Kumbhakarna (Sanskrit: कुम्भकर्ण, lit. pot-eared) is a powerful rakshasa and a younger brother of Ravana from the Hindu epic Ramayana.[1] Despite his foreboding gigantic size and great appetite, he is described of virtuous character and a great warrior in Hindu mythology. He is described to have slaughtered eight thousand vanaras over the course of Rama's invasion of Lanka.[2]

Kumbhakarna
Kumbhakarna.jpg
Kumbhakarna with his weapons
AffiliationRakshasa
TextsRamayana and its versions
Personal information
ParentsVishrava (father)
Kaikashi (mother)
SiblingsRavana, Vibhishana (brothers)
Shurpanakha (sister)
Consort
  • Vajrajwala
  • Karkati
ChildrenKumbha and Nikumbha (from Vajrajwala)
Bhimasura (from Karkati)

Vibhishana narrates that unlike Ravana and he, Kumbhakarna had been born with immense strength, having subdued both Indra and Yama and stricken the former in the chest with the broken tusk of Airavata. At the bequest of Indra, Brahma cursed the rakshasa to "sleep like he is dead". On Ravana's request, he commuted the curse to have the rakshasa sleep for six months at a time, and wake up for exactly one day to wreak havoc and devour to his heart's content.[3]

In a popular retelling of this tale, accompanying his brothers, Ravana and Vibhishana, Kumbhakarna performed a major yajna to please Brahma. Indra was worried and jealous of his strength. He went to Brahma before Kumbhakarna's boon could come to fruition.

When Kumbhakarna asked for his boon, his tongue was tied by the goddess Saraswati, who acted on Indra's request; Instead of asking for Indraasana (the throne of Indra), he asked for Nidraasana (bed for sleeping).[4] It is also said that he intended to ask for Nirdevatvam (annihilation of the devas) and instead asked for Nidravatvam (sleep). His request was instantly granted. However, his brother Ravana requested Brahma to undo this curse as a boon and Brahma reduced it to sleeping for six months, after which he would sleep again as soon as his appetite was satisfied.[5]

OriginEdit

 
Depiction of Kumbhakarna’s massive appetite

In the Bhagavata Purana, Kumbhakarna is said to be the incarnation of the gatekeeper deity Vijaya. Vijaya along with his brother and fellow gatekeeper Jaya, was punished by the Four Kumaras for impiety while they guarded the sacred realm of Vishnu. Vijaya was initially sentenced to mortality, but after appealing to the deity Vishnu for assistance, Vishnu agreed to reduce their sentence to just three lifetimes as his enemies before allowing them to return to the sacred realm Vaikuntha (place of eternal bliss). While his brother Jaya became Ravana, Vijaya became the godly demon Kumbhakarna during their second incarnation of three on Earth.

In the warEdit

 
Kumbhakarna yawns as he is roused from Dhyana

To defend his kingdom, Ravana charged into battle and was humiliated by Rama and his army after underestimating his enemy. He decided that he needed the help of his brother Kumbhakarna, who was awakened with great difficulty. He woke up only after one thousand elephants walked over him.[6]

 
Kumbhakarna Enters Warfront, Painting by Balasaheb Pandit Pant Pratinidhi

When he was informed of the circumstances of Ravana's war with Rama, he tried to convince Ravana that what he was doing was wrong, and that Rama was none other than the avatar of Vishnu, and that Sita was an avatar of Lakshmi. However, his older brother turned was deaf to these words and Kumbhakarna chose to fight in the battle due to his loyalty to his brother. Kumbhakarna joined the battle and devastated Rama's army. After a battle against Hanuman and Sugriva, he knocked the latter unconscious and took him prisoner.[7] The rakshasa's exploits are described as follows:[8]

Kumbhakarna, his ears and nose severed, drenched in gore, shone like a mountain with its torrents and, covered with blood, vomiting blood, that gigantic titan of fearful aspect, the younger brother of Ravana, blazed with anger. Like unto a mass of dark collyrium or an evening cloud, that formidable Ranger of the Night resolved to enter into combat once more and, Sugriva having escaped, that enemy of Indra, furious, immediately threw himself into the straggle but reflecting ‘I have no weapon’ that ferocious warrior seized hold of a huge hammer. Issuing from the city, the valiant titan began to consume the redoubtable army of the monkeys with the violence of Fire at the destruction of the worlds. Famished and avid for flesh, Kumbhakarna entered the ranks of the monkeys and, in his rage, like unto Mrityu at the end of the world period, indiscriminately ate up titan, monkey, Pisaca and bear. Thereafter in his fury, he consumed the monkeys, seizing one, two, three or more in one hand and titans also, thrusting them greedily into his mouth so that he streamed with flesh and blood and, though struck by the peaks of mountains, continued to feast on those monkeys, whilst they, seeing their companions being devoured, took refuge with Rama, whereupon Kumbhakarna, in a transport of rage, pursued them in order to consume them. Seizing them in his arms, in the chase, he took hold of them in groups of seven, eight, twenty, thirty and a hundred; his limbs were covered with fat, flesh and blood, while wreaths of tangled entrails hung over his ears, and that colossus, of sharp teeth, began to discharge his weapons so that he appeared like Time at the end of the world.

— Valmiki, Ramayana, Chapter 67, Yuddha Kanda


A long drawn out duel ensued between Lakshmana and Kumbhakarna, after which both combatants were fatigued.[9] In his battle against Rama, he had one arm cut off by the Vayuastra and the other mutilated by the Indrastra. Still formidable, the rakshasa raged towards Rama, opening his massive mouth to swallow him whole, to which he was met with a volley of arrows. In the Kamba Ramayanam, Kumbhakarna acknowledges the divinity of Rama, but informs him of his dharma to fight for his brother and only urges the prince to keep Vibhishana safe from harm.[10] His desire granted, he charged against Rama once more, his feet now severed by crescent arrows. He was slain only when the unassailable Indrastra was deployed by Rama. Kumbakarna's head was decapitated and is described to have smashed several buildings and fortifications before descending towards the sea.[11] When Ravana heard of his brother's death, he fainted and later proclaimed that he was truly doomed.[12]

 
Death of Kumbhakarna, c. 1670, Malwa painting, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Kumbhakarna had two sons, Kumbha and Nikumbha, from his wife Vajrajwala, the daughter of Bali and a granddaughter of Virochana who too fought in the war against Rama and were killed.[13]

Jain traditionEdit

Kumbhakarna attained Moksha from Barwani.[14]

CharacterizationEdit

AppearanceEdit

Kumbharana is depicted in various Indian Aam Lal pal Hal chal paintings.[15][16] He is portrayed as a giant, sometimes with horns.

 
The demons try to rouse the giant Kumbhakarna, by hitting him with weapons and clubs and shouting in his ear, 17th century, British Museum.

PersonalityEdit

Kumbhakarana is portrayed as a virtuous character, despite his monstrous size and appearance. He had asked his older brother Ravana to apologize for kidnapping Sita, however, Ravana did not heed this advice. He used to sleep for 6 months at a time.

 
Kumbhkaran Mask in Folk Play

Outside Indian subcontinentEdit

IndonesiaEdit

 
Kumbakarna wayang (puppetry) figures in Indonesian culture
 
Defeat of Kumbakarna, Brahma Temple, Prambanan, Central Java, Indonesia

In Indonesian version. Kumbhakarna (Indonesian: Arya Kumbakarna) is the second son of Resi Wisrawa with Dewi Sukesi, daughter of Prabu Sumali, king of the state of Alengka. He has three siblings named; Dasamuka/Ravana, Dewi Sarpakenaka and Arya Wibisana. Kumbakarna also has another mother named Wisrawana/Prabu Danaraja, the king of Lokapala, the son of Resi Wisrawa and Dewi Lokawati.

Kumbakarna has a seat in the ksatrian/state of Leburgangsa. He is honest, brave because he is right and is chivalrous. When he was young he went into meditation with the intention of getting God's grace. Kumbakarna once joined Prabu Dasamuka in attacking Suralaya, and got Dewi Aswani as his wife. From this marriage he had two sons named; Kumba-kumba and Aswanikumba.

When the Great Alengka war broke out, the Alengka country was attacked by the monkey army of Prabu Rama, under its warlord Narpati Sugriwa to free Dewi Sinta who was held captive by Prabu Dasamuka, Kumbakana stepped forward as a warlord. He fought not to defend the wrath of King Dasamuka but to defend the country of Alengka, the land of his ancestors who had given him life.

Kumbakarna finally died in the battle against King Rama and Laksmana. His body was dismembered into several pieces by the blows of the arrows that were released simultaneously. What happened to Kumbakarna was the action of Resi Wisrawa, his father, when he killed Jambumangli.

 
Kumbhakarna in Drama. Bali, Indonesia

According to the Ramayana story, Kumbakarna was the brother of Ravana, the rakshasa king of Alengka. Kumbakarna is a giant who is very tall and has a terrible face, but he is an officer and often realizes his brother's wrong actions. He has a weakness, which is sleeping for six months, and during that period of sleep, he is unable to exert all his strength. In Sanskrit, the name Kumbhakarna literally means "pitch-eared".

Kumbakarna's father was a sage named Wisrawa, and his mother was Kekasi, the daughter of a Detya king named Sumali. Rahwana, Wibisana and Surpanaka are his siblings, while Kubera, Kara, Dusana, Kumbini, are his half brothers. Marica is his uncle, son of Tataka, Sumali's brother. Kumbakarna had sons named Kumba and Nikumba. His two sons died in the battle in Alengka. Kumba met his death at the hands of Sugriwa, while Nikumba died at the hands of Hanoman, when Ravana and Kumbakrana performed penance, Lord Brahma appeared because he was pleased with their worship. Brahma gave them the opportunity to apply. When it was Kumbakarna's turn to make a request, Goddess Saraswati went into her mouth to bend her tongue, so when she asked for “Indraasan” (Indrāsan – the throne of Lord Indra), she said “Neendrasan” (Nīndrasan – eternal sleep). Brahma granted his request. Feeling affection for his sister, Ravana asked Brahma to cancel the gift. Brahma did not wish to cancel his gift, but he eased the gift so that Kumbakarna slept for six months and woke up for six months. While he is sleeping, he will not be able to exert all his strength.

