Shambuka (IAST: śambūka) is, in Hindu mythology, a character in some versions of the Ramayana. According to that version, Shambuka, a shudra ascetic, was slain by Rama for attempting to perform penance in violation of dharma, the bad karma resulting from which caused the death of a Brahmin's son. It is believed that Shambuka was beheaded in a hill at Ramtek, near Nagpur in Maharashtra.
Source of the storyEdit
The killing of Shambuka appears in the 'Uttarakanda' [Final Chapter], sargas 73-76, in the Adhyatma Ramayana version of Ramayana. Scholars such as Purushottama Candra Jaina, and John Brockington write that this story "is of late origin".
Following is the English translation of chapter 73–76 done by Hari Prasad Shastri in his book "The Ramayana of Valmiki: Translated by Hari Prasad Shastri".
An aged peasant, a brahmin, bearing his dead child in his arms came to the palace gate, weeping and crying out again and again “What sin did I commit in a previous existence?" Overcome with paternal grief, he repeated “O My Son, My Son! Ah! Of what fault was I formerly guilty in another body that I should see mine only son meet with death ? This boy had not yet reached adolescence, his fourteenth year not having been completed! To my misfortune, before his time, this dear child has been struck down by death! In a few days, I and thy mother too will die of grief, O Dear Child! I do not recollect ever to have uttered a lie; I do not remember ever inflicting an injury on any animal or doing harm to any person! People perish under the unrighteous rule of an impious monarch. The evil conduct of a king brings about the premature death of his subjects. When, in the cities and country, crimes are committed and no supervision is exercised, then death is to be feared! Undoubtedly the king will be held to be at fault in city and country, hence the death of this child." Such were the countless recriminations that the unfortunate father addressed to the king whilst he clasped his son to his breast. The piteous lamentations of that unfortunate brahmin reached the ears of the king and he, in the profound distress, called together his ministers, Vasishtha and Vamadeva, with his brothers and the elders of the city also. Then eight brahmins were ushered into the king's presence by Vasishtha, who resembled a God, and they said "May prosperity attend thee!" Thereafter those foremost of the Twice-born, Markandeya, Maudgajya, Vamadeva, Kashyapa, Katyayana, Javali, Gautama and Narada took their seats, and those Rishis being assembled, Rama paid obeisance to them with joined palms. Then the ministers and citizens received a cordial welcome, as was fitting, and all those highly effulgent persons being seated near him, Raghava informed them of the reproaches of that Twice-born One. Hearing the words of the prince, who was fined with distress, Narada himself made this memorable reply in the assembly of the Sages “Learn, O King, what has caused the untimely death of this child! When thou art conversant therewith, do what thou considerest to be thy duty ! O Prince, Joy of the Raghus, formerly in the Krita Yuga, the brahmins alone practiced asceticism; he who was not a brahmin in no wise undertook it. At the close of that age, all was consumed and absorbed into Brahman. Thereafter the 5 brahmins were re-born enlightened and endowed with the gift of immortality. In that age, none died prematurely and all were wise. The Treta Yuga followed when the sons of Manu were born, one who practiced austerities; these noble men were the rulers, and full of power and heroism. In that era, Brahmins and Kshatriyas were equal in power nor could any distinction be found amongst them; it was then that the four castes were established. In the Treta Yuga, brahmins and warriors practiced asceticism and the rest were under the supreme obligation of obedience, proper to the Vaishya and Shudra classes; the Shudras' duty being to serve the other three. O Great King, in the Dwapara Yuga, untruth and evil increased, unrighteousness having placed a second foot on the earth, and then the Vaishyas began to practice penance, so that dharma, in the form of asceticism, was performed by the three castes, but the Shudras were not permitted to undertake it during that time, O Foremost of Men. O Prince, a man of the lowest caste may not give himself up to penance in the Dwapara Yuga; it is only in the Kali Yuga that the practice of asceticism is permitted to the Shudra caste. During the Dwapara Yuga it is a great crime for one of Shudra birth to perform such practices. At this time, in thine empire, a rigid penance is being undertaken by a wretched Shudra, O Prince, and this is the cause of the death of that child. An act of mortification that is prescribed is well done and a sixth of the merit goes to the king who rules with justice. But how should he, who does not protect his people, enjoy the sixth portion? O Lion among Men, thou should investigate the happenings in thy kingdom and put down evil wherever it is practised, so righteousness may flourish, man's life be prolonged and the child be revived." Rama makes a Tour of Inspection of his Kingdom hearing the nectar-like words of Narada, Rama was delighted and said to Lakshmana “O Dear Friend, thou who art faithful to thy vows, go