Mahabharata Stories: 22 – A Pyrrhic Victory

Haven’t we been through times when we consciously act to get over our present difficulties but land into worse situations? Then there is nothing we can do but regret our past acts and fight the new misery. Now imagine how painful this could be if we act intending to put someone down but that person stands to benefit by our action, thereby making us weaker in comparison.

This is one such incident from the Mahabharata: Even when young, the strong and well-built Bhimasena was considered the most powerful of the Pandava and the Kuru princes. He also was a bully and played rude practical pranks on Duryodhana and his brothers, causing them to nurture hatred towards him. Duryodhana was especially angered by Bhima’s exhibition of raw strength and this anger he kept alive, fuelled by hatred, till the end of his life.

Once, while the princes were playing by the Ganges, Duryodhana hatched a plot to do away with Bhima. He secretly poisoned Bhima’s food and when he fell into a swoon, the Kuru princes bound him with strong creepers and flung him into the deep river.

They lied about his absence to the other Pandava princes saying that he had already left for home.


The part of the river into which Bhima had fallen was infested by poisonous snakes and they bit him. It so happened that this poison acted as antidote to the poison he had ingested and he came around. He could also now breathe and act normal under water! The snakes went to their king and reported of the strange happening of a youth waking up after being bit by them.

The king, Vasuki, bid them bring the youth to him. Pleased at having made acquaintance with the well-known Pandava prince, Kuntiputra Bhima, the king invited him to partake of the elixir of strength. He said: Dear prince, please have this potion which will give you immense strength.

Bhima consumed the bowl full of elixir in a single drought, much to the amusement of all around. The king said: Dear Bhima, the potion that you have taken will give you the strength of a thousand elephants. Have more!

The king ordered that the young prince be given as much elixir as he could drink. Bhima consumed eight bowls of the potion and he thus was endowed with the strength of eight thousand elephants.

Tired that Bhima was, he slept well for eight days with the grace of the snake-king.

When he awoke he was refreshed and wanted to leave for home. He was guided back to the shore by the snakes. He reached home safe, much to the happiness and relief of Kuntidevi and the Pandavas, and to the surprise and chagrin of Duryodhana and his brothers – especially so because now they were aware that the Pandavas knew of their wicked act!

Yamuna Harshavardhana


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