The Skanda Purana

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

This page describes Getting Rid of the Skull which is chapter 6 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 sixth chapter of the Avantikshetra-mahatmya of the Avantya-khanda of the Skanda Purana.

Chapter 6 - Getting Rid of the Skull

[Sanskrit text for this chapter is available]

Sanatkumāra said:

1. After reaching that forest rendered splendid with all kinds of flowers, the Devas entered it, eager to see Śiva, saying, “Here, here is the Lord; the Lord is here.”

2-4a. Even at the end of that wonderful forest the Suras searched for Mahādeva but did not see him. The Lord much sought after by the Devas, said to them, “Welfare unto you. You will not see Virūpākṣa; you cannot see Śaṅkara without penance.” Brahmā remembered what was proper and spoke to the Devas:

4b-5. “There are always three ways of seeing the Lord. It is said, O Devas, that Yogins see the Lord both as Sakala and Niṣkala (with and without attributes) through faithful knowledge, penance and yogic practice.

6. Those who perform penance see the Lord as Sakala and those with (spiritual) knowledge see the Supreme as Niṣkala. A person lacking faith (Śraddhā) does not see even if Vijñāna (perfect knowledge) comes.

7. Yogis endowed with great devotion see the Supreme Being. This Pradhānapuruṣeśvara (‘Lord of Pradhāna and Puruṣa’) should be seen as Nirvikāra (free from modifications).

8-14a. He cannot be seen by one who is not properly initiated. Hence, O Devas, adopt the Śaivī Dīkṣā (‘Initiation in Śaiva philosophy and rituals’). Be always in communion with Maheśvara physically, mentally and verbally.

Welfare unto you all. Perform penance and be engrossed in propitiating Rudra. Śarva knows the proper time. (He decides:) ‘Opportunity for the vision should be offered by me to the devotees and sages who have taken Śivadīkṣā.’”

They heard the words of Brahmā. What he said was beneficial to them. The Suras whose minds were filled with the desire to see Śiva spoke to Brahmā, “We are eager to take Śivadīkṣā according to the injunctions and the proper procedure. O Brahmā, initiate us all into the Dīkṣā that gives satisfaction to Siva.” After hearing these words, Brahmā replied in the manner he had thought of, with a desire to initiate the Devas quickly in Śivadīkṣā: “O Suras, bring all the requisites in ample quantity for performing Śivayajña. Let the altar be constructed here. Śiva endowed with eight cosmic bodies should be worshipped here.”

14b. On hearing the words of the Lotus-born Lord, the Suras did everything thereafter accordingly.

15-18. They wore the (prescribed) simple guise. They bowed down to him. (Becoming) sinless, they followed him for the sake of attaining Śiva’s favour. The knowledge in the Jñānapāda of Puṣkarāgama[1] is prescribed. Brahmā duly performed the sacrifice of the Crescent-crested Lord. Keeping the Dīkṣā procedure in view and in order to bless them, he made the Devas do everything sincerely. Then the great Lord offered, without knowing any opposition, to the Devas the divine Vrata, the most excellent of all Vratas. This Vrata is called Mahāpāśupatavrata in the Śivaśākhā.

19-27. It is the vow practised according to the conventions of the scriptural texts of the sages of exquisite brilliance, those who are the chief ones among the worshippers of Śiva. It is said to be in accordance with what is propounded by Śiva.

