The Skanda Purana

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

This page describes The Decapitation of Brahma which is chapter 2 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 second chapter of the Avantikshetra-mahatmya of the Avantya-khanda of the Skanda Purana.

Chapter 2 - The Decapitation of Brahmā

[Sanskrit text for this chapter is available]

Note: This is the Skandapurāṇa version of Brahmā’s loss of his fifth head. Brahmā eulogized Śiva as being Brahman (vv 13-17). Śiva being pleased asked Brahmā to seek any boon. Brahmā requested him to be his son. Śiva plucked off the fifth head of Brahmā for his audacious request which too he granted and became his son named Nīlalohita (vv 18-26, 28-29).

Sanatkumāra said:

1-4. Formerly, when all mobile and immobile beings had perished and there remained only one vast expanse of ocean, there was neither fire nor the sun, neither the earth nor the sky or quarters. There were no stars, no luminary, no firmament, neither the moon nor the planets, neither Devas nor Asuras nor Gandharvas, neither Piśācas nor serpents nor Rākṣasas. There were no lakes, no mountains, no rivers and no seas. Everything was like utter darkness. Nothing was known. At that time, Mahākāla alone stood by for the purpose of blessing the worlds. The Lord stood there observing all the regions in the various quarters.

5. For the sake of creation, he stirred round, Kāma who was stationed on the index finger of his right hand, Kāma who was not much emaciated.

6. The embryo became a bubble and developed rapidly. It became an egg of gold, fully round and very strong, massive.

7. Struck by the hand, it became a great thing with two fragments. The lower fragment is known as the earth and the upper one the firmament studded with stars.

8. Then Brahmā, with five faces and four arms, manifested in the middle. Thereafter Maheśvara conccedingly[?] directed him:

9. “By my blessings, O mighty-armed one, start the creation of the universe of diverse kinds.” After saying this, the Lord vanished somewhere. But Brahmā did not go.

10-11. Brahmā who was being urged to create, thought of the Lord. Being meditated upon by Brahmā for getting the requisite knowledge, Lord Bhava became delighted by the penance of Brahmā. He granted him (the knowledge of) the Vedas with all the six Aṅgas. Even after acquiring the Vedas, he was not competent to create for a long time.

12. To propitiate Bhava, he began his penance once more. When he did not visualize the Lord, he contemplated on the Lord and eulogized him with devotion.

Brahmā said,:

13. Obeisance to Śiva whose mind is of Sāttvika quality, free from impurities; who is beyond the three Guṇas and whose radiance spreads around; who is the redeemer of the the Vedas with the six Aṅgas; who is my creator as well as that of the Vedas with six Aṅgas; who is the eye (of the world) and whose greatest form can be experienced.

14. Obeisance unto you, O Śiva, the bestower of the happiness of liberation. Obeisance to you who resort to the Rajas Guṇa for engaging in the activity of creation (of the world); who have resorted to the Sattva quality for the sustenance of the universe; who are the cause of destruction by means of Tamas and who are greater than the greatest.

15. Obeisance to Śiva who is beyond the Prakṛti of the entire living beings (or beyond all Elements); who is the form of the greatest Ātman; who is the cause of egotism and intellect in the minds of men; who is the Lord of all and who is identical with the twenty-six principles.

16. The universe is permeated by his Tanus (forms, bodies) in the form of earth, water, fire, firmament, air, the moon, the sun and the Ātman. I do obeisance to him. He is what is past, present and what is going to be (future).

17. I bow down to him in whose Ātman all these take their origin at the time of creation and all these luminaries that are present here, all the worlds, all that has been and that will ever become and causes get merged at the time of annihilation.

Sanatkumāra said:

18. O Vyāsa, even as Brahmā was eulogizing thus, the greatest holy Lord said while remaining yet concealed, “O Brahmā, may a boon be requested for.”

19. He chose Bhava to be his mental son because that would give him some importance. After realizing his inner thoughts, the great Iśa, the Lord told him:

20-21. “O Four-faced One, since for some reason you wish to have me as your mental son, I shall cut off your head as what should not have been begged for was begged for by you. My own part Nīlalohita Rudra will become your son and he will obscure your lustre.

22-23. One thing more, since I have been remembered by you with devotion of the nature of filial feeling and since the desire to know me in the form of the greatest Brahman has been evinced (by you), your name will be famous in the world as Brahmā; for the same reason you will have the status of being the grandfather. Therefore, you are (known as) Pitāmaha.”

24. After obtaining the curse as well as the boon thus, he (Brahmā) began the creation of sons. While he was performing the Homa in the fire arising from his own brilliance, perspiration began to flow.

25. He wiped off his forehead with the hand holding the Samit (sacrificial twig). A drop of blood mixed with the sweat fell down into the fire.

26. He became Nīlalohita and Rudra at the behest of Bhava. The son thereafter rose up from his vicinity.

27. He had five faces and ten arms. He was equipped with a trident, ā bow, a sword and a Śakti. The fifteen-eyed terrible Rudra had serpents for Yajñopavīta (sacred thread).

28-29. He had the (crescent) moon and matted hair. He wore the hide of a lion as his cloth. On seeing such a son born, Brahmā named him, “O Rudra, holder of the Pināka bow, be Nīlalohita by name.” Thereafter the activity of creation of Brahmā, Pitāmaha, started.

30. At the outset he created seven mental sons, Sanaka and others. Then he created the patriarchs, Marīci, Dakṣa, Manu and others.

31. After creating the eight groups of Suras, the five forms of the brutish (non-human) creatures, he created many types of men. Thus he started the activity of creation.

32. The created beings, Suras and others set aside even Brahmā, bowed down and served only Nīlalohita.

33. Then Brahmā said to Rudra: “I have been made not worthy of adoration by you. You are worthy of being worshipped, due to your own brilliance. Hence go to Himālaya.”

34. Nīlalohita said to him: “Indeed, I have not been worshipped by you.” Thereafter, Rudra went to the place where Bhava was.

35-36. Thereupon Brahmā became deluded and puffed up with Rajas. He blazed with his brilliance thinking thus: ‘The creative activity is mine. There is no other god equal to me by whom creation of Devas, Asuras, Gandharvas, beasts, birds and other creatures has been effected.’

37-39. Thus deluded, that Virañcya of five faces became arrogant. His face to the east had a melodious tone. It produced the Sāmaveda chanting. The second face (mouth) of his created the Ṛgveda. Another face had the Yajurveda. The fourth one held the Atharvaveda. He began to recite the ancillaries of Veda and their sub-parts, Itihāsa including the mystic secrets and holy collections and all the Vedas with the fifth face having another eye.

40. Like a lamp at sunrise all the Asuras, Suras etc. faded off, due to the brilliance of the face of that Lord of wonderful splendour.

41-42. Though they were his good sons, the Devas became extremely distressed and mentally lost. They were not able to approach the splendour, look at it for a long time or even get away from it. Unable to know for certain what it was, they thought themselves assailed, though they were not inimical to it. All of them took counsel with one another for their own welfare.

43-44. “We shall seek refuge in that Lord. We have lost our brilliance due to the lustre of Brahmā. But we do not know the place where he has established himself. That terrible deity we shall see here through devotion and not through anything else.” After consulting one another thus, those Devas kept their palms joined in reverence. With excessively rich melody in their tone, they eulogized Maheśa.

Devas said:

45-50. Obeisance to you, O Lord of the chiefs of Devas. Obeisance, obeisance, O Maheśvara. We are extremely deluded. We do not know your unparalleled and exalted greatness, whereby you, the eternal Lord of living beings, are the greatest Brahman. You are the firm basis of all living beings. You are the cause of the creation of everything. You hold the moon, the sun, and the fire stationed in your eyes. Merely by repeating your names all the creatures become rid of inauspiciousness. O Mahādeva, your forms characterized[1] by earth, water, fire, moon, sun, firmament and wind, have pervaded everything entirely. The entire universe is made to toss about and whirl by you, through the Bhāvas of Rajas, Sattva and Tamas. It does not understand you because you have assumed all the Mūrtis. At the time of the turning of the cycle of Yugas, you make the lords of Suras beginning with Brahmā enchanted and deluded unbearably.

