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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. 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? 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. 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. 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? Jul 12 '18 at 10:45
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Yes Rama had killed Shambhuka because he was performing ascetic penance to become God in the same human body of his and was desirous of attaining celestial powers which could have been risk for Gods. It is mentioned in Uttara Kanda of Valmiki Ramayana.

From Valmiki Ramayana, Uttara Kanda, Chapter 75-76, When Rama asked him why he is performing such ascetic penance:

HEARING the words of Rama of imperishable exploits, that ascetic, his head still hanging downwards, answered :

O Rama, I was born of a Shudra alliance and I am performing this rigorous penance in order to acquire the status of a God in this body. I am not telling a lie, O Rama, I wish to attain the Celestial Region. Know that I am a Shudra and my name is Shambuka."

As he was yet speaking, Raghava, drawing his brilliant and stainless sword from in scabbard, cut off his head.

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  • How could it be a ' risk for Gods ' ? Were they Really the All-Powerful ' Gods ' or clowns of ' Gods ', I wonder. Besides, by which ethical standard, it's wrong for someone to gain something by attaining the requisite qualification through legitimate way ?
    – Prakash RP
    Jul 6 at 2:00
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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.


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    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. 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. Aug 19 '18 at 0:02
  • Tapasya also can be in three modes sattva, Rajas, Tamas. Since his austerities were brining inauspicious results like death of a kid, It could be a tapasya in mode of Tamas. (this is my humble opinion. will wait for authentic acaryas views) Dec 18 '20 at 19:36
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Lets do a careful analysis. Readers have patience till end.

  1. Here are the final words Shambuka uttered before Lord Rama executed him:“I do not speak the untruth as I wish to conquer the world of the gods, know me as Sudra, Sambuka by name, O scion of the Kakutsthas (Sri Rama).” (VR 7.66.3)
  2. Shambuka explicitly stated that he was performing this tapasya not just to ascend bodily to Swarga, but to conquer it. Just as Ravana did. How can someone conquer the devas through Tapasya? Ravana(VR 7.9.22-48) performed Tapasya to gain the powers he would later use to subjugate the devas.Lord Rama having knew that Shambuka was attempting to do the same thing. Rather than allow him to plunge the three worlds into chaos as Ravana did, Rama stopped him.Lord Shiva also killed his son Jalandhara because he did tapas to gain control over lower heaven.
  3. If Tapasya is the way to "progress" (an idiotic position given what materialists define as progress), and Ksatriyas were supposed to stop Non-Dvijas from it, then we should see other examples of that, too, in the very same Ramayana,But we don't.
  4. In Ayodhya-Kanda, Dasaratha recalls the story of how he accidentally killed a child of blind tapasvins in the forest and was cursed as a result.In his dying breath, the boy told him that he was the son of a Vaisya father and a Sudra mother. So a Vaisya and a Sudra were doing Tapas.Similarly, in Sundara-Kanda, we have the story of how Hanuman and his troops were lost in a cave only to discover it inhabited by a female Tapasvini by name Svayamprabha.But Hanuman did not try to kill her.
  5. Ashwini devatas who are engaged in fierce tapas are said to belong to Shudra Varna (MB Shanti Parva 208)
  6. Bhishma says “Dharmaja! All varnas should desire their auspiciousness to come from practice of daan, tapas, yajna, adroha and jitendriyatva. “(MB Shanti Parva 78,Shl 14)
  7. Sufficient liberty of action is left to them in consequence of which all individuals may attain to an equality of condition.(MB Anu Parva 14)

Examples of people performing Tapas:

Sabari was a Tapasvini belonging to kirata tribe. Matanga was a Chandala who performed severe Tapas and finally was as respected as a Bramhana and even Sri Rama visited his Ashram. Sage Kapinjalada was also a Chandala whom Yudhistira used to visit and take advices. Vidura and Dharmavyadha were Sudras who obtained Bramha Jnana. Narada Muni was born as a Sudra but after serving the Acharyas and meditating on Paramathma,he got Darshan of Lord Vishnu. Dhanurdasa was a Sudra and a disiple of Ramanujacharya. He always meditated on Dwaya Mantra and attained Moksha.

Further references:-

  1. Just as a lamp in a windless place does not flicker, so the disciplined mind of a yogi remains steady in meditation on the self.(BG 6.19)

  2. Maheshwara to Umadevi: Brahma himself has said that even though a Shudra, if he has pure inner soul and is Jitendriya, then he should be treated as a brahmana. (MB Anu Parva 142,Shl 49)

  3. If satya, daana, karunya, lajja, daya and tapas are found in a Shudra then he does not remain a Shudra. Similarly if Satya etc qualities are not there in a brahmana then he will not remain a Brahmana.(MB Shanti 198)

  4. Lord Krishna says “The person who bestows transcendental knowledge upon the members of all the spiritual orders of society is one’s ultimate spiritual master. Indeed, he is as good as My own self.” (SB 10.80.32)

  5. Yajnavalkya says By obtaining brahmajnana from a brahmana or kshatriya or vysya or shudra or even a person of low caste, person with faith should constantly practice the same.(MB Shanti 378,Shl 87)

  6. Because people of all varnas are born from Brahma, they are all Brahmanas. All are all the time reciting the name of Brahma. I am telling the correct shaastra by the buddhi given by Brahma. Entire universe and this visible world is nothing but Brahma. Therefore whatever be the varna, they should not be considered as being different from Brahma(MB Shanti 378,Shl 90)

  7. He continues” I have already told you that people of all varnas can remain in their ashrama-dharmas and obtain jnana. Therefore, whether a person dedicated to jnana of any varna he will surely get moksha; this is the opinion of scholars.”(MB Shanti 378,Shl 91)

  8. Hanuman says that “For all four varnas meditation (dhyana) was the main karma. Paramatma who shines like a lamp in all hearts will be the Adhishtana-Murthy for all varnas.‘Omkara’ alone was their main mantra. All four varnas followed only Upanishad Dharma.They all worshipped only the Jyoti-Swarupa Paramatma who resides in all hearts”(MB Anu 149)

The conclusion is that the death penalty isn't ordained for people who do Tapasya. Shambuka wasn't killed because he was Sudra performing tapas. He was killed because he was trying to use his Tapas to conquer the Devas. Padma Purana conforms that Shambuka reached heaven.Few people are distorting it into a story of caste violence and privilege. Moksha is only got by unalloyed love to Lord. It is obtained by association with pure devotees and serving the acharyas but not by mystic yoga system, philosophical speculations, charity, vows, penances, ritualistic sacrifices,study of Vedas etc.

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