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

Shambuka (Sanskrit: शम्बूक, IAST: śambūka) is a character in some editions of the Ramayana. Some say that the character and his story are an interpolation which is not found in the original Valmiki Ramayana but in a later addition called Uttara Kanda.[1][2][disputed ]

According to this version, Shambuka, a shudra ascetic, was killed by the god Rama (protagonist of the Ramayana) for attempting to perform tapas (austerities) in violation of dharma, resulting in the bad karma which caused the death of a Brahmin's son.[3][4][5]

The story is regarded to be created at a later period.[6] While the Uttara Kanda (including Shambuka's tale) is generally regarded as a later interpolation to the original epic,[1][7] the Book is considered part of "ongoing Ramayana tradition" and part of the Valmiki Ramayana.[1][8]

Shambhuka is alluded in the epic Mahabharata; his story retold in some versions of the Ramayana.[9] In Jain literature, the story of Shambuka is different and he is Surpanakha’s son.[10]

Legend in the Uttara Kanda of the Ramayana

According to this story, 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 a violation of a rule of tapas (austerities). Narada informed him that a shudra was performing tapas, which was prohibited in the age of Treta. 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 in person. Brahmin's son was also resurrected.[1][4]

The Uttara Kanda - dated to post-Vedic period (3rd to 2nd century BCE)[11] is regarded an interpolation to the original epic.[11][1][12]

Appearance in other texts

Valmiki Ramayan I Gita Press Gorakhpur by MahaMuni
Valmiki Ramayan I Gita Press Gorakhpur by MahaMuni महामुनि का संग्रह"

Shambuka is alluded in[9] in the epic Mahabharata (Principally compiled in 3rd century BCE–4th century CE), between a debate between a jackal and a vulture at cremation ground. The jackal urges the family of a dead young boy to not abandon him at the cremation ground citing how Rama revives a dead Brahmin boy and slew the sudra Shambuka.[13][14][15][16]

The Shambuka also appears in Raghuvaṃśa, an epic poem composed by celebrated Sanskrit poet Kālidāsa in 5th century CE; Uttaaramacarita, a Sanskrit play composed by Bhavabhuti in 7th century CE and the 15th century Sanskrit text Ananda Ramayana.[17][18][19] Rama's killing of Shambuka is also mentioned in verse 749 in prabandham 'Perumal Thirumozhi' (sung by Kulasekara Alvar) of Naalayira Divya Prabandham, a collection of 4,000 verses composed by the 12 Alvars.[20] The legend is also covered in the Ramavataram written by Tamil poet Kambar in 12th century.[21]

This story is missing in later renditions of the Ramayana such as the Ramcharitmanas, written by Tulsidas in 16th century, which ends with coronation of Rama.[22]


Rama Temple at Ramtek (10th century, restored)[23] owes its origins to Shambuka as per local legend.

According to local temple legend, Rama temple at Ramtek owes its origin to Shambuka. It is believed that Shambuka performed his tapas on Ramtek hill. Rama granted Shambuka three boons at his request: Rama stay in Ramtek (origin of the temple), Shambuka's corpse be turned into a shivalinga (icon of the god Shiva). Devotees worship Shambuka before worshipping Rama, as per the last boon.[24][25]

Authors such as Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi treat the character of Shambuka as an interpolation and creation of a later period.[26][27] 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.[28]

K.R. Raju termed the story of Shambuka as "frivolous" and "maliciously fabricated".[29]

Relationship to Caste System

The Shambuka story is connected to discussions of the caste system, because it positively portrays Rama's killing of Shambuka.[6] Shambuka acts outside his caste, so he is a threat to the social order.[30] Rinehart notes that "the Shambuka story is well known to low castes, who identify with the mistreated Shambuka."[22] Similar criticisms have been made for centuries: the eighth-century play Uttararamacharita portrays Rama as regretful, and as forced by duty to kill Shambuka to uphold the social order.[1]: 9  The same point was made explicitly in B.R. Ambedkar's essay, Annihilation of Caste, in which he points to Shambuka's story as evidence that the caste system can only be maintained by the threat of lethal force.[31] Indian social activist and politician Periyar vehmently criticized Rama for his mistreatment of the Shudras, citing Shambuka's example.[32]

These themes have appeared in modern literary work in the form of re-tellings of the Shambuka story.[33] Multiple plays have reimagined the story, variously modifying it to depict Rama as a servant of the ruling class (T. Ramaswamy Choudary's Sambuka Vadha (1920)), to have Shambuka act as mouthpiece for anti-caste scholars (Thiruvarur K. Thangaraju's Ramayana Natakam (1954)), or to have Shambuka live and instead help the Brahmin who accused him to achieve enlightenment (Kuvempu's Shudra Tapasvi (1944)).[33] The 1977 film Kanchana Sita, based on a 1961 play by the same name, depicts Rama's as caught in inner conflict between moksha (the desire for enlightenment) and artha (the desire for sovereign power). [34]

