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In Uttara-kāṇḍa of Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa, we see Vālmīki narrate the story of Śambūka.

Questions:

  • Why did Rāma kill Śambūka? Is it because Śambūka was a śūdra or is it because he was doing tapasya for the wrong reasons? Were śūdras not allowed to become a ṛṣi?

  • And is Rāma justified in killing him without a dialogue or a second chance? Why didn't he just imprison him? What was the need to eliminate Śambūka altogether?

PS. This question is similar to: Why did Lord Rama give a second chance to Ravana, but not to Vali?

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    The part of Ramayana that talks of Shambuka is considered by most scholars as an interpolation. Most probably Valmiki never wrote that story. However, Rama’s action is justified. Shambuka was doing Tapas in order to gain control of lower heavens and kick out Devatas like Indra. Rama killed Shambuka to stop him from gaining control of lower heaven. A similar story is there in Shiva Puarana. Lord Shiva killed Jalandhara who also did tapas to gain control over lower heaven. – Pradip Gangopadhyay Jan 24 '17 at 6:07
  • Oh, then you can post an answer citing Shiva Purana. Regarding interpolation, it's possible, although the Canto # is 76 of 111 of Uttarakanda. Now some people consider the whole of Uttarakanda as interpolation due to Shambuka incident because it's quite unlike Rama to kill anyone without explaining the reasons. No one stopped Ravana from doing tapas why stop poor Shambuka? – sv. Jan 24 '17 at 6:24
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    " No one stopped Ravana from doing tapas why stop poor Shambuka? " It was the yuga dharma then for sudras to not engage in tapasya. – user1195 Jan 24 '17 at 7:32
  • @PradipGangopadhyay Jalandhara's story is different. Shiva killed Jalandhra as jalandhara was harrassing Gods citing story of stealing of Gems and Amruta by Indra. – The Destroyer Jan 24 '17 at 8:51
  • @Destroyer, Rama took action against Shambuka (as far as I remember) because Devas like Indra were alarmed by what they thought was Shambuka's effort to gain control over heaven and potentially harass them. Rama's action was to preempt any potential harassment. – Pradip Gangopadhyay Jan 24 '17 at 11:54
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This is what happened.

Rama, the performer of unblemished deeds, spoke these words. Hearing them, with his face hanging downwards. he replied in these words, ‘I have been born in the womb of a shudra and have resorted to these fierce austerities. O Rama! O immediately illustrious one! I wish to go to heaven in my own physical body, O king! I do not utter a falsehood. I wish to conquer the world of the gods. O Kakutstha! Know me to be a shudra. My name is Shambuka.’ Hearing the shudra’s words, Raghava unsheathed his sparkling sword, extremely beautiful in its radiance, from its scabbard and severed his head.

Ramayana, Uttara Kanda, chapter 7(67) translated by Bibek Debroy

The part of Ramayana that talks of Shambuka is considered by most scholars as an interpolation. Most probably Valmiki never wrote that story.

However, Rama’s action is justified. Shambuka was doing Tapas in order to conquer lower heaven. Rama killed Shambuka to stop him from conquering lower heaven and not because he was a shudra. No jiva is allowed to conquer the lower heaven.

Hindu scripture is replete with stories about Asuras conquering heaven and killed by God as a result.

A similar story is there in Shiva Puarana. Lord Shiva killed his son Jalandhara who also did tapas to conquer lower heaven.

The Shambuka story is not an unusual story.

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    Good to have an answer to this perplexing question finally. – Dr. Vineet Aggarwal Jun 26 '18 at 13:37
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    @Dr. Vineet and @ Pradip actually this still doesn't answer the question of why wasn't Shambuka given a second chance? – Surya Jun 26 '18 at 14:21
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    @sv. Vishwamitra didn't want heaven, trishanku was also killed for going to heaven in physical form. – Anisha Jun 26 '18 at 17:02
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    @YDS But that doesn't explain why Rama killed him without even a warning. – Surya Jul 11 '18 at 14:41
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    There is a problem with Narada claiming that Shudras are not allowed to do tapasya in Kali Yuga. That claim is directly contradicted by Gita 9.32 spoken by Lord Krishna before the advent of Kali Yuga which says that Shudras can attain God. How would Shudras be able to attain God before Kali yuga if they are not allowed to do tapasya? – Pradip Gangopadhyay Jul 12 '18 at 10:45
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This abridged version of SRSTIKHANDA of Padma Purana answers your all questions:

After killing the demon king Ravana, Sri Rama returned to Ayodhya. Many sages had arrived there to bless him on the occasion of his crowning ceremony (Pattabhishek). Sage Vashishtha was one of them. As Sri Rama was conversing with the sages a brahmin arrived there with the corpse of his son and wailed --- "O son! Your death is certainly due to some flaw of Sri Rama. Now, your mother and I have decided to give up our lives as there is no point in living."

