan origin in India and their migration to South Kosala. In this epic, Ramai Deo, the posthumous child of Hamirdeo and queen Ashavati, took his birth in the house of a Binjhal chief and later, after being trained up by a Brahman named Chakradhara Panigrahi, became a famous warrior. The Kingdom of Patna was then ruled over by the tribal chieftains of Gonds, Konds and Binjhals. They were eight in number and had formed an oligarchic form of Government in Western Orissa. At that time a tiger became furious and killed the people. Ramai Deo killed the tiger with his bow and proved his valour. Next he fought with the tribal chiefs, defeated them, finally killed them and established monarchy in Western Orissa. The episode of killing a tiger, killing tribal chiefs resembles the episode of Bhima in Virataparva. So it is evident that Bhima has been portrayed by the poers in regional and sub-regional traditions as the local culture hero.
Other etiological myths related to Bhima found in large number depict the tribal worldview in close proximity with the mythical traditions.
Bhima has lost his universal epic personality in this region through the process of tribalization. The performing folk arts in this region have popularised the episodes of Mahabharata in a living manner to the non-literate folk society. Through the media the folk reproduce the episodes according to their own imagination interpolating the original texts, designing them parochially and in the process absorbing Sanskritic elements into the culture pattern.
In their desire to make their own culture Sanskritized, the Pandeys (potters) the Bhimas (a sub-caste of the Gonds), the Rautias (descendants of sage Raivata), have identified their ethnic origin with the heroes and sages of Mahabharata.
The Mundas, the Bondas and such other tribes regard Bhima as their supreme god. He is the counterpart of sun-god or sky god. But the Baigas, the Gonds and the Bhunjias regard Bhima as the servant of Mahadeo Siva. As the Santals and the Mundas supreme God is sun god, Bhima is imagined as the demigod or the Sun or as Vayu god. But in Dravidian ethnic group Mahadeo is worshipped as supreme god, and Dharni mata as Earch Mother goddess. Bhima is their servant. So the status of Bhima differs in different ethnic groups. However all the tribals appease Bhima with liquor and hen which signifies that he is tribalised. Bhima is the son of Vayu. It is through Vayu, that the rain comes. So accepting Bhima as a rain maker, people worship him. Similarly in South India Draupadi is a folk Goddess incarnation of Goddess Durga (Heltabeitel, 1988 :31-33 )
SANCTION OF NATURE THROUGH CULTURE :
The tribal tract of central India is seriously affected by water scarcity and drought situation. So to get ample rain and to tide over the drought situation, people of this region worship Bhima. The ritual of Bhima-Konden marriage at the time of drought may be compared with the marriage ritual of Rasyassinga Jajan in Ayodhya to bring down rain as described in the Ramayans. Popular folk narrative of Bhima borrowing paddy from Kuvera to solve the drought situation signifies the same process.
Folk knowledge has always been the conglomeration of regimented episodes of puranas and mythologies. They accept the episodes which are suitable and adaptable to their psycho-sociological needs. The desire to be Sanskritized following the Brahminical traditions has given rise to the process of the absorption of their elements with that of the greater Indian traditions. So there is a co-existence to both the traditions through interaction. Notes :
The heroes of Mahabharta worshipped as folk deities are predominant all over India. Bhima is worshipped in Midnapur (west Bengal). Benaras, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and in Western Orissa. Draupadi amma or Daupadi cult associated with goddess Durga is predominanat in South India.