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Ghatotkacha jumps towards Karna's chariot, Karna draws his bow to release the Shakti

Ghatotkacha: The Giant Rakshasa

Ghatotkacha was the Rakshasa son of the Pandava Bhima and the Rakshasi Hidimba in the Mahabharata. He was one of the most powerful warriors in the Mahabharata. With the ability to grow to the size of mountains, Ghatotkacha was able to trample soldiers during the Kurukshetra War. He was also the father of the legendary warrior Barbarika.

On the fourteenth night, Ghatotkacha was invincible. Using his magical powers, he annihilated tens of thousands of soldiers. Eventually, Karna was forced to use his infallible Shakti weapon to slay Ghatotkacha.

Family

  • Father: Bhima
  • Mother: Hidimba
  • Half-Brothers: Sutasoma, Sarvaga
  • Wife: Kamakantaka (also known as Ahilawati)
  • Sons: Anjana Parva, Barbarika

Background and Birth

This story is in the Mahabharata, Adi Parva, Chapters 139-143

After the Pandavas escaped the Lakshagraha death trap at Varnavrata, they trekked northwards into the forest. At nightfall, Kunti and the Pandavas slept on the forest floor. Meanwhile, Bhima couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t tolerate their unfortunate circumstances. He decided to stay awake and keep guard…

Not far from where the Pandavas slept, a pair of cannibalistic Rakshasa (monster) siblings lived under a Sala tree. The brother’s name was Hidimb, and his sister was Hidimba. They had multiple sharp teeth, red hair, and large bellies. Suddenly, Hidimb sensed the smell of mankind. He told his sister, “I smell human prey. It has been a while since we have feasted. Today, let us feast on the flesh and blood of these humans. Go and see who they are!”

Thus, Hidimba approached the Pandavas, greedy for their flesh. However, when she saw Bhima, she stopped. Hidimba had fallen in love with Bhima. She decided to disobey her brother’s command and marry Bhima. Hidimba assumed the form of a beautiful human woman and strode towards Bhima.

Hidimba approaches Bhima in the form of a human woman with jewelry, Bhima looks at her

“Who are you and what are you doing here? Who is the woman and these men who are asleep? This is the abode of a Rakshasa: my brother. He sent me to kill you. However, I have fallen in love with you. Marry me, and I will save you from the wrath of this Rakshasa,” Hidimba beseeched. But Bhima wasn’t afraid of a Rakshasa. Besides, he didn’t want to leave or disturb his mother and brothers. He casually denied her offer.

Bhima vs. Hidimba

Meanwhile, Hidimb grew impatient and approached the spot where Bhima was conversing with Hidimba. Seeing her brother, Hidimba requested, “Look, the wicked Rakshasa is here. He will kill you and your family. Let me rescue you.”

Bhima reassured her that he was capable of killing the Rakshasa, no matter how deadly he was. Meanwhile, Hidimb realized that the beautiful woman was his sister; she had the intention of marry the human. Infuriated, he rushed out of his cover and said, “Hidimba! How can you desire this puny human. You have shamed the honour of the Rakshasas. I will kill you and these humans!”

Bhima wrestles with the Hidimb in the dark forest, Hidimba watches while the Pandavas are asleep in the background

Hidimb ran towards his sister, but Bhima stepped in his way and challenged him to a fight. Bhima and Hidimb began wrestling and fighting. They let out loud roars and uprooted the trees. Because of the commotion, Kunti and the Pandavas woke up. Hidimba told them all that had happened. Meanwhile, Bhima whirled the Rakshasa and then threw him on the ground, ending his life.

The Birth of Ghatotkacha

The Pandavas congratulated Bhima and then left the dark forest. However, Hidimba kept following them. Seeing her, Bhima said, “Stop following us, unless you want to go down the same path as your brother!” Hidimba fell at Kunti’s feet and conveyed her desire to marry Bhima. Yudhishthira and Kunti approved, but said, “During the day, Bhima is all yours. But after nightfall, you must return him to us.”

