He was the son of fierce Durga and three-eyed Shiva. He had been born, he had lived, and he would die if need be, for a divine purpose-to kill the Soul Stealer
In Usha Narayanan’s book, Kartikeya and his Battle with the Soul Stealer Surapadma’s reign of terror flourishes and the fate of all creatures-mortal and immortal-hangs in the balance. Shiva’s son, Kartikeya, must destroy several formidable asuras before he can confront the Soul Stealer and salvage the dying, gasping universe.
Who is Kartikeya and what is his story? Let’s find out about his origin in this excerpt from the book!
The mountains were dark and dangerous. Dense woods covered their lower slopes while the peaks were snow-topped. Pishachas and bhootas flashed through the air with devilish hoots. Eerie, moss-covered trees glowed like goblins in the night. Swamps opened their putrid mouths to swallow the heedless traveller. Dense fog descended suddenly to obscure one’s vision, making it easy to plunge down steep cliffs. Venomous snakes raised their dark heads from their holes. Wild beasts hunted their unwary prey. And in their midst, all alone, stood a young child with a stormy face, setting up a loud clamour as he challenged the skies.
The mountain dwellers spoke in awed whispers about his sudden appearance. They had seen a fiery glow illumine the peak one night. Veins of gold, ores of silver and sparkling gems emerged as if by magic, shining with a blinding lustre that brought the ravens cawing, assuming that the day had dawned. The owls, terrified by the sudden light, flew hastily into the darkness of the caves. The hunters heard the cry of a baby the next day, though they could not find out where it came from. On the third day, they caught a glimpse of a glowing child amidst the reeds that fringed the mountain pool. And, the next morning, even as they watched and wondered, they saw him walking and talking. How had he come here, all alone? They had seen no strangers, so where were his parents? Had they abandoned him, fearful that he would bring disaster upon them?
For alas, the child’s face and form were bizarre. They kept their distance, afraid of this extraordinary being.
‘It is against nature’s laws that he should grow so swiftly,’ said one.
‘They say that asura children become full-grown in a matter of days,’ said another. ‘Or perhaps he is a monster who has come to torment us. That would explain his eerie appearance!’
Then one hunter raised his bow. ‘Instead of wondering about who he is, let us kill him before he grows too powerful!’ he said.
‘No!’ exclaimed his wife, forcing his arm down. ‘You cannot kill an innocent child who is forsaken and forlorn. I curse the mother who abandoned him in this manner! He must be hungry, poor little one. I want to take him some food. Look, how unsteady he is on his feet. How will he survive in the forest?’
Even as she spoke, she saw something move behind a rock on the path the child was following. She saw a dark scaly head emerge—that of a poisonous pit viper. It uncoiled its hideous body and flicked its forked tongue in the air as if to sniff its prey. The hunter’s wife gasped and picked up a handful of stones to hurl at the snake. Her husband gripped her arm and shook his head. She looked at him angrily and whispered, ‘We must warn him. What if it bites him? The poison will kill him that very instant.’ She turned quickly again to see if the snake had struck. It was upright and appeared to be waiting for the child to come within striking distance. She tore her arm free and lifted it, ready to throw the stones. Even if they did not reach the snake, at least the boy would be alerted. And the startled snake might retreat.
Suddenly, the snake dropped to the ground, as if prostrating itself before the child who walked past—unaware of the danger he was in. The spectators looked at one other, startled. What did this mean? ‘I told you! There is something unearthly about this child!’ the hunter said. ‘Let us run away before he spots us.’
‘No, I refuse to believe that a child so radiant could be evil,’ his wife protested, resisting his pull on her arm.
‘Let us at least stay away until we find out more about his nature,’ the hunter replied. They hid behind some trees and watched the stranger go past.
The child saw two moving shadows but when he turned, there was no one there. His nostrils flared in response to a delectable smell he had occasionally come across in the forest. He felt a deep pang of loneliness and pain. Hunger stirred in his stomach and he felt a raging thirst. He heard the trumpeting of a herd of elephants moving towards the river, with their young ones safely tucked in their midst. In the tree above his head, he could see a black bird in its nest, pushing food into the throats of its hungry chicks. A monkey clan was watching him warily, with the young ones clinging to the backs of the mothers. Alas, he could not see anyone of his own kind, no tender mother or vigilant father. He had seen footprints like his own on the ground. Was it his clan’s? Why were they avoiding him then? Perhaps he had been cast away as worthless. His foot slipped on some smooth pebbles. He grasped at a bush to steady himself and gasped as the thorns pierced his flesh. He stuck his hand in his mouth, trying to soothe the burning sensation. Quick tears sprang from his eyes. He raised his voice in anguish, breaking the quietness of the morning.
‘Who am I? Why was I born? What is my name?’ he cried out. But he heard no answer. ‘The beasts around me cradle their young. They bring them food and protect them from their foes. But my parents . . . my parents have abandoned me on this cruel mountainside. I am at the mercy of the sun, the wind and the wild creatures that stalk their prey at night!’
Would someone reply, explain the reason for everything that was happening? He waited, his eyes flaming red. But all he heard was Nature herself, speaking with the voices of the elements.
Suddenly, he heard the sound of someone or something crashing through the bushes. A wild boar emerged in his path, huge and menacing. It stood aggressively before him, pawing the ground in challenge, its eyes glinting angrily. Behind it he could see the sow emerging from the bushes, followed by its young ones. But as he stood stock-still, staring at the animals, the mother took a quick look at him and herded her young ones back into cover. The male grunted at him and he grunted back. It stared at him for a few moments, appearing to be in two minds about mounting an attack. Then it turned and followed its brood into cover.