Monday, April 21, 2008

No business without Bhimsen

-By Dhurba K Deep-

Bhimsen, one of the great heroes of Mahabharata, is very popular in Nepal. He is known for his strength and bravery. Mahabharata tells us how he has always pushed himself in front to fight the wicked away and protect the weak. It is said that one of his arms alone had the strength of hundreds of elephants. In paintings and sculptures he is shown lifting a horse in the air and pressing an elephant under his knee while a huge cobra and lion are watching him in awe.
This type of his image is quite popular among the trader’s community of Nepal. His traditional image or painting seems to decorate many walls of old styled shops in Nepal. Red-faced Bhimsen with round angry eyes and thick black moustache really looks very fierce and frightening. The attitude of his anger is said to symbolize his determination to kill Dushashan, his archenemy who had insulted his most innocent wife Draupadi by trying to denude her in public.
This is the main reason why the statue of this Hindu Hercules in Nepal is ichnographically sculptured in an attitude of killing Dushashan.
One of the liveliest statues of Bhimsen can be seen in Patan Bhimsen temple at Patan Durbar Square. This gorgeous temple was built by king Shreenivas Malla in the early 18th century A.D. Kathmandu also has one somehow similar to the one mentioned above but it is not that impressive and elegant. There are three main temples dedicated to Bhimsen in the Kathmandu valley. One is in Patan one in Bhadgaon and one in Kathmandu. Another very famous one is in Dolakha in Eastern Nepal. Besides this there are also many other small shrines and temples of Bheemsena are scattered here and there in this country. All this speaks a lot about the popularity of Bhimsen in Nepal.
Nepalese traders have great respect for Bhimsen.
There are several guthis (a sort of trust), devoted to the regular service of this popular deity. During the time of Mahabharata and the Puranas Bhimsen was respected only as a great hero but interestingly enough in Nepal he is worshipped as a god of commerce and trade than in any other form. He is also worshipped more as a protector by simple-minded people and as a destroyer of enemies by warriors. He is said to be very hungry at very close intervals because of the hard work he has to do for his devotees. According to a local folklore animals are sacrificed to him as a gesture of thanksgiving for strenuous public tasks he has to complete very often.
Now we discuss a bit about how Bhimsen came to be worshipped as a god of commerce and trade in Nepalese business community. As we all know Nepal is a mountainous country where in good old days the only commercial routes were connected with India and China which were the difficult mountain trails. The Nepalese traders who wanted to do their business with the neighbouring countries had to walk across the Himalayas and pass through dense dark jungles for months, which was quite a challenge.
Only the brave and bold businessmen could undertake such tasks. In other words, leaving Nepal for business trip across the Himalayas in those days was like going to the war in wilderness. As such a businessman always had to travel in-groups. This was done for the sake of their own protection. This is somehow very similar to the Himalayan expedition, which includes hundreds of porters carrying the expedition gears.
The old time traders obviously for some religious reasons never used the beast of burden for the commercial purpose. They always preferred to pick up the porters instead. The main reason for this was that they always needed a well-organized party of very strong people whom they could also use as an army to fight away the mountain robbers and wild animals whom they very often had to face on their trade routes.
And another important thing they always sought after was the grace of Bhimsen, the great folk hero who was very soon recognized as a god of commerce and trade. There are lots of legends woven around Bhimsen, which describes his adventures and bravery.
As many believe to this day this Hindu Hercules is always there for help in a disguised form whenever his devotees are in trouble.
A very popular story about him says: once a farmer was helplessly brooding over his fieldwork, which he had not been able to finish yet. He was all alone and could not get anybody for help. It was at this time that Bhimsen appeared before him in the disguised form of a very poor peasant and dramatically told the farmer that he was terribly hungry and asked him if he could kindly give him something to eat.
The farmer immediately gave him all the food he had brought for his afternoon meal. The hungry beggar gulped it down in no time. The beggar further asked the farmer if he could give him some more. At this farmer said he could give some more if he could kindly wait for few more minutes.
The beggar said he would. Then the farmer rushed back home to get more food. But no sooner he left the field than the beggar turned Bhimsen plunged into the field and finished all the works left undone by the farmer in a second which would have taken ten strong people to do. The farmer was back to the field with the food but Bhimsen was no longer there.
However the farmer soon realized what had happened in his field when he was gone away for a while. He became very happy that he gave a very warm treatment to the beggar for which he was immediately rewarded.

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