Śaṃbhu blesses everyone. This Vrata of Rudra,[2] granting equal auspiciousness to all, was intelligently requested for by all the Devas and duly practised by them. Abandoning Conceit, the Lord born of the golden egg (i.e. Brahmā) gave (advised) them (that Vrata). It is always proclaimed as auspicious. It fulfils desires. It has the name connected with the holy ash. It destroys sins. It suppresses miseries. It gives (spiritual) nourishment, and enhances glory and strength. It bestows Siddhi. It causes renown. It is attractive. It rids one of the sins of the Kali age. Hence those men who perform Bhasmasnāna (purificatory bath by the application of the holy ash) with concentration shall be Dāntas (of controlled sense-organs), initiated ones exercising restraints on the senses. All of them hold Kamaṇḍalus (waterpots of gourd). All of them wear Rudrākṣas. All of them are devoid of association with men indulging in seeing and discussing undesirable things. All of them adopted the Vrata thus in that forest and propitiated the Consort of Umā, Īśana, Maheśvara, by means of the Vrata. They were endowed with great devotion. They practised the great prescribed duties and regulations. In the course of a long period, they realized their desire through meditation alone. Their sins were completely burned by the fire of meditation on Rudra. They became glorious. Then Lord Śaṃbhu, after killing the Asura, became visible (to them).

Sanatkumāra said:

28. All the Devas were blessed by Śarva and they were prepared in regard to the boon accorded by Brahmā. Brahmā too was duly blessed by Iśāna.

29. When a thousand years according to divine reckoning elapsed, the Lord of the chiefs of Devas took pity on them. The illuminator of Devas appeared before them.

30-43. The Lord surrounded by his Gaṇas[3] became visible to them. They (Gaṇas) were of diverse types and were adorned with various kinds of ornaments. They were themselves proud but they destroyed those who were highly haughty and arrogant. They were terrible themselves and they destroyed other terrible fellows. They could assume any form they desired. They were free from desires. They had all their desires fulfilled. They had leonine bodies that could proudly tear up the temples of lordly elephants. They had all Yogic powers, the divine powers or Aiśvaryas called Aṇimā (minuteness or power of becoming minute) etc. Their hairs, tongues and fangs shook and produced gruff sounds. They had terrible faces like those of tigers and pythons. They resembled crows and herons. Some of them had no form. Some were similar to one another in form. Some had good comely forms. Some were multi-formed. Some had one, some two, some three and some many heads. Some had no head. Some had one, two or three tufts. They shone in different forms. Some had many eyes. Some had no eye and someone, two or three eyes. Some had one, two or three ears; some many ears; some had no ear. Some had one, two or three excellent noses; some had many noses; some had no nose. Some had one, two or three shanks; some, many shanks. Some had no shank. Some had one, two or three feet; some many feet and some had no foot at all. Some were whitish dark and some darkish white. Some were black and some were of variegated colours. Serpents constituted their garlands and bracelets. Some had the sacred thread in the form of the serpents. They had various weapons like trident, sword, Paṭṭiśa (sharp-edged spear), Bhuśuṇḍī missiles, Parighas, discus, saws, bows, clubs and other weapons in their hands. Maces, hammers, boulders, iron clubs and other weapons were in their hands. They held Vajras (thunderbolts), Śaktis, Aśanis, javelins, spears and scissor-like weapons. They played on different kinds of musical instruments like Bhaṃbhā, Bherī (drums), Vīṇā (lute), Paṇavas and Veṇus (flutes), Mṛḍaṅgas, Vimalās(?), Ḍhakkās, Kāhalas, Ānakadundubhīs, Huḍaṅkās, Śṛṅgikās and others. Thus there were terrible Gaṇas of awful exploits. Mahādeva was surrounded by the invincible lords of Gaṇas like the sun by planets. O Vyāsa, even as Brahmā and other heaven-dwellers were watching Mahādeva appeared before them, encircled by his own Gaṇas.

44. Brahmā and other Devas saw the leader of the Gaṇas in front. Dazzled and assailed by his brilliance, they became confused in their minds.

45-46. They somehow summoned courage and looked at the Lord duly. In view of the association with the Vedas having the six Aṅgas, they were delighted in their minds and bodies. Joined palms of veneration were on their heads and the feet lay on the ground. (They lay prostrate before him.) They eulogized Īśvara, the cause of creation, sustenance and annihilation.

Devas said:

47. Obeisance to Śiva, the quiescent one, accompanied by the Gaṇas and Nandin. Obeisance to you, the gentle lord seated on a bull, holding the Śūla (trident) and Śakti.

