The Skanda Purana

by G. V. Tagare | 1950 | 2,545,880 words

This page describes The Story of a Thief: Incarnation of Rama which is chapter 8 of the English translation of the Skanda Purana, the largest of the eighteen Mahapuranas, preserving the ancient Indian society and Hindu traditions in an encyclopedic format, detailling on topics such as dharma (virtous lifestyle), cosmogony (creation of the universe), mythology (itihasa), genealogy (vamsha) etc. This is the eighth chapter of the Kedara-khanda of the Maheshvara-khanda of the Skanda Purana.

Chapter 8 - The Story of a Thief: Incarnation of Rāma

[Sanskrit text for this chapter is available]

Lomaśa said:

1-3. O Brāhmaṇas, once there was a great sinner[1] He was a thief. He was excommunicated from all religious rites. He was a Brāhmaṇa-slayer, a drink-addict and a thief of gold. He sought the company of excellent women in an illicit way. He was stupid and slow and always engaged in gambling along with gamblers and cunning fellows. Once while playing, he lost wonderfully (large amount). Smashed and hit by rogues and gamblers, he did not speak anything.

4-5. Though he was harassed and tormented, he kept quiet. Then that great sinner was asked thus by them: “You have lost this much wealth in the game of dice. Are you going to give it or not? O wicked fellow, let this be told immediately and precisely.” Then he said: “What has been lost by me, I shall give at night.”

6. Thanks to that statement, he was released by them. Those gamblers and rogues then went away. Then at mid-night he went to the temple of Śiva.

7. Climbing on to the head of Śaṃbhu, he attempted to take the bell. At that time on the peak of Kailāsa, Śaṃbhu said to his servants:

8. “What has been done by this fellow today is far superior to anything done by anyone on the earth. He is the most excellent one among all my devotees, hence he is my great favourite.”

9. After saying this, he commanded the Gaṇas beginning with Vīrabhadra to bring him (the thief-gambler). They hurriedly started from Kailāsa, the favourite (resort) of Śiva.

10. The three worlds were filled with the sound of Ḍamarus by all of them. On seeing them, the evil-minded thief got down suddenly from the top of the Liṅga and took to his heels immediately.

11-14. On seeing him fleeing, Vīrabhadra called him: “Whom do you fear, O stupid fellow? Maheśvara, the lord of Devas, has been pleased with you, as he is very liberal-minded.”

After saying thus and placing him in the aerial chariot, he came to Kailāsa. The thief was made an attendant by that noble-souled (lord).

Hence, devotion to Śiva must be preserved and cultivated by all embodied beings. Even animals will be worthy of being worshipped thereby. What to say of men on the earth?

15-16. The followers of Tarka-śāstra are engaged in abstract reasoning and arguments.[2] So are the followers of the Mīmāṃsā School. They go on arguing and disputing among themselves. And there are others who deliberate on and discuss about the existence, nature etc. of the Soul, but never reach any unanimity, or reconciliation of (their) differences. They are excluded from the worship of Śiva. Without Śiva, of what significance are they, by whom only arguments are forwarded?

17. Of what avail is much talk? All mobile and immobile beings, all animals too, are born bearing the Liṅga.

18. Just as the Liṅga is placed (and consecrated) in conjunction with the Piṇḍī (globular solid pedestal), so also men are endowed with Liṅgas and women afe Piṇḍīs.

19. The entire universe consisting of the mobile and immobile beings is endowed with (the union of) Śiva and Śakti. Those are foolish fellows who, out of delusion, eschew devotion to such Śiva and worship others.

20. Their Dharma is extremely insignificant, perishable and momentary. He who is Viṣṇu should be known as Śiva. He who is Śiva is Viṣṇu alone.[3]

21. The pedestal is the form of Viṣṇu and Maheśvara is in the form of Liṅga. Hence the worship of Liṅga, O Brāhmaṇas, is excellent for everyone.

22. Brahmā worships a Ruby-Liṅga always, Indra worships a Liṅga made of gems and Candra (the Moon-god) one of pearls.

23. Bhānu (the Sun-god) always worships a splendid copper (-coloured) Liṅga. Kubera worships a golden Liṅga and Varuṇa a Liṅga red in colour.

24. Yama worships a sapphire Liṅga, Nairṛta worships a silver Liṅga, Pavana (Wind-god) always worships a saffron Liṅga of the lord.

25. Thus, all Guardians of the Quarters including Indra have been characterised as worshippers of Liṅga. So are all (persons) in the nether world and also Gandharvas and Kinnaras.