and console that leading brahmin and cause the body of the child to be placed in a jar of oil with precious unguents and fragrant salves so that it is covered and does not suffer decomposition. Act in such a way that the body of the child does not dissolve or decay." Having issued this command to Lakshmana, who was endowed with auspicious marks, the highly illustrious Kakutstha thought of Pushpaka, and said “Come hither!" Conscious of his intention, the golden chariot appeared before him in the same hour and bowing, said to him “Behold, I am here at thy service, O Long-armed Prince! Listening to the gracious words of Pushpaka, Rama paid obeisance to the great Rishis and ascended the chariot. Armed with his bow, his two quivers and his glittering sword, Raghava left the city in the charge of his two brothers, Saumitri and Bharata, and thereafter that monarch directed his course to the western region which he explored on every side; then he went to the northern region bounded by the Himalayas, but found no one. No trace of evil-doing there; later the eastern region was carefully searched by him and that long-armed Prince, from on high in his chariot, beheld people of pure morals there, as stainless as a mirror. Then he, who causes felicity to the great Rishis, ranged the southern region and, on the side of the Shaivaja Mountain, a vast lake appeared to him, on the banks of which the blessed Raghava beheld an ascetic practicing an extremely rigorous penance, his head hanging downwards. On this that Prince approached the one who had given himself up to rigorous practices and said "Blessed art thou, O Ascetic, who art faithful to thy vows ! From what caste art thou sprung, O Thou who hast grown old in mortification and who art established in heroism. I am interested in this matter, I, Rama, the son of Dasaratha. What purpose hast thou in view? Is it heaven or some other object? What boon dost thou seek by means of this hard penance? I wish to know what thou desire in performing these austerities, oh Ascetic. May prosperity attend thee! Art thou a brahmin ? Art thou an invincible Kshatriya? Art thou a Vaishya, one of the third caste or art thou a Shudra? Answer me truthfully!" Then the ascetic, who was hanging head downwards, thus questioned by Rama, revealed his origin to that Prince born of Dasaratha, the foremost of kings, and the reason why he was practicing penance. Hearing the words of Rama of imperishable exploits, that ascetic, his head still hanging downwards, answered "O Rama, I was born of a Shudra alliance and I am performing this rigorous penance in order to acquire the status of a God in this body. I am not telling a lie, O Rama, I wish to attain the Celestial Region. Know that I am a Shudra and my name is Shambuka." As he was yet speaking, Raghava, drawing his brilliant and stainless sword from its scabbard, cut off his head. The Shudra being slain, all the Gods and their leaders with Agni's followers, cried out, “Well done! Well done!" overwhelming Rama with praise, and a rain of celestial flowers of divine fragrance fell on all sides, scattered by Vayu. In their supreme satisfaction, the Gods said to that hero, Rama “Thou hast protected the interests of the Gods, O Highly Intelligent Prince, now ask a boon, O Beloved Offspring of Raghu, Destroyer of Thy Foes. By thy grace, this Shudra will not be able to attain heaven!"— The Ramayana of Valmiki: Translated by Hari Prasad Shastri p1585, 
Criticism and apologeticsEdit
Hindu authors adopt other means to explain the reason behind Rama's killing of Shambuka. The Pushtimarg Vaishnavite tradition of Gujarat points out that the Ramayana refers to other Shudras, such as Shabari, who lived in the forest. Shambuka therefore deliberately violated dharma in order to get Rama's attention, and attained salvation when he was beheaded. The celebrated Kannada poet Kuvempu, in his play Shudra Tapasvi shows Rama as having to both carry out his duty by punishing Shambuka, and simultaneously protect Shambuka, as a pious and devout sage, from persecution, and thereby turns the story into a critique of Brahminical attitudes and a defense of Rama.
Other authors argue that not all tapas is done for a pious purpose. Ravana, a Brahmin killed by Rama, had also performed penance but not for pious reasons. They argue that Shambuka was killed for conducting penance with a motive of attaining a celestial power with his material body, which is not an unselfish motive for which penance is meant to be performed. It is particularly forbidden (e.g. story of Trishanku) in Hindu mythology to aspire for entering heaven with a material body. The belief is that the material body, i.e. Annamaya Kosha, is mortal and is meant only for performing ones Karma on earth.
- Government of Maharashtra, Nasik District Gazeteer: History - Ancient Period "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 7 November 2006. Retrieved 1 October 2006. (text credited to Mahamahopadhyaya Dr. V. V. Mirashi)
- Hari Prasad Shastri (1957). The Ramayana of Valmiki. Shanti Sadan. p. 1585. ISBN 978-0-8542-4048-7.
- P. 16 Labour in Ancient India By Purushottama Candra Jaina
- Motiramji Sastri, Ramayan (in Gujarati) (Ahmedabad, 1961).
- 'M. Raghava, "The king and the protector of the devout" The Hindu (26 October 2004).