48. Obeisance to the (quarter-clad i.e.) naked one; to the lord clad in hides; obeisance to the pure one, to one of intense splendour, to Brahman, to the body constituted of Brahman, to one employed by Brahman.

49. Obeisance to the slayer of Andhaka; obeisance, obeisance to the great lord, to Rudra, the five-faced one, to the remover of all ailments.

50. Obeisance, obeisance to Giriśa, the Lord of Suras, to Īśāna; Obeisance to one of forms terrible, fierce etc.; obeisance, obeisance to the victorious one.

51. Obeisance to the Lord of Suras and Asuras. Obeisance to the Lord of Yatis (ascetics), to the terrible, to (dispenser of) terrible punishment, to the holder of great Khaṭvāṅga (club with a skull on the top).

52. Frequent obeisance to the auspicious Virūpākṣa (three-eyed), to universe-formed (omnipresent in the universe) one, to the quiescent, the charming one to the mind.

53. Obeisance to the Vedhas (creator), to the omniformed one, to the slayer of Daityas. Obeisance to the Lord taking much pity on devotees. Obeisance to the one favouring those having the knowledge of Rudra (Rudra-jñāna-para?).

54. Obeisance, obeisance to the deformed one, to the one of excellent forms, to the one having a hundred forms. Obeisance to the five-faced one, to the splendid-faced one; obeisance, obeisance to the moon-faced one.

55. Obeisance, obeisance to the bestower of boons, to the Lord identical with the Supreme Boar, with the excellent Tortoise.

56. O three-eyed one, O destroyer of the three Puras, may the means for our succour be provided. We have resorted to you, O Maheśvara, verbally, mentally, physically and emotionally.

Sanatkumāra said:

57-63. On being eulogized thus by Viriñci and other Devas, Hara closely observed the emaciated bodies of the heaven-dwellers by means of his inner consciousness having divine power and ability to pierce three fold (? (?trivedhena).

On seeing the mode of adoration and propitiation of Brahmā and others, the Lord of Devas said: “O blessed ones, well done, well done! The Vrata has been practised continually. I have been very well-propitiated with this divine method by all of you perfectly with a desire to see me.

Only those engaged in the Vrata see me whether (they be) mortals or gods. If at all I have to give, I shall grant you some splendid boons. To each severally or to two or three of you, or to all equally, I shall grant this boon, so that all desires can be fulfilled. It is for the welfare of all of you that I have come to Ujjayinī. The skull has been thrown down by me. What more (need to be done)? Welfare unto you all.”

Devas said:

64-65. What benefit has been done to us by you by throwing down the skull? Why was the earth made to tremble? Why were all the three worlds subjected to agitation? (If) this is not in vain, O Lord, let the reason thereof be mentioned.

Mahādeva said:

66-71. It is for the sake of your own welfare that this terror was inspired in you. It is for the protection of Devas. Let the reason hereof be heard.

A powerful Asura named Drohaṇa, expert in Yoga and Māyā, stayed having kept the nether world (Rasātala) under his hold. His followers, the other powerful Daityas, the conquerors of the cities of the enemies, knew that you all were engaged in penance. Hence many of them marched against you, desirous of killing you along with Indra. They moved about in disguise through their power of Māyā. With weapons raised up, they endeavoured to kill Suras and approached this city with golden peaks in the Kuśasthalī region.

Due to the hurling down of the Kapāla (skull) and the shaking of the earth a loud and fierce report arose and hence the vital airs went out from their bodies.

Their attempt was to upset the steady position of the worlds. They became arrogant due to their prowess and royal supremacy. Therefore, they were killed by me.

Devas said:

72-73. Thus the believers have been blessed. You are the Lord blessing Devas and you have been endowed with good qualities and power of memory. O terrible being, we have been made delighted for the enhancement of our fame by you with your divine visions.

After saying this the Devas bowed down. Bhava made them get up and said again:

Śiva said:

74-76. With due attendance and service, you have continuously performed a penance called Ugra(?). It has been effectively performed by means of meditation. The penance performed by you with your body, speech, mind and devotional emotions cannot be performed by others. You are equipped with this penance along with unbearable sufferings. May your radiance and penance progress and develop all-round. It has been practised and perfected by you in the course of a long time through the body with great (effort).

Sanatkumāra said:

77. On being told by the Lord of Devas thus, Devas with Brahmā at their head, said to the Lord raising their heads (faces) and standing on the ground on their knees:

Devas said:

78-79. You are visible, O Lord; you are the cause of our austerities. You instil life into us. O bestower of boons, O Lord of Devas, grant us protection, to all of us and to the human beings who too are engaged (in good work), O bestower of freedom from fear on devotees.

Īśvara said:

80. Due to your effort and strict adherence to rules, a clear audience has been granted to you. Further I shall grant you many rare boons.

81. When this was spoken by the Lord, Brahmā standing in front of Devas said these words to Lord Bhava, the source of origin of the words of the Vedas:

82. “O Lord, we have attained (you). The great boon is very adequate. May our prosperity be ever-enhancing. May our place of residence be permanent.”

Śiva said:

83. In this world they never meet with evil result—they who are devoted to me and they who are killed by me. They acquire great and excellent intellect.

84-88. There with their heads covered with matted hairs shine the trident-armed terrible Gaṇas. These too who are on my left side. It is to control them as well as to waken you all that the skull was thrown down with the inevitable change on the ground. To those devotees desiring further devotion I granted favour. My residence is perpetual in this forest since I have been requested so by the trees.

O sinless Devas, since I came over here it is called Mahākālavana. To you also who wished to perform austerities, it is Mahākālavana (‘forest of great opportunity’). This secret holy shrine will become renowned in the world with this twin name. It is a secret forest. It is the cremation ground. It is the greatest and most majestic of all holy spots.

89-94. This Kapālavratacaryā[4] (performance of Kapāla Vrata) has been proclaimed by me. The devotee embellished with Kapāla Vrata should take food in the Kapāla (skull). The Kapāla should always be held in the hand. He should be contented with the alms thus received in the course of his Vrata. He should (outwardly) adopt terrific features and reside in the cremation ground. He must (show to) be madly elated and deluded in intellect in the performance of the Vrata. He must be delighted in the midst of all living beings. He should equally welcome the pleasing and the displeasing. He should adorn all the limbs with holy ash. He should be one endowed with knowledge. He should conquer the sense-organs. He must not have intimate contact with anyone. He should gather together clay, holy ash and water. He must be in the Yogic communication permanently, all-pervading, uttering the holy Mantras repeatedly. He should master the excellent (Yogic) postures. He should build his hermitage in the meritorious holy spot. He should meditate in the correct accent on the deity. This Mahāpāśupata Vrata transcends all the worlds and is conducive to great knowledge. Formerly I too had adopted the Kapāla Vrata and practised it. Kapāla is the greatest of all secrets, holy and destructive of sins.

95-97. Indeed this Kapāla Vrata is highly wonderous and very difficult to adopt and practise. Highly fierce and equally gentle, it generates horripilation.

If out of delusion any man hates this Mahāvrata, he will be overpowered by sins. Even after hundreds and crores of births, he is not rid of that sin. Hence no one should hate or violate it. If it is destroyed (i.e. violated) it is as though ten million persons are killed.

98. Further, if anyone with abiding faith feeds (at least one) after performing this Mahāvrata, it is as beneficial as though ten million Brāhmaṇas reciting the Vedas have been fed.

99. He who gives to Yatis alms filling the Kapāla shall be rid of all sins. He will never meet with ill luck.

100. Taking food in the Kapāla is very excellent. This is the way laid down by the Brahman (Veda). They say that this has been adored in the Vedas by Devas and Dānavas.

101. Those Brāhmaṇas wandering over the earth, who will hold the Kapāla that fascinates Bhūtas (goblins, spirits) are, on a par with me, O Brahmā.

102. Bold and intelligent men solely engaged in (my) Japas with the Kapāla as their ornament, are Mahāpāśupatas, Rudras, in the world redeeming others from the worldly existence.

