The demon Kabanda who helped Rama- Prambanan sculpture

Thanks to a chance meeting with a fellow Ponniyin Selvan enthusiast yesterday ( Mr Sakthis) who had just returned from a business trip to Jakarta, he showed some photos of his friend of the famed Ramayana Panels of Parambanan in Jog Jakarta (Though the temple suffered serious damage due to earthquakes, restoration work is progressing well), reminded me to complete this long pending post. This is a long post, with some detailed references and would like our readers to take their time in reading through, to fully understand the beauty of the sculpture and the importance of this scene to the Ramayana. Its quite amazing how such could be so deftly sculpted.

A very important episode in Ramayana, filled with lots of twists and turns, splendidly depicted in far off Indonesia, is a feast for us today.

Story first: Following the introduction, its a very important stage in the Ramayana, Rama and Lakshmana are returning from Mareecha episode and find Sita missing. They panic and search everywhere. No one is able to help.

At this point they enter a forest which is very mysterious, for there is no living creature big or small in sight. There is a deathly calm and just as they were wondering what was the reason, out comes this hideous creature.

The creature was so huge, but was in essence only a trunk – no distinctive head ( ok the sculpture we see has a head !!, but no proper legs or arms, instead has tentacle like arms stretching to a Yojana ( ten miles!!), he had a massive gaping mouth in his belly – so huge that on seeing it Lakshmana compares it to the entrance arch of a huge city.

Now, lets view the sculpture. Thanks to the net, also found this lovely resource displaying sketches of the entire illustrated Ramayana panels from Parambanan. Very useful for someone to identify the sculptures with this as a guide

Now, as usual, the brothers get into action, which is what we see in the scene, chopping off each of the arms of the creature. Now, comes the interesting part, in this stage, the Demon addresses them as Rama and Lakshmana and implores on them to consign his massive body to flames. Rama asks him, how does he know them and hence he goes on to narrate his story thus.

[Source: Dowson’s Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology]

He was actually a Ghandharva Dhanu, who had done penance on Brahma ( who else) and got the power of immortal life. Drunk on his power of immortality he committed a disrespectful act against a holy sage ( Sthoolasira ?), who cursed him to loose his beauty and eternal life as a demon. Mortified Dhanu asks how he can get release from the curse and return to his Ghandarva form , the rishi said, ‘when Rama burns you, after cutting your
arms, you will get back your form’ – ref slOkam below [which this disfigured
and arms cut khabandha relates to Rama and lakshmaNa now] –

yadhaa Chiththvaa bhujou Rama: thvaam dhahEth vijanE vanE || 3-71-6
thadhaa thvam praapsyasE roopam svam Eva vipulam *s*ubham |

To add to this, in his demonic form, Khabanada ( or Kaavanda), fought against Indra, the lord of the gods, who used his weapon Vajra ( thunderbolt) against him.

*s*riyaa viraajitham puthram dhano: thvam vidhdhi lakshmaNa || 3-71-7
indhra kOpaath idham roopam praaptham Evam raNaajirE |

meaning: Oh, LakshmaNa, you may know me as the most handsome son of Dhanu,
and this misshaped form has chanced on me owing the ire of Indhra in

*Comment:* With that disfigured form and because of longevity of life, he
fought with celestial king dhEvEndhra. DhEvEndhra with his vajra aayudham –
thunderbolt – stuck Dhanu.

thasya baahu pramukthEna vajrENa shatha parvaNaa || 3-71-10
sakthinee cha *s*ira: caiva *s*areerE sampraveshitham |
anaahaara: katham shakthO bhagna sakthi *s*iro mukha: || 3-71-12
vajrENa abhihatha: kaalam su dheergham api jeevithum |

meaning: [khabhandhan says story to raama and lakshmaNa] – But the
thunderbolt that has a hundred cutting edges and that which is launched from
Indra’s hand has rammed my head and thighs into my body. [Slokam 10]

Then I asked indhra – ‘By the impact of thunderbolt disarranged are my
thighs and head, thereby my mouth, went into my stomach. And without thighs
how can I prowl, without arms how can I scrabble, and without a mouth how
can I guzzle, and how am I capable to live on, and when that living is also
destined for too long a time to come’ [slokam 12]

sa Evam uktha: mE *s*akrO baahoo yojanam aayathou || 3-71-13
thadhaa cha aasyam cha mE kukshou theekshNa damshTram akalpayath |

meaning: When I said this Indhra, Indhra devised for me a ‘yojana long’
arms, and also that way a rapier-fanged mouth in my paunch.

