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Kumbhakarna - Mythical Monsters
2315    Dibyendu Banerjee    29/07/2020

According to Hindu legend Ramayana, Kumbhakarna was the younger brother of Ravana, the king of the Rakshsas, ruling the island of Lanka. Rakshsas in Hindu mythology are also called Asuras, who were known as man-eaters and the eternal enemies of the gods. They were mostly described as enormous creatures with huge physical strength, who sometimes create panic among the gods and the humans on earth. They were cruel and powerful warriors, who could assume different physical forms and create illusions. It is said that the Rakshsas were created from the breath of Lord Brahma when he was asleep at the end of the Satya Yuga, the first days of truthfulness. Immediately after their inception, the new creatures became filled with bloodlust and were about to devour Brahma, when he shouted ‘Rakshamam’ in Sanskrit language, which stands for ‘save me’. On hearing the appeal, Lord Vishnu came to save Brahma and banished the Rakshasas, named after Brahma’s shout for help, to Earth. However, although the Rakshasas are described as mean and ferocious, with flaming red eyes and hair, there are also references of kind and truthful Rakshasas in the mythological stories, like Vibishana, another brother of Ravana, who was pious and assiduous in his religious observances.


Kumbhakarna is made of two Sanskrit words, while kumbha stands of a pot or pitcher, Karna means ear. Thus, the meaning of his name is pot-eared. Apart from his frightening appearance and gigantic structure, he was known to be a fearsome warrior and had an enormous appetite. But he was a good soul, pious and intelligent. Indra, the king of gods, was worried about him, as with his strength, power and intelligence, Kumbhakarna could be a potential threat to his throne.

Kumbhakarna, busy with his food

As they were basically pious, Kumbhakarna, along with his elder brother Ravana and the younger Vibishana, performed a major yagna, a special type of worshipping in front of a sacred fire to please Lord Brahma. It pleased Lord Brahma and he appeared before them and asked to know what they want from him. At this point, Indra became very much apprehensive, as Kumbhakarna might ask for his throne. Therefore, he earnestly requested Saraswati, the goddess of beauty, wisdom, music and speech, to do something about it.


When Kumbhakarna’s turn came to pray a boon from Brahma, Saraswati acting on behalf of Indra, influenced to tie his tongue. As a result, instead of asking for Indrasana, the seat of Indra or Nirdevatvan, annihilation of the Devas or gods, Kumbhakarna asked for Nidrasana, a bed for sleeping and his appeal was granted by Brahma. Although Kumbhakarna was happy about it, Ravana could feel the impact of it and he requested Brahma to undo or review his boon, as it was a curse is disguise. Lord Brahma agreed and said that Kumbhakarna would sleep for six months and would be up for a day and on that day he would devour anything and everything and he would be invincible on that day. However, any deviation of his usual sleeping period would cause his fall.

During his battle against Rama, when Rama and his accomplices were creating havoc, killing and humiliating the troops of Lanka, Ravana found no other way but to awaken Kumbhakarna untimely to save the situation. But awakening Kumbhakarna before the completion of his scheduled sleep was a huge task. While hundreds of drums were sounded to create sufficient noise, hundreds of sharp weapons prodded him. However, when nothing worked and an entire army failed to wake him up, one thousand elephants were deployed to walk over his gigantic body and he opened his eyes, reluctantly awakened from his deep slumber.

Kumbhakarna, the sleeping giant

However, after satisfactorily filling up his stomach, when Kumbhakarna was intimated with the recent situation and the reason for the battle against Rama, he tried to convince Ravana that he should not have kidnapped Sita, the wife of Rama, even though his brother Lakshmana rejected the love of their sister Surpanakha and humiliated her. It is therefore advisable to make peace with Rama and return Sita to her husband honouably to save the situation.


But as Ravana refused to comply with his request, Kumbhakarna as an obedient and loyal younger brother agreed to fight, went into the battle and was immediately swarmed by the monkey force of Rama. However, Kumbhakarna, the great warrior just laughed and wreaked great mayhem amidst them. When the monkey king Sugriva attacked him, Kumbhakarna knocked him unconscious, grabbed him and started to drag him off as a prisoner. At that stage, Rama appeared on the scene and used his special arrow called Brahmastra, to kill Kumbhakarna, who immediately dropped like a huge tree cleft in twain by a thunderbolt.

Kumbhakarna at war, Kangra painting
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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