This mention of the bewitching Shri Krishna cast all listeners into a moment of rapt remembrance of His divine pastimes, and left everyone in awe of the Moon and his light. As they returned their attention to the debate, they turned to the third pundit, the partisan of Mars, whose fiery eyes burned with keen acuity above a broad, courageous chest.
His words penetrated his hearers’ ears with a rapier’s abrupt intensity as he declaimed, with a twinge of impatient certainty: “0 King! Mars is exceedingly cruel, as sharp as a scimitars blade, and becomes so furious with anyone who worships him arrogantly that he utterly destroys that person’s family and prosperity. Those who worship him regularly, with humility, following the appropriate ritual, he blesses to gain wealth and lose disease. The Mars vow relieves all difficulties, especially those of illness, debt, and enemies. When you observe it, wear red clothes and flowers, and eat only once on that day of food which is red in color, like wheat.
“The short, intense Mars has a slender waist and physique, a youthful appearance, fierce blood-red eyes, and a ruddy face and body. Born from the womb of Earth, his beauty is like that of a thunderbolt, and he holds a lance in his hand. As bright as a blazing fire, he is energetic and lustful, adventurous and wrathful, inconstant but liberal. An accomplished speaker, he is also a Kshatriya, a warrior; he causes conflagration and injury. He has a Pitta constitution. Blood-red in color, overflowing with power and strength, he wears red clothes and garlands. He rules muscles and bone marrow, the south, Tuesday, and the constellations Aries and Scorpio. His metal is copper, and his gem coral. He is called Disease-Eater, Wound-Causer, the Twisted, the Auspicious, Born-from-Earth, Cruel-Eyed, and the Red-Limbed One. Because he glows like red-hot coals he is called Angaraka.
“A very ancient shrine to Mars graces our city, your majesty,” proclaimed the pundit, swelling with pride, “and it is said that Mars was born near Ujjayini, on banks of our beloved Kshipra River.”
“Do tell me the story of the birth of Mars,” said the king obligingly.
“You have heard, your majesty, the story of the Patriarch Daksha’s curse of his son-in-law, Lord Moon. The evil karma this great progenitor generated by this imprecation came to fruition when he dared to insult another of his sons-in-law, the omnipotent Lord Shiva, Mars’ father.
“Long ago Daksha organized a great sacrifice to cement his position as the first among the patriarchs. To this gala, which was held at the confluence of the Rivers Ganga and Yamuna, Daksha (‘the Adept, the Skillful’) invited all the chief gods, demigods, sages, and other eminent beings of the universe — all, that is, except Lord Shiva, the very embodiment of cosmic consciousness, who was Daksha’s own son-in-law. When Lord Shiva’s wife Sari (‘the True One) heard news of the sacrifice she insisted on attending it, over her husband’s gentle objections, but when she arrived there her father ignored her, and insulted Shiva as being unfit for polite society. Overwhelmed with emotion she told her father, ‘I cannot tolerate any insult to my mate, who is the Supreme Being of the universe. Only because I am your daughter do you dare to speak thus to me. I now therefore relinquish this body of mine; I refuse to remain in it even another moment, lest I be further polluted by your overweening arrogance.’
“Sati then by force of will withdrew from her body by incinerating its innards with a fire she created from within. She was later reborn as Parvari (‘Daughter of the Mountain), and eventually, after much penance, she was reunited with Shiva.
“When the awareness of His wife’s suicide surfaced in His consciousness. Lord Shiva, the Lord of Beasts, was first immobilized with grief. Then fury rose within Him, for He is quick to anger. As His wrath reached its boiling point a drop of the sweat of rage fell from His forehead, where dwells the Moon. Think of this, your majesty! It was Daksha’s intemperate curse of the Moon which landed him in such hot water, and it was that same Moon who facilitated the release of Lord Shiva’s fiery sweat for Daksha’s destruction.
“No sooner did this drop of sweat fall to Earth than it became a fiery being of unlimited valor who, after blazing his way through the earth and through all the underworlds, burnt the seven seas. This being, known as Virabhadra (‘the Auspicious Hero’), looked like a flaming fire, had many heads and many eyes, and tens of thousands of arms and legs. The embodiment of concentrated might, Virabhadra stood before his father with folded hands, saying ‘Command me!’
“Lord Shiva said to him, ‘Go! Destroy Daksha and his sacrifice!’
“Virabhadra instantly gathered an army of spirits and departed on his errand. At the venue of the sacrifice, where Satis death had created a furor, a pall of anxiety settled over the celestial crowd as ominous portents abounded. When Virabhadra suddenly appeared in all his puissance, terror invested the invitees, who scattered in all directions, frantic to save themselves. Virabhadra first single-mindedly destroyed Dakshas sacrifice, and then decapitated Daksha, even though the Rishi Bhrigu tried to protect the doomed patriarch.
“When Virabhadra returned to Shiva in triumph the Lord of Beasts told him, ‘You have done well to destroy Dakshas sacrifice, 0 irresistible one, and you have now incinerated the universe sufficiently. Pacify the cosmos again, and you shall live in the heavens, where you shall become the foremost of planets, 0 son of Earth! There you shall be called Angaraka.’
