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When the five elements governed by Lord Shiva (Panch Mahabhoota – Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether) united with Shakti (Pure Consciousness), Lord Kartikeya was born.
Shiva is called Panchaanana – Lord with five heads. These five heads represent the five elements in Nature. When these five elements united with the sixth: Chaitanya Shakti (Pure Consciousness), they gave birth to the Shadaanana (six headed), also called Lord Kartikeya.
You can understand this in terms of the Kundalini Shakti (the primordial, dormant yet potent energy said to be present in a coiled form at the base of the spine).
We have seven chakras (energy centers) within us. When the energy surges through the six chakras and stabilizes at the sixth chakra – the Ajna chakra (present in the middle of the eyebrows), it blossoms as Lord Kartikeya (symbolism of the Guru Tattva (Principle)).
The Ajna chakra is the place of the Guru Tattva. It is where the Guru Tattva blossoms and manifests itself. And that Guru Tattva itself is Kartikeya Tattva.
Lord Shiva is the un-manifest Divinity, while Lord Kartikeya is the manifest.
So you can think of Lord Kartikeya as symbolic of the Kundalini Shakti.
Both Iccha-shakti (will power) and Gyan-shakti (self-knowledge) come together with the Kundalini Shakti.
Actually, it is more of Iccha-shakti and Kriya-shakti (power of action) which are a form of Gyan-shakti.
So Iccha-shakti and Kriya-shakti are both parts of the same Kundalini Shakti (Kartikeya) and they are manifest as Valli and Deivayanai – the two Divine consorts of Lord Kartikeya. And Lord Kartikeya is the very embodiment of knowledge.
So Kartikeya Tattva simply means the Guru Tattva.
Lord Shiva is one of the three Gods of the Trimurti (Holy Trinity – Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva) represented by AUM – the primordial sound of the Creation. In AUM, the syllable ‘M’ belongs to Lord Shiva.
There is a story about Lord Kartikeya from the Puranas.
When Kartikeya was a young child, His father, Lord Shiva asked him to go and study and receive education from Lord Brahma.
So Kartikeya went to Lord Brahma and asked him, ‘Please tell me the meaning of Om.’ Lord Brahma said, ‘First learn the alphabets! You are directly asking for the meaning of Om.’
Kartikeya said, ‘No, I want to know the highest knowledge first – Om.’
Now Lord Brahma knew all about the alphabets, but he did not know the meaning of Om (the primordial sound).
So Kartikeya said to Lord Brahma, ‘You do not know the meaning of Om, how will you teach me? I will not study under you.’ And Kartikeya went back to his father, Lord Shiva.
Lord Brahma told Lord Shiva, ‘You alone can handle your son. I can’t handle him. If I say this, he says that. Whatever I say, he says the exact opposite of that. I won’t be able to teach him. So you decide what is best and handle him.’
Hearing this, Lord Shiva asked Kartikeya, ‘What happened son? Lord Brahma is the Creator of the entire universe. You must learn from him.’
To this Kartikeya replied, ‘Then you tell me, what is the meaning of Om?’
Hearing this, Lord Shiva smiled and said, ‘Even I don’t know.’
Kartikeya then said, ‘Then I will tell you because I know the meaning of Om.’
‘Then tell me the meaning since you know it’, said Lord Shiva.
‘I can’t tell you like this. You have to give me the place of the Guru. Only if you put me on the pedestal of the Guru can I tell you’, said Kartikeya.
Guru means he has to be on a higher position or platform. The teacher has to sit on a higher place and the student has to sit down and listen to him.
How can Lord Shiva find a seat higher than Him, for He is the highest and greatest of Gods? So then Lord Shiva lifted the young Kartikeya on to His shoulders. And then in the ear of Lord Shiva, Lord Kartikeya explained the meaning of the Pranava Mantra (Om).
Kartikeya explained that the entire Creation is contained in Om.
The Trinity – Lord Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are contained in Om.
Om means that everything is love – unbroken and unshakeable love is Om. This is the essence and also the secret of Om that Lord Kartikeya narrated to Lord Shiva.
