Akshaya Ganesh reviews Madhavi Mahadevan’s The Forgotten Wife: The Story of Hidimbi and Bheem (Published by Speaking Tiger, 2023)
“Order against chaos, upper against lower, inner against outer, pure against impure, male against female, believers against non-believers. They also set strict limits on what is proper conduct and what is not, especially so for women.”Madhavi Mahadevan in The Forgotten Wife: The Story of Hidimbi and Bheem
This is just a powerful reflection of the perpetual struggle to establish boundaries and restrictions in our society. From then to now, the dynamics of power, struggle, and identity still persist. They serve as a poignant reminder that the age-old dynamics of control and classification continue to shape our world even in the present day. From shedding light on the complexities of world dynamics to exploring the vicious cycle of love that Hidimbi is stuck into, this book is nothing short of a literary wonder.
Madhavi Mahadevan’s writing celebrates the unseen
As I’ve often emphasized in my previous reviews, mythology as a genre holds a special place in my heart. My fascination with Indian mythology led me to explore a myriad of books, each offering different perspectives on various characters and their tales. However, what truly intrigued me and prompted me to pick up “The Forgotten Wife” was the central character – Hidimbi.
We encourage you to buy books from a local bookstore. If that is not possible, please use the links on the page and support us. Thank you.
Until then, I had only encountered fleeting mentions of her in the epic Mahabharata, mostly in relation to being the mother of Ghatotkach. An entire book dedicated to Hidimbi? The prospect piqued my curiosity, and I couldn’t be happier that I chose to read it.
Indian mythology is filled with stories of women. Some of these women are strong and independent but are more often than not portrayed as obedient and submissive. The two big Indian epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, were written by men at a time when men had more power than women. In those days, women were not allowed to read or hear these stories. This gave men more power to say what was right and wrong for women.
Love Mythology? We recommend Reimagined Indian Mythology: 4 Exciting Reads for your TBR!
These stories show how when sometimes women do things against the rules and norms set for them, it always ends up in a war or a chaotic situation. For example, Sita failed to listen to her brother-in-law, and hence, she was abducted by Raavan and had to suffer a lot. Another story is about Ahalya, who was turned into stone by her husband because he thought she had been unfaithful.
What struck me most was how our mythology is brimming with strong female characters, many of whom remain in the shadows, overlooked and underappreciated. Take Hidimbi, for instance. Her story barely finds substantial mention in the ancient texts, yet her narrative is one of silent suffering and resistance against patriarchy, a voice that was stifled.
As I delved into the pages of this book, I found a deeper connection to this overlooked heroine. The Forgotten Wife by Madhavi Mahadevan breathed life into Hidimbi’s story and brought to the forefront her struggles and resilience. It’s a remarkable addition to my collection and a reminder of the importance of giving these unsung heroines the recognition they deserve.
From Rakshasi to a love-stricken woman
She was abandoned and left to fend for herself by a husband who would never return, Hidimbi, though a Rakshasi who had all the means to protect herself and her son, Ghatotkach, found the absence of her husband, the love of her life, agonizing.
In the battle between dharma and adharma, justice and injustice, love, and sacrifice, she found herself bereft of everything. Her plea for her rightful due remained unheard, as no one seemed willing to fulfill their dharma towards her. Justice remained elusive. It was nowhere near.
Whether she liked it or not, she was prepared to assassinate the Pandavas and their mother, Kunti, as per Hidimba’s command. However, instead of succumbing to the typical Rakshasa nature of slaying her prey and savoring their flesh, she became infatuated and ultimately fell in love with the greatest of warriors, Bheem.
He was powerful, strong, and handsome to her. In a transformation both literal and metaphorical, Hidimbi took on the form of a magical and gorgeous woman to seek after her unexpected love.
Hidimbi is me. Hidimbi is you. Hidimbi is all of us. Her journey is one that many of us can resonate with. It reflects the depths of love and the turbulence it can bring. Haven’t we all experienced moments when we were hopelessly in love, willing to go the extra mile for that special person, and seemingly oblivious to the world around us?
“Love you must. Serve the one you love, too, but never make him the center of your world. Don’t live merely for his smile. Don’t make him a god. Don’t give anyone the power to release you. Look for it within yourself.”Madhavi Mahadevan in The Forgotten Wife: The Story of Hidimbi and Bheem
These lines hold a universal truth that transcends time and context. It’s a powerful reminder of the importance of self-reliance and inner strength. The words here are a beacon of strength reminding us that love and devotion are essential but should never overshadow one’s own identity and self-worth. Ultimately, it underscores the idea that true empowerment and liberation come from within, and it’s a valuable lesson that resonates through the ages, whether in the world of mythology or in our everyday lives.
One of the most compelling aspects of this book is its portrayal of Hidimbi’s character. The author skillfully brings out the complexities of her life and her internal struggles, making her a relatable and empathetic character. As we follow Hidimbi’s journey from being a Rakshasi to a woman in love, and later, a mother, the author brilliantly captures the range of emotions that courses through her character.
Madhavi Mahadevan’s storytelling was both engaging and evocative, making it easy for the reader to connect with the characters and their emotions. The story beautifully captures her love for Bheem and her genuine concern for the welfare of her son, Ghatotkach. After a while, Hidimbi ceased to be a distant figure from a legend and instead felt like a household name. She was so real and raw. Madhavi Mahadevan didn’t shy away from highlighting the passionate aspects of the relationship, which helps in humanizing these mythological characters.
However, where the narrative truly shines is in its portrayal of Hidimbi’s internal struggle as a mother. When the time comes for her to send her son Ghatotkach to war, the bittersweet emotions that engulf Hidimbi are beautifully captured.
On one hand, she’s a mother who is inherently protective of her child and loves him deeply, just like any other mother. On the other, she understands the responsibility that comes with her son’s heritage and the inevitability of his participation in the Kurukshetra battle.
The storm that was arising in Hidimbi’s heart and the heart-wrenching decision that she had to take adds an emotional depth to the narrative. You’re sure to be moved at this stage.
From the time Ghatotkach asks to go to Indraprastha and stay with the Pandavas to his timely visits to meet her, her being stuck at a crossroads – the fear for his safety and the happiness of him having found a place where he had made friends finally, Hidimbi’s emotions were wonderfully depicted, portraying the complexities of motherhood.
It wasn’t just Hidimbi; as a reader, I too yearned for that final glimpse of Ghatotkach. Just one last moment. The longing, the sorrow, the bittersweet farewell – I experienced it all. A gush of emotions washed over me.
As an author, Madhavi Mahadevan has succeeded in masterfully evoking the emotions of the protagonist. The Bheem I had known all along was starkly different from the Bheem I encountered through Hidimbi’s eyes. He faithfully followed his Dharma, adhered to the words of his mother and brother, and was unwavering in his commitment to his family.
However, in the process, he seemed to overlook the fact that Hidimbi was also part of his family. This is the woman who had given her all for him, even at the cost of her own self-respect. In the end, she made the heart-wrenching decision to let go of her son, who had been the center of her universe, all in the name of justice for Bheem and the Pandavas. It’s a decision that left her with nothing.
I’m immensely grateful that I chose to read this book. Thanks to Madhavi Mahadevan for bringing to light the story of Hidimbi, an important and enigmatic woman whose tale deserves to be told, heard, and celebrated. Her story is rich with lessons and insights.
This book is a must-read for those who appreciate a fresh perspective on classical tales and a profound exploration of powerful, multi-dimensional female characters. It lingers in your thoughts long after you’ve turned the final page, making it a significant addition to your collection of Indian mythological tales.
Have you read this unforgettable tale of two powerful individuals from the Mahabharata? What do you think of it? Drop a comment below and let us know!