Bhima wasn’t the only Pandava to have met the ancient Monkey God. Here’s the story of how Arjuna and Hanuman faced off in a little known story from the Mahabharata.
The story of Hanuman meeting Bhima is a well-known one but bears repeating. While living in exile, Draupadi craved for the Saugandhika flower and asked Bhima if he could get her one. On his search for the rare species of the lotus, Bhima came across an old monkey who lay with a long tail blocking the path. It is considered rude to step across any living being so Bhima ordered the monkey to move. The monkey said he was old and in return asked Bhima to move him instead. Infuriated at receiving orders from an old monkey, Bhima leapt at the monkey with the intention of throwing him out of his way but was surprised to discover that he couldn’t move the monkey let alone throw him away. It was then that the monkey revealed himself to be Hanuman, the spiritual brother of Bhima (they were both the sons of Vayu, the Wind God). Bhima apologised and Hanuman granted him more strength and warned him of the impending battle.
But Bhima was not the only Pandava who crossed paths with Hanuman. While still in exile, Arjuna visited Rameshwaram to pay his respects to Lord Rama who had arrived on its shores after defeating Ravana. On seeing the remains of the stone bridge, Arjuna wondered aloud why a warrior as great as Rama engaged the services of monkeys and other animals to build the bridge when he could’ve done it himself using his arrows.
Watching this scene was a monkey who explained to Arjuna that Rama’s army comprised great mighty monkeys such as Sugreeva, Hanuman and Angadha among others and that a bridge of arrows would surely have collapsed under them. Arjuna scoffed at this idea and was immediately challenged to build a bridge by the monkey. It was agreed that should Arjuna’s bridge collapse, he would walk into a pyre and kill himself.
As Arjuna kept firing the arrows, the monkey kept chanting Rama’s name under his breath. After Arjuna completed the bridge, the monkey coolly walked on it and, much to Arjuna’s horror, destroyed it. Out of shame, Arjuna prepared the pyre and was about to jump into it when a young brahmin boy wandered on to the scene asking what was going on.
On learning the story, the boy pointed out that the wager was invalid as there was no third, impartial party to witness it. So the wager was made again with the rules having agreed upon in the presence of this anonymous Brahmin boy.
By now, Arjuna’s confidence was shattered and so he began to pray to Krishna as he began firing arrow after arrow. The monkey, on the other hand, simply sat there watching with glee.
The bridge was now complete, yet again, and the monkey stepped on it. Except this time the bridge didn’t break despite all of the monkey’s efforts. Arjuna stood there watching with as much surprise as the monkey who by now had transformed into his real self – the mighty Hanuman! Arjuna, having seen Hanuman in his real form, immediately prostrated before the god and begged for an apology even as Hanuman continued to bounce on the bridge of arrows with the intention of destroying it.
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Despite all efforts, the bridge didn’t collapse and it was Hanuman’s turn to wonder what was wrong. He soon noticed the young brahmin boy smiling and figured that it wasn’t just any other mortal. Hanuman shrunk back to human size and asked the brahmin boy who he really was.
The boy now revealed his true avatar. As it turned out, it was Vishnu, who explained to his disciples that he was Rama and he was Krishna and that the bridge had been completed by Rama and Arjuna due to his blessings.
Arjuna again begged for apology from Hanuman who promised to be present on his chariot for the duration of the war. It is said that Hanuman protected the chariot from all kinds of divine weapons that were fired at Arjuna during the war. And when the war was finally over and when Krishna and Arjuna stepped off the chariot for the final time, it was reduced to ashes. Such was the intensity of the weapons that Hanuman absorbed.