Copyright © 2000 Robert G. Ferrell

Hello, Bali!

Whilst strolling through the shelves of the Public Library some years ago, I stumbled across a book (I should have been strolling between the shelves, it turns out) with the modest title The Epic of Life, published by Alfred Van Der Marck Editions in 1985. Always on the lookout for something that helps to explain what in the heck is really going on, cosmically speaking, I picked myself up off the floor and flipped through this promising text in high anticipation.

It turns out that the universe is even weirder than I had previously been given to understand. This book tells the story of Bhima Swarga, which means "Bhima goes to the abode of the Gods," and is a story based loosely on a small passage in the moral epic the Mahabharata. Bhima's story can be traced to the eleventh century A. D., and was written by the obviously very disturbed natives of Bali in the Indonesian islands.

There once was a great King named Pandu, who shot two deer in his forest. The deer turned out to be not deer after all, but a priest and his wife (remember, this is Bali), who had assumed the forms of deer so that they could make love in peace (I'm not sure I follow this line of reasoning). As he lay dying and quite annoyed, the priest/deer pronounced a curse on the hapless King, that he should drop dead if ever he made love again. Pandu definitely came off worse in this exchange, having gotten not even a side of venison out of the deal, and proceeded (reluctantly) to declare himself celibate. His two wives were not amused.

The elder of these wives had a gift she had treasured since childhood, which was essentially a Dating Service with the Gods. Five times was she permitted to summon the Deity of her choice to make love to her (apparently there isn't a lot to do on Bali, especially now that deer season was cancelled). Four times she did this, and each time she bore a son as a result (the Gods never miss). Her younger counterpart was jealous of this concubinal arrangement, however, and convinced her to share. The junior wife was allowed to use the last charge, with which she cleverly called forth twin Gods, and thus got twice the action for her money. She bears from this union, predictably, twin sons (I suppose Gods were overly supplied with Y chromosomes). The older wife is a bit peeved that she didn't think of the twin god business, but she gets over it after a while.

The kids all grow up to be big and strong, especially the second son, Bhima. After his mom has a dream in which Bhima's grandparents visit her and complain about the room service in Hell, Bhima leads his brothers on a quest to break into the place and move his grandparents to a better suite somewhere else; sort of Rambo in Hades.

The brothers reach the gates of Hell without much incident, then sit there for much longer than you would expect, given the initial urgency of their mission, explaining to each other the various tortures going on within and what the unfortunate tenants did to deserve them. For example, it is a sin for a man to act like a woman, and vice-versa. Most of the advice rendered here is aimed at women, for some reason. Women should never play soccer (it actually says this), and they should look their best when entering Hell, if they expect to leave. (Um, should they expect to leave?) If, during her earthly life, a woman has only one son and that son dies for whatever reason while still a child, she will spend all of eternity breast feeding a voracious caterpillar with nasty, long, pointy teeth. The most fascinating punishment is reserved for men who relieve themselves too many times (!) in a Temple, and involves having demons repeatedly and viciously squeeze their....well, never mind, just believe me when I say it doesn't make my top ten list of things I want to experience in the afterlife.

Bhima enters Hell, finally, beats the living snot out of everything, and gets his grandparents back. Before they can get into Heaven, though, it turns out that they need to drink Holy Water, which through an administrative oversight is available only in Heaven. Bhima has a very big hammer, and every problem is a nail.

He therefore, predictably, busts down the Heavenly Gates, makes short work of the Heavenly Hosts, and in general wipes the floor with everyone until he runs across the Chief God, who electrocutes Bhima like so much burnt toast. Heaven proceeds to wither, however, and things get so morose that the Chief God's boss (!), the absolute CEO of Heaven and everywhere else, gives Bhima another life to save on therapy bills for the depressed angels. He also gives Bhima a brass bowl full of Imported Holy Water, and even lets Bhima's grandparents drink from it in the Holiest Place, from which they set off and eventually settle in East Heaven, but not too close to the freeway (West Heaven is apparently reserved for those who never cheated on their Income Tax, although I doubt that anyone had the courage to tell Bhima that).

Bhima and his brothers return to Bali on the next cross-dimensional outrigger and live as happily as one can live on Bali until they die. Purgatory probably had a special wing built to house Bhima's soul, if it knew what was good for it.

Hey--Warriors, Gods, and plenty of Sex: This is what Cosmology is all about!