103. They are beyond Dharma and Adharma (i.e. above petty moral considerations); they are beyond the application of Dos and Don’ts. They redeem living beings through the path of knowledge and by means of their initiation therein.

104. All the hundreds and crores of Tīrthas found in the world do not merit even a sixteenth part of the pure Vijñāna (perfect knowledge).

105. O Pitāmaha, just as I am worthy of being honoured and adored among all the Devas, so also a holy man taking this great Vrata is worthy of being worshipped by all Yogins.

106. This Vrata of Śiva is of highly mystic nature for liberation from all worldly bondages, because it is the cause of the stoppage of rebirth through aJl holy rites.

107. After having once adopted this Kapālavrata if a man, unable to master the sense-organs, abandons it in the middle, he immediately falls into the Raurava hell led there by the Servants of Yama.

108. He who enthusiastically speaks about it but does not acts accordingly is a libidinous wretch of a lustful mind. He is not one favourably disposed towards Dharma.

109-110. A man who speaks to the following types of persons shall go to hell: one who takes food in a lonely spot (avoiding kinsmen); who solely partakes of sweet dishes; who pretends to love and cheats, one who resides in an evil village or town infested by wicked people; one who resorts to agriculture and business transactions. That is so because he censures my Vrata.

111. On seeing even a well-behaved gentleman a man practising this Mahāvrata should not have physical contact with his body. If he touches him, he should take bath in water.

112. Thus everything connected with getting rid of the Kapāla has been narrated just as it has been placed. It perished itself due to ignorance.

Sanatkumāra said:

113. After saying this, the Lord colonized the holy spot along with the immortal ones beginning with Brahmā. I shall describe it truthfully.

114. This Mahākālavana is cited by excellent men, O Vyāsa, as the first Śmaśāna. It is here that Hara is present.

115. There is no doubt that this part of the earth is for the sake of blessing. It is for blessing all the living beings that meet with death.

116. The earth was rendered into a conch and platform made of gold and (studded with) diamonds. It was rendered flowery with diverse kinds and extremely splendid with jewels.

117. The excellent green pasture ground was paved as it were with gold and diamonds. Thirty or forty pots were filled and kept in the corners.

118. There are four doorways there of various colours and of blazing appearance. The pots placed there shine like the rising sun.

119. There in the excellent forest the Lord diverts himself along with Nandin and the leaders of the Devas and the Gaṇas. He is equipped with Kāladaṇḍa etc.

120-122. All this is directly visible in Kṛtayuga. In Tretā those who are righteous ascetics and lead celibate life, see Śaṅkara, Hara, Maheśvara, the Lord of Devas always wearing Śūla and Paṭṭiśa in the Mahākālavana. In Dvāpara those who are habitually righteous and possess Vedic learning and Vijñāna (can) see the Lord. In Kali Age those who have pure Vijñāna and are rich in penance see the Lord.

123-124. This truth has been recounted to you. It causes blessings to the world. Those Brāhmaṇas who devoutly worship the great feet of Śaṃbhu in accordance with the injunctions through the Mantras in the order found in the Saṃhitā texts, stay in the vicinity of the Lord. They are favoured by Mahākāla.

125. During his stay in this world, he (a person) should read the story which has been adored by those of reputed collection of good qualities. It dispels defects. He shall be a man of splendid intellect. He who listens to this with mental concentration goes to the city of Hara, adored by the immortal ones.

Footnotes and references:


A famous Śiva Āgama Text. Jñānapāda discusses the Śaiva philosophy.


The verses that follow glorify Pāśupata Vrata but do not give all its details, as we find them in Pāśupata Sūtra (with the commentary of Kauṇḍinya).


VV 30-43 describe Śivagaṇas.


Kapālavrata is another name for Mahāpāśupata Vrata as mentioned below. The details of the Vrata given here describe an advanced stage of the Vrata as shown in the Pāśupata-sūtra-bhāṣya of Kauṇḍinya.

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