The story of Shankhacuda – Shiva Purana
In the chapter 27 to 40, Section 2.5 of Rudra-saṃhita (Yuddha-khaṇḍa) of Shiva Purana, the story of powerful Shankhacuda and his slaying by Shiva is mentioned.
One of the wives of Kashyap rishi was Danu. Many powerful sons were born to that lady Danu. One of them was Vipracitti who had a virtuous son Dambha. Dambha was a great devotee of Vishnu. He performed a great penance of Vishnu at Pushkara (near Ajmer) and secured a boom from him to beget a powerful son who could win over three worlds. Later, he became father of a brilliant son who was named Shankhacuda.
Shankhacuda performed a penance in Puṣkara for a long time in order to propitiate Brahma with devotion. He secured a boom to get power of being invincible to the gods. Brahma gave him the divine amulet of Srikrsna that yielded victory everywhere. Brahma advised him to go to Badarikashram and marry Tulasi, the daughter of Dharmadhyvaja. Brahma informed him that she has also performed great penance. Shankhacuda went to Badarikashram and expressed his desire to Tulasi to marry her with gandharva rites. After marrying her, he returned to his father’s place.
Fight of Gods & Danvas:
Then, Shukracharya came there and narrated about the natural enmity of gods and danavas. On hearing this, Shankhacuda marched quickly to the city of Indra with the intention to conquer it. On hearing that Shankhacuḍa was coming, Indra the king of heaven, accompanied by the Gods made preparations for a fight. Then a tremendous fight ensued between the Asuras and the gods. Both fought ferociously. With the power and force Shankhacuda distressed the gods. The gods could not endure his dazzling brilliance. They fled. Thus, the son of Dambha, the valorous leader of the Danavas, conquered all the worlds and took up the powers of the gods. He became Indra and ruled the universe. He carried the tasks of Kubera, Moon, Sun, Fire, Yama and Vayu. There was no famine, plague or pestilence in his realm. The planets were not inauspicious. There was no worry or sickness among the people. Except the gods all living beings were happy and free from distress. Shankhacuda was always engaged in devotion to Kṛiṣhṇa.
Thereafter, the defeated gods, deprived of their kingdom, consulted among themselves and went to Brahma’s assembly chamber along with the sages. After consoling the gods and the sages, Brahma accompanied by them went to Vaikuṇṭḥa that yields happiness to the good. The gods explained their distress to Vishnu and sought refuge in him.
Lord Vishnu said: — “O lotus-born Brahma, I know everything about Shankhacuḍa, a great devotee of mine, of great splendour and who had been formerly a cowherd, Sudama. Shiva will necessarily perform what is good. Sudama, now born as Shankhacuḍa, has been fascinated by Radha by Shiva’s illusion. Cursed by Radha he is born as a Danava to his distress. Krishna has already ordained that his death will be by Rudra’s trident. Casting off his body he will become his comrade again. O lord of gods, knowing this you need not have any fear. Let us seek refuge in Shiva. He will do everything conducive to our good.”
Gods requested Shiva for help:
Then, Vishnu went to Shivaloka accompanied by Brahma. On seeing Shiva of perfect features, Vishnu and Brahma eulogised him together after bowing to him with palms joined in reverence. They explained about the Danava Shankhacuḍa who has divested of all powers of gods and ousted them. They expressed him that except he, none of the gods can kill Shankacuda. Please kill him and render the worlds happy.
On hearing these words of the distressed Vishnu and Brahma, Shiva laughingly spoke: — “O dear Vishnu, O Brahma, cast off your fear from all sides. Certainly, something good will result from the activities of Shankacuda. At the proper time I shall redeem you from the curse. Go to Rudra, resident of Kailash, who has my excellent and perfect form. He has manifested himself for the task of the gods with a separate form and features. It is for this purpose that the lord assuming my form fully and perfectly stays on the mountain Kailash favouring the devotees by being subservient to them. There is no difference in him from us both.
Then, Brahma and Vishnu went to Kailash taking the gods with them. The gods requested Rudra to slay Shankacuda the king of Asura and the destroyer of the gods. “On hearing the words of the gods, Rudra said: — “O Vishnu, O Brahma, O Gods, return to your own abodes by all means. I shall kill Shankacuda along with his followers and attendants. After bowing to lord Shiva, Vishnu went to Vaikuṇṭha and Brahma to Satyaloka. The god and others went to their own abodes.
Rudra made his friend the lord of Gandharvas his messenger and sent him in a wonderful chariot hurriedly to Shankacuda joyously. At the bidding of lord Rudra, the emissary went to the city of the Asura which was superior to Indra’s Amaravati and Kubera’s Palace.
Puṣpadanta informed the Rudra’s message: — “Give back kingdom to the gods and their authority. If not, fight with me. The gods have sought refuge in me, the lord of the gods and the benefactor of the good. I the infuriated will certainly slay you. I am Rudra, the destroyer. I have granted protection to all the gods. I am the holder of the chastising rod for the wicked and favourably disposed to those who seek refuge in me.”