[so these long arms stretching to a yojana – {one yojana I read somewhere as
10 miles} and blade like teeth in the fang etc are indhra given and see in
next slokam what he is eating]

( Look at the sculpture – you can see the tentacles still left on one side – one even then eyeng the frog – but also see the head, hands and legs – maybe not a 100% true depiction)

so~aham bhujaabhyaam dheerghaabhyaam sankrushya asmin vanE charaan ||
simha dhvipi mruga vyaaghraan bhakshayaami samanthatha: |
sa thu maam abraveeth indhrO yadhaa raama: sa lakshmaNa: || 3-71-15
ChethsyathE samarE baahoo thadhaa svargam gamishyasi |

* *

meaning: Such as I am, I have been eating the lions, elephants, animals, and
tigers that are on the move in this forest, hauling them in with both my
overlong arms. [Slokam 14]. Indra has also said to me, ‘as and when Raama
hacks off your arms, along with LakshmaNa, in a conflict, then you can go to
heaven…’ and vanished.

In return, he promises to provide vital clues about Sita. At this point Rama is a bit worried, being a demon will he keep his word. He asks him to give him the information and then he would burn him. For which the demon refuses, saying what if they take the information and leave him. So there is a standoff

aham hi mathi saachivyam karishyaami nara rishabha || 3-71-19
mithram chaiva upadhEkshyaami yuvaabhyaam samskrithO agninaa |

meaning: ‘Oh, impetuous man Raama, if I were to be beatified by you two by
incinerating me in fire, I will advice you about the next course of your
action. I will further advise you about your prospective friend” So said
Khabandha to Raama.

*Point:* raama did not straightaway accept that – started explaining how he
knows the only portion of story ‘that raavaNa lifted seethaa and left, and
beyond that he does not know any thing’. This also leads all, to think a
sort of mutual distrust existed between raama and khabhandhan – for a
shortwhile – for – if I burn him then perhaps he will be released from his
curse and may not be able to remember what information he had or has
collected earlier with or in that body.

On the other hand khabandhan had the distrust, ‘if I tell the guiding
message now, after receiving it, if these two vanish, without burning me,
then my release is not there’. That kind of ‘mutual distrust situation’.
After a while, raama asks khabhandhan, ‘please show mercy’ and assures ‘we
will fulfill your request’. Perhaps you may have another opinion also, ‘why
should raama ask for mercy or beg before such fellows like khabandhan’ and
not show his super human power. Please recall that statement – ‘aham
maanusham manyE’ – ‘think that I am a man’ – even at the end of the great
war with raavaNan and that too after brahma says you are so and so and not
simply a man – so he acts like a man having doubts and distrust and all that

*s*Oka aarthaanaam anaathhaanaam Evam viparidhaavathaam || 3-71-23
kaaruNyam sadhru*s*am karthum upakaarE cha varthathaam |
kaashTaani aaneeya bhagnaani kaalE sushkaaNi kunjarai: || 3-71-24
dhakshyaama: thvaam vayam veera *s*vabhrE mahathi kalpithE |
* *

meaning: It will be apt of you to show befitting mercy on us, who are
anguished by agony, running all over helter-skelter like unsheltered ones,
and we will be compliant for your restitution. Oh, brave Khabandha, on
bringing dried firewood that was rent at times by elephants, and on digging
a large trench, we will incinerate you in it.

