The Alwars (also spelled Azhwars) are a group of 12 ancient Vaishnava saints who lived in Tamil Nadu and are famous for their poetry in praise of Vishnu. The Alwars are crucially important figures in the development of Vaishnavism; it is the principles and beliefs embodied in the Alwars' poems that ultimately gave rise to the Sri Vaishnava sect (of which I'm a member). Now as I discuss in this question, the course of their poems the Alwars have praised 108 sacred places of Vishnu, known as the Divya Desams. One of the Divya Desams is Thirukkolur, which is the birthplace of Madhurakavi Alwar (whom I discuss here) and the site of the Vaithamanidhi Perumal Vishnu Temple. The story of the temple seems to bear some similarity to the story of Govindaraja, which I discuss here, so I may ask about that in future.

But my question is about Thirukkolur's main claim to fame. The famous Sri Vaishnava Acharya Ramanujacharya was once walking into the town of Thirukkolur, when he saw a little girl walking in the opposite direction. He asked her where she was coming from, and she said Thirukkolur. So he told her everyone goes to Thirukkolur to Sriman Narayana, so what possible reason could she have for leaving. She responded with a set of 81 statements, now known as the Thirukkolur Penpillai Rahasyam or "The secret told by the little girl from Thirukkolur". She listed 81 great devotees of Vishnu, her point being "since I am not like these 81 great devotees, why does it matter if I am in Thirukkolur or not"?

Now the sixth statement the little girl made was "piNa virundhittEnO kaNdAkarNanaip pOlE" meaning "Am I like Kandakarna?" The story as I understand it goes roughly as follows. There was once a cannibalistic demon named Kandakarna who asked Shiva for Moksha for him and his brother. Shiva informed Kandakarna that Shiva once received a boon from Vishnu that Vishnu would come as Krishna to Mount Kailash and pray to Shiva. So Shiva suggested that Kandakarna could use that opportunity to attain Moksha. So when Krishna came to Kailash, Kandakarna killed a sage and offered the sage's dead body to Krishna! Krishna, in his boundless compassion, granted Moksha to Kandakarna, his brother, and the sage he killed. Here's how this web page describes it:

Kandakarnan was a spirit that ate dead bodies. He was an ardent devotee of Shiva and as such hung a bell in his ear to prevent him from hearing Narayana's name being said. Hence he was called kaNdAkarNan. One time he went to Kailasha and prayed to Shiva to help him leave the spirit state and attain moksha. Shiva told him that he could not give him liberation and that only Narayana could do that. However, he gave the spirit a suggestion.

Shiva said "Lord Narayana has appeared on earth as Sri Krishna now. I asked Him one time to give me an opportunity to give Him a boon. He agreed and told me that He would come to Kailasha as Krishna and get a boon from me. When He comes here for that, if you pray to Him, He will give you what you seek". He also gave a description of Krishna's form to Kandakarnan so he would recognize Krishna when he saw Him. Kandakarna then thanked Shiva, removed the bell from his ear and keeping Krishna's image and name in his mind started waiting for His arrival.

One day, he saw Krishna from a distance and recognized Him right away. Immediately he killed a rishi who was nearby with a spear and brought the body to Krishna. Stopping Krishna he said "I have heard from Shiva that You are the one capable of giving moksha. I just now killed this rishi and brought his body just for You. Please accpet my offering" and prayed to Him sincerely. He did that because the shastras say that whatever a person eats according to his state, he should offer that to the divinity that he prays to, before eating it.

Since he had offered something to Krishna and only to Him, with great sincerity, Krishna accepted the offering and granted him moksha. He also granted to moksha to Kandakarna's brother, based on his prayer. It is understood that the rishi who was killed by Kandakarna and offered to Krishna also attained moksha. Thirukkolur Ammal is asking "Am I capable of praying to the Lord as sincerely as Kandakarna did?"

My question is, what scriptures describe the story of Kandakarna? He isn't mentioned during the account of Krishna's visit to Kailash in the Anushasana Parva of the Mahabharata. So is it possible that his story mentioned in the Puranas?

Also, what race did Kandakarna belong to? Was he a Pisacha, or a Bhuta, or what?