On hearing these words of Puṣpadanta, the king laughed, then spoke to him. Shankacuda said: —"I will never return the kingdom to the god. I shall fight with you who are a partisan of the gods.”
On hearing these words of Shankacuda, the emissary of Rudra laughed aloud and then spoke haughtily to the lord of the Asuras. Puṣpadanta said: — “Great king, you cannot face the Gaṇas of Shiva. Then how can you face lord Shiva himself? So, return their positions of authority to the gods entirely. O excellent Danava, do not regard Shiva an ordinary deity. He is indeed the lord of the lord of all. Indra and other gods abide by his commands. The Siddhas, the patriarchs, the sages and the serpent lords all follow suit. He is the overlord of Vishnu and Brahma. He is both possessed and devoid of attributes. By a mere twitch of his knitted eyebrow everything is dissolved. Shiva is the perfect form of gods, the cause of the annihilation of the worlds, the goal of the good, the destroyer of the wicked. He is free from aberrations. He is greater than the greatest. Return their kingdoms to the gods as well as their positions of authority. O dear, thus you will fare well. Otherwise, terror will strike you.”
On hearing this, the valorous king of the Danavas, said: — “I shall neither give up kingdom nor the positions of authority, without a fight with him. This is certain. I tell you the truth. Go and tell Shiva exactly what I have said to you. Let him do what is proper. Do not talk much.”
On hearing those words of the emissary, the infuriated emperor of the gods, Shiva spoke to Virabhadra and other Gaṇas: - “O Virabhadra, O eight Bhairavas, the frontier guards, let the Gaṇas start along with my sons. at my bidding. Let those strong ones be ready and fully equipped with weapons. Let Bhadrakali start with her army for the war. I start just now for slaying Shankhacuḍa”.
Having ordered thus, lord Shiva started along with his army. In the meantime, Kartikeya and Gaṇesha, the overall generals of the army, came near Shiva joyously, fully equipped with weapons and ready for war. The eight Bhairavas the terrible eleven Rudras, the eight Vasus, the twelve Adityas, Indra, the fire god, the moon, Vishvakarman, the Ashvins, Kubera, Yama, Nirṛti, Nalakubara, Vayu, Varuṇa, Budha, Mangala, the other planets and the valorous Kamadeva went with lord Shiva. Ugradaṇḍa, Ugradaṃṣṭra, Koraṭa and Koṭabha too went. The great goddess Bhadrakali herself with hundred arms was seated in an aerial chariot studded with gems. She was wearing a red cloth and a red garland. She had smeared red unguents over her body.
When the messenger returned, the valorous Shankhacuḍa went in and told his wife Tulasi all the details. He crowned his son as the lord of Danavas. He entrusted his wife, his kingdom and his riches to the care of his son. He called his general, the Kalakeyas Mauryas, Dauhṛdas and the Kalakas and ordered him to be ready for the war with Shiva.
They stationed near the Travancore hills and the southernmost part of the Western Ghats. Shankhacuḍa sent a leading Danava of great knowledge as his emissary to Shiva. On seeing Shiva, the messenger joined his palms in reverence and bowing to him spoke the auspicious words: - “O lord, I am the emissary of Shankhacuḍa and have come to you. What is it that you desire? Please tell me.” On hearing these words of Shankhacuḍa, lord Shiva became delighted and spoke: - “In previous birth you were a cowherd and an attendant of Krishna. Among the cowherds you were virtuous. As a result of Radha’s curse, you are born as Danava and have become the king of Danavas. You are casually born as a Danava. You are really no Danava. Realising your previous birth, you leave off your inimical attitude to the gods. Don’t be malicious towards them. You can enjoy your kingdom zealously. Return their kingdom to the gods. Let the gods stay in their region.”
The messenger said: — “O lord, what has been narrated by you is true. If it applies to all alike, I shall consider it and let you know. Why did the discus-bearing lord Vishnu sever the heads of Madhu and Kaiṭabha the excellent Daityas in the ocean of dissolution? Your Majesty too, O Shiva, is famous as a partisan of the gods. Why did you fight with the Tripuras and reduce them to ashes? After divesting him of everything why was Bali packed off to Sutala and other regions? Did Vishnu go to his threshold as his uplifter? Why was Hiraṇyakṣa harassed by the gods along with his brother? Why were Shumbha and other Asuras subjected to fall by the gods? Formerly when the ocean was churned, the nectar was drunk off by the gods. All the strain and stress were ours but the gods reaped the fruit of our endeavour. Your rivalry to us is excessively shameful since you are lord unto the gods as well as to the Asuras. You are the supreme soul.”
