Birth Story of Lord Skanda
The story of Skanda, known popularly as Karttikeya in the north and Subrahmanya in the south, is a unique blend of beauty, power, valour and grace. The account of Skanda's birth and exploits is covered in Valmiki Ramayana, Mahabharata and Skanda Purana. Some other Puranas also make brief references to Skanda. The accounts given in the various texts differ. It is interesting to note that there are two different books, both going by the name of Skanda Purana(m), one popular in the North and the other in the South. The story of Skanda as told in these two books also differs.
Balakandam, Canto 37 gives a brief account of Skanda as part of great stories of the past recounted by Viswamitra to the young Rama and Lakshmana on their way to Siddhasrama, where the royal princes were to protect yagnas from the ravages of rakshasas. Once when Devas went to Siva for protection against Asuras, Parvati cursed the devas for impatiently interfering when she and Siva were alone. The curse was that devas would not beget children. Agni, at the behest of Brahma and Indra, consumed the virya of Siva and, being unable to bear the heat, left it in the river Ganga. Ganga also could not stand the heat and left Siva's virya in a white brilliant thicket of reeds. Skanda, the divine child with six heads and twelve arms was born there instantly. The Sanskrit word, ‘skand' means slipping. As he was born of the virya that slipped from the womb of Ganga, the child came to be known as Skanda. Indra brought the six Krittika devis for suckling and bringing up the baby, who therefore came to be known as Karttikeya. The child, also called Kumara, was very powerful even at birth. Skanda was then anointed commander of the celestial army and he destroyed the asuras. There is no specific mention in this account of the name of Tarakasura or Surapadma.
Markandeya instructs Yudhishthira on various divine stories of the past in Vanaparva. Chapters 224 to 232 cover the story of Skanda. Swaha Devi, daughter of Daksha Prajapati, was in love with Agni. Once she noted that Agni came under the sway of lust after seeing the wives of the great Saptarishis in a yagna. In order to lure Agni, Swaha Devi took the forms of the wives of six of the Saptarishis one by one and joined Agni. She could not adopt the form of Arundhati, wife of Vasishta, owing to her unparalleled chastity. Swaha Devi dropped Agni's virya in a golden pond in Swetaparvata. Skanda with six heads was born in the pond. Krittikas brought him up. At the behest of Indra, they later became stars in heaven by the grace of Skanda and filled the gap left by Abhijit who had gone for tapas in the forest. Viswamitra performed jatakarma of the baby and praised Skanda as Siva himself. Swaha Devi became Agni's consort.
Agni is known in Vedas as a form of Siva and Swaha Devi as Uma. Skanda is hence regarded in Mahabharata as Siva's son. Skanda's divine boyish sports showed his extraordinary power. He even fought Indra once. From Skanda's body Visakha and other warriors, collectively known as Navaviras, emanated. Later Skanda was made the commander of Indra's forces. He married Devasena, brought up by Indra as his daughter after he had rescued her from the clutches of the asura, Kesi. After worshipping Siva, Skanda led the devas' war with asuras. When the head of asuras, the terrible Mahishasura started attacking Siva himself during the war, Skanda killed him and vanquished all asuras. There is again no mention of Tarakasura or Surapadma in this account. However, in the Salyaparva, the asuras killed include Mahisha and Taraka. In the Anusasanaparva, Skanda is hailed as the destroyer of the dreaded Tarakasura.
Skanda Purana in the Northern Region
The book published by Nag Publishers, Delhi states in Introduction that their version is considered as the authentic Skanda Purana and the Southern version is to be regarded as Agasthya Samhita. Maheswara Khandam of this Skanda Purana describes the birth and exploits of Skanda. Agni saw Siva and Parvati in Gandhamadana Parvata when they were alone. As ordered by Siva, Agni swallowed the virya of Siva. The further account of Agni's lust on seeing the wives of the Saptarishis and Swaha Devi joining Agni in the forms of six of the seven wives of the seers is same as in Mahabharata. Here the six rishis' wives are called Krittikas. One account in the Maheswara Kandam refers to Swaha Devi depositing the virya in the Ganga, while another speaks of her leaving it in a golden pond in Swetaparvata. Shanmukha was born. Viswamitra performed the birth ceremonies and praised Skanda. Agni presented the ‘shakti' weapon to Skanda. Skanda married Sena, the daughter of Mrityu. Indra made him the head of his army and prayed for the destruction of Tarakasura. Skanda sent Narada to the asura as messenger of peace. On the failure of the peace mission, fierce battle ensued. Skanda noted during the hostilities that Tarakasura was a great devotee of Siva and hence he hesitated to kill him. Vishnu informed Skanda of Tarakasura's attempt to kill Siva himself. There was Akasavani that the purpose of Skanda's birth was to kill Tarakasura and restore to devas their lost glory. Skanda then killed the asura with his ‘shakti' weapon. He reduced to ashes other powerful asuras including Krauncha.
