With Pandu dead, the reins of government now passed into the hands of Dhritarashtra. The Kaurava (Dhritarashtra’s family) and the Pandava children grew up together in Hastinapura. From the earliest days the Pandava children were miles ahead of the Kauravas in intelligence, capacity to learn and physical strength. Bhima who was a strong lad, was also a big bully. He was fond of teasing his Kaurava cousins whose despair he soon became. Duryodhana, in particular, grew a deep hatred for Bhima, resulting in his earliest attempt to kill his cousin.
Duryodhana had a water pavilion built at a place called Pramankoti on the banks of the River Ganga. He then proposed that all his brothers and his five cousins spend a holiday there.
The children were sent to the new resort where they had a happy time, bathing in the river and feasting. At an opportune moment, Duryodhana managed to slip poison into Bhima’s food. Towards evening, while all the other children dressed up and returned to the palace, Bhima, under the influence of the poison, fell unconscious on the river bank and was lying alone. Making sure that nobody was watching, Duryodhana bound Bhima in ropes of creepers and threw him into the deep water. He then returned to the palace, sure that his cousin would be eaten by the creatures under the water.
Bhima sank to the bottom of the river, reaching the kingdom of snakes. Poisonous snakes living there bit him all over his body, excepting his chest, which was too hard to be penetrated. The venom of the snakes acted as antidote to the poison that Bhima had consumed. He regained his consciousness and broke the ropes binding him. The strong Bhima then pushed the snakes down. Soon the oppressed snakes took him to Vasuki, king of the Naga world.
At the Naga court, Bhima met a snake, Aryaka, who turned out to be the great-grandfather of Kunti. Intermixing of humans with asuras, nagas and apsaras was not uncommon in the epic. The venerable old snake was pleased to recognize Kunti’s son. He admired the boy’s strength and recommended to Vasuki that Bhima should be given Rasakunda (vessels with nectar) that would restore him from his recent ordeal. After swallowing eight vessels-full of the nectar, Bhima went off to sleep.
Meanwhile, in the palace in Hastinapura, there was great commotion as Bhima’s absence was noticed. Kunti was inconsolable. Vidura pacified her by saying that Bhima would definitely return, although he suspected foul play by Duryodhana.
There was great relief when, eight days after he disappeared, Bhima walked in, happy and majestic. He related to his brothers what he felt certain was Duryodhana’s treachery and his own adventures in the nether world. Yudhishthira instructed him not to mention this to anyone. At the same time he advised his brothers to be cautious.
Duryodhana made yet another attempt to poison Bhima and failed. By now Duryodhana had formed a coterie with his uncle Sakuni and friend Radheya(Karna). Together they kept plotting against the Pandavas till the war.