  • 3
    The Pisacha's name is Ghantakarna. The story of Ghantakarna is in the Bhavishya Parva of Harivamsa chapters 79-83. I say Pisacha because the name of chapter 79 is "Pisacha-Agamanam" or "The arrival of Pisachas".
    – Surya
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 16:34
  • @Surya OK thanks! It looks like those chapters haven't been translated in that site. So can you post an answer summarizing what those chapters say? Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 16:45
  • I shall try asap. This is the first time I am hearing this story as well. :)
    – Surya
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 16:46
  • is it ghantakarna or kandakarna?? if it is ghantakarna then is he a bhairava worshipped by atheist school Jain.
    – Yogi
    Commented Jun 11, 2016 at 16:52
  • 1
    @Yogi I think Kandakarnan is just a Tamil spelling of Ghantakarna. In any case, Jains, like Buddhists, believe in the Hindu gods, they just don't think it's necessary to worship them. Commented Jun 11, 2016 at 16:54

2 Answers 2


Ghantarkarna hasn't received moksha yet. However his moksha is granted due to boon by Lord Krishna. He will attain Sayujya with Vishnu after the period of present Indra is over. It is described in chapter 83 Bhavishya Parva of Harivamsha:

ततः प्रोवाच भगवान् स्थितं काममिवापरम् ।
अक्षयः स्वर्गवासस्ते यावदिन्द्रो वसिष्यति ।
तावत् स्वर्गी भवानस्तु शाशनान्मम नान्यतः ।।
नष्टे शक्रे ततः स्वर्गात् सायुज्यं मम गच्छतु
योऽयं भ्राता तव स्वर्गी यावदिन्द्रो भवेत् तथा ।।

Bhagvan (Krishna) spoke to that Ghantakarna who was standing as like Kamadeva. Lord told "You will remain in heaven upto this period of Indra. You will be under me there and not in other place." When the period of this Indra becomes over then you will attain Sayujya with me. Your brother will also enjoy heaven upto period of this Indra.

Regarding your second question to which race he belonged to. He belongs to Pisacha race. His speaking is denoted by using 'Pisacha Uvacha'. Also in chapter 80 Bhavisya Parva he introduces himself to Lord Krishna as a Pisacha:

घण्टाकर्णोऽस्मि नाम्नाहं पिशाचो घोरदर्शनः ।
मासंदो विकृतो घोरः साक्षान्मृत्युरिवापरः ।।

I'm a terrible Pisacha by the name Ghantakarna. I'm violent, terrible consumer of meat and I'm as Kala to the living beings.


As said by @surya, the story of Ghantakarna is mentioned in the Bhavishya Parva of Harivamsa. I didn't found any version of it in English but I have read the story in Hindi version by Geeta Press Gorakhpur 8th edition chapter 83. I found the similar story mentioned here:

The Ghantakarna episode is described in 11 chapters (chapter 73 to 83) in Bhavishya Parva of Harivamsa, the supplement to Mahabharata. Rugmini requests Krishna for a son equal to him. To achieve this, Krishna decides to go to Kailasa to please Siva (Rugmini's request for a son - chapter 73).

The subsequent chapters are Speech on the eve of Journey to Kailasa (chapter 74),

Preparation for the Journey (chapter 75)

Entering Badari (chapter 76) and

Reception at Badari (chapter 77).

In the evening, Krishna goes to the banks of Ganga and starts meditation. Krishna's meditation is disturbed by some sounds. Krishna sees that he is surrounded by many hunter dogs and other wild animals. The dark night is made as bright as the day by a large number of torches. Krishna sees a number of ghosts and pisacas. (Appearance of Pisacas - chapter 78).

As Krishna looks on, two pisacas with swollen chins and protruding tongues arrive, chanting Vishnu's names and praising the greatness of Vishnu. (Arrival of Pisacas - chapter 79)

Without realising that Krishna is the same person whom they are praising, the pisacas question Krishna about him. Krishna answers that he, born in Yadu Race is on his way to Kailasa to meet Siva. The pisacas introduce themselves as Ghantakarnas, servants of Kubera (God of Wealth) and disciples of Siva. Being Vishnu-haters, they wore bells (Ghantas) on their ears (Karna) to ensure that Vishnu's names do not enter their ears. Having pleased Siva with their devotion, Ghantakarnas prayed Siva for salvation. Siva advised that since only Vishnu can grant salvation, they should worship Vishnu and proceed to Dwaraka to meet him. Ghantakarnas explained that the hunt is to conduct a Vishnu Pooja (Worship of Vishnu). Then they start meditation. (Meditation of Ghantakarna - chapter 80)

Pleased by their devotion, Krishna reveals his true form in the minds of these two meditating devotees. The Ghantakarnas are happy by the vision of Vishnu (Ghantakarna's Vision of Vishnu - chapter 81).

Upon opening their eyes, they saw Vishnu standing in front of them exactly as they had seen him during meditation. Overjoyed to see Vishnu,they start dancing. They praise (Praise by Ghantakarnas - chapter 82)

The Ghantakarnas offer Krishna a piece of flesh from the fresh dead body of a brahmin, saying that that is the best food. Krishna says he is pleased with their devotion, but politely refuses the offering. He converts the Ghantakarnas to divine bodies and sends them to heaven. The Ghantakarnas request a boon from Krishna that those who think about the meeting of Ghantakarnas with Vishnu shall become purified in mind and thoughts (Grant of Salvation to Ghantakarnas - chapter 83 )

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