Skanda Puranam- The Southern Region
The story of Skanda has been told in great detail in the Siva Rahasya Kandam of Sankara Samhita of Skanda Puranam. This is extremely popular in the South. This part has been translated a few centuries ago into a great devotional Tamil poem called Kanda Puranam by Kachchiyappa Sivacharya. Many ancient temples in the South are dedicated to Skanda, commonly known also as Subrahmanya and Muruga (a Tamil term meaning a person of great beauty). Devoted crowds throng these temples, worship with fervour and remember their favourite god as the slayer of Surapadma and the husband of Devasena and Valli. A lot of ancient poetic literature in Tamil including the famous Tiruppugazh (glory of God), Tirumurugatruppadai, Pillaittamizh, Shashti Kavacham, Kandar Anubhuti, Kandar Alankaram etc. extols Skanda and is recited regularly by the devout public. All of them follow the southern version of Skanda Puranam faithfully.
The Birth of Skanda
Once upon a time devas were harshly tortured by the asuras, Surapadma and his two younger brothers, Simhamukha and Tarakasura. After severe austerities, these asuras had obtained rare and powerful boons from Siva. They would be unsurpassed rulers of 1008 Brahmandas including Swarga and Vaikuntha for a period of 108 yugas. They would meet their end only at the hands of Siva's offspring. Siva had been separated from Sati after she and Siva were insulted with disdain by Sati's father Daksha at the yagna conducted by him. Devas were in dire need of Siva's son in order to kill the Asuras and prayed long and intensely to Siva. They sent Manmatha to Siva. Manmatha aimed his flower-arrows at Siva and was reduced to ashes by the Agni from Siva's third eye. Devas continued in their prayers. In this context it is interesting to note that on one occasion all devas including Vishnu assembled in Vaikuntha. Vishnu wore vibhuti and rudraksha, chanted Śrī Rudram and led the devas in prayer. Siva appeared and assured them of his offspring. Sati was then reborn as Parvati, daughter of Himavan and performed severe tapas in order to get Siva as husband. Siva was also in tapas at the same time in order to get Parvati as his wife. In due course Siva married Parvati, the daughter of Himavan. Manmatha's wife Rati prayed to the divine couple for resurrection of Manmatha. At the intercession of Parvati, Siva brought Manmatha back to life, but with unseen form, Ananga. The devas again reiterated their prayer to Siva in Kailasa for his offspring. Once when Siva and Parvati were seated in Kailasa, the normally five-faced Siva assumed six faces and looked longingly at Parvati. From the third Agni-eye in each of the six faces of Siva, a six-faced tejas emerged, brilliant like a crore of suns and burning like Kalagni. In order to comfort the devas, who ran hither and thither, being unable to bear the heat, Siva called back the tejas and made it smaller and bearable. He ordered Agni and Vayu to carry the tejas to the thicket of white reeds in the Ganga. Agni and Vayu carried the tejas on their heads in turns with difficulty and finally left it in the Ganga. The river deposited it in a group of lotuses among a thicket of reeds. The tejas turned into a beautiful six-faced baby with twelve hands. Vishnu asked the six Krittika star-devis to suckle the newborn baby. The baby took six separate forms, who were reared by the six devis. In the meantime, discomfited by the interference of devas when Siva and Parvati were alone, Parvati cursed devas that they would not beget children. In another development the Navaratnas from her anklet turned into nine Kalikas, who gave birth instantly to Navaviras starting with Virabahu. Then Siva and Parvati visited the six babies under the care of Krittikas. Parvati brought the six babies together in an embrace. Thus was Skanda born with six brilliant faces and twelve hands.
Muruganikki. . Harom hara. .