Kumbhakarna, an iconic figure in the rich tapestry of Hindu epics, stands tall not just due to his gigantic size but also for his complex character. A powerful demon and the brother of the infamous Ravana, he is a mighty warrior of monstrous proportions, in the annals of the ancient canon of literature. Despite being a demon, he is often seen as a fearless character, portrayed with a depth that goes beyond his enormous physical form.
His deep sleep, a consequence of a divine curse, is one of his most notable traits, lending an unusual tranquility to his otherwise fearsome demeanor. Yet, when he awakes, he becomes a force to reckon with, a veritable divine missile on the battlefield. His story intertwines with the narratives of Goddess Sita, Lord Rama, and the holy epic written by Maharishi Valmiki.
Who was Kumbhakarna?
In Sanskrit, Kumbhakarna ( कुम्भकर्ण) refers to pot-eared. His family tree based on Valmiki Ramayana is:
Grand Parents: Pulastya and Manini
Parents: Vishravas and Kaikasi
Sons: Kumbha, Nikumbha and Bhimasura
[Some Puranas state that Ravana and Kumbhakarna are sons of Visharvas with Puspotkata, Vibhisana with Raka, and Khara and Suparnakha with Malini. Agni Purana further mentions that Puspotkata and Kaikasi were the same people.]
Previous Life of Kumbhakarna
The following information is based on Bhagvata Purana (7th Skandha):
In their previous lives, Ravana and Kumbhakarna were the Devas Jaya and Vijaya, who were assigned as gatekeepers at Vaikuntha by Vishnu. When they barred sage Sanaka from entering, they were cursed to become Rakshasas. Vishnu assured them that they would be welcomed back to Vaikuntha after living three lives as Rakshasas.
1st life: Reincarnated as Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu, both Asuras, who were later killed by Mahavishnu’s incarnations.
2nd life: Reborn as Ravana and Kumbhakarna, and once again, were killed by Sri Rama incarnation.
3rd life: Reincarnated as Sisupala and Dantavaktra respectively, and yet again, were slain by Sri Krishna incarnation.
After living three lives as Hiranyakashipu, Kumbhakarna, and Dantavaktra, Vijaya finally returned to Vaikuntha.
Why did Kumbhakarna sleep for six months?
Kumbhakarna and his siblings were brought up on Mount Gandhamadana, at their father’s ashram. Witnessing Kubera’s splendor as the king of the Yakshas and owner of the Pushpaka Vimana, Kumbhakarna, and his brothers felt a sense of envy. They engaged in penance for a thousand years in the forest, standing on one foot, but Brahma did not show himself. They maintained their penance, abstaining from food.
Despite another thousand years passing, Brahma did not appear. Ravana then severed his ten heads as an offering to Brahma, prompting Brahma to finally reveal himself. Brahma restored Ravana’s head and granted a boon that he could only be killed by a human. This blessing caused apprehension among the Devas, who feared the implications if Kumbhakarna were to receive a similar boon.
At their request, Sarasvati influenced Kumbhakarna’s speech when he asked for his boon. Although he intended to request NIRDEVATVAM (Absence of all Devas), he instead asked for NIDRAVATVAM (absence of sleep), due to Sarasvati’s manipulation. Brahma fulfilled this request, decreeing Kumbhakarna would sleep uninterrupted for six months each year.
Vibhishana received a boon to always remember righteousness in perilous situations and the ability to use the Brahmastra without any prior training. After receiving these boons, the brothers returned home, displaced Kubera, the lord of Lanka, and claimed it as their own dwelling.
Ravana Summoning Kumbhakarna
After Rama offered his reassurances, King Ravana, his arrogance and pride shattered, his bow broken, his horses and charioteer killed, wounded by arrows, his crown shattered, hastily retreated into Lanka. He ordered to wake his brother Kumbhakarna, a figure of unmatched depth, capable of crushing Devas and Danavas.
वानरान् राजपुत्रौचक्षिप्रमेवहनिष्यति II
Endowed with broad shoulders, he is the foremost of Rakshasas. He will crush many Vanaras immediately and the two princes (Rama and Lakshmana).Ravana praising his brother Kumbhakarna, Yuddha Kanda, 60.18, Valmiki Ramayana
Ravana ordered his rakshasas army:
Kumbhakarna, the one with broad shoulders, stands as the preeminent figure among the Rakshasas. He will swiftly crush the Vanaras and the two royal offspring, Rama and Lakshmana. Kumbhakarna, the chief among all Rakshasas, is the one to be mentioned first and foremost.
