|Khatu Shyam aka Barbareek|
Khatu Shyam ji is revered as Baba Shyam in the Khatu village, Sikar district, Rajasthan in India where there is a temple for him - hence the name Khatu Shyam. He is also identified as Baliyadev in Gujarat near Ahmedabad. This Khatu Shyam was originally Barbareek, a marginal character in the epic Mahabharata, and appears towards the end of the war. This is his story.
|Location on map of Khatu Shyamji in Sikar, Rajasthan|
Barbareek (or Barbarik) was son of Ghatotkacha and Mowrvi. As you would know, Bhima, the second and most powerful Pandava, during their wanderings in the forest, slayed the Rakshasa Hidimb. The demon’s sister Hidimba was smitten by Bhima’s bravery and good looks, and they got married. Bhima fathered Ghatotkacha, a brave and powerful man who ruled the area. He married Mowrvi, who was the daughter of Muru, a Yadava king from Pragjyotishpur (one of the clans related to the Yadavas of Dwaraka, to which Krishna belonged). Hence the name Mowrvi or Muravi. She plays an important part later. *
One of my theories is that this Muru, the so-called yadava chieftain from Pragjyotishpur is the same as the demon Mura in charge of defenses of Narakasur's fort. The similarities are just too many to ignore. So Ghatotkach married Mura's daughter and fathered Barbareek. But later Krishna, along with wife Satyabhama, attacked Pragjyotishpur, and Muru tried to defend it as was his job. In the battle that ensued, Krishna slayed Mura, father of Muravi (Morwi) and grand-father of Barbareek. Isn't it an 'Aha' moment? It's one of the perks of keeping a healthy interest in Hindu mythology. See here for Mura and story of Narakasur.
The marriage of Ghatotkach and Mowrui is also interesting. It seems that Mowrvi was learned in scriptures and had put forward a condition for her marriage that she will only marry the person who defeats her in a battle of wits. Ghatotkacha reached Muru’s palace with his marriage proposal, liked the plan, had several rounds of debates with Mowrvi, which he won, along with her heart. Stories like these tell us how wrong the usual view of Rakshasas being dumb, barbaric, and forest tribes is. It also shows how women in these stories in the ancient society – Mowrvi, Kunti, Hidimba – mostly had an ability to freely think for their own and exercise their own will.
Now comes the main part. When it is time for the war, the Pandavas call upon Ghatotkacha and he rushes to Kurukshetra to their assistance. Barbareek, although young, wants to help his father and grand-father. So he goes to his mother Morwi for advice. She advises him to fight on the losing side (weaker side). Her consideration must have been that Pandavas with 7 armies (akshauhinis) will be the weaker side compared to the Kauravas with 11 armies, so with her advice Barbareek will fight alongside Pandavas. Barbareek promises he will do so.
|Barbareek and his three arrows|
Firstly, he knows that with him and Arjuna on Pandava’s side, the Pandavas are not really the weaker side to begin with. And secondly, even if Barbareek aids Pandavas at the start, soon the Kauravas armies will be diminished and they will become the weaker side. Then, as per his promise to his mother, Barbareek will have to move to the Kaurava side to aid the losing side. This will continue, and Barbareek will keep moving from one side to the other until nothing remains except him.
It is these two boons - that Barbareek be known by Krishna's own name in Kalyug ('Shyam') and that he could watch the entire forthcoming battle with his severed head - that are the bulwark of Barbareek's legend among the locals. The fact that he always takes the side of the weak and losing party makes him a favorite among the devotees who themselves feel like downtrodden and lost.
The Pandava camp seemed to have headed to a civil war. Krishna, or Vyasa in some stories, intervened and said that they should ask an impartial third party who has seen the battle whole. Suddenly someone remembered about the head of Barbareek, and they agreed that they will ask the head.