26-27. Among Daityas, O Brāhmaṇas, there are certain devotees of Viṣṇu, the chief of whom was Prahlāda.[4] So also among Rākṣasas, those having Vibhīṣaṇa as their leader. So also (were) Bali, Namuci, Hiraṇyakaśipu, Vṛṣaparvan, Vṛṣa, Saṃhrāda and Bāṇa.

28. These and many others who were the disciples of the intelligent Śukra were engaged in worshipping Śiva. All these Daityas and Dānavas (were devotees of Śiva).

29-32. All the following were Rākṣasas and they were always engaged in the worship of Śiva. They were: Heti, Praheti, Saṃyāti, Vighasa, Praghasa, Vidyujjihva, Tīkṣṇadaṃṣṭra, Dhūmrākṣa of terrible valour, Mālī, Sumālī and the extremely terrible Mālyavān, Vidyutkeśa, Tadijjihva, Rāvaṇa of great strength, the invincible Kuṃbhakarṇa and Vegadarśī of great valour. These were great Rākṣasas, who were always engaged in worshipping Śiva. After worshipping the Liṅga formerly, they had always attained Siddhi.

33. A severe penance unbearable to all was performed by Ṛāvaṇa. Then Mahādeva, the lord of penance, became much pleased.

34-35. He granted him boons very difficult to be achieved by all others. Wisdom with perfect knowledge was obtained by him from Sadāśiva. He further obtained (invinicibility) in battle and twice the number of heads (as those of god Śiva), for Mahādeva had only five faces, whereas Rāvaṇa had ten faces.

36. Thanks to the grace of Maheśa, that powerful (Rākṣasa) defeated Devas, sages and manes by means of his penance and became superior to all.

37. He was made the great king and ruler of Trikūṭa by Maheśa. He occupied the greatest and most excellent position (seat) among Rākṣasas.

38. It was for testing (the enduring capacity of) the sages that he harassed them. Violence towards the sages was indulged in, O Brāhmaṇas, by Rāvaṇa who was himself an ascetic, only because he wanted to test them.

39. Rāvaṇa who made the whole world cry and scream, became great and invincible. Thanks to the grace and favour of Śaṅkara, another creation was evolved by him.

40. The guardians of the worlds were conquered by that ascetic by means of his valour. Brahmā too was subdued by him only through great penance.

41. By becoming the nectar-rayed one, he conquered the Moon, O Brāhmaṇas. Through the power of burning, the Fire-god was conquered and Īśa (himself) was conquered by lifting up Kailāsa (mountain).

42. Indra was conquered by means of his Aiśvarya (power and prosperity). So also Viṣṇu, the omnipresent one. By worshipping and propitiating the Liṅga, all the three worlds were controlled by him.

43. At that time, all the groups of Suras, with Brahmā and Viṣṇu as their leaders, gathered together on the top of Mem and began their deliberation and discussion:

44-45. “We have been tormented by Rāvaṇa through his penance, very difficult to be performed (by others). O Devas, let this wonderful story be listened to. On the mountain named Gokarṇa, worship of the Liṅga itself was performed by that noble-souled (hero). What could be known only through knowledge, what could be achieved only through knowledge, whatever.great miracle was there, that which is very difficult to be surpassed by everyone—all these were done by Rāvaṇa alone.

46. He had adopted the greatest vairāgya (detachment) as well as liberal-midedness [mindedness/mindness?] greater even than that (vairāgya). The feeling of mamatā (mineness [mindness?]) was eschewed by the noble-souled Rāvaṇa.

47. After a period of a thousand years, that (hero) of great arms cut one of his own head and offered it with his own hand, for the sake of worshipping the Liṅga.

48. Ṛāvaṇa’s body short of one head stood in front of it in the vicinity. īt was endowed with Yogic dhāraṇā (steady abstraction) and the greatest samādhi (concentration).

49. Fixing his attention deeply on the Liṅga after about a kalā, he cut off another head and worshipped Śiva with it. Such (performance of) worship was never done by any sage nor by anyone else.

50. Thus many heads were chopped off and offered by him in worshipping Śiva. Again and again he became a headless body. Then Śiva became a bestower of boons.

51. ‘Formerly without being myself transformed into a Piṇḍī...[5] O descendant of Pulastya, choose boons as you please. I shall grant you the same.’

52-53. Then Śiva of greatest auṣpiciousness was requested by Rāvaṇa: ‘If Your Lordship are pleased, the excellent boon should be given to me. I do not wish to seek any other boon. If you have merciful favour towards me, you should give me such a boon whereby I (always) resort to your feet.’

54. Then Rāvaṇa who made the world cry and scream was told by Sādāśiva: ‘By my favour, you will obtain everything mentally desired by you.’

55-59. It was thus, O leading Suras, that everything was. obtained by Rāvaṇa from Śiva. Hence this Rāvaṇa should be subdued by you all only through great penance. This is what I think.”

On hearing the words of Acyuta, the groups of Devas beginning with Brahmā became anxious, because all of them had been addicted to sensual pleasures.

Brahmā was overpowered by sexual desire and he attempted sexual act with his own daughter. Indra was an adulterer. Candra (the Moon-god) defiled the bed of his Guru (preceptor Bṛhaspati). Yama has been avaricious and stingy. Sadāgati (the Wind-god) has been fickle. Pāvaka has been indiscriminate in eating anything and everything. The others among the groups of Devas (had similar defects). Hence, all these were incapable of conquering Rāvaṇa who had become very great by means of penance.

60. Śailāda was an elderly excellent Gaṇa of great splendour. He was intelligent, an expert in adopting the right course of action, highly powerful and very valorous.

61-62. He was a favourite of Śiva and was identical with Rudra. The noble-souled one asked all of them led by Indra, “Why have you all come here in great excitement? Let the whole thing be reported in detail.”

On being asked by Nandi, all of them hurriedly said then: Devas said:

63. All of us along with the sages have been conquered by Rāvaṇa. We have come to propitiate Śiva, the lord of the lords, of the worlds.

64. Lord Nandī laughed and said to Brahmā: “Where are you? Where is auspicious Śaṃbhu? (There is a world of difference between you two.) By means of great penance, he should be seen seated in the middle of the heart. He cannot be seen today.

65. As long as the emotional attitudes are too many, the objects of senses are plentiful and there is the feeling of mineness, so long Īśa is very difficult to be attained.

66. Śiva in the form of the Liṅga is easy of access to those noble-souled ones who have subdued the senses, are quiescent and have stabilized themselves in him. He is very difficult to be obtained by you all.”

67. Then Brahma and other Devas as well as the learned sages bowed down to Nandī and said:

“Why do you have the face of a monkey?[6] Tell us everything about it. Tell us about the power of the penance of Rāvaṇa.”

Nandīśvara said:

68-70a. Kubera had been made by the noble-souled Śaṅkara the over-lord of wealth and assets. Rāvaṇa came here to see him, riding in his own vehicle. He was in a hurry. On seeing me, he said furiously: “Did Kubera come here? Was he seen by you here? Let this be told immediately.”

70b-72. He was asked by me: “What have you to do with Dhanada (Kubera) today?”

Then Rāvaṇa of great splendour, who made the world scream, said: “At the outset he (Kubera) had been indifferent towards me. He did not care for me. Addicted to sensual pleasures, as he is, he has been highly arrogant. He began to teach me saying, ‘O lord, it should not be done like this. Just as I am endowed with glory and splendour, just as I am rich and strong, so also you do become, O fool. Do not get into delusion and stupidity.’

73. I have been made a fool and a deluded person by the noble-souled Kubera. On being turned out by me angrily, that Guḥyaka (i.e. Kubera) performed penance.

74. Did that Kubera come, O Nandī, to your abode? Let that Kubera be handed over (to me). You need not hesitate in this matter.”

75-79. On hearing the words of Rāvaṇa, I hurriedly replied: “You are a Liṅgaka (worshipper of Liṅga), an exalted one. I too am one like that. Knowing the equality between us both you are prattling in vain, O vicious one.”

As he was told thus, he in his arrogance due to his might, asked me about my face in the same manner as I have been asked about my face by you noble-souled ones. The old story was recounted by me about the benefit of the holy rite of the worship of Śiva. “Sārūpya (having the same form as that of the lord) was granted by Śiva, but it was not accepted by me then. The face of a monkey was requested by me from Śaṃbhu. It was then granted to me kindly by Śiva who is by nature compassionate.

Those who are devoid of false prestige, those who are free from arrogance and those who have no property or possessions, should be known as favourites of Śaṃbhu. Others are excluded by Śiva.”

80-86a. Then Rāvaṇa said to me: “On the strength of my penance, I had been sensible enough to request for ten heads.”

At his derisive statement, Rāvaṇa who made the world scream, was cursed by me then:

“When an excellent man of great penance accompanied by those who have faces like this (monkey faces like mine) (comes to your city) keeping me at the head, he will undoubtedly kill you.”

