|Statue of Kumbhakarna in Kumbhakarna Gardens, Penukonda, Andhra Pradesh, India|
Kumbhakarna literally means a person with ears as large as a pot (kumbha – pot, karna – ears. He was the younger brother of Ravana, in Ramayana. He has always been depicted as big and huge, both in size and in his appetite! Kumbhakarna was a child’s delight to read, or see in movies or hear about. The imagery is so vivid, that anybody who is found sleeping soundly, or is sleepy, is at times referred to as Kumbhakarna.
But do you know why he used to sleep so much?
Like Ravana, Kumbhakarna, too decided to do penance to Lord Brahma, to seek blessings. Satisfied, Lord Brahma, appeared to Kumbhakarna, and granted him a boon. Kumbhakarna had planned to ask for “Indra-asana”, meaning the ‘seat of Indra’. But just when the words were to come out of his mouth, the power of speech, in this case, Goddess Saraswati played a trick on him and tilted his tongue a bit, and “Indra-asana”, became “Nidra-asana” meaning, ‘bed to sleep’! Some versions say that Kumbhakarna was planning to ask for “Nirdevatavam” meaning ‘annihilation of devas’ but ended up asking “Nidravatvam”, i.e. ‘sleep’. Lord Brahma immediately granted the boon, by saying – tathastu – so be it!
But Kumbhakarna, realised the folly and said that he did not want eternal sleep, and reasoned with Lord Brahma, as to why would anybody do penance for sleeping his full life, and die at the end of a life of sleep? After listening to his arguments, Lord Brahma felt sorry for him, but he could not take back the boon already given to him. So he struck a compromise of sorts and said that he would henceforth sleep for six months and then wake up and eat for six months, before going back to sleep again.
This way, he ended up sleeping for six months, but waking him from near-dead sleep was an ordeal, so all sorts of noise was made, armies and animals were made to move all over his huge body, hoping that at some point he would wake up. Due to all strength energy being unutilised for such long periods, on waking up, he could smash a full army single handed. He was also a glutton when it came to food and six months of not eating anything would starve him to no end, so on waking up, he would need barrels and tons of food to satiate his six-month hunger.
This is the story behind, Kumbhakarna’s long duration of sleep!