Bhima said, “I will stay with you until you give birth.” Thus, Hidimba and Bhima spent time together in the snowy mountains, lush forests, and flowing rivers, while the Pandavas stayed in the nearby forest. After a couple months, Hidimba gave birth to a Rakshasa son. The moment he was born, he grew to become a young adult. He was named “Ghatotkacha” because he was bald like a “ghata” (water pot).

Ghatotkacha bows to his parents, who bless him, the Pandavas and Kunti are in the bakground in the forest

Hidimba then knew that her time with the Pandavas was over. Before they left, Ghatotkacha took a vow that he would assist the Pandavas whenever they called him. The Pandavas then proceeded southwards, while Ghatotkacha lived with his mother and inherited the Rakshasa kingdom.

Whenever you wish for me, I will present myself in front of you and obey your command.
– Ghatotkacha’s Promise to the Pandavas

Ghatotkacha Marries Kamakantaka: The Warrior Princess

This story is in the Skanda Purana, Kaumarika Khanda, Chapter 59-60

Once, Ghatotkacha came to visit the Pandavas and Lord Krishna at Indraprastha. Upon seeing Ghatotkacha after a long time, Yudhishthira said, “How are you doing, dear Ghatotkacha? I hope you are ruling your kingdom righteously. How is your mother doing? I pray that she is happy.”

“I have placed the kingdom under good administration. As for my mother, she is happy. She is currently doing penance,” Ghatotkacha informed.

Krishna and the Pandavas then embraced Ghatotkacha. After repeatedly complimenting Ghatotkacha and Hidimba, Yudhishthira asked Krishna, “I am worried about finding a suitable wife for Ghatotkacha. You know the entirety of the three worlds. Can you please find a wife for Ghatotkacha?”

Krishna vs. Kamakantaka

“There is one girl suitable for Ghatotkacha. She is the daughter of the Daitya Mura. A few years back, I had killed Naraka and his friend Mura at Pragjyotisha. After I killed Mura, his daughter Kamakantaka (also called Ahilawati) attacked me in rage. She fought valiantly, cutting off my arrows and even striking my mount Garuda. After three days, I decided to end her life with my Sudarshan Chakra,” Krishna said.

“But at that moment, Goddess Kamakhya appeared. She told me that Kamakantaka was under her protection, so I refrained from attacking. Kamakhya then approached Kamakantaka and explained that her father’s death was inevitable. Kamakantaka gave up her anger and bowed down to me. Currently, Kamakantaka lives in Pragjyotisha with Naraka’s son Bhagadatta,” Krishna continued. “But she has set one condition for her future husband:

I will only marry a man who defeats me through words and through fighting

– Kamakantaka’s condition for marriage

“Many Rakshasas and Asuras have approached her for marriage, but she has defeated and slain all of them. But I think Ghatotkacha will defeat her,” Krishna finished.

Yudhishthira didn’t believe that Kamakantaka was a good match for Ghatotkacha. However, Bhima interjected and said, “I agree with Krishna. A Kshatriya like Ghatotkacha should always prove his valor through difficult tasks like this. It earns them a reputation and respect.” Arjuna also agreed with Bhima’s statement.

Thus, it was decided that Ghatotkacha would go to Pragjyotisha. As he was about to go, Krishna said, “Remember me during the debate. I will enhance your intellect.” He then rose into the sky with his three Rakshasa followers and flew to Pragjyotisha.

Ghatotkacha at Pragjyotisha

Ghatotkacha soon reached the golden palace of Pragjyotisha. There were many attendants fulfilling their duties in the garden. He approached one of them, named Karnapravarna, and said, “Where is the daughter of Mura? I wish to see her.”

“I advise you to not challenge her. She has killed millions of lovers. Stay with me; I will give you all you want,” Karnapravarana said.

“I cannot accept your offer. Either I will win the hand of your mistress in marriage, or I will be killed by her in battle. Please go and inform her of my arrival,” Ghatotkacha gently requested.

