Puranic encyclopaedia

by Vettam Mani | 1975 | 609,556 words | ISBN-10: 0842608222

This page describes the Story of Subrahmanya included the Puranic encyclopaedia by Vettam Mani that was translated into English in 1975. The Puranas have for centuries profoundly influenced Indian life and Culture and are defined by their characteristic features (panca-lakshana, literally, ‘the five characteristics of a Purana’).

Story of Subrahmaṇya

Son of Śiva.

Reason for birth.

A son named Vajrāṅga was born to Kaśyapaprajāpati by his wife Danu and he married a girl called Varāṅgī. Vajrāṅga performed penance to Brahmā so that he might shed his āsuric aspect. When he came out of his penance, Varāṅgī was missing and he wandered about the forest in search of her. Finally he saw Varāṅgī crying under a tree. When he asked her the reason for her weeping, she told him about harassments by Brahmā during the thousand years when Vajrāṅga was immersed in trance. Indra one day threw about the vessels used by her in worship, appearing before her in the guise of a monkey; on another occasion he threatened her in the form of a lion and on a third occasion he came disguised as a snake and bit on her legs. Very much grieved over the story Vajrāṅga again took to penance with the grim determination to punish Indra and when Brahmā appeared before him he prayed for the boon of a son who would surpass the Devas including Indra in prowess. Brahmā granted him the boon. Varāṅgī delivered a son twelve months after the boon. The child was christened Tārakāsura.

Tārakāsura, as a child, began practising penance and Brahmā duly appeared before him and granted him the boon that if he were to die, he would die at the hands of a child only seven days old. Haughty over the boon Tārakāsura very soon conquered the three worlds. The devas found no means to suppress the asura. Children would not be born to them and there was a reason for it. Once Śiva and Pārvatī started the marital act and it did not come to a close even after a hundred divya-years, with the result that the world shook like anything. Frightened at this the Devas requested Śiva to stop the act and he obliged them. Then he asked them who would bear the semen which had been discharged and they replied, "Let earth itself bear the semen." Accordingly it was discharged on the earth. It filled and over-flowed forests and mountains. What next was the problem. Ultimately the Devas asked Agni (fire) to consume it. When Agni consumed and burnt it down absolutely, the ashes thereof formed into a white hill and it became a forest.

Pārvatī did not at all relish the action of the devas and spoke to them thus: "You prevented my sexual intercourse entered into with the desire to have a son. Therefore, in future you will not have children by your wives." Pārvatī cursed the earth also as follows: "You will become one of various forms and also a wife to many people. You, who prevented me from having a son, will not enjoy happiness from children." (Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa, Bālakāṇḍa, Canto 36).

Tārakāsura could be killed only by a child not more than seven days old and the Devas realised that such a child could be begot only by Śiva. It was the occasion when Śiva was lamenting over the death of Satī and Pārvatī was doing penance to secure Śiva as husband. None could stir Śiva immersed in deep meditation and the Devas entrusted the responsibility for it to Kāmadeva. Not only did Kāma not succeed in the endeavour but also he got reduced to ashes by the fire from Śiva’s eyes. When Pārvatī’s penance reached its climax Śiva appeared before her and wedded her.

Birth of Subrahmaṇya.

Because of the power of Śiva’s semen consumed by Agni, his glow began getting diminished. Agni complained of it to the Devas who sent him over to Brahmā. On his way to Brahmā Agni met Gaṅgādevī whom he told thus: "I can in no way bear this semen of Śiva and if I get rid of it, it will burn the entire world. So, you please take charge of it so that you will have a noble son. Gaṅgā’s reply to this was simply to ask Agni to throw the semen into her waters and Agni did so. As the semen had remained with Agni for nearly 5000 years, his flesh, blood hair, eye etc. had become golden in colour and hence Agni came to be called from that day onwards Hiraṇyaretas.

Time passed by and the semen of Śiva became a burden to Gaṅgā. She complained about that to Brahmā. Brahmā asked her from whom she had received the semen. Gaṅgā detailed her story to him and concluded by saying that though it was 5000 years since Śiva’s semen was put into her, she did not deliver yet. Then Brahmā told her as follows: "You go to the Udaya mountain (where the sun rises). There is a forest there, a forest hundred crores of yojanas in extent, where Śara, a particular variety of grass (Saccharam munja Roxb) grows. You deposit the semen there and a male child will be born after 10,000 years.

As directed by Brahmā Gaṅgā went to the Udaya mountain and deposited the foetus there through her mouth.

