A Mahā Brahmā. In the Nikāyas (D.i.121; M.i.358; S.i.153; A.v.327) he is mentioned as the author of a famous verse, there quoted:
In one place (S.ii.284) the verse is attributed to the Buddha, thus endowing it with the authoritativeness of a pronouncement by the Buddha himself. Sanankumāra is represented as a very devout follower of the Buddha.
In a sutta of the Samyutta (S.i.153), he is spoken of as visiting the Buddha on the banks of the Sappinī, and it was during this visit that the above verse was spoken. Sanankumāra was present at the preaching of the Mahāsamaya Sutta (D.ii.261).
In the Janavasabha Sutta, Janavasabha describes to the Buddha an occasion on which Sanankumāra attended an assembly of the Devas, presided over by Sakka and the Four Regent Gods. There was suddenly a vast radiance, and the devas knew of the approach of Sanankumāra. As the usual appearance of the Brahmā is not sufficiently materialized for him to be perceived by the Devas of Tāvatimsa, he is forced to appear as a relatively gross personality which he specially creates. As he arrives, the Devas sit in their places with clasped hands waiting for him to choose his seat. Then Sanankumāra takes on the form of Pañcasikha (because all devas like Pañcasikha, says the Commentary, DA.ii.640) and sits, above the assembly, cross legged, in the air. So seated, he expresses his satisfaction that Sakka and all the Tāvatimsa Devas should honour and follow the Buddha. His voice has all the eight characteristics of a Brahmā's voice. (These are given at D.ii.211). He then proceeds to create thirty three shaper, of himself, each sitting on the divan of a Tāvatimsa Deva, and addresses the Devas, speaking of the advantages of taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. Each deva fancies that only the shape sitting on his own divan has spoken and that the others are silent. Then Sanankumāra goes to the end of the Hall, and, seated on Sakka's throne, addresses the whole assembly on the four ways of iddhi; on the three avenues leading to Bliss, as manifested by the Buddha; on the four satipatthānas, and the seven samādhiparikkhārā. He declares that more than twenty four lakhs of Magadha disciples, having followed the teachings of the Buddha, have been born in the deva worlds. When Sanankumāra has finished his address, Vessavana wonders if there have been Buddhas in the past and will be in the future. The Brahmā reads his thoughts and says there certainly were and will be.
Sanankumāra means "ever young." Buddhaghosa says (MA.ii.584; cf. SA.i.171) that, in his former birth, he practised jhānas while yet a boy with his hair tied in five knots (pañcacūlakakumārakāle), and was reborn in the Brahma world with the thāna intact. He liked the guise of youth and continued in the same, hence the name. Rhys Davids (Dial.ii.292, n.3; cf.i.121, n.1) sees in the legend of Sanankumāra the Indian counterpart of the European legend of Galahad. The oldest mention of it is in the Chāndogya Upanisad (Chap. VII), where the ideal, yet saintly knight, teaches a typical brahmin the highest truths. In the Mahābhārata (iii.185, Bombay Edition) he expresses a sentiment very similar to that expressed in the stanza quoted above. In mediaeval literature he is said to have been one of five or seven mind born sons of Brahma who remained pure and innocent. A later and debased Jaina version of the legend tells in detail of the love adventures and wives of this knight, with a few words at the end on his conversion to the saintly life. See J.R.A.S.1894, p. 344; 1897, p.585 f; Revue de, Histoire des Religions, vol.xxxi.pp.29ff.
Sanankumāra Sutta. Brahmā Sanankumāra visits the Buddha on the banks of the Sappinī, and speaks a verse (S.i.153; for the verse see Sanankumāra) in praise of learning and good conduct. The Buddha approves of the sentiment contained in the verse.