On hearing these words, the three-eyed lord laughed and spoke sweetly to the leading Danava what seemed proper. Lord Shiva said: — “We are subservient to our devotees. We are never independent. We carry out their tasks at their wish. We are not the partisans of any one in particular. Formerly the fight of Vishnu with the excellent Daityas Madhu and Kaiṭabha in the ocean of dissolution was due to the prior request of Brahma. For the sake of Prahalad, at the request of gods, Hiraṇyakasipu was slain by him acting in the interest of his devotees. Formerly I fought with the Tripuras and reduced them to ashes, only at the request of the gods. Formerly Parvati, the mother of all, the goddess of all, fought with Shumbha and others and killed them only at the request of the gods. Even today, the gods have sought refuge in Brahma. And he along with the gods and the lord Vishnu has sought refuge in me. O Emissary, paying heed to the request of Vishnu, Brahma and others, I, though lord of all, have come here in the battle of the gods. Go to Shankhacuḍa and tell him what I have said. Let him do what is proper. I shall carry out the taṣk of the gods.”
Fight of Shiva’s Army:
The emissary returned and mentioned the words of Shiva. On hearing that, the valorous Danava Shankhacuḍa accepted the alternative of a fight. He commanded his army against Shiva. Shiva too hastened to urge his army and the gods. Both the hosts of the gods and the Danavas fought righteously. In that great war many divine and miraculous weapons were hurled. For a long time, the great combat between the gods and Danavas continued, terrible and tumultuous but delightful to the heroes. Then the gods were defeated by the Danavas.
On seeing the defeat of the gods and others and on hearing their cries of fear, Shiva was greatly infuriated. With his brilliance he enhanced the strength of his Gaṇas. Commanded by Shiva, the great hero Kartikeya, son of Shiva fought fearlessly with the hosts of Danavas in the battle. The Danavas wounded in their bodies by the numerous arrows of Kartikeya fled in fright. Those who remained were killed. On seeing the wonderfully terrible fight of Kartikeya, Śhankhacuḍa became furious and himself got ready for the battle. His volley of arrows was terrifying. The gods Nandishvara and others fled. Only Kartikeya stayed behind in the battle field. The king of Danavas showered mountains, serpents, pythons and trees so terrifyingly that it could not be withstood. Oppressed by that shower Kartikeya looked like the sun enveloped by thick sheets of frost. In the meantime, Kali went to the battle ground again at the request of Kartikeya to devour the Danavas and to protect her own people. Nandishvara and other heroes, the gods, Gandharvas, Yakṣas, Rakṣasas and serpents followed her. Assuming a heroic form, lord Shiva entered the battle ground. On seeing Shiva, Shankhacuḍa got down from the aerial chariot, bowed with great devotion and fell flat on the ground. After bowing to him he immediately got into his chariot. He speedily prepared for the fight and seized the bow and the arrows. The fight between Shiva and the Danava went on for a hundred years and they fought fiercely. After a long battle, the powerful lord Shiva suddenly seized his trident in order to slay him. In order to prevent him then, an unembodied celestial voice said— “O Shiva, do not hurl the trident now. Please listen to this request. O Shiva, by all means, you are competent to destroy the entire universe in a trice. What doubt then in regard to a single Danava Shankhacuḍa? Still, the limit imposed by the Vedas should not be disregarded by you, the lord. O lord Shiva, it has been mentioned by Brahma, that, as long as he wears the armour of Vishnu and as long as his wife maintains the marital fidelity, Shankhacuḍa has neither death nor old age. Please make those words truthful.”
On hearing this celestial voice, Shiva said “So be it”. Vishnu came there at the wish of Shiva. Shiva, who is the goal of the good, commanded him. Then, in the guise of an old brahmin, Vishnu, the foremost of those who wield magic, approached Shankhacuḍa and told him. The aged brahmin said: — “O lord of Danavas, give me the alms for which I have come to you. I shall not say openly what I wish to have from you who are favourably disposed to the distressed. I shall tell you when you have promised me first. With face and eyes indicating pleasure the king replied affirmatively. Then the deceptive Vishnu in the form of a brahmin said— “I am the suppliant for your armour.”
On hearing that, the lord of Danavas, a well-wisher of the brahmins and of truthful word handed over the divine armour, his vital breath, to the brahmin. Then in the guise of Shankhacuḍa Vishnu approached Tulasi and enchanted her for the protection of gods.
In the meantime, the lord of Danavas approached Shiva without the armour. He took up his trident that blazed to slay Shankhacuḍa. That trident whirling round over the head of Shankhacuḍa for a while fell on the head of the Danava at the behest of Shiva and reduced him to ashes. Then it rapidly returned to Shiva.
After slaying him thus, Shiva went to Shivaloka seated on his bull, joyously, accompanied by Parvati, Kartikeya and the Gaṇas. Vishnu went to Vaikuṇṭha. Krishna became complacent. The gods went to their abodes with great delight. The universe regained normalcy. The whole earth was freed of obstacles. The sky was pure. The whole world became auspicious.
For the larger good of universe and for peace, prosperity and longevity, the benevolent Shiva fought on behalf of Gods and killed Shankhacuḍa.