People who sleep too much are often called Kumbhakarna in India, especially if they are also gluttons. But who is this Kumbhakarna?
Kumbhakarna was an Asura and the younger brother of Ravana, the demon king of Lanka and the villain of the Ramayana epic. He was the second son of Sage Vishrawas and Kaikasi. The Srimad Bhagavad Purana says that Ravana and Kumbhakarna were actually the doorkeepers of Vaikunta, Vishnu’s heavenly abode in their previous birth. They were cursed to take birth on earth due to the curse of the Sanakadi Rishis, who were angered by their insolence.
Kumbhakarna had many magical powers. He was massive in size and roamed around the universe, causing mayhem. Kumbhakarna is said to have performed intense austerities for many years to Brahma at Gokarna along with his brother, Ravana. The Gods became worried that Kumbhakarna would become even more powerful due to his penance. They approached Goddess Saraswati and asked her to foil his evil designs, and she agreed.
Brahma finally gave darshan to Kumbhakarna, who demanded the boon of Nirdevata, meaning ‘extinction of the Gods/Devas’. But when he was about to demand the boon, Saraswati twisted his tongue so that the word came out as Nidravata – sleepiness. Brahma granted the boon promptly. Ravana, however, was not very pleased with the boon and requested Brahma to annul it as it was more like a curse. So the boon was slightly modified. Kumbhakarna would sleep for six months of the year. When he awoke, he would eat everything he saw, including humans.
Despite all this, he had a good character and was also a great warrior. During the war against Rama, he killed and ate many monkeys, but only to support his brother and reveal his power. He was pious and intelligent.
Though Kumbhakarna fought bravely on the side of Ravana, he also disapproved of Ravana’s abduction of Sita and admonished him for dragging them all into a needless war and causing the death of many demons.
Kumbhakarna was eventually slain by Rama. He was freed of the curse and regained his former position as the doorkeeper of Vaikunta.
Kumbhakarna’s wife was Vajrajvala. They had two sons - Kumbha and Nikumbha. Vajrajvala also fought in the war against Rama and his army.
The Might of Kumbhakarna
There was no one in the whole of Indralok who could defeat Kumbhakarna. He was very powerful and also the strongest person in the universe. Indra was jealous of his might, as his army could not beat him. Kumbhakarna had a huge capacity when it came to food. When he woke up for a day, he gobbled up everything. Even before the curse, Kumbhakarna would eat massive amounts of food. This made Brahma and Saraswati fear that he might swallow the entire universe.
Kumbhakarna was also a great philosopher. Sage Narada supposedly taught Kumbhakarna philosophy. Violence did not really enthuse Kumbhakarna. He was well aware that fighting Rama was a futile exercise. But he did not want to let down his brother. He stood by him, knowing that Ravana’s actions were wrong, unlike Vibhishana, another brother of Ravana, who defected to the other side.
During the war, Rama and his army humiliated Ravana. So, he decided to seek Kumbhakarna’s help. It was with great difficulty that the sleeping demon was awakened. On learning the circumstances that led to the war, he tried his best to convince Ravana to release Sita and end the war.
But Ravana’s pride and ego did not allow him to do the right thing. When Kumbhakarna realized that his advice was falling on deaf ears and that Ravana would not reverse his decision, he chose to help his brother and fight in the battle.
Kumbhakarna was loyal and patriotic. He took pride in his ancestry and the glory of the demons’ rule. Under Ravana, the kingdom of Lanka had prospered greatly. So, when Ravana appealed to his brother to help uphold the glory of their forefathers, the name and honor of their clan and dynasty, Kumbhakarna had no choice but to agree to fight for Ravana.
Kumbhakarna in Battle
Kumbhakarna led the Asura army into battle and unleashed havoc on Rama's army. He slew many Vanaras and ate them. He even wounded the powerful Hanuman and rendered Sugriva unconscious.
Kumbhakarna was an expert in assuming various illusory forms to confuse the enemy. It was not easy to attack him, as he could create many replicas of himself. All the missiles and arrows of the enemy’s army could not strike him.
Also, Kumbhakarna would create a 'rain of fire' that engulfed the enemy. This led to utter chaos in Ram's army. To counter Kumbhakarna’s tactic, Rama caused it to rain, which put out the fire. Kumbhakarna then created a 'rain of stones', and Rama countered it by creating a protective cover. In this manner, the battle raged for quite some time. Finally, Rama attacked the demon using the Indrastra, the divine weapon of Indra. Kumbakarna's head was decapitated and supposedly smashed several buildings and fortifications before it fell into the sea.
On hearing the news of his beloved brother’s death, Ravana fainted and cried that he was doomed. Supposedly, Kumbhakarna uttered the words, ‘Jai Shri Ram’ before he died and attained Moksha.