The story of the birth of Kartikeya, when seen through the eyes of a modern reader, is a tale of either adoption or surrogacy. When it comes to human sexuality, the Hindu texts were neither explicit nor avoidant. Through colourful, clever and veiled allegories, they described how humans, and even Gods, are born into an earthly incarnation.
Shiva is said never to have wanted to father a child. But he becomes a father in the end. Kartikeya, in some traditions, is the first born; while in other texts, he is the younger sibling in the Shaivite tradition. Kartikeya is the brother of Ganesha.
The story goes that Shiva was a hermit. He neither wanted to marry nor sire children. But then Kamadeva, Hinduism’s cupid, came along and shot him with an arrow, arousing his desire. Shiva’s seed fell into the Ganges, where Kartikeya was born and mothered by six sisters.
The star cluster Kṛttikā, popularly transliterated as Krittika, corresponds to the star cluster of Pleiades in western astronomy. It is one of the clusters which makes up the constellation of Taurus. The six Krittikas who raised the Kartikeya are: Śiva, Sambhūti, Prīti, Sannati, Anasūya and Kṣamā. In the Rig Veda, they are identified as six of the seven sisters.
The Krittikas can be viewed either wet nurses or adoptive mothers. Since they took care of Kartikeya and raised him, he is named after them. The Krittikas have an interesting backstory of their own. They were seven sisters married to seven brothers. The seven brothers were the Sapta Rishis who are associated with the Big Dipper constellation.
The seven sages and their wives lived together, until one day, six of the seven sisters committed ‘adultery’. It occurred due to trickery and disguise; and not due to desire. The six sisters were accused of infidelity and were deemed to have forsaken their vows of marriage.
Only one out of the seven sisters remained with the original Sapta Rishi. This star is known as Arundhati or Alkor. Arundhati was the only sister who did not fall for the trick. Her husband is Vashishta and the couple are considered an ideal couple and a symbol of marital fulfilment and loyalty.
The remaining six sisters then migrated towards the eastern horizon to create the Pleiades Constellation.
These Krittika stars draw our attention to the many mothers who raise and sire children who are not ‘theirs’ by birth. On a mundane level, it could refer to surrogacy and adoption.
But if viewed through a broader lens, it draws our attention to the many mothers we will encounter throughout the course of our lives. Think of someone who mothered you. I’m sure there comes to a mind a woman or two who wasn’t your birth mother. This is most likely someone who took care of you, was there for you when you needed them, and nurtured you during a very tender period. We owe a debt to this individual.
If anything, the myths remind us that the creative power and honour of motherhood doesn’t reside with our birth mothers alone; but is vested in the hands of all the mothers who love us, raise us and think of us their very own.
To create a truly powerful individual requires the help and assistance of many people. In the Hindu pantheon, Kartikeya is the God of War. He is associated with the planetary impulse of Mars. His dharma is to fight. This could refer to the military, but it could also refer to the profession of healing.
The symbol for Krittika nakshatra is a blade or a knife. But I’d like to add another symbol to this nakshatra; that of a shield. In days of old, warriors who wielded the sword would also carry a shield. The sword was to attack, but the shield was to protect. We need both for an effective defence strategy.
Let’s think about the professions where people use the impetus to fight—not to wage war—but to defend. Law enforcement officers, surgeons and even security personnel come under this umbrella. These individuals wield weapons in order to protect and to safeguard. They, themselves, would be learned in the art of war; but they would not use it to start wars, but instead utilise those weapons and those skills to stop them.
The healing aspect of this nakshatra is the one that I would like to call attention to. Anyone who has ever undergone surgery knows that it isn’t a pleasant procedure. We usually feel terrible for days or even weeks after. But after a period of recovery, we feel much better. The surgeon wields the blade to heal, not to harm.
There are many beneficial, necessary and needed professions that can emerge from this nakshatra. But before they can be effective in their jobs and contribute in a way that helps humanity, they have to undergo and receive many years of specialised training and simulated practise. It is then, and only then, that they can fight for and create this better world we all keep talking about. These are not the sort of people who are going to do that over a cocktail and an overpriced gala.
Even till today, military and law enforcement training requires personnel to be away from their families for months or even years at a time. Their families do not know if their loved ones will ever return. In a way, then, their platoon or team becomes their adopted family. They are brothers at war; not with each other, but they are in it together.
The Krittika nakshatra reminds us that the blade can cut either way–to harm, but also to heal.