Kumbakarna often gave advice to Ravana, realizing that his actions were wrong. When Ravana was overwhelmed with Sri Rama, he ordered Kumbakarna to confront him. Kumbakarna actually knew that his brother was wrong, but in order to defend Alengka, his homeland, he stepped forward as a soldier against Rama's invasion. Kumbakarna is often symbolized as an officer who defends his homeland, because he defends Alengka for all his people, not only for Ravana, and he fights against Rama without any hostility, just carrying out his obligations.

When the Alengka Kingdom was invaded by Rama and his allies, Ravana ordered his troops to wake up the sleeping Kumbakarna. Ravana's messenger woke Kumbakarna by leading the elephant to trample his body and pierce his body with a spear, then when Kumbakarna's eyes began to open, his messenger immediately brought the food to Kumbakarna's nose. After eating the food that was served, Kumbakarna really woke up from his sleep.

After waking up, Kumbakarna faced Ravana. He tried to advise Ravana to return Sita and explained that his brother's actions were wrong. Ravana was sad to hear this advice so that it touched Kumbakarna. Without being hostile to Rama, Kumbakarna went to the battlefield to fulfill his obligations as a defender of the country. Before the fight Kumbakarna talked with Wibisana, his sister, after that he fought with the Vanara troops.

In the war, Kumbakarna killed many Vanara troops and injured many selected soldiers such as Anggada, Sugriwa, Hanoman, Nila, and others. With his magic arrow, Rama severed Kumbakarna's hands. But with his feet, Kumbakarna was still able to trample the wanara troops. Then Rama cut off Kumbakarna's legs with his arrow. Without arms and legs, Kumbakarna rolled his body and ran over the wanara troops. Seeing Kumbakarna's might, Rama was impressed and amazed. But he didn't want Kumbakarna to suffer for too long. Finally Rama released his last arrow. The arrow separated Kumbakarna's head from his body and carried him flying, then fell in the center of Alengka.[17]

See alsoEdit

LiteratureEdit

"Kumbhakarna" in M.M.S. Shastri Chitrao, Bharatavarshiya Prachin Charitrakosha (Dictionary of Ancient Indian Biography, in Hindi), Pune 1964, pp. 149-151

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Valmiki; Vyasa (19 May 2018). Delphi Collected Sanskrit Epics (Illustrated). Delphi Classics. ISBN 978-1-78656-128-2.
  2. ^ V?lm?ki; Venkatesananda, Swami (1 January 1988). The Concise R_m_ya_a of V_lm_ki. SUNY Press. ISBN 978-0-88706-862-1.
  3. ^ Parameswaran, Mangalam R. (19 April 2013). The Ramayana of Valmiki (A condensed version of Valmiki's epic): , published by Manipal Universal Press. Manipal Universal Press. ISBN 978-93-82460-08-4.
  4. ^ Murty, Sudha (25 September 2018). The Upside-Down King: Unusual Tales about Rama and Krishna. Penguin Random House India Private Limited. ISBN 978-81-8475-417-9.
  5. ^ Mani, Vettam (1975). Puranic encyclopaedia : a comprehensive dictionary with special reference to the epic and Puranic literature. Robarts - University of Toronto. Delhi : Motilal Banarsidass. p. 439.
  6. ^ Venkataraman, M. (3 June 2022). A few gods and goddesses of Hinduism. Venkataraman M.
  7. ^ Swaminathan, L. (1 January 2018). Vaalmeeki Raamaayan: A Revelation. Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 978-81-208-4216-8.
  8. ^ www.wisdomlib.org (27 September 2020). "Kumbhakarna's Exploits [Chapter 67]". www.wisdomlib.org. Retrieved 12 July 2022.
  9. ^ Maharajan, S. (1996). Kamban. Sahitya Akademi. ISBN 978-81-7201-244-1.
  10. ^ Tampi, Pa Patmanāpan̲ (1996). Ramayanas of Kampan and Eluttacchan. O. Padmakumari.
  11. ^ aravamudan, krishnan (22 September 2014). Pure Gems of Ramayanam. PartridgeIndia. ISBN 978-1-4828-3720-9.
  12. ^ Mani, Vettam (1975). Puranic encyclopaedia : a comprehensive dictionary with special reference to the epic and Puranic literature. Robarts - University of Toronto. Delhi : Motilal Banarsidass. p. 450.
  13. ^ M.M.S. Shastri Chitrao (1964), pp. 149, 367
  14. ^ Barwani - Census of India (PDF)
  15. ^ "The Demon Kumbhakarna Is Defeated by Rama and Lakshmana: Folio from a Dispersed Ramayana Series". Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 25 October 2019.
  16. ^ Wight, Colin. "Ramayana: Pages 51 and 52". www.bl.uk. Retrieved 25 October 2019.
  17. ^ Haryati Soebadio, Kajian astabrata: Pendahuluan dan teks

External linksEdit