The Skanda Purana (IAST: Skanda Purāṇa) is the largest Mahāpurāṇa, a genre of eighteen Hindu religious texts. The text contains over 81,000 verses, and is part of Shaivite literature, titled after Skanda, a son of Shiva and Parvati, who is also known as Kartikeya and Murugan. While the text is named after Skanda, he does not feature either more or less prominently in this text than in other Shiva-related Puranas. The text has been an important historical record and influence on the Hindu traditions related to the war-god Skanda.
The earliest text titled Skanda Purana likely existed by the 8th century CE, but the Skanda Purana that has survived into the modern era exists in many versions. It is considered as a living text, which has been widely edited, over many centuries, creating numerous variants. The common elements in the variant editions encyclopedically cover cosmogony, mythology, genealogy, dharma, festivals, gemology, temples, geography, discussion of virtues and evil, of theology and of the nature and qualities of Shiva as the Absolute and the source of true knowledge.
The editions of Skandapurana text also provide an encyclopedic travel handbook with meticulous Tirtha Mahatmya (pilgrimage tourist guides), containing geographical locations of pilgrimage centers in India, Nepal and Tibet, with related legends, parables, hymns and stories.
Haraprasad Shastri and Cecil Bendall, in about 1898, discovered an old palm-leaf manuscript of Skanda Purana in a Kathmandu library in Nepal, written in Gupta script. They dated the manuscript to 8th century CE, on paleographic grounds. This suggests that the original text existed before this time. R. Adriaensen, H.Bakker, and H. Isaacson dated the oldest surviving palm-leaf manuscript of Skanda Purana to 810 CE, but Richard Mann adds that earlier versions of the text likely existed in the 8th century CE. Hans Bakker states that the text specifies holy places and details about the 4th and 5th-century Citraratha of Andhra Pradesh, and thus may have an earlier origin. The oldest versions of the Skandapurana texts have been discovered in the Himalayan region of South Asia such as Nepal, and the northeastern states of India such as Assam. The critical editions of the text, for scholarly studies, rely on the Nepalese manuscripts.
Additional texts style themselves as khandas (sections) of Skandapurana, but these came into existence after the 12th century. It is unclear if their root texts did belong to the Skandapurana, and in some cases replaced the corresponding chapters of the original. The version of the earliest known recension was later expanded in two later versions namely the Revakhanda and Ambikakhanda recensions. The only surviving manuscript of the Revakhanda recension is from 1682. The four surviving manuscripts of the Ambikakhhnda recension are of a later period and contains much more alterations. Judit Törzsök says a similar recension to these two recensions seems to have been known to Laskhmidhara, thus it existed before 12th century. Ballala Sena quotes content found only in these two recensions, thus the version known at that time was similar to the ancient version of these two recensions.
There are a number of texts and manuscripts that bear the title Skanda Purana. Some of these texts, except for the title, have little in common with the well-known Skandapurana traced to the 1st millennium CE. The original text has accrued several additions, resulting in several different versions. It is, therefore, very difficult to establish an exact date of composition for the Skanda Purana.
Stylistically, the Skanda Purana is related to the Mahabharata, and it appears that its composers borrowed from the Mahabharata. The two texts employ similar stock phrases and compounds that are not found in the Ramayana. Some of the mythology mentioned in the present version of the Skanda Purana is undoubtedly post-Gupta period, consistent with that of medieval South India. This indicates that several additions were made to the original text over the centuries. The Kashi Khanda, for example, acquired its present form around the mid-13th century CE. The latest part of the text might have been composed in as late as the 15th century CE.
Tirtha are of three kinds,
Jangam Tirtha is to a place movable,
of a sadhu, a rishi, a guru,
Sthawar Tirtha is to a place immovable,
like Benaras, Hardwar, Mount Kailash, holy rivers,
Manas Tirtha is to a place of mind,
of truth, charity, patience, compassion, soft speech, soul.
