Kumbhakarna rakshasa is the younger brother of Ravana in the famous Indian epic Ramayana. What does Kumbhakarna signify?
Kumbakarna was powerful and strong. He was invincible. He was not evil, but his blind love for his brother, Ravana, could make him defeat anybody in battle single-handed.
Kumbakarna performs a severe penance to ask for a boon of complete invincibility. Fearing Kumbakarna's power, valor and invincibility, the Devas plead a Goddess to help them break Kumbakarna's penance. She manipulates him (his mind) and makes him ask for a boon of being able to sleep 6 months continuously!!
Now coming back to the significance. Kumbakarna's story, like many other stories in Hindu mythology seeks to tell us the importance of almighty. It tells us no matter how invincible someone might feel she or he is, one is powerless in front of forces of nature / calamities / The Energy above us / God (God since it is a mythological story).
Ramayana is full of symbolism and through the narrative of Lord Rama & his life, weaves higher concepts of idealism and consciousness.
Even Rama’s enemies are no ordinary people and they represent some of the deepest aspects of human nature.
The demon brothers of Lanka, represent the negative aspects of the three gunas that keep the soul in bondage.
Sattva, Ravana is
Rajas & Kumbhakarna is the personification of
As per Wikipedia,
Tamas is the quality of imbalance, disorder, chaos, anxiety, impure, destructive, delusion, negative, dull or inactive, apathy, inertia or lethargy, violent, vicious, ignorant.
Now if you look closely at Kumbhakarna’s character,
Inactive or Lethargic
By the virtue of the curse from Brahma he would sleep for 6 months and wake up only for a day.
रावस्य वचः श्रुत्वा स्वयम्भूरिदमब्रवीत् |
शयिता ह्येष षण्मासानेकाहम् जागरिष्यति || ६-६१-२८
"Hearing the words of Ravana, Brahma spoke as follows: He will indeed sleep for six months and wake-up for a day."
However, when he would wake up, he would eat like a ravage.
एकेनाह्ना त्वसौ वीरश्च रन् भूमिम् बुभुक्षितः |
व्यात्तास्यो भक्षयेल्लोकान् सम्वृद्ध इव पावकः || ६-६१-२९
"On that single day, this male demon, having starved for six months, will wander over the earth and eat the human race with his month wide open, like an augmented fire."
He had tremendous strength but he used it only to bring destruction on anything that came his way.
पृथिव्याम् केतुभूतोऽसौ महानेकोऽत्र दृश्यते |
यम् दृष्ट्वा वानराः सर्वे विद्रवन्ति यतस्ततः || ६-६१-६
"He alone with a huge body here on this earth, is appearing like a solitary meteror, by seeing whom all the monkeys are running away hither and thither."
He was well versed and intelligent. Even in his drowsiness, he counseled Ravana that they should have listened to Vibhishana and it was Ravana’s actions out of arrogance that has brought destruction to their door step. However due to his love for his brother he joined the war on the side of Adharma.
यो हि शत्रुमवज्ञाय नात्मानमभिरक्षति |
अवाप्नोति हि सोऽनर्थान् स्थानाच्च व्यवरोप्यते || ६-६३-२०
"A king who disregards an enemy and does not protect himself, indeed faces disappointing occurrences and would be removed from his position."
In summary, Kumbhakarna represents lethargy, imbalance, violence and delusion that can cloud the best and brightest of human qualities and lead the soul to darkness (Adharma).
We don't hear much of Kumbhakarna in the Valmiki Ramayana until the Yuddha Kanda in which he plays an important role for Ravana.
But before agrees to fight for Ravana, he severely rebukes Ravana for bringing on the war with Rama. He says to Ravana:
The same bad consequence, which was imagined by us earlier while taking the final decision after our consultation, is faced by you now, due to your utter disregard of the words spoken by your well-wishers.
How a doer of wicked deeds indeed falls into damnation, so also a punishment for your sinful act has indeed reached your fast.
O emperor! This course of action was not excepted by you at first. You did not conceive this consequence, only because of your sheer arrogance of power.
He even supports Vibhishana:
That advice which was tendered to you earlier by Vibhishana is beneficial to us. Do whatever you wish to do.
Even after this speech he agrees to fight for Ravana out of brotherly loyalty:
O king! Until I live, this idea should not be formed in your mind. I shall destroy him [Rama], for whose account, you are feeling anguished.
See that which is to be done and this juncture, out of affection by a brother, viz. the destruction of adversaries in battle, will be done by me.
So, clearly, Kumbhakarna is a person who's torn between dharma and adharma. He knows the duties of a king, right from wrong etc. but unable to side with dharma like Vibhishana did when push comes to shove. This is the significance of Kumbhakarna's character in Ramayana. Ramayana reminds us that there is a bit of Kumbhakarna in everyone.
You can find other such symbolism from Ramayana in this YouTube playlist by Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh.