Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

Alternate Account of Kartikeya's Birth

Tales of Shiva

[This story is from [Maha:3.222-3.230]. See 'Birth Of Kartikeya' for the more well known version of Skanda's birth.

Long ago, a war raged between the Devas and their half-brothers, the Asuras. Purandara (Indra) was at a loss to know what to do, for the Asuras had grown very strong with the help of divine boons, and were inflicting heavy damages on the Deva army.

As he went for a walk on the Mansa mountains, pondering the strategy to adopt in the ongoing war, he said to himself, "I must find a mighty being, who would lead my army to victory. Without a strong general, we will not be able to overcome the superior Asura host."

While he sat deep in thought in a shaded brook, he heard cries for help. Snapping out of his abstraction, Indra ran towards the place where the sound was coming from. In a clearing in the forest, he saw a beautiful young woman struggling with an Asura.

The chief of the celestials shouted, "Fear not, O Lady, I will save you."

"Do not meddle in what is no concern of yours," shouted the Asura in return. "I am the mighty Kesin, a commander of the Asuras. This lady is mine, if you value your life, go away."

Seeing that Indra continued to advance on them, Kesin threw a heavy iron mace lined with golden spikes towards him. Indra cut it into pieces with his trusty thunderbolts. Baffled, the Asura then picked up a huge rock and threw it at the chief of the celestials. Once again, Indra cut it into a million pieces with his thunderbolt. And some of these pieces fell on Kesin, injuring him. Seeing that he could not hope to withstand the might of Indra, the Asura ran away, leaving the lady behind him.

Vasava then came up to the woman, and asked her: "O lady, who are you? Why were you alone in this desolate place, and how come you fell under the power of this Asura?"

"I am a daughter of Daksha," replied the woman. "My name is Devasena. With my sister Mahasena, and our waiting maids, we used to come here to the Manasa mountains for relaxation. This Asura used to secretly follow us with the intent of winning our favour or failing that, to abduct us. My sister fell for his false promises, and was ravished by him, but I did not listen to his importunities. He was trying to abduct me when you rushed in here in response to my cry for help, and saved me."

Indra said, "Then you must be a cousin of mine, for my mother is a sister of yours. What do you want to do next? Shall I take you to your father's house?"

Devasena replied, "I cannot go home without my sister. This incident with Kesin has convinced me that only a strong husband can protect me against such dangers. Cousin, find me a husband in whose strength I can be secure."

"What qualities do you want in your husband?" asked Indra.

She replied, "My husband must be all powerful. According to my father's boon, he will be respected by both the Devas and Asuras. He must be pious, and ever devoted to the Gods. He must be capable of conquering Asuras, Yakshas, Kinnaras, Uragas, and must be able to rule over all three worlds."

Privately, Indra doubted that such a being could exist. But he put a cheerful face and said, "Cousin, I am sure that I will be able to find you a suitable husband. Meanwhile, let me take you to my home, where my wife will look after you, while I search for such a man."

As he said these words, he saw that the sun was rising among the hills, and the moon was in conjunction with the sun. This cast a reddish hue over the horizon, and the moon seemed to be on fire. Looking beyond the hills, he saw a skirmish taking place between the Asura army and the Deva army. He also saw that the sea, the abode of Varuna had now taken a coppery hue. As he looked at the sun, he saw the celestial sages coursing through the firmament, and he also saw Agni carrying up their oblations to the sun.

As he looked at this wonderful sight, he thought to himself, "This union of sun, fire and the moon is wonderful. If a child were born at this time, he will be very strong, and could very well become my general and the husband of this cousin of mine."

With these thoughts, he took Devasena to the abode of Brahma, rather than taking her directly to his home. He saluted the grandsire and said to him, "My lord, please indicate a strong husband for my cousin, this lady."

Brahma said, "Fear not, Devasena will surely obtain a powerful husband. The seven great sages are conducting a sacrifice. Go there, and accept their oblations. Everything else will take care of itself."

Indra went to the sacrifice, accompanied by the rest of the celestials. They all drank the Soma liquid offered at the sacrifice, and accepted the offerings carried up to them by Agni, in his Adhbudha form.

The seven sages conducted the sacrifice, and their wives assisted them. All seven were extremely beautiful, golden complexioned, and their faces shone with radiant beauty. When Agni saw these beautiful women, he was smitten with desire, and nearly lost his consciousness. Once the sacrifice was complete all the Gods returned to their respective abodes, but Agni did not. He knew that his thoughts were sinful, but he could not control himself, and could not forget the lovely faces of those seven women.

In desperation, he transformed himself into his Grahapatya ('household fire') form, and entered the hearths of those seven sages. Every day, he used to peep out of the household fire, and keep looking longingly at the faces of the seven beautiful ladies. His desire kept burning higher and higher, instead of getting subdued.

He had thought that no one had observed his shameful behavior, but he was wrong, for a young woman named Swaha had observed him. She, a daughter of Daksha Prajapati, was in love with him, and used to secretly follow him around. Agni never even noticed her, and she was becoming desperate.

When she saw that Agni was nursing a sinful passion for those seven ladies, she burned with jealousy, but she also perceived an opportunity. By her magical powers, she transformed herself into the form of Siva, the wife of Angirasa, and waylaid Agni in a forest near the hermitages.

When he spotted Siva (as he thought), Agni was rendered speechless. Swaha addressed him and said, "My lord, I have observed you sneaking into our household fire. My six friends have also seen you, and all of us have been filled with a passion for you. We have kept quite so far only out of fear of our husbands. We can no longer contain our desire. Let us company in a far away place, away from the suspicious eyes of our husbands, in the darkness of the night so that no one may see us."

