The appearance and universal position of Lord Karttikeya is described in the Mahabharata (Markandeya-samasya-parva, Salyaparva and Anusasana-parva). The following is a summary: After the marriage celebration of Lord Siva and Goddess Uma, they desired to beget a child. Thereupon all the demigods became filled with anxiety because the combined potency of Lord Siva and Goddess Uma, made invincible by penance, would surely produce an immensely powerful child who might become the cause of universal destruction.
When the celestial couple were in conjugal union, the demigods requested Siva to restrain his fiery semen and not beget offspring. As master of his senses, Siva agreed to the demigods’ request, but Goddess Uma cursed them: “Since you have opposed the birth of issue from me, you therefore shall have no offspring of your own!” After some time, the demigods were harassed by the powerful demon Taraka, who, by the blessings of Lord Brahma, could not be defeated either by demigods, raksasas, or humans.
They appealed to Lord Brahma for help, explaining their difficulty in fighting with Taraka and their inability, due to Uma’s curse, to create offspring capable of defeating that demon. Lord Brahma relieved their anxiety by advising them to ask Agni to procreate a male issue who would bring the demise of the asura Taraka. (Since Agni was not among the demigods who had interrupted Lord Siva’s and Goddess Uma’s attempt to conceive a child, he was the only demigod not cursed by Uma.)
Although previously Lord Siva had withheld his semen, a small portion was discharged, and upon falling to the earth it blazed into fire. Agni had received that powerful semen and later discharged it into the waters of the river Gaìga, so as to produce a powerful male child. Unable to bear that potent seed, Mother Ganga, the foremost of streams, cast it onto the breast of Meru (Himavat), the best of all mountains. Instantaneously a fetus was produced, which rapidly grew into a child endowed with a splendorous, blazing golden complexion that illuminated the whole mountain.
Indeed, it seemed that the entire region surrounding the child had been transformed into gold, just as everything on a mountain and valley sometimes appears golden due to the sun’s rays. The six goddesses of the constellation Krttika beheld that splendorous form resemblant of the rising sun. Each began to care for the child with sustenance from her breasts as if he were her own son, declaring, “This child is mine! This child is mine!” Understanding the feelings of those six mothers, the child assumed six mouths to suck the breasts of each. Consequently, he was named Karttikeya, “the son of the Krttikas,” and also San-mukha, “the six-faced one.
Because he was begotten from a portion of seed that had fallen from Rudra’s body, he was also known as Skanda. And since he was born in the solitude of a forest of reeds, concealed from anyone’s view, he was called Guha. In a mere few days, the child grew to maturity, whereupon Lord Indra and the demigods requested him to take charge of their army. Karttikeya replied, “Do thou anoint me as your leader for the destruction of the Danavas, for the good of the celestials, and for the well-being of the cows and brahmanas.” Thus he also became known as Subrahmanya, “well-wisher of the brahmanas,” or one who devotedly engages in service to the brahmanas.
Thereupon Lord Brahma, along with the host of demigods headed by Indra, installed Karttikeya as the general of the demigods’ army to fight with the asuras led by Taraka. Indra gave him a vel (dart) for destroying the enemies of the gods; Siva supplied an army; Lord Visnu offered a triumphal garland (vaijayanti-mala) that would enhance the might of the wearer; and Garuda presented his favorite son, a beautifully feathered peacock. All the other demigods gave Karttikeya choice presents and blessings meant to ensure his victory.
In the Bhagavad-gita (10.24) Lord Krsna says, senaninam aham skandah: “Of generals I am Skanda (Karttikeya).” In other words, Karttikeya’s power comes from Lord Krsna. This is confirmed also
in Sri Visnu-sahasra-nama-stotra (49)—that one of the names of Lord Visnu (Krsna) is skanda-dhara, “He who grants strength to Karttikeya, the general of the demigod armies.” Lord Karttikeya surely brought victory for the demigods and thereby pleased Lord Krsna, who is known as the well-wisher of the demigods.
Having become dear to Krsna, Karttikeya is thus also known as Vasudeva-priya. By constantly rendering service to the demigods and the brahmanas, Lord Subrahmanya (Karttikeya) assists Lord Krsna in protecting dharma and thus always receives His blessings. Lord Karttikeya should never be misunderstood to be an independent god, equal or superior to Krsna. He should be respected as a great general of the demigods’ army, the glorious son of Lord Siva, and a protector of dharma—a dear devotee of Lord Krsna.