In Mahabharata, Pandavas and Draupadi form the set of central heroes and heroine. Draupadi is the chief wife of Pandavas and the one known universally. However, Pandavas had other wives too, women from other kingdoms who were married to the Pandavas. When the Pandavas married Draupadi, they made a vow to not bring any other wife in their palace and that Draupadi would be the sole Queen of their kingdom. Except for Subhadra, who was privileged because she was the sister of Krishna, all other wives remained in their parents’ home.
Hidimba was one of such women. However her case is different. Hidimba was Bhima’s wife before Bhima and the other Pandavas married Draupadi. The story of Hidimba and Bhima’s meeting is fantastical. Hidimba was a rakshasi, a kind of demon who lived in forests. She lived with her brother Hidimb. When Pandavas were crossing the forest, after the Lakshagriha incident, where the two brother and sister lived, Hidimb ordered Hidimba to take the form of a beautiful woman and lure the Pandavas to him. He planned on killing them and then have a meal but Bhima being a powerful and strong warrior defeated and killed Hidimb.
Hidimba was besotted with Bhima and expressed her love for him. Kunti being a wise woman saw Hidimba and the possible progeny from her as strong future allies and ordered Bhima to marry her. On approval from his mother Kunti, Bhima married Hidimba.
The Pandavas did not stay long with Hidimba and moved on in their journey. Not much is written about Hidimba in Mahabharata after this. Hidimba bore Bhima a powerful son named Ghatotkacha who proved to be a great asset during the war of Kurukshetra and destroyed a sizable portion of the enemy army. What is worth noting here is that Bhima had forgotten about Hidimba and her son and is reminded by Krishna about his rakshasa wife and son. Hidimba, though being the first daughter-in-law, remained on the periphery by the sheer disadvantage of being a rakshasa woman.
I can only wonder about her life in the forest, left to fend for herself by a husband who never returned or recalled her. Though she was a rakshasi, well equipped to defend herself and her son, it must have been agonizing to know that her husband never sought her out. Later, she loses her son in a battle between members of a family of which she could never be a part of. While Mahabharata is an epic based on the premise of Dharma and justice, Hidimba is deprived of both. Neither anyone cares to fulfil their dharma towards her nor does she ever get justice.
The silence throughout the epic about Hidimba speaks volume not just about her but about the contemporary society. While Hidimba being a strong and devoted woman accepts her fate with dignity and integrity, the society fails her. Hidimba is one woman who is often misrepresented or looked down upon because of her status as a rakshasi but she is one of the few straight-forward and honest women in the epic. Being a rakshasi, she has powers to travel quickly, transform herself etc. and yet she remains quiet, doesn’t pester her absconding husband and lives her life in the forest with dignity bringing up a brave and equally honest child.
In recent adaptations of the epic, makers have tried to be sympathetic about Hidimba but there isn’t much one can do when the epic itself does not allow Hidimba the rightful place. She remains forgotten except for a few places in India where Hidimba is worshiped as a deity. Hidimba Devi temple is a principle place of worship in Manali, Himachal Pradesh. The temple has a pagoda like structure built in 1553. Now it has become a popular tourist destination in Manali.
The Kachari Kingdom of Assam in the medieval times and the Mayang village of present day Assam is also associated with Hidimba and Ghatotkacha. It is said that Ghatotkacha was the chief of the Kachari Kingdom and Hidimba was a Dimasa princess.