Bhima, many believe (arguably, of course), has been treated quite poorly by the writers of the epic Mahabharata and the reading junta. Despite his steadfast loyalty to his mother and his brothers and his tireless devotion to Draupadi, he gets the short shrift in our collective memories. His tales of heroism pale in comparison with his brothers and his brute force overwhelms all his other qualities. But here is one story that revolves entirely around him.

In Uttarakhand’s Nainital district, Bhimtal is a small town built around a lake, which incidentally is the largest lake in this district full of lakes and water bodies. Spread over 48 hectare, it was built in 1883, but the local people believe that water here was first discovered by Bhima. As is typically the case with many of the stories that we collect from people (as opposed to those already documented in books and other printed material), the oral version is different from the one that has been written down.

Let’s go with the oral version first. According to Anand, a resident of Nainital who is employed with a car hire agency and drives tourists around, the lake was born in the age of the Mahabharata. Bhim and his brothers were travelling all over Kumaon during their years of exile and one particularly warm day, a tired Draupadi asked for a drink of water. Her throat parched with thirst, she said, she would not be able to move another step without water.

The Pandavas were anxious to move on, the forest was dark and they worried about the wild animals that lay in wait for them. Bhima offered to look for some water. But despite his best efforts he found nothing, not even a dry river bed. Angry and frustrated he flung his mace to the ground with great force. The mace crashed through the ground and caused the earth to cave in, a large crater was formed which miraculously filled up with water. And thus was Bhimtal formed, named after the man who discovered it.

The other version also has Bhima as the creator of the lake, but he does not do it for Draupadi. The Pandavas had camped in the forest and Hidimba, a rakshasi who ruled over the forest with her brother Hidimb fell in love with Bhima. (Hidimba is still worshipped as a protector and has a temple in an adjacent state). But her brother was against the match and wanted to make a meal out of the Pandavas, instead. Hidimb challenged Bhima to a duel. The two fought hard and fnally when Bhima managed to kill him, he was bruised and weary and thirsty. Tired he thrust his mace into the ground and water gushed out, forming the Bhimtal as we know it today.

Story collected by: Arundhuti Dasgupta

Story told by: Anand, cab driver with Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam
Location: Uttarakhand
Image: Oil painting on paper, by Marianne North (1830–1890). “Bheemtal. Kumaon, India. July 30 1878” Oriental and India Office Collection, British Library.