Hindu God Kartikeya: Names & Story

Instructor: Tommi Waters

TK Waters has a bachelor's degree in literature and religious studies and a master's degree in religious studies and teaches Hebrew Bible at Western Kentucky University.

Epic fights between gods and demons are not unusual to Hinduism, and Kartikeya's story is no different - in fact, he was created for the purpose of defeating a demon. Read more about Kartikeya's story in this lesson.

A demon named Tarakasura was terrorizing the land, and even the gods could not stop him. They knew there was only one hope: the birth of a great divine warrior who could save them. This might sound like the plot of a fantasy book or movie, but this is actually the legend behind the birth of Kartikeya, the warrior god of Hinduism. His legends, the circumstances of his birth, and even his name varies by region. Let's delve a bit further into Kartikeya's origin story and the meanings behind his many names.

The Story of Kartikeya

According to Hindu legend, Shiva, the destroyer god, was destined to have a son who would be a great warrior and save the gods. In a version of Kartikeya's origin story commonly found in northern India, Shiva and his wife, Parvati, created a being with five faces. A glowing spark emerged from each face. Shiva sent the five-faced being into the holy Ganges river. The five sparks floated out, and each formed into a child. Young women found them in the forest pond, each taking and nursing one of the children.

When Shiva and Parvati eventually took their children back, Parvati did not know how she could manage to take care of and feed all five. To make her job easier, Shiva merged the children into one being with six heads - one for each of the children, representing the five senses, and a final head to combine the senses into one, symbolic of the mind and power of Shiva. The six-headed child was the much-awaited warrior god, Kartikeya.

A God with Many Names

Kartikeya means son of kittikas, or forest nymphs, a nod to the young women who first raised him. In northern India, his other names reflect his character. The name Skanda means ''attacker,'', referring to his brave crusade against the demons. In other stories, he is called Kumara, or ''boy.'' The name Kumara references his child-like appearance and eternal bachelorhood.

In the Tamil tradition of southern India, Kartikeya is known by two different names. He is worshiped typically as Murugan and is a very popular deity. Another common name he is given in the Tamil tradition is Subrahmanyan, which some translate as ''Dear to the Brahmins,'' or the religious leaders. According to legend, Kartikeya moved to southern India from the mountain he lived on with his parents and is one of the most revered gods in the area.

In visual representations, Kartikeya is typically represented looking like a young man. In Tamil traditions, he married Devasana, considered by some to have been the daughter of the god Indra, and Valli, who was rescued from a pit as she was digging out root vegetables. He was given a peacock as his vehicle by its father, Garuda, the bird-like vehicle of Vishnu, a major Hindu deity.

Depiction of Kartikeya with six heads and his wives astride his peacock vehicle
Depiction of Kartikeya

The Battle Against Tarakasura

Kartikeya, taking the eternal child-like form of Kumara, achieved the purpose he was born for and defeated the demon Tarakasura. He led the rest of the gods into battle and became a true warrior god. When Tarakasura saw Kumara and the rest of the gods coming to battle him, he laughed because Kumara was just a boy.

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