Raja Ravi Varma’s Painting
Arjuna, the third among the Pandava brothers, is viewed as the greatest warrior of the Mahabharata. But the distinction of being the greatest warrior should go to Bhima, the second among the Pandava brothers. In the Mahabharata war, it was Bhima, not Arjuna, who caused maximum devastation to the Kaurava side. He was the great predator of the Kauravas. Arjuna did not kill a single Kaurava brother. Each one of the 100 sons of Dhritarashtra were ruthlessly pursued and butchered by Bhima. Single handedly, Bhima wiped out the Kaurava clan.
With great brutality, Bhima butchered two of the key sons of Dhritarashtra, Dushasana and Duryodhana. He killed Dushasana by tearing open his chest and drinking his blood, and he fatally wounded Duryodhana by shattering his thighs with his mace. Duryodhana died after suffering for days from the injuries inflicted by Bhima. The Mahabharata contains verses which compare Bhima to a hungry lion that devours deers in the forest. The deers in this case were the 100 Kaurava brothers. They were terrified by Bhima. Encountering Bhima in the battlefield implied brutal death for them.
Arjuna’s greatest contribution in the Mahabharata was that he was the direct audience to Lord Krishna’s Bhagwan Gita. He was a philosophically and spiritually inclined man. He was not a ruthless and brutal killing machine like Bhima. In the Mahabharata war, Arjuna did not kill any major warrior who was armed. Bhisma and Karna were disarmed—they had discarded their weapons—at the time when they were cut down by Arjuna’s arrows.
Bhishma had taken a vow that he would never be in a relationship with a woman, nor would he ever strike a woman or someone who had once been a woman. Shikhandi fought in the Mahabharata war as a male warrior but he had once been a woman. (He became a man due to a boon granted by a Yaksha). When he rode into the battlefield in a chariot in front of Arjuna’s chariot, Bhishma refrained from shooting his arrows in their direction. Bhishma could give up his life but he would not break his vow of never fighting a woman or someone who had once been a woman. When he threw down his arms, Arjuna pierced his body with arrows.
Karna too was not killed by Arjuna in a fair fight. While he was armed, Karna could not be defeated by Arjuna. They fought for days; on some occasions Karna came close to killing Arjuna who was saved mainly through the interventions of Lord Krishna, the avatara of Lord Vishnu who was playing the role of Arjuna’s charioteer and his spiritual and military guide. Karna was defeated when he was forced to discard his weapons and dismount from his chariot to free the chariot’s wheels which had got stuck in the ground. While Karna was engaged in freeing the wheels of his chariot, Arjuna fired his arrows and killed him.
The wife of the five Pandava brothers, Draupadi, realized that Bhima was the only real warrior among her five husbands—whenever she was facing great danger, she remembered Bhima, not Arjuna and the other three Pandava brothers. In the Mahabharata’s Kichaka-badha Parva, a man called Keechaka, who was the commander-in-chief of the King of Matsya, publicly humiliated Draupadi and tried to coerce her into a relationship with him. To save herself from Keechaka, Draupadi did not go to Arjuna—she went to Bhima who bashed Keechaka to death.
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