The great poet Kalidas in his poem, Kumārasambhava, tells us the story of Kartikeya’s birth, where he describes Kartikeya as the god of war. This title might have been bestowed upon Kartikeya as he was born to annihilate the evil demon named Tarkasura and those who came after him.
Taraka was the son of Asura Vajranaka and Vajrangini. Taraka’s father, Vajranaka, was known to be a powerful demon. He hated gods due to his mother, Diti, the earth goddess. Devas (gods) had killed her sons. Day and night, Diti thought about revenge. She performed severe austerities for years and received the blessing of a powerful child. She gave birth to Vajranaka, whose body was indestructible like Indra’s weapon, Vajra. Vajranaka later went on to battle with the Gods.
Tarakasura inherited this legacy of violence and hate from his father. From childhood, he had learned about gods. He understood their vulnerabilities. Just like Diti, he prayed to Lord Brahma for a boon. Pleased with his devotion, Brahma appeared before Taraka. Taraka politely asked Brahma to grant him a boon of immortality. Brahma rejected his wish, saying the death was inevitable.
Taraka thought upon this and made a clever move. He asked for a boon such that only Shiva’s true heir could kill him. Brahma granted him the wish. Taraka knew Shiva was still mourning his first wife, Sati’s death. Shiva would never marry in such a state, let alone give birth to a child. Taraka thanked his lucky stars and began his journey to conquer the three worlds.
With his brother, Surapadma, the powerful demon on his side, Tarakasura defeated gods, driving them out of the heavens. The gods saved their skin by offering him their most valuable possessions.
Tarakasura’s rule wasn’t peaceful. It was filled with loots and merciless killings. Everyone lived under constant fear. His three sons, known as Tripurasura, created havoc everywhere.
Gods were helpless as Taraka was invincible to any attack. They devised a plan which made Shiva fall in love with Parvati. Eventually, Shiva’s son, Kartikeya, was born. He was well versed in war skills. The gods made him the commander of their army. Kartikeya took the blessings of his parents and went to the battleground to face Tarakasura.
Tarakasura had come to battle with his best warriors to fight the gods. Backed with his army, Taraka was confident that he would stop Kartikeya. As the fight began, Asuras were gaining the upper hand. Even Indra was wounded and had to leave the battle.
On the other hand, Veerabahu, commander-in-chief, was standing his ground against the enemy. To distract him, Asuras started using magic. They trapped Veerabahu inside Krauncha mountain. Tarakasura hid behind this mountain while his army fought.
Sage Narada informed Kartikeya what was happening with Veerabahu. Enraged, Kartikeya picked up his vale, hurling it with such a strength that it went through the mountain and directly into Tarakasura’s chest, finishing him at once.
The relief after Taraka’s death didn’t remain for long. They had to face a new problem named Surapadma, who had become blind with anger after witnessing his brother’s death. Surapadma took the help of many dangerous demons and started killing deva’s army rapidly.
At that instant, Kartikeya boosted his army’s morale, saying that he won’t abandon them and will be fighting beside them till his last breath. They began fighting with new enthusiasm and overpowered Asuras. Most of the Asuras ran away from the battle. But Surapadma remained, fighting for six days. He even used magic to evade Kartikeya.
Surapadma knew he could never get out of this alive. So, he used magic, transforming himself into a tree. Kartikeya could see through the demon’s trickery. He threw his vale on the tree, cutting it in half. One part of the tree turned into a peacock and the other into a rooster. Thus we see peacock as Kartikeya’s carrier and rooster on his flag.
This battle with Tarakasura made Kartikeya the god of war.