Indic Past: Decipherment of Skanda legends
by Jayasree Saranathan on 12 Nov 2020 4 Comments

Since Skanda antedated Vaivasvata Manu, as known from the mantra of Indradvaja given by Vaivasvata Manu, it is necessary to investigate the legends of Skanda to get a proper understanding of what happened before Vaivasvata Manu came into being. From the Tamil literary sources it is known that Skanda was a real-life character who ruled from a place called Southern Madurai and inaugurated the Tamil Sangam Literary Assembly.


From a verse of Brahmanda Purana it is known that Vivasvan, the sun in whose name Vaivasvata Manu is identified, was born in the constellation of Vishakha in Cakshusha Manvantra. The interesting part of this reference is that the name Vishakha was identified with Skanda in one of the legends that begins with the description of a fire called ‘Adbhuta’ – a reference to naturally occurring forest fires caused by the sun’s heat. But there was a time the fire was about to die - a reference to lack of solar heat - corresponding to the time of Ice Age.


Skanda was born to Adbhuta and Svaha who impersonated the wives of six of the seven ‘Sapta rishis’. That was the time the unchanging positional alignment of the star Arundhati with the star Vasishtha was recognized. That was the time the star Abhijit was removed from the 27-star count of the zodiac and replaced by the star Krittika. This redesign of the zodiac was done by Skanda. The legend also conveys that at any point of time the zodiac had only 27 stars with a total of 108 Pada-s.


The legend continues that Devendra who felt threatened by the growing strength of Skanda attacked him with his Vajrayudha. It split Skanda into two parts, known as Vishakha (divided). But what was split also became Skanda himself, which started spewing fire. This frightened Devendra even more; he conceded defeat and accepted the supremacy of Skanda and anointed him as the Commander in Chief of the Devas.


This legend sounds symbolic of a fierce lightning strike on the ground which simultaneously witnessed a fissure on the ground or burst of a volcano spewing fire. Skanda must have lived at that time. The cataclysm caused widespread damage to life and property that people started thinking that ‘Vishakha’s children’ were tormenting them. Skanda had successfully managed to bring succor to the people then.


Vaivasvata Manu had carried the memory of the calamity and the succor given by Vishakha (Skanda); his progeny (Ikshvaku) started regarding Vishakha as their family star.


The legend of Shura Samhara reveals a volcano tormenting the people. A chain of volcanoes had burst around the time – with the probable location along the Sunda trench where Mt Krakatoa, Mt Samalas, Mt Tarakan and Mt Agung are found. The people ran for safety from the bursting volcanoes, with the nearest place of refuge being South East India, in the region in and around Tiruchendur.


Mt Agung in Bali is known as Mt Meru, an important location of the temple Pura Besakih. I believe Besakih was the probable location of Vishakha of the Skanda legend.


Time period of Skanda deduced from climatic descriptions


We now deduce the time period of Skanda based on the climatic references found in the birth legends of Skanda gleaned from Valmiki Ramayana and Kalidasa’s Kumara Sambhava.


The birth legends of Skanda are many but all have a common thread of events. The events are repeated but the deductions were different, perhaps changing with time. The events are mostly metaphorical of natural or geological happenings but cited with some hints of cosmic or climatic nature, giving scope to deduce the time period of the events and thereby of Skanda. Ultimately all the events and hints are associated with a real character, Skanda, who lived at that time.


In Markandeya’s narration in Mahabharata, Skanda’s birth is infused with a mythical element as one born from the union of Svaha with Adbhuta the Agni. One of Skanda’s works was to redesign the zodiac by adding Krittika in the 27-star count. This event gets mythical in Valmiki Ramayana and Kumara Sambhava, besides adding newer elements in the birth legend with climatic hints to decipher the time period of Skanda and the events associated with him. The Krtttika star group that was promoted by Skanda as part of the zodiac was made the foster mother of Skanda in these texts. The bottom line is that Krittika stars had some connection with Skanda’s times.


The climatic events match with ‘Younger Dryas’ when a sudden drop in temperature followed the rising temperature at the end of Ice Age. This raises the scope to interpret that Skanda had lived at the junction of two epochs – the end of the Last Glacial Maxima and the beginning of Holocene. The changeover from glaciation to de-glaciation marks the change of the epoch perhaps caused by the change in eccentricity of earth’s orbit that is documented in one of the astrological Siddhantas, and sounds more perfect compared to Milankovitch theory. The epoch change that matches with Indic perception of precession (not with western perception) came up with newer revelations with reference to certain stars such as Arundhati, Vasishtha, Abhijit and Krittika in the narration of Markandeya.


The basis of this hypothesis of the hint at climatic change lays in the marriage legend of Uma, the younger sister of Ganga, with Shiva, not really producing an offspring, given in some detail in Ramayana and Kumara Sambhava. On the insistence of Agni Deva, Shiva transfers to him whatever “tejas” he could produce. Tejas means light or glow or fiery energy. That was carried by Agni but deposited by him on the slopes of the snowy Himalayas, unable to bear it any longer. This caused reed-growth on the slopes from which Skanda was born, says Ramayana.


The same narration is altered in the very next chapter of Ramayana where it is said that Agni Deva transferred the Tejas to Ganga in the hope that she would grow the embryo to full form as a child. But Ganga too found it difficult to bear the embryo / Tejas and slid it on the slopes. This resulted in reed-growth from which Kumara was born. Since he was born from that which is shed or fallen or cast off, he came to be known as Skanda (from Skanna). The same narration is repeated in Kumara Sambhava.


The transference of Tejas, whatever of it was available from Shiva, the significator for sun or fire, that was further let off by Agni and the glaciated Ganga on the slopes of the Himalayas sounds metaphorical of the first spread of solar radiation or heat on the Himalayan slopes at the end of Ice Age. Initially it started impacting the region of Uma, in the north west of Ganga (Gangotri) but got aborted. That is now the famous Amarnath Snow Linga, the peak known as Paruppadam (Barbara) in Tamil texts where the kings of the three Tamil dynasties engraved their emblems long ago. A serious exploration of the Amarnath peak might reveal those engravings.


The advent of Younger Dryas caused by a comet hit brought about an abrupt end to the spread of heat in the Himalayas. This was described as loss of heat radiation from north to south with only a shred of it falling on the southern slopes of the Himalayas. By bringing Ganga into the picture, the myth-making sages indicated the location of the solar glow on the slopes south of Gangotri. Ramayana further states that minerals are also available in that region. This corresponds to the southern slopes of the Himalayas in the state of Uttarakhand where reed-growth and mineral presence are noticeable.


This birth legend of Skanda ends with Skanda being made the commander-in-chief of the Devas. To know what he did as commander-in-chief, we get continuity in Kumara Sambhava where it is stated that Skanda was made the commander-in-chief to destroy Tarakasura. The fight with Taraka brings us back to the old and original story of natural burst of volcanoes witnessed in Skanda’s times. Taraka was the brother of Shura killed by Skanda. Kumara Sambhava picks out only the fight with Taraka whereas Adi Shankara hints at the fight with three, including Taraka (Shurapadma, Simhamukha, Tarakasura). The fight with all three and others continue in Tamil literature and in the temple tradition of Tiruchendur.


A special addition in Kumara Sambhava is the sorry fate of Kamadeva. A closer analysis of the passages reveals that his inclusion is part of a clever strategy to hint at the climatic change impacting the spread of insolation in the Himalayan region. Kama emerges in the scene to facilitate the marriage of Uma with Shiva. To seduce Shiva, Kamadeva induces an untimely spring (akAla vasanata) of sprouts and flowers in the Himalayan slopes, but he was burnt by Shiva. With that, the short spring was gone and whatever sprouted withered away.


Initially, the increasing insolation from south to north towards the end of the Ice Age caused the first sprout of vegetation in the Himalayas. The sad story of Kamadeva hints at its abrupt end caused by Younger Dryas. Further, loss of heat is hinted by the story of transfer of available Tejas sliding down the slopes south of Gangotri facilitating the growth of reeds. The clump of reeds is known as ‘SharavaNa’. By saying that was Skanda born from Sharavana, the sages hinted at the time of Skanda’s birth: after the comet-hit that caused Younger Dryas.


We now get a clear upper limit of the Indic chronology that started with Skanda as between 12,900 to 11,700 BP. Vaivasvata Manu, Rama and Rig Veda appeared after this date only. Any research claiming the date of Ramayana during or before this date is therefore untenable. 


Zodiac re-designed by Skanda


The sage Markandeya in Mahabharata mentions three life events of Skanda. The first was the marriage of Skanda with Devasena, daughter of Daksha Prajapati, who was offered in marriage to Skanda by Indra. In Tamil tradition, Devasena is regarded as the daughter of Indra. To separate myth from reality, it may be noted that the name Indra has three connotations - as a deity, a natural force (rainfall) and a human being who lived in flesh and blood. All references to Indra in Indic texts can be understood from one among these three.


In the context of Skanda’s marriage, Indra was a human being who lived in Indra Dweepa, comprising Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam that is home for the Parijata tree. Parijata is indigenous only to India and these regions of East Asia. After Skanda’s marriage the six rishi patnis (wives) were acceded the status of mothers of Skanda, and ultimately identified with the six Krittika stars.


Here comes the secret of the change of an Epoch identified with astronomy features. The end of the Ice Age that marked the end of a cycle or an epoch is recognized in the shift in position of the star Abhijit. This shift is explained in terms of the orbit of the earth shifting from elliptical to the current near-circular path by which Abhijit, which was once part of the zodiac when the path was elliptical, was found away from the zodiac as the earth’s orbit started becoming what it is now. This is a crucial piece of evidence of the cycle of eccentricity of the earth in terms of astronomy reference, which is completely unknown to the outside world and the scientific community.


This shift and subsequent recognition of Krittika to fill up the count impacted the design of the zodiac; it solves some of the difficult and misinterpreted references in Indic literature. Other related features are ‘Swati Patha’ and Skanda fixing Aries as the first sign of the zodiac. Thereafter, Skanda-apasmara and Shamanism were recognized as Skanda cult. It is not right to grade Skanda as a sub-deity or a lower deity as Markandeya later stated, as it was Skanda who started the first ever Vedic Homa.


Skanda, progenitor of Vedic culture


Markandeya’s narration on Skanda’s life brings to the fore the until-now-unrecognized fact that the first ever Vedic Homa was conducted by none other than Skanda, as encapsulated in story form of Svaha approaching Skanda to conduct her marriage with Hutashana, the Agni Deva.


The union of Svaha with Hutashana is nothing but the first ever Vedic Homa. A verse from Taittriya Brahmana on the meaning of Svaha and Valmiki Ramayana on wife as the Atman of the husband explains why the Homa was regarded as the marriage of Svaha with Hutashana (Agni).


Havyam’ and ‘Kavyam’ were the first Homas done by Skanda as per Markandeya. They were Ahavaniya and Garhapatya respectively. From the Tamil tradition of Skanda having taught Pranava mantra to Shiva, it is deduced that Aum-Upasana transformed into Aupasana, the first Homa to be done twice every day following one’s marriage and throughout one’s life. Skanda initiated this soon after his marriage with Devasena and with the intention of bringing peace in Nature by mutual help (Paraspara Bhava) of give and take between Devas and human beings. It is likely that Skanda had initiated Agnihotra too.


Of the three sons of Agni and Svaha outlined by Vayu Purana, Pavamana (Kavyam) and Suci (Havyam) were ‘born’ in Skanda’s times. Pavaka (Dakshinagni) was born later. The present practice of singing Samans at the time of creating Agni for Kavyam using Arani sticks must have started at Skanda’s time, when the cool climate of Younger Dryas must have made making Agni a difficult and laborious task.


Similarly the taking over of the Ahavaniya rituals by Yajur Vedic Adhvaryu must have been there at Skanda’s time indicating the presence of Saman and Yujur verses even at that time.


In support of these views, it may be mentioned that this society had continued from even before Skanda, though the Homa cult started with Skanda. Four other Vedas were there at that time; personalities like Dhruva, son of Uttanapada had existed before Skanda, in Cakshusha Manvantra (Little Manvantra) and the idea of 27-star zodiac already existed before Skanda. There is every possibility that singing Samans and uttering Yajur mantras in worship could have existed then, though those verses may no longer be in existence now.