Sanatkumāra said:

51-53. Due to the compassion for the Devas he granted them direct perception with a face indicating pleasure. He was bowed to by Devas. Accompanied by Devas, Maheśvara made them deluded and enchanted. On being eulogized thus by Devas, sages, Pitṛs and human beings, the Lord said (while) remaining hidden, “O Devas, speak out whatever you wish.”

Devas said:

54-56. O Sthāṇu, we always request you for your direct perception. Out of sympathy a boon may also be granted. Whatever great vigour and vitality we had, whatever brilliance and prowess has been restrained and rendered ineffective by the radiance of the fifth face of Brahmā, all that has perished. With your favour, O Lord, let it be restored to its original state. O Maheśvara be pleased to bring about such a situation.

Sanatkumāra said:

57. Coming into direct view thereafter, Śarva started and went to that place where was (Brahmā) the personified form of Rajas and egotism. Eulogizing the Lord of Devas and surrounding him, the Devas took their seats.

58. Though he was illuminating the universe with the brilliance of thousands of crores of suns, Brahmā did not come to know that Lord had come because he was enveloped with Tamas.

59-60. Then the Lord (Śiva), the soul of the universe, the creator and the conceiver of the universe, was seen there. He, Rudra, overpowered, with his brilliance, Pitāmaha who was seated in the midst of the assembly of the Devas. The elated Lord Rudra stood in front of him. The face of Brahmā assailed by Rudra’s radiance, did not shine.

61-62. It did not shine like the moon at the time of sunrise though its rays are bright during the night. On seeing his son, the eternal Rudra Deva, standing proudly, he simply saluted only with (the gesture of his) hand and spoke the words smilingly. The Lord of uneven (three) eyes replied to Brahmā only in smiles.

63. Since Brahmā did not come to know the Lord as he was enveloped in his lustre, the Moon-crested Lord burst into boisterous laugh.

64. Even as all gods were watching and listening, he deluded God Brahmā with his boisterous laugh and spoke to him (while laughing).

65-66. The Lord who had the brilliance of the moon in its height of refulgence, who had the moon, the sun and fire for his eyes, plucked off the fifth head of Brahmā with the tip of the nail of the left thumb, like a man plucking the inner core of plantain with his fingers. Pitāmaha was not aware of his head that was being plucked.[2]

67-69. On being stupefied by the brilliance of Rudra he did not bow down. Afterwards, the head that had been cut off remained in the hand of Rudra, which he saw along with the Devas. It was dazzling and terrible. Brahmā looked at it with great fear. The head shone due to the nails of the hand of Maheśvara like another moon stationed in the middle of the group of planets. The Moon-crested Lord jumped and danced along with that skull.

70. He appeared like mountain Kailāsa with the sun on its peak. When the head was cut off, the Devas became delighted and puffed up. With different kinds of hymns and prayers they eulogized the bull-emblemed, skull-handed Lord of Devas.

Devas said:

71-76. Obeisance always to the skull-handed Mahākāla holding Śaṅkha. Obeisance to the Lord possessing lordship, prosperity and knowledge; to the Lord according all enjoyments; to the Lord who destroys arrogance and who is identical with all the Devas.

You are the destroyer of Kāla. Hence you are Mahākāla. You subdue the miseries of the devotees. Hence you are liked (by all) as the destroyer of miseries. You are the benefactor of the devotees. Hence you are remembered as Śaṅkara. After cutting off the head of Brahmā, you are holding the skull. Hence you are eulogized as Kapālin. Be pleased with us.

On being eulogized thus Śaṅkara became delighted in his mind. The Lord, the storehouse of mercy, made the Devas get up. He then vanished there itself.

Victoriously shines that Rudra of extraordinary splendour and prowess after conquering Vedhas. He stands holding the white skull and wearing a garland near Rudra (Śiva). Shining with the rays of the crescent moon his matted hair that could be discerned through the waves of the celestial Gaṅgā drips with water.

Footnotes and references:


Siva is Aṣṭamūrti (eight-formed). But the list given here omits ‘yaṣṭā’, the sacrificing priest, and Śiva becomes ‘seven-formed’ here. Kālidāsa in the 1st verse (Nāndī) of Śākuntala mentions these forms.


This contradicts the statement in v 20 where Siva is stated to have plucked Brahmā’s fifth head for his arrogance or audacity to become Śiva’s father unless we presume that v 20 was only a threat.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: