Jambavan (Samskrit : जाम्बवान्) or Jambavanta is well known as the wise old minister (a noble bear) of Sugriva, the Vanara Raja who lived on the Kishkinda mountain of Bharatavarsha. He is also known for his fight with Shri Krishna for Syamantakamani (a precious ornament gifted by Surya) described in Bhagavata Purana. Thus his role in Ramayana and Bhagavata Purana is well discussed. There are different versions that Jambavan was described as a monkey and a bear.
In some of the Ramayana versions in Indian languages he is described as a monkey. In some versions he was described as a monkey existing from an ancient period even prior to incarnation of Shri Rama. Jambavan is said to have witnessed nine out of the ten incarnations of Mahavishnu, thus he is known for his longevity.
Birth and Family
In Valmiki Ramayana, Jambavan is described as Rksapungava (ऋक्षपुङ्गव: । foremost of bears) who was created from Brahma.
पूर्वमेव मया सृष्टो जाम्बवानृक्षपुङ्गव:। जृम्भमाणस्य सहसा मम वक्त्रादजायत।। (Valm. Rama. 1.17.6)
pūrvameva mayā sr̥ṣṭo jāmbavānr̥kṣapuṅgava:। jr̥mbhamāṇasya sahasā mama vaktrādajāyata।।
Brahma says - earlier Jambavan, the Rkshapungava, the foremost among bears arose from my face at the instance of my yawning.
Marjara, was the son of Jambavan. It is said in Brahmapurana that the marjaras (cats) have their origin from this son of Jambavan. (Page 488 and 491, Puranic Encyclopedia).
Sri Krsna married Jambavati the daughter of Jambavan described in the Samantopakhyana of many texts (Puranas, Mahabharata).
Grandchildren of Jambavan : Shri Krishna and Jambavati's children include Bhadra, Bhadragupta, Bhadravinda and Saptabahu were the sons and Sambhodani and Bhadravati were the daughters. 
भद्रश्च भद्रगुप्तश्च भद्रविन्द्रस्तथैव च। सप्तबाहुश्च विख्यातः कन्या भद्रावती तथा। सम्बोधनी च विख्याता ज्ञेया जाम्बवतीसुताः ।। ३४.२४१ ।। (Vayu. Pura. 2.34.241)
bhadraśca bhadraguptaśca bhadravindrastathaiva ca। saptabāhuśca vikhyātaḥ kanyā bhadrāvatī tathā। sambodhanī ca vikhyātā jñeyā jāmbavatīsutāḥ ।। 34.241 ।। (Vayu. Pura 2.34.241)
In Vamana Avatara
Bhagavata Purana mentions Jambavan as follows
जाम्बवान् ऋक्षराजस्तु भेरीशब्दैर्मनोजवः । विजयं दिक्षु सर्वासु महोत्सवमघोषयत् ॥ ८ ॥ (Bhaga. Pura. 8.21.8)
jāmbavān r̥kṣarājastu bherīśabdairmanojavaḥ । vijayaṁ dikṣu sarvāsu mahotsavamaghoṣayat ॥ 8 ॥ (Bhaga. Pura. 8.21.8)
Jambavan, the rksharaja, (moving) with the speed of the mind, proclaimed with beating of drums in all directions, the victory of Mahavishnu (over Bali Chakravarty) and the great festive occasion.
In the assembly of monkeys searching for Sita in the southern direction each monkey was discussing their individual capacity to leap across the sea. When asked about his ability Jambavan replied that he went around Mahavisnu, who took the avatar of Trivikrama Vamana to curb the powers of Mahabali. At that time Jambavan was immensely strong. But by the time of the incarnation of Sri Rama his strength had decreased much. Thus in Valmiki Ramayana he quotes his abilities thus,
"My abilities in olden times were not what you see now. In the far old days, I had walked round that Eternal Being Visnu when he measured three steps at the sacrifice of Mahabali. Now, I am very old and have not enough strength to jump over the sea." (Valmiki Ramayana, Kiskindha kanda, Sarga 65).
मया महाबलेश्चैव यज्ञे विष्णुस्सनातनः। प्रदक्षिणीकृतः पूर्वं क्रममाणस्त्रिविक्रमम्।।4.65.15।। (Vakm. Rama. 4.65.15)
mayā mahābaleścaiva yajñe viṣṇussanātanaḥ। pradakṣiṇīkr̥taḥ pūrvaṁ kramamāṇastrivikramam।।4.65.15।।
स इदानीमहं वृद्धः प्लवने मन्दविक्रमः। यौवने च तदाऽसीन्मे बलमप्रतिमं परैः।।4.65.16।। (Vakm. Rama. 4.65.16)
sa idānīmahaṁ vr̥ddhaḥ plavane mandavikramaḥ। yauvane ca tadā'sīnme balamapratimaṁ paraiḥ।।4.65.16।।
From this sloka it may be noted that Jambavan existed way before Shri Rama took avataram on the earth.
Jambavan in Ramayana
When the troubles and hardships caused by the wickedness of Ravana became unbearable the goddess Earth and the Devas approached Brahma for redress. Brahma took them to Vaikuntha, where Mahavisnu heard everything and said that he would incarnate as the son of Dasaratha and would kill Ravana. As Mahavishnu took the avatara of Shri Ramachandra, Brahma directed chiefs of Apasara and Gandharvas to create an army of monkeys to help Shri Rama on that occasion. Accordingly Brahma created Jambavan (earlier than Rama's incarnation) and several other monkeys. Distinguished rshis, siddhas, vidyadharas, uragas, charanas procreated heroic sons in the form of monkeys who became forest-dwellers.
During the time of Shri Rama, Jambavan was the minister of Sugriva. It is stated in Valmiki Ramayana, Kiskindha Kanda, Sarga 41, that Nila, the son of Agni, Hanuman, Jambavan, Suhotra, Sarari, Saragulma, Gaja, Gavaksa, Gavaya, Susena, Rsabha, Mainda, Dvivida, Vijaya, Gandhamadana, Ulkamukha, Asanga, Angada and others were the ministers of Sugriva.
नील मग्निसुतं चैव हनुमन्तं च वानरम्। पितामहसुतं चैव जाम्बवन्तं महाबलम्।।4.41.2।। (Valm. Rama. 4.41.2)
nīla magnisutaṁ caiva hanumantaṁ ca vānaram। pitāmahasutaṁ caiva jāmbavantaṁ mahābalam।।4.41.2।।
Hanuman, Nila, Angada and Jambavan were the formidable troop of monkeys sent by Sugriva in the southern direction in search of Sita. On reaching the southern seas, the question was how to jump over the sea to Lanka. They were previously informed by Sampati that Sita was in the Asoka vana as a captive of Ravanasura. Each of them came forward to show his ability and admitted failure. Finally Jambavan called Hanuman and advised him to jump over to Lanka.
Hanuman who was not aware of his own strength, did not come forward and stayed quiet. Jambavan told him about his birth, strength, attainment of boons etc. Hanuman became convinced of his powers at the words of Jambavan and jumped over the sea to Lanka.
Once due to a curse of sage Trnabindu, Hanuman lost his great strength and vitality. But, the remedy given was that he would regain the lost power when anyone reminded him of it. During the search for Sita Hanuman felt it difficult to jump across the southern sea to Lanka due to the above curse. But, when Jambavan described to him about his noble origin and powers Hanuman regained his lost power and vitality, and successfully jumped across the sea to Lanka.
Sarga 66 of Kishkinda Kanda of Valmiki Ramayana describes the glory of Hanuman by Jambavan and how he inspires Hanuman to take the leap over the ocean to reach Lanka. This also shows the skill, knowledge and wisdom of the old minister of Sugriva.
Jambavan and Syamantakopakhyana
Many Puranic texts have mentioned about Jambavan being seen in Dvapara Yuga, in connection with the precious stone Syamantaka. This upakhyana (anecdote) during the avatara of Shri Krishna is famous because Jambavan gives his daughter Jambavati as the wife of Shri Krishna. Jambavan is one among the chiranjeevi's (a long lived being) is evident in this story.
