One day, when Kartikeya was three years old, his mother, Parvati, took him with her to the river. Kartikeya was playing happily in the reeds that grow by the side of the river. Parvati thought she would leave him there for a few minutes while she went home to do something.
Alas, when she came back, Kartikeya was nowhere to be found. Parvati was so upset and worried. She searched and searched for him, but to no avail. Finally, she was forced to return home without him and give Shiva the sad news. Shiva was heartbroken that their dearest child was missing.
What actually happened was this: while Parvati was absent, five princesses passed by. They saw the little child playing in the reeds and they could not conquer their temptation. He was so divinely beautiful! They took Kartikeya back to their palace and cared for him as their own.
Now, these particular princesses were very spiritual. Because of their prayer and meditation, the cosmic gods would sometimes visit them in person. One day, soon after they had taken Kartikeya, four or five cosmic gods came to their palace.
“Where did you get such a beautiful child?” asked the gods. “We know that all of you are unmarried.”
“We abducted the child,” confessed the princesses.
“How could you do such a thing?” cried the gods. “To whom does the child belong?”
“We do not know whose child he is,” the princesses answered truthfully. “We simply saw him playing in the reeds and we could not resist taking him. He looked so charming! Now we are bringing him up.”
“How much suffering the poor parents must be going through!” lamented the gods. They added, “All right, since you do not know who his rightful parents are, he can stay here. But let us make him very powerful.”
The cosmic gods started teaching Kartikeya archery and all the other arts of fighting. As the years passed by, Kartikeya became extremely skilful and powerful. The cosmic gods were so pleased with him. They declared, “We are more than satisfied with your progress. We have taught you so many things and you have learned them very well. You are undoubtedly the strongest warrior. In skill, you have surpassed even us. We now declare you to be the commander-in-chief of the cosmic gods.”
Soon the news reached Shiva and Parvati that a newcomer had been made the supreme leader of the cosmic gods. “They are saying that his strength is unparalleled,” remarked Shiva to his wife. “I understand that all the cosmic gods have helped him.”
“Then let us go and see him,” suggested Parvati.
When Parvati saw Kartikeya, she felt at once that this was her long-lost son. Shiva, as usual was hesitant. He doubted that this brave warrior could be the beautiful little son whom he had lost so many years before. But Parvati was convinced. She begged Shiva to make enquiries about Kartikeya’s background.
Shiva and Parvati learned that Kartikeya had been raised by five unmarried princesses who had found him playing all alone in the reeds by the side of a river. When the princesses described the location of the reeds, Shiva cried out, “That is the exact place where we lost our child!”
This is how Kartikeya became commander-in-chief of the cosmic gods and was finally restored to his grief-stricken parents.