Though the name of his mother varies in different texts, it is unanimously contended that Kumbhakarana was born by sage Vishravas, a descendent of Brahma, and was indisputably Ravana’s younger brother. Ravana and Kumbhakarana were gods born as demons by the curse of sage Sanaka, Sanandana and other sages they had treated arrogantly. When born as Ravana and Kumbhakarana, for their redemption they entered into penance. Ravana was able to propitiate Brahma first and won from him the boon that he would not be killed by any god, and if ever, only by a human being. It greatly upset gods who feared that if Kumbhakarana too obtained such boon, the two brothers would throw them away from Indra loka, their abode, whenever it pleased them. Hence they prayed Saraswati to sit on Kumbhakarana’s tongue and corrupt his words which he uttered praying for Brahma’s boon. Saraswati accepted. In the course of time, pleased with Kumbhakarana’s penance when Brahma expressed his desire to grant a boon, he prayed for ‘Nirdevatvam’, that is, let the world be without ‘devas’ – gods. However, Saraswati, enshrining his tongue corrupted ‘Nirdevatvam’ as ‘Nidravatvam’, that is, sleep for ever. Brahma granted the prayer and provided that he would sleep continuously for six months and would get up for some time to eat and then would again retire to bed for six months.
The painting portrays the occasion when in the course of his battle against Rama Ravana has lost most of his sons and other prominent warriors. Suddenly it comes to his mind that his younger brother, Kumbhakarana, a mighty invincible warrior, was asleep and that he could still turn the balance in his favour. He hence orders that Kumbhakarana be woken up and summoned. As was the established custom, an army of servants with huge amounts of food was posted close to him for hungry as he was for six months when he was asleep he craved for food as soon as he woke. The painting represents a voluminous figure of Kumbhakarana, so massive in size that the animal that he is putting in his mouth looks like a tiny mouse.
Not disarrayed as one getting up after the six months’ sleep should have been, the artist has preferred portraying Kumbhakarana’s figure much like a Brahmin rather than a demon, with sandal paste marks on forehead, arms and breast, wearing a saffron ‘antariya’ – lower wear, as if he has just bathed and performed worship-rites. His figure reveals great freshness alien to someone getting up after six month-long sleep. In such portrayal reflects the other aspect of Kumbhakarana’s personality. As scriptural tradition testifies, besides that Kumbhakarana was a great devotee of Shiva and as born to a sage was a Brahmin, he did not approve Ravana’s act of abducting someone’s wife, though being younger he said that he would obey his brother’s orders. Perhaps for portraying this ethical bent of Kumbhakarana’s mind the artist has painted him as huge bodied demon-like eating an animal but not in a ferocious or loathsome form.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.