Upon hearing this, Goddess Parvati (Mother of Lord Kartikeya, and an incarnation of the Mother Divine) was elated and overcome with joy.
She said, ‘You have become a Guru (Swami) to my Lord (Natha)!’
Saying this she addressed her son as Swaminatha, and ever since Lord Kartikeya also came to be known as Swaminatha.
So in this way, Lord Kartikeya assumed the position of the Guru and explained the meaning of Om to Lord Shiva by sitting on his shoulder.
So the essence of the story is this – The Guru Tattva is placed even higher than Lord Shiva Himself!
To explain this truth, this story was written in the Skanda Purana.
So even Lord Shiva had to become a disciple of the Guru Tattva; so the Guru Tattva and Kartikeya Tattva are considered to be one and the same.
There is a saying, ‘Guru Govind Dou Khade Kake Lagu Paye; Balihari Guru Apke Govind Diyo Milaye.’
(Both Guru and God stand before me, whose feet do I touch first? I bow down to my Guru first because without him I would have never been able to recognize God.)
Lord Kartikeya is also called ‘Deva Senapati’ – the guardian and rescuer of Divine qualities.
Lord Shiva is known to give away boons easily to his devotees, even if they are to demons.
He is ‘Bhole Baba’ (the Innocent One), so whatever boon or blessing anyone would ask for, He would instantly grant it, and then He Himself would get caught up.
All the three – Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva would bestow boons on anyone who would ask of them, and then they themselves would get caught up in their own trap. At that time it would it be Lord Kartikeya who would stand up to fight against the demons (who received such boons).
That is why He was elected as the General of the Gods.
Kartikeya means the Tattva which is both – peaceful and yet very active.
Usually people who are very active are not quiet and at peace. And people who are quiet are not very active (dull). So Kartikeya Tattva is that (principle) which is both peaceful and yet very active.
Being spiritually complete and worldly-wise; having both these aspects. Dynamism and deep silence together form the Kartikeya Tattva.
Where Iccha-shakti and Kriya-shakti are together with the Gyan-shakti, that is the Kartikeya Tattva. That is why it is said that owing to the presence of Kriya-shakti, Lord Kartikeya became the Senapati – General of the Army of the Gods, and He protected the Gods and Goddesses.
Kartikeya also defeated Tarakasur (a demon) in battle.
Tarakasur is symbolism of Ego (arrogance). When one thinks, ‘I have conquered and mastered everything, I know everything’, such a state of mind is said to be denoted by Tarakasur.
There are some people, no matter what you tell them, they will say, ‘Yes, I already know, no need to tell me.’ They will never confess to not knowing something. They will act like they know everything.
Such a false sense of pride, such arrogance that is dismissive of everything that comes before it is a demonic quality.
Humility, simplicity and naturalness, all these qualities get concealed when there is arrogance. So, to destroy such an ego is the job of the Kundalini Shakti that is Kartikeya. Hence, Kartikeya is the slayer of ego.
Now, the story goes that Taraka (ego) after being defeated by Kartikeya assumed the form of a chicken or a rooster. A chicken is a symbol of weakness, lack of steadiness, lack of patience.
Generally if someone is a coward they say, ‘You’re a chicken’, is it not?
So, Tarakasur (ego) became a chicken or rooster after being defeated by Kartikeya.
After having defeated Taraka (ego) in battle, Kartikeya spared his life and asked him what boon he would desire. So Taraka prayed to always be at the feet of the Lord, and so Lord Kartikeya made him the emblem on His flag. This means that ego should always be kept subdued.
Ego is necessary in life but it should be kept subdued.
If you look at the idol of Kartikeya, in one hand He carries a spear. It is also called Vel. It is not a trident. It is symbolic of the Kundalini Shakti.
In His other hand He carries a small flag on which there is a rooster. The rooster is a sign of the demon Taraka (symbolizing ego) who prayed to always stay with the Lord in the form of a small flag. In fact, Kartikeya is also known as ‘Muruga’ in many parts of Tamil Nadu and other parts of South India as well.