There are eighteen Puranas which have been associated with several mythological occurrences. 1. Brahma Puran 2. Padma Puran 3. Vishnu Puran 4. Shiva Puran 5. Bhagwat Puran 6. Narad Puran 7. Markandeya Puran 8. Agni Puran 9. Bhavishya Puran 10. Brahma Vaivarta Puran 11. Linga Puran 12. Varah Puran 13. Skanda Puran 14. Wama Puran 15. Koorma Puran 16. Matsya Puran 17. Garud Puran 18. Brahmand Puran.
Of them, Skanda Purana is the largest and important one. Skanda is another name of Lord Kartikeya, son of Lord Shiva. In South India, Skanda is worshipped and called by various names i.e. Kandan, Murugan, Aaru Muga Bhagavan (six faced God) etc.
Skanda Purana comprises of seven Khands (Divisions), namely Maheshwar Khand, Vaishnav Khand, Brahm Khand, KASHI KHAND, Avanti Kshetra Khand, Naagar Khand and Prabhas Khand. Of all the Khands, KASHI KHAND has been read and revered by various people, which gives a detailed study of Kashi and its importance.
Skanda Purana is said to contain more than 82000 slokas and Kashi Khand contains more than 13000 slokas. Kashi Khand is supposed to be the narration about Kashi by Lord Skanda (Kartikeya to Sage Agasthya) and this incident occurred probably in Sat Yug. However, the Purana was narrated by Sage Vyas in Dwapar Yug. In olden times the Vedas and the Shastras were narrated by Gurus and taught to Shishyas (Students), in other words passed on orally, till writing came into existence. Initially, there was a strong opposition to writing down the Vedas and the Puranas.
Kashi Khand must have been written sometime in the 12th century or even before that when writing Vedas and Puranas began to be accepted. But according to various texts inherent in Kashi Khand itself, the incidents narrated therein pertain to Sat Yug. At one place Lord Vishnu stated that He (Lord) was called as Aadi Madhav in Sat Yug, He should be worshipped as Ananda Madhav in Tretha Yug, He would present Himself in Dwapar Yug as Shree Madhav. In Kali Yug the Lord should be known by the name of Bindu Madhav. The tense in those texts suggests that the events occurred in Sat Yug.
There is no historic evidence as to when Kashi Khand was first penned. However, Pt. Kuber Nath Sukul in his book “Varanasi Down the Ages” conclusively suggests that Kashi Khand came to be accepted as an authority by 14th Century A.D. This shows that it must have been in existence, in written form before that. But in our opinion, Kashi Khand must have been in verbal form much much before that.
Sage Vyas is credited with the creation of all the Puranas and Skanda Purana (containing Kashi Khand) is one of them.
Coming to Kashi Khand, once, sage Vyas narrated the following tale to all the assembled sages– ‘ Once, while wandering about, sage Narad arrived at the Vindhyachal mountain. He was received with great honour and respect by the Vindhyachal mountain. But, when the time arrived for Narad to take his leave, he took a deep sigh, which made Vindhyachal extremely perplexed and he asked Narad if anything went wrong. Narad replied–‘ Your rival – Meru mountain is superior to you in every respect and this is the fact I am lamenting about. My deep sigh is just the indication of my worried state of mind.’
Vindhyachal mountain was inflicted with inferiority complex and started waiting for an opportunity when he could prove his superiority to Meru mountain. He thought—“Perhaps Narad was right for even Lord Surya has great respect for Meru’s might and this is the reason why he circumambulates my adversary. If I am able to beat Meru in height, may be Lord Surya would start circumambulating me and this way I shall prove my superiority to Meru.” Now, Vindhyachal started increasing his height and in a short time its peaks became invisible. The fallout of this amazing incident proved to be quite catastrophic for the world because even Lord Surya was left stranded at a particular point in the horizon. As a result, one part of the earth became too hot for any life to exist. Similarly, the other half of the earth became unbearably cold. The time became standstill and everything went haywire in the world.
All the deities became extremely worried and went to Lord Brahma to seek his help. Lord Brahma advised them to go to Kashi and seek help from Sage Agastya. The deities were pleased at their good fortune of getting a chance to visit Kashi. The deities, after reaching Kashi, paid a visit to ‘Manikarnika teerth’ and took their bath. Subsequently, they went to Vishwanath temple and worshipped Lord Vishwanath. At last, they reached the hermitage of Agasthya where he was busy worshipping a self made Shivalinga. The entire hermitage was crowded with young pupils of Agastya. After the pleasantries having been exchanged, Sage Agastaya asked the deities about the purpose of their visit.