By the power of Śiva’s semen all the trees and animals and birds in the forest became golden in colour. When 10,000 years were completed a child, as effulgent as the rising sun, was born and Subrahmaṇya was the child. The child cried in a thunderous voice and six divine Kṛttikās who came that way saw the child and taking pity on it vied with one another to breast-feed it. Since the child looked at the six Kṛttikās one after the other it developed six faces and since it was breast-fed by Kṛttikās it came to be named Kārttikeya as well. Brahmā informed Agni about the birth of the child and the latter, in great happiness, hastened to it on a fast goat. Gaṅgā who met Agni on the way and asked him about his hurried trip was told about the birth of the child and between the two developed an argument about the ownership of the child. Mahāviṣṇu who came that way just then listened to the above argument and directed them to Śiva for settlement of their claims.

Agni and Gaṅgā asked Śiva to which of them the child really belonged Śiva then told Pārvatī "Fortunate, fortunate." Only after seeing the child could it be decided as to whose it was and so Śiva, Pārvatī, Agni and Gaṅgā proceeded together to the forest where they saw the child in the lap of the Kṛttikās. Śiva then said "Let us see whom the child looks at before settling its parentage." Understanding the ideas of the visitors the child, by its yogic power, assumed four bodies called Kumāra, Viśākha, Śākha and Naigameya. Kumāra looked at Śiva, Viśākha at Pārvatī, Śākha at Gaṅgā and Naigameya at Agni and all of them felt immensely happy. The Kṛttikās asked Śiva whether Ṣaṇmukha (child with six faces) was his son to which Śiva answered as follows: "Let him be your son under the name Kārttikeya; Gaṅgā’s son under the name Kumāra; Pārvatī’s son under the name Skanda; my son under the name Guha and Agni’s son with the name Mahāsena and under the name Śaravaṇa 'Śaravaṇa’s (the forest where it was born) son. He is a great yogī and will be known by these various names. As he possesses six faces he will become famous as 'Ṣaṇmukha' also.

After having spoken thus Śiva thought of the Devas and under the leadership of Brahmā and Viṣṇu all the Devas appeared there. They looked at the child to their hearts' content and then told Śiva thus: "Oh! Lord! You made Agni serve the purpose of Devas. Let us immediately start for Aujasa tīrtha and crown Ṣaṇmukha at Sarasvatī in Kurukṣetra. Let him flourish as army-chief of Devas, Gandharvas and Kinnaras and let him kill the terrible Mahiṣāsura and Tārakāsura.


Brahmā, Viṣṇu, Śiva and others reached Kuruksetra with the child to crown him (Subrahmaṇya) as army-chief. Śiva and Viṣṇu performed the consecration ceremony with holy water from the seven seas. Gandharvas, Ṛṣis and others sang for joy and Apsarās danced. Pārvatī placed the child thus consecrated on her lap and kissed him repeatedly on the head.


After Guha’s consecration, the Devas presented the army-chief valorous armies. He was given by Śiva four Pramathas, equal in prowess to Indra, called Ghaṇṭākarna, Lohitākṣa, Nandiṣeṇa and Kumudamālī. Brahmā and other Devas gave their own Pramathas to him. Brahmā gave him the Pramatha called Sthāṇu and Viṣṇu gave him three sets of Pramathas called Saṅkrama, Vikrama and Parākrama. Indra gave him Utkleśa and Paṅkaja; Sun (Sūrya) gave Daṇḍakapiñjalas; Moon gave Maṇivasumaṇis; the Asvins gave Vatsanandis etc. In short, important Devas, Mātṛs, Tīrthas etc. gave Subrahmaṇya priceless presents too numerous to be named.

Seeing the rush of presents the great Garuḍa presented his own son, the fast-going Peacock to Subrahmanya. Aruṇa gave his own son, the cock. Agni gave the Vel (three-pronged weapon, trident), Bṛhaspati the daṇḍa (club, stick) Gaṅgā, the Kamaṇḍalu (water-pot of Sannyāsins) Viṣṇu the garland, Pārvatī clothes, Śiva the locket and Indra the string of pearls.

Devāsura war.

The consecration of Subrahmaṇya as Commander-in-Chief of the army kindled a new hope and enthusiasm in the Devas. They challenged the Asuras for war and they took it up. The asura army entered the battle-field under the leadership of unrivalled warriors like Tārakāsura, Mahiṣa, Bāṇa, son of Mahābali, Tāraka’s sons, Tārakākṣa. Kamalākṣa, Vidyunmālī etc. In the furious battle that ensued Subrahmaṇya killed Tārakāsura. The other asura chiefs too were killed.

Vow of celibacy.

After the killing of Tārakāsura Subrahmaṇya became the object of too much of petting by Pārvatī with the result that his life became unbridled and wayward. His lust was everyday on the increase and he committed even rape on Deva women, who were ultimately forced to complain about him to Pārvatī. Immediately she called Subrahmaṇya to her and showed her own image in all other women and he became so much repentant about his past actions that he took the vow before Pārvatī that in future he would look upon all women in the world as equal to her, his mother. (Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa 81).


See under Devasenā.

(Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa, Canto 36; Mahābhārata Vana Parva, Chapter 223; Anuśāsana Parva, Chapter 85; Skanda Purāṇa, Sambhava kāṇḍa; Kathāsaritsāgara, Lāvāṇakalambaka, Taraṅga 6; Uttara Rāmāyaṇa Kamba Rāmāyaṇa, Bālakāṇḍa; Vāmana Purāṇa, Chapters 57-61; Bhaviṣya Purāṇa).

Other information.

(i) On the occasion of the burning of the Khāṇḍava forest Subrahmaṇya went there carrying his weapon called 'Śakti' to fight Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna. (Ādi Parva, Chapter 226, Verse 33).

(ii) Skanda was born from the semen of Śiva which fell into Agni. So he got the name Skanda. (Skand-fall). (Mahābhārata Vana Parva, Chapter 225, Verse 16).

(iii) He once cut asunder the Krauñca mountain. (For details see under Krauñca I).

(iv) Noticing the very great effulgence of Skanda, Indra feared loss of his place and immediately he clashed with the former. Indra’s Vajra (thunderbolt) hit Skanda on his right and from the wound emerged a person wearing golden armour, divine ear-rings and holding the Vel in his hands and he was named Viśākha. Frightened by his sight Indra sought refuge with Subrahmaṇya. (Vana Parva, Chapter 227).

(v) When he married Devasenā his six mothers came and blessed him and his wife; he then told the mothers thus: "You live with my father, Śiva. Until I become sixteen years of age I will be functioning as a spirit which kills children and the children killed by me will serve as your food." As soon as he finished speaking, a terrible person just like Agni emerged from his body and it was called Raudragraha, which is known also by other names such as Skandāpasmāra, Śakunigraha, Pūtanāgraha etc. This Graha is supposed to cause children’s death. (Vana Parva, Chapter 230).

(vi) Subrahmaṇya once in the company of Rudradeva visited the holy place Bhadravaṭa. (Vana Parva, Chapter 231, Verse 56).

(vii) Vāyubhagavān assumed responsibility for his protection. (Vana Parva, Chapter 231, Verse 56).

(viii) He killed Mahiṣāsura. (Vana Parva, Chapter 231, Verse 96).

(ix) Synonyms or sacred names of Subrahmaṇya:—Āgneya, Skanda, Dīptakīrti, Anāmaya, Mayūraketu, Dharmātman, Bhūteśa, Mahiṣārdana, Kāmajit, Kāmada, Kānta, Satyavāk, Bhuvaneśvara, Śiśuśīghra, Śucīcaṇḍa, Dīptavarṇa, Śubhānana, Amogha, Anagha, Raudra, Priya, Candrānana, Praśāntātman, Dīptaśakti, Bhadrakṛt, Kūṭamohana, Ṣaṣṭhipriya, Pavitra, Mātṛvatsala, Kanyābhartā, Vibhakta, Svāheya, Revatīsuta, Viśākha, Prabhu, Netā, Naigameya, Suduścara, Suvrata, Lalita, Bālakrīḍanakapriya, Khacārī, Brahmacārin, Śūra, Śaravaṇodbhava, Viśvāmitrapriya, Devasenāpriya, Vāsudevapriya, Priyakṛt etc.

Those who repeat the above sacred names of Subrahmaṇya will attain fame, wealth and heaven. (Vana Parva, Chapter 232).

(x) In the Devāsura war he killed important leaders of the asuras like Mahiṣa, Tripāda and Hradodara. (Śalya Parva, Chapter 46, Verse 90).

(xi) He defeated Bāṇāsura and killed the sons of Tārakāsura. (Śalya Parva, Chapter 46, Verse 90).

(xii) Śiva consecrated him as lord (Śreṣṭharāja) of the Bhūtas. (Śānti Parva, Chapter 122, Verse 32).

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