Why did Bhima kill Duryodhana unfairly by hitting him below the waist during their final battle in the Mahabharata war?
Let’s first consider how unfair the whole battle was for Bhima. Due to Gandhari’s blessing Duryodhana’s body had become invincible, no matter how expertly or forcefully Bhima hit it. What was he supposed to do? Just let himself get beaten to death for no fault of his – all because his opponent had got a blessing for no virtue of his?
A “blessed” batsman
To grasp the unfairness of the situation, consider a rough cricket analogue: during a faceoff between a champion batsman and a champion bowler, suppose the batsman gets a “blessing” to never get out, even if he is caught, trapped leg before wicket, clean bowled, hit wicket or whatever else. What is the bowler supposed to do? No matter how well he bowls, there’s just no way he can win.
Suppose a batsman gets a “blessing” to never get out, no matter what. What is the bowler to do?
Fans with even a modest sense of fairness would be up in arms protesting the way the contest had been rigged against the bowler. But suppose no one protested. The poor bowler bowled the best spell of his life, got the batsman out several times and yet got no credit for it. Wouldn’t that be patently unfair?
That’s what happened to Bhima. He hit Duryodhana twice with such awesome force that the blow could have rent a mountain apart, what to speak of breaking a human frame apart. His achievement was like that of a bowler clean-bowling the batsman not just once but scores of times. And yet what did Bhima get for his feat? Nothing – leave alone victory, not even a crack on Duryodhana’s body.
How long could Bhima go on like this especially when Duryodhana was counterattacking and wounding Bhima? Among the many blows that hit Bhima, two of Duryodhana’s blows were so brutal that they would have instantaneously killed a lesser warrior. Though Bhima was badly injured by those devastating blows, he with superhuman fighting spirit maintained a stoic face, showing no weaknesses. His plight was like that of a bowler carted for six sixes in two successive overs. Actually, Bhima’s plight was a million times worse. Why? Because Duryodhana’s blows were wounding not just Bhima’s morale, but also his body. It’s something akin to the batsman’s shots hitting the bowler, thus rendering him less and less capable of bowling – while still being expected to go on bowling till death.
Can we really blame the battered bowler if he took the only way out of the carnage: bowl bodyline and get rid of the batsman, retired hurt? If we were being wounded like that, can we be sure that we too wouldn’t do something similar?
Understandably, Bhima took the only way out of the slaughter by hitting Duryodhana at the only place it hurt: his thighs. Just as bowling bodyline in normal cricket is unfair, so was hitting the thighs unfair in a normal mace-fighting battle. But when it was the only way to bring some fairness back into an unfair battle, would it still be blameworthy?
Honoring the spirit of the rule, adapting its letter
Rather than blaming Bhima for hitting that unfair blow, perhaps we need to give him credit for fighting fairly for so long, despite being sentenced to an eminently unfair contest. Bhima could have claimed justification for finishing the battle quickly with an early unfair blow:
1. Maitreya Rishi had cursed Duryodhana that he would die due to the breaking of his thighs and Bhima could have claimed to simply be an instrument for fulfilling the sage’s curse.
2. Bhima could even have claimed that he had vowed to break Duryodhana’s thighs for having obscenely exposed those thighs to publically humiliate Draupadi – and that he had to do whatever it took to fulfill his vow.
That Bhima did not take recourse of any of these reasons at the first possible opportunity demonstrates his respect for for the spirit of fair play. But the battle had been rendered unfair not because of his action, but even before he took any action.
Krishna implemented part A of the emergency plan when he persuaded Duryodhana to cover his private parts while going to see his mother. And then he told Bhima to implement part B of that plan by hitting Duryodhana’s vulnerable thighs.
Their battle was not like a normal mace-fighting battle to which the standard rules applied. Duryodhana had brought something extraneous into the battle – his mother’s protection in the form of an invisible invincible armor. That extraneous factor so totally tilted the scales in Duryodhana’s favor that to re-balance the scales Bhima too had to bring something extraneous – Krishna’s protection in the form of an action plan to bypass that armor. Krishna implemented part A of that emergency plan when he persuaded Duryodhana to cover his private parts while going to see his mother. And then he told Bhima to implement part B of that plan by hitting Duryodhana’s vulnerable thighs.
Yes, that kind of blow was unfair in a normal wrestling battle, but what was normal or fair about a wrestling battle in which one player couldn’t win, no matter how well he fought? Understandably, such an abnormal battle couldn’t be played by the normal rules if there was to be any hope for a fair result.
As Krishna later said, there was no other way Bhima could have won – and so he had to take the only way available.