Boiling with rage Bakasura clenched his fist and hit him hard on his back. Unmindful of the blow, Bheema continued emptying the vessels.

Bheema was in hiding. His mother, Kunti, and his four brothers were with him. Their powerful cousins had tried to kill them. But the five brothers had escaped to a distant town. They were living there in disguise in a room given to them by a kind-hearted man.

Every morning, the brothers would go from house to house and beg for food. Kunti would divide the food her sons brought home into two halves. Bheema was very strong. He also needed to eat a lot. So, half of the food would go to Bheema. The remaining half would be shared by others.

One day, Kunti found the man who had given them shelter looking worried. When Kunti asked him why he was looking sad, he started crying. The man’s wife told Kunti that they were heartbroken because it was the last day they would spend with their only son.

Alarmed, Kunti asked them to explain. “You are new to this town. That’s why you have not noticed that the people of this town are living in fear,” said the man. His wife added, “Our town was peaceful and people here have always been happy. All this changed when recently that monster, Bakasura came down from the hills.”

Bakasura, the man explained, would grab anyone he found on the street and set out for the hills. Later, he would eat that person for his lunch. He threatened the townsfolk that he would return the next day to grab a few more people. No one in the town had the strength or the courage to fight this menace. The mayor of the town begged the monster to spare his people. “If you keep grabbing a dozen people every day and eat them up, soon there would be no more people left in the town. What would you do for food then?” asked the Mayor.

Bakasura scratched his head. “You tell me,” he said to the Mayor.

“For the food to last long, you must eat only one person a day,” suggested the Mayor.

“That’s not enough for me,” the monster protested.

“We will get you enough to eat. Every day, at noon, we will send a cartload of delicious food to the hills. A pair of fat buffaloes will be yoked to the cart which will be driven by a young man — all this is your food,” said the mayor. Bakasura agreed.

“From that day onwards, every house in the town has its turn to arrange for a cartload of food and a pair of buffaloes to be driven by a young man from the house. Tomorrow, it’s our turn to send the food to the monster,” concluded the man.

“And we have only one son. We will never see him again,” cried his wife.

Kunti consoled the couple. “You have been kind to us. You have given us shelter. I would like to help you,” said Kunti.

“Nobody can help us. We have to send the food, the buffaloes and…” The wife could not complete her sentence as she broke down.

“Look, you have only one son, I have five. One of my sons will drive the cart to the hills,” said Kunti.

The man and his wife were overjoyed to hear this. But they were sad that Kunti would lose one of her sons.

The next morning, Kunti greeted Bheema on his birthday. “Are you giving me a birthday treat?” asked Bheema hopefully.

“Yes,” said Kunti, “A cartload of delicious food.” Then Kunti told him all about Bakasura. “I’ll take care of that monster, as long as I get a cartload of food,” said Bheema.

Soon it was noon. The man had arranged for a cartload of food. A pair of buffaloes were yoked to the cart. Bheema got on to the cart and drove it towards the hills.

Half way down to the hills, Bheema stopped the cart and unyoked the buffaloes which ran away to the town. Bheema peered into the biggest vessel. “Biryani!” he exclaimed looking into the vessel. He sat down on the street and scooped a handful of biryani which he put into his mouth. There was a lot of food and Bheema was not in a hurry. He opened another vessel. His eyes popped up at the sight of mooli paratha. He dipped a paratha in kurma and popped it into his mouth. “Yummy,” he said with great satisfaction.

Meanwhile Bakasura looked up and saw the sun over his head. It was afternoon, but there was no sight of the cart which would deliver the food to him. He got annoyed at the delay. He was getting hungry and also angry. “I’ll make them pay for the delay,” he muttered and walked towards the town.

On his way, he saw a strange sight. The cart was very much there. There was no sight of the buffaloes. But the cart was loaded with food as usual. To his horror, he saw a fat fellow helping himself with the food, his food!

“Stop!” screamed Bakasura as he ran towards the cart. Bheema did not even look up. He was busy gulping down the kheer. Boiling with rage Bakasura clenched his fist and hit him hard on his back. Unmindful of the blow, Bheema continued emptying the vessels.

The furious Bakasura started pounding Bheema, as though he was a punching bag. Bheema turned only after making sure no more food was left.

“Who are you? And why are you jumping like a donkey?” asked Bheema

“You called me, Bakasura, a donkey!” exclaimed the monster.

“Oh, you are the coward who has frightened the innocent people of the town!” said Bheema with a laugh.

“You called me a coward! You will pay with your life,” said Baka clenching his teeth.

Mad with anger, Bakasura leapt at Bheema who neatly stepped aside. Bakasura flew past Bheema and landed in a ditch. As he struggled to get out of the ditch, Bheema uprooted a huge tree and threw it at him. The tree pinned down Bakasura in the ditch. Bheema now started pounding the monster trapped in the ditch with the huge tree. “Mercy! Show mercy!” yelped the monster.

“Did you show any mercy to those young men who brought you food?” asked Bheema

“Spare my life, I’ll set them free,” squealed the monster like a frightened kitten.

It turned out that the monster used to eat the food and also the buffaloes. But he had put the young men to work in his gold mine on the other side of the hill. Bakasura set free his prisoners who ran down the hills.

“Can I go now?” asked the monster.

“How can you go with me stranded on this cursed hill?” protested Bheema. “Take me to the town in the cart.”

“But there are no buffaloes to pull the cart!” protested the monster.

“Where is the need for those animals when I have you?” said Bheema laughing loudly.

Bheema drove into town standing tall in the cart pulled by the hapless monster.

The townsfolk greeted Bheema hailing him as their savior.

Bheema handed over the monster to the mayor saying, “he will come in handy for digging tanks, carrying heavy loads, and making roads.”

Then Kunti hugged her son. “Mother, thank you, for arranging a birthday feast for me,” laughed Bheema.

Note: Adapted from the Mahabharata, with a change in the end, to make it suitable for children

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