Kumbhakarna (He with karna, ears [as big as], kumbha, pots) is a rakshasa, a demon, the brother of Ravana (see DEMONIC BEINGS). He plays a part in the RAMAYANA story and he is burned yearly in effigy during the Ramlila celebration, when the victory of Lord RAMA over the evil demons is remembered.
   The story goes that Kumbhakarna was a very powerful demon, and naturally strong. Other demons, rakshasas, acquired their powers as the result of austerities and boons, but he alone had the natural power to kill any god, man, or being. Once Kumbakarna was besting INDRA, the king of the gods himself, in battle. Indra, along with other gods, RISHIS, and various beings went to BRAHMA to ask for aid. Brahma cursed Kumbhakarna at that moment, to sleep forever. Ravana, his brother, pleaded with Brahma to soften his curse and Brahma then cursed him to sleep for six months at a time, after which he would voraciously eat for one day, and then would go back to sleep again. This curse was meant to hold him in control so that he would not conquer all the worlds.
   In the RAMAYANA, when the rakshasas have begun their war with RAMA, Lakshmana, and the monkeys, there is a rather humorous scene that takes place when Ravana tries forcibly to wake Kumbhakarna to fight. They beat him and scrape him in every way; they have elephants drag him; they beat a thousand drums; and so on, but Kumbhakarna continues to snore. Finally, hit with trees and doused by thousands of pitchers of water, Kumbharakarna awakes. This done, he is asked to fight and agrees, but first he must be fed vast wagon loads of food, which he takes whole into his voracious mouth. His endless hunger sated, he goes into battle. After wreaking havoc, he eventually is slain by Lord Rama himself.
   Further reading: S. P. Bahadur, trans., The Complete Works of Gosvami Tulsidas (Varanasi: Prachya Prakashan, 1978–2005); Robert Goldman, ed., The Ramayana of Valmiki, 6 vols. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univer-sity Press, 1984–2005); C. Rajagopalachari, Ramayana (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1972).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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