“Hearing this, that relentless Virabhadra’s frenzy abated, and he was transformed into a planet, the equal of the great Kantikeya. Lord Shiva then permitted Dakshas sacrifice to be completed, and peace returned to the universe. Many diseases, however, first appeared in the world due to the destruction of Dakshas sacrifice. Those who fled the havoc developed gulma (phantom tumor,’ a type of abdominal swelling); those who had consumed sacrificial materials obtained leprosy and diabetes; insanity arose in others because of fear, grief and shock; and epilepsy developed in those exposed to the impure touch of the attacking spirits. Virabhadra himself became fever in the world, and rakta pitta (hemothermia, or ‘heat in the blood’) developed from the excessive heat of fever. These maladies, which now pervade the world, are seven of the eight major diseases which originated from greed, malice, and anger. The eighth is of course consumption, which arose due to Daksha’s curse of the Moon.”
“Daksha, the progenitor of many forms of life, was therefore himself responsible,” mused the king, “for introducing these grievous ailments to the world. Let this be a lesson to anyone who would dare to accumulate power, without first entering into right relationship with the One Reality! Now tell me of the relationship between Mars and Karttikeya.”
The pundit continued: “Some authorities, my liege, say that Mars is Karttikeya, while others maintain that Mars is a planet, and Karttikeya a star of equal virility Since it is said that those afflicted by Mars should worship Karttikeya to get relief, let me tell you his story.
“Some authorities, of course, maintain that Karttikeya was born directly from Lord Shiva’s semen. When Shiva and Parvati sequestered themselves for Their honeymoon, They entered into a sexual embrace which lasted uninterrupted for one hundred million years. This awe-inspiring act of intercourse ended only because Shiva’s concentration was disturbed byAgni (the god of fire); having lost His control, the Great Lord ejaculated, and Karttikeya was born.
“But other sources, my liege, insist that Karttikeya was born from the semen of Agni himself, because of his infatuation for the Krittikas (the stars who form the Pleiades). In fact, Karttikeya means “son of the Krittikas.” Originally, the Pleiades were the wives of the Bears.”
“The Bears?” asked the king.
“Yes, sire, the Seven Bears, for the Seven Sages (the seven stars of the Big Dipper, otherwise known as the Great Bear) were in former times called the Bears, Agni, after serving at a long sacrifice conducted by the Seven Sages, was overwhelmed with desire for the wives of these great rishis. He entered their household fires to touch them, but they refused to be tempted. This multiplied his cravings even further, so he went off to a forest, vowing either to cool his lust or, if it refused to be quelled, to give up his life because of this illicit desire.
“There in the forest he was spotted by Swaha, another daughter of the prolific Daksha. Swaha had long desired Agni, and she now expressed her passion for him. When he declined to respond favorably to her, Swaha disguised herself by taking the form of one of the wives of the Seven Rishis, and made love to him. He was of course overjoyed to unite with her in this form, for he did not recognize her, and so felt he was consummating his heart’s desire. One after another, Swaha took the forms of six of the wives of the Seven Sages, and enjoyed union with Agni each time. She was thwarted only when she tried to take Arundhari’s form, because Arundhari, the wife of the great Rishi Vasistha, was so devoted to her husband, so meritorious, and so chaste, that Swaha could not impersonate her.
“Six rimes on that day Swaha mated with Agni, and afterwards she six times became a bird, and flew swiftly to the peak of a high white mountain. There she cast Agni’s semen into a safe receptacle, so that the wives of the Great Rishis would not be accused of adultery with the fire god. Agni’s potent sperm was spontaneously transformed there into a robust boy named Skanda. This invincible Skanda tormented the mountains until they and the earth glorified him; the world then adored him, and the universe rang with his praises.
“News of his birth was accompanied by rumors that six of the Sages’ wives were his mother. Outraged by this false report, these Rishis divorced their wives and sent them away, even though the Rishi V^ishvamkra, who had seen everything, informed those Sages that their wives had remained chaste. Vishvamitra knew this because he had initiated Skanda, and performed all his coming-of-age rituals. Away to Skanda went these six wives, who told him that they had been abandoned by their husbands, and begged him to elevate them into the heavens. Acceding to their wishes that stalwart Skanda dispatched them there, where they took up residence on the ecliptic. Ever since then those spurned women, who became the six Pleiades, have been praised as Skanda’s mothers. Arundhati, the one wife not included in Swaha’s costume changes, remained with her husband (as the star Alcor). Then Swaha married Agni.
“Indra, who feared Skanda, directed the Band of Mothers to kill this doughty child, but they were so overcome with love for him that milk started to ooze from their breasts, creating the Milky Way Skanda then drank this milk of theirs, and the Goddess Kali, the Drinker of Blood, took him as Her own son. Indra next tried to kill Skanda in combat, but the boy easily defeated all the gods, and when Indra pierced the boys side with a thunderbolt out came another hero with a club in his hand; he was the renowned Vishakha. Finally, admitting defeat, Indra accepted Skanda into the celestial fold. Then the gods performed Skanda’s investiture as war chief of the heavenly hosts by anointing him ritually with celestial water, just as they had long before poured water onto the head ofVaruna, the lord of the waters.
“Such is Karttikeya, 0 King, and such is the planet whose deity he is, the fierce Mars. I bow low to this eternally-young Mars.”