Thus, O Brahmā, Rāvaṇa who made the world scream, was cursed by me. Only the Liṅga was worshipped by Ṛāvaṇa without the noble-souled Viṣṇu stationed in the form of the pedestal, O excellent Suras. Hence, O excessively fortunate ones, Maheśvara, Mahādeva, the lord of Devas, in the form of Viṣṇu will carry out everything. May all of you pray to Viṣṇu lying within the cavity of the heart of everyone. Therefore, I shall be at the head of all Devas.

86b. On hearing the words of Nandī, all of them became joyous in their minds. They came to Vaikuṇṭha and began to eulogize Viṣṇu by means of (good) words.

Devas said:

87. Obeisance to you, the lord, O lord of Devas, O lord of the universe. This entire universe consisting of mobile and immobile beings has you for its basis and support.

88. This Liṅga has been held by you, O Viṣṇu, in the form of the Piṇḍī (globular pedestal). In the form of Mahāviṣṇu (the demons) Madhu and Kaiṭabha were killed by you.

89. Similarly, in the form of a tortoise, the Mandara mountain was held up and supported by you (at the time of churning of ocean for nectar). Assuming the form of a boar, Hiraṇyākṣa was killed by you.

90. Hiraṇyakaśipu, the Daitya, was killed by you by assuming the form of Nṛhari (Man-lion). Bali, the Daitya, was held and bound by you in the form of Vāmana (Dwarf).

91. The son of Kṛtavīrya (Sahasrārjuna) was killed by you after taking birth in the family of Bhṛgus. Hereafter too, O great Viṣṇu, protect us in the same manner.

92. It behoves you to protect us instantaneously from the fear of Rāvaṇa.

93. On being entreated thus by Devas, the lord Vāsudeva, the sanctifier (the creator) of all living beings, who is immanent in the universe, said to all those Suras:

94. “O Devas, let this important statement he heard. It is relevant to this occasion. With Śailādi (Nandin) as your head (leader), all of you immediately take incarnations in the form (bodies) of monkeys.

95. I shall become a human being enveloped by Ajñāna (Ignorance). I shall be born in Ayodhyā in the abode of Daśaratha for the attainment of your objectives. I am having Brahmavidyā (the knowledge of Brahman) as my assistant.

96. Brahmavidyā herself will be born in the abode of Janaka.[7] In fact, Rāvaṇa is (my) devotee as he is directly engaged in the meditation on Śiva.

97. When a man endowed with great penance desires for Brahmavidyā, he can be easily managed and won over by means of virtue.”

98-100. After saying this, lord Viṣṇu, the highly auspicious one (vanished).

Vālī was born of a part of Indra. Sugrīva was the son of the Sun. Jāmbavān, the leading Ṛkṣa (bear), was born of a part of Brahmā. Naṇḍī, the son of Śilāda, who was a favourite follower of Śiva, incarnated as the great monkey Hanūmān for rendering assistance to Viṣṇu of unmeasured splendour.

101. The monkeys beginning with Mainda were all the excellent Suras. Thus, all Suras incarnated in a befitting manner.

102. Similarly, Viṣṇu was born as one who increased the delight of Kausalyā. He is called Rāma by learned men, because he pleased and gratified the entire universe.

103. Due to his devotion to Viṣṇu, Śeṣa descended on the earth by means of the power of his penance.

104. The mighty arms of Viṣṇu incarnated as the valorous (Princes) named Śatrughṇa and Bharata well-renowned in the three worlds.

105. She who was mentioned as Brahmavidyā by the expounders of the Vedas, incarnated as the daughter of the ruler of Mithilā for the fulfilment of the task of Suras. She was born from a furrow arising from the ploughing of the field with the ploughshare.[8]

106. Hence, she became famous as Sītā. She was the Science of Metaphysics (personified). Since she was born in Mithilā, she is called Maithilī.

107. She was born in the family of Janaka. Hence, she is well-known as Janakātmajā (Jānakī). This Brahmavidyā, the destroyer of sins, was formerly known as Vedavatī.

108-110. She was given by Janaka himself to Viṣṇu, the Supreme Soul. Along with her, the Vidyā (incarnated), Viṣṇu the greatest among the auspicious ones, the lord of Devas, the lord protector of the universe, became engaged in a severe penance. As he was desirous of defeating Rāvaṇa for the sake of the fulfilment of the task of Devas, the lotus-eyed Rāma stayed in forest (for the same purpose).

111. Though the great incarnation of Śeṣa, (Lakṣmaṇa) performed an exceedingly difficult penance by means of his great Śakti (power), for the sake of the fulfilment of the task of Devas.

