In the ancient Epic (Bhim/Bhima/Bhimasena)
Bhimasena, the second of the Pandava brothers is arguably the greatest hero in Mahabharata. Bhim and Arjun are the 2 mighty pillars on whom the entire epic was formulated. It's at times debatable whether Arjun is the protagnist in the epic, or it's Bhim. Bhim is the one who killed all the 100 Kaurava brothers. He is the one who killed Jarasandha to clear the way for Yudhishtira's Rajasooya. He is the one who stood by Arjuna to battle out all the kings during the swayamvara at Panchala. He is the one (the only one), who opposed the game of dice and vowed revenje. While Arjuna needed Krishna's advice to sort out his inner battle, Bhima didn't need any, despite being as emotional a man as Arjuna was. His had in fact the most steady mind throughout the war (and in fact before it as well). He remains often in shadows, but among all characters in the epic, Bhim is one of most impressive.
Bhim stays as the symbol of indefinite might in today's world. Contrary to the portayal of Bhim in modern day versions of the epic, as an obese wrestler who wields a mace, the Bhim of Mahabharata was a tall, well-built warrior who was equally skilled in all forms of warfare. Though some of his heroic battles were won with the mace or with bare hands, the epic also illustrates numerous battles that showed the archery skills of Bhim. And in the mahabharata battle, Bhim's archery skills are portrayed exhaustively in many parts. In the elaborate translation of the epic by K.M.Ganguly, the multiple encounters of Bhim with some of the celebrated warriors on the kaurava side are portrayed in detail, and they are simply examples of the great archery skills of Bhima.
He was able to check Bhishma and get the better of Dronacharya. He fought with Karna and Ashwatthama and was able overpower them on some occassion (ofcourse he had to also taste defeat from both Karna and Ashwatthama). Bhima had repeatedly defeated Karna, before his eventual humiliation at the hands of Karna. And at several instances during the war, the epic portrays the immense speed at which Bhim shoots his arrows, and his shooting range is described by Drona as unbelievable. Bhim on the other side, has his list of defeates as well. Whether it be Bhagadatta, Aswatthama, Karna, Alayudha. Vrishasena or Jayadratha there are instances during the war when he struggled against some of the kaurava warriors and sought help from his younger brother Arjun. If Arjun was undefeated with the bow in hand, Bhima was undefeated without it. All his wrestling with some of the strongest men of his time are simply proof of how strong and skilled Bhim was; with or without a mace.
Behind the Hero
If you look beyond the battle field heriocs, no other character in the epic would seem so complete like Bhima's. Any genuine version of the epic can not easily hide the softest mind that resides within the rock-solid body of Bhima. You could find him deeply associated with all known emotions, of course each with different characters in the epic.
His love for his mother Kunti is not inferior to any of his brothers. His respect for his elder brother Yudhistira could be seen from the way Bhima stood by him despite being in disagreement at many instances - the game of dice, the decision to take up the exile, the attempt for peace with the Kauravs are all decisions of Yudhistira that Bhima was in diagreement with. But still he was too devoted to question the decisions of his elder brother. Of course I'm not ignoring the one incident, similar to Arjuna, when Bhima broke out; His outburst to bring fire to burn Yudhishtira's hand. The original epic doesn't portray a perfect image of any character in Mahabharata. And this was Bhima's turn to revel his simple human nature. Coming to the 2 sons of Madri, Bhima was always protective of his youngest broghers, and at the same time believed in their abilities. It was Bhima who vowed that Sahadeva will kill Shakuni.
Bhima and Arjuna:
Bhima's relationship with Arjuna is so special and mixed with love, respect and pride. Both were proud of each other. They share a lot of common values as well as go through common struggles and had huge trust on the ability of each other. They knew each other's strength and weakness, and they stood by each other whenever needed. They both were frustrated by the decisions of their elder brother, but still abode by the same. They fought many of the tougher battles together. And they operated in unison during the Mahabharata war to aide each other's objectives. Bhima trusted Arjuna's skills more than his own might. And Arjuna as well was too proud of Bhima's might. Almost all challenges that came Pandava's way were handled by Arjuna and Bhima together. They were together to challenge Jarasandha, they fought together at Kampilya, they were together to battle Chitrasena 's army. Even at Virata, they led the armies at 2 different fronts. And throughout the great Kurukshetra war, they took the bigger challenges. The bond between Arjuna and Bhima is a complex polynomial with a mix of love, pride, respect and trust. Bhima's trust on Arjuna's skills was so much that he was sure to win the Mahabharata war despite having the likes of Bhishma, Drona and Karna on the enemy side.
Bhima and Draupadi:
When Bhima's relationship with his brothers show his love, trust and respect for them, his relationship with Draupadi reveals a totally different part of his character. It's well known that Draupadi loved Arjuna the most. But if you look beyond that statement, it's not so difficult to count the instances in the epic which shows that her love for Bhima was not that weak as well. The reason is so simple. No one loved Draupadi more that Bhima. None of her other husbands took as much risk as Bhima did for keeping her happy, he simply cannot bear to see her hurt. It was Bhima who brought her flowers from Kubera's garden. It was Bhima who cries because his beautiful wife will have to serve as a Sairandhri (maid) to Queen Sudeshna of Matsya. It was Bhima, who kills all 100 Kauravas to avenge the insult to Draupadi. It was Bhima to whom Draupadi ran to when she is molested by Keechak in Matsya kingdom. She is prone to outbursts of rage, she makes unreasonable, unwise demands. And it was always Bhima who blindly went behind all her demands. When she wants Keechak killed for molesting her, Yudhisthir tells her that it would expose their presence in Matsya kingdom, and advises her to "live with it". Bhima simply walks up to Keechak in the middle of the night and tears him limbs apart. Draupadi shows us Bhima's human side. He is a savage monster with others, but he is always and only tender when it comes to Draupadi.
Bhima and Duryodhana:
Now coming to the most animated relationship of Bhima... You cannot talk of Bhima without talking about Duryodhana. Of course, Bhima had killed many wrestlers including Hidumba, Baka, Jarasandha and Keechaka, but he never had as much hatred for anyone as he had for Duryodhana. Though Yudhistira is the eldest Pandava brother, Mahabharata is in fact all about the enimity between the eldest Kaurava (Duryodhana) and the second Pandava (Bhima). Duryodhana feared Bhima the most, right from his childhood since he knew this monster is too difficult to deal with, not just due to his physical strength, but also due to his mental stubbornness. Duryodhana saw Bhima as the greatest obstacle in his journey to become the King. And that was the sole reason he tried to kill Bhima at Pramanakoti. Duryodhana's unsuccessful attempts continued for years, until he was finally killed by the mighty Bhima. Their relationships stands as an epitome of enemity in today's world.
In Modern versions:
Bhima is in fact the most under rated warrors in moden renditions of Mahabharatha. Probably in the original epic as well, he's not given the due credit for his heroics. When Bhishma was rating the warriors on each side, he rated Arjuna as the only Maharathi on the Pandava side, and counted all the other Pandavas, Drishtadyumna, Drupata etc as Athirathis. Maybe his assessment was true to some extend, but Bhima in fact surprised the Kauravas by causing more destruction than what they imagined and at times scored over the Maharathi's on the Kaurava side. Today Bhima is seen by many as a skilled obese wrestler who threw his weight over similar fighters of his time. But the real Bhima was much more than these. With the hundreds of biased retellings of Mahabharata that are floated today, a retelling of Bhima's heroics in Mahabharata is heavily needed. There are of course a couple of such versions as well. But despite this Bhima in today's world is denied the respect he deserves.
The Mahabharata Research