AGASTYA ORDERS VINDHYA TO DIMINISH ITS SIZE
When Agasthya learnt of the problem created by Vindhyachal, he agreed to help the deities despite being fully aware of the fact that once he left Kashi it would not be possible for him to see his dearest city once again at least in his present life. Before leaving for Vindhyachal, he sought permission from Lord Bhairav. He then reached the place where Vindhyachal had obstructed the path of Surya. Lopamudra, his wife also accompanied him.
When Vindhyachal saw Agastya staring angrily at him he became scared and immediately minimized his size. Sage Agastya was pleased that his objective had been achieved without making any effort but he knew quite well that once he left the place Vindhyachal would regain his mammoth size. So he decided to do something so that Vindhyachal could not obstruct the path of Surya. He worked out a plan according to which he instructed Vindhyachal to wait for him until he returned after accomplishing his pilgrimage. Vindhyachal agreed assuming that Agastya would return in a short time.
Vindhyachal thanked his good fortune of escaping Agastya’s wrath, which could otherwise have threatened his very existence. Sage Agastya then went away never to return and Vindhyachal kept on waiting for his arrival. This way, the path being cleared, Surya was once again able to move freely on its orbit without any problem and as a result normalcy returned to the world.
On the other hand, Agastya who was not at all happy leaving his dearest Kashi was desperate to get there back as soon as possible. But, he knew that his wish was going to remain unfulfilled. While wandering about, he reached Kolhapur where he worshipped goddess Mahalaxmi. When goddess Mahalaxmi appeared, he asked her whether he would ever be able to reach Kashi in his present life. Goddess Mahalaxmi replied—“Your wishes will be fulfilled in the coming nineteenth dwapar, when you would incarnate as Vyas and would contribute a great deal to the propagation of the Vedas and Puranas. There is a sacrosanct place of Kartikeya not very far from here. Go there and pay your obeisance to Lord Kartikeya and he would unravel the mysterious aspects of Kashi to you.”
Sage Agasthya and his wife Lopamudra then went to the mountain called Sri Shail, where Kartikeya lived at that time.
KASHI -THE SACROSANCT PLACE OF PILGRIMAGE
After travelling for sometime, both of them arrived near Sri Shail mountain. Pointing his finger towards the mountain, Agasthya told his wife–‘One, who has a good fortune of seeing the peaks of this mountain, never takes a second birth.’ Lopamudra replied in amazement–‘ If the sight of this mountain was capable of giving salvation then why do you long for Kashi?’ Sage Agastya then went on to clarify that there were many other holy places capable of giving salvation. Prayag is one such place. It is capable of bestowing all the four ‘Purusharth’ on man viz. Dharma, Arth, Kaam and Moksha. Apart from Prayag, there are many more holy places like Naimisaranya, Kurukshetra, Gangadwar, Avanti, Ayodhya, Mathura, Dwarka, Badrikashram, Purushottam kshetra which are capable of giving salvation to a man. But none of these places can match Kashi because Kashi is incomparable.
LORD KARTIKEYA DESCRIBES THE MAJESTY OF KASHI
Sage Agasthya and his wife Lopamudra circumambulated Sri Shail Mountain and climbed up Lohit mountain where they found Lord Kartikeya. Both of them eulogized Kartikeya by singing vedic hymns in his praise. Lord Kartikeya was extremely pleased with their devotion and said- O revered sage! You can understand Kashi’s importance by the fact that, though I am capable of reaching any place according to my wish but still, here I am doing this austere penance to attain Kashi. I must confess that I have not been successful in my efforts till date. If any body thinks that he can attain Kashi just by undergoing austerities then he is totally wrong. Kashi can never be attained until and unless one has the blessing of Lord Mahadeva. And one who is fortunate enough to have reached Kashi must under no circumstances leave it till he is alive. O Agastya! You are a blessed one because you had the good fortune of residing at Kashi. Please allow me to touch your body, which has acquired holiness due to its proximity to Kashi.’ Having said this, Kartikeya touched different parts of Agastya’s body as if he were touching the sacred soil of Kashi.
Kashi Khand, containing 100 chapters, goes on to describe various aspects of Kashi in detail, the various temples and deities as also how they came into existence.