The whole corpus of texts which are considered as part of the Skanda Purana is grouped in two ways. According to one tradition, these are grouped in six saṁhitās, each of which consists of several khaṇḍas. According to another tradition, these are grouped in seven khaṇḍas, each named after a major pilgrimage region or site. The chapters are Mahatmyas, or travel guides for pilgrimage tourists.
The second type of division of the Skanda Purana is found in some texts like Hālasyamāhātmya of the Agastya Saṁhitā or the Śaṁkarī Saṁhitā, Sambhava Kāṇḍa of the Śaṁkarī Saṁhitā, Śivamāhātmya Khaṇḍa of the Sūta Saṁhitā and Kālikā Khaṇḍa of the Sanatkumāra Saṁhitā. According to these texts, the Skanda Purana consists of six saṁhitās (sections):
The manuscripts of the Sanatkumāra Saṁhitā, the Śaṁkarī Saṁhitā, the Sūta Saṁhitā and the Saura Saṁhitā are extant. A manuscript of a commentary on the Sūta Saṁhitā by Madhavācārya is also available. These texts discuss cosmogony, theology, philosophical questions on virtues and vice, questions such as what is evil, the origin of evil, how to deal with and cure evil.
The manuscripts of several other texts which claim to be part of the Skanda Purāṇa are found partially or wholly. Some of the notable regional texts amongst these are: Himavat Khaṇḍa which contains Nepalamahatmya (30 chapters, Nepal Tirtha region), Kanakādri Khaṇḍa, Bhīma Khaṇḍa, Śivarahasya Khaṇḍa, Sahyādri Khaṇḍa, Ayodhyā Khaṇḍa, Mathurā Khaṇḍa and Pātāla Khaṇḍa.
The oldest known 1st-millennium palm-leaf manuscripts of this text mention many major Hindu pilgrimage sites, but do not describe Kailash-Manasarovar. The later versions do, particularly in Manasakhanda.
The Skanda Purana, like many Puranas, include the legends of the Daksha's sacrifice, Shiva's sorrow, churning of the ocean (Samudra manthan) and the emergence of Amrita, the story of the demon Tarakasura, the birth of Goddess Parvati, her pursuit of Shiva, and her marriage to Lord Shiva, among others.
The central aim of the Skandapurana text, states Hans Bakker, is to sanctify the geography and landscape of South Asia, and legitimize the regional Shaiva communities across the land, as it existed at the time the edition was produced. The text reflects the political uncertainties, the competition with Vaishnavism, and the cultural developments with the Pashupata Hindus during the periods it was composed.
The Skanda Purana manuscripts have been found in Nepal, Tamil Nadu (Tamil:ச்கந்த புராணம்) and other parts of India. The Skanda Purana is among of the oldest dated manuscripts discovered in Nepal. A palm-leaf manuscript of the text is preserved at the National Archives of Nepal (NAK 2–229), and its digital version has been archived by Nepal-German Manuscript Preservation Project (NGMCP B 11–4). It is likely that the manuscript was copied by the scribe on Monday, March 10 811 CE, though there is some uncertainty with this date because the samvat of this manuscript is unclear. Michael Witzel dates this Nepalese manuscript to about 810 CE. This manuscript was discovered as one in a group of seven different texts bound together. The group included fourteen manuscripts mostly Buddhist, six of which are very old Saddharma Pundarika Sutra manuscripts, one of Upalisutra, one Chinese Buddhist text, and one Bhattikavya Buddhist yamaka text. The Skanda Purana found in this manuscripts collection is written in transitional Gupta script, Sanskrit.
The 1910 edition included seven khaṇḍas (parts): Maheśvara, Viṣṇu or Vaiṣṇava, Brahma, Kāśī, Āvantya, Nāgara and Prabhāsa. In 1999–2003, an English translation of this text was published by the Motilal Banarsidass, New Delhi in 20 volumes. This translation is also based on a text divided into seven khaṇḍas.