What is the story behind Kumbhakarna’s sleep?
Kumbhakarna was cursed by Lord Brahma. This story is told by Vibhisana to Lord Rama in this chapter of Yuddha Kanda of Valmiki Ramayana. In summary what happens is:
- Kumbhakarna soon after his birth begins to eat thousands of living creatures.
- Lord Indra was reported about this matter and he goes to punish Kumbhakarna.
- Kumbhakarna plucks tusk of Airavata and strikes in the chest of Indra with it.
- Lord Indra with other Gods goes to Lord Brahma to report on this matter.
- They tell that if Kumbhakarna eats in the present rate world will be devoid of creatures.
- Lord Brahma reaches to see Kumbhakarna and even he becomes afraid on seeing Kumbhakarna.
- Lord Brahma then curses Kumbhakarna as "You will be sleeping like dead from onwards."
- Ravana convinces Lord Brahma to give him some time for his sleeping and waking.
- Lord Brahma being convinced speaks -"He will indeed sleep for six months and wake-up for a day."
- Lord Brahma further says- "On that single day, this male demon, having starved for six months, will wander over the earth and eat the human race with his mouth wide open, like an augmented fire."
So, the reason behind the sleep of Kumbhakarna is the curse of Lord Brahma.
Here are the relevant verses from that chapter:
एतेन जातमात्रेण क्षुधार्तेन महात्मना | भक्षितानि सहस्राणि सत्त्वानाम् सुबहून्यपि || ६-६१-१३
तेषु सम्भक्ष्यमाणेषु प्रजा भयनि पीडिताः | यान्ति स्म शरणम् शक्रम् तमप्यर्थम् न्यवेदयन् || ६-६१-१४
स कुम्भकर्णम् कुपितो महेन्द्रो जघान वज्रेण शितेन वज्री | स शक्रवज्रभिहतो महात्मा | चचाल कोपाच्च भृशम् ननाद || ६-६१-१५
तस्य नानद्यमानस्य कुम्भकर्णस्य रक्षसः | श्रुत्वा निनादम् वित्रस्ताः प्रजा भूयो वितत्रसुः || ६-६१-१६
ततः क्रुद्धो महेन्द्रस्य कुम्भकर्णो महाबलः | निष्कृष्यैरावताद्दन्तम् जघानोरसि वासवम् || ६-६१-१७
कुम्भकर्णप्रहारार्तो विजज्वाल स वासवः | ततो विषेदुः सहसा देवा ब्रह्मर्षिदानवाः || ६-६१-१८
प्रजाभिः सह शक्रश्च ययौ स्थानम् स्वयम्भूवः | कुम्भकर्णस्य दौरात्म्यम् शशंसुस्ते प्रजापतेः || ६-६१-१९
प्रजानाम् भक्षणम् चापि धर्षणम् च दिवौकसाम् | आश्रमध्वंसनम् चापि परस्त्रीहरणम् तथा || ६-६१-२०
एवम् प्रजा यदि त्वेष भक्षयिष्यति नित्यशः | अचिरेणैव कालेन शून्यो लोको भविष्यति || ६-६१-२१
वासवस्य वचः श्रुत्वा सर्वलोकपितामहः | रक्षांस्यावाहयामास कुम्भकर्णम् ददर्श ह || ६-६१-२२
कुम्भकर्णम् समीक्ष्यैव वितत्रास प्रजापतिः | कुम्भकर्णमथाश्वस्तः स्वयम्भूरिदमब्रवीत् || ६-६१-२३
ध्रुवम् लोकविनाशाय पौलस्त्येनासि निर्मितः | तस्मात्त्वमद्यप्रभृति मृतकल्पः शयिष्यसे || ६-६१-२४
ब्रह्मशापाभिभूतोऽथ निपपाताग्रतः प्रभोः | ततः परमसम्भ्रान्तो रावणो वाक्यमब्रवीत् || ६-६१-२५
प्रवृद्धः काञ्चनो वृक्षः फलकाले निकृन्त्यते | न नप्तारम् स्वकम् न्याय्यम् शप्तुमेवम् प्रजापते || ६-६१-२६
न मिथ्यावचनश्च त्वम् स्वप्स्यत्येव न संशयः | कालस्तु क्रियतामस्य शयने जागरे तथा || ६-६१-२७
रावस्य वचः श्रुत्वा स्वयम्भूरिदमब्रवीत् | शयिता ह्येष षण्मासानेकाहम् जागरिष्यति || ६-६१-२८
एकेनाह्ना त्वसौ वीरश्च रन् भूमिम् बुभुक्षितः | व्यात्तास्यो भक्षयेल्लोकान् सम्वृद्ध इव पावकः || ६-६१-२९
"Soon after his birth, this great-souled demon, afflicted as he was by hunger, ate thousands of living creatures. While the living being were being eaten, the frightened people sought refuge with Indra and even reported the matter about him. That Mahendra wielding a thunder-bolt was enraged and struck Kumbhakarna with his weapon of the white thunderbolt. The great souled Kumbhakarna struck by Indra's thunderbolt was quite agitatated at it and roared loudly with anger. Hearing the roar of that Kumbakarna, the demon, who was howling loudly, the grigthened people were further frightened. Enraged as he was on Mahendra, the mighty Kumbhakarna then pulled out a tusk of Airavata, Indra's elephant and struck it into Indra's chest. That Devendra, tormented by the hit of Kumbhakarna, was burning with rage. The celestials, Brahmanical sages and demons were suddenly aggrieved. Even Indra with his people went to the abode of Brahma the Lord of creation. They informed about the evil-mind of Kumbhakarna to Brahma, how he devoured the living creatures, his assault on celestials, the destroyal of hermitages and his taking away of others' wives. If he eats away the created beings continuously like this, the world will become desolate just soon after some time. On hearing the words of Indra, Brahama, the great grandfather of the entire world, called for the demons and saw Kumbhakarna too along with them. Just on seeing Kumbhakarna even Brahma was frightened. Thereafter on restoring his confidence, Brahma cursed Kumbhakarna as follows: "It is sure that you were created by visravasa for the destroyal of people. On that account, you will be sleeping apparently dead from now onwards." Humbled by Brahma's curse, Kumbhakarna then fell down in front of Ravana. Thereupon, the highly perplexed Ravana spoke the following words: "O Brahma! You are cutting off a well-grown golden tree, just at the time of yielding its fruit. It is not fair on your part to curse your own great grandson like this.Your words can never prove to be in vain. There is no doubt about it. He will have to sleep certainly. Let some space of time be fixed for his sleeping and waking." Hearing the words of Ravana, Brahma spoke as follows: "He will indeed sleep for six months and wake-up for a day. On that single day, this male demon, having starved for six months, will wander over the earth and eat the human race with his mouth wide open, like an augmented fire."
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