Rama slays Shambuka. Illustration from a Persian miniature of the Ramayana.
Rama slays Shambuka. Illustration from a Persian miniature of the Ramayana.

Shambuka (Sanskrit: शम्बूक, IAST: śambūka) is an interpolation in Valmiki Ramayana.[1][2] According to the story, Shambuka, a shudra ascetic, was killed by Rama for attempting to perform tapas in violation of dharma, the bad karma resulting from which caused the death of a Brahmin's son.[3]

This story is treated as a later interpolation to Valmiki's Ramayana, being created at a later period in opposition to Brahmins.[1][4][5] It is found in the Uttara Kanda, which is the final section of the text.[6][7]


When Rama was ruling Ayodhya, a Brahmin approached the court and told everyone that his young son has died due to the misrule of Rama. Rama immediately called a meeting with all his ministers and enquired about the cause of this. The sage Narada told him that this has happened due to violation of a rule of tapas (austerities). Narada informed him that a shudra was performing tapas, which was prohibited. So Rama went in search of the shudra and found the place where Shambuka was performing penance. After confirming that Shambuka is indeed a shudra, Rama killed him. The gods praised Rama for this act and congratulated him for protecting their interests and for not allowing shudra to attain heaven. Brahmin's son was also resurrected.[1][6]


Authors such as Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi treat the character of Shambukha as interpolation.[8][9] The Pushtimarg Vaishnavite tradition points out that the Ramayana refers to other shudras, such as Shabari, who lived in the forest. Shambuka therefore deliberately violated dharma in order to get Rama's attention, and attained salvation when he was beheaded.[10] The celebrated Kannada poet Kuvempu, in his play Shudra Tapasvi shows Rama as having to both carry out his duty by punishing Shambuka, and simultaneously protect Shambuka, as a pious and devout sage, from persecution, and thereby turns the story into a critique of Brahminical attitudes and a defense of Rama.[11]

In his seminal work Annihilation of Caste, B. R. Ambedkar points out the story of Shambuka while criticizing the varna system. He argues that not only it is impossible to accurately classify people into four definite classes but that the varna system faces the problem of the transgressor. He further explains that unless the transgressor is punished, men will not keep to their respective classes i.e. the whole system will collapse. In the Ramayana, according to Ambedkar, Rama ensured that transgression did not happen in his kingdom by killing Shambuka.[12][13][14]


  1. ^ a b c Paula Richman (2008). Ramayana Stories in Modern South India: An Anthology. Indiana University Press. p. 111. ISBN 978-0-253-21953-4.
  2. ^ Indian Literature, Issues 213-218. Sahitya Akademi. p. 163.
  3. ^ Government of Maharashtra, Nasik District Gazeteer: "History - Ancient Period". Archived from the original on 7 November 2006. Retrieved 1 October 2006. (text credited to Mahamahopadhyaya Dr. V. V. Mirashi)
  4. ^ An Introduction to Eastern Ways of Thinking. Concept Publishing Company. p. 158. By now , it can be confirmly said the ' Uttarkand ' of Ramayana is an interpolation of quite later period
  5. ^ Mangesh Venktesh Nadkarni. Hinduism, a Gandhian Perspective. Anne Books. p. 92.
  6. ^ a b Hari Prasad Shastri (1957). The Ramayana of Valmiki. Vol. III - Yuddha Kanda and Uttara Kanda. Shanti Sadan. pp. 583–586. ISBN 978-0-8542-4048-7. OCLC 654387657. OL 8651428W.
  7. ^ "Cantos LXXV-LXXVI (75-76)". Śrīmad Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa (in English and Sanskrit). Vol. Part III - Yuddha Kāṇḍa and Uttara Kāṇḍa (3 ed.). Gita Press. 1992. pp. 2130–2135. OCLC 27360288.
  8. ^ Gangeya Mukherji. An Alternative Idea of India: Tagore and Vivekananda. Taylor & Francis. p. 83. ISBN 9781000083774.
  9. ^ D. K. Misra; Shambhu Lal Doshi; C. M. Jain (1972). Gandhi and Social Order. Research Publications in Social Sciences. p. 14. Mahatma Gandhi , on the other hand, has regarded this entire story as an interpolation
  10. ^ Motiramji Sastri, Ramayan (in Gujarati) (Ahmedabad, 1961).
  11. ^ 'M. Raghava, "The king and the protector of the devout" The Hindu (26 October 2004).
  12. ^ B.R. Ambedkar (2020). Ambedkar's India. Sristhi Publishers & Distributors. p. 47. ISBN 9789387022898.
  13. ^ Aishwary Kumar (2015). Radical Equality: Ambedkar, Gandhi, and the Risk of Democracy. Stanford University Press. p. 292. ISBN 9780804794268.
  14. ^ Kurukundi Raghavendra Rao (1993). Babasaheb Ambedkar. Sahitya Akademi. p. 25. ISBN 9788172011529.