The Rakshasa Brothers: Vatapi and Ilvala

- December 22, 2020

By Srinidhi Murthy 

Illustration: Arijit Dutta Chowdhury

According to Valmiki’s Ramayana, there once lived rakshasa brothers, Vatapi and Ilvala. All their life they killed holy men by tricking them. Vatapi had the boon of transforming into any life form at will. While Ilvala had the power to bring back the dead. 

In order to kill the sages, both would take another form. Ilvala would assume the form of a holy man and Vatapi would transform himself into a goat. Every time sages passed through the forest, Ilvala would invite them for a feast. Ilvala would cook the goat, which was Vatapi, and serve it to the holy men. After they were done feasting, Ilvala would shout,

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“ O Vatapi! Come out.”

Vatapi would emerge tearing the stomach of the sages. The rakshasa brothers killed thousands of holy men using this trick. 

One fine day, Ilvala saw Sage Agastya passing by. As usual, he invited the sage for a feast. Sage Agastya, through his divine powers, understood that he was being tricked by the rakshasa brothers. However, he decided to play along. As expected, Ilvala cooked Vatapi in his goat form and served it. Sage Agastya ate the meal, rubbed his right hand over his belly and said,

“Vatapi get digested.”

Illustration: Arijit Dutta Chowdhury

Thus, when Ilvala tried recalling Vatapi, he didn’t come back. Agastya said,

“You wicked Ilvala, you and your brother thought you could kill me but Vatapi can’t come back now. He has already been digested and his soul has departed his body.”

Ilvala got furious. Seeking revenge, Ilvala pulled out his weapon to attack Agastya. But Agastya, through his powers obtained through penance, let out fire from his eyes burning the rakshasa to ashes.

Legends say that Agastya vanquished the two rakshasas at Konnur, in the southernmost state of India, Tamil Nadu. The place is presently known as Villivakkam, in Chennai. Sage Agastya built a Shiva temple here and performed severe penance. Years later, Shiva appeared before him and blessed the sage. That’s how the sage was set free from his sins. The temple is believed to be one of the oldest Shiva temples. 

Read more stories from the Ramayana in our six-volume box set ‘Valmiki’s Ramayana’. Now available on the ACK Comics app, Kindle, Amazon, Flipkart, and other major e-tailers. 

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