In popular culture


  1. ^ a b c d e f Paula Richman (2008). Ramayana Stories in Modern South India: An Anthology. Indiana University Press. p. 111. ISBN 978-0-253-21953-4. Archived from the original on 6 August 2020. Retrieved 27 April 2020.
  2. ^ Goldman, Robert; Goldman, Sally (2022). The Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki: The Complete English Translation. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691225029.: 7–8 
  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. ^ 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.
  5. ^ "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. Archived from the original on 5 April 2023. Retrieved 22 March 2023.
  6. ^ a b Nadkarni, M. V. (2003). "Is Caste System Intrinsic to Hinduism? Demolishing a Myth". Economic and Political Weekly. 38 (45): 4787. ISSN 2349-8846. JSTOR 4414252. Archived from the original on 12 November 2022. Retrieved 12 November 2022.
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ Sattar, Arshia (14 November 2016). Uttara: The Book of Answers. Penguin Books Limited. ISBN 978-93-85990-35-9.
  9. ^ a b Buitenen, Johannes Adrianus Bernardus; Fitzgerald, James L. (1973). The Mahabharata, Volume 7: Book 11: The Book of the Women Book 12: The Book of Peace, Part 1. University of Chicago Press. p. 814. ISBN 978-0-226-25250-6.
  10. ^ "Surpanakha's Shambuk". 18 June 2023.
  11. ^ a b Indologica Taurinensia. Istituto di indologia. 2005. p. 245.
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ Sherraden pp. 1-2
  14. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 12: Santi Parva: Apaddharmanusasana Parva: Section CLIII". sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 21 November 2023. Kisari Mohan Ganguli p. 338, Note 338:1
  15. ^ Raghavan, Venkatarama (1973). The Greater Ramayana. All-India Kashiraj Trust. p. 27.
  16. ^ The Mahabharata: Volume 8. Penguin UK. 1 June 2015. pp. Note 157. ISBN 978-93-5118-567-3.
  17. ^ Richman, Paula (2001). Questioning Ramayanas: A South Asian Tradition. University of California Press. pp. 54, 95–96. ISBN 9780520220744.
  18. ^ Kalidasa, Mallinatha, M R Kaale (1922). The Raghuvamsa of Kalidasa : with the commentary (the Samjivani) of Mallinatha. Bombay : P.S. Rege. p. 22. OCLC 1051754532.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  19. ^ Kalidasa, Mallinatha, M R Kaale (1922). The Raghuvamsa of Kalidasa : with the commentary (the Samjivani) of Mallinatha. Bombay : P.S. Rege. OCLC 223345573.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  20. ^ Kulasekara Alvar. Perumal Thirumozhi, Naalayira Divya Prabandham (PDF). Project Madurai. p. 131.
  21. ^ Mani, Vettam (1 January 2015). Puranic Encyclopedia: A Comprehensive Work with Special Reference to the Epic and Puranic Literature. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 678–9. ISBN 978-81-208-0597-2.
  22. ^ a b Rinehart, Robin (2004). Contemporary Hinduism: Ritual, Culture, and Practice. ABC-CLIO. p. 246. ISBN 978-1-57607-905-8.
  23. ^ Hans Bakker (1990). The History of Sacred Places in India As Reflected in Traditional Literature: Papers on Pilgrimage in South Asia. BRILL. pp. 70–73. ISBN 90-04-09318-4.
  24. ^ Paula Richman in Sherraden p. xviii
  25. ^ Leslie, Julia (22 November 2017). Authority and Meaning in Indian Religions: Hinduism and the Case of Valmiki. Routledge. p. 116. ISBN 978-1-351-77299-0.
  26. ^ Gangeya Mukherji (29 November 2020). An Alternative Idea of India: Tagore and Vivekananda. Taylor & Francis. p. 83. ISBN 9781000083774.
  27. ^ D. K. Misra; Shambhu Lal Doshi; C. M. Jain (1972). Gandhi and Social Order. Research Publications in Social Sciences. p. 14. ISBN 9780896843950. Archived from the original on 19 May 2022. Retrieved 19 May 2022. Mahatma Gandhi , on the other hand, has regarded this entire story as an interpolation
  28. ^ Motiramji Sastri, Ramayan (in Gujarati) (Ahmedabad, 1961).
  29. ^ Untouchability Affire Archived 5 April 2023 at the Wayback Machine, p.17, 1997
  30. ^ Doniger, Wendy (November 2010). The Hindus - An Alternative History. Penguin Books. p. 235. ISBN 978-0143116691.
  31. ^ Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji (1936). Annihilation of Caste (Speech). The 1936 Annual Conference of the Jat-Pat-Todak Mandal of Lahore (not delivered).
  32. ^ Richman, Paula (9 March 2018). "Why Periyar was critical of the Ramayana (and Rama)". Scroll.in. Retrieved 20 November 2023.
  33. ^ a b c d e Richman, Paula (2004). "Why Can't a Shudra Perform Asceticism? Sambuka in Three Modern South Indian Plays". In Mandakranta, Bose (ed.). The Ramayana Revisited. Oxford University Press.
  34. ^ a b Zacharias, Usha (2008). "Union with Nature: Prakriti and sovereignty in Aravindan's Kanchana Sita". In Paula Richman (ed.). Ramayana Stories in Modern South India: An Anthology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. pp. 99–107. ISBN 978-0-253-34988-0.