112-115. Śatrughna and Bharata too performed very great penance. Rāma who was thus endowed with the power of penance and was assisted and accompanied by those groups of Devas, killed Ṛāvaṇa along with his followers within six months. Killed by Viṣṇu by means of weapons, O sages of holy rites, he attained Sārūpya (having the same form as the god) of Śiva, along with his kinsmen and followers. By the grace of Śiva, he became (realized) the entire Dvaitādvaita (the essence of the philosophy of dualism and non-dualism).[9] Even the sages are deluded in the matter of discrimination between dualism and non-dualism. Men who are engaged in worshipping Śiva derive all those things.

116. Those who continuously worship Śiva in the form of Liṅga, whether they be women or śūdras or cāṇḍālas or other low-caste people, do attain Śiva, the destroyer of all miseries.

117-118. Even animals have attained the supreme lord. What then to say about human beings? The twice-born castes who have practised great penance observing the vow of celibacy and who have performed Yajñas for many years have attained (merely) Svarga (Heaven).

119-123. There are many Yajñas[10] such as Jyotiṣṭoma, Vājapeya, Atirātra and so on. These Yajñas undoubtedly do bestow heavenly pleasures on those who perform them. After enjoying the heavenly pleasures, when their merits become exhausted, those sacrificers come back to the mortal world. Having descended to the world, they are born in the different species with their intellect of the nature of the three Guṇas of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Thus, many souls wander about in cycles of birth and death. By chance or as good luck would have it, some of them serve Śiva.

124. Instantaneous removal of Māyā takes place in the case of men who are engaged in regular meditation on Śiva and who have restrained their minds and not otherwise.

125. When Māyā is dispelled, the three Guṇas perish. Then a person transcends the three Guṇas and becomes liberated thereby.

126-128. Hence, the worship of Liṅga should be thought of and pursued by all embodied beings. Śiva assumes the form of Liṅga and protects all mobile and immobile beings.

Formerly I have been asked by you about how Śiva assumed the form of Liṅga. Everything has now been truthfully spoken (by me), O Brāhmaṇas.

How Śiva, the great lord of the worlds, swallowed poison (Halāhala), may be listened to, O Brāhmaṇas, I shall recount it to you as it actually took place.

Footnotes and references:


Lord Śiva is extremely kind even to wicked robbers. The superb magnanimity of Śiva is illustrated in this story in which a gambler-thief is elevated as his Gaṇa by Śiva.


Devotion to God is superior to learning. This teaching has been inculcated by all Indian saints since the days of this Purāṇa.


The identity of Śiva. and Viṣṇu is repeated ad nauseam. The pedestal which was stated as Śakti above in v. 19, is now stated to be Viṣṇu and the Liṅga is Śiva. Thus Śiva and Viṣṇu become identical and therefore Vaiṣṇavas are advised not to express aversion to Śiva.


As Viṣṇu and Śiva are united in the Liṅga and its pedestal, worship of Śiva-Liṅga is automatically the worship of Viṣṇu who is there as the pedestal. So the Vaiṣṇavas need not entertain any aversion to Liṅga-worship.


Some lines are missing in the text.


A story to explain why Viṣṇu incarnated in human form as Rāma and with his army of monkeys killed Rāvaṇa. This story, as in SkP, here, has no basis in Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa.


Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa I.l. 27-30 compares Sītā to Devamāyā (devamāyeva nirmitā) but our text claims her as an incarnation of Brahma-vidyā as a suitable consort to Viṣṇu (the future Rāma). The important persons in the Rāmāyaṇa are incarnations of various gods.


Sītā means ‘a furrow’. In Ṛgveda IV.57.6, Sītā is invoked as a presiding deity of Agriculture. In Vājasaneyī Saṃhitā XII. 69-72 Sītā (a furrow) is personified. Here, Sītā is said to be ‘born’ of the furrow while ploughing. She is called the incarnation of Ānvīkṣikī and Brahmavidyā.


The Purāṇa-writer has respect for Dvaitādvaita philosophy. This school holds the reality of both Dvaita (dualism between man and God) and Advaita (non-dualism between them). Nimbārka (11th cent. A.D.) in his Com. Vedānta-Pārijāta-Saurahha [Saurabha?] on the Brahma Sūtra has advocated this doctrine. But this theory is older than the Brahma Sūtra itself, as we find such views of Auḍuiomi, Āśmarathya quoted by the author of the Brahma Sūtra.


VV 119-128 emphasize the Liṅga-worship as superior to performance of sacrifices. Sacrifices lead to a temporary stay in Svarga, while the Liṅga-worship dispels Māyā and leads to Mokṣa.

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