Agni was of course only too eager to obey, and he cohabited with this false-Siva in a forest nook. After her desire was fulfilled, Swaha thought, "If I am seen leaving this forest in the form of the wife of Angirasa, people will cast an unmerited slur on her. If I leave in my own form, Agni will guess the subterfuge."

So Swaha took the form of a bird, and flew to the white mountains. She carried the seed of Agni which she dropped into a golden lake there. In the following five days, one by one, she took the form of one of the seven ladies and slept with Agni, and duly deposited the seed in the same lake. On the seventh day however, she could not assume the form of Arundhati, the wife of Vasishta, as her magic was useless when she attempted to transform into the most devoted, pious wife of the seven.

The day when she first deposited the seed was the first day of the lunar month. On the sixth day, there arose from the lake a wondrous being, with six heads, twelve arms, two feet and one body. As he came to life, he uttered a leonine roar that shook the forest, and sent the animals and birds scurrying for cover.

This son of Agni and Swaha was named Skanda ('cast off') by the sages, for he was born from the discarded seed of the fire god. He was called Kartikeya, as he was born in the forest tended by the Krittika nymphs.

Sages in all the three worlds saw disturbing signs on the earth and on the sky. By their yogic power, they divined that a mighty being had been born on the lake in the white mountains, and they went to Indra and said, "Lord, this mighty being may destroy the very universe unless something is done. Please destroy him for the good of all living beings."

Indra said, "I do not think I have the power to conquer Skanda, for he is capable of destroying the very creator himself. Our only hope is swear the allegiance to him and throw ourselves at his mercy."

However, when the sages persisted, Indra summoned the terrible female beings, known as the mothers of the world. They used to devour children in infancy, and gladly accepted Indra's command to destroy Skanda.

The terrible mothers flew at once to the white mountains, but when they saw the child blazing with energy, they grew dispirited, and felt that they had no chance against this child. So they swore allegiance to him and sought his protection.

Skanda assured them of his protection. They then said, "Seeing you, we have been filled with maternal feelings. Look! how milk has started oozing from our breasts. Become our child, and make us your mothers."

And Skanda granted their wish, and suckled from their breasts, acknowledging them as his mothers. Meanwhile Agni, hearing that a son had been born of his seed, came to the mountain lake, and was duly saluted by Skanda. Agni had brought along small children, and many toys, and with the help of these, he entertained his infant son.

Soon, word spread that a mighty son has been born to Agni, and all the celestials as well as the divine sages, came there to see the child.

Meanwhile, Indra, having been informed that the fierce mothers had failed him, led the celestial army to the mountain, himself mounted on his trusted elephant Iyravata. When Kartikeya saw the army advancing on him, he rushed forward to meet it with a loud war cry.

The Devas responded with cries of their own and attacked Skanda with their arrows and threw spears at him. The child was unfazed, and with his sharp arrows, he cut all the weapons hurled at him. He then slew huge numbers of Devas with his arrows.

Seeing the battle going badly for him, Indra hurled his powerful thunderbolt at Skanda. It pierced the right side of the child, but instead of killing him, it caused another being to emerge out of Kartikeya's body. Named Vishaka, this child resembled Skanda, and joined him in slaughtering the celestial host.

Soon Indra himself was severely wounded, and seeing no other alternative, surrendered to Skanda, who promptly granted him pardon and protection.

Indra said, "O Skanda, you are the mightiest in this universe. Please take over as the new Indra and lead us to victory. I shall become your loyal servant, and serve you devotedly."

Kartikeya said, "I have no wish to become the Indra. My lord, I shall be your friend and follower. If you want me to do anything, tell me, and I shall accomplish it."

"By your permission, I shall continue to be the ruler of heaven. I desire that you become the commander of the Deva army. Lead our forces to victory over the evil Asuras," requested Indra.

Skanda accepted the command of the Deva forces and assured them that he will slay their enemies. The Devas set up a might shout, signifying their assent, and approval of their new general.

In the meantime, word had spread that the six wives of the sages were responsible for the birth of Skanda, and their husbands abandoned them. They came to Kartikeya to ask for his help in clearing their names. Swaha also came there, to claim her son.

Skanda told the sages that Swaha was his real mother, and that the six wives of the SaptaRishis were blameless of infidelity. He however, honored them also as his mothers.

Indra's requesting Karthikeya to appoint a new asterism in place of Abhijit, who had left her husband Chandra. Unable to bear his partiality for her sister Rohini, she had left her place in the heavens, and left a vacant spot in the constellations. Skanda honored the forest nymphs, the Krittikas (the Pleiades), by elevating them to that post. This star is now associated with Agni. (In other accounts, the Krittikas are the six forest nymphs who suckle the six children in the forest lake, who later united to become Karthikeya)

Swaha then asked him, "Dear son, tell everyone that you are born from my union with Agni. I had done this deed out of love for the fire god, for he had refused my entreaties before. Grant me the boon that I become his wife, and live with him forever."

"So be it," said Karthikeya. "From this day, you will be his wife, and all offerings will be poured to him with the chant of your name."

Later, Kartikeya led the celestial forces to victory against the demon Taraka, routing the Asura forces. In gratitude, Indra bestowed the hand of his cousin Devasena on him, and she obtained her wish of being united with a mighty warrior.

Last Modified At: Sun Oct 16 14:35:58 2005