Sri Rama's heart was filled with grief and he asked Sage Vashishtha as to how the brahmin could be helped. Sage Vashishtha [or Narada who was there in Vasistha's proximity] revealed to Sri Rama that the brahmin's son had died a premature death because of Shambuk. Vashishtha [or Narada who was there in Vasistha's proximity] said -- "Shambuk is a Shudra by birth, but he is doing an austere penance. Shudras are not entitled to do penance in all the three yugas, except the Kali Yuga. So, only his death can bring back the brahmin's son alive."

Sri Rama instructed both his younger brothers -- Lakshman and Bharata, to look after the state's affairs in his absence and went in search of Shambuk boarded on his Pushpak Vimana. Sri Rama saw a man doing penance [with his legs upwards and head downwards] at the shore of a reservoir. He landed his Pushpak Vimana and went near that man. He introduced himself and enquired about the man's identity. Sri Rama asked -- Why are you doing such an austere penance. Who are you?

Without moving the man replied that he was a shudra named Shambuk. He said --- I am desirous of attaining to devaloka [with my body] and hence I am doing this penance. Sri Rama took out his sword and severed Shambuk's head. All the deities hailed Sri Rama and the brahmin's child became alive once again.


Is Rāma justified in killing him without a dialogue or a second chance? Why didn't he just imprison him? What was the need to eliminate Śambūka altogether?

As mentioned above,

only his death can bring back the brahmin's son alive.

As this is an abridged version of Padma Purana. The detailed story can be found in PADMA-PURANA: SRSTIKHANDA: Chapter named The Killing of a Sudra Ascetic and in Valmiki Ramayan: UTTARA KANDA (Source1, Source2, Source3).

Here are relevant verses from the full version of these scriptures:

97-98. "O descendant of Kakutstha, give up your anxiety; the only son of the brahmana has regained his life and is united with his relatives. O descendant of Kakutstha, the boy suddenly became united with (i.e. regained his) life, (just) at the moment when this shudra was destroyed by you.

This implies that killing of Śambūka was needed in order to bring brahmin's son alive.

After seeing below verses Rāma was justified in killing him:

89-90a. [Gods:] "O you descendant of Raghu, O you good one, you have done this mission of the gods. Rama of a great vow, take (i.e. choose) whichever boon you like."

Also as per next chapter named Conversation between Rama and Agastya of Padma Purana :

  1. [Rama:] Obeying the words of gods, I have destroyed this sinful sudra who was practising penance.

  2. [Agstya:] The gods also proclaim that you, the killer of the sudra, have come. You have righteously brought the brahmana's son back to life.

So Rama was justified in the opinion of Markandeya, Maudgalya, Vamadeva, Kashyapa, Katyayana, Javali, Gautama, Narada (these 8 were present when Vasistha/Narada explained the story of Shambhuk to Raam), Gods and Agastya.


Why did Rāma kill Śambūka? Is it because Śambūka was a śūdra or is it because he was doing tapasya for the wrong reasons?

As mentioned above,

Shudras are not entitled to do penance in all the three yugas, except the Kali Yuga.

He was also doing tapasya for the wrong reasons.

Hearing the words of Rama of unwearied actions, the ascetic, with his face downwards, said "O highly illustrious Rama, I am born in the race of Sudras; and with a view to reach the region of the gods with my body I am going through these austere penances. O Kakuthstha, I shall never utter a falsehood since I am willing to conquer the the region of gods.

And due to this a Brahmin's son died prematurely. So he committed Brahmhatya sin, one of the gravest sins:

As per Padma Purana:

51-52a. O king, a sudra, the tormentor of his enemies, and of a wicked mind, is practising a very severe penance at the border of your country. He killed the child.

As per Valmiki Ramayana:

O king, one Sudra, under the influence of vicious understanding, has begun devout penances within thy kingdom. And for that reason this boy hath met with death.

Were śūdras not allowed to become a ṛṣi?

As mentioned above, possibly not in Treta Yuga. However, allowed in Kali Yuga.


  • Unfortunately this answer is not satisfactory on many grounds. The claim that Sudras can not do tapasya before kali yuga directly contradicts Gita's teaching. The claim that the killing was necessary to revive the dead child is also unsatisfactory. People are born and die due to their own karma which has nothing to do with what another person is doing. The whole story reeks of interpolation. – Pradip Gangopadhyay Jul 29 '18 at 12:33
  • @PradipGangopadhyay Basic parts of Gita was told to Surya much earlier but it was not the same...So, how you are sure that Gita's verse was talking about all Yugas.. It happened at the end of Dwapara so may be talking about Kaliyuga.... – YDS Jul 29 '18 at 12:38
  • Causing the death of a brahmana due to one's tapasya cannot be called Brahmahatya. Not satisfied with the justification for killing without a second chance. Still upvoting because answer to the first question seems right. – sv. Aug 19 '18 at 0:02

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