Further proof of Skanda as progenitor of Vedic Homa is drawn from the Tamil Sangam text, Tirumurugatru-p-padai that describes the six faces of Skanda as representative of six works that Skanda was known for. Among these, the third one represented by the middle face of Skanda is that of watching and guiding the Vedic Homa.


Markandeya’s version of the middle face of Skanda is that of a goat, always watched by his mother Shakti. Explaining why Skanda’s head was that of a goat also reveals why he came to have too many mothers – Ganga, Agni, Krittika, the six rishi patni-s and Svaha.


The goat face is linked with Homa ritual – of Agni deva riding on a goat or a ram. Ultimately for the purposes of granting longevity and progeny, the Homa cult was started by Skanda who as Shanmukha is always watching over the proper performance of Homa through his middle face.


The final question is: where was the first Homa done? The regions around Tiruchendur are discussed and fine-tuned by picking out places on the basis of Last Glacial refugial rice growth since 20,000 years ago, since rice is essential for Aupasana and Agnihotra.


Tiruchendur scores in this regard besides the regions of South East Asia. Rice growth is conspicuously absent in North West India where Sarasvati and Sindhu were flowing. The upper limit of this (rice) date is 9000 BP found south of Gujarat where marine archaeological finds are available since 9000 years ago, but this evidence is absent in Sarasvati and the Gangetic region. So the spread of Vedic cult in these regions happened since or after 9000 years ago and not before.


Skanda’s time before Holocene, through Tamil sources


Skanda lived during Younger Dryas following the end of Ice Age. The gradual increase in insolation came to an abrupt end when a comet smashed the earth, causing a temporary blackout that resulted in drop in temperature resembling a mini Ice Age. The time of the comet hit is speculated to be around 10,800 BCE or 12,800 BP (with 2000 CE as the base year).


Till now, no one thought that India was also impacted by this comet. But evidence from the Mahabharata (Vasishtha’s narration) shows cometary fragments falling on India also. This appears in the oft-repeated event of transference of Rudra’s Tejas or energy by Agni Deva to Ganga, which she could not bear. While other sources such as Valmiki Ramayana and Kumara Sambhavam stopped with this, Vasishtha gave extra information by which it is known that some of the fragments of the comet landed on India.


The comet-hit caused a sudden drop in temperature, known as the period of Younger Dryas in science circles. It lasted for about thousand years between 12 900 to 11 700 BP. Skanda had lived within that span of time. This time period of Skanda is corroborated by the inputs given in the Sangam age text by Nakkeeranaar.


There were three Sangam periods; the last one presided by the Pandya King Ugra Peruva?uti. His time period is established by means of Jambai inscription of Adiyaman Neduman Anji, a contemporary of Auvaiyyar, who attended the Rajasuya yajna conducted by the Chola King Perunarkilli, where she met Ugra Peruva?uti.


All these three being contemporaries - Adiyaman, Auvaiyyar and Ugra Peruva?uti - we are able to derive the date of the last Sangam by the date of Jambai inscription given as 2nd century BCE by the epigraphists. Taking 100 BCE as the time of the last Sangam assembly, the dates of previous two assemblages are derived based on Nakkeerar’s version.


The third Sangam commenced around 2050 BCE and the second Sangam around 5750 BCE. Both Ramayana and Mahabharata had occurred when the second Sangam was on. This places the upper limit of Ramayana at 5750 BCE.


The first Sangam started around 10,190 BCE by which we derive the date of Skanda at 12,190 BP, with 2000 CE as the base year. This date falls within Younger Dryas. This also establishes that the long duration of Tamil Sangam is not a fabricated one but true to the core.


The Sangam details are proven by a cross-reference from Mahabharata where Krishna had stated that the king of the Bhoja-s had conquered the Pandyas by his learning (Vidya Balam). This could only be about publishing his composition in the Sangam Assembly. Krishna had accompanied this king on that occasion, as understood from Nakkeerar’s version that Krishna attended an Assembly of the second Sangam.









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