Happy to narrate the story of Lord Kartikeya on this day of the Maha Skanda Sashti.
Maha Skanda Sashti denotes the sixth day following Amavasya (No-moon day) which happens after Deepavali. This day is celebrated by the followers of Lord Kartikeya in a grand manner. The celebrations start on the first day after Amavasya and culminate on the sixth day (Shashti) and this is celebrated as Maha Skanda Sashti.
What is the significance of Maha Skanda Sashti? It is on this day that Lord Skanda killed Soorapadma, a dreaded Asura, and restored peace to heaven. This is the story is narrated in two parts of which this is part I.
Skanda, Muruga, Kartikeya, Shanmukha, Kumara, Mahasena are all the various names of this handsome second son of Lord Shiva who is also the commander of the Army of the Devas.
Long long ago, there lived a demon king Asurendra with his wife Mangalakesi. They had a daughter by name Maya. Maya was a sorceress. She married Rishi Kashyapa and they had three sons and a daughter. The first son was Soorapadman, the second one was Simhamukhan and the third one was Taarakasuran. The daughter was Ajamukhi. The three sons, though strong and valiant, had mostly demonic qualities of wanting to subjugate others. They wanted to gain extraordinary power and strength to do so. Therefore, Soorapadman decided to perform penance to propitiate Lord Shiva and get boons from him.
Accordingly, Soorapadman started to meditate upon Lord Shiva and went on to perform ‘Ghor Tapasya’ subjecting himself to tortures, surrendering food, drink and sleep and constantly chanting the name of the Lord. Lord Shiva was pleased and appeared before Soorapadman and offered him a boon as a reward for his severe penance.
Soorapadman wanted the gift of immortality while the Lord told him it was not possible.
“Then” said Soorapadman, “Let me and my siblings be destroyed only by your offspring”
Lord Shiva had lost his wife Sati and not being able to bear the separation was living the life of a recluse, immersed in deep meditation. Soorapadman who was aware of this, thought that Lord Shiva would never be involved with worldly things and keeping this in mind, asked his boon.
Lord Shiva granted the boon and Soorapadman was exhilarated.
Soorapadman happily accepted the boon and went away to his brothers and narrated the boon as he had received.
“We are as good as immortal!” he told his brothers and mother. “Come on! Let us rule the earth!”
And they went about all over the earth destroying everyone who would not submit to them. Soon, they found pleasure in torturing and killing people for fun. Everywhere there was fear and chaos and people were terrorized by the actions of these brothers. This went on for years together.
Now, the brothers wanted to rule the heaven as well. “Come on, let us capture the Devas and make them our slaves! Hahahahaha………” commanded Soorapadma, laughing thunderously.
The brothers took their armies and went on a rampage to Amaravati, the capital of Indra destroying everything that came in their way. Innocent people and their properties were destroyed mercilessly on the way. On reaching Amaravati, the brothers fought a bloody battle with the Devas and defeated them all.
Soorapadman ordered the divine architect Viswakarma to build for him the most opulent palace ever, on the surface of the sea. Viswakarma had to oblige out of fear and this place was named by Soorapadman as Mahendrapuri.
All the Devas including, Vayu, Agni, Varuna and even Indra’s son Jayantha were brought to Mahendrapuri and treated like slaves by the brothers. They were denied a respectable living and were asked to do all household chores. The Devas were facing great difficulty and it was indeed a very bad time for them.
The Devas, sneaked to each other secretly and consulted amongst themselves as to how to get out of the predicament.
“Let us meet Lord Shiva” said someone to Indra.
“Better not meet him. Don’t you know the fate of Kamadeva when he tried to disturb Lord Shiva?” said Indra.
Kamadeva had been burnt to ashes earlier when he had tried to distract Lord Shiva from his meditation.
“But that was long back and he was restored” chipped in another Deva. “Now Lord Shiva is happily married to Parvati Maa and he will surely bless us.”
“Ok, I will try” said Indra and one day taking a few of the Devas, he stealthily went and met Lord Shiva and cried out his woes and the troubles faced by all of them under the rule of Soorapadman and his brothers.
Shiva heard him patiently and decided it was time for decimating the three brothers.
And as the Devas stood there, they witnessed a spectacular sight.
Six effulgent sparks of fire emanated from the third eye of Lord Shiva. The sheer fiery nature of the sparks was frightening. The light emanated by the sparks was like a thousand suns. The Devas looked on with great fear.
Lord Shiva then bade Agni and Vayu to carry those sparks and place them in the cool waters of Maa Ganga. The heat emanating from the sparks was so intense that it was extremely difficult for both Vayu and even Agni himself to carry them. They rushed to Maa Ganga and deposited the sparks in her cold waters. But the heat was so very powerful that it was not possible even for Maa Ganga to handle it. Her waters started boiling. So, she in turn, took them all the way to the Sharavana Lake (Sharavana Poigai) at the foothills of the Himalayas. The Shara Vana as the name indicates was a forest of reeds and there was a lake nearby which was considered a form of Parvati Devi herself. There, Maa Ganga placed the sparks in the water of the pool and lo and behold!
The sparks turned into six beautiful baby boys each lying on a lotus flower. Six maidens by name Krittika maidens happened to be present there and each of them lovingly took one child and nourished them and took great care of them.
When the babies grew into little boys, Lord Shiva appeared there with Parvati. Parvati was overjoyed to see the beautiful boys and clasped them all together in her arms and kissed them. The bodies of the boys merged into one with six faces and twelve arms. Thereby the boy came to be known as “Shanmukha” or “Shadaanana” meaning six-faced.
So many people had been instrumental in aiding the Avatara of Shiva’s son. Lord Shiva, therefore addressed his son by so many names – born to be an attacker of the enemies, he would be called ‘Skanda’; as he was carried by Maa Ganga, he would be ‘Gaangeya’; as he was born near the Shara Vana (Reed forest), he would be ‘Sharavanabhava; as he was reared by the Krittika maidens, he would be referred to ‘Kartikeya’ and as he would be the commander in chief of the army of the Devas, he would be referred to as Mahasena. He is also called Muruga in Tamil Nadu. ‘Murugu’ in Tamil means beauty.
Parvati then glanced at the baby boy once more and he was transformed to a normal boy with one head. And so handsome was he, that there were no words to describe his beauty. Parvati picked him up and handed him over to Shiva who was seated on Nandi and Skanda was blessed by his father.
Just then, from the Navaratnas (nine gems) on Parvathi’s anklet, there appeared nine ‘Kalikas’ (forms of Kalis). From them appeared nine strong young men and they walked up to Lord Shiva and bowed to him. The leader who was called Veerabahu would be lieutenant to Skanda. The other warriors would fight for Skanda.
Skanda being the superior divine being absorbed all the knowledge there was to be learnt. He was then apprised by the Devas about the troubles they were facing due to the three Asura brothers. Skanda knew that the very mission of his birth was the destruction of the three Asura brothers and their armies.
Lord Shiva blessed Skanda with eleven weapons to fight Soorapadma. Maa Parvati gave all her power in the form of a spear which is called “Vel” (pronounced as Vale in Tamil).
The story continues in Part II which you can read by clicking here.