*Point:* see the words ‘sOka arthaanaam anaathhaanaam’ – one who has all the
wealth at his command says I have only sOkam – deep sorrow only as my
wealth, the whole world looks upon him as their lord and he says I am
anaathha – lordless. [Yes of course he has no one above him so he is

sa thvam seethaam samaachakshva yEna vaa yathra vaa hruthaa || 3-71-25
kuru kalyaaNam athyartham yadhi jaanaasi thaththvatha: |

meaning: Such as you are, if you actually know who stole Seethaa, or where
to she was stolen, either, you clearly inform about her, [when incinerated],
thus you will be rendering a most gracious deed to me, and to all
concerned”. Thus Rama made clear of his case.

Comment: when Rama thus agreed ‘to concede to khabandhan’s request’ for
incineration, see now khabandhan commands ‘please do it fast before sun

kim thu yaavath na yaathi astham savithaa *s*raantha vaahana: |
thaavath maam avaTe kshipthvaa dhaha raama yathaa vidhi || 3-71-31

meaning: “Oh, Raama, soon you have to toss me into trench to burn me
customarily, sooner, for the Sun is going to Mt. Dusk when his horses are

Dhagdha: thvayaa aham avaTE nyaayEna raghunandhana |
vakshyaami tham mahaaveera ya: tham vEthsyathi raakshasam || 3-71-32

meaning: “Oh, Raama, the legatee of Raghu, when I am burnt by you in a
trench as per rituals, oh, great valiant Raama, for sure, I will tell of
him, who can quiet fathom that demon [who carried your wife seethaa].

Evam ukthou thu thou veerou kabandhEna nara ee*s*varou |
giri pradharam aasaadhya paavakam visasarjathu: || 3-72-1
lakshmaNa: thu mahaa ulkaabhi: jvalithaabhi: samanthatha: |
chithaam aadheepyaamaasa saa prajajvaala sarvatha: || 3-72-2

meaning: When Khabandha said that way, both those brave men and lords of
people, on throwing the body of Khabandha into a mountain cleft and then
embedded it with firewood. On his part Lakshmana started to torch that pyre
with highly sparkling torches from all over, and even that pyre too suddenly
blazed with blazes from all over.

Its already a long post, so let me cut this short, out of the Pyre emerges a radiant Danu and as promised advises Rama about the abduction of Sita by Ravana.

He also goes on to offer him a very important piece of advise, in his fight against Ravana – he says he cant go in alone, but could get help from the monkey army. But inorder to do that, he guides him to help Sugreev win his kingdom from Vaali, making him indebted to Rama. Thus Danu comes out as a very shrewd negotiator ( he got his work done before giving advise) and also advises Rama aptly, maybe if Vaali by his superior strength could have fought Ravana single handedly ( we seen the humbling of Ravana by Vaali earlier in sculpture), but then Vaali was a good friend of Ravana, and there would be no reason for him to support Rama. Hmmm

Waking up Kumbakarna

Well, all of us at one point of time or the other have been shouted at, using the sleeping giant kumbakarna as an example. Its always tough to wake up in the mornings, that too when you are a kid and the evenings are too long and the mornings are too short. But seeing this freeze of the story sculpted into stone in far off Indonesia jolted me wide awake.

Lets brush up our memories of the story from Ramayana, Ravana’s mighty brother, the giant Kumbakarna, sleeps for 6 months at a time. Well, this was actually not a curse but a boon which he himself sought ( ok with some nimble work by Indra).

Having born to mixed parents ( mother was a demon and father a high born), the children are advised by their mother to seek the blessings of Brahma, the creator. So all four, Ravana, kumbakarna, Surpanka and Vibeeshana undertake a stiff penance.

Ravana performs intense penance , lasting several years. Pleased with his austerity, Brahma appears and offers him a boon. Ravana asks for immortality, which Brahma refuses saying everyone has to die someday. Ravana then askes for absolute invulnerability and supremacy before gods and heavenly spirits, other demons, serpents and wild beasts. Contemptuous of mortal men, he did not ask for protection from them. Brahma granted him these boons, and additionally gave him great strength by way of knowledge of divine weapons and sorcery.