Karnapravarna informed her mistress of Ghatotkacha’s arrival. Ghatotkacha entered Kamakantaka’s chambers and admired her beauty. He said, “I have come here as your guest. Please offer me your hospitality.”

“If you want to return home alive, leave. But if you love me, recount a story that confuses me. If you are unable to do so, I will kill you right now,” Kamakantaka said.

Ghatotkacha Defeats Kamakantaka

At that moment, Ghatotkacha remembered Krishna and he came up with a story. He began the story: “Once, a loving couple gave birth to a daughter. Soon, the wife died and the husband raised the daughter. When the daughter grew up, the lustful father said, ‘You are my neighbor’s daughter. I raised you so that you could become my wife. Fulfill my desire.’ The daughter agreed and married her father. Soon, they had a daughter. Is that daughter the man’s daughter or granddaughter?”

Kamakantaka was perplexed. She didn’t know the answer! She resorted to fighting to defeat Ghatotkacha. Kamakantaka created Rakshasas to defeat her lover. However, Ghatotkacha destroyed them with his own Rakshasas. Kamakantaka then reached for her sword, but Ghatotkacha caught her. He threw her on the ground and placed his foot on her neck. Kamakantaka surrendered.

“Our family tradition is that the wife carries the husband. Hence, carry me to Indraprastha, where we will marry,” Ghatotkacha said. Kamakantaka said goodbye to Bhagadatta and then carried Ghatotkacha to Indraprastha. There, Ghatotkacha and Kamakantaka were married. The newlywed couple then left for the Rakshasa forests. Ghatotkacha and Kamakantaka spent a lot of time together. Soon, they had a son. As soon as he was born, he grew to become a man. He was named Barbarika. They soon had another son named Anjana Parva.

Silhouette of Barbarika aiming a bow with three arrows
Barbarika: The Invincible Warrior

Kurukshetra War

This story is in the Mahabharata, Bhishma Parva and Drona Parva

Ghatotkacha flying in the sky, carrying Draupadi seated on a bench on his shoulder

During the Pandavas’ exile, Ghatotkacha was always with them. Sometimes, he even carried Draupadi when she was too tired. After the exile, war was declared between the Pandavas and Kauravas. Ghatotkacha obviously sided with the Pandavas. He brought a large force of Rakshasas, along with his son Anjana Parva. Ghatotkacha played a significant part in the war on the eight day and on the fourteenth night.

Eighth Day

On the eighth day, Alambusha (a Rakshasa on the Kaurava side) killed Arjuna’s son Iravan. Seeing his cousin’s death, Ghatotkacha was enraged and roared. All the soldiers were terrified. Duryodhana, however, courageously confronted Ghatotkacha. The king of Vanga brought his elephant army to help Duryodhana. However, Ghatotkacha’s Rakshasa army slaughtered the elephants. Duryodhana was enraged. He quickly killed four of Ghatotkacha’s Rakshasas: Vegavat, Maharoudra, Vidyutjihva, and Pramathi. In retaliation, Ghatotkacha covered Duryodhana and the king of Vanga with arrows. Meanwhile, Bhishma was concerned about Duryodhana’s safety. He sent Drona and many others to protect Duryodhana.

But Ghatotkacha and the Rakshasas successfully defeated all of them. They were invincible in battle. At the same time, Yudhishthira sent Bhima, Abhimanyu, and others to protect Ghatotkacha. Hence, a fierce and chaotic battle ensued between the Pandava warriors and the Kaurava warriors. Ghatotkacha was a master of magic. Thus, he created an illusion (maya) and terrified the Kauravas. They all fled. As usual, Duryodhana complained to Bhishma. He sent Bhagadatta to attack Ghatotkacha. Bhagadatta and his massive elephant caused havoc. The day then ended with a deadly battle between Ghatotkacha and Bhagadatta.