Different Puranas recount this anecdote
- Agni Purana (Adhyaya 275)
- Brahma Purana (Adhyayas 16 and 17)
- Bhagavata Purana (Skanda 10 Adhyayas 56 and 57)
- Brahmanda Purana (22.214.171.124 to 52)
- Vayu Purana (2.34.21-52)
- Vishnu Purana (Amsha 4 Adhyaya 13)
- Harivamsa (Adhyaya 1.38.12 to 46)
- Padma Purana (Kanda 1 Adhyaya 13 Slokas 71 to 93)
The Sun-god gave this jewel Syamantaka to King Satrajit. Syamantaka mani gives gold to the owner and protects against any disease. His younger brother Prasena wore it and went to the forest for hunting. A lion killed him and took the jewel in his mouth and was going along the forest when Jambavan killed it and took the jewel. It was rumoured that Sri Krsna had killed Prasena and taken the jewel. This story is recited in many households across Bharatavarsha as a part of the vratakalpa in Vinayaka Chaturthi festival puja. It is said that reciting it dispels the false implications by anyone as given in the phalasruti.
So to clear himself of the false charges Shri Krsna went in search of the jewel to the forest, and found the body of Prasena and his horse. Seeing the footprints he found that a lion had killed them. A few steps away he found the body of the lion and that a bear's prints. Following the footprints Shri Krishna arrives at the mountain cave of Jambavan. Inside the cave a small boy was being consoled saying "Don't cry, here is Syamantaka mani". Understanding that bear killed and took the jewel from the lion, Shri Krishna fights with Jambavan for 21 days (another version is 27 days), and defeats him. In the duel that ensued between Jambavan and Krsna the former was defeated. He recognised Krsna to be the Lord, and presented Syamantaka and also his daughter JambavatI to Krsna and JambavatI thus became Krsna's wife. (Page 425, Puranic Encyclopedia). Accepting defeat Jambavan offers the Syamantaka mani along with his daughter Jambavati in marriage to Shri Krishna. Upon return with his retinue to Dwaraka, Shri Krishna returned the mani to Satrajit and clears false accusations on him. Satrajit offers his daughter Satyabhama to Shri Krisna on knowing the true events. (Bhagavata, Skandha 10).
From the story of Prasena it may be seen that Jambavan left Kiskindha and lived in the cave of Rkshavan with his sons and other relations.
ऋक्षवन्तं गिरिवरं विन्ध्यं च गिरिमुत्तम्। अन्वेषयन् परिश्रान्तः स ददर्श महामनाः॥ १६.३१ ॥ (Brah. Pura. 16.31)
r̥kṣavantaṁ girivaraṁ vindhyaṁ ca girimuttam। anveṣayan pariśrāntaḥ sa dadarśa mahāmanāḥ॥ 16.31 ॥ (Brah. Pura. 16.31)
End of Yadava Race
Samba is the son of Jambavati through Shri Krishna and is well known for bringing about the end of Yadava race. The sages Visvamitra, Kanva and Narada came to Dvaraka once. Some Yadavas brought Samba dressed as a pregnant woman before the sages and asked them derisively what child, whether male or female, would Samba give birth to. Angry at this insult, the sages said that the 'pregnant woman' would deliver an iron rod, which would become instrumental for the destruction of the Yadava dynasty. (Page 428 of Puranic Encyclopedia)
- Mani, Vettam. (1975). Puranic encyclopaedia : A comprehensive dictionary with special reference to the epic and Puranic literature. Delhi:Motilal Banasidass. (Page 613 and 614)
- Valmiki Ramayana (Balakanda Sarga 17)
- Tagare, G. V. (1960) Vayu Purana, Volume 2. Delhi : Motilal Banarsidass Pvt. Ltd. (Page 756)
- Vayu Purana (Uttarartha Adhyaya 34)
- Bhagavata Purana (Skanda 8 Adhyaya 21)
- Tagare, Ganesh. Vasudeo. The Bhagavata Purana, Part 3. Delhi : Motilal Banasidass Pvt. Ltd.
- Valmiki Ramayana (Kishkinda Kanda Sarga 65)
- Valmiki Ramayana (Kishkinda Kanda Sarga 41)
- Valmiki Ramayana (Kishkinda Kanda Sarga 66)
- Agni Purana (Adhyaya 275)
- Brahma Purana (Adhyaya 16)
- Bhagavata Purana (Skanda 10 Adhyaya 56)
- Brahmanda Purana (Madhyabhaga Adhyaya 71)
- Vishnu Purana (Amsha 4 Adhyaya 13)
- Harivamsha (Purvabhaga Adhyaya 38)
- Padma Purana (Khanda 1 Adhyaya 13)