Next, its the turn of Kumbakarna, who is already a giant, and Indra the Lord of devas is scared stiff, that any boon would make him invincible. So he seeks the help of the Goddess of Learning, Saraswathi, who at the appropriate moment holds his tongue back. So instead of asking for endless life, he asks for endless sleep. Brahma too glady obliges by granting him this boon. The others are shell shocked and plead with Brahma, that such a boon is akin to death, so he modifies it a bit – saying he will sleep for 6 months and be awake for 6 months. However, he cautions that if he is woken up in the 6 month hibernation, he would become vulnerable.

Ok, now the story spans a few years, the main events of Ramayana are over and we are nearing the climax. Ravana fights Rama – and the brilliance of Rama’s archery makes him loose his divine weapons, chariot and Crowns, and he is left, unarmed, on the battlefield. Rama humbles him more by telling him to go back and come tomorrow with arms.

Smitten by this insult, Ravana commits a blunder by asking his troops to wake up Kumbakarana. Now this is what is depicted on the sculpture. The mountain like colossal figure of the sleeping giant, with soldiers using spears and swords to prod him, one horsemen is riding on him ( see the brilliance of the sculptor – he depicts the previous horse and rider, tired and getting off – towards the left) – we also have an elephant trumpeting into his ear and another demon blowing a conch into his ear.

Guess, my folks didn’t have to go through all this to wake me up.

Image courtesy:

Fatal Attraction – for whom ( A guest post) ?

My friend Mr. Palaniappan Vairam, is a true gem. The right words to describe his work would be unique, being without a like or equal,unusual. I chanced on his initial posts by accident and we chatted up and thus began our almost daily interaction. One look at the subject of his blog is enough to convince you as to why i choose the above lines to describe him and his work – on Tamil Sangam works.

Vairam’s Karka nirka blog

This is not a guest post in the correct sense, for he has already posted this in his blog. But since this style suited mine, i kind of high jacked the post and arm twisted him – for how else do you showcase a key event in Ramayan, sung so beautifully by the king of tamil poetry to be so aptly sculpted in far off Parambanan ( Jog Jakarta – Indonesia) – there are many more lovely Ramayan sculptures in parambanan, which we will see in subsequent posts. Over to Vairam

I choose just a single stanza of Kamban’s Ramavatharam today:

The stags and all the other deer who saw it
came toward it with desire as great as the ocean,
like all those who fall to whores without love,
skilled at elaborately deceiving heart.

Poet: Kamban

Translated by George L. Hart and Hank Heifetz

The Situation:

Marichan, an uncle of Ravana is disguised as a golden deer to woo Rama and Lakshmana out of the way, so that Ravana can capture Sita. So Marichan takes a form of a golden deer.

The Beautiful Simile:

When the golden deer appears, all the stags and other deers around it just flock towards the golden deer with great desire/lust /passion. He employs a brilliant simile here to describe the situation. Men in old times used to visit courtesans who were well versed in all arts. They knew how to satisfy a mans need. The men usually think these women really love them and pour their wealth on them. From the courtesans perspective, they just use their art to deceive the man and earn the riches. Kamban gives this simile to make us understand that the golden deer was too beautiful to believe, a beauty that will attract every one who sees it without any doubt and yet it was deceptive beauty. When some thing seems to be too good , surely something must be suspicious about it, eg. share market, when shares sky rocket in their value suddenly there comes a jolt of a market scandal. But most
people fall for the too good to resist offer. Kamban gives you this stanza to point out that even great mind of Rama had fallen for ‘the too good to resist’.

And some thing in the style of my good friend Mr.Vijay Kumar, a sculpture from Prambanan, Java , to end my post today. Such a loively depiction of the Rama chasing the deer, letting fly his arrow and in his dying moments Maareecha gaining his true demonic form.

dont follow the ‘too good to resist’!