privacy policy

The Benefits of Marrying a Demoness: The Hidimbā Episode in a Fifteenth-Century Hindi Mahābhārata.


· Heidi Pauwels University of Washington (Seattle, United States of America)


07/27 | 15:30-15:50 UTC+2/CEST


One of the first extant complete Mahābhārata retellings in Classical Hindi is the Gwalior poet Vishnudās’ Pāndav-carit. This work was commissioned by the then-Tomar ruler Dungar Singh of Gwalior in 1435. The poet describes the Tomars as descendants of the epic heroes and explicitly compares his patron to Bhīma. This raises the issue of how the story changes when retold for rulers claiming descent from the Pāndavas.

This paper will focus on one of the episodes in which Bhīma figures importantly in the Vana-parvan, namely the meeting with the man-eating demon Hidimba, killed by Bhīma, and his sister Hidimbā, whom Bhīma ends up marrying and fathering a son with, who in turn will be a great ally in the war. This paper compares Vishnudās’ version of the episode with that of the Sanskrit critical edition.

Different Mahābhāratas give a different take on this encounter of the epic heroes with the demonic ‘other’ (Richman 2004). On the one hand, the problematic of the neglect of the noble husband of his demonic wife and son is understood as a caste issue by contemporary authors (Narain 2003). On the other, it has been argued that the Sanskrit version of the story reveals a demonic aspect of Bhīma’s own nature (Gitomer 1991). There are several caste and tribal groups that see Bhīma as “theirs”, in some cases through tracing their descent to Bhīma’s wedding with Hidimbā (e.g., Channa 2005). This is all complicated by the fact that Hidimbā is worshiped as a goddess in her own right in the Himalaya, especially during the festival of Vijaya-dashamī (Halperin 2019). How to evaluate the fifteenth-century retelling against this background?