Fourteenth Night

Ghatotkacha vs. Ashwatthama: After the death of Jayadratha, the battle continued into the night. Since Rakshasas grow stronger at night, Ghatotkacha became unstoppable. Sensing danger, Ashwatthama attacked him. A fierce battle began between Ghatotkacha and Ashwatthama. Ghatotkacha shot hundreds of arrows at Ashwatthama. Ghatotkacha’s son Anjana Parva also attacked him. But Ashwatthama was no less of a warrior. He recovered and quickly disarmed Anjana Parva. The Rakshasa then lept to the ground, but before he could attack, Ashwatthama killed him. Upon seeing his son’s death, Ghatotkacha resulted to magic. He created a mountain that rained arrows. But Ashwatthama quickly destroyed it. Thousands of terrifying Rakshasas with animal heads rushed at Ashwatthama. They rained weapons, but Ashwatthama fought like Lord Shiva himself, defeating all of them. Ashwatthama then shot a large dart at Ghatotkacha. It hit him on the chest and he collapsed. Dhrishtadyumna quickly took him away.

Ghatotkacha throws Alambusha's severed body into the shocked Duryodhana's chariot

Ghatotkacha vs. Alambusha: Meanwhile, Karna was destroying Pandava forces. After Ghatotkacha recovered, Krishna sent him to attack Karna. But at that moment, Alambusha Rakshasa attacked Ghatotkacha. The two Rakshasas fought, each displaying magical illusions. Flaming rocks fell from the sky. Ferocious beasts and ghosts rose from the ground. Frightening monsters fought each other. Finally, Ghatotkacha destroyed Alambusha’s chariot. Alambusha leaped out and attacked with his bare hands. The two giants started wrestling each other. They turned into various different forms and animals. In the end, Alambusha started weakening. Ghatotkacha took advantage and with a powerful blow, killed Alambusha. He then threw Alambusha’s severed head into Duryodhana’s chariot.

The Fall of the Giant

Ghatotkacha then attacked Karna. Both warriors fought vigorously and neither was winning. Ghatotkacha then invoked an army of thousands of Rakshasas, but Karna deftly killed them. He then used magic to disappear and reappear in different places and sizes. Ghatotkacha used various illusions to attack Karna. He multiplied himself one hundred times, invoked an army of beasts, and created goblins. But Karna wasn’t scared. He stood his ground and destroyed them all using celestial weapons.

Suddenly, Ghatotkacha disappeared. He then created a red cloud in the sky. The red cloud started raining weapons and flying Rakshasas. The Kaurava armies were terrified. They started fleeing. Ghatotkacha then reappeared and advanced towards Karna.

Karna realized that his death was approaching. He thought about the Vasavi Shakti, given to him by Indra. It never missed its target. Karna had reserved it for Arjuna, but now he realized that he had no choice. He had to use it. He released the weapon and it came flying towards the Rakshasa. Ghatotkacha knew he would die. As a final attack, the Rakshasa increased into the size of a mountain. When the arrow struck him, he fell down. A whole Akshauhini of Kaurava soldiers died underneath him. Thus, even while dying, he was victorious.

Ghatotkacha lying on the battlefield, with thousands of little soldiers underneath him

Warrior Killed by Ghatotkacha in the Kurukshetra War:

Warrior KilledDay KilledKingdom/Territory
Alambusha14th NightRakshasa
Alayudha14th NightRakshasa
Alambala14th NightRakshasa

Conclusion

Krishna was exuberant. He started dancing and laughing, while all the other Pandavas cried. Everyone was surprised at Krishna’s reaction. Krishna then explained, “Karna wanted to use the Vasavi Shakti weapon on you. He would have killed you. But now that he has used it on Ghatotkacha, you are safe!” Meanwhile, Yudhishthira was depressed. He couldn’t handle Ghatotkacha’s death. As this source explains, Yudhishthira and Ghatotkacha had a father-son relationship. They were very close to each other. In the end, Vyasa Rishi had to come and console Yudhishthira.

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