But he is senseless, always engrossed in his irregular delight in the form of sleep. Once Kumbhakarna is roused, my sorrow from this dreadful conflict with Rama will be no more.
How hard was it to wake up Kumbhakarna?
कुम्बकर्णस्तदाबुद् ध्वास्पर्शंपरमबुध्यत II
Kumbhakarna felt the touch only when thousands of elephants were made to walk over his body but still did not understand.Waking up Kumbhakarna, Yuddha Kanda, 60.54, Valmiki Ramayana
The mighty Rakshasas ventured into the expansive abode of Kumbhakarna, a residence that spanned one yojana in all directions and was adorned with towering gates. They carried aromatic garlands and food to rouse the sleeping Kumbhakarna, only to be ejected by his gusty breath. These powerfully built creatures persevered, forcing their way back into Kumbhakarna’s dwelling.
They treaded upon floors of gold and precious stones, a sight to behold, and found Kumbhakarna, a mighty figure, in deep slumber. The sight of him was like a mountain spread out in a sleep of death.
They banded together, embarking on the colossal task of waking the slumbering Kumbhakarna. The sight was astounding – Kumbhakarna, the enemy destroyer, the dominating force of the southwest, lay asleep. His body was covered with coarse hair, he breathed heavily, his nostrils flared, and his mouth was as wide as the underworld itself. His body exuded the scent of fat and blood.
In an attempt to rouse him, they placed a massive heap of meat, the size of Mount Meru, before him. They piled a feast of remarkable foods, including buffalo, swine, and antelope meat. They also brought forth thirty-three types of meat, containers of blood, and an assortment of wines.
To awaken Kumbhakarna, they smeared him with sweet-smelling sandal paste and adorned him with exquisite garlands and perfumes. They burned incense and sandalwood to fill the air with pleasant aromas. They blew into conches as large as the moon, creating a deafening noise.
Despite their efforts, Kumbhakarna remained asleep. Angered, the Rakshasas resorted to striking him with mallets and clubs. Their efforts proved futile as Kumbhakarna lay blissfully asleep on the ground, unresponsive to their attempts.
Frustrated and weary, they turned to drums and clay pots to create a cacophony of sounds, but to no avail. Thousands of Rakshasas surrounded him, shouting and striking him, but he remained unmoved.
They drove horses, elephants, camels, and donkeys to trample over him, but the colossal Kumbhakarna remained unawakened. The noise filled Lanka and the surrounding woods, and despite their strongest efforts, he did not stir.
In their desperation, they brought a thousand drums, beating them relentlessly with golden sticks, but the spell of the curse held strong. Enraged, they resorted to pulling his hair, shouting, and pouring water into his ears, but the spell of deep sleep was too powerful.
They hit him with mallets, struck him with a mace, and even had a thousand elephants walk over his body. In response, Kumbhakarna stirred, feeling something, but not fully understanding.
Finally, driven by hunger and the force of their strikes, Kumbhakarna woke. He looked terrifying, devoid of any beauty, his limbs unfurled like massive serpents, his mouth gaping like a bottomless pit as he yawned. He was an awe-inspiring sight, like a divine spirit at the end of the universe.
His enormous eyes glowed like two fiery planets. After spotting an array of food items, he devoured them. Thirsty after his feast, he drank blood, pails of fat, and wine.
The Rakshasas, noticing he had awoken, bowed their heads in greeting. Sleep still lingered in his eyes as he looked upon his subjects.
Conversation between Ravana and Kumbhakarna
Actions performed without regard for time and place will be disastrous like the oblations offered into the fire without consecration, gets wasted.Kumbhakarna’s words of wisdom to Ravana, Yuddha Kanda, 63.6, Valmiki Ramayana
Upon awakening, Kumbhakarna was briefed by Ravana about his fears concerning Sri Rama’s army and his troop of monkeys.
Kumbhakarna responded with a chuckle, stating, “The calamity I foresaw during our earlier discussions has come to fruition due to your disregard of good counsel. Just as wrongdoers inevitably face their downfall, the consequences of your ill-conceived actions have caught up with you, O king! Actions carried out without consideration of their consequences, motivated by overconfidence in one’s abilities, often lead to disaster. Like sacrificial offerings made in a fire without proper rituals, they are fruitless.”
He continued, “Any action should be meticulously planned, considering factors such as the initiation method, the resources involved, the timing, contingency plans, and the likelihood of success. The three strategies towards enemies—conciliation, donation, and division—should also be contemplated. A king who consults with his advisors and deliberates on these aspects will surely succeed.”
“O King of Demons! A man should strive to fulfill his duty, seek worldly gain, and enjoy sensual pleasures—ideally all three, but at least two, at the appropriate time. However, if a king fails to discern the importance of these three aspects, all his knowledge is in vain.”
“You are a leader among the Rakshasas! A king who deliberates with his ministers and adopts the strategies of gifting, conciliation, or creating discord at the right time, will never experience sorrow. But, the advice of those who lack wisdom, who flaunt their ignorance of scriptures and yearn for enormous wealth, should be discarded. Also, those who offer harmful advice disguised as beneficial should be kept away from the council.”
“Some advisors, colluding with the enemy, can lead the king astray. A wise king will identify these traitorous ministers through their behavior in deliberations. An unstable king, whose weaknesses are exploited by his enemies, will inevitably fall if he fails to protect himself.”
“O Ravana, the counsel your brother offered you in the past was sound. You would do well to heed it. Alternatively, you may follow your own path.”
Ravana replied, “Your advice, though delivered as if you were my father or mentor, merely showcases your eloquence. We should focus on the present situation and determine our next course of action. What’s done is done, and dwelling on past mistakes is pointless. If you truly wish to help, use your strengths to rectify the harm I’ve caused. A true friend lends a hand when one is in dire straits.”
To this, Kumbhakarna reassured the troubled Ravana, “Listen, King of Demons! Cast aside your despair. There is no reason for despondency while I’m still alive. I’ll annihilate the cause of your anxiety. You’ll witness a relative doing right by his kin. All enemies will perish. You’ll see Rama and his brother slain by my hand, and their monkey army fleeing the battlefield. Now, drink your wine, banish your sorrow, and let’s get to work. Rama will soon meet his end by my hand, and Sita will be yours for a long time.”
Destruction and Death of Kumbhakarna
Kumbhakarna, the enemy of Devatas, having been killed, the Earth, all mountains, Devatas highly rejoiced.After the death of Kumbhakarna, Yuddha Kanda, 67.174, Valmiki Ramayana
After Ravana’s refusal to heed his brother’s advice, Kumbhakarna, out of loyalty and love for his sibling and nation, entered the battle. He wreaked havoc on Rama’s forces (slaughtered 8000 Vanaras), engaging in fierce combat with Hanuman and Sugriva, ultimately capturing the latter after rendering him unconscious.
The battle between Lakshmana and Kumbhakarna raged on, leaving both warriors drained. In his final confrontation with Rama, Kumbhakarna lost one arm to the Vayuastra and suffered severe damage to the other from the Indrastra. Undeterred, he charged toward Rama, intent on swallowing him whole, but was met with a barrage of arrows.
Rama ultimately vanquished Kumbhakarna using the powerful Indrastra, decapitating him. Kumbhakarna’s enormous head tumbled through the air, demolishing numerous structures and fortifications before plunging into the sea. Upon hearing of his brother’s demise, Ravana collapsed in despair, lamenting that his own doom was imminent.
Kumbhakarna is far more than a mere demon attendant or a figure of monstrous size. He is a mighty demon, a brave warrior, and a pivotal figure in the vast collection of Hindu literature. His deep, blissful sleep and his awakening to partake in a major Yajna or battle, are emblematic of his dual nature – tranquil yet terrifying, monstrous yet deeply complex.
Despite his association with Ravana and their nefarious plot to kidnap Sita, Kumbhakarna embodies a fearlessness and nobility that sets him apart. His character, etched in the ancient language of the holy epics, continues to captivate audiences, making him